Image Credit: Real DBZ Villians by Byo2010
We all know that a hero is nothing without a villain. No one knows this better than the Dragon Ball Z franchise. The show continually ups the ante for our protagonists by introducing villains that are increasingly stronger and more powerful than the last.
And like the heroes they face off with, Dragon Ball Z villains are just as memorable and iconic. They are the stuff of legends – they have to be if they’re going to challenge and push Goku and company past their limits.
However, not all Dragon Ball Z villains are created equal. We ranked these Dragon Ball Z villains from the worst to the best, taking into consideration their powers, the complexity of their motivations, and the impact of their presence.
Dragon Ball Z is the long-running sequel to the original Dragon Ball series. For this particular list, we will be focusing on the villains that appear in the main storyline of the Dragon Ball Z sagas.
Our list includes villains that come in pairs and in teams. For the purposes of our ranking, we rated them individually to highlight their powers and their impact to the Dragon Ball Z storyline.
The Ginyu Team is the exception to this rule because while they are composed of five individuals, they are completely immersed and devoted to being a team. Everything they do – including deciding who fights whom – requires a consensus. They think as a group, decide as a group, and move as a group. The Ginyu Force is not just a name, it’s their identity.
Also, there’s no “I” in choreography.
Frieza’s foot soldiers are also counted as one villain because they are so inconsequential.
With that out of the way, let’s get right into the 30 Dragon Ball Z villains ranked from scummy to sublime…
# 30: Van Zant
This scumbag shot a dog and that’s why he’s the worst! Van Zant is an amoral opportunist who gets a kick out of shooting old people and animals. He takes Buu’s rampage as permission to do everything his sociopathic little heart has always want to do. He shoots and hunts for the fun of it, and to get high off the adrenaline rush it brings.
Van Zant gets his comeuppance by being vaporized when Buu comes for some payback.
# 29: Smitty
Smitty, on the other hand, shows an initial reluctance to engage in random acts of killing, but this does not absolve him as he is seen later eventually is seen enjoying getting down and dirty with a gun. His may be the greater act of villainy because he could have taken the moral high ground and stopped Van Zant.
Smitty dies a horrible death when Buu turns to liquid, goes down his throat, and fills him up until he explodes. Karma served on a platter a la Buu.
# 28: Frieza’s Soldiers
You’d think that as soldiers accompanying an intergalactic dictator, Frieza’s underlings would have fighting abilities that would at least make the Z fighters break out in a sweat. As aptly demonstrated by Trunks, Frieza’s soldiers are complete underperformers, even when they have the advantage of numbers.
Moral of the story? When it comes to being a Dragon Ball Z villain, quality trumps quantity.
# 27: King Moai
King Moai, who? A filler villain, King Moai of the planet Arlia inspires nothing. He gets a mention as a Dragon Ball Z villain because he forces his men to fight for entertainment, and feeds the loser to Yeti, a giant cannibal Arlian. Vegeta and Nappa execute him easily. Good riddance.
# 26: Spopovich
Spopovich is your typical underling – brutal, vengeful, and eager for power. He gleefully beats up on Videl to get back at Satan for defeating him in a previous tournament.
Spopovich, along with his partner Yamu, had a short stint as Babidi’s minions, sent to drain Gohan’s energy to revive Majin Buu. After their job was done, Babidi had them executed.
# 25: Yamu
Yamu is the other half of the Spopovich and Yamu duo. He ranks a step higher than Spopovich because he’s more controlled, more sophisticated compared to his partner’s brutishness.
# 24: Yakon
Yakon is a monster who has an insatiable appetite for light energy, which is produced from a Super Saiyan transformation. He doesn’t really stand out as a Dragon Ball Z villain, not unless you count the way he died.
In his fight against Goku, Yakon does his usual MO and feeds off Goku’s light energy. Goku takes the path of least resistance and let’s Yakon feed while powering up to Super Saiyan 2. Yakon ingests so much energy that he violently explodes.
# 23: The Saibamen
The Saibamen are those disposable and interchangeable villains that are made to sound and look intimidating when in reality, they’re really not. The Saibamen are small, green humanoid creatures, and the most exciting thing about them is that they are grown from seeds.
The Saibamen are an exercise in futility. They’re cannon fodder, plain and simple. They do kill Yamcha, but that doesn’t count as Yamcha dies all the time anyway.
# 22: Cui
Cui is so pathetically weak that we wonder why he even picked a fight with Vegeta. The fight – if you can call it that – was painful to watch.
Like the Saiyan Prince, we don’t have time for weaklings. Moving on.
