Toriyama explained that Goku's gi uniform is modeled after the robes worn by the Shaolin monks of China, being that he wanted Dragon Ball to take on a Chinese feel. During early developments of the manga, various readers commented that Goku was rather plain, so the author changed his appearance and added several characters like Master Roshi and Krillin, then created martial arts tournaments to give the manga a more fighting style. Since it was commented that Goku would sure win the tournaments, he made him lose in the first two tournaments though he also wanted Goku to be the champion. With the ending of the Cell arc, Son Gohan was meant to replace his father as the main protagonist; Toriyama thought that Gohan was unsuitable for that part so he avoided doing that.
Goku is also the only Saiyan in the series to achieve all the Saiyan transformations seen in the manga. In Dragon Ball, he is able to transform into a gigantic ape called an Oozaru, albeit after his Saiyan tail is removed by Kami, he loses the capacity to achieve this form. However, in Dragon Ball GT, Goku is able to use this transformation again after regrowing his tail using the Elder Kai's help.
During the events of Dragon Ball Z, Goku becomes the first Saiyan in a millenium to transform into a Super Saiyan after being overcome with rage by the murder of Krillin by the hand of Frieza and as the series progresses he achieves every single advanced level of Super Saiyan. Each transformation changes Goku's appearance and enhances his abilities. Goku can also fuse with Vegeta and create a warrior who has the combined power and skills of both. One method is by using the Potara Earrings presented to Goku by the Elder Kai, which results in a 'perfect fusion' creating Vegetto. The other method is by performing the Metamorese Fusion Dance, which creates Gogeta.
During his early adulthood, Goku meets his older brother, Raditz, an encounter that results in his death. Following the wish for his revival from the Dragon Balls, Goku continues to face other enemies thereafter linked to his heritage, such as Vegeta and even Frieza, who's actions force him to transform into a Super Saiyan. As the series continues, the focus on Goku's past is shifted away from as new enemies are introduced simply as threats to the fictional universe. After his encounter with Frieza, Goku trains his first child, Gohan, to be his successor. When the androids appear, Goku comes down with the heart virus that Future Trunks warned him about. Later on Goku sacrifices himself during the battle against the evil android Cell, leaving Gohan to succeed him. Goku returns to Earth seven years later from the afterlife and meets his second child, Son Goten. Shortly after he participates in the next martial arts tournament, however he is drawn into a battle for the universe against an extraterrestrial named Majin Buu. Goku also battles Vegeta after he is taken under control by Babidi, and the match ends in a draw. Goku then later on kills Buu with his Genki Dama technique. During the martial arts tournament held ten years after Buu's defeat, Goku meets Buu's human reincarnation, Uub, and takes off with him in the end of the story, intending to train him as a successor after realizing that his previous successor, Gohan, had prioritized his education over his fighting.
Ten more years later, Goku is transformed back into a child with a wish made by Emperor Pilaf using the Black Star Dragon Balls. Shortly after he, Trunks, and Pan all take a trip around the universe to locate the Black Star Dragon Balls and return them to Earth. Goku later battles the evil Baby, Super Android 17 and the evil shadow dragons. His final challenge is against Omega Shenron, who he eventually kills using the Genki Dama. Goku leaves with the original form of Shenron, only to appear 100 years later at the next martial arts tournament, where he is observing the battle between his decendant (Son Goku Jr.) and Vegeta's descendant (Vegeta Jr.). Goku's granddaughter Pan spots him, but he quickly departs.
In the Harmony Gold dub, Goku was voiced by Barbara Goodson, and he was named Zero. In the BLT Productions dub, Saffron Henderson voiced Goku in the Saga of Goku and the movie Curse of the Blood Rubies.
In the Ocean Group dub, Ian James Corlett voiced Goku in the Saiyan Saga and an edited TV version of the movie The Tree of Might, while Peter Kelamis voiced Goku in the Namek Saga as well as in the uncut VHS/DVD editions of the movies Dead Zone, The World's Strongest and The Tree of Might.
In the Funimation dub, Ceyli Delgadillo voiced Goku in the movies Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle and Mystical Adventure, while Stephanie Nadolny voiced the child version of Goku in all episodes of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball GT, and Sean Schemmel voiced the adult version of Goku in all episodes and movies of Dragon Ball Z.
In the Blue Water dub, Peter Kelamis voiced Goku in the Trunks Saga through the Androids Saga, while Kirby Morrow voiced him in the Imperfect Cell Saga through the Kid Buu Saga. Zoe Slusar voiced him in his childhood appearances, Jeffrey Watson voiced him as an adult in Dragon Ball and Jeremiah Yurk provided his adult voice in Dragon Ball GT. In the English edition of the video game Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout, Goku is voiced by Brianne Siddall as a child and Steven Jay Blum as an adult.
