What makes a great protagonist? (Goku from Dragon Ball)

Written by Nicole

Hi, I'm Nicole! Here at Nikkaflora, we help people create their dream story and their dream life through the power of storytelling, creativity, and personal growth. In my free time, I enjoy watching Dragon Ball and drinking boba.


Have you ever wondered what makes a great protagonist? Such as Goku from Dragon Ball for example?

This is a question I think about whenever I create new characters for my books. Before I even begin to write the story, I take some time to develop a general idea of who the protagonist is. As well as the type of impact I want them to have on my readers.

I aim to ensure my protagonist is memorable and relatable. If I’m writing a story about high school experiences, students can empathize when the main character complains about how stressful exams can be or if they should go to college after graduation.

If I write about a main character who moved to a new town after suffering from heartbreak, yet they gradually fall in love with their single neighbor, I would want readers who have gone through similar heartache to know that it’s okay to open yourself up to love again.

There are so many ways to design the right kind of protagonist for your story. The possibilities are endless. However, no matter which plot you write about, whether it’s romance or sci-fi or mystery, every great protagonist has certain universal qualities.  

With the right guidance, you’ll find that building this iconic character can be seamless and a lot of fun. In this blog post, I go over what makes a great protagonist and why I chose to talk specifically about Goku from Dragon Ball.

Disclaimer: There will be spoilers about the Dragon Ball series in this post. Just letting you know in advance. Also all images used here are for educational purposes.

What is a protagonist?

For those of you who are new to writing, a protagonist is the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text (Google).

When you pick up a book or watch a TV show, it features multiple characters. However, there is always one character whom the plot revolves around.

A few of the most popular protagonists from film and literature include Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games, Captain America from the Avengers, and Simba from Disney’s The Lion King.

Son Goku is holding the four-star dragon ball with his left hand. He is proudly smiling at the viewer and has his right hand placed on his hip. The four-star dragon ball is precious to Goku because his Grandpa Gohan gave it to him when he was a kid. Image by Akira Toriyama, FUNimation, Toei Animation, and Fuji TV.

Who is Goku? What is Dragon Ball?

If you don’t know who Goku is, he is the protagonist in Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball Super, and Dragon Ball GT. Which are the Dragon Ball TV shows and manga.

Dragon Ball is a manga which debuted in 1984 and was created by the late Akira Toriyama. The actual TV show was then released in Japan two years later. Although the first Dragon Ball series has ended, the latest publications are about Dragon Ball Super. There is also a pending new series called Dragon Ball Daima which is scheduled to release in Fall 2024.

In short, Dragon Ball is about a young boy named Goku who landed on Earth from another planet. His adoptive grandfather Gohan teaches him martial arts. Goku eventually goes on an adventure with a tech-genius, Bulma, and his new friends to search for the Dragon Balls. The Dragon Balls are a set of 7 orange-starred orbs. When all of them are gathered, a dragon called Shenron can be summoned and this mystical being can grant any wish you want.

I decided to focus on Goku specifically because he is the perfect example of a great protagonist. You can actually learn a lot from him. I’ll be going over certain elements: his roles in the series, the types of relationships he has, and his flaws.

Click on the image above to watch the video or scroll below to read my blog post.

A great protagonist needs to have a goal or a purpose. In Dragon Ball, Goku’s main goal is to protect the Earth throughout the series. In this image, this is Goku as Super Saiyan 4 and he is confidently standing in front of his home planet. Artist of image unknown. The character Goku belongs to Akira Toriyama, FUNimation, Toei Animation, and Fuji TV.

A great protagonist has their own goal and tries to achieve it

For my first point, what makes someone like Goku from Dragon Ball a great protagonist is that they have their own goal and tries to achieve it.

For any great protagonist, they need to have a purpose. They need to be active in their story. The leading character needs to show growth in his or her personal development because they have something outside of them which makes them want to get up and make their dreams happen.