# 21: Pui Pui
Pui Pui’s ignominious defeat in Vegeta’s hands shows us the perils of really bad research. This Dragon Ball Z villain mistakenly thought that the gravity of his planet, which is 10 times the level than that of planet Earth, was enough to give him a leg up over Vegeta.
Unfortunately for him, Vegeta eats gravity for breakfast, accustomed to training in gravities at least 450 times the normal levels.
And so, we bid Pui Pui adieu. You tried.
# 20: Garlic Jr.
Garlic Jr. is the main antagonist of the movie Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone who reappears in the time between the Frieza and Trunks Saga.
Given that his arc is a filler saga, it’s little wonder why Garlic Jr. ends up as your generic, and run-of-the mill villain. He is one of the few characters that have been granted eternal life by the Dragon Balls, and what does he intend to do with it? Rule the world, implement everlasting reign of terror. Surprise, surprise.
The existence of the Garlic Jr. saga seriously messes up the continuity of the main story line and creates plot holes in the anime canon, which may explain the loathing people feel for Garlic Jr.
It’s also hard to be appropriately impressed with a villain who is called Garlic and Junior at the same time.
# 19: Bibbidi
What we can tell about Bibbidi is second-hand knowledge – he doesn’t get that much screen time in the show.
The bulk of his work for total world domination and destruction is carried by his doppelganger, Babidi, but it is Bibidi who sets off the chain of events leading to the Buu Saga when he summoned the demon Majin Buu and initiated the massacre of the Kais.
# 18: Cell Juniors
As if absorbing people was not scary enough, Perfect Cell can also create mini-replicas of himself called the Cell Juniors to goad Gohan into anger, and thus unleash his power. They are mini weapons of terror and destruction as they possess all the powers of a Perfect Cell.
But there lies the rub – they’ll never be anything more than copies. Bordering on the gimmicky, the Cell Juniors are fun to watch but not that memorable. Gohan later obliterates all eight Cell Juniors in a spectacular rampage, and that’s the last we see or hear of them.
# 17: Nappa
Nappa seems like a fun guy to hang out with, if he isn’t going out on violent killing sprees. He’s the very definition of brawn – shaved head, smelly, huge muscles, loud, brash, and cocky. There’s not much there in terms of intelligence, but he does not need it as he does all his thinking with his fists.
Characters that are relegated as muscle are often one-dimensional characters and disposable. Nappa is no different. Vegeta kills him off at the end of a paralysis-inducing Goku beat down. While not as cruel as Vegeta, his MO is standard villain fare of killing and blowing things up. Next villain, please.
# 16: The Ginyu Force
The Ginyu Force is supposedly a group of mercenaries, but we highly doubt that. Functioning more as a comic relief than proper Dragon Ball Z villains, the Ginyu Force pokes fun at itself, and to a certain extent, the over-the-top nature of the show, with choreographed poses and their own theme song.
Like nearly all Dragon Ball Z characters, the names of the Ginyu Force members are puns on food, specifically dairy products. Captain Ginyu is derived from gyunyu which means milk, Burter is a pun on butter, Guldo is short for yogurudo or yogurt, Jeice is a pun on cheese, and Recoome is an anagram for kurimu, or cream.
While they have no place competing with the hard core Dragon Ball Z villains in this ranking, we do believe that this highly entertaining group should score their own anime show.
# 15: Raditz
Raditz is the biological brother of Goku, and one of the last remaining Saiyans in the universe. When Goku turns down his invitation to go on a galactic-wide, planet-conquering spree, Raditz takes young Gohan hostage, and in doing so, sets off the events of Dragon Ball Z.
As a full Saiyan, there is no doubt that Raditz is one of the strongest Dragon Ball Z villains. But for all his physical prowess, he falls short as a compelling villain. Raditz is not as complex as the other Dragon Ball Z villains. It’s not entirely his fault, though, as he is only in the show for four episodes before he – and Goku, unfortunately – gets obliterated by Piccolo’s Special Beam Cannon.
It’s probably because of this that Raditz feels more like a side character, a harbinger of doom, rather than a proper Dragon Ball Z villain. While he provide us with critical information regarding Goku’s past, as a villain, he has no presence, and he does not stand out. He essentially holds down the fort until the real bad guys arrive – in this case, Saiyan Prince Vegeta.
# 14: King Cold
King Cold as a Dragon Ball Z villain is such a huge disappointment. The anime absolutely wastes his potential, giving him a scanty five episodes before Trunks destroys him. We really don’t get the chance to know him, or to be awed by his powers and villainous persona.
This is a shame because as the father of Frieza, one of the strongest and most powerful beings in the universe, he could have pushed the Frieza saga to the next level. Why go with one intergalactic tyrant dictator when you can have two?
