Dragon Ball Z (Japanese: ドラゴンボールZ, Hepburn: Doragon Bōru Zetto, commonly abbreviated as DBZ) is a Japanese anime television series produced by Toei Animation. Part of the Dragon Ball media franchise, it is the sequel to the 1986 Dragon Ball anime series and adapts the latter 325 chapters of the original Dragon Ball manga series created by Akira Toriyama, which ran in Weekly Shōnen Jump from 1988 to 1995. The series aired in Japan on Fuji TV from April 1989 to January 1996 and was later dubbed for broadcast in at least 81 countries worldwide.

Dragon Ball Z continues the adventures of Son Goku in his adult life as he and his companions defend the Earth against villains including aliens (Vegeta, Frieza), androids (Cell), and magical creatures (Majin Buu). At the same time, the story parallels the life of his son, Gohan, as well as the development of his rivals, Piccolo and Vegeta.

Due to the success of the anime in the United States, the manga chapters making up its story were initially released by Viz Media under the Dragon Ball Z title. The anime’s popularity has also spawned numerous media and merchandise that have come to represent the majority of content within the Dragon Ball franchise. Dragon Ball Z remains a cultural icon through numerous adaptations and re-releases, including a remastered broadcast titled Dragon Ball Kai.[a]

Dragon Ball Z has since been followed by two sequel series: Dragon Ball GT (1996–1997) and Dragon Ball Super (2015–2018).

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Saiyan Saga
Dragon Ball Z picks up five years after the end of the Dragon Ball anime, with Goku now a young adult and father to his son, Gohan.

A humanoid alien named Raditz arrives on Earth in a spacecraft and tracks down Goku, revealing to him that he is his long-lost older brother and that they are members of a near-extinct alien warrior race called the Saiyans (サイヤ人, Saiya-jin). The Saiyans had sent Goku (originally named “Kakarot”) to Earth as an infant to conquer the planet for them, but he suffered a severe blow to the head shortly after his arrival and lost all memory of his mission, as well as his bloodthirsty Saiyan nature.

Raditz along with two elites, Vegeta and Nappa, are the only remaining Saiyan warriors, so Raditz comes to enlist Goku’s help in conquering frontier worlds. When Goku refuses to join them, Raditz takes Goku and Krillin down with one strike, kidnaps Gohan and threatens to murder him if Goku doesn’t kill 100 humans within the next 24 hours. Goku decides to team up with his arch-enemy Piccolo, who was also defeated by Raditz in an earlier encounter, in order to defeat him and save his son. During the battle, Gohan’s rage momentarily makes him stronger than Piccolo and Goku as he attacks Raditz to protect his father. The battle ends with Goku restraining Raditz so that Piccolo can hit them with a deadly move called Special Beam Cannon (魔貫光殺砲, Makankōsappō), mortally wounding them both. Before Raditz succumbs to his injuries, he reveals to Piccolo that the other two Saiyans are much stronger than him and will come for the Dragon Balls in one year’s time.

Having witnessed Gohan’s latent potential, Piccolo takes him into the wilderness to train for the upcoming battle against the Saiyan Elites. In the afterlife, Goku travels the million-kilometer Snake Way so that he can train under the ruler of the North Galaxy, King Kai. King Kai teaches him the Kaio-ken (界王拳) and Spirit Bomb (Genki Dama (元気玉)) techniques. In spite of his gruff nature, Piccolo grows fond of Gohan while he oversees him learning to fend for himself. This forges an unlikely emotional bond between the two.

After a year, Goku is revived with the Dragon Balls, but King Kai panics as he realizes that Goku will have to take Snake Way again to get back and won’t make it until hours after the Saiyans arrive. Goku’s allies group up to fight until Goku gets back, but prove to be no match for Nappa and the “Prince of All Saiyans”, Vegeta. Yamcha, Tien Shinhan, Chiaotzu and Piccolo all perish in the battle, with Piccolo’s death causing both Kami and the Dragon Balls to fade from existence. When Goku finally arrives at the battlefield, he avenges his fallen friends by easily defeating Nappa before crippling him by breaking his spine in half. A furious Vegeta then executes Nappa for his failure to kill Goku.

Goku uses several grades of the Kaio-ken to win the first clash with Vegeta, which concludes with a climactic ki beam struggle, but it comes at a great cost to his body. Vegeta comes back and creates an artificial moon to transform into a Great Ape, which he uses to torture Goku. Krillin and Gohan sense that Goku is in trouble, and they return for a group fight with the now-seemingly unstoppable Vegeta. They are aided at key moments by Yajirobe, who cuts Vegeta’s tail to revert him into his normal state. Goku gives Krillin a Spirit Bomb that he made, and Krillin uses it to severely damage Vegeta. Vegeta is ultimately defeated when he is crushed by Gohan’s Great Ape form, and he retreats to his spaceship as Krillin approaches to finish him off. Goku convinces Krillin to spare Vegeta’s life and allow him to escape Earth, with Vegeta vowing to return and destroy the planet in revenge for his humiliation at Goku’s hands.

