Dragon Ball Z: How to Watch the Best Battles

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This article contains spoilers for Dragon Ball Z.

Dragon Ball Z is almost entirely about people flying around and shooting energy out of their hands at each other. But fans around the world know that DBZ is so much more than just the intense fights. The iconic characters are instantly recognizable both by their outfits and by their outrageous hairdos. They fight against vibrantly hued backgrounds, illuminating the deep blue skies and light green pastures with supercharged energy blasts and soundtracked by their pulsating auras. It’s just the best! The slow pacing and frequent lack of animation is definitely not good, but it’s also part of what makes the show so fun. The biggest moments are always worth the wait in Dragon Ball Z.

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But, if you don’t have the patience to watch the show from Episode 1 to Majin Buu, we’ve got you covered with this handy streaming guide that will get straight to the action. Currently, Crunchyroll is the only streamer that has Dragon Ball Z, but the good news is that they just added the much-loved English dubs to their service, in addition to the subbed version with the classic Japanese vocal cast. If you don’t have Crunchyroll, Hulu does have the precursor series Dragon Ball and the follow-up Dragon Ball Super

Goku and Piccolo vs. Raditz

Runtime: 1 hour
Best Place to Stream: Crunchyroll
Crunchyroll’s Season and Episode: Season 1, Episodes 3-5

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Growing up, Goku had mostly faced eccentric martial artists and warmongers and was able to overpower them with his incredible might and a persevering spirit. But nothing would prepare him when his super-powerful long-lost brother Raditz came crashing down to Earth from outer space.

He’s there to recruit Goku for his intergalactic and genocidal line of work, but is shocked that Goku wants no part in that. Unable to take no for an answer, Raditz kidnaps Goku’s young son, leading to a short run of high-stakes and charmingly animated episodes with almost none of the drawn-out padding and filler that later defined the series.

This first battle against Raditz establishes many of the hallmarks. In the face of an unflinchingly evil opponent, Goku teams up with an unlikely ally, his old enemy Piccolo. Raditz’s elite combat abilities, which include flinging around gigunda balls of energy and flying around at super high speeds, are the bare minimum that Goku and company spend the rest of the series struggling to surpass.

Piccolo, Krillin, Gohan, Yamcha, Tien, and Chiaotzu vs. Vegeta and Nappa and the Saibamen

Runtime: 2 and a half hours
Best Place to Stream: Crunchyroll
Crunchyroll’s Season and Episode: Season 1, Episodes 22-28

With Goku still stuck in the afterlife, Piccolo, Krillin, and Gohan find themselves as the first and only line of defense against Vegeta and Nappa, the two mighty Saiyan invaders wreaking havoc on the world in search of the Dragon Balls. It’s a classic DBZ underdog situation that immediately gets worse when Nappa grows a bunch of ugly green little monsters from the earth to do the fighting. And just when you think the trio are outnumbered by the Saibaman, Tien, Chiaotzu and Yamcha join the fray to even things out.

Truth be told, this isn’t the most exciting fight, but it is a great example of why even the weaker characters’ fights are so good. Goku is always the strongest of the bunch, but he’s never around right when he needs to be. Part of the fun of these fights is gauging how powerful the villains are by how bad they wallop the beloved supporting cast. And they’re not all scrubs, but sometimes their lives are treated almost like a joke. This fight in particular gave us the source material of the eternal Yamcha’s Death Pose meme. Episode 23 is the one where Yamcha shows up, gets immediately blown up, leaving behind a pitiful corpse in a smoldering crater.

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Goku vs Vegeta

Runtime: Just under 3 hours
Best Place to Stream: Crunchyroll
Crunchyroll’s Season and Episode: Season 1, Episodes 28-35

When Goku finally makes it back to Earth, he wastes little time trouncing Nappa. It appears that the anticipated final battle is finally going to begin, but not before Vegeta kills Nappa in disgust. Goku already had a bone to pick with Vegeta, but seeing the cruel death of his fellow Saiyan is more than enough reason for Goku to lay down the hurt.

In the early stages of the fight, we get two hallmarks of every great DBZ fight: moving to a second location and the extended power up sequence. Whenever things get serious, Goku always insists on taking the fight to a new location, so they can fight far away from any innocent bystanders. And now that they’re in the middle of nowhere, both are free to charge up immense energy, gloriously screaming all the while. Their fight is enthralling, especially with the major ki blasts, the giant ape transformations, and the out-of-where assist from a bencher that turns the tables in Goku’s favor.

Vegeta, Gohan, Krillin, and Goku vs The Ginyu Force

Runtime: About 2 hours 30 minutes
Best Place to Stream: Crunchyroll
Crunchyroll’s Season and Episode: Season 1, Episodes 62-68

After surviving Vegeta’s deadly assault, Gohan, Krillin, and Bulma travel to the alien planet Namek hoping to find another set of Dragon Balls so they can wish everyone back to life. It’s a charming remix of the early days of Dragon Ball, where Goku was running around and fighting a bunch of competing factions for control of the Dragon Balls. The quest to find the Dragon Balls isn’t much different than it was on Earth, except for the skeptical native Namekians and the excessive strength and deep cruelty of Frieza’s troops on the ground.  

