While often compared due to their prominence, Dragon Ball’s Goku is stronger than DC Comics’ Man of Steel and would, probably, win in a fight.
As the flagship superhero for the DC Universe, Superman is one of the most powerful, iconic characters in the entire comic book medium. One of the most recognizable heroes in all of the manga/anime medium is Goku, the protagonist of Akira Toriyama’s enduringly popular Dragon Ball franchise. Given the immense power levels of the two characters and their visible ubiquity in their respective universes, the Man of Steel and the Super Saiyan God are often compared to one another. But which beloved figure would emerge victorious if the two actually came to blows in a no-holds-barred showdown?
Both characters are extraterrestrials that arrived on Earth as infants, both to escape their respective dying homeworlds by their parents: Superman from Krypton and Goku from Planet Vegeta as revealed in the extended prologue to the canonical anime film Dragon Ball Super: Broly. They have fought against increasingly more powerful threats to their respective multiverses, drawing from their impressive array of abilities as the strongest warriors from Earth and inspired to continue to do what’s right out of a sense of pure-hearted idealism, often as the last line of defense. On the surface, these two characters have more than a handful of similarities, but Goku holds a surprising edge against the Man of Tomorrow, especially given Goku’s progression in the franchise’s most recent anime series Dragon Ball Super.
Superman can move entire planets with his bare hands and effortlessly survive in the harshest environments, from the intense pressures at the Earth’s core to the cold vacuum of outer space. He has frost breath, super breath, various types of super-vision including the ability to blast heat waves, possesses enhanced senses along with superhuman endurance, strength, and speed. This is all fueled by the radiation emanating from Earth’s yellow sun, with his body having absorbed its rays since his arrival to gradually augment his incredible abilities.
Goku similarly possesses enhanced senses, superhuman strength, speed, and endurance. Like Superman, he can also fly and project energy blasts, and not just from his eyes but also his hands and feet — especially to form his signature attack the Kamehameha Wave. Through his Instant Transmission technique learned from the Yardrat race during his time traversing the cosmos, Goku can teleport to any location as long as he can either see it or sense the energy signature of someone at his intended destination. But, perhaps most importantly, Goku can transform physically to give himself significant power boosts from the Kaio-Ken technique to his various Super Saiyan forms.
However, it was Super that Goku reached entirely new plateaus of power after interacting directly with the gods. Able to harness divine energy himself and blend it with his natural abilities as a Super Saiyan, Goku achieved the Super Saiyan God and Super Saiyan Blue forms, further augmented when he combined it with the Kaio-Ken. Not only was Goku significantly more powerful in these transformations than as a Super Saiyan 3, but it also boosted his natural fighting instincts and made him able to withstand the vacuum of outer space as well. And, when under extreme duress, Goku can unconsciously push himself beyond his normal physical limits to transform into a new state known as Ultra Instinct where he comes to a complete combat powerhouse on par with the Gods of Destruction. However, it’s within Superman’s own limitations that Goku has the edge over his hypothetical Kryptonian opponent.
Goku would never bring an item that would give him an unfair advantage so it is unlikely that the Super Saiyan would bring Kryptonite to a fight. However, should the fight take place in a world away from a yellow sun, Superman’s strength would steadily become diminished as he consumed the solar energy stored within his body — Goku is more than used to fighting in strange, harsh environments away from Earth. And given the mystical nature linked to the divine energy emanating from Goku’s various Super Saiyan God forms, Superman’s vulnerability to magic may prove especially effective against the Man of Steel, especially if Goku is ever pressed enough to trigger his Ultra Instinct transformation. Historically, gods in the DCU use magic as their primary source of power. It’s what gives Shazam an edge on Superman during their own confrontations.
Superman’s power increase has usually been depicted as gradual as his exposure to the yellow sun continues to store within his body. While Superman can get a temporary power boost from moving closer to the sun, All-Star Superman had suggested that if he overly charged his body, the resulting effect would be toxic to him due to the sheer overload. And with Goku constantly finding new depths to his own power as he finds increasingly more powerful opponents, any resistance Superman would give him would lead to new levels of combat strength to achieve as he eventually overwhelms the Man of Steel once and for all.