Dragon Ball has its scary moments, but it’s not exactly a series that prides itself on horror. Even in the context of its own story, characters face their fears head-on, rarely if ever acknowledging them. Outside of the supporting cast, that is. That's an important consideration, since characters like Goku end up coming off fearless.
As a result, the moments when Goku actually does feel fear come off all the more unsettling. There’s something about watching such a powerful and likable character fear for his life that's disturbing yet thrilling. It doesn’t happen often in Dragon Ball, but it happens often enough where it leaves a lasting impression. If Goku’s afraid, everyone’s in danger.
10 Meeting Raditz
Raditz fundamentally changes Dragon Ball with his arrival. After six straight arcs of grounded action, his sudden appearances brought a more serious tone to the show. Goku is dead within chapters, there are two stronger Saiyans in the way, and the future isn’t looking so bright anymore for planet Earth.
This new tone sets in quite well as Goku finds himself nearly paralyzed with fear with the arrival of Raditz. Meeting his brother sends him into shock, and all of Goku’s attempts to fight back against Raditz end in pure suffering. The two have an overwhelmingly dark dynamic at times, and seeing Goku scared is a major part of that.
9 Watching Cell Destroy Gohan
Goku is a self-centered man, but he’s not a bad father like the fandom implies. He’s certainly not good, but he’s not bad. At his worst, he’s misguided and presumptuous. He should have known his son would not have wanted to fight Cell without at least some discussion beforehand. That said, Goku expresses an intense amount of fear the moment Piccolo calls him out.
Realizing that Cell will most certainly kill his son and then everyone on Earth, Goku desperately tries to intervene before Cell catches on and stops him in his tracks. It’s a moment where the terror of the situation really sets in. The moment Cell creates his Cell Juniors, it’s clear in Goku’s eyes that he’s not feeling confident with his decisions anymore.
8 Hearing About Freeza
The Namek arc is an interesting period for Goku. He’s not involved with much of the action, but all of his appearances serve to dissect his character and push his arc forward. He’s no longer the same boy he was at the start of the series. He’s looking for a good challenge, and he’ll keep dangerous fighters alive to satiate his urges.
That said, Goku isn’t so simple-minded. When hearing about Freeza from Kaio on his way to Namek, Goku finds himself trembling not only with anticipation, but with fear. He fully understands the dangers of fighting Freeza, but the desire to fight is so strong, and he tries to ignore his instincts.
7 Fighting Freeza
Which almost ends very, very badly for Goku. Although he puts on a strong face for most of the fight, Freeza actually manages to wear Goku down psychologically. By the end of their fight, Goku is forcing himself to keep up as much as he can. Unfortunately, Freeza lets him know that all that effort means nothing since Freeza is only at 50% power.
From there, Goku is beaten relentlessly as he tries to come up with a plan. He understands that he cannot defeat Freeza by force, having fought a losing battle for far too long. Goku is forced to use a weak Genki Dama to try to kill Freeza. Had Freeza not murdered Kuririn first, Goku would never have turned Super Saiyan, dying on Namek.
6 Watching Vegeta Transform
Vegeta transforming into an Oozaru at the end of his fight with Goku during the Saiyan arc is one of the most overwhelming moments in the series. After successfully pushing Vegeta back with the Kaioken, Goku is able to lock him into a beam struggle that he actually ends up winning in spite of his battered body.
Unfortunately, Goku’s body is so broken from his usage of Kaioken that he can barely move when Vegeta transforms. He’s able to hide for a bit, but Vegeta ends up grabbing Goku only to break every bone in his body. The Saiyan arc begins and ends with a terrified Goku.
5 Squaring Off Against Evil Boo
The Boo arc, in general, has its funnier bits, but it’s almost comical how badly Goku does not want to fight Evil Boo. It actually resulted in a plot hole in the anime since Evil Boo is meant to be stronger than Pure Boo, but Goku only fights the latter while fearing the former. In canon, Evil Boo could obliterate Goku in seconds.
Never before has there been a main villain in Dragon Ball that Goku flat-out refused to fight. It shows, in equal parts, his maturity, as he realizes that he can’t do anything through action and just how dangerous the situation is. It’s one thing if Goku is scared. It’s another if he blatantly refuses to fight.
4 Watching Pure Boo Destroy The Earth
Pure Boo might be considerably weaker than Evil Boo, but it’s this train of thought that directly leads to the Earth’s destruction. Goku and Vegeta take too long examining Boo instead of challenging him. In Boo’s boredom, he starts to charge up an attack so big that Goku realizes he’s destroying the planet.
He briefly tries to plead with Boo before realizing that reason won’t work. He takes one last look at Gohan, Piccolo, Goten, and Trunks and rushes off the planet in fear. For as lighthearted as the Boo arc can be, it features several fairly morbid moments. There’s nothing uplifting about watching Goku leave the Earth behind explode.
3 Most Of Battle Of Gods
Not too unlike the Boo arc, Battle of Gods has an overall lighter tone while also featuring some fairly dark moments with high stakes. Most of "Battle of Gods" is not a good showing for Goku. He immediately underestimates Beerus on Kaio’s planet and is knocked out with a single flick. When it comes time for their rematch, Super Saiyan God gives Goku the power he needs to fight.
Unfortunately, it isn’t enough, and Goku realizes it. He even loses Super Saiyan God halfway through the fight, though he absorbs the power. As Beerus and Goku take the battle to space, Goku fears for his life as Beerus attempts to destroy the planet. Goku thinks back to his friends and family seemingly one last time and accepts his fate.
2 The Final Showdown Against Merged Zamasu
The anime and manga versions of the Goku Black arc are drastically different, especially when it comes to the final fight. In the anime, it’s more or less a back and forth with no real narrative arc until the very end of the battle. In the manga, there’s far more natural build-up to the fight’s final moments.
In a manga exclusive scene, Goku and Vegeta stall for time in the future to let Trunks escape. They accept their fate, ready to die in the future timeline. As an army of Merged Zamasus makes its way towards the duo, Goku and Vegeta clearly showcase fear, but they face it head-on... before Goku finds the Zeno button, that is.
1 The Fight Against Baby
Dragon Ball GT does have its moments. They’re few and far between, but they are there. One moment in particular that no one ever discusses is the fact that Goku genuinely accepts his death while fighting Baby. The battle is so overwhelming for Goku that he just outright gives up.
He was going to let Baby win until the fight suddenly turned into another direction. It’s incredibly morbid; of all the characters in the series to just give up so fully, there’s something harrowing about it being Goku. It’s upsetting in many respects, but it’s also a moment of humanity that adds a bit of morbid nuance to Goku’s character.