One of my biggest annoyances in anime is that no matter how popular Dragon Ball Z has been there is always a segment of fans that just dismiss the original Dragon Ball out of hand. Despite the fact the fights are as exciting, the humor is top notch, and it remains one of the best Shōnen shows ever made to this day. With that in mind if this can help even one person experience the magic that is Dragon Ball this Filler Free Guide will have done it’s job.
That being said this series is actually pretty filler free it’s not really until Z that things get out of hand. Therefore I’ll also be advising you on “canon” episodes I believe a Z fan can skip with little issue to streamline the experience. Allowing fans of Z to get the Dragon Ball experience without getting too lost in these 150 episodes or so.
Episodes 1-13 The Emperor Pilaf Saga:
In many ways it’s these first episodes that are the biggest obstacle for many people in joining the fun of Dragon Ball if they have only ever seen Z. As in many ways Dragon Ball didn’t really find it’s footing until the next Saga and there is a good reason for that. During this arc in the manga Dragon Ball was on very unsteady footing and it wasn’t know if Jump would even keep publishing the manga... of course they do and the rest is history however its leaves this Saga feeling a little different. While the Emperor Pilaf Saga sets up a large part of the tone for the series the serious action wont be present until later.
On tone, when most think of “silly”Dragon Ball it’s these episodes that come to mind. Where a good hearted but dull young boy meets a vain and self absorbed girl and together they gather many friends all to find and make a wish on the magical Dragon Balls. While along the way they raise the ire of a woefully incompetent “Emperor” and his gang of misfits. Threatening Pilaf is not.
Also what will be strange to Z only watchers is the fanservice found here. As previously Dragon Ball while never ecchi could be a little risque and the uncut episodes do show this. In the end while this is all “canon” I can easily advise skipping several episodes to save on run time. That being said this arc has the first and yes ONLY time Yamcha is actually a threatening character, so there’s that...
Filler: 0 Episodes this is totally canon Dragon Ball for what it’s worth anyways...
Recommended for Fans of Z: 6 Episodes. Episode 1 for Bulma’s Introduction, Episode 3 for Roshi, Episode 5 for Yamcha, Episode 8 for the Kamahameha, and episodes 12-13 for the “final battle” and wish.
Episodes 14-28 The Tournament Saga:
I would consider this arc to be the first “true” and indispensable part of Dragon Ball. As so many events occur that would affect the series going forward. The major ones of course being the introduction of the totally unforgettable character Launch... wait you don’t know Launch? Oh ya right Akira Toriyama forgot she existed which is why she didn’t show up in Z.
Anyways retrying that one. The introduction of the totally unforgettable character Krillin, Goku’s most loyal and trusted friend who starts out as kind of a dick... ya it takes a few episodes for Goku and Krillin to really hit it off but once it does we dont lose track of him for the entire series. This arc also seems the beginning of Goku’s and Krillin’s training in the Turtle School of Martial arts which becomes the backbone of their entire technique.
Finally we’re introduced to the Tenkaichi Budokai “World Martial Arts Tournament” the organization that will provide the backbone of the rest of the series. Along with key appearances and references during the Buu and Cell Saga’s respectively. In the end if you’re coming in from Z while you wont get the crazy beam struggles or planet destroying punches you still get the sense that this is Dragon Ball all the same.
Filler: 0 Episodes.
Recommended for Fans of Z: All of them. This is just a lot of fun and Roshi even gets in on the action. Plus you get to see one of the earliest examples of Yamcha getting curb stomped.
Episodes 29-45 The Red Ribbon Saga (Red Ribbon Arc Part I):
The “Hey I know that name”arc to fans of Z. Yes it’s the Red Ribbon Army the employer of Doctor Gero who would later go on to create the “Androids” and Cell. However right now they’re kind of an loose collection of ne’er-do-wells and semi-competent villains. A comparison to Team Rocket early in Pokemon would be apt, threatening enough the first couple times then not so much.
The major structure of this arc once it gets going will actually seem very similar to those who have seen the Buu Saga. As like Babadi’s Ship Goku must fight his way up a level of a tower to reach the top of the guards. Along the way he meets ever more “dangerous” Androids. Interestingly these are ACTUAL Androids and not the cybernetically enhanced Cyborgs which Android 17 and 18 were; explaining why they’re called Androids in the first place. Doctor Gero was just continuing the naming convention.
Of course unlike the twins in the future these Androids are not very threatening. Instead using a wide variety of stand issue armaments such as machine guns and rockets as by this time Goku was still vulnerable to such things. Overall The Red Ribbon Saga starts much like the Android Saga did after it (You’ll quickly see Toriyama reuses old ideas A LOT) with a slow burn and it’ll take some watching to see a pay off.
Filler: Episodes 29-34 and Episodes 42-45 although one of these is sorta canon as it introduces Bulma’s house and the Capsule Corp although the episode itself is your standard one off filler.
