Being the best, like no one ever was, is not as easy as winning some badges, collecting some candies, or catching a handful of strong Pokémon. Yes, it does help to have a powerful roster, but the best trainers have genuine relationships with their respective Pokémon, along with a working knowledge of types and strategies.
Easily, the biggest viral sensation of summer 2016 was the mobile gaming app, Pokémon Go, This augmented reality game helped spike a full-fledged Pokémon revival. Once again, people across the world were charged with the task of becoming a Pokémon master. Sure, the franchise was in no danger of disappearing as handheld game sales were still rather impressive, but for the first time since the franchise’s inception, the property was back in the mainstream public consciousness.
In celebration of one of the most popular children’s franchises of the past two decades, we are asking the question: Who is the best Pokémon trainer of all time? For this list, trainers from the video game series, anime, and even the manga are welcome. Luckily, many of the franchise’s several mediums overlap quite a bit, giving us, even more, background and information to work with. Stats, types, and battle history all come together on this epic countdown.
Here are The 15 Greatest Pokémon Trainers.
15 Professor Oak
Professor Samuel Oak is a major character in the Pokémon anime, and yet, little is known about his backstory. In the Pokémon Adventures manga, however, his history is illuminated quite a bit. In his more youthful days, Oak was known far and wide as a great trainer; rival and friend to Indigo Elite Four member Agatha. He even managed to take on the Pokémon League and was eventually crowned champion.
The Pokémon professor is no slouch in the video game franchise either. In the original handheld gaming series – Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow – it is possible to battle Oak via an in-game glitch. Prospective opponents should tread lightly, however, as the professor has quite the diverse and well-trained team. His squad ranges in level from the high '60s to low ’70s and features tanky beasts such as Tauros, Exeggutor, Arcanine, Gyarados, and a one fully-evolved starter Pokémon. Needless to say, Oak is one of the toughest and most well-rounded trainers in the entire series.
At first glance, Drake might appear to be a mere Gym Leader from the Orange Islands League. However, the Japanese version of the anime highlights his official title of “Head Leader,” denoting the character’s importance. It is said, both in the anime as well as the manga, that Ash was the first person in the history of the Orange League to defeat Drake. In fact, few trainers succeeded in defeating even his first Pokémon, Ditto.
However, if you did manage to surpass Drake’s first five Pokémon, there was absolutely no way you were going to defeat his last, Dragonite. At least, that is how the script went until he faced Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town.
Drake features quite the well-rounded team with the likes of Onix, Gengar, Electabuzz, and Venusaur all making valuable contributions in battle. Each of his creatures fills an area of need and masks weaknesses left by their respective teammates, making Drake one of the greatest all-time trainers.
Whether it be the competitive video game series or various Elite Four members, dragon-type Pokémon have proven to be some of the strongest and most reliable creatures available. Due to that fact, numerous characters on this list are regarded as dragon-type specialists, Iris being the first to appear on our countdown.
In the video game series, the protagonist comes across Iris several times. For starters, Iris is the leader of the final gym in the Unova region (in Pokémon White version). However, in the game’s respective sequels, the protagonist finds that Iris has become the new Unova League Champion. With various dragon types – Salamence, Hydreigon, and Haxorus – at her disposal, it is not difficult to see why she is so successful.
In the anime, Iris is not quite as formidable as her gaming persona, and it is unