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Every Dragon Ball anime arc, ranked from worst to best

Every step of Goku's journey laid out for you.

Super Saiyan 2 Gohan
Image credit: Toei Animation

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When you talk about classic anime, chances are Dragon Ball is going to make an appearance in the discussion. It influenced so much about Shonen anime, from the use of training arcs to transformations and even the protagonist’s unflappable attitude, Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball laid the groundwork for so many anime that came later. There are more than twenty individual story arcs within the Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z anime and manga that beg the question – which one is the best?

When ranking all of the Dragon Ball arcs, we had to make a few tough decisions. First, we’re just going to be looking at arcs from the original Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z anime, which cuts out Dragon Ball Super. The reason is simply because the story of the manga and the anime are just so different that it makes it tough to say which is the canon version of events. It also disregards Dragon Ball GT because it doesn’t feel canon, despite how much Toei insists it is still canon. That still leaves us with a staggering 28 story arcs to get through.

Every Dragon Ball anime arc, ranked

28. Other World Tournament Arc

Other World Tournament arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

No surprise that a filler arc from the Dragon Ball Z anime is our first entry on the list. We enjoyed the idea of this arc – Goku fighting other dead people from across the universe is rad on paper – but it introduces nothing unique and ends up being yet another tournament arc in Dragon Ball, this time with no consequences.

27. Garlic Jr. Arc

Garlic Jr. arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

Of the two filler arcs in Dragon Ball Z, the Garlic Jr. Arc is the better simply because it feels less repetitive. Goku is nowhere to be found and other characters like Gohan and Piccolo finally get a chance to shine. However, it is still ultimately unnecessary to watch.

26. Peaceful World Arc

Peaceful World arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

We know that these episodes, which take place at the end of Dragon Ball Z just before the end, aren’t filler, but they feel like filler somehow. Sure, Pan is adorable and we think Master Roshi’s new glasses are pretty rad, but this arc doesn’t work as an ending as well as the fight against Kid Buu.

25. Red Ribbon Army Arc

Red Ribbon Army arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

Despite creating one of the best villains in Dragon Ball history later on, the entire Red Ribbon Army Saga, which starts with the Red Ribbon Army Arc, is incredibly underwhelming. There is a lot of repetition of “Goku fights a strong guy and gets stronger to beat him” going on here and the formula gets old very quickly.

24. Commander Red Arc

Commander Red arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

This section of Dragon Ball falls into a very formulaic pattern that isn’t helped by the fact that so many of the characters just don’t show up again in the anime or manga. Commander Red, despite being the final boss of this part of Dragon Ball, is incredibly forgettable, as is most of what happens in this arc. This is honestly not Dragon Ball at its best.

23. General Blue Arc

General Blue arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

The best arc in the Red Ribbon Army Saga is still not great, but it is saved by having more humor than the rest, which makes it stand out. A lot of that humor is provided by the delightful and unexpected appearance of Arale and the characters from Akira Toriyama’s other hit manga at the time, Dr. Slump.

22. World Tournament Arc

World Tournament arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

Akira Toriyama loved a tournament arc, but this one isn’t one of his best. It really only serves to introduce characters like Supreme Kai and to set up Babidi and Majin Buu. The thing that damns this to near the bottom of our Dragon Ball arcs ranking is that it never lets Videl, who had been one of the coolest additions to the cast in recent episodes, shine. She just gets immediately outclassed and disregarded.

21. Perfect Cell Arc

Perfect Cell arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

There is something incredibly satisfying about watching Vegeta get what he wished for and instantly regret it. That is what makes the Perfect Cell Arc so fun, but it is also ultimately what lets it down. Nothing is really resolved and the plot is put in a holding pattern until – surprise, surprise – Goku shows up.

20. Fortuneteller Baba Arc

Fortuneteller Baba arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

Another Dragon Ball arc that doesn’t do much for the plot, but we still have a soft spot for it because of how heartwarming the reunion between Goku and Grandpa Gohan is. The action isn’t quite what we expect from a great Dragon Ball arc, but sometimes something sweet is exactly what we need.

