Everyone has to die eventually, and that often goes twice or more for Dragon Ball’s main cast. The threat of death is arguably present from the very first chapter/episode, but it’s not until Tao Pai Pai kills Bora that death becomes a legitimate threat. Even then, Krillin’s sudden death at the end of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai is what really solidifies that anyone can– and will– die.
Krillin dying as often as he does is something of an in-joke within the Dragon Ball community, but one other character rivals him when it comes to dying over and over again: Piccolo. Krillin & Piccolo die more than any other character in the series, featuring key deaths in Dragon Ball, DBZ, GT, and even Super.
- Krillin: Old Age
The Dragon Ball GT TV Special, A Hero’s Legacy, may take place at the very end of the series, but it actually released midway through GT’s run– in between the Baby and Super 17 arcs. A Hero’s Legacy flashes forward a century in time, long after the Dragon Team has passed, and focuses on the life of Goku Jr.
The special explicitly clarifies that everyone other than Pan has passed away at this point, but it doesn’t get into how. That said, considering the implied peace following the Evil Dragons arc, it can be presumed that almost everyone died in peace. In Krillin’s age, it’s almost guaranteed he died of old age. He was putting on his years by the end of GT.
2. Piccolo: Sacrifices Life To Save Goku
Piccolo dies much earlier in Dragon Ball GT, and his death ends up sticking for the rest of the series– no revivals this time. While transporting everyone off a dying planet Earth, Goku runs out of energy and finds himself all alone. Piccolo offers to trade places with Goku, giving him his energy and staying behind.
Piccolo and Gohan share an emotional farewell that does a great job at touching upon the scope of their relationship. Fans see their dynamic as father & son, but they’re best friends above all else. Although this isn’t the last of Piccolo seen in GT, the series retires his character with dignity.
3. Krillin: Killed By Super 17
Dragon Ball GT takes a fairly long time to start humoring the supporting cast, but really only giving meaningful screentime to the Saiyans (per usual) and Uub. Krillin’s role is severely reduced in Dragon Ball GT, amounting to little more than guest appearances during the series run. That said, this might have to do with him being dead for a good chunk of it.
Krillin’s death ends up kickstarting the Super 17 arc (not too dissimilar to the Piccolo Daimao arc,) but he remains dead for the rest of the series– only revived in the finale. If nothing else, Krillin and Goku share what’s perhaps the best scene in DBGT as a result.
4. Piccolo: Sacrifices Life To Save Gohan… Again
Dragon Ball GT’s killing of Piccolo is incredibly dignified. Piccolo always had a more emotional arc, so for GT to embrace sentimentality while formally removing Piccolo from the story permanently is certainly appropriate. Dragon Ball Super’s killing of Piccolo is painfully undignified, bordering on insulting.
During the anime’s adaptation of Resurrection F, Piccolo ends up taking a blast meant to kill Gohan– visually mirroring his saving of Gohan in the Saiyan arc. It’s cheap fanservice with no context or weight. Piccolo’s death is outlandish and tries to wedge emotional conflict where it has no place. The worst part? Piccolo is revived off-screen.
5. Krillin: Killed By Evil Buu
Gotenks’ battle with Evil Buu in the Room of Spirit and Time doesn’t go well, to say the least. While Gotenks was more than strong enough to kill Evil Buu at just about any point (a fact which understandably frustrates Piccolo to no end,) he decided to play with his food for the sake of drama. For what it’s worth, Toriyama considers this one of his favorite fights and it shows.
Evil Buu breaks out of the Room of Spirit and Time, and while it doesn’t take Gotenks & Piccolo long to follow, it does take too long. Now on the lookout, Evil Buu eats everyone in his path– Krillin included.
6. Piccolo: Killed By Pure Buu
Gotenks and Piccolo make it out of the Room of Spirit and Time too late, coming face to face with an empty Lookout. It’s not long before Gotenks continues his fight against Evil Buu, this time actually getting serious. Gotenks unleashes some serious punishment into Majin Buu, but his fusion cuts out just before he can kill Buu.
Gohan saves the day before Buu can get his revenge, but the domino falls and a series of absorptions result in Goku & Vegeta fusing to rescue the boys and Piccolo from Buu’s insides. Unfortunately, Evil Buu morphs back into the primal Pure Buu and destroys the Earth in the process. Goku ends up saving Mr. Satan, Bee, & Dende instead of Gohan, Piccolo, Goten, & Trunks.
7. Krillin: Killed By Frieza
Flash forward to the fight against Frieza and Krillin is actually the only original member of the Dragon Team (other than Goku) who’s still alive to fight. Krillin survives the fight against Nappa, nearly kills Vegeta all by himself and manages to save himself, Gohan, & Dende safe on Namek. As Krillin has already died once before, there’s a tension to any close calls he has: the same wish can’t be made twice.
Krillin’s death is again used as a shocking twist. The Genki Dama had seemingly killed Frieza only for the tyrant to direct his anger towards Goku and company. Piccolo is shot through the heart, Gohan is threatened, and Krillin is blown up into pieces.
8. Piccolo: Killed By Goku
Having almost lost what began as a life or death match against Tenshinhan naturally leaves Goku too exhausted to fight back against Tambourine. Kinton is (actually) destroyed, and Goku plummets to the Earth. He survives, of course, but it’s not long after that Goku gets his revenge on Tambourine and makes himself one of Piccolo Daimao’s targets.
Goku and Piccolo’s first fight goes anything but well, but their rematch is just as brutal. While Goku is able to fight Piccolo Daimao head-on, the Demon King ends up crippling most of Goku’s limbs while using Tenshinhan as a hostage. Hubris ends up being Daimao’s downfall, however, as Goku has enough energy in his arm to launch himself through Piccolo’s torso.
9. Krillin: Killed By Tambourine
The 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai is by no means a lighthearted affair, but it’s hard to take the threat of death too seriously in a tournament setting. After all, with the story building to Tenshinhan’s development, there was simply no room for anyone to die. But that’s exactly why Krillin’s sudden death at the end of the arc is such a punch in the gut.
The end of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai should be a moment of celebration, but Krillin is killed by one of Piccolo Daimao’s children– Tambourine– for Goku’s Dragon Ball. Cradling Krillin’s dead body, Goku is filled with rage and flies off to avenge his best friend’s first death.
10. Piccolo: Sacrifices Life To Save Gohan
It’s easy to take for granted just how narratively terrifying the fight against Nappa really is. Emotions are already high as Yamcha’s dead at this point, and they only run higher as both Chaozu and Tenshinhan kill themselves in futile attempts to hurt Nappa. Piccolo, Krillin, and Gohan have left the sole survivors in a matter of minutes.
To their credit, the trio strategizes relatively well. Piccolo and Krillin set Gohan up with a combo that very well could have turned the fight around, but Gohan’s cowardice gets in the way. Unable to let the point die, Piccolo, jumps in the way of Nappa’s retaliating blast. Piccolo dies, but not before crying & thanking Gohan for being a great friend.