Having watched every single episode of this series (In Japanese, even!), I feel qualified to make an unwavering statement. "Dragonball Z" is neither the best nor the worst cartoon ever made.
If you believe, as does Sarcasmo, that "Dragonball Z" is "the worst thing to come out of Japan," you're nuts. I'll keep my comparisons to the realm of animation, because "Dragonball Z" is not exactly on the same plane as the Rape of Nanking. There's more to Japanese animation than the same five shows every fan on the Internet has seen. If you dislike "Dragonball Z," you'll find "Cooking Master Boy," "Naruto," or "Grenadier" unbearable. Have you seen "Pokémon?" "Digimon?" "Beyblade?" If you are about to contact me to inform me that the Japanese versions of those shows are works of genius worthy of the Bard himself, please return to masturbating to that picture of Nurse Joy and the six Pikachu you found on the Internet this afternoon.
The primary flaw in criticisms of "Dragonball Z" is a misunderstanding of its intended audience. Many Westerners suppose a show with violence and nudity like "Dragonball Z" must be intended for an older audience. Not true. Not by a longshot. Anime is cartoons. Generally, Japanese do not take them seriously, unless they are eight years old. "Intellectual" (This node is not the place for that debate) stuff like "Neon Genesis Evangelion" is not the norm. The Japanese are just a little less uptight about what their kids see on TV. With that in mind it's easy to figure bawdiness doesn't indicate an adult audience—in fact, if you remember your younger years, you'll remember that anything related to several systems of the body was riotously funny to you.
So "Dragonball Z" does what it sets out to do. It is a diverting program for an audience roughly congruous with that of "X-Men the Animated Series." It has exciting fights; super powers; passable, if dated, animation; a simple but mostly logical story; and a "timeless" fable sort of feel (This is one of the unfortunate deficiencies of FUNimation's localization). If you're like me, that's enough. If you are an eight-year-old boy, this may be, to you, the best program ever televised.
However, don't go believing that the Japanese version is vastly superior. The Japanese voices may be slightly better, or worse, but if you hate the English-dubbed version, you will hate the original Japanese version, and vice versa. Diehard fans like those of the DBZOA will tell you the censorship totally ruins the show. These are people who call themselves by a word generally used to describe obsessive murderers. Don't listen to them. The show is not funnier when you see Goku's penis. The plot is not more profound when Freezer graphically gores Kurillin on his horn. The dialogue is not thoughtful and well-written because they actually say "die" and your fifteenth-generation VHS fansub uses the f-word sixty times. Dress it up any way you want—"Dragonball Z" is an action-oriented show for kids with a basic plot, basic dialogue, lots of time-filler, and cost-cutting in its animation obvious to anyone who's paying attention. It's not "Hamlet." It's not "Othello." It's not even The Matrix.
"But wait! I cried when Gohan reached Super Saiyan 2!"
There are two answers to this objection. The snarkier one goes: Have you ever touched a girl? Would you like to?
The more meaningful one goes like this: Come on. Come on. It was a well-animated, well-put-together scene. "Spirit vs. Spirit" is a good song. But was it really that touching? The Dragonballs, dei ex machinis that negate the permanence of death, rob the scene of practically all of its potential impact.
So, I'm sure that, having read this, you'll agree. "Dragonball Z" is a children's cartoon that is absolutely, positively, unequivocally, one-hundred percent neither brilliant nor terrible.