Goku is a portable candle residing in a fictional parallel reality. In his world, he’s essentially the messiah of planet Earth and a few neighboring galaxies. With his hair and power level of over 9,000, Goku spends most of his time either eviscerating very powerful alien tyrants, or training to do so.
In our (non) fictional reality, Goku is the supreme space legend alien kung fu master. We respect him for his curriculum vitae: he eviscerated Frieza, exploded Cell and decimated Kid Buu. Our childhood was spent hypnotized by all the pretty death lights. Goku is our friend, and our father.
With such accomplishments, it’s easy for a few things to go under the radar. No one’s seamless, not even Goku. Not even Gohan. All legends get buffed and shined in their stories. Luckily for us, the story of Dragon Ball tells all. Even if it didn’t, there’s plenty of room for us to pull questionable conclusions out of.
Here’s a big SPOILER WARNING to those who haven’t watched Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball Z. Also note that Dragon Ball GT and Dragon Ball Super won’t be considered in this list, nor will the live-action monstrosity be factored or refered to by name.
15. He Died Twice
It seems like Goku’s dying all the time, but he only really passed on twice. He was killed by Picollo’s Special Beam Cannon during the fight against Raditz and was resurrected to fight Vegeta and Nappa. Goku was killed for the second time by Cell’s kamikaze explosion on King Kai’s planet (taking poor King Kai with him), was resurrected for one day seven years later, and was given an indefinite life extension by a god the same day.
Some count Goku’s heart disease death in Trunks’ timeline which, just… no. There are an infinite number of Dragon Ball universes adjacent to the one we know best. Just because we were shown content from Trunks’ universe, does not mean we should go ahead and start factoring the circumstances of other timelines into the one we know. At that point, might as well count the theoretical universe where Goku dies from diarrhea.
14. He Defeated The Red Ribbon Army At 10 Years Old
Most 10 year olds don’t even know how to spell responsibility. Granted, neither did 10 year old Goku (or 40 year old Goku, for that matter), but he learned the concept of responsibility early on when he crushed up an entire army by himself.
Headed by Captain Red, the evil Red Ribbon army’s presumed mission is to collect the seven Dragon Balls in order to wish for world domination. At least, that’s what little Captain Red would have his army believe; really, the Captain was only looking for the Dragon Balls, so Shenron would make him taller.
Kid Goku wasn’t having any of it. After several episodes of foreplay, in which he decimated the army’s remote forces, Goku finally stormed the Red Ribbon Army’s headquarters and took the place apart with horrific ease. If you asked us at 10 years old to go defeat an evil, well-organized army on a solo mission, we would have this to say: No, thank you!
13. He’s Not The Strongest Character In Dragon Ball
Goku’s got spunk, and technically that’s all he needs. At the end of Dragon Ball Z, he is alive and well, training for the upcoming saga. Where are all his enemies? Dead and in hell. So Goku ultimately wins, which would seem to imply that he’s the most powerful character in the series. Only, he isn’t. It’s through his sheer tenacity and crazy luck that Goku emerges from the series on top.
Since there’s no satisfying way to gauge his strength in the DBZ epilogue, we won’t count it. At the end of the Buu saga, Goku’s Super Saiyan light would go dim real fast if he were to fight any one of the following: Super Buu (all forms), Mystic Gohan, Gotenks and Janemba. Throw Vegito and Gogeta in there for the fun of it, even though they’re both half Goku. We won’t count Kid Buu, even though the Spirit Bomb and some assistance from Fat Buu and Vegeta are what won Goku that fight.
12. He’s Not As Strong As Superman
Screw Attack essentially put this one to rest when they pinned Goku and Superman together in their Death Battle series. Superman was measured to be leaps and bounds ahead of Goku in pretty much every attribute that counts toward a fight. Goku probably beats him when it comes to tenacity, but tenacity doesn’t pay out that well when you’re fighting Superman.
Goku can fly at supersonic speeds, can turn himself into a perfectly-coiffed candle, can produce colourful death lights at will, all of which works well enough for him in most fights. But how much does that really amount to when your opponent can accidentally wipe out a galaxy with a sneeze? It would take a tremendous amount of work and a handful of Super Saiyan transformations to even put a band-aid on his opponent. At that point, Superman would just fart in Goku’s direction and turn him into star particles.
11. He Will Never Be In A Super Smash Bros. Game
An ocean of weaboo tears will do nothing to phase Masahiro Sakurai, director of the Super Smash Bros. series. Take your prayer candles and light that letter to Santa on fire, because Goku will never be in that game.