In the series, Goku’s main goal is to protect Earth, his family, and everyone that lives on it. He also wants to become the strongest warrior. Even though Goku grew up on Earth, he’s actually not a human. He is a Saiyan, which is a warrior race from Planet Vegeta. Saiyans are known to love combat. They grow stronger whenever they recover from battles that bring them to the brink of death.

It’s not surprising that when Goku landed on Earth as a baby, he grew up to love martial arts because his adoptive grandfather, Gohan, taught him when he was a small child. Even after his grandfather passed away, Goku continues to train in the mountains and eventually fights many opponents throughout the entire series.

Many people who have seen the Dragon Ball series claim that all Goku cares about is fighting strong adversaries. He leaves home to train in martial arts for extended periods of time. And this angers his wife Chi-Chi because she wants him to stay home more often and for him to get a job.

Although Goku wants to be the strongest warrior, his main goal is to still protect Earth, his loved ones, and everyone else. During the Dragon Ball Z series, when Cell threatens to rule over Earth, Goku puts aside his ambition to be the best fighter and instead trains his son, Gohan, to defeat Cell. Goku is aware that protecting Earth is more important, compared to his personal interests.

A great protagonist has unique quirks. In Dragon Ball, Goku’s first quirk is that he eats abnormally large amounts of food. In this particular scene, kid Goku asks for seconds after ingesting multiple meals. Goku’s friends (Oolong, Bulma, Yamcha, Puar, Krillin, and Master Roshi) are shocked by his insatiable appetite. Image by Akira Toriyama, FUNimation, Toei Animation, and Fuji TV.

A great protagonist has their own unique quirks

For my second point, what makes Goku from Dragon Ball a great protagonist is that he has his own unique quirks.

When it comes to action and adventure stories, many protagonists tend to share the same traits. The main character is usually someone who wants to do the right thing. They help other people in the story out of the goodness in their heart.

Some examples from popular anime include Naruto Uzumaki from Naruto Shippuden, Usagi from Sailor Moon, and Luffy from One Piece.

If this type of hero or heroine is a fighter, then they focus on honing their martial arts or magical skills. He or she will become stronger and defeat the antagonists who stand in their way.

These types of qualities define the protagonist as the Hero/Heroine archetype. If you only focus on these core qualities, the leading character will sound like a generic hero who wants to save the world and can never do no wrong.

If you want to create a great protagonist, start thinking about what makes them different. What are some quirks that make the star of your story unique?  

Goku has a couple of unique quirks which make him memorable. One example is that he eats abnormally large amounts of food. In Dragon Ball, there is a scene where Kid Goku is at a restaurant with his friends: Master Roshi, Bulma, Krillin, Yamcha, Puar, and Oolong.

Many people would assume that this would be a normal dinner between loved ones. However, Goku was hungry and he loves food so much that he constantly orders seconds. This causes the restaurant staff to constantly come to their table and lay out new dishes. His friends just watch in amazement and shock while Goku treats dinner like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Bulma kept track and counted that Goku ate 57 full-course meals. When Goku is finally full, Master Roshi goes to the register to pay the bill. And the bill ends up being $470,000 zeni. Poor guy.

I actually calculated zeni to US dollars. Zeni used to be a currency in Japan years ago. But now it’s worth less than the modern yen.

So it’s more accurate to compare yen to US dollars in our time. $470,000 yen is equal to $3213 in US dollars. Which is still pricey for one dinner. Just a little fun fact for you.

When Goku is at home with his family, his wife Chi-Chi always cooks a feast for dinner. And by feast, I’m talking about a Thanksgiving meal which feeds dozens of people at once.

Continuing on with Dragon Ball, Goku’s second unique quirk is he is gifted at making new friends. This scene shows Goku and his first friend Bulma riding together in a Capsule Corp motorcycle as they both travel to search for the Dragon Balls. Artist of image unknown. Characters Goku and Bulma belong to Akira Toriyama, FUNimation, Toei Animation, and Fuji TV.

