Dragon Ball has been a pretty intense series from the get-go; at every turn there’s a new opponent who’s either after the Dragon Balls, Goku’s life, and in most instances, both! Fans have always debated which saga is the best in the franchise, but one thing’s for certain: the most enjoyable parts of the series have been the ones where the Z-Fighter were put under enormous amounts of pressure, where losing meant that irreversible damage would befall upon our heroes.
Other sagas attempted to recreate that same sense of tension and urgency but they couldn’t come close. Below are just five Dragon Ball sagas where everything was on the line, as well as five that could never compare despite featuring dastardly villains all the same.
10 Everything Was On The Line: Majin Buu Saga
While the Majin Buu Saga is often a big point of contention among Dragon Ball fans, it was definitely a saga that pushed and tested the Z-Fighters to their wit’s end. They were on a race against the clock, fighting to stop an ancient monster who wouldn’t stop until the universe was destroyed.
Things only got worse, with Majin Buu taking new forms, each one deadlier than the last. And since Kid Buu could get to Other World using Instant Transmission, the Z-Fighters wouldn’t even be safe from his wrath in death.
9 Never Compared: God Of Destruction Beerus Saga
When Beerus not only waited for Goku to attain the Super Saiyan God transformation and even seemed to teach Goku about his newfound powers during their battle, it became evident that he wouldn’t destroy the Earth, even if Goku lost their fight.
This saga served as a nice introduction to Dragon Ball Super, but the stakes just weren’t there at all, even after seeing how merciless Beerus could be when it came to destroying planets in other episodes. Once he and Whis had a taste of Earth’s food, it was clear that he didn’t have the gall to destroy the planet anytime soon.
8 Everything Was On The Line: Saiyan Saga
Not only did Goku die for the first time in this saga, but it became a race against the clock as he and his friends trained to prepare for two foes stronger than anything they could conceive at the time. Since Piccolo played a central role in the fight, the Dragon Balls were at risk, meaning that the damage the Saiyans caused wouldn’t be able to be undone (as far as viewers knew).
It was also clear that Vegeta wouldn’t give Goku an ounce of mercy, gluing fans to their screens as the battle against these foreign invaders raged on to its unexpected conclusion.
7 Never Compared: Emperor Pilaf Saga
For the most part, the stakes in Dragon Ball were pretty low. Sure, things got serious during Goku’s fight with the Red Ribbon Army and King Piccolo, but other than that, there weren’t many others who posed a serious threat to Goku, Emperor Pilaf’s crew included.
While they did manage to steal the Dragon Balls from Goku and the others, Mai, Shu, and Pilaf were just too goofy and were huge sources of comic relief. Even at the climax of this saga, when Goku turned into a Great Ape and nearly crushed his friends, they were able to cut off his tail without injuring themselves in the process.
6 Everything Was On The Line: Universe Survival Saga
After a meeting with Zeno and Future Zeno, Goku was able to convince the two Omni Kings to sponsor an intense battle royale between eight universes. While characters couldn’t be killed in the actual tournament, losing meant being erased without remorse, and while viewers knew that Universe 7 would ultimately emerge victorious (since there’s no Dragon Ball without Goku and the others), the Z-Fighters were forced to give it their all on the battlefield against powerhouses from other universes, leading to some truly memorable battles.
After seeing just how strong Jiren was, some fans even questioned if Goku would even be able to win and prevent his universe from being destroyed, maintaining tension throughout the entire saga.
5 Never Compared: Universe 6 Saga
If Universe 6 ended up winning the tournament against Universe 7, Champa would’ve used the Super Dragon Balls to bring Earth over to Universe 6. While this would’ve meant that Goku and the others would’ve had to say goodbye to their friends on Namek and in Universe 7’s Other World, this isn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened. The fact that the characters would still be alive meant that losing the tournament would’ve meant that the show could still go on, but it would just look very different.
Since they couldn’t kill one another in the tournament, nobody would be beaten to states of near-death like what’s normal for this series. Even in moments that were supposed to cause some anxiety, like when Goku lost to Frost or when Vegeta couldn’t see through Hit’s Time Skip technique, the tension just wasn’t there.
If losing actually meant that Earth would be destroyed, maybe then this saga would have felt a little more climactic.
4 Everything Was On The Line: King Piccolo Saga
King Piccolo marked the point when Goku’s foes would no longer be pure earthlings. It was in this saga that fans saw pivotal characters like Krillin and Master Roshi lose their lives as a result of their encounters with King Piccolo and his children. Losing meant that Piccolo would rule over the Earth, destroying whole civilizations on the tiniest whim. It meant the collapse of peace on Earth that Goku had fought so hard to create.
The young Saiyan had no masters or friends who could help him during this conflict. He was all on his own, and running away wasn’t an option.
3 Never Compared: Future Trunks Saga
While Future Trunks’s timeline was in danger once again, the main timeline was perfectly fine. When things got too bad, Trunks, Goku, and Vegeta had the convenience of returning to the past, where they recovered and prepared for the next battle, a luxury that they never had before.
While Beerus and Whis didn’t help with the fighting, their intervention in destroying the Zamasu of the past, as well as bringing Trunks and Mai to an alternate version of the future, was just enough to fill in the cracks that would’ve caused a lot of headaches for the Z-Fighters as well.
2 Everything Was On The Line: Namek Saga
After Piccolo’s death at the hands of Nappa, assembling all of the Namekian Dragon Balls was the only way the Z-Fighters could undo the damage that had been done in the Saiyan Saga. While Krillin, Gohan, and Bulma initially thought this would be a walk in the park, things continued taking a turn for the worse when they found out that Vegeta and Frieza had come to Namek seeking the Dragon Balls as well.
Losing here not only meant certain death, but it also meant that Frieza or Vegeta could potentially misuse the Dragon Balls for their own evil purposes. The situation only got worse with each episode, and with Goku unable to just teleport across galaxies like he can now, viewers knew there’d be no easy respite for the others.
1 Never Compared: Golden Frieza Saga
The Golden Frieza Saga marked the return of one of the franchise’s most iconic villains, but unlike the Namek Saga, the odds were stacked against Frieza from the start. Not only were his grunts one big joke. But the fact that Frieza would have to defeat Goku and then move on to Vegeta, both of whom individually possessed enough power to stop him, meant that he would lose the war even if he won a battle.
Whis and Beerus served as a literal deus ex machina, and with Whis’s ability to rewind time, the upper hand that Frieza had gained was quickly taken away from him. This saga just felt like one big training lesson to prepare Goku and Vegeta for their fight against actual gods in the Future Trunks Saga.
Dragon Ball has featured some very climate story arcs where sometimes the fate of the universe is on the the line. Other times, not so much…