As one of the few fighters to beat Goku in a World Martial Arts Tournament, Tien Shinhan is among the strongest warriors in the entire Dragon Ball franchise, rivaling Krillin as the strongest non-Saiyan on Earth. Dedicating his life to training alongside his best friend Chiaotzu in the Crane School martial arts techniques, Tien remains one of the franchise’s most formidable fighters going into Dragon Ball Super. And while Tien has been a prominent staple among the Z Fighters for decades, one of the big mysteries surrounding the character is why exactly he has three eyes.
One of Tien’s most noticeable physical features is the third eye in the middle of his forehead. This extra facial feature allows Tien to more expertly track fast movements and see through illusions like the After-Image technique. Tien can also use his third eye offensively, able to project an explosive energy blast from it. Perhaps most interestingly, most characters in the Dragon Ball world rarely call attention to Tien’s third eye, as just another seemingly common sight in a society full of anthropomorphic animals and other bizarre denizens. What makes this all the more interesting is that Tien is one of the only characters in canon that has been seen with a third eye so far.
The Daizenshuu, the official guidebooks of the Dragon Ball franchise, revealed that Tien is the direct descendant of an ancient clan of beings known as the Triclops, with the Daizenshuu describing them as extraterrestrials who settled on Earth. For franchise creator Akira Toriyama, the inclusion of a third eye in Tien’s design was the result of a more theological influence. In Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism, a third eye denotes spiritual enlightenment attained from divine serenity and devoted meditation.
Toriyama designed Tien with this spiritual outlook in mind but, because of Tien falling under the cruel tutelage of the evil Master Tao, Tien lost his way and many abilities granted by the third eye, though it stayed visible and at least partially functional. This spiritual inspiration would be echoed in the 2013 video game Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku II, with ancillary material in the game explaining Tien gained his third eye from his dedicated meditation regimen.
To date, the only other three-eyed human seen in Dragon Ball appeared briefly in a Dragon Ball Z filler episode set in the afterlife. Shortly after Goku arrives in Other World after sacrificing his life at the start of the series, a three-eyed woman is seen at a cafe getting changed, with the Funimation dub of the series going as far as to credit the character as Tien’s mother, though — apart from the obvious physical similarity — there is no indication that the two characters are related.
Able to slow Cell in his second form with his powerful Tri-Beam attack and play a pivotal role in Dragon Ball Super‘s Tournament of Power, Tien remains a mighty warrior even as his Saiyan counterparts continue to achieve new levels of strength. One edge that Tien has is right there on his face, plain as day: a third eye that boosts his perception and vision naturally, either as the product of alien heritage or intense meditation that makes him one of the sleeper powerhouses of the franchise, capable of standing toe-to-toe with some of the series’ strongest opponents.