19. Fusion Arc

Fusion arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

The Buu Saga has some epic moments but it also suffers from some serious issues with pacing and slow moments while we wait for something important to happen. The Fusion Arc is the worst for this – multiple episodes are spent waiting for Goten and Trunks to master the Fusion Dance, which doesn’t even end up being the thing that beats Buu. Even Toriyama’s penchant for humor doesn’t save this arc. Even the epic return of Gohan in his ultimate form is undermined by the fact he just doesn’t accomplish much.

18. Babidi Arc

Babidi arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

Okay, we all love the moment when Vegeta goes evil again. It is cool and chilling and everything, but it is one scene in an otherwise slow arc. The structure of the Babidi Arc feels too much like a tournament, which is frustrating because we just left a tournament arc! Even Majin Vegeta isn’t cool enough to save this arc from being middling at best.

17. King Piccolo Arc

King Piccolo arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

We love the King Piccolo Arc and we’re just as shocked to find it doesn’t make the top half of our Dragon Ball arcs list. The issue isn’t the baddie – King Piccolo is wicked and terrifying. The issue isn’t the fights – the climactic battle against King Piccolo is incredible. The problem is that it takes so long to get there. Multiple fights against uninteresting spawn, as Goku goes on his rampage, are fun for a bit before it ultimately fails to live up to what comes next.

16. Kid Buu Arc

Kid Buu arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

The culmination of all of Dragon Ball. The final battle against an ancient, elemental evil. With every being on Earth offering up some of the energy to power the final Spirit Bomb, this feels exactly as climatic as the ending should be. Vegeta finally acknowledges Goku’s strength, burying their rivalry – at least for now. While Kid Buu is a solid villain, he is a bit one-note and lacks enough of a personality to compare to some of the other main villains in the series, but this is still a solid arc despite its place on this list.

15. Tien Shinhan Arc

Tien Shinhan arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

At this point, Goku was already making a habit of befriending his enemies and turning them into allies, but it hadn’t quite become so predictable. The World Martial Arts Tournament with Tien Shinahan has some of the best martial arts choreography in Dragon Ball history. Full stop. End of discussion.

14. Majin Buu Arc

Magin Buu arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

We know. We’re shocked to see the Majin Buu Arc this low as well. An arc that includes Vegata’s heroic sacrifice and the appearance of Super Saiyan 3 should be top-tier, right? This is a case of every other Dragon Ball arc being a bit better than this one rather than it being a “bad” arc. Buu’s regeneration really makes everything feel inconsequential during these episodes.

13. Emperor Pilaf Arc

emperor Pilaf arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

Where it all began. A young woman meets a young boy with a tail in the mountains and manipulates him into being her muscle and bodyguard while she looks for magical relics. Goku, Bulma, Yamcha, and Master Roshi – characters who would become iconic throughout the series – are all introduced here, and the tone of Dragon Ball is evident from the very start. There is action, comedy, and rivals-turned-friends – everything that the series would be known for.

12. Androids Arc

Androids arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

This is, admittedly, a confusing arc. There are a couple of false starts around who the androids are and what they’re after, but we honestly love the misdirection. Androids 17 and 18 have great designs and personalities, with a tragic edge to their story, while getting to see hints of a level beyond Super Saiyan would set up one of the greatest reveals in the history of anime.

11. Trunks Arc

Trunks arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

No one has ever had a cooler introduction than Future Trunks. The kid comes from the future, takes down the previous Big Bad with no effort, and reveals an even bigger danger is just on the horizon. Trunks never gets cooler than this moment right here and we love it. It is just a lot of setup for future adventures, but at least it is cool as heck about it.

10. Namek Arc

Namek arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

The Namek Arc in Dragon Ball was some of the most tense writing that the series has ever seen. Gohan, Krillin, and Bulma arrive on the planet to find the Dragon Balls, only to find that Vegeta is already there along with a new threat in the form of Frieza. There is a wonderful cat-and-mouse dynamic between everyone that we never really get to see again. Plus, the understated threat of Frieza sets up the epic battles to follow.