It’s only because of the Dragon Balls that Vegeta forms a hasty alliance with Gohan and Krillin ahead of the arrival of Frieza’s Ginyu Force. It’s a desperate, but familiar, situation with yesterday’s enemies becoming today’s allies. The strength of the Ginyu Force is just that serious. But then when we finally meet the squad it turns out that they’re a bunch of clowns. 

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They have a doofy, unaware air around them, but unfortunately have the muscle to back it up. Our heroes eke out a single victory, but fall one by one to Recoome’s overwhelming strength. Goku arrives just in time to turn the tables with his own show of overwhelming power. It’s all very silly, but it actually does a great job demonstrating just how strong Goku has become after his latest training regiment ahead of his fated bout with Frieza.

Goku vs. Frieza

Runtime: About 7 hours
Best Place to Stream: Crunchyroll
Crunchyroll’s Season and Episode: Season 1, Episodes 87-105
The episode where Goku turns into a Super Saiyan: Season 1, Episode 95

The cataclysmic final battle on Namek is the defining moment of Dragon Ball Z’. It’s a moment that lasts 20 episodes, but it is the defining moment nonetheless. 

This fight is the natural conclusion to what Raditz started back when he crash landed on Earth. His arrival didn’t just bring Goku face-to-face with a powerful alien warrior, it also put him at odds with the aspiring ruler of the entire universe. This conflict sent Goku and company hurtling through outer space on a madcap quest to get life back to normal. But he soon realizes that it’s not just the folks on Earth who need defending, it’s the folks of every planet in Frieza’s line of sight. The aliens he faces along the way make him stronger and stronger, but ultimately it’s his newfound connection to his Saiyan heritage that seals the deal.

Yes, there are a ton of extended powering up and screaming sequences. It seemingly will not end. There are giant energy blasts that take forever to charge up and when they do they barely make a dent. But when Krillin explodes, Goku breaks. 

He starts screaming like a wounded beast. The ground around him breaks apart violently and floats in the air. His hair flashes bright. The screaming and grunting intensifies. Goku radiates a golden aura that audibly pulsates. He is the legend reborn, he has become the Super Saiyan. 

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There has never been a moment in anime like this before. No pacing issues can detract from the might of the Super Saiyan. It is simply incredible to behold.

Vegeta and Trunks Vs Cell

Runtime: About 3 Hours 30 Minutes
Best Place to Stream: Crunchyroll
Crunchyroll’s Season and Episode: Season 1, Episodes 156-165

After a year of intense training in the purgatory-like void of the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, Vegeta and Trunks emerge changed Saiyans. They’re as confident as they are beefy, and boy did they bulk up. In order to take on Cell, they harness the power of their Super Saiyan transformation to drastically increase their muscle mass and juice up their raw destructive power. Unfortunately for Vegeta, his form is nowhere near strong enough to get the best of Cell. And unfortunately for fans, his fight moves along as fast as a turtle on a hot day. There are great moments, but the animated blows are few and far between, with entire episodes unfolding without a single new development. 

The glacial pace and static animation are another hallmark of the series, but are widely accepted as the price of admission for being a fan. But boy, these episodes in particular are a snoozefest. It’s not until Vegeta is utterly defeated that Trunks finally pops off, bulking up to an even greater size than his father. After some classic screaming and powering up, the fight itself is deliciously anticlimactic, with Trunks unable to land a hit due to his newfound mass slowing him down. Ironically, had Trunks swallowed his pride and come to his father’s aid, the two might have threaded the needle between agility and power. The bitter defeats and shattered dreams are the perfect lead-in for the actual final fight against Cell. 

Goku vs. Cell

Runtime: A little under 2 hours
Best Place to Stream: Crunchyroll
Crunchyroll’s Season and Episode: Season 1, Episodes 177-181

From the moment Trunks arrived in a time machine warning of a cataclysmically bad future, the entire Android Saga became about preventing that scenario from ever coming to pass. There are constant glimpses to Trunks’ original timeline where our favorite characters are violently slaughtered one after the other. It’s the worst case scenario that the Dragon Balls always seem to fix, but in the future, there are no Dragon Balls to right the wrongs. Evil won, leaving Future Trunks’ only choice to travel back in time to stop it from ever happening.. 

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When it’s finally time to prevent the genocidal onslaught of Dr. Geros’ androids, all that time traveling and meddling with the space-time continuum seems to pay off. Trunks’ heads up lit a fire under everyone’s feet, inspiring them to train seriously to become stronger than ever before. And crucially, with medicine from the future, Goku’s heart disease is little less than a stumbling block for the fighters to overcome. But things go from bad to worse when another time traveler arrives from Trunks’ future. 