In video games, Goku has appeared in virtually every Dragon Ball licensed electronic game to date. He has also been featured in various crossover games. He appeared the Famicom games Famicom Jump: Hero Retsuden and Famicon Jump II: Saikyō no Shichinin, including the DS games Jump Super Stars and Jump Ultimate Stars. In 2006, he is featured in the Dragon Ball Z/One Piece/Naruto crossover game Battle Stadium D.O.N. In December 2007, Goku, along with Naruto Uzumaki and Monkey D. Luffy, would make guest appearances in avatar form in the MMORPG Second Life to promote "Jump Festa".
Goku has often been deemed a positive role model for children throughout Japan. In June 1988, Goku and other Dragon Ball characters were featured in two PSA shorts. The first short was entitled where Goku is taught the importance of obeying traffic safety by others. The second was called where he teaches two children the importants of fire safety. Goku has made guest appearances in various Japanese television shows and manga. He is a recurring character in another series by Toriyama, Dr. Slump. In 1990, Goku (in anime form) made a surprise appearance on . Here he uses the Dragon Balls to help J-Pop star and hostess Kuniko Yamada gain his abilities including the ability to execute a Kamehameha, which she playfully uses on him. In 2005, Goku appears in the Toriyama parody manga Neko Majin Z where he is the sensei of the main character Z. On September 15, 2006, Goku, Vegeta, and Frieza would make a guest appearance in a chapter of the Kochikame manga "Super Kochikame" entitled . Here Ryotsu Kankichi travels to Namek and issues Frieza a citation for parking his ship illegally. He would also meet Goku and Vegeta along the way. Goku with the other Dragon Ball characters would teamup with the cast of One Piece in a crossover manga titled Cross Epoch.
Goku has often been the suject of various parodies over the years. In the episode "Family Day" of Takeshi's Castle, known in the United States as MXC, the hosts Beat Takeshi and Sonomanma Higashi were dressed as popular anime characters one was Kid Goku and the other was Doraemon. In the MXC dub of that episode, when asked who about his Goku costume, the host replied "Who me, I'm dressed as a crackhead". The Shonen Jump's "Gag Special 2005" issue released on December 1, 2004, featured a Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo one-shot Dragon Ball parody manga. The manga was a humorous retelling of the battle between Goku and Vegeta in the Saiyan Saga. Jelly Jiggler was Goku and Don Patch was Vegeta. In the episode "Fire It Up! Abenobashi Hong Kong Combat Shopping Arcade" of the Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi anime, character Sasshi Imamiya goes Super Saiyan much like Goku and fires a Kamehameha.
Goku can also be considered a regular commodity for Fuji TV. In 2003 Goku would appear in the interactive feature entitled which was featured exclusively at the Fuji TV headquarters. Here Frieza attacks tourist by blasting the orb section free it from the rest of the Fuji TV building followed by a canon attack Arlong and his gang. It features teamups of Goku, Luffy, and Astro Boy. This would be followed up with the 2004 . Here the evil Enel appears and attack the headquarter's location the aqua city of Odaiba. It features team-ups with Goku, Luffy, and Kochikame's Ryotsu Kankichi. The feature is also known for Goku and Luffy's tag-team attack on Enel which fans have dubbed as the "Gom Gom Kamehameha". On April 7, 2007, Goku and Fuji TV announcer Masaharu Miyake would be commentators to the anime segment in . The segment featured a special tournament that was to decide who was the greatest person in Japanese history. During the intermission, Goku managed to plugged the then soon be released copies of the R2 Dragon Ball DVDs. Since his appearance in the United States in 1996, Goku has also struck a cord in American pop culture. He was featured in an issue of Wizard magazine which he was matched up in a hypothetical battle against Superman; Goku defeated Superman by transforming into a Super Saiyan and overpowering him with the Kamehameha. The episode "Chicken Ball Z" from The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy is a parody of Dragon Ball Z. Billy shares a striking resemblance to Super Saiyan Goku in this episode. In the Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: R.E.P.O.R.T", Numbuh Four's version of the story is a spoof of the Goku and Frieza battle from Dragon Ball Z. Goku's Super Saiyan 3 form is also parodied. Goku made a spoof appearance in Seth Green's Emmy Award winning stop motion series Robot Chicken. In the sketch entitled "A Very Dragon Ball Z Christmas", Goku and Gohan fight an evil Mrs. Claus alongside Santa's reindeer, in an attempt to save Christmas.
Goku has been noted as "compassionate" and his character has been used to acknowledge that there are "emotional as well as physical consequences to violence". His journey and ever growing strength resulted in the character winning "the admiration of young boys everywhere". Several pieces of merchandising based on Goku has also been released including action figures, plushes, and keychains. In 2005, The Daily Reader printed an article entitled "The Greatest Geek Movie Heroes Of All Time". Goku is the only animated character on the list, coming in nine places after the winner.
Other manga artists, such as Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto and One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda, have stated that Goku inspired their series' main protagonists. In a survey conducted by Oricon in 2007 between 1,000 people, Goku ranked first place as the "Strongest Manga character of all time." Nozawa, the Japanese voice actor of Goku, has commented she liked when he lost his tail beacuse that made him more normal but liked that the character was still the same in the end of the series.