Vegeta is one of the most popular late-comers in all of Dragon Ball, if not the most popular. Introduced in the series’ seventh story arc, he quickly went on to become Goku’s rival, even usurping Gohan’s role as deuteragonist by the end of the series. Come Dragon Ball Super, Vegeta’s been Goku’s equal since the days of Resurrection F.
Although fans know Vegeta as a hero, his journey hasn’t been so clear. The general consensus seems to be that Vegeta formally became a “Z Fighter” after the end of the Frieza arc, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Up until the end of the Buu arc, Vegeta was very much still acting in his own best interests. That’s not to say Toriyama wasn’t building the characters towards redemption, though. Here are ten iconic moments that helped him along the way to that goal.
10 Being Defeated On Earth
It’s important to remember, but Goku wasn’t the only person who beat Vegeta during the Saiyan arc. Vegeta’s loss was a team effort that also involved three of Goku's allies. Without those three, Vegeta would have won, which struck quite a blow to the Prince’s ego.
In losing not only to a low-class Saiyan but to three Earthlings who were blatantly weaker than him, Vegeta’s ego was left fractured. This was the first time audiences saw Vegeta lose his cocky exterior, nearly dying on a planet he was supposed to conquer. Vegeta’s still a villain when he leaves Earth, but it’s this loss that allows him to grow.
9 Teaming Up With Gohan On Namek
Such growth is demonstrated quite clearly on Namek. When the Ginyu Force arrives to take the Dragon Ball in Frieza’s name, Vegeta panics and immediately demands that Gohan and Krillin team up with him so that they have a chance at survival. Not victory— survival.
In his time on Namek, Vegeta slowly begins to defrost (albeit not by much). The man who once killed Nappa because he lost to Goku goes out of his way to save his allies’ lives on multiple occasions. Gohan even returns the favor. Of course, at the end of the day, Vegeta plans on stealing the Dragon Balls for himself, but he slowly begins to recognize the importance of teamwork.
8 Being Killed By Frieza
Nothing humbles a man quite like the prospect of death. After spending all his life under Frieza’s iron first, and finally getting a chance to flip the script on Namek, Vegeta places too much trust in a Zenkai and gets himself beaten half to death. By the time Goku arrives, Frieza’s made short work of the Prince of All Saiyans.
As Vegeta begs Goku to avenge their race and put a stop to Frieza once and for all, the galactic tyrant pierces Vegeta’s heart, killing him in one fell swoop. By the time Vegeta comes back to life, death has changed him. He’s still a miserable man, but one who now begrudgingly respects Goku. For a time at least.
7 Having To Deal With Goku’s Status As The Legendary Super Saiyan
In the anime, Vegeta sees Super Saiyan Goku in action, whereas the manga has him merely hearing about the transformation. Regardless of medium, the fact that Goku turned Super Saiyan first is a fact that initially haunts Vegeta. Not only did Vegeta die on Namek, but his rival also fulfilled a thousand-year-old prophecy.
It’s no coincidence that immediately after Goku turns Super Saiyan, Vegeta moves to Earth, lives with Earthlings, and tries to adopt the same lifestyle choices Goku did— something Vegeta outright confirms having done during the Buu arc. Speaking of which...
6 Moving In With Bulma
While his motives for moving in with Bulma are nefarious (in that he wants to use Earth as a tool to improve himself) living with the Capsule Corp. heiress does ultimately soften him. Although not right away. Even though the two have a child by the time Dr. Gero arrives on the scene, he doesn’t care for her much.
Interestingly, it’s Future Bulma who shines a light on Vegeta’s character during this unseen time period. While she expresses a considerable amount of disappointment in how Vegeta behaved in hindsight, she does seem to reflect on him fondly, suggesting he was generally kinder around her during his time on Earth.
5 Meeting Future Trunks
Vegeta’s treatment of Trunks in the Cell arc is honestly abhorrent. It’s proof that he never fully reformed after Namek. While he ultimately became a gentler man, the fact that he treats his son with so much scorn and envy is frankly appalling. That said, it’s clear that Trunks’ mere presence has quite an effect on him.
Throughout the Cell arc, while Vegeta pushes Trunks away at every turn, he does warm up to him enough to feel comfortable to train together. Vegeta even personally trains Trunks inside the Room of Spirit and Time, suggesting that his tough exterior is mostly for show.
4 Watching Goku And Trunks Die
That was something that gets outright proven during the Cell Games when Trunks dies. Upon watching Cell murder his son, Vegeta flies into a rage and blindly attacks Cell. Trunks’ death humbles Vegeta considerably, showing him what it means to truly lose someone he cares about.
Worse yet, Goku died moments earlier, a fact that hits Vegeta surprisingly hard. At the end of the Cell Games, Vegeta vows never to fight again, deciding that life as a martial artist simply isn’t worth it without Goku around. While he does keep training to stay in shape, he keeps true to his word, only fighting again when Goku returns.
3 Figuring Out How Much Stronger Goku Got In The Afterlife
Despite how eager Vegeta was over Goku returning for the 25th Tenkaichi Budokai, things went south for the Prince of All Saiyans rather quickly. Expecting an even match— one that he could even potentially win— Vegeta quickly comes to realize that Goku not only managed to tap into Super Saiyan 2’s power but on a much higher level.
By the time Bibbidi tries to possess Vegeta, he’s so despondent over Goku’s newfound strength that he willingly lets himself be cursed in order to bridge the gap. Unfortunately for Vegeta, he slowly begins to regret his decision, realizing at the end of the arc that it’s alright for him to live in Goku’s shadow.
2 Fusing With Goku
Vegeta’s reluctance to fuse with Goku (permanently at that) is to be expected, but the fact that he actually recognizes the danger they’re in enough to put aside their differences speaks volumes to his growth. He doesn’t want to fuse (why would he) but he does it anyway as it’s the only chance left to defeat Majin Buu.
Pragmatism has always been one of Vegeta’s strengths, but the duo’s merging into Vegito truly puts aside their differences once and for all. The moment that Vegeta put on the potara earring, he accepts that he and Goku are two sides of the same coin. Everything Vegeta is, he owes to Goku.
1 Stalling For Time Against Buu
The fight against Majin Buu is an important one for several characters. Mr. Satan saves the world, Fat Buu comes back into the fold, Goku sets up the end of the series with his wish to reincarnate Buu, and Vegeta definitively completes his character arc. Not only does he orchestrate the plan to defeat Boo but he also stalls for time, even though it would almost certainly kill him.
Vegeta recognizes his limitations in regards to Goku for the first time in the entire series and he doesn’t let that sway him. Rather, it motivates him to try harder. Vegeta finally learns the lesson that Dragon Ball had been teaching since Goku first trained with Master Roshi: there will always be someone better, and that’s fine.