- Fans of the 1986 Dragon Ball anime forget that the flaws they often attack in Dragon Ball Z (using the titular Dragon Balls as a Reset Button to undo the villains' murderous rampage, lots of filler and padding to the fights and stories to keep from catching up to the manga, storylines taking way too long to resolve themselves, etc.) were all present, to one degree or another, from the start. They just hadn't yet been done to death.
- One criticism fans of the original series level at Z/the Z era manga is that the series abandoned its original premise of being an adventure through a fantasy world where anything could seemingly happen. Instead Z became a sci-fi fighting series focused long protracted fights with villains and tournaments. However you could argue that Dragon Ball "abandoned its premise" (and started focusing more on fights), as soon as its second arc. The tournament saga didn't have the heroes explore new locations and all the antagonist are now linked together by the tournament, unlike the previous random enemies. And a lot more emphasis was placed on the fights. While the follow up arc kind of attempts to return to the "find the dragon balls, explore the world idea," all of the villains in the arc work for the Red Ribbon army, somewhat limiting the scope of what can happen throughout the arc. The next two sagas are almost strait up Z material focused on tournaments and bringing down a single super powered antagonist and their henchman. However not only was it fresh at the time, but for viewers of the anime there were treated to plenty of one shot filler episodes and mini arcs that did explore a world where anything could seemingly happen. Also the tournament obsession in Z is kind of an odd point, since Dragon Ball had three tournament arcs and Z only had one if you don't count filler or the Cell Games as a tournament.
- The criticism of the series' treatment of Yamcha in particular. He was hardly a serious threat when he started out as an antagonist, and he went down to several humiliating defeats throughout the original Dragon Ball. Perhaps what turns off fans from him in Z isn't the fact that he loses, but that he loses in particularly brutal ways that come across as mean-spirited in comparison to the more light-hearted original series. Where in the original, he might get his ass kicked in a comical way, in Z, he was horribly killed twice and maimed a third time. The real turning point is argued by MistareFusion to be the moment Bulma breaks up with Yamcha for "infidelity". At no point during their relationship did Yamcha ever come across as a cheater... and if anything, Bulma threw herself at men left and right while dating Yamcha. Immediately after this, a "Yamcha dartboard" was published alongside manga volumes, and other guidebooks and articles were published with the goal of turning Yamcha into a whipping boy. That leads us to the present, where Yamcha is the Memetic Loser of the franchise.
- As pointed out by Team Four Star, the Saiyan Saga of Dragon Ball Z, despite setting the tone for the remainder of the series, also introduced many staples the franchise would be criticized for: Power Levels being a major focus, Beam-O-Wars as a symbol of extremely over-the-top and drawn-out fights, and everybody getting killed while waiting for Goku (Gohan in one instance) and his new power-up to save the day. This was all excusable in that it was new, but it got old as each new saga came out.
- Dragon Ball Super has been criticized a fair bit in the fandom for its tendency to introduce inexplicably overpowered characters, give characters inexplicably giant power boosts, or make rather dubious judgments in terms of Power Levels. This was more or less true of the original, too; it's just that by the time Super came out, the fandom had managed to Fan Wank out ways for the the bizarre treatment of power levels to make sense, and Super just made it even more obvious that, no, power levels in the franchise really were completely arbitrary nonsense. note Compounding the problem further was just how stupidly high the powerscale in Super had become by the time of Beerus' introduction and Goku getting a new power-up just to fight at the same level as him, making it bizarre that the characters were still managing to encounter foes able to battle literal universe-smashing gods.
- You can see inexplicably powerful characters coming out of the woodwork as early as Dragon Ball's third arc, the Red Ribbon Army arc . The titular army has several members that outclass most of the World Martial Arts Tournament contestants. They're apparently The Dreaded and have been for some time, and they're now looking for the Dragon Balls, but they didn't show up, nor were they mentioned, during the previous two arcs, and it's never explained where they were during the last hunt for them. It's also never explained how General Blue has Psychic Powers, or how Mercenary Tao can be so much tougher than anyone. However the original series firmly took place in a giant world where anything could happen, and the fact the series explicitly focused on Goku worked in its favor. It made sense that Goku wouldn't know about things like the Red Ribbon Army. But by the time Z started, the world didn't seem so big anymore; they'd already beaten the toughest people in it. When Z was over, they'd beaten the strongest guys in the universe (hell, Frieza was supposed to be the strongest guy in the universe, and he dies about halfway through). The franchise since has been in a bit of a constant scramble to justify how any villain is supposed to challenge the current cast. This isn't helped by the fact that it has developed a fondness for writing itself into a corner on that issue: Super introduced an entire multiverse, and then in a single arc, showed off the strongest characters of almost every universe, all of whom were defeated over the course of the arc.