Another unique quirk making Goku a great protagonist is he has a gift of befriending others throughout the series.

I find this to be a special trait because in real life, not everyone can make friends easily. There are lots of people in the world who struggle to connect with others.

In my personal experience, people mentioned to me that it is difficult for them to form new friendships as an adult. They claimed that when they were younger, it’s easier for them to be friends with their peers. Whether they are classmates in school or co-workers at a job. As an adult, people do not always have that luxury.

I can understand this difficulty, but for anyone who wants to make new friends, you have to put yourself out there and be willing to talk to people. It also takes time to find others whom you can really relate to, and vice versa.

In Dragon Ball, what’s interesting is that Goku lived alone after his Grandpa Gohan died. He didn’t have contact with other people because he lives in a forest near Mount Paozu.

During this time, Goku just foraged and hunted for food by himself. He practiced martial arts everyday. And he would also pray and talk to his Dragon Ball because it was the last item his grandfather gave him. It’s kind of sad to think about how isolated Goku was.

Luckily, Goku doesn’t remain alone forever because he eventually meets Bulma. Bulma is the heiress to the Capsule Corporation, and she ventures out into Paozu’s forest by using her father’s Capsule vehicles. Goku and Bulma become best friends. They both travel around the world together in order to search for the remaining Dragon Balls. 

In Dragon Ball, the main antagonist at the end of the series is Piccolo. Piccolo is a Namekian (a magical being originating from Planet Namek) whose aim was to conquer the world and destroy Goku. Piccolo never achieves his goals because Goku defeats him, causing Piccolo to never be seen again until the beginning of the next series, Dragon Ball Z.

In Dragon Ball Z, Goku and Piccolo learn to work together so that they can defeat threats to Earth. Over time, this once-evil villain eventually trusts Goku and respects his former enemy because he sees how dedicated Goku is to his family and his martial arts training. Piccolo also becomes like a step-father to Goku’s first son, Gohan.

Son Goku is an excellent example of a great protagonist having good relationships with the secondary characters. This scene is from Dragon Ball Super, and it shows Goku standing with all of his family and friends. On the left of Goku, the other characters include Vegeta, Bulma, Trunks, Yamcha, Puar, Oolong, Master Roshi, Tien, Chiaotzu, Jaco. On the right-hand side, the supporting team consists of Majin Buu, Chi-Chi, Goten, Hercule, Gohan, Piccolo, Videl, Pan, Krillin, Android 18, and Marron. This is a clear depiction of how Goku is close and protective of his loved ones. Image by Akira Toriyama, FUNimation, Toei Animation, and Fuji TV.

A great protagonist has a good relationship with the secondary characters

As for my third point, what makes Goku a great protagonist is that he has a good relationship with the secondary characters.

While the protagonist is the most significant individual in a story, it is also just as important for them to have strong connections with the supporting characters. And for them to have a solid dynamic with the antagonist.

What is a secondary character?

Secondary characters appear often throughout the plot and have their own unique roles; however, they are not the primary focus. Examples of secondary characters include the lead’s lover or love interest, the mentor who guides the protagonist, and their best friend.

When you focus on building good relationships between the protagonist and the other characters, it results in a more interesting plotline. People either have the power to enrich our lives, or they can hinder it.

I will talk about a real-life example. One instance is, let’s say you’re a teenager in high school or a college student, and you’re not doing well in your classes. You feel frustrated and angry with your situation because you want to get better grades.

So you decide to call your best friend to talk to them about it. Your best friend takes you out for some ice cream, and then you two go to a park together. Even though you feel like you’re wasting time because you should be studying at this point, your best friend encourages you to relax because they know that your mental stress is getting in the way of your academic performance. As a result, you feel this huge weight being lifted off of your shoulders.