But, alas, King Cold is a lukewarm villain – pun very much intended. He never gets to inspire the fear or the dread the way his son does.
# 13: Dabura
Dabura is sadistic and ruthless in his battle strategies as expected from a king of the demon realm. But we see that his brand of evil is a sophisticated evil. He understands power, and as a great fighter himself, he can appreciate talent and potential, even in his enemies.
On his own, we think Dabura would make a great Dragon Ball Z villain, but unfortunately, being under the thumb of the cowardly Babidi was not good for his villain career. If he could have just broken free from Babidi, things would have turned out differently, but in the end, he was never anything more than a minion. There was nowhere for Dabura to go but down.
With Buu’s appearance, Dabura was relegated to the sideline like a limp sock that has outlived its usefulness. Of course, Dabura does not take this demotion standing down, and foolishly challenges Buu. Dabura paid for his hubris and for his loyalty to Babidi dearly – he suffered a discomfiting defeat when the perennially hungry Buu turned him into a cookie and ate him.
# 12: Babidi
The only thing endearing about Babidi is his name. Everything else about this tiny lump of evil is just despicable.
We’ve had villains who are pure evil and coldly ruthless but the thing about them is that they still manage to inspire a modicum of respect.
Not Babidi. He is weak and a coward who enjoys inflicting pain on others. Babidi has no honor – even among thieves. He casually disposes of his minions when he no longer has any use for them, as what happened with Spopovich and Yamu. He throws Dabura under the bus when Buu comes free.
The way Babidi flaunts his power reeks of insecurity. And if we really think about it, he didn’t even work for it. He just inherited it when Bibbidi died. His innate weakness also shows itself in the way he revels in controlling other people.
Babidi talks big but he can’t back it up. He is reliant on his minions to do his dirty deeds and win battles for him. For this, you’d think he’d be a little more grateful and gracious, but no. He treats them all like dirt. He continually mouths off and abuses Buu, always threatening to reseal him when he doesn’t obey Babidi’s orders.
This just goes to show that Babidi has no common sense at all. Bibbidi, at least, had the grace to show some deference when dealing with Buu. You don’t nag a demon to do your bidding. One day, they will snap and smash your head.
# 11: Android 19
Completely obedient to the commands of his creator, Android 19 is a perfect soldier. He is even more coldly calculating and ruthless than the other androids, as he is the only one that is completely mechanical and without trace of organic form. Looking like a doll with a pasty white face and robotic childish voice, and a clownish costume, Android 19’s overall look is disturbing enough to re-awaken our repressed childhood fear of clowns.
This perfection, however, does not particularly make him an exciting or compelling villain to watch. He offers no surprise, no variety. With Android 19, there is no tension, no room for development and conflict. We can always rely on him to do what is expected. And in a show as dynamic as Dragon Ball Z, Android 19’s brand of villainy falls flat.
His fight with Vegeta is probably the only moment in his storyline that is remotely close to being exciting, and it’s not even because of his abilities or power. Android 19 is a pitiful figure when he ends up without his hands, scared and desperately scrambling away from a magnificently enraged Vegeta. Alas, it is Vegeta who does all the work, the one who brings in the energy that makes that fight brutally exciting to watch.
Android 19 is too perfect. Perfection is boring.
# 10: Android 18
Android 18 prefers to take the backseat to Android 17’s assertiveness, preferring to hang back while her brother does the talking. Despite her laidback personality, 18 is a proficient fighter and massively strong – she’s breaks Vegeta’s arm for good measure during their fight. Her ruthlessness makes her one of the more colder and more calculating villains in the show.
Together with Android 17, Android 18 follows no rule, obeys no master, and is brutally efficient in causing destruction and mayhem.
# 9: Dodoria
Dodoria serves alongside Zarbon as a general in Frieza’s Elite, the crème de la crème of the strongest fighters in Frieza’s army. He is Zarbon’s opposite in appearance and in attitude – he is brash, and vulgar, and is visually unattractive being fat, squat, and with horns on his head and arms.
Dodoria is a brute, and violence is the language that he speaks most fluently. There is no finesse, no decency, and no redemptive qualities in Dodoria. He is a sadistic bully, and like all bullies, Dodoria picks only on those he can easily defeat, and hates those who are more powerful than him because they remind him that while he holds power, he is still a weakling.
Holding himself in high regard, Dodoria finds it hard to believe that there are people more powerful than him. It is this tendency to underestimate his foes that leads to his death. Like Zarbon, Dodorio tries to save himself by offering Vegeta the story behind the destruction of the Saiyan’s homeworld. Like the badass Saiyan prince that he is, Vegeta takes Dodoria up on his offer but kills him anyway.