Frieza Saga
During the battle, Krillin overhears Vegeta mentioning the original set of Dragon Balls from Piccolo’s home world, Namek (ナメック星, Namekku-sei). While Goku recovers from his injuries, Gohan, Krillin and Goku’s oldest friend Bulma depart for Namek in order to use these Dragon Balls to revive their fallen friends.

Upon their arrival on Namek, Krillin, Gohan, and Bulma discover that Vegeta and his superior, the galactic tyrant Frieza, are already there, each looking to use the Dragon Balls to obtain immortality. Vegeta is stronger than before, as Saiyans become stronger when they recover from the brink of death, so he seizes the opportunity to rebel against Frieza. A triangular game of cat-and-mouse ensues, with Frieza, Vegeta and Gohan/Krillin alternately possessing one or more of the Dragon Balls, with no one managing to possess all seven at any given time.

Vegeta manages to isolate Frieza’s lieutenants one-by-one and kill them. When Frieza sees that Vegeta is posing too big of a problem, he summons the Ginyu Force, a team of elite mercenaries led by Captain Ginyu, who has the ability to switch bodies with his opponents. Vegeta reluctantly teams up with Gohan and Krillin to fight them, knowing that they are too much for him to handle alone. The Ginyu Force proves too powerful, but Goku finally arrives and defeats them single-handedly, saving Vegeta, Gohan, and Krillin. Vegeta believes Goku may have become the legendary warrior of the Saiyans, the Super Saiyan (超サイヤ人, Sūpā Saiya-jin). As Goku heals from a brutal fight with Captain Ginyu, Krillin, Dende and Gohan secretly use the Dragon Balls behind Vegeta’s back to wish for Piccolo’s resurrection and teleport him to Namek. Vegeta finds them using the Dragon Balls without him, but the Grand Elder dies and renders the Dragon Balls inert before he can wish for immortality. Just as this happens, Frieza arrives and decides to kill the four of them for denying him his wish for immortality.

Piccolo arrives on Namek, but is accidentally separated from the others due to a badly-worded wish. He finds the strongest Namekian warrior, Nail, who was defeated by Frieza, and fuses with him to greatly increase his power.

Despite both Piccolo and Vegeta’s advances in power, they are greatly outclassed by Frieza, who goes through several transformations before reaching his final form, which he then uses to kill Dende.

Goku arrives after healing from his injuries, and Vegeta tells him that Frieza was the one who destroyed the Saiyan homeworld and massacred the Saiyan race, as he feared that he would one day be overthrown by a Super Saiyan. Frieza then kills Vegeta in front of Goku.

Though Goku’s power exceeds Vegeta’s, he is still no match for Frieza. Goku uses his last resort, a massive Spirit Bomb with the energy of Namek and the surrounding worlds, and it seemingly defeats the tyrant. However, Frieza manages to survive, and he unleashes his wrath upon the group by gravely wounding Piccolo and murdering Krillin. Goku’s rage finally erupts, and he undergoes a strange transformation that turns his hair blond, his eyes blue and causes a golden aura to radiate from his body. Goku has finally become a Super Saiyan.

Meanwhile, the revived Kami uses Earth’s Dragon Balls to resurrect everyone on Namek that was killed by Frieza and his henchmen, which also allows the Grand Elder to be resurrected for a short time, and the Namekian Dragon to return. Dende uses the final wish to teleport everyone on Namek to Earth except for Goku and Frieza.

Even at 100% power, Frieza proves to be no match for the Super Saiyan transformation, and Goku defeats the evil tyrant before escaping Namek as the planet is destroyed in a massive explosion.

Garlic Jr. Saga
After the battle with Frieza, Goku’s friends and family wait for word on his return when a star drifts into position near the Earth and opens up a rift in space, allowing Garlic Jr. to break free from his imprisonment. He invades Kami’s lookout and traps Kami and Mr. Popo before using the Black Water Mist to turn all of Earth’s inhabitants into bloodthirsty vampire-like beings. Gohan, Krillin, Piccolo, Krillin’s then-girlfriend Maron and Gohan’s pet dragon Icarus are the only ones unaffected and set out to stop Garlic Jr and restore the Earth. This proves to be easier said than done as Garlic Jr. has complete immortality, making him impossible to kill. Luckily, Gohan’s hidden potential gives him the edge he needs to take down Garlic Jr.’s forces and send Garlic Jr. back into the Dead Zone. He also destroys the star, trapping the malevolent immortal forever.

