Every Saga in Classic Dragon Ball, Ranked

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The original Dragon Ball series marked the beginning of Goku’s rip-roaring journey, consisting of nine sagas that shaped one of the best anime franchises of all time. Before springing into non-stop action and explosive fights — Dragon Ball Z‘s distinctive trademarks — Dragon Ball was centered around Goku’s childhood and his quest for the seven Dragon Balls, throughout which he gets to know some of his lifelong friends, such as Bulma, Yamcha, Master Roshi, and Krillin.

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Classic Dragon Ball was a straight-up fantasy-adventure anime, focused entirely on exploration and world-building. It followed a predictable structure, but never failed to amuse and surprise fans in terms of exciting villains, threats, and challenges. Most importantly, it introduced key Dragon Ball elements that would later be used in both Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super. Here’s our ranking of each saga in the original anime.

Every Dragon Ball Saga in Chronological Order

Chapters, Volumes, and Episodes

Emperor Pilaf

Ch. 1-23, Vol. 1-2, Ep. 1-13

Tournament

Ch. 24-54, Vol. 2-5, Ep. 14-28

Red Ribbon Army

Ch. 54-69, Vol. 5-6, Ep. 29-45

General Blue

Ch. 70-83, Vol. 6-7, Ep. 46-57

Commander Red

Ch. 84-96, Vol. 7-8, Ep. 58-67

Fortuneteller Baba

Ch. 97-112, Vol. 9-10, Ep. 68-83

Tien Shinhan

Ch. 113-134, Vol. 10-12, Ep. 84-101

King Piccolo

Ch. 135-161, Vol. 12-14, Ep. 102-122

Piccolo Jr.

Ch. 162-194, Vol. 14-16, Ep. 123-153

9 Fortuneteller Baba Saga

A old, pink-haired witch dressed in black, with a black hat, floats in the sky
Bird Studio
Shueisha

The Fortuneteller Baba Saga isn’t a bad Dragon Ball saga by any means, especially because it offers a good breather between challenging confrontations against the Red Ribbon Army and the upcoming Martial Arts Tournament. In this saga, Goku and his allies must face Fortuneteller Baba’s five dangerous opponents in order to find out where the last Dragon Ball is located.

Doesn’t Add Anything New to the Anime

This saga doesn’t really add anything new to the story. The fights can be exciting but don’t carry the same thrilling energy of the Tournament, and the villains couldn’t be more generic; each paying tribute to a different Universal Monster. The biggest highlights are the emotional conclusion of Goku vs. Baba’s final opponent, who turns out to be Goku’s deceased grandfather, and Shenron bringing Bora back to life.

8 General Blue Saga

A medium shot of General Blue from Dragon Ball, dressed in uniform and holding a pair of binoculars
Bird Studio
Shueisha

The General Blue Saga represented that middle-of-the-road point between the introduction of new deadly enemies and the final battle against the higher-ups. Here, Goku engages in a game of cat and mouse with the ruthless General Blue, amping up the tension with a Red Ribbon officer who is actually dangerous: instead of recklessly attacking Goku, Blue acknowledges the kid’s power and strategically waits for the right moment to attack.

A Lackluster Antagonist

The whole underwater hunt quest gets as thrilling as it can, balancing great action sequences with creative obstacles, but at the end of the day, General Blue is as forgettable as the weaker Red Ribbon officers Goku stumbled upon.

7 Red Ribbon Army Saga

A young Goku struggles to keep Buyon's mouth open
Bird Studio
Shueisha

The Red Ribbon Army Saga is an amalgamation of classic Dragon Ball‘s best trademarks, effectively delivering hints of humor, compelling new characters, and increasingly difficult challenges. It delves deep into the adventurous aspect of the anime in contrast with the show’s action sequences, introducing a range of smaller antagonists that aren’t necessarily dangerous, but have their own distinctive features that make the whole thing so fun to watch.

Goku’s Muscle Tower Adventure

Goku’s whole quest across the Muscle Tower might be the best example of that: each floor elevates the tension with a new set of enemies, where Goku must come up with creative ways to adapt and beat the different threats that get in his way. From the robotic brute Major Metallitron to the impenetrable Buyon monster, fans get to see Goku investing in his intelligence rather than his fists. It’s a saga that excels in its creative appeal, even though none of the challenges end up being genuinely life-threatening.

Related: Dragon Ball: Gohan’s Best Forms, Ranked by Power

6 Commander Red Saga

A close-up of a red-haired man in a suit, with an eye-patch and mustache, in Dragon Ball
Bird Studio
Shueisha

It’s only in the Commander Red Saga that fights in classic Dragon Ball start to get really intense, without leaving the narrative’s adventure and exploration appeal aside. This saga is a major pay-off to the events that took place in the Red Ribbon Army and General Blue Sagas, finally revealing the not-so-tough Commander Red, who, ironically, is the least dangerous threat Goku has to fight in this decisive part of his quest.