In order to have a claim to the sacred roster, a character must have originated from a video game. That’s what every fighter has in common, and it’s what they always will. Goku’s been in dozens of Dragon Ball video games spread over decades and several consoles. The games tend to sell, and some are actually quite good, but that doesn’t change the fact that Goku was born in the pages of a Manga, not a video game.
We can dream, we can plead, we can set up camp in Sakurai’s backyard and build a river a tears. Maybe if we do, he’ll ride down the river on a little sailboat, with baby Goku asleep on his back.
10. He Only Killed Two (Or Three) Characters (In Dragon Ball Z)
In Dragon Ball Z, Goku doesn’t kill people very often at all; in fact, he went through most of the show having killed no one. Sure beat the fudge out of people many times, but he’s not quite partial to murder; not like kid Goku in Dragon Ball, that guy had no problem with killing baddies (as shown in the pic above).
The first instance occurred in the Buu saga when Goku fought Yakon, a beast who feeds on light. Goku supercharged his Super Saiyan candle, feeding Yakon enough scrumptious goodness to overdose from sheer gastronomic indulgence. Then of course, Goku killed Kid Buu with a Super Spirit Bomb that turned him into nothing.
So yeah, he probably killed only two people in DBZ, but then another instance comes to mind. Remember when Goku transported a very explosive Cell to King Kai’s planet, killing himself, King Kai, poor Bubbles and poor Gregory, too! Sure, they didn’t strictly die by Goku’s hand, and Goku had to do it to save everyone on Planet Earth. By shaving off some of the context, however, doesn’t it look as though Goku suicide bombed King Kai’s planet? Does that count? We’ll leave it up to you.
9. He’s Had Several Masters
One doesn’t get to be a universal demi-god by staying home and watching Flintstones. It takes hard work, focus, and a few good masters to guide him along the way. Throughout his journey, Goku was lucky enough to have just that. Vegeta wasn’t so lucky, and look where he is: flying behind Goku’s fart smoke.
First came Grandpa Gohan, who taught infant Goku everything he could before being unfortunately trampled by his grandson when he turned into a giant ape. Then there was perverted turtle hermit Master Roshi, who gave Goku the gift of Kamehameha. Then a mini-session in Korin’s tower, where Goku grealty increased his speed and agility by chasing the cat sage around his sky tower. His final master in the Dragon Ball series was Kami who, with the help of faithful Mr. Popo, trained Goku for three years in order to defeat Picollo Jr. His first and last master in DBZ was ole’ King Kai and his pals, Gregory and Bubbles.
8. He Has Questionable Parenting Methods
Don’t get it twisted – when it comes to one-on-one combat, Goku is one of the most mindful characters in all of fiction. His decisions outside of battle, however, especially as a father, are extremely alternative.
Look at Gohan, for instance. His son! Gohan has a promising academic mind, yet Goku puts no thought to his education. Instead of working on his homework, Goku took his son with him to a white time dimension so he can have a year of father-son time. By that we mean, a year of a father beating the crap out of his son, convincing him all the while that every whooping will have its merit. Sure, their time spent in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber eventually lead to Gohan defeating Cell and saving the planet and maybe the universe, but what kind of father spends a year doing absolutely nothing but beat his son?
7. His Evil Doppleganger
Raditz was indeed Goku’s only jerk sibling, but there was also a tyrannic doppleganger roaming around the universe: Turles, Saiyan space pirate. Throughout Goku’s upbringing on Earth, Turles was travelling through space, conquering planets and generally being a real douche.
It was only a matter of time until Turles found his way to crazy little Goku on Earth. His mission was to plant the seed of the Tree of Might so he can eat from its fruit and become super duper strong. Earth happened to have just the soil he was looking for. He saw the planet as an easy take; what he didn’t know was that Goku and the Z fighters (but mostly Goku) were ready for him. Turles would later be introduced to Goku, and a huge spirit bomb with his name on it. Turles’ space piracy ended in him being lit up real bright. All for fruits’ sake.
6. He Has An Awesome Father
It would take a real set of nuts to father a man like Goku, and that’s exactly what Bardock has. Best-known for being the subject of the 1990 DBZ TV special Dragon Ball Z: Bardock – The Father of Goku, Bardock is uniquely beloved in the DBZ universe for his courage, his will and, yes, his tenacity.
In the special, Bardock is shown as just another warrior-class Saiyan, conquering planets, celebrating, and repeating. That is until he meets a surviving warrior from his most recent conquest, who gives him the gift of seeing the future of his planet being destroyed at the hands of Frieza. When his visions were confirmed as true, Bardock heads a valiant effort to blast Frieza away from his planet. The power gap was beyond unfair, though, and Frieza ended up exploding Bardock, all the Saiyans and the planet Vegeta along with them. In his last moments, Bardock had a vision of Frieza facing off against Goku. This made him smile as he was erased completely.