- Plague of Gripes traces the problems with Power Levels all the way back to the Mercenary Tao arc of the original Dragon Ball. Prior to that time, Goku generally defeated people who could match him in a fight by learning new techniques, finding weaknesses in their fighting style, or getting help - but in the Tao arc, when Goku faces Tao again after going through Training from Hell, he doesn't demonstrate any new techniques or noticeably change up his fighting style; he just does everything he did before, looking exactly the same as before, but now it's arbitrarily enough to win because it's "stronger" now. It was a formula that worked out alright in that arc, partly because it was fresh and satisfying, but also because the power scale was low enough that physical improvements actually mattered and hadn't become pushed into the ridiculous heights that would be seen later. But over the course of the franchise, the problem of Power Levels being used to arbitrarily raise the stakes or resolve the conflict became overused to the point of comedy, and unlike the Tao arc, they would often be obtained through plot devices such as the zenkai boost or Super Saiyan rather than actual effort. In addition, the scale and feats of these Power Levels became indistinguishable from each other aside from getting slightly different results, leading to the situation where fighters are intended to be trillions of times stronger, but seem to be on the same scale as King Piccolo most of the time and are still affected by things like weighted clothing or having rocks and boulders thrown at them.
- One of the biggest complaints about later arcs, particularly the films, Dragon Ball GT, and Super, is how much they focus on Goku and make him too overpowered. This was, if anything, more obvious as far back as the original Dragon Ball, where Goku was a Comically Invincible Hero for the first few arcs, and by far the strongest of the protagonists at every point (bar maybe Roshi, but not for long). This worked better then because the series was still an action-comedy, meaning they could still contribute, and Goku himself went through a fair bit of Character Development as he grew up: the story actively followed him throughout his adventures. The Saiyan, Namek and Android Sagas, widely regarded as the most popular parts of the series, de-emphasized as Goku was largely Out of Focus and most of the story was told with the other characters, who quickly grew into their own. By the Buu Saga, Goku's arc was over, and the supporting cast had more than proven they could carry the story without him - but if anything, he only became more central from that point on, despite having too much power and nowhere to go as a character. After that, most fans resigned themselves to Goku showing up to flatten the villain after they're done with killing all the more interesting people.
- A common gripe about the Buu Saga and Super was the complete devaluing of the Super Saiyan transformation, turning it from a destined unique affair only obtained after the peak of the race goes through emotional hell, that even Goku feared would push him beyond the pale, into a generic powerup that seemingly every Saiyan has at least one form of. In point of fact, this started all the way back at the very second Super Saiyan in the series - Trunks, who, in the manga, learned the transformation entirely offscreen. Similarly, Vegeta and Gohan just come back from offscreen Training from Hell having already mastered the form. Indeed, every Super Saiyan bar Goku learned it offscreen in the manga. And the idea that being a Super Saiyan makes the user battle-crazed didn't even last the length of the fight it was first used, with Goku sparing Frieza twice in that same fight (with a brief revival for Gohan and Cell). It wasn't as recognized then because of two factors: first, the anime added Filler or flashback episodes that showed those first transformations, and generally at least tried to give them some emotional weight (Trunks in particular), and second, all three characters were already great warriors (and Gohan and Vegeta were well-established characters, while Trunks knowing it was basically a plot twist), which made them learning the form a comparatively easy pill to swallow. When the Buu Saga introduced Goten and Kid Trunks, literal children who had never fought seriously but still turned Super Saiyan, and Super introduced the Universe 6 crew (who, though noted to be skilled, had nowhere near as much material establishing them as such), who basically figure it out minutes after showing up and seconds after realizing it exists (though, oddly, not at any point in their supposedly extensive fighting careers), then it became impossible to ignore that, in fact, the Super Saiyan transformation actually is that easy.
- One of the most common critiques of the Buu Saga is that, despite the buildup given to their new power boosts, both Gotenks and Gohan end up being kind of irrelevant in the defeat of Buu; they inflict no permanent damage and their only impact is causing his transformation into new forms, which he does constantly in the arc anyway (in fact, they actually serve as fuel for him). But you could say much the same thing about powerups in earlier arcs, such as Piccolo fusing with Nail or Vegeta's advancement of Super Saiyan, neither of which did much to affect the villain's ultimate defeat. The difference was that in those prior cases, you never really got the impression that Piccolo or Vegeta would succeed. On the other hand, Goten, Trunks, and Gohan were given far more Character Focus in the process of obtaining those abilities, to the point that you could be forgiven for thinking of them as the protagonists, with entire multi-chapter or multi-episode mini-arcs being dedicated to their developing techniques. And while Goku's return was still very much in the cards in those earlier arcs, he was dead for much of the Buu Saga, even explicitly passing the torch right before Goten and Trunks got to work. It gave the readers a lot of time to ponder the potential of Ultimate Gohan or Gotenks and made the possibility of them defeating Buu feel extremely likely—which, conversely, made their ultimate irrelevance all the more dull and disappointing.
