Superman is one of the most ubiquitous superheroes to emerge from North American comic books. Likewise, the Dragon Ball franchise’s Goku is one of the most iconic heroes in the entire anime medium. For this reason, the two characters are often compared to one another, and while there certainly are more than a few passing similarities between the lead Z Fighter and the Man of Steel, the more apt comparison isn’t between Superman and Goku but, rather, between the Super Saiyan and one of the Last Son of Krypton’s greatest villains of all time: Doomsday. Not convinced? Allow us to explain.
Debuting in 1992’s Superman: The Man of Steel #17, Doomsday quickly made short work of the entire Justice League before he and the Man of Tomorrow killed each other in a brutal fistfight in the streets of Metropolis. Doomsday’s backstory was revealed to be of Kryptonian origin like his most hated nemesis, having been genetically engineered on the planet of Krypton eons before humanoids began to roam the faraway world in the DC Universe. As part of a cruel experiment, the creature that would become Doomsday was continually killed and resurrected, with his new body adapting from his previous death to grow stronger each time.
The genetic trait of returning from battle even stronger than before is one that was actively introduced to Akira Toriyama’s perennially popular manga/anime franchise early in Dragon Ball Z, exclusive to Saiyans and known as Zenkai — Japanese for “full recovery.” After arriving on Namek to stop Frieza from collecting the planet’s Dragon Balls and wish for immortality, Vegeta reveals that every time a Saiyan recovers from a near-death injury, their strength significantly increases from the experience. This is first notably shown when a recovered Vegeta easily kills the villain Zarbon, Frieza’s loyal officer who had previously beaten Vegeta within an inch of his life. Taking advantage of the Saiyan genetic trait, Vegeta bests Zarbon in their rematch, savagely punching through his abdomen and blowing out his back with an energy blast. Upon learning this, Krillin recalled that each time Goku recovered from a fight, he did seem to grow stronger upon recovery every time.
The trope was at its most visibly prominent during the remainder of the Frieza saga, with Vegeta, Gohan and Goku each receiving the power boost after they individually recovered from grievous battles during their time on the planet. Vegeta would even go as far as to force Krillin to mortally wound him deliberately so he could have Dende heal him to grow even stronger before his final fight against Frieza, significantly more powerful than he had been at the start of the confrontation, with Vegeta mistakenly believing he had finally attained the power of a Super Saiyan at the time.
While the inherent Saiyan ability would appear less prominently in subsequent storylines and anime series, it was confirmed to affect even those that possessed Saiyan cells, including Cell. After being unable to keep up with Gohan after the young warrior transformed into Super Saiyan 2, Cell self-destructed in a desperate effort to destroy the Earth. Upon his recovery, Cell discovered he could now transform into a state similar to Super Saiyan 2 due to possessing the DNA of Goku, Gohan and Vegeta in his genetic make-up. Returning to the battlefield, Cell and Gohan were now, more or less, evenly matched, making Cell’s final defeat all the more difficult from the Super Saiyan 2 and assembled Z Fighters.
It should be noted that Doomsday’s endured deaths and resurrections made him a completely murderous being that hated all forms of life due to the repeated trauma he has born into and trapped in. While Saiyans certainly have a fiery hunger for battle — with the warrior race going on to become interstellar conquerors serving Frieza — Goku and Vegeta have both grown to be loving family men themselves, with Goku particularly demonstrating noble, pure-hearted intentions that allow him to wield powerful techniques like the Spirit Bomb. That said, all Saiyan warriors are powered by rage, allowing them to push past their normal, physical limitations, so the comparison with Doomsday is still relatively apparent.
The real argument, therefore, shouldn’t necessarily be if Goku could triumph over Superman but, rather, if the Super Saiyan could emerge victorious from a fight against Doomsday. Possessing strength, speed and endurance on par with, if not greater than the Man of Steel, Goku might find himself the more challenging opponent in the Kryptonian experiment gone horribly wrong. And with Doomsday able to recover from every battle even stronger — just like Dragon Ball‘s Saiyans — Goku better be sure to defeat Doomsday quickly and completely in a skirmish, lest the DC Comics supervillain returns far more powerful than even a Super Saiyan God could handle.
Dragon Ball's Goku has often been compared to Superman but he really has more in common with Doomsday than the Man of Steel.