It’s Cell, a horrible android who grows stronger by absorbing his opponents. In Trunks’ future, there was no one around to be absorbed, but in the present day the Z Warriors hold their own long enough for Cell to feast.

Worse is that once he achieves his final, perfect form, he has the strength to destroy the world and has no qualms about doing so. But after shutting down every opponent on Earth, Cell doesn’t go on to destroy the world. He pulls an interesting stunt by announcing his own version of the World Martial Arts Tournament. It’s a sick parody of the cozy tournament arc we’ve seen since the earliest days of Dragon Ball. Like the best climactic fights, his first round bout against Goku has the fate of the world riding on it. And like the best arcs, this fight ends with an unexpected fake out that ushers in an even crazier climax.

Gohan vs. Cell

Runtime: About 4 hours
Best Place to Stream: Crunchyroll
Crunchyroll’s Season and Episode: Season 1, Episodes 181-191

After the much ballyhooed fight between Goku and Cell comes to an unexpected end when Goku concedes defeat, the fate of the world suddenly rests on Gohan’s unsteady shoulders. Unfortunately for the world, Gohan is thoroughly pummeled by Cell when he is unable or unwilling to unleash his true power. In a moment that’s been hinted at since he headbutted Raditz as a four-year-old, Gohan finally surpasses his father by reaching the level beyond Super Saiyan. It’s the same transformation that Vegeta and Trunks were unable to achieve, despite their intense training and sudden bursts of emotional development.

The fight itself is almost too neat to be exciting. It’s more cathartic than anything else to witness the good guys finally bring down the insurmountable foe plaguing their lives. Of course, Cell is a villain through and through, so instead of pulling a Goku and conceding, he blows himself up. It’s only thanks to Goku’s extremely convenient ability to teleport that the Earth’s damage is mostly contained to some spot in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully for us battle fans, the fight actually manages to rage on for one final confrontation with Gohan’s fantastic Kamehameha.

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Gotenks vs Majin Buu

Runtime: A little under 2 hours
Best Place to Stream: Crunchyroll
Crunchyroll’s Season and Episode: Season 1, Episodes 258-262

Between facing off against Frieza and Cell, Goku and company have had their hands full with a ton of seriously bad people. But when a wizard from outer space shows up pretty much entirely at random, the tone backslides toward the sillier days of Goku’s adventures. Back at the start, the show was as much of a comedy as it was an action series. This horrific Majin Buu entity was the first antagonist in a long time that wasn’t only dead-set on destroying the world. With a childlike disposition, Buu would transform folks into candy just to eat them. Worse yet, he seemed completely immune to damage and significantly stronger than the Earth’s best. 

So it’s a funny detour when Hercule accidentally becomes Buu’s friend and easily sways him to give up his evil ways. Unfortunately for the world, Buu physically splits into a good and evil version and the evil one wins out. It’s this maniacal Super Buu that Trunks and Goten face off against as the final defenders of the world. Buu is so bad that he doesn’t even wait to win the final battle to kill everyone on the planet, he just does it on a whim. Even with this ultra-evil character turn, his battle against the two youngest fighters in the docket is a lighthearted delight full of gags and dumb jokes. The two kids are the Earth’s last hope, but they are extremely very dumb. It’s the perfect synthesis of the high-powered high-stakes battles of DBZ and the goofy anything-goes style of Goku’s adventures as a kid in Dragon Ball.

Goku and Vegeta vs Kid Buu

Runtime: A little under 3 hours
Best Place to Stream: Crunchyroll
Crunchyroll’s Season and Episode: Season 1, Episodes 279-286

In Dragon Ball Z, no matter how bad things looked, good always beat out evil. But it’s not just one fight that happened to result in the series’ happy ending, it is truly the fight to end all fights. Goku manages to defeat Buu, the single worst entity in the entire universe. With Frieza defeated, the Androids at home managed, the arrival of Buu’s ancient evil was the last true threat to a peace happily ever after. 

Beyond the sentimentality, it’s a thrilling fight to watch. It’s got all the hallmarks of a classic DBZ fight, but cranked up to 11. Goku makes his millionth return from retirement to defeat the big bad, but this time Buu is the literal incarnation of evil, not just a seriously bad dude. Vegeta has a huge character moment when he finally acknowledges that Goku is the stronger of the two, not because of his strength, but because of his pure heart, his kindness. The Dragon Balls make a clutch assist to set up for and execute the fan-favorite attack in the entire series, the Spirit Bomb. 

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Everything that Goku always was, he is to the end. When he wins, it’s as glorious as ever. Everyone put in the hard work, but at the end of the day Goku brought it home. When this fight originally aired, it truly meant the end of Dragon Ball Z. But as we all know, nearly 20 years after the end of DBZ, Akira Toriyama pulled a Goku and came out of retirement one last time to continue the story with Dragon Ball Super.

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