It inspires you to try harder in school and to think differently about your situation. You talk to your teacher about doing some extra-credit assignments, and you’re able to retake tests you failed at before. Your school life gradually gets back on track because you have your best friend and your teacher supporting you in your journey.

This is an example involving a person’s best friend. And this best friend not only helped you, who is the main character, resolve your conflict. But it also shows how powerful good relationships with people can be.

As for Goku, he has his loved ones who love and support him in every Dragon Ball series. His wife, Chi-Chi, cooks Goku feasts and helps him raise their kids. His sons, Gohan and Goten, also spend time with him. The family goes fishing together and lives a peaceful life near the mountains.

Goku has a rival named Vegeta. They both want to be the best fighter in existence. They are very competitive against each other, so they spend lots of time sparring together or training alone. Vegeta also helps the Z-fighters whenever there are threats to Earth.

Goku also has a mentor and childhood best friend, who are called Master Roshi and Krillin. When Goku was a kid, Master Roshi taught Goku how to be a full-fledged martial artist. Even though Goku knew how to fight physically thanks to his grandpa, Master Roshi pushed Goku even further by teaching him how to control his energy and how to sense it. Krillin also trained with Goku back then too, and they still remain best friends to this very day.

If Goku didn’t have those secondary characters supporting him, the series would serve no purpose. In Dragon Ball, I like how the producers put so much thought into developing the characters. Each person has their own arc, and they evolve throughout the story, along with Goku.

Every great protagonist needs to have weaknesses and moments of vulnerability. In this scene, Goku is shown beaten nearly to the brink of unconsciousness. He feels impending defeat and helplessness as he frustratingly looks up at his opponent. Image by Akira Toriyama, FUNimation, Toei Animation, and Fuji TV.

A great protagonist has weakness and vulnerability

As for my fourth point, what makes Goku a great protagonist is that he has weaknesses and moments of vulnerability.

While your protagonist can be the best warrior, an international hero, or a kind-hearted philanthropist, any great protagonist needs to have flaws. There has to be things that they are not good at. In your story, your main character also needs to show that they can be vulnerable to the audience.

Personally, I’ve read many stories throughout my lifetime. I don’t like it when the main character is depicted to be perfect and invincible. I want to see the protagonist grow and evolve throughout the story. When you show off a character who has flaws, the audience relates to them on a more personal level.

From the previous section, I talked about students in real-life struggling with classes and their grades, as well as mentioning a supportive best friend. If I were to write that in a story, my audience would be able to empathize and understand the challenges my main character goes through.

People who talked to me in-person said things like: “Oh I really hate my calculus class. I’m struggling to pass it right now”. Another example is: “my classes stress me out. I wish I had more time to myself.” These are real-life problems for students. I can relate to them too.

As for Goku from Dragon Ball, he may not be a student, but I appreciate his character development throughout each series. Goku is normally confident in his abilities. Even when he’s facing powerful opponents, Goku sizes them up and believes that he can defeat them. Almost all of the time, his confidence works out in his favor.

However, there were instances when Goku felt helpless against certain enemies. Imagine being the protector of Earth, and you face a super-powerful adversary that can easily destroy you and your home planet. You’d start thinking it’s the end of the world.

One example in Dragon Ball Super is when Goku fights Beerus, who is the God of destruction. Lord Beerus’ job is to destroy planets in the universe. Although Goku is the most powerful warrior on Earth, he still lost to this ultra-powerful being.

After Beerus defeats Goku, Goku desperately begs for Beerus to spare Earth. If you watch this particular scene in Dragon Ball Super, you will see that Goku is out of energy and he cannot fight anymore. Even when he lost, Goku still attempted every effort to save Earth. His friends also get ready to fight in his place too, even though his friends are no match for Beerus. Luckily, Lord Beerus had a change of heart and decided not to destroy Earth, so it all works out.

