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Dragon Ball Story Arcs Ranked From Best to Worst

There are ten story arcs spread across the 16 volumes of Dragon Ball and 26 volumes of Dragon Ball Z. All of them are good in their own way. But some of them are certainly better than the rest. 

I’ve read all 42 volumes of Dragon Ball recently. It was quite a blast. I had a very fun reading experience. You can read about my thoughts and a short review of each arc here. And now, the time has come to rank those arcs from the best to the worst. 

But before we begin, I’d like to make two things clear. First of all, this is My list that was made based on my own personal preference. Your list would certainly be different from mine and that is perfectly fine. In fact, please tell me about your list in the comment section below.

Second, as mentioned before, none of these arcs are bad per se. I just think some of them are better than the rest. So please read all of them despite what I’m blabbering here. 

And one more thing, SPOILER ALERT!!

Well then, let us begin. 

1. The Frieza Arc

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What I’m looking for the most in a Dragon Ball story is not only the crazy fighting sequences but also the sense of adventure. And the Frieza arc manages to combine those two elements flawlessly. 

We get to see an adventure on an alien planet, a three-way race to find the dragon balls, and a wide variety of action sequences. There’s also a dash of humor and absurd moments sprinkle on top. 

Other than the great worldbuilding, this arc also contributes a lot to the overall story progression and character development. The side characters that usually only get to sit on the sideline also get the chance to be in the spotlight here.

2. The Red Ribbon Army Arc

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This one focuses more on Goku’s journey on finding the four-star dragon ball, the memento of his late grandfather. He does his journey mostly alone, but along the way, some of his friends also occasionally join his adventure. 

He found resistance in the form of the most notorious terrorist organization in the world, the Red Ribbon Army. But since this is the early part of Dragon Ball, most encounters have heavy comedic elements to them. 

That being said, there are also great action sequences throughout this arc. And of course, great worldbuilding as well. From the bustling metropolis with flying cars to the pirate’s lair in a hidden cave under the ocean. This is the arc where we get to see Goku fully explore every corner of the world of Dragon Ball. 

3. The Hunt for the Dragon Balls Arc

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This is the very first arc of Dragon Ball. Lasting only two volumes, it is also one of the shortest arcs in the series. And it is by far the most self-contained arc in dragon ball. 

This arc has all the essence of what Dragon Ball truly is. The sense of adventure, exciting action sequences, amazing worldbuilding, quirky characters, absurd humor, interesting premises, and straightforward plot with a dash of pervy moments on top.

In a way, all the subsequent arcs are merely an expansion of this arc. If you only read the two volumes of this arc and stop there, you should already understand what makes Dragon Ball great.

4. The Majin Buu Arc

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This arc, on the other hand, is the last arc of Dragon Ball. And as the closure of one of the greatest manga ever made, this arc delivers quite a punch and a damn proper goodbye. 

I admit it started pretty slow and boring. But once it gained some traction, it flew off like a rocket. Every moment is surprising and memorable. There’s always something fun and exciting happening in every corner. 

And as far as the last chapter goes, I think Akira Toriyama made the right call on creating an ending that is totally appropriate and stays true to the spirit of the series. 

5. The 21st Tenkaichi Budokai Arc

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This is the first out of a series of tournaments that would take place during the course of the manga. What makes this one special, however, is the delightful first half of this arc. While the second half is about the martial arts tournament, the first half is all about the training. 

Goku and Kuririn have been accepted into the turtle school under the tutelage of Mutenroshi, the turtle master. And they spent their days’ training in preparation to compete at the tournament. 

This first half is freaking hilarious. From the weird things that they have to do in order to be accepted as pupils, to the unique training that they have to follow, and everything in between, everything is guaranteed to make you chuckle and laugh. 

6. The Cell Arc

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Cell arc has one of the best beginnings out of all the story arcs of Dragon Ball. It begins with an intriguing premise of mystery and suspense. And as the story slowly unfolds, the deeper the mystery goes and more questions arise by the minute. 

Unfortunately, it can’t keep that excitement for long. Halfway through, the story turns into the usual contest of power, muscle, and energy beams. I’m not saying that it’s bad, but I just found myself slightly disappointed after such a promising first act. 

It feels like the author tries to do something new at first, but then gives up and falls back into his old repertoire. Such a shame.

7. The 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai Arc

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This is the last arc of the boyhood saga of Son Goku. After this, we will enter the much more mature story of Dragon Ball Z. So it is kinda fitting that this youthful story is closed with this all too familiar tournament. 

I am generally not a fan of the tournament’s stories, but this one is quite alright. This is the first time in the series where we truly witness the superhuman strength of the cast of Dragon balls. Aerial fights and energy beams adorned this story arc from start to finish. 

But this being a tournament’s arc, despite all the grandiose spectacle, you could certainly guess how the story is gonna play out. Which makes it kinda dull after a while.

8. The Saiyan Arc

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The Saiyan Arc is the first arc in Dragon Ball Z. Looking strictly from the story-progression perspective, this arc brings about a very important concept and revelation. 

The things we found out in this arc and the characters that were introduced here have a strong impact on the stories of Dragon Ball as a whole.  

Unfortunately, other than that, there’s not much that could be said about this arc. It’s just fighting and fighting and fighting. Muscles and energy blasts from start to finish. This arc comes before the Freeza arc and they couldn’t be more different.

9. The Piccolo Daimao Arc

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Dragon Ball has some of the most iconic villains that ever grace the world of manga. The cruel yet calculating Freeza, the cunning and wicked Cell, and of course, the wild and crazy Majin Buu.

Even the lesser-known villains from the early part of Dragon Ball, such as Pilaf from the first arc or General Red from the second arc, are a bunch of quirky characters with hilarious motivation.

Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said about the demon king Piccolo. He was written to simply be an evil villain. But there are still some good things left in this arc, which is what ultimately saves it from sitting in the last place.

10. The 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai Arc

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The tournaments are some of the things that I’m not particularly fond of in Dragon Balls. Yet it is still popping up all over the place. And out of the countless tournaments in the 42 volumes of the series, this one is certainly the least exciting of them all. 

There’s little to nothing at all in this arc that could move the story forward, nor is there any exciting new stuff that is worth seeing here. 

I’m not saying this is one of the worst arcs ever made in the history of manga. No, that is absolutely not the case at all. In fact, it is much better than your run-of-the-mill manga out there. But when we compare it to the rest of the arc in this list, then this one certainly deserved the last spot.

Unless you truly enjoy collecting manga, buying and reading all 42 volumes of Dragon Ball might not be a viable option for you. Such a gigantic number of volumes not only cost money and space but also time. 

But don’t let it become the reason why you stay away from such a great manga. There are lots of ways that could help you solve that problem. One of them is by only reading the story arc that you think you might like. 

And that is the purpose of this article. I urge you to try and read any of the top three story arcs in this list. It won’t cost you much money, space, or time, to consume any of them. If you want to know more, you can read my short reviews of each of them here.

If you like what you read, then you could finally try reading it all from the first volume to the last. 

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2 thoughts on “Dragon Ball Story Arcs Ranked From Best to Worst

  1. Hello! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay.

    I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward too new articles.

    1. Thanks for reading. Unfortunately I’m not on twitter right now. But you can subscribe to Manga Digest for new updates on articles and other cool things.

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