9. Captain Ginyu Arc

captain Ginyu arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

We love the goofiness of the Ginyu Force. From the moment they land on Namek, the entire tone of Dragon Ball shifts and we have some wonderful comedic scenes that underscore the terrifying power this group has. All of it is there to set up when Goku arrives and one-shot’s Recoome in a way that immediately puts him far beyond where he was when he faced Vegeta on Earth.

8. Raditz Arc

Raditz arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

The impact of this arc is lessened by the passage of time, but it is important to remember that the idea of Goku being an alien and that his purpose had been to destroy all life on Earth was mind-blowing at the time. The reveal completely changed the tone of Dragon Ball forever and put Goku on a collision course not just with his fellow Saiyans but with Frieza and the wider universe as well.

7. Imperfect Cell Arc

Imperfect Cell arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

We love to be scared and the Imperfect Cell Arc is the closest to horror that Dragon Ball ever came. The slow reveal of the cyborg from the future as he absorbs whole cities of people is creepy and weird. The fact that Cell has the abilities of all the other fighters from Earth, plus some of their villains makes him feel like the culmination of everything the series had offered up to that point. He was already a terrifying threat and he was just getting started.

6. Tournament Arc

Tournament arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

He might be Goku’s BFF, but Krillin wasn’t in Dragon Ball at the start. He showed up to train under Master Roshi as well, setting the two up for a friendship that would define them forever. We see the secret to the Turtle Hermit training style (Work hard, study well, and eat and sleep plenty!) as well as get just enough characterization of Roshi to keep him from being just a pervy old man. This was the arc that made Dragon Ball so wonderful.

5. Piccolo Jr. Arc

Piccolo Jr arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

The end of the Dragon Ball anime features the ultimate showdown. Goku versus Piccolo Jr, the offspring of his greatest enemy to date. We learn the origin of the Dragon Balls, meet Kami, and, just before the final battle, get reintroduced to Chi-Chi in the most adorable way. It might be just another tournament, but it feels like a climactic end to Goku’s story as he finally – and for the last time – is crowned world champion.

4. Great Saiyaman Arc

Great Saiyaman arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

We are prepared to take some heat for this one but hear us out. Gohan’s turn as the Great Saiyaman isn’t just a goofy moment with Akira Toriyama losing the plot. It is about a young man trying to fit into a world that he has never been prepared for. We see Gohan get to do exactly what he loves – studying, helping people, and awkwardly navigating his first teen romance. The introduction of Videl gives so much heart to this short arc and admit it: you’ve tried doing the flying technique at least once. Just in case.

3. Frieza Arc

Frieza arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

Goku had always been a hero, but the Frieza Arc is where he became a legend. The first Super Saiyan transformation is rightly listed as one of the best moments in anime history, but it is also the desperate battle against Frieza up to that point that makes this arc so tense. Every time you think the heroes have an edge, Frieza casually leaves them all behind. His cruelty is unchecked until he finally meets a foe he cannot beat – Son Goku, the hope of the universe.

2. Vegeta Arc

Vegeta Arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

The pacing of this arc is wonderful. Earth’s heroes – and Piccolo – getting decimated by Nappa, only to realize that Vegeta is even stronger than his thuggish companion. Piccolo’s sacrifice for Gohan. Goku’s arrival. The Kaioken and Spirit Bomb techniques. And the desperation of everyone throwing everything they have at Vegeta and barely getting out alive. This might be the best overall fight in Dragon Ball, only beaten out for the title of best arc by…

1. Cell Games Arc

Cell Games arc Dragon Ball
Image credit: Toei Animation

As a viewer, we watched Gohan grow up right before our eyes. We caught glimpses of the incredible power that lay deep within him. This is the best Dragon Ball arc simply because it delivered on the promises that were made slowly over the years. Goku steps out of the way to allow his son to take the spotlight and, after he overcame his own insecurities, he grew into the hero we all knew he would be, resulting in the most emotional fight in Dragon Ball history.

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