Great heroes need a great villain to challenge them. Batman has the Joker, Luke Skywalker has Darth Vader, and Harry Potter has Lord Voldemort. Those are just a few of many examples, and “Dragon Ball Z” is no exception. Fans of the series are well aware of the feats Goku has accomplished. From Kaio-Ken to Super Saiyan, the Z-fighter continually pushes past his limits. But without powerful enemies, Goku couldn’t keep being the best. Out of all the intense, action-packed moments in “DBZ,” which villains managed to stand out the most?
To explore this, CBR is taking a look at some of the most powerful villains “Dragon Ball Z” has to offer. Because the focus is on “DBZ” itself, the list won’t be including villains from “Dragon Ball,” "Dragon Ball GT," or “Dragon Ball Super” (apologies to fans of Zamasu and Goku Black in advance). With that said, let’s break down which villains are worthy of recognition.
While only made canon in the recent sequel series, “Dragon Ball Super,” Beerus is a villain who first appeared in the "Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods” film. It's impossible to have the title of "God of Destruction" and not be included in this list.
With an insatiable appetite and temper whose mood swings have easily resulted in the destruction of multiple planets (especially if he doesn't like the local cuisine), Beerus is very much the pinnacle of the ultimate opponent that Goku strives to fight against. Easily managing to outmaneuver Goku in Super Saiyan 3, he then completely overpowered the combined attacks of Vegeta, Ultimate Gohan, Gotenks and pretty much every other fighter worth their salt. It is not until Goku attains the all-powerful Super Saiyan God Form (a transformation that turns his red instead of yellow) that he is even able to attempt to fight Beerus. Even then, Goku still loses the battle, surviving only because Beerus decides not to kill him and blow up the Earth.
The stunning revelation that Beerus was still holding back only adds to his legendary status. To this day, people can only wonder if Goku will ever be able to match the God of Destruction at full power. As of now, it appears that even Earth’s strongest hero has a long way to go.
Made to be the ultimate life form by Dr. Gero, Cell is a amalgamation of powerful individuals in the “Dragon Ball Z” universe, containing aspects of powers and personalities from multiple individuals. Whether it’s the regenerative abilities of Piccolo or the Saiyan pride and power of both Goku and Vegeta, Cell was a villain unlike any other. Once he transforms into his perfect form by absorbing Android 17 and 18, he becomes nigh impossible for most people to match.
Like a certain purple headed-transforming alien we'll discuss later in this list, Cell’s ultimate power is matched only by his vanity. His orchestration of the Cell Games (where he literally invited the world's strongest fighters to attack him in a tournament ring in order to test out his new strength) is evident of this, yet there's no denying his combat ability. His growth rate was so great that it reached a point so that only the Super Saiyan 2 Gohan was capable of defeating him in the end. With the speed, strength, and personality to overwhelm his opponents physically and mentally, Cell certainly ranks among the most intriguing and most powerful of DBZ villains, especially given how much of his personality and behavior stem from the genes he was created from.
Outside of Goku, Vegeta, and Nappa, Raditz is the only full-blooded Saiyan to officially appear, and is the first villain Goku encounters, in the series. He's also the one who reveals the truth about Goku's Saiyan lineage and birth name. When his brother, Goku, refuses to go on a planet-conquering spree, Raditz retaliates by kidnapping his son, Gohan, which isn’t a good way to greet your nephew for the first time.
Raditz gave Goku all he could handle, so much so that he was forced to team up with Piccolo, his arch-rival at that point, to take him down. With the exception of his killer hair style, Raditz easily outclassed both of his opponents in every way, and showcased just how far behind his younger brother was. Only a timely assist from Gohan and Piccolo’s signature "Special Beam Cannon" attack made it so that Goku could take Raditz down, but even then, Goku died in the process! While Raditz mostly served as a precursor to the Saiyan saga, there’s no denying that his brutal nature and raw power was unlike anything seen in the previous “Dragon Ball” series, making him an unforgettable "DBZ" villain, even if he technically was the weakest Goku and the gang squared off against.