A Turning Point in Dragon Ball

The Commander Red Saga feels like a turning point in the series because it delivers the first impactful death in Dragon Ball, hinting at the more serious approach the anime would embrace in the episodes to come. It’s here that the merciless Taopaipai kills Bora, protector of the Sacred Land of Korin, and where Goku beats the assassin in an unforgettable fight. Even the calm moments before the storm are a delight to watch, such as Goku’s training in the Korin Tower.

5 Emperor Pilaf Saga

The Emperor Pilaf gang stand ready to fight
Bird Studio
Shueisha

The Emperor Pilaf Saga is the very first Dragon Ball saga and pretty much sets the tone of the whole anime. Unsuspecting viewers who might expect a slow start, with only a few battles and villains, will be rewarded with non-stop doses of adrenaline as Goku and his newly made friends begin their odyssey across the continent in search of the Dragon Balls.

A Perfection Introduction to the Series

The magical setup feels like a cozy Studio Ghibli movie even with all the action, giving these characters time to breathe, contemplate the world around them, and get to know each other. While Emperor Pilaf and his gang are among the weakest opponents Goku ever faced, the comical aura that surrounds these unprepared villains makes them genuinely likable, adding up to Dragon Ball‘s distinctively quirky humor.

Related: 10 Anime Series With Top Tier Filler Episodes

4 Tien Shinhan Saga

Two bald-headed anime characters prepare to fight in front of an audience
Bird Studio
Shueisha

What’s impressive about Dragon Ball is how engaging it is while maintaining a fairly simple formula. The adventure-tournament-training format might seem repetitive at first glance, but with each new stage the characters get more powerful, the opponents stronger, and new martial arts techniques are brought to the table.

Features Dragon Ball’s First Major Character Death

The Tien Shinhan Saga brings Dragon Ball back to a new Martial Arts Tournament and even though four out of eight participants of the previous tournament return — Goku, Krillin, Yamcha, and Jackie Chun — the addition of Tien Shinhan and Chiaotzu drastically turns the tables. The duo proves to be not only skilled and hard to defeat, but also dangerously unpredictable, guided by obscure purposes.

Although there’s nothing different in the tournament’s structure, there’s a lingering feeling that anything could happen, sustained by unforgettable duels such as Goku vs. Krillin and Goku vs. Tien. As if that wasn’t enough, the Tien Shinhan Saga ends with the first major death of the series, setting up a major mystery.

3 Piccolo Jr. Saga

Before becoming one of Goku’s most faithful allies in Dragon Ball Z, Piccolo Jr. represented the embodiment of evil in Dragon Ball, fueled by a thirst for revenge and living up to the terrifying legacy of his father, King Piccolo. The Piccolo Jr. Saga sets the ground for Dragon Ball Z as fans get to see the characters entering adulthood: they spend a long time preparing to fight Piccolo for when he finally shows his claws. When the moment comes, old characters return and new overpowered moves come to light for the grand finale.

Dragon Ball’s Grande Finale

And what a grand finale it is. Goku and Piccolo fight in the ruins of the tournament arena, with Goku insisting on fighting alone in order to finally win the Martial Arts Tournament. Goku grew up, but he still has that same childish innocence from the beginning: to him, winning the tournament fairly is as important as saving the whole planet. It’s in this mix of innocence and hazard that Dragon Ball ends, though setting the path for many great adventures to come.

2 Tournament Saga

Jackie Chun kicks Goku in the face
Bird Studio
Shueisha

No other Dragon Ball saga can top the nostalgic value of the first Tournament Saga, which is all about developing the characters and their fighting potential. Not only do fans witness the Martial Arts Tournament for the first time, but they also get to see Goku meeting his best friend Krillin, their training with Master Roshi, and Roshi disguised as Jackie Chun having a hard time trying to beat his pupil in the finals.

Jackie Chun Versus Goku

Both the peaceful and explosive moments of this saga are special. There are brilliant life lessons to be taken from Master Rochi’s training, which focuses on simple, ordinary things to achieve fabulous goals. Alternatively, the intense fight between Jackie Chun and Goku is peak Dragon Ball genius, with Jackie Chun destroying the moon to prevent Goku from smashing the whole arena.

1 King Piccolo Saga

King Piccolo sits on his throne in Dragon Ball
Bird Studio
Shueisha

Everything changes once the King Piccolo Saga kicks in. There’s a strong sense of hopelessness and despair as Goku must face an adversary who can actually beat him, putting the fate of the Earth at stake. Every other major villain in the anime before King Piccolo wanted to take control of the world and impose a tyrannical empire of evil, but none of them came nearly as close as the Demon King.

Goku’s First Loss

The shift in tone gives rise to a serious atmosphere of urgency, as major characters face death in unexpected ways. It’s the first time things don’t work out for Goku and his team, and tragedy snowballs into a catastrophic threat: in one shocking moment, King Piccolo murders the divine dragon Shenron like it was nothing. The death of the supposedly untouchable, godlike creature is the fateful moment in which viewers realize no one is safe in the hands of King Piccolo, sending tension through the roof and cooking up a life-threatening battle between the forces of good and evil.

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