Dragon Ball Z, much like anyone else who grew up with Toonami, was a huge part of my childhood. It was the first real anime fanbase that I involved myself in outside of Pokémon and since I was so young when I got into it, it was really influential on my taste in anime. To this day shounen series are still among my absolute favorite to watch. Hilariously enough, the first time I actually saw DBZ it was in Spanish on my Grandma's TV when we visited her over the summer. I didn't understand it at all, but I recognized it as Dragon Ball because some manga that I had purchased had advertisements for it on the back. I fell so in love with it during my time there that I drew all of the Dragon Ball cast in Mickey Mouse hats after a trip to Disneyland, LOL. (It is a pretty hilarious but adorable drawing for a 12 year old.)
I'm kind of a Bulma: Yamcha was my favorite character before Prince Vegeta graced us with his presence. I guess even as a kid I've always had a thing for grumpy, wrong side of the bed, tsundere characters. I think Vegeta really appealed to me as a character growing up because he was introduced as a villain, and throughout the series, slowly made his way over to the "good guy" side. He was the kind of guy you were never sure you could fully trust, even when he was on your team. But eventually he was fighting for the "good guys" and it was a cool lesson as a kid to know that even the bad guys could reform their bad guy ways. On top of that, what 12 year old going onto her teenage years isn't into the "bad boy" type? I think in my own way I had always sort of silently celebrated my love for Vegeta. Being a Vegeta fan during the early episodes of Dragon Ball felt a bit like cheering for the under dog. (The rest of this may get kinda spoilery if you haven't seen DBZ... but I dunno... who hasn't in this day and age?)
I remember the exact moment at which Vegeta became my favorite character: the moment he was defeated by Frieza. It's Vegeta's first real sign of weakness and humanity in the series, where the frustrations and challenges he has faced in his life truly become transparent to the viewer. Vegeta was raised as a cold blooded killer—merely a puppet for Frieza to use for his greater good. He watched the destruction of his planet, the genocide of his entire race, and the death of his own father, all at the hands of this iconic villain. It was at this moment that his anger and thirst for power proved to be more than just his "bad guy streak", but something he fought for because he had fought oppression his entire life. For me, it's one of the most painful moments on Planet Namek: watching Vegeta fail to fight for the revenge he wanted his entire life. However, it's a really pivotal moment in his character development: not only does the proud saiyan prince cry, he throws away his pride long enough to ask Goku for help and beg him to defeat Frieza. Not simply because Frieza had nearly broken his pride as a warrior, but for the revenge of the entire saiyan race. Vegeta almost sort of bestows Goku to right to become the first super saiyan, something he himself could not achieve, just to end Frieza's terror.
"You are the last of our kind, Kakarot. Everything we were survives now only in you. And he won't rest until every trace of that has vanished. Because he is haunted every day and night by a single overriding fear. That the Legendary Super Saiyan will rise up from the ashes and obliterate him. I dreamt, I yearned to be the one to avenge us. Yet he battered and broke me just as he did the others. You cannot know the torment I died in. Unless you're the one to finish this, we will be lost, lost forever to the memory of time."
What I love about Vegeta is not just the sense of humanity that he's able to obtain after facing one of his life's greatest enemies: it's the fact that no matter how many times he falls, he never stops trying. Not even death itself can kill the fire that burns inside the heart of this saiyan. Even though he many initially be perceived as a bad guy, Vegeta really teaches us that no matter how hard you have fallen, all that matters is that you get back up. I think this ideal is pretty prevalent amongst Dragon Ball characters, but it's especially evident in Vegeta who never stops trying to become stronger just because he lost. Rather, he uses it as motivation. Even though I think that comes with a side dish of arrogance in regards to the proud saiyan prince, it's a really important ideal to maintain as an individual.
Of course, there is also the sweet side of Vegeta no matter which iteration of Dragon Ball you are enjoying: the Vegeta that is protective of his new-found Earth family, the Vegeta that wears pink "Bad Man" shirts, the Vegeta that dances on stage for Bulma's birthday or shaves his mustache because it "makes him look like a total geek"... that "uncool" side of Vegeta is really precious in its own right, too. (You know me... I love me a man with a gap moe.)