- Akira Toriyama has mentioned multiple times in interviews that he preferred defying reader expectations and writing as he went to keep the story unpredictable. This worked early on, when the story was still largely a humorous action-comedy manga, but fatigue after 13 consecutive years of writing and drawing and a gradual slide into seriousness through Serial Escalation led to several of the problems that fans would gripe about for decades. For the sake of brevity, the two most obvious examples that point this out are the long-awaited rematch of Goku and Vegeta, and the incredible potential of Gohan. Both of these plot points were set up very early, foreshadowed, and given tons of build-up but then ultimately amounted to nothing. The Goku/Vegeta fight lasted only a few panels, had no conclusion, and was rendered moot by the later reveal that Goku was holding back the whole time. The anime adaptation attempted to fix some of this by making the fight last longer, and Super has had multiple battles where the two spar for fun. Meanwhile, Gohan's potential was simply lost when he stopped training, leading to him being considered a major disappointment both in-universe and out, and no matter how many times he reawakens it, it disappears right after the next Time Skip. Both of these examples are cases where Toriyama's habit of defying expectations didn't really work to the story's credit, because they've been sore spots for fans even after all this time, and the franchise has made multiple attempts to address both problems, extending all the way into Super.
- As noted by MistareFusion, the actions of the main characters, at moments where every action determines the fate of the universe, reaches far beyond Idiot Plot territory. This was a problem that hit its absolute low point during the Android and Buu Sagas, where the characters are warned about apocalyptic-level threats, but actively decide to allow said villains to arrive for the sake of testing their abilities. These decisions result in the deaths of thousands of people and entire planets getting blown up.note While the selfish whims and poor decisions of the characters were charming in early Dragon Ball where the stakes were mostly personal, by the time we're into the Android Saga, the fate of the world hinges on every battle. Whether or not this leads to a more interesting story has been hotly debated for decades at this point, but the real problem is the lack of Internal Consistency. While again, characters could change from moment to moment in Dragon Ball, at that point, it had been largely a gag manga. In DBZ, readers had been spoiled by the actions of the protagonists during the Saiyan & Frieza Sagas, where (a few blunders aside) everyone (including Vegeta) respected the immense stakes of the arc and acted with extreme cunning and foresight. The king of this inconsistency was Goku himself: in the fight with Frieza, Goku refuses to let Frieza power up to 100% and later tries to defeat Frieza by cutting him with his own Death Saucers... and then suddenly reverses his opinion on both points one chapter later. Furthermore, he sometimes spared opponents intent on conquest and genocide because they were Not Worth Killing or because they were a Worthy Opponent, but he would also kill opponents regardless because they were so evil that they didn't deserve to live.
- The Dragon Ball Super manga's take on the Tournament of Power arc has been criticized for the pacing and way the characters have been handled, due to it coming across as Toyotaro rushing the arc as fast as possible to get to the big Goku versus Jiren fight. The Super manga has had some pacing issues in the past, with the Universe 6 vs. Universe 7 arc having the fights with Botamo and Magetta deal with quickly in favor of the fight against Frost, Cabba, and Hit, with the fights themselves being notably smaller in scale than in the anime. In the Future Trunks arc, the fighting was much quicker than the anime also, only having the group fight Goku Black once before Zamasu appeared, and having Kibito Info Dump all of the information on Zamasu without any build up. While this meant Zamasu was seen as less interesting to many in the manga, for many, the quicker pacing wasn't an issue since the manga was debatedly cutting away a lot of extra padding and focused more on the story. However, the Tournament Of Power arc in the anime gave every member of team Universe 7 at least one moment, with many other fights getting the chance to shine during combat, and while it was a long arc, it had some of the best moments in the series for characters like Android 18, Piccolo, and Roshi. In the manga, the Tournament is so quick that many fighters get knocked off with no fanfare of acknowledgement, and many fun fights never occur in favor of quickly knocking out as many people as possible. This rushed pacing makes it seem as though Toyotaro just wanted to get rid of everyone but the final five, and just wants to show off the big fighting moments without any build up. Furthermore, the power-scaling has been thoroughly inconsistent, with things such as a Berserker Kale being able to trump Golden Frieza and Aniraza, two beings who were extremely more powerful than Kale in the anime, but only being equal to Gohan as Kefla, who is the Potara fusion of Kale and Caulifla. Chapter 38 made this worse for fans, as Toyotaro used Berserker Kale to knock out nearly everyone left that wasn't from Universe 7 or 11, and chapter 39 has Master Roshi use a variant of Ultra Instinct to battle Jiren, with Goku getting the form from watching it instead of how he got it in the anime. Its to the point now where the manga's take on the arc has reached what was over fifty episodes in the anime to lead up the the big final battle with Universe 11, in only about 6 chapters.
Franchise Original Sin / Dragon Ball