Recommended for Fans of Z: Personally in my rewatches I skip this arc as it’s just not as good as the last arc. Also it’s similarities to arcs in Dragon Ball Z are hard to ignore for a big fan such as myself. I’d leave it up to you if you want to watch but I wont promise the best Dragon Ball has to offer as this isn’t it.
Episodes 46-57 The General Blue Saga (Red Ribbon Arc Part II):
Continuing on from the last episode with no break the group continues to search for the Dragon Ball. However one of the main commanders of the Red Ribbon Army is out to get them - General Blue.
Honestly when people said Dragon Ball GT was too much like Dragon Ball I always assume people were talking about episodes like these. As there really is two Dragon Balls the awesome displays of martial abilities, the comradery, the humor, and just it being a fun time. Then there is the stretch of one off episodes that don’t really seem to go anywhere as Goku deals with mere mooks... a job reserved for Krillin and Gohan in Z, certainly not heroes work. General Blue is the later of these two options...
As such General Blue while it is canon (for the most part) just feels so and almost like filler. It was around this time that Dragon Ball started to explode in popularity and like Bleach and Naruto following in our footsteps its adaptation rate of the manga plummets. Yes it’s here Dragon Ball starts to drag, it’s just unfortunate the content itself isn’t very exciting.
Filler: Episode 50.
Recommended for Fans of Z: Honestly none of them. As I wrote they’re just not that good and pointless in the grand scheme of things. Although there is a cross over character near the end from Toriyama’s other Manga Doctor Slump!
Episodes 58-68 The Commander Red Saga (Red Ribbon Arc Part III):
Want to hear something funny episode 65 of this Saga aired two days after I was born... yup this is older than a lot of readers here likely. Anyways we continue to the final act of Red Ribbon with Commander Red. Luckily this is a little bit better than its predecessor.
One of the reasons for that is we get our first actually threatening villain in Mercenary Tao (he showed up in Filler Episodes right before the Cell Games for reference). You see previous to this point Goku has either faced strong people with no desire to kill him in Jackie Chun/Roshi or people who wanted to kill him but were too weak to do so. In Tao we meet the first person who is strong enough to kill Goku and evil enough to wish it and attempt it. In many ways Tao is the first “true” Villain in the series.
Furthermore it’s during this time we meet our White Cat friend Korin, who will go on to have all sorts of adventures with the gang... ah who am I kidding he was always a side character. Here Goku chases him around for a few days to get some “Sacred Water” to make him stronger except it was the act of running that was the actual training.
Yup... Korin’s training is EXACTLY King Kai’s training, see I told you Toriyama wasn’t great at coming up with new concepts. However the episodes are fun and humorous all around a captures a bit of that earlier Dragon Ball charm. Also once Commander Red and Black (ya... there was another one) are defeated the Red Ribbon Army is disbanded and they’re never heard from again... well until the next anime.
Filler: Debatable... however I’ll go with none on this one. It’s all “Canon” the way I describe it myself.
Recommended for Fans of Z: I would say Episode 58-64 would be the best. As Tao is a genuinely a fun villain and Korin’s training is the origin to a lot of Dragon Ball Z tropes.
Episodes 69-82 The Fortuneteller Baba Saga:
While on the surface there really isn’t a lot to go on about here as once you take out the filler the entire thing is only nine episodes or so. The content of those episodes isn’t great on its face, however it’s what these episodes represent in the grand scheme of the series that makes it important.
You see this is the first time the concept of the afterlife is mentioned and as a physical place one can visit no less. This becomes one of the defining concepts in the entire franchise that death isn’t an ending if Dragon Ball but a beginning. Furthermore this is also the arc where the first example of a person being killed and returning to life is actually done.
While many would argue this takes away a great deal of tension in the series of which I’d partially agree it is a defining feature of the series. The fact death can be a temporary thing for characters, it sets up narrative challenges later on but right here its revolutionary.
It also moves the Dragon Balls themselves away from an item to be coveted for materialistic and personal gain for our heroes. To items to be used for the great good which firmly sets our heroes on the side of good. Never again will our heroes seriously contemplate using the Dragon Balls to wish for a Boyfriend or a companions panties... unlike in the Emperor Pillaf Saga.
Filler: Episodes 79-82 are again one off fillers that don’t add much to the overall story or history. Although if you’re a fan of Dabura from the Buu Saga one of these episodes has a trip to the “Demon Realm” which he may or may not be King of. It’s unclear...
Recommended for Fans of Z: From a historical perspective all of them save the filler. The arc is important for at least one viewing. After that up to you. This is also the arc where Krillin falls for a boy who he thinks is a girl... poor Krillin your love life is a running joke. At least he wins big in the end in that department.