Vegeta’s former partner in crime, Nappa was very much in line with the brutal Raditz-type personality. While he didn’t have the latter Saiyan’s hair style thanks to balding, he made up for it in pure ferocity and battle prowess.
A veteran Saiyan warrior, Nappa has a profound love of destruction, easily taking out multiple military forces without breaking a sweat. He easily outclasses the Z-Fighters confronting he and Vegeta, taking out both Tien and Chiaotzu, despite each of them using techniques so powerful that they killed themselves in their attempts to defeat him. He then killed the mighty Piccolo and would have easily killed Krillin and Gohan had Goku not arrived to put him in his place.
Nappa's also similar to Raditz in that he merely acted as a warm-up act for the Saiyan Prince. Regardless, he did his job well and proved just how powerful he is (and by comparison, Vegeta as well) by showing us how Raditz was actually low on the food chain. With his loud brawler style of fighting, Nappa is certainly one of the more memorable henchmen in the series.
One of Frieza’s elite soldiers and easily the strongest of the underlings he brought with him, Zarbon acted as one of his top advisors and lieutenants during their rampage across Planet Namek. Unlike Cui and Dodaria, who were easily eliminated by Vegeta, Zarbon was the only one to defeat the Saiyan Prince in their first battle. This was thanks in no small part to his beast-like transformed state, which the stylish warrior prefers to use as sparingly as possible because of its grotesque appearance.
One of the more image-conscious villains within the DBZ universe, Zarbon’s sense of grace and style is matched only by both his grace and ferocity in combat. From firing ki blasts to hand-to-hand combat, he excelled at giving everything a graceful flair. He also treats his weaker opponents with complete indifference, which gives him an air of aloofness and pride that's rather different from the sadistic tendencies we saw in all of Frieza's other henchmen. In terms of style, Zarbon is second to none among all of the "Dragon Ball Z" villains.
10 Captain Ginyu & The Ginyu Force
In an attempt to secure the Dragon Balls of planet Namek and eradicate the likes of Gohan, Krillin, and Vegeta, Frieza calls upon the super-elite Ginyu Force to help complete his takeover of the planet.
Led by Captain Ginyu, the Ginyu Force is the strongest team of mercenary fighters within Frieza empire who only conquer the planets deemed too powerful for the main army to fight. One of the most memorable aspects of the Ginyu Force encounter is caused by their leader's ability to switch bodies with his opponents. After being massively overpowered by Goku, he uses the opportunity to steal his body, leaving the Saiyan in a near-death state after self-harming his original body. In the end, Ginyu’s body switching ability lead to his downfall, as he eventually wound up in the body of a frog.
A close-knit group, the Ginyu Force is not only powerful in combat, but also the most vehement about making their brand recognized. Always looking to make dramatic entrances, they often strike over-the-top dramatic poses as they make their grand entrance known to their enemies. Behind the scenes, the Ginyu Force was created as a parody of the many Power Rangers teams that have popped up over the years, and their signature poses clearly reflect this.
9 Androids 17 & 18
Created by Dr. Gero for the purpose of exacting revenge against Goku, the twin androids also proved instrumental tools in allowing Cell to achieve his perfect form. Both were powerful enough to overcome Vegeta, a time-travelling Trunks, Tien, and Piccolo in their first encounter. In the timeline that Trunks came from, they even managed to kill everybody and turn the world into an apocalyptic wasteland (hence why Trunks travelled to the past in the first place). In the alternate timeline, the two are incredibly sadistic, even shooting a guy in the head with a gun despite having the ability to naturally shoot energy beams strong enough to blow up the planet.