# 8: Android 17
Unlike Dr. Gero’s other creations, Android 17 and Android 18 were human teenagers who were remodeled to be artificial humans. Of the two, Android 17 emerges as the ringleader with his more assertive personality. Along with his sister, Android 17 is powerful and insanely strong as an artificial human. He is able to go toe-to-toe with most of the Z fighters, easily defeating Tien, Piccolo, and Trunks.
Android 17 tends to be the more independent of the two, often acting out on his own without relying too much on his twin. He was the one to destroy Dr. Gero as revenge for the Doctor’s experimentation on the twins against their will. He also has a distinct sense of self – he knows what he is and what he wants, and rarely bends to the will of others.
His downfall, eventually, was his arrogance. Imperfect Cell catches him unaware, and his absorption triggers Imperfect Cell’s transformation to Semi-Perfect Cell.
# 7: Android 16
The show turns the hyper-evil villain trope on its head by giving us a villain with a soul. Android 16 does not quite turn out to be what his creator, Dr. Gero, expects him to be. Unlike the other Androids, 16 has a very gentle nature – a poet and a philosopher in the body of a killing machine. Android 16 has been likened to the famed Terminator for the similarities in their stories, from their mission down to their poignantly tragic ending.
Despite being programmed to completely destroy Goku, we never see Android 16 being brutal or ruthless in his treatment of people and animals. He fights Semi Perfect Cell to protect Android 18 – the only time that we see an Android fight to defend rather than destroy.
Android 16 also had a great impact on Gohan. His speech before his death was a beautiful exhortation on the preciousness of life and the sacrifices we need to protect it, and it pushes Gohan to embrace his responsibility and duty to Earth as its defender.
Our only qualm with Android 16 is that he comes across as too gentle. Say what you will about his humanity and his gentleness – he is still a Dragon Ball Z villain, and for that distinction alone, he should engage in some minor acts of terror and destruction every now and then.
# 6: Zarbon
At first glance, the vain and gorgeous Zarbon does not look or act like one of the two highest ranking generals in Frieza’s Elite. He has an affected theatricality and flamboyance that can be mistaken for shallowness. But Zarbon is no fop. He powers up by transforming into a reptile-like berserker, and Vegeta experiences first-hand Zarbon’s brutal violence.
Zarbon’s most dangerous attribute, however, is his scheming mind. Zarbon is the guy who cleverly manipulates people and events to his advantage. He was the one who opened Frieza’s eyes to the growing strength of the Saiyan race. He facilitated Vegeta’s recovery to interrogate him.
Zarbon is a villain’s villain. He knows how to play the game. His only loyalty is to himself, and his priority is to remain on top of the pecking order no matter the cost. He’s despicable this way, but it is admirable how he does not hide behind excuses for acting like the villain that he is.
Zarbon died a violent death while trying to weasel his way out of a sticky situation – begging an enraged Vegeta to spare his life, and offering himself as a partner for world domination.
# 5: Dr. Gero/Android 20
Dr. Gero loses everything to Goku after the Saiyan hero destroys his Red Ribbon Army in the original Dragon Ball series. Already formidable as a mad evil genius, Dr. Gero is made even more dangerous as a Dragon Ball Z villain when he turns his sights on getting even with Goku by creating a more powerful army of cyborgs and androids, and most importantly, the organic creature Cell.
Dr. Gero is a man who has nothing to lose and everything to gain. That makes him a scary guy to face. And man, can he hold a grudge. He carefully plans his revenge, going as far as to spy on Goku to exploit his weaknesses, and to inflict the maximum amount of physical and emotional damage. If this means killing off Goku’s friends, then so be it.
While not physically imposing as some of the other Dragon Ball Z villains, Dr. Gero is no less just as dangerous.
# 4: Majin Buu
The Majin Buu saga takes place in the remaining 96 episodes of the Dragon Ball Z series. Majin Buu, the titular villain, is introduced as a very pink, genie-like form, crafted from raw energy by the evil warlock Bibbidi to be a mass destroyer of worlds. Majin Buu has multiple forms and personalities, shaped in part by the creatures and people he absorbs.
As a Dragon Ball Z villain, there is no middle ground with Buu. He inspires polarizing reactions all across the field – you either love him or you hate him. Every Dragon Ball Z villain is stronger than the last but in the case of Buu, he is all over the place.
Moreover, his powers do not have the ominous undertones that made his predecessors a sinister threat to Earth. True, he is extremely powerful and adaptive but for a major villain, everything Buu seems to do at this point is passé – we’ve been there, done that. Absorb people? Regenerate? Mimic moves? Check, check, and check.
