Among Dragon Ball Z's contributions to modern shonen anime, its core rivalry is one of the biggest. Goku and Vegeta's constant efforts to one-up each other have set the standard for rivals in battle anime and all series. Nearly every anime rivalry trope can be tied or traced back to what was established by this series.

Even in hindsight, Goku and Vegeta's rivalry deserves just as much praise now as it did when it was introduced. It has a great deal of subtlety and nuance spread throughout many years. Here's everything there is to know about it to get the full appreciation.


Goku and Vegeta's Rivalry During the Saiyan and Namek Sagas

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Goku and Vegeta's rivalry started when they met in the Saiyan Saga. At the time, it was mostly business; Goku needed to protect the Earth, or Vegeta would either conquer or destroy it like many worlds before. However, the Prince of Saiyans also made it about the lower class challenging the elite and losing. This backfired when he ended up on the losing end of the fight.

By the end of this fight, Goku decided to spare Vegeta. Fighting the Saiyan elite made him realize there were levels of power he had yet to reach. Goku wanted Vegeta alive so that when they were at the same level, he would have someone to test his strength against.


This encounter would define Goku and Vegeta's rivalry for years to come. In Vegeta's case, beating Goku was about restoring his lost honor. He believed that if he got strong enough and put this lower-class warrior in his place, he could lay his rightful claim to the Prince of Saiyans title.

Goku doesn’t view the rivalry quite like Vegeta. Vegeta gets strong as a matter of maintaining his pride. Goku does it because he can. Whenever he sees someone stronger than himself, he realizes there's still room for him to grow. He excitedly chases those new levels of power and works to surpass them. In this sense, Vegeta constantly working to surpass him gives him a constant reason to get stronger.

Goku and Vegeta tested each other again on Namek in terms of both strength and character. Vegeta believed his newfound potential and cold-blooded thirst for battle would turn him into the legendary Super Saiyan. Goku wasn't willing to throw away his morals, but he did come to appreciate Saiyan pride through the Prince.

The rivals' biggest test on Namek came in the form of Frieza. This galactic tyrant had once destroyed the Saiyans' home planet of Vegeta. Beating him would prove who the strongest in the universe was and restore the honor of the Saiyan race. Vegeta failed and was forced to leave the task to Goku in a moment of humility. The lower-class warrior succeeded and fulfilled the Super Saiyan prophecy in the process. Vegeta may have asked for this, but it would go on to haunt him.


Goku and Vegeta's Rivalry During the Android Saga

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Despite Vegeta's strong desire to settle the score as quickly as possible, circumstances conspired against him. After Goku's victory over Frieza, he embarked on a year-long journey through space before returning home. Upon his arrival, the Z-Fighters received a grave warning about impending androids set on annihilating them. Goku and Vegeta had no choice but to once again postpone their rematch and confront this new threat.

For Vegeta, these androids represented both a challenge and an opportunity. He dedicated himself to rigorous training in order to achieve the Super Saiyan form and establish his dominance over Goku. The stakes were no longer limited to determining the strongest Saiyan but extended to proving their supremacy in the entire universe.

Regrettably, the androids proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for both Goku and Vegeta, even in their Super Saiyan forms. Recognizing the need for power beyond their current capabilities, they undertook intensive training in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber. Vegeta believed he had finally attained unmatched strength, only to be proven wrong by Perfect Cell, the most formidable of the androids.

Vegeta's struggles persisted until the culmination of the Cell Saga. Despite further training in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, he remained weaker than Cell and Goku. To compound his frustration, Goku's son Gohan surpassed them all by unlocking a level beyond Super Saiyan. Adding to his disappointment, Goku valiantly sacrificed himself to save the Earth, forever denying Vegeta the chance for a rematch. These successive setbacks nearly pushed Vegeta to the brink of giving up fighting altogether.

Goku and Vegeta's Rivalry During the Buu Saga

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Vegeta and Goku's rivalry reached its peak hostility during the Buu Saga. The Saiyan Prince had spent seven years training, but he still wasn't sure he was strong enough to beat Goku. Luckily, Goku found a way to visit the world of the living for a day. The two rivals took this chance to settle things by competing in the 25th World Martial Arts Tournament.

Unfortunately, Goku and Vegeta's rematch had to be put off again. This time, they had to deal with the threat of Majin Buu, which Vegeta didn't even think would give either of them a challenge. To him, he was wasting his last chance to fight and win against Goku.


While dealing with Majin Buu, Vegeta allowed the Wizard Babidi to bring out the evil in him and boost his power. There were a lot of reasons for Vegeta to accept this offer; his impatience with all the postponements, his years of humiliation at Goku's hands, his fear that living on Earth had made him soft, and his desire for a guarantee he could win against Goku. All these consequences of his years of trying to prove himself the strongest finally caught up to him and culminated in this desperate grab for power. He used his power to force Goku into a long-awaited rematch.

Goku eventually convinced the agitated Vegeta that they needed to save their loved ones from Majin Buu. The Prince of Saoyans decided to try and best Goku morally by sacrificing himself to stop the destroyer of worlds. Not only did this fail, but Goku later revealed he had an ace up his sleeve-- Super Saiyan 3. The low-class warrior had the Saiyan Elite beaten once again.

The Buu Saga ended with Vegeta finally acknowledging Goku as the better of the two. Looking back on their history, he realized the difference between them. Goku wasn't getting stronger to establish dominance or even protect his loved ones. It was purely for bettering himself and seeing how far he could go. Goku's endless strive for self-improvement is what finally made Vegeta admit that he was number one.


Goku and Vegeta's Rivalry After Dragon Ball Z

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After defeating Buu, the Saiyans' rivalry underwent significant changes. Their long-awaited rematch was no longer their top priority. While they still desired to face off against each other, they were now willing to patiently wait until they were both fully prepared.

Vegeta's character arc experienced the most profound impact from this rivalry. Throughout DBZ, he underwent a remarkable transformation, evolving from an arrogant and ruthless killer into a proud yet humble defender of Earth. He even learned to accept playing second fiddle to Goku, although it still stung whenever it was mentioned. Dragon Ball fans continue to marvel at this transformation and its far-reaching consequences in the post-DBZ content. These aspects of Goku and Vegeta's rivalry remained consistent until the conclusion of Dragon Ball GT.

However, in Dragon Ball Super, the rivalry experienced a slight regression. Taking place shortly after Majin Buu's defeat, Vegeta couldn't bear the thought of Goku surpassing him by such a significant margin. He resumed his training with determination to avoid being left behind. Goku, on the other hand, shifted his focus towards surpassing formidable fighters like Beerus, Hit, and Jiren.

Nevertheless, DBS offered fans more moments of Goku and Vegeta training together. Vegeta finally recognized that a single fight couldn't definitively determine who was superior, leading to more frequent sparring matches between him and Goku. In this context, Vegeta's first genuine victory over Goku in the Super Hero movie brought immense satisfaction to him.

Through all of this, Dragon Ball has crafted one of the most iconic and well-developed rivalries in the history of shonen anime. It not only defined the series but also propelled its narrative forward. Fans are eagerly anticipating the further evolution of this rivalry and are bound to be amazed by its future developments.