Death may not matter in the grand scheme of Dragon Ball, but it almost always has weight. When a major character died in the original series, Toriyama would always try to present it with some drama. Even characters like Choazu end up with some of the most memorable deaths in the franchise. The nature of the Dragon Balls ensures that characters can keep coming back after they’re killed.
This, of course, also applies to Son Goku, Dragon Ball’s main character. While he doesn’t die as often as some supporting players, the series does use his death for drama often enough across the entire franchise. Goku dies a few times over the course of the original series, but GT, Super, and Online have all featured brand new deaths for the Monkey King.
8 Heart Stopped By Piccolo Daimao
It’s contentious and Goku doesn’t stay “dead,” but Demon King Piccolo straight up stops Goku’s heart. For all intents and purposes, Goku actually did briefly die. Piccolo killed him and Goku just got lucky. It’s questionable storytelling at best, but the drama is good and this is really the only time Toriyama does such a major fakeout death.
Unlike other deaths, this has no real lasting effect– though it clearly was never meant to. Piccolo briefly kills Goku for some drama and his heart sparks back up. That’s technically death. Though one has to wonder where Goku’s soul went– if anywhere– while he was briefly deceased.
7 Sacrificed His Life To Stop Raditz
Goku’s actual first death and the one the one that matters, the main character giving his life to kill his brother is shocking regardless if you’re watching Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball Z first. Following the former, it’s the sudden death of the hero– a character who otherwise seemed invincible. In the case of the latter, the main character dies mere episodes in, shocking in and of itself.
There’s nothing like a life threatening Full Nelson to let your brother know you not only hate him, you wish he never came to Earth anyways. Piccolo’s Makankosappo is actually pretty brutal in action, piercing through Raditz’s body into Goku. It’s a gruesome end for Goku, but one of the series’ most iconic moments as a result.
6 A Victim Of The Heart Virus
The future is not kind to Son Goku. After defeating Freeza and becoming the legendary Super Saiyan, Goku returns to Earth to die from heart failure. It’s twisted in a grounded way. After following Goku for eight story arcs, Trunks reveals that he’s meant to die unceremoniously in the future. It’s a reminder that Goku is human at the end of the day.
This being Dragon Ball, though, Goku’s death ends up leaving the main cast completely unprepared for when the Artificial Humans start wreaking havoc shortly after. It’s debatable just how much Goku would be able to help, but he at least knew about the Room of Spirit and Time & could teleport at this point.
5 Sacrificed His Life To Stop Cell
Easily one of the best deaths in the series, Goku sacrificing Cell is a moment that sums up Son’s character perfectly. When push comes to shove, Goku can be selfless because Goku is kind and understands only he can do certain things. Of course, his tender goodbye with his son and friends is immediately juxtaposed by him killing Kaio & Bubbles along with him.
But that humor is part of Dragon Ball and Goku’s charm, and at a time when Toriyama really was intending to say goodbye to Son Goku, this makes an appropriate death for the character. Toriyama would later go back on his decision and bring Goku in as the main character again, but that doesn’t make his death in the Cell arc any less powerful.
4 Online: Fought To The Death With Vegeta
Akira Toriyama notably penned the timeline for Dragon Ball Online, and it ended up featuring the fates of several characters. Most relevant to fans were the fates of Goku and Vegeta, Dragon Ball’s longtime rivals and current best of buddies. Recognizing their old age and the passing of their prime, Goku and Vegeta head out into outer space to settle the score one last time.
From there, they’re never heard from again. It’s an understated conclusion to not only their lives, but their arcs and their rivalry. The only downside is that this death is tucked away with Dragon Ball Online and most definitely won’t be rearing its head as Goku’s final death– should such a thing ever even manifest.
3 Super: Killed By Goku Black
It seems like Toriyama just can’t pass off the chance to kill off Goku in alternate timelines. Incensed that a mere mortal would be able to rival the power of the Gods, Zamasu decides to learn everything he can about Goku, switch bodies with him, and then kill him outright. Goku Black even goes so far as to kill Goten and Chichi in the anime.
Of all of Goku’s deaths, this is probably the most uncomfortable to think about. Here he is, one of the strongest men in the multiverse, farming like any other day. Suddenly, Goku’s not in his own body, he’s immediately killed, and Goku Black starts terrorizing the multiverse. It’s scary to think Goku quite literally couldn’t fight back.
2 Super: Killed By Hit
Dragon Ball Super isn’t the follow up to Dragon Ball the series deserved, but it does consistently knock its slice of life and downtime episodes exceptionally well. It’s hard to deny just how much fun Dragon Ball Super’s “filler” tends to be, often better than the actual main arcs. The Hit mini-arc isn’t quite on that same level, but it offers some decent world building and some much needed time with Hit.
Hiring Hit to assassinate him, Goku finally gets the chance to test out Hit’s skills. Of course, Hit won’t stop until Goku is killed so Goku is, as expected, killed. He anticipates this, though, and it’s not too long until he’s back to life. Son Goku’s come a long way from getting his heart stopped by Piccolo.
1 GT: Ascended To A Higher Plane Of Existence
Something happens during Dragon Ball GT’s final fight. Goku is seemingly killed before very mysteriously appearing with the universal Genki Dama in hands. There’s something incredibly ethereal about what little there is of GT from that point on. Goku is almost divine, beyond everyone around him. He’s no longer a Goku that we as an audience can fully understand.
It’s certainly out there for Dragon Ball, but as this was intended to be the series’ final goodbye (ha), it’s appropriate that Goku’s farewell is given so much fanfare. As Vegeta tells Pan to cherish what traces of Goku they have left, audiences are left to reflect on Son Goku, Dragon Ball, and the adventures in-between.