When it comes to memorable characters, there are very few who can compete with the Dragon ball franchise. Over the years, they’ve been responsible for some of the most enduring and recognizable characters in the history of entertainment. From Goku, Vegeta, Master Roshi, and even Piccolo, these characters stand out in the minds of fans for their design and development.
An important part of their development has been the writing and how the creators expanded upon their lives and backstories, from happy and comedic origins to the more sad and depressing. In this list, well be taking a look at the most tragic backstories in the series.
10 Master Roshi
The master of the Kame House, the OG of the turtle shell, Master Roshi. While it may not seem like it, Roshi has one of the more tragic backstories in the series. He lived through a world ravaged by King Piccolo, losing his master and best friend in the process. He forms his own martial arts school with his students Goku, Krillin, and Yamcha and then must watch two of them die at the hand of the androids, and Goku fall to a heart condition. While the Dragon Balls have kind of erased the impact of death throughout the series, just imagine the level of tragedy if they didn’t exist.
9 King Piccolo
The major villain from the original Dragon Ball anime, King Piccolo is more tragic than you think. He lives on as the essence of another person’s evilness, and he was forced beyond his will to exist in that way. He was unaware of what the concept of kindness was, and didn’t understand how to act like the good guy like Kami. As a character, his only purpose of existence was being the rejected part of someone else, separated just for the considerably selfish purposes of Kami so that he can be given the title of Earth Guardian, without regard to what would happen if the two sides were separated.
We all know Broly, he’s one of the most popular characters to never appear in the series outside of the films. In the recent reworking of the Broly origin story, the creators managed to make his backstory more tragic than his original one.
After escaping the destruction of their home planet, Broly and his father wind up being used as tools of Freeza, the same man who destroyed their planet. Freeza pits Broly against his arch-rivals Goku and Vegeta and then murders his father Paragus, in order to draw out his true potential.
While Bardock may have been one of the more evil characters in the series, that doesn’t offset the tragedy of his backstory. After years of waring and pillaging, he became blessed with psychic powers and foresaw the demise of his race and destruction of his planet. He struggled to convince his people of the fate that awaited them and tried to alter the course of his destiny. Ultimately, he failed and had to live that time until the end with the knowledge of the future and how the destruction of his planet could have been averted.
Among new and even older fans of the franchise, Jiren has managed to cement himself as one of the most popular and powerful characters in the history of the series existence. After a great evil came to his planet that killed his parents and much of his village he was rescued by the man that grew to be his mentor. He trained for years under his new master and vowed to avenge his family and his friends by destroying the great evil. The evil and he hoped to destroy it once and for all, but his master and comrades perished in the process. From then on he focused on growing his own strength to combat the evil in the universe so that other casualties could be avoided.
Yet another Saiyan with a similarly tragic backstory, at this point it’s safe to say that they might be the major tragedy of the Dragon Ball franchise. As if having your family and race killed off, wasn’t bad enough already. He was forced to work for the tyrant that destroyed his planet and killed his family. He then eventually finds out his biological brother escaped the destruction of his homeworld and is still alive. He goes on a quest to earth in order to bring him back. And after much love lost, he attempts to drag his brother, Goku, back by force but is then killed by his brother. The Saiyan arc of Dragon Ball Z is like the anime adaptation of the story of Cain and Abel.
4 Android 16
When it comes to tragic backstories the Dragon Ball series is rife with examples, the androids being a great one, specifically 16. He one of the first androids created by Dr. Gero, being explicitly programmed to kill Goku. But a strange thing happened inside of him, and he began to fall in love with nature and developing somewhat of a human consciousness.
He couldn’t really embrace and become one with nature like he truly wanted because of his innate programing to kill Goku. ultimately, he is used as the sacrificial lamb, being murdered by cell, so that Gohan could reach Super Saiyan 2 with no hope of ever being revived because he wasn’t a living creature.
The great Saiyan prince has made quite the future and life for himself, considering the backstory he emerged from. He was destined to be the king of his home planet of Vegeta, that was until Freeza decided to have a say. Vegetas’ home planet was destroyed and his race nearly entirely eradicated from the universe. To add insult to injury, he became enslaved by Freeza, the same man responsible for all his trauma, and used him as muscle to go to other planets and wipe out their population. The biggest tragedy of all remains that he never lived up to the title of the Prince of all Saiyans, eventually being surpassed in strength and power and respect by Goku.
Gohan remains one of the most tragic characters in the series as far as what he was forced to go through at such a young age. He was a young child between the Saiyan and Cell arcs. He had to deal with the death of his father twice, the deaths of all of the friends, and was powerless to help them all as they suffered through violent attacks and death throughout the course of his childhood. Even the future version of himself, during the Trunks Timeline, had to watch everybody die for the last time with no hope of ever being resurrected, serving as the only line of defense for the planet until his death.
1 Future Trunks
When it comes to sad origins, Future trunks easily takes the cake. Not only did he survive the onslaught of Goku Black and Zamasu, who ended up eradicating the entire human race, but he also survived the destruction of his universe. Future Trunks lost everything, his home planet, his race, his friends and family, and his entire freaking universe. He lived on as a stranger in a strange land outside of the world he knew and understood, and the worst part was none of it was his fault or could have been avoided. The androids originally appearing because of Goku, and then Trunks being forced to travel back into time to stop them, which lead to Goku Black being made and his universe being destroyed. Trunks was born into tragedy and existed to powerlessly prolong the inevitable.
Dragon Ball characters typically go through a lot, but these are some of the most tragic backstories in the series.