Buu does not offer anything new to our protagonists. His child-like demeanor does set him apart from the hyper-evil villains of the past, but at the end of the day, his power and the threat he poses to Earth’s mightiest are the same thing, only jacked up to about over a 9000 power level.
He feels like a redundancy – a cute, silly, and cuddly redundancy as Fat Buu – but a redundancy nonetheless, just like this sentence.
# 3: Cell
Cell is a major Dragon Ball Z villain created by the nefarious Dr. Gero. Cell comes in at a particularly bad time for Goku and company, who aside from dealing with the destruction caused by the Red Ribbon Army, now have to face a creature who possesses the DNA samples of the Earth’s greatest fighters, along with those of Nappa, Frieza, and King Cold.
Unlike other Dragon Ball Z villains, Cell has no aspirations to conquer. He lives for the thrill of the fight. He is obsessed with beating the best fighters he can find in order to become the perfect being.
It sounds all good and noble until you see how Cell goes about to attain perfection. In order to transform from an imperfect cell to a semi-perfect and perfect cell, he swallows people whole, and absorbs their ability.
The fights during the Cell saga were nothing short of epic, precisely because Cell was a formidable enemy who pushed the Z heroes to their limits. With each evolution, Cell becomes stronger and more powerful, challenging our heroes to find ways to level up their powers.
At one point, he busts out the Kamehameha, Goku’s signature move, against Piccolo. This stuns Piccolo – not only does he have to figure out a way to counter the Kamehameha, he also has to contend with the psychological game that Cell is playing with him, that it is Goku, his friend, that is out to get him. If that’s not enough, Cell then eats Piccolo’s arm.
It’s not only Cell’s power that makes him one of the best Dragon Ball Z villains. Cell is also a surprisingly engaging villain. He is a bold showman (who else would have thought of holding Cell Games?), and a just a tiny bit charismatic. He is also supremely confident of his abilities – so much so that when Trunks was unable to beat him, he graciously proposed a 10-day respite before they meet again to continue their battle in a tournament. If I were Trunks, I don’t know if I should be grateful or insulted.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of Cell as a Dragon Ball Z villain is the impact he had on our heroes. With his egomaniacal drive to be the best, the danger Cell posed to the world served to bring out the very best in our heroes. Gohan steps up to save the world, Vegeta learns to care for the world he once wanted to conquer. Cell gave the Z heroes a challenge that demanded all they had to give.
# 2: Vegeta
Before Vegeta became a defender of Earth, he was once the proud prince of a destroyed race hell-bent on conquering and destroying Earth. With his Saiyan lineage – a royal one, at that – Vegeta is a character that is never completely good or evil at any given time. Even when he was a Dragon Ball Z villain, he cuts a tragic figure as the proud prince of a lost race and that lends a certain sense of nobility to his rampages. You don’t agree with what he’s doing, but you kind of understand why he’s doing it.
Vegeta is a complex villain – one of the few Dragon Ball Z villains who has his own code of honor. He is powerful, dynamic, and charismatic. He is ruthless enough to kill his own partner for being useless because he can’t abide weakness in others, and he most certainly can’t abide weakness in himself.
And even though he tends to end up second best to Goku, he never gives up and constantly pushes himself to the limit, and ultimately, that’s the greater and nobler feat. Vegeta is a villain on a mission.
# 1: Frieza
No other Dragon Ball Z villain has ever scared me more than Frieza. From his demeanor to his character design, everything about Frieza was created to strike fear from the very moment we lay eyes on him. He is physically androgynous, and possesses appendages and body parts that naturally don’t go together – claws, horns, that tail.
Frieza is truly in a class of his own as a Dragon Ball Z villain. He is evil to the core, a sadistic galactic overlord who ruthlessly conquers planets and worlds to sell to the highest bidder. He also engineered the massacre of the Saiyan race because of a prophecy hinting at his destruction at the hand of a Super Saiyan. I can imagine Frieza is the sort of villain who would just want to watch the world burn.
As part of a conquering dynasty, Frieza is used to getting his way – annihilating entire civilizations is just another day at the office. Frieza’s villainy is one that is truly inspired by fear.
A hero is only as good as the last villain he has beaten. The Dragon Ball Z series has given us some of the most memorable villains in the past. Be they the kind of villain that you relish getting destroyed or the kind that you wish have never made it to the final cut, Dragon Ball Z villains are in a league of their own.
What do you think of our worst to best Dragon Ball Z villains ranking? Let us know in the comments below.