In the main continuity, however, all they really want is to go on a road trip (literally) and test their strength against Goku. In fact, the only time they show any viciousness is when Android 18 breaks Vegeta's arms as a punishment for attacking them. Not only that, but they eventually become good, with Android 18 even marrying Krillin and having a daughter with him! The difference in timeline-related personalities coupled with how strong and brutal they are make them unforgettable.
8 Android 20 (Dr. Gero)
An enemy with a personal vendetta against Goku, Dr. Gero was the enemy who personally created Cell and the Androids crucial to his development. One of the lead scientists in the crime organization known as the Red Ribbon Army, Dr. Gero was very clear in his contempt of Goku. To obtain his revenge, he created a line of Androids that included numbers 16, 17, 18, and 19, all of which were made with the goal of killing the Saiyan. To that end, he even managed to turn himself into an Android to prolong his life.
Able to successfully integrate the cells of powerful fighters like Piccolo, Goku, Vegeta and Frieza to create Cell, all of Gero’s actions are responsible for both the Cell Saga and the destruction of Future Trunks’ timeline. While Android 17 and 18 turned on him in the end, the damage had already been done and Cell was eventually released upon the world. Despite Gero not havingthe fighting strength of more prominent villains in the arc he appears in, his observational skills were top notch (he created spy-drones the size of a bee!), although he clearly needed to work on his sense of importance, because his vanity not only led to his defeat, but also to his betrayal and death.
7 Android 19
One of the last androids to be created by Gero, 19 was the loyal, obedient underling the scientist had hoped Androids 17 and 18 would be. As is the case with all of Gero's androids, the purpose of exacting revenge against Goku was its reason for living.
Being one of the first androids and appearing alongside his creator, 19 was special in his ability to drain energy from anybody he touched. While he was among the weaker of Gero’s android line, he served the purpose in accelerating Goku’s heart condition, which quickly put the Z-Fighters in dire straights to keep him safe from harm from all these villains who could defeat them.
On the other hand, 19 also served as a means to firmly introduce viewers to the results of Vegeta’s intensive training, which culminated in his ability to become a Super Saiyan. Needless to say, the results weren’t pleasant for Gero’s final creation, who wound up headless after the Saiyan Prince’s assault with his newfound power.
6 King Cold
As shadow leader of Frieza's galactic army, King Cold had a massive amount of forces at his command, so the fact that Frieza was only using a fraction of them in his invasion on Planet Namek was nothing short of amazing. If there’s one thing to say about this villain, it’s that he at least cared for his son, showing visible anger upon finding Frieza's remains and vowing vengeance against Earth and the parties responsible for Frieza’s condition.
Unfortunately, the supreme leader had the misfortune of running into Future Trunks, who made quick work of him in his Super Saiyan form, single-handedly saving Earth from unnecessary damage (at least until some Androids decide to come along). King Cold could have made for an interesting long-term villain, especially since he was depicted as being at least as uncaring about his peons as Frieza was and it's unknown who's the stronger of the two. However, what makes him memorable is really how he set up Trunks as being powerful.
The strongest of Babidi’s henchmen and King of the Demon Realm, Dabura easily could have been substituted as the main villain of the Babidi saga and fans would have had absolutely no problem with it. Looking like Satan himself, Dabura was well known for his special demon spit, which allowed the Demon King to turn his opponents to stone. With this method, he made quick work of Krillin and Piccolo as a means of showcasing his power to the intruding Z-Fighters. Goku even acknowledges his power as being on par with that of Cell's, who they barely managed to defeat in the previous epic.
Dabura is more than just brute strength, however. He is also very calculating and observant, noticing how Vegeta’s behavior and mindset towards Goku could work to their advantage to unseal Majin Buu. His decision to act on this resulted in Babidi possessing Vegeta and leading to Buu’s successful awakening. Unfortunately, his fight with Gohan was never truly settled, but his time on-screen was an enjoyable, if short lived.
As is the case with Beerus, this character does not officially appear within the "DBZ" canon, but does debut in one of its movies (and returns for two sequels). However, it’s impossible to talk about the series’ villains without discussing Broly.
