There are more Super Saiyan transformations in the Dragon Ball canon than just the basic forms. Akira Toriyama’s iconic anime and manga series had been in progress for years before the Super Saiyan concept was introduced, but the transformations fast become an integral part of the story and have cast huge influence on other properties too, with dramatic power-ups and “final forms” now standard practice in most Shonen-style stories.
The basic concept of Super Saiyan is a member of the Saiyan race breaking through the limits of their strength to achieve a completely new level of power, usually in response to extreme anger or dire need. When Goku first debuted as a golden-haired warrior during his classic battle against Frieza, he was the first Saiyan in years to attain the form, but as Super Saiyan became old news, more and more transformations were added, each one trying to replicate the drama and impact of the first.
With so many Super Saiyan forms in the Dragon Ball universe, some often get swept under the carpet and replaced by newer, shinier transformations. This rundown will stay strictly to canon appearances, ruling out all movies prior to 2013’s Battle of Gods and any Super Saiyan states that only appeared in filler episodes. Dragon Ball GT is also excluded, because although the sequel series isn’t explicitly confirmed as non-canon, it directly contradicts events in Dragon Ball Super, which was made with Toriyama’s involvement. And it was terrible. Here are all of Dragon Ball‘s canon Super Saiyan forms:
The original and the best, Dragon Ball has often tried to recapture the magic of Goku’s first ever Super Saiyan transformation, but has never quite succeeded, with the moment going down in anime history and converting a generation of young, impressionable western minds onto Japanese culture forever. After Krillin’s death sparked Goku’s initial power-up, everyone else got in on the act, including Gohan, Trunks, Goten, Vegeta and the Universe 6 lot. In terms of strength, the basic Super Saiyan form can no longer cut it, but the iconic golden-hair design will always have a special place in fans’ hearts.
The first inkling fans got that there might be another form beyond the standard Super Saiyan came thanks to Vegeta and Trunks after their father-son bonding time in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber. After training desperately to defeat Cell, the two Saiyans emerge full of confidence, and Vegeta might’ve beaten Cell’s second form if his pride hadn’t got in the way. Rather than a whole new transformation, Ascended Super Saiyan is merely an upgrade of the original state, but it still represents a massive leap in power, increasing the standard Super Saiyan by up to 3 times.
A seldom seen transformation, Trunks thought he had finally surpassed his father during their training session in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber by not only exceeding the original Super Saiyan form, but unlocking yet another upgrade beyond that. But while Vegeta was let down by pride, Trunks faltered due to inexperience, and failed to realize that the Super Saiyan Ultra form greatly sacrificed speed for raw strength, whereas the Ascended state offered far better balance, making it the optimum form. After proving useless against Cell due to being slow and bulky, this form was dropped.
Not to be outdone by Vegeta and his son, Goku and Gohan entered the Hyperbolic Time Chamber with a markedly different strategy. Instead of trying to break into new transformations, Goku & son worked towards perfecting the original Super Saiyan form to its maximum potential, and both finally reach a point where they can remain golden-haired constantly, thus rendering the Second and Third grades redundant. Although the Full Power Super Saiyan state is the strongest variation of the original transformation, it’s also a sign that the user is close to unlocking something even better…
If any transformation scene came close to matching the epic intensity of the Goku and Frieza climax, it was Gohan transforming into Super Saiyan 2 in order to defeat a fully-juiced Cell. Enraged by Cell beating his friends to a pulp and the destruction of Android 16, Gohan transcends all of the sub-stages derived from the original Super Saiyan and taps into a whole new level of power. Rather than merely bulking up like the previous grades, Super Saiyan 2 features sharper hair, a more pronounced aura and electric sparks and remains the go-to Super Saiyan form for the rest of the series.
Super Saiyan 3 might not have featured heavily in the Dragon Ball franchise, but it remains one of the coolest designs in the entire selection box of Saiyan styles, with long hair, missing eyebrows and some angry eyes Mr. Potato Head would be proud of. Goku attains this coveted form while in the afterlife, but the extreme strain of expending so much energy makes its usage extremely limited. Nevertheless, Super Saiyan 3 remains the toughest Saiyan transformation from the Majin Buu saga right up until the Battle of Gods movie. Unfortunately, only Goku and Gotenks ever use this particular trick, and it was swiftly rendered obsolete when Beerus appeared.
Dragon Ball‘s Battle of Gods movie in 2013 introduced a distinctly different transformation available to Saiyans of great strength. Interestingly, this form wasn’t achievable via training, anger or ki level, but by the spirit of cooperation. A Saiyan achieves God ki via a ritual, with 5 other Saiyans channeling their energy into a sixth, triggering a metamorphosis beyond that of even a Super Saiyan 3, and turning their hair and energy field into a rich red hue. In this serene state, Goku is able to fight more evenly with, but still can’t overcome, Universe 7’s God of Destruction, Beerus.
While most fans were excited by the introduction of Super Saiyan God, the red form unfortunately didn’t stay en vogue for long, and was swiftly replaced by Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan, or simply Super Saiyan Blue after the bright turquoise color Goku and Vegeta’s hair become while using the form. This transformation combines the God ki of its predecessor with the regular golden Super Saiyan energy, creating a mostly superior form, but it would later transpire that the original red-haired level was both greater in speed and expended less energy. By virtue of being an actual Kai, Goku Black’s version of this state results in a pink coloring, rather than blue, which he calls Super Saiyan Rosé.
Undoubtedly the most tenuous transformation in Dragon Ball canon, Super Saiyan Rage was a one-time deal showcased by Future Trunks during the battle against Zamasu and Goku Black. The ins-and-outs of the form are left frustratingly vague (indicative of the Zamasu arc’s problems as a whole), but it’s suggested that Trunks acquired some degree of God ki while training with Vegeta and combined this with both his Super Saiyan 2 form and sheer, unbridled anger to unlock this hybrid form that mixed together gold and blue auras.
Just as the original Super Saiyan transformation had its own upgrades and sub-divisions, Dragon Ball has also introduced a perfected form of the Super Saiyan Blue power-up. Currently only appearing in the Dragon Ball Super manga, Goku realizes the huge energy cost of the Super Saiyan Blue form and trains to perfect and control the power, similar to how he and Gohan mastered the original Super Saiyan state in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber. In this mode, Goku and Vegeta utilize the power of Super Saiyan Blue to its full capacity, without needing to worry too much about draining energy.
Vegeta was none too pleased with Goku attaining the over-powered Ultra Instinct ability, and quickly realized that his fighting style wouldn’t mesh with the calmness required to achieve that form. To compensate, Vegeta decided to go all-in on Super Saiyan Blue, and just as Goku broke through his limits to find Ultra Instinct, Vegeta broke his own ceiling to evolve the existing Super Saiyan Blue form. Conceptually similar to the Ascended Super Saiyan, this upgrade gives Vegeta darker, spikier hair and brings him up to the power level Goku attained by using Super Saiyan Blue and Kaio Ken simultaneously.
The Legendary Super Saiyan, Broly, was introduced way back in 1993, but the popular character wasn’t enshrined into Dragon Ball canon until 2018’s Dragon Ball Super: Broly. One of the major advantages of being Legendary is unlocking an exclusive level of Super Saiyan that emits an emerald green aura, rather than the regular golden one, and Universe 6’s Kale exhibits the same ability during the Tournament of Power. In this state, the Legendary Saiyans more than keep up with Vegeta and Goku’s God forms, and their constant growth makes them arguably the most formidable beings in Dragon Ball canon.
More: Dragon Ball: Frieza Will Always Be Goku’s Greatest Enemy