Goku and Vegeta, the main characters of the Dragon Ball franchise if we rule out the first Dragon Ball series that presents the adventures of Goku when he was a child, are responsible for one of the most iconic rivalries in anime history. We can joke as much as we want that Vegeta is secretly in love with Goku, but the truth is that the Saiyan Prince has a strong motivation to view the one he calls ‘Kakarot’ as a rival.
Goku is kind, pure, and always willing to fight for peace and justice. However, he also has a permanent drive to become stronger and fight powerful opponents. Vegeta, on the other hand, has been introduced as a villain who would spare nobody along his quest to get what he wants. He was cold and ruthless, as well as rebellious against his own boss, Frieza.
Where it all began
Vegeta was introduced way back in early Dragon Ball Z during the Saiyan Saga. Vegeta, the Prince of all Saiyans, came to Earth along with his henchmen, Nappa, in order to get their hands on the dragon balls to achieve immortality. Vegeta was so evil and selfish at that point that he killed his own partner in crime, Nappa, just because the latter was defeated by Goku. As we already know, Vegeta’s plan to get the dragon balls was ruined by Goku, who taught him some manners the hard way.
Besides getting the beat up of his life, Vegeta was enraged at the fact that Goku, who was considered a low-level Saiyan warrior, proved to be stronger than him. How could he, the Prince of all Saiyans, be defeated by a Saiyan who was supposed to be inferior? Vegeta was sure that he was the strongest Saiyans alive. Therefore, Vegeta’s main goal was to start training in order to defeat Goku one day.
As for his rival, Goku doesn’t really care about surpassing Vegeta. He stopped the Saiyan Prince from his evil ways, but even so, Goku wasn’t motivated by anger that another fellow could be stronger than him.
The Super Saiyan problem
Vegeta was also convinced that he was the only Super Saiyan that his people spoke about in the legends, but it turned out in the Frieza Saga in Dragon Ball Z that Goku achieved that iconic transformation for the first time in the franchise. Being cornered with no way out and being furious at seeing his best friend Krillin killed by Frieza, Goku finally transformed into a Super Saiyan and taught the intergalactic tyrant some manners the hard way. Vegeta was once again filled with anger and envy that he couldn’t obtain something Goku had obtained, meaning to become a Super Saiyan.
Goku changed Vegeta for good
Meanwhile, Vegeta also became a Super Saiyan during the Cell Saga from Dragon Ball Z, and he even seemed to surpass Goku in strength for a short while. At that point, Vegeta married Bulma, and their son Trunks was a few years old. It was clear that Vegeta slowly but surely became one of the good guys, especially for the fact that he also fought against Cell, who was determined to destroy the world. But even so, Vegeta’s desire to prove to Goku that he is stronger was still burning in his soul.
Later on during the Majin Buu saga, Goku and Vegeta finally fought against one another, and both of them were at Super Saiyan 2 level. Nobody won that fight, and Vegeta even sacrificed himself a few episodes later in his attempt to try to get the world rid of Majin Buu, the most powerful and dangerous villain that the Z warriors ever had to face until that point.
Buu has been through some changes, and Vegeta has been resurrected. In the final fight against Majin Buu, both Goku and Vegeta collaborated in their attempt to defeat the monster for good. In the episode “Vegeta Takes Off His Hat! Goku, You Are Number 1,” which was the two-hundred-eightieth episode of Dragon Ball Z, Vegeta finally admits to himself that Goku is stronger than him. The Saiyan Prince had this revelation when Goku achieved the Super Saiyan 3 transformation to fight Kid Buu. Not only Vegeta wasn’t able to achieve that transformation, but he couldn’t even keep Buu busy for a few minutes while Goku was charging up the Spirit Bomb. Vegeta got torn apart by Majin Buu, and Goku had to step in.
In his respectful speech towards Goku, Vegeta admitted how his rival changed him for good. The Saiyan Prince said that he established a family for himself as a method to try to get stronger, believing that what made Goku so strong was his love for his family. Although Vegeta finally admits that Goku is better, he says that the fact that a Saiyan can “fight like that and at the same time be so gentle that he couldn’t hurt a fly,” makes him angry.