Making his appearance in the eighth film, “Dragon Ball Z: Broly The Legendary Super Saiyan,” Broly comes off as very stoic and calm. But upon breaking free from his father Paragus’ control, his true nature takes over as a brutal, battle-thirsty Saiyan who finds joy in combat and mass destruction. Coupled with the circumstances of his birth, he has a natural hatred of one Saiyan in particular: Goku.
Among “DBZ” villains, film or otherwise, Broly is a legend. Literally, in fact, which is why he's so memorable. Instead of Super Saiyan being just a transformation, it's revealed that there actually is only one every 1,000 years who completely surpasses all known limits. In the Legendary Super Saiyan form, Broly overpowers Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, Piccolo, and Future Trunks with ease, as if this fight were the Incredible Hulk going to town on everyday people.
The heralded prince and commander of the Frieza Force and the son of King Cold, Frieza is, by all means, the signature villain of the entire “DBZ” series based on his actions alone.
Responsible for the destruction of Planet Vegeta and single-handedly wiping out the Saiyan race, Frieza went about on a planet-conquering spree and became feared throughout the galaxy. Unlike other “DBZ” villains, Frieza was actually succeeding in conquering the universe. After arriving on Planet Namek, an opportunity to gain immortality was right in his grasp, that is, until the last dregs of the Saiyan race decided to interfere and the legend of a Super Saiyan was revealed.
With four different transformations at his disposal, Frieza demonstrated just how he was able to conquer planet after planet. Each time the Z-fighters thought they managed to get him on the ropes, he simply changed forms and starting pounding on them stronger than ever. He was nearly unbeatable in his final form, with only a Super Saiyan Goku being powerful enough to defeat him in combat. His ruthlessness and massive amounts of power make Frieza the model villain who stands at the pinnacle of the franchise to this day.
Before becoming the second-strongest protector of Earth, Vegeta was the vaunted prince of the Saiyan race and the quintessential villain hell bent on the destruction of Earth. Arriving on Earth with Nappa during the Saiyan saga, Vegeta displayed all the Saiyan pride, arrogance and power that made his race one of the most feared throughout the entire galaxy. His first battle with Goku is among the most iconic moments within “DBZ.”
His pride, ambition and extreme competitiveness define his character, even going as far as to move in with some of his enemies while training to overpower his rival, Goku. Its in this setting that his cold heart began to warm, because he married Bulma and fathered two children with her (Trunks being one of them). He remained a complex character, however, with his underlying darkness reemerging during the Buu Saga, allowing himself to be possessed by Babidi in order to gain enough power to advance to Super Saiyan 2, just so he could finally settle the score with Goku to see which of them is the strongest. It's this cold determination of Vegeta's that makes him one of the most memorable villains of the series, even if he does wind up becoming a hero in the end.
1 Majin Buu
Originally created by the wizard Bibidi, Buu undergoes multiple transformations, with each subsequent form having its own different personality. However, all forms of Buu have two things in common: an insane regeneration power and a penchant for absolute chaos. Majin Buu also has a tendency to straight-up cheat in combat by absorbing people at random, including the person he's fighting at the time. The absolute craziness of these constant transformations made him beloved by some fans while absolutely hated by others. That's not all that's crazy about him, though. One of his trademarked powers involves literally turning people into candy and eating them.
Not wanting to stray too far from the "DBZ" formula, Buu becomes stronger and stronger with each transformation, as well as increasingly evil, posing a significant threat not only to the world, but to the very fabric of reality itself (he even attacks the afterlife at one point!). Poignantly, it's not just Goku who saves the day this time, but the combined strength of everyone on Earth who pooled their strengths together to help him form the "Super Spirit Bomb" attack in order to finally destroy this memorable villain for good.
Who do you think are some of the most memorable villains in “Dragon Ball Z?” Be sure to let us know in the comments!