That wasn’t the first time Goku felt helpless in the series. Goku watched his best friend, Krillin, die in front of him when they were on Planet Namek. And Goku even watched Earth get destroyed too when Frieza pulled a last-minute dirty trick in Dragon Ball Super. As invincible as Goku may seem, he was not able to prevent these events from happening.

Unfortunately, Goku has a bad habit of letting his guard down. There were many times throughout the Dragon Ball series where enemies gained the upper hand and committed crimes just because Goku did not take the fight seriously at first.

When I see weaknesses and moments of vulnerability like these, it makes me want to root for Goku to win even more. Especially when I see him think about how he resolves these major conflicts.

Even though flaws are important, a great protagonist should strive to have strengths and constantly improve at something. In this scene, Goku and Vegeta train alongside each other in martial arts. Whis, who is an Angel and Lord Beerus’ attendant, effortlessly blocks the two saiyans’ attacks. Goku often goes to Beerus’ planet to train because he knows Whis is much stronger and more experienced. Image by Akira Toriyama, FUNimation, Toei Animation, and Fuji TV.

A great protagonist has strengths and constantly improves

Last but not least, for my final point, what makes Goku a great protagonist is that he has strengths and he constantly improves at something.

Just like how it’s important for a protagonist to have weaknesses and flaws, a great protagonist can either have natural strengths. Or if they aren’t good at anything yet, they must strive to become great at something.

When I’m talking about strengths, I’m not only referring to certain skillsets, I’m also talking about personality traits which make the protagonist a strong character.

I’ll mention one of my friends as a real-life example. My friend is very popular amongst other people. And by popular, what I mean is people try to talk to him for hours at a time, just to be around him. People want to sit next to him or near him at parties and events. And they go out of their way to approach him.

This happens because he is a super sweet and friendly guy. He asks people how they’re doing, he genuinely listens to them, and he has a magnetic personality. So he has a natural charm and can easily attract people to him.

I don’t see that type of quality in everyone. As for my friend, his personality traits are his natural strength. Even though this is part of his personality, my friend has worked with people all throughout his life.

When you work in the service industry or in the public sector, if you put in the effort to talk to people and learn from them, you learn how to understand others and how to communicate with them effectively. His career experience actually strengthened his social skills.

As for Goku from Dragon Ball, even though he has been strong since he was a child, a strength that Goku has is that he is committed to martial arts and he trains everyday. He spars with his friends. He seeks out new mentors such as King Kai and Whis. And he continues his craft, even though he is 43 now in Dragon Ball Super.

Another strength that Goku has is that he does not give up, regardless of the circumstances. When he faced off against Beerus who is tremendously stronger than him, Goku continued to fight until he became unconscious. He pushes past his limits because he is doing everything he can to protect his family and the Earth.

I admire these strengths in Goku because they inspire me to want to do better in my life. I like how Goku was this adorable small kid who lived in the mountains who evolved into this badass warrior who can fight toe-to-toe with a god.

A great protagonist will either have traits or things they are naturally good at. Or even if they don’t have any initial strengths, a goal of the protagonist should be to improve at something throughout the story or movie.

So I’m going to recap and go over quickly as to what makes a great protagonist.

First, a great protagonist has their own goal and tries to achieve it.

Second, a great protagonist has their own unique quirks.

Third, a great protagonist has a good relationship with the secondary characters. As well as a solid dynamic with the antagonist.

Fourth, a great protagonist has weakness and moments of vulnerability.

Fifth, a great protagonist has strengths or they constantly improve at something.

Thank you for reading What makes a great protagonist? (Goku from Dragon Ball)! 💜

Regardless of whether or not you are a Dragon Ball fan, I hope you were able to learn something about character creation. There are so many ways to make a solid protagonist for your story or film. Honestly, you just have to find out what works for you.

Comment down below and share if there are other great protagonists you’ve read about or seen in any TV shows or movies. Are you a Dragon Ball fan like me? Do you like Harry Potter? Hunger Games?

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Until then, let’s create, appreciate, and f*** that hate! Bye guys!

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