Episodes 83-101 The 22nd World Martial Arts/Tien Shinhan Saga:
Two mysterious strangers appear one short and one tall. Their styles may be similar but they have powers that far exceed our heroes and a cocky attitude to match. Only Goku returning from a year of training in the other world has the power to stop them! They are the Saiy... nah it’s just Tien and Chiaotzu. However the similarities to the Saiyan Saga are unmistakable.
That being said this is likely deliberate as you can really see the seeds of Z starting to pop up in this Saga. As more and more characters start to acquire and use higher end “wave” techniques, the fights become elaborate and less plausible, even flying is introduced in the arc.
All around it’s a very good set of episodes as Dragon Ball really starts to kick into high gear and it is a pace that the rest of the series will follow. All around it’s a lot of fun for every fan new, old, and Z only alike. I can’t recommend this arc more than I have.
Filler: Episode 83. The rest is pure uncut Dragon Ball.
Recommended for Fans of Z: All of it it’s really good I promise. Tien is also appropriately an asshole, which is really fun to watch if you’ve only seen his stoically heroic persona from Z.
Episodes 102-122 The King Piccolo Saga:
Krillin dies! So does Chiatzu for that matter! All the worlds best fighters are being killed by mysterious monsters! The dark half of God is responsible and after he regains his youth through the use of the Dragon Balls he kills the Eternal Dragon so it can never be used against him. This is the King Piccolo Saga and next only to the Freiza Saga it’s the darkest in the whole franchise.
All around this arc is awesome and really keeps pace with its predecessor. It has some amazing moments as a former villain for the first time sheds his dark ways to become a hero and even attempts a heroic sacrifice. Also for the first time we have a villain who is unquestionably stronger then Goku and not just by a little bit but by a lot. So much so King Piccolo could be considered the series first apocalyptic level villain as taking over the world is not out of the realm of possibility for him.
Filler: 115-116 are technically filler but I personally don’t really count them. As they serve a purpose in the grand scheme of things as it gives a decent enough reason for Goku’s power to start matching King Piccolo’s despite being so massively outclassed previously. Besides its only two episodes so it’s nothing major.
Recommended for Fans of Z: All of it it, this is literally the second best arc in the series. If there was a University Class taught on how to write Shōnen Manga this arc would be a textbook example of how to raise the stakes and tension and pace an exciting story from beginning to end. Also Yajirobe shows up for the first time in the series and he’s as strong as Goku! I’ll say that again at this point in the series Yajirobe is the strongest human alive.. Ya that won’t last too long but at least it explains why he was training with the Z Fighters on Kami’s Lookout during the Saiyan Saga...
Note: This was the Saga Dragon Ball: Evolution was based off of, it’s much better than that. Watch this to see how it’s supposed to be done.
Episodes 123-153 The Piccolo Jr. Saga:
For fans of Z this one is an easy sell as this arc is the official transition between the two series. Goku and ChiChi get married which later results in Gohan, Goku is now officially an adult, and most of the characters look like how they’ll look sans about 50 lbs of muscle mass (looking at you Tien you roid user) for the rest of the series.
Beyond the character design chances the battles in the 24th World Martial Arts tournament has a very Z feel. Gone are the special martial arts moves like “The Wolf Fang Fist” (yup Yamcha doesn’t fist people much now) replaced by specialty Ki attacks such as the Spirit Ball and the ever popular and powerful Tri Beam/Kikōhō along with much more powerful versions of the Kamehameha. Indeed this arc feels far more like Z than anything else before it in Dragon Ball.
Furthermore it’s a great ending point for the venerated series as it’s easily the best Saga on offer. Everything about it just clicks the return to the World Martial Arts Tournament the sight of such awesome moments, rematches and grudge matches all the same, a wedding even, and the first (and only) time Goku actually wins a World Martial Arts tournament and is officially crowned The Worlds Strongest. Yes this is a lot of fun.
Filler: Episode 132 and 149-154 which killed time before the start of Z. Of course 154 has Goku and ChiChi’s wedding so that’s canon if not in the manga. So choose if you want to watch that the rest is kind of just pointless.
Recommended for Fans of Z: This is literally Dragon Ball Z in all but name at this point and good Dragon Ball Z with fights that actually end in a reasonable time. There is literally nothing bad about these episode they’re nearly perfect in terms of quality within the Dragon Ball canon as a fan you’re doing a disservice to yourself by not watching.
Well this is it as you can see Dragon Ball didn’t really have a lot of filler to take issue with which is why I also shoe horned my own opinions of what is worth watching and not. All around Dragon Ball is very different from Z however it shares the same heart, the same soul and fans of Dragon Ball should really take the time out to watch it. Who knows you may be like me and become enchanted by the story of a little monkey boy who grows up to save the universe with his group of crazy friends.
As always please leave your comments I love to read them. Have a great one!
PS: Check out my latest thoughts on Dragon Ball Super.