Son Goku has always been the onus of DBZ. It can be argued he and Bulma were co-leads at the start of the franchise, but this ignores how Dragon Ball quite literally opens with Goku, seeing the story almost exclusively through his eyes. Heading into the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai arc, everyone other than Goku even leaves the main cast.
Goku’s family life was an early affair for most of Dragon Ball, but all that changed when he reunited with Chichi at the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai and started a family. Dragon Ball’s focus then shifted from Goku’s life to that of his family– often portrayed through his son, Gohan’s, perspective. Between Goku and Gohan, the Son men drive the plot more than any other family in Dragon Ball. This is their story, after all.
The youngest member of the Son family, Pan is introduced at the very end of the Majin Buu arc. She doesn’t get much time to shine before Dragon Ball ends, but she gets her due. Notably, Goku has taken a special interest in Pan and it seems the two have developed a relationship akin to Goku with his own grandfather, Gohan.
Goku also recognizes all the potential in Pan. Being Gohan’s daughter, it’s only fitting Pan would be able to outsmart virtually every character in the main cast at 4 years old. Pan is a living embodiment of the idea that the next generation will always outdo the last. Dragon Ball GT didn’t follow up on Pan all that well, but hopefully Dragon Ball Super will remedy this fact.
2. Son Goten
Goku sacrificed his life during the Cell Games, but not before he and Chichi could conceive another child. Although Goku would be gone for seven years, he’d leave behind a new son– Son Goten. Son Goten was raised without a father for most of his life, leaving Chichi and Gohan to take care of.
Goten is an interesting mix of Goku & Gohan as a kid. While he looks like Goku, he has Gohan’s more passive tendencies. At the same time, he’s nowhere near as passive as Gohan was, full of agency and even a bit of a troublemaker courtesy of his friendship with Trunks.
As showcased by the end of the Dragon Ball, Goten has something of an identity ‘crisis’ growing up that causes him to change his hairstyle. To be fair, he’d look just like his father if he didn’t, so it’s really for the best. As an adult, Goten’s love for martial arts has been seemingly replaced with a love for women.
Roughly the same age as Gohan, Videl is introduced as his love interest at the start of the Majin Buu arc. The daughter of Mr. Satan– the man taking credit for Gohan’s defeat of Cell– Videl’s presence occurs with it conflict, but Gohan takes it all in stride. At first, he wants nothing more than to get rid of Videl, but they quickly develop mutual feelings for one another.
Akira Toriyama does not write romance particularly well, but the bond between Gohan and Videl is admittedly quite charming. Videl’s also the best-written love interest in Dragon Ball, actually getting a fair bit of development before exiting the story. Her fiery personality pairs off Gohan’s passive attitude particularly well, and the fact she loves martial arts gives them common ground to stand on.
4. Son Gohan
Named after Goku’s grandfather, Son Gohan was introduced at the beginning of the Saiyan arc as Goku’s son. Following the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai, Goku and Chichi almost immediately start a family, dedicating their youth to raising a son. Goku notably doesn’t get to train Gohan during this time (seemingly prioritizing fatherhood over training,) but he still sees potential in Gohan.
Stemming from his half Saiyan/half Earthing heritage, this potential ends up becoming the crux of Gohan’s character arc throughout Dragon Ball. Following Goku’s death in the Saiyan arc, Gohan is trained by Piccolo to unlock his latent talents. This comes up again in the Frieza, Cell, and Buu arcs where Gohan’s seemingly limitless potential always finds a way to come out.
Akira Toriyama had actually planned on having Gohan take over the role of the main character during the Cell Games, but this was ultimately thrown out the window by the 25th Tenkaichi Budokai. That said, Gohan is still treated with respect in the story. He may not end the series its lead, but he manages to fulfill his dreams while reaffirming his relationship with martial arts– not his father’s.
Son Goku’s future wife, Goku and Chichi meet at the very start of the series. In the manga, Chichi isn’t even reintroduced until the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai– spending years out of the action and making for a cheeky joke when Chichi very suddenly returns to make sure Goku follows up on his promise of marrying her.
Goku being Goku, he didn’t actually know what marriage meant at the time. Goku being Goku, however, he recognizes he can’t break a promise and dedicates the rest of his life to Chichi. For what it’s worth, Goku and Chichi are far from a bad relationship. While they aren’t as loving as a traditional couple, it’s clear they care for each another.
6. Son Goku
The fact Goku had a tail always signaled he was something else, but Dragon Ball’s Earth is strange enough where oddities like a boy having a monkey tail aren’t out of place. This just makes the reveal that Goku is an alien– specifically a Saiyan– all the more surprising. Goku knew he was Gohan’s adopted grandson, but this fundamentally changes Goku’s perception of himself.
Goku spends the Saiyan & Namek arcs fighting closely with his heritage. There aren’t any big moments of development (outside his iconic speech to Frieza,) but care is given to contrasting Goku with Vegeta. They’re both Saiyans, but Goku is desperate to hold onto the fact he was raised on Earth.
When Frieza kills Krillin, Goku triggers the Super Saiyan form– channeling his anger and rage towards Frieza. Not without asserting his identity as a Saiyan who was raised on Earth, however. From there, Goku is keener than ever to acknowledge his Saiyan heritage, but by ignoring how the people of Earth shaped him. At the end of the day, Goku is more a Son than a Kakarot.
7. Grandpa Gohan
Son Gohan, otherwise known as Grandpa Gohan, is the furthest back the Son lineage can be traced back to in Dragon Ball. While the exact circumstances of Son Gohan’s life are shrouded in mystery, there are some breadcrumbs scattered throughout the first three-story arcs that paint a fuller picture of who he was.
Much like Goku, Grandpa Gohan trained under Master Roshi alongside Gyumao, even ending up Roshi’s star student at the time (a role which Goku would take on for himself.) Gohan’s fighting style is distinct enough where Yamcha can recognize Goku studied under him at a glance.
Gohan was ultimately killed when his grandson transformed during a full moon, but their match during Uranai Baba’s tournament shows there are no hard feelings. Gohan might not be Goku’s biological grandfather– adopting the Saiyan after finding the baby crash-landed in the woods– but this has no ill effect on their actual relationship.