5. His Strength Depends On His Opponent’s
What drives Goku isn’t his natural power, it’s his natural drive. The strength we all know him for is the product of hard work and perseverence, fight after fight, even against opponents who are clearly stronger than him. Especially against those opponents.
Goku wasn’t born with a ridiculous power level like Frieza; he didn’t become strong by absorbing androids like cell; he didn’t exist since time immemorial as a trans-galactic tempest like Buu. He’s just a dude who grew up on Earth, taking and giving beatings until his hair turned yellow. Unlike his enemies, Goku is just as excited at the prospect of fighting someone impossibly strong as he is motivated to make sure his opponent does no harm to the innocent. His power is directly connected to his morals, his loyalty, and his perseverence. That’s why he always comes out on top, and why he always will. Except against Superman, sadly…
4. What The Kanji On His Gi Mean
The symbols (kanji) on Goku’s outfit (gi) do indeed have some meaning attached to them. They don’t translate to anything dimension-shattering, but all self-proclaimed DBZ scholars should know what they mean.
Throughout the events of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, Goku carries three different kanji. The first is the one Master Roshi gave Goku and Krillin during their initial training sessions. 亀 is pronounced kame and means “turtle.” He carries it for the entirety of Dragon Ball until he dons King Kai’s kanji during the Saiyan saga. 界王 is pronounced kaiō, which means “world king”. Goku carries this symbol on his back, keeping Master Roshi’s kanji on the front of his uniform. His final kanji is his own, the character 悟, pronounced Go (meaning “wisdom” or “enlightenment”). He picked this one up after completing his gravity training in the Frieza saga, and wore it until the Androids appeared in the Cell saga. For the remainder of the series, he carries a simple gi with no kanji.
3. He Was Originally Designed As A Furry Little Monkey Boy
Yeah, that glammed-out little furball up there was initially intended to be our Goku. You can see the primate connection right away, but it’s pretty obvious that the creature is a serious drafting away from becoming the supreme light fighter we know.
Initially inspired by a piece of classic Chinese literature called “Journey To The West,” Akira Toriyama found great inspiration in the character Sun Wukong, a monkey conceived from a stone supplemented by the Five Elements. Sounds weird and pretty interesting, but we’re glad Toriyama didn’t leave the drawing board after his initial concept.
Toriyama’s second draft of Goku featured the character as a legitimate human being sporting sailor clothes and riding a flight mecha instead of the flying Nimbus. A little better, but still no cigar. The third and final draft of Goku is our hero and friend: Son Goku, a full human with a monkey’s tail.
2. He Has Appeared Outside Of The Anime And Manga
It’s rare, but a wild Goku has been spotted outside of his typical media. Seen as a national treasure and positive role model for children in Japan, Goku has been featured in two PSA shorts in 1988. The first was called The Goku Traffic Safety where our hero is shown how important it is to obey traffic safety. Which is funny, since he doesn’t exactly have a driver’s license. The second was entitled Goku’s Fire Brigade, wherein he teaches two youngsters the importance of being careful with fire. This one is a must-watch, if only because you get to see Goku as a volunteer fire fighter.
Goku has also made appearances in various Japanese manga and TV shows. Notable of these is his recurring role in the anime adaptation of another Toriyama-written manga, Dr. Slump. He also appeared in Toriyama’s manga Neko Majin, where he serves as sensei to the series’ protagonist, Neko Majin Z.
1. He Totally Stole Bulma’s Shine
There’s a crackpot (albeit really interesting) DBZ theory out there concocted by Reddit user ConstantCompile proposing that Goku’s appearance on Earth and the epic journey that ensued was actually a detriment to the planet (and maybe the entire universe), because it put a dead-halt to the progress of the true hero of space and time: Bulma.
Due to her ditzy demeanour, people tend to forget that Bulma is a genius of the absolute highest order. Remember how, in Trunks’ timeline, Bulma built a time machine in a cave, with a box of scraps? That’s, like, really hard, and that was after Bulma spent most of her life as a practical cheerleader for Goku. Imagine she used that time to further her understanding of technology and it’s relation to physical laws. Combine that with one Dragon Ball wish that can grant her immortality, maybe another wish down the line to make her neurotransmitters work even faster. You then have an immortal, omniscient, time-travelling Bulma who can literally do whatever she wants. She can probably figure out how to go Super Saiyan 9001 if she wants to, but of course she wouldn’t have to.
Instead, what we got is Goku. And you know what? We ain’t even complaining.
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