Androids Saga
One year later, Frieza is revealed to have survived and arrives on Earth with his father, King Cold, seeking revenge. However, a mysterious young man named Trunks appears, transforms into a Super Saiyan and kills them both. Goku returns a few hours later, having spent the past year on the alien planet Yardrat learning a new technique: Instant Transmission, which allows him to teleport to any location he desires. Trunks reveals privately to Goku that he is the son of Vegeta and Bulma, and has traveled from 17 years in the future to warn Goku that two Androids (人造人間, Jinzōningen, lit. “Artificial Humans”) created by Dr. Gero will appear in three years to seek revenge against Goku for destroying the Red Ribbon Army when he was a child. Trunks says all of Goku’s friends will fall to them – while Goku himself will die from a heart virus six months prior to their arrival.

Trunks gives Goku medicine from the future that will save him from the heart virus and departs back to his own time. When the androids arrive, Goku falls ill during his fight with Android 19, but is saved by Vegeta, who reveals that he has also achieved the Super Saiyan transformation. Vegeta and Piccolo easily defeat Android 19 and Dr. Gero (who turned himself into “Android 20”), but Trunks returns from the future to check on their progress and reveals that the androids they defeated are not the ones that killed all of them in the future.

Goku is out of commission and his allies are overwhelmed by the arrival of Androids 17 and 18, and an even stronger bio-Android called Cell emerges from a different timeline and embarks on a quest to find and absorb Androids 17 and 18 which will allow him to attain his “perfect form”.

Cell successfully absorbs Android 17, becoming considerably more powerful, but Vegeta returns to the battle, having greatly elevated his own power, and easily overpowers him. However, Vegeta allows Cell to absorb Android 18, believing that his “perfect form” will be no match for his Super Saiyan power. Vegeta is subsequently defeated, with Cell sarcastically thanking him for helping him achieve perfection.

Cell allows everyone to live for the time being and announces his own fighting tournament to decide the fate of the Earth, known as the “Cell Games”. Goku, recovered from the heart virus and having reached the zenith of the Super Saiyan form, takes on Cell at the tournament. Goku eventually realizes that Cell is far too powerful for him to handle, and forfeits the fight to the astonishment of everyone else. Goku proclaims that Gohan will be able to defeat Cell. Though initially outclassed, Gohan is eventually able to tap into his latent power and achieves the Super Saiyan 2 transformation. Refusing to accept defeat, Cell prepares to self-destruct and destroy the Earth.

Goku uses his Instant Transmission ability to teleport himself and Cell to King Kai’s planet, where Cell explodes and kills everyone there. However, Cell survives the blast and returns to Earth more powerful than ever, where he promptly murders Trunks, but Gohan unleashes the totality of his power in a massive Kamehameha wave and obliterates Cell for good.

The Dragon Balls are then used to revive everyone that was killed by Cell, while Goku chooses to remain in the afterlife, refusing an offer by his friends to use the Namekian Dragon Balls to bring him back. Trunks returns to his own timeline and uses his bolstered power to finally slay the Future Androids and Cell.

Majin Buu Saga
Seven years later, Goku is allowed to go back to Earth for one day to reunite with his loved ones and meet his youngest son, Goten, at the Tenkaichi Budōkai (天下一武道会, “Strongest Under the Heavens Martial Arts Tournament”). Soon after, Goku and his allies are drawn into a fight by the Supreme Kai against a magical being named Majin Buu (魔人ブウ, ”Demon Person Buu”) summoned by the evil wizard Babidi. All efforts of preventing the resurrection prove to be futile as Buu is successfully revived, resulting in Vegeta, who had willingly joined forces with Babidi so he could surpass Goku, committing suicide in a failed attempt to kill Buu. Goten and Trunks are taught the fusion technique by Goku, while Gohan is trained by the Supreme Kai to unlock his latent potential. Meanwhile, Buu befriends Mr. Satan and vows to never kill anyone ever again, but is interrupted when a deranged gunman shoots and nearly kills Mr. Satan. As a result, Majin Buu becomes so angry that he expels the evil within himself, creating an evil Buu that proceeds to absorb the good Buu. The result is Super Buu, a psychopathic monster who wants nothing more than the total destruction of the universe. After numerous battles that result in the deaths of many of Goku’s allies as well as the destruction of Earth, Goku (whose life is fully restored by the Elder Supreme Kai) defeats Kid Buu (the original and most dangerous form of Majin Buu) with a Spirit Bomb attack containing the energy of all the inhabitants of Earth, who were resurrected along with the planet by the Namekian Dragon Balls. Goku makes a wish for Kid Buu to be reincarnated as a good person and, ten years later at another Tenkaichi Budōkai, he meets Kid Buu’s human reincarnation, Uub. Leaving the match between them unfinished, Goku departs with Uub so he can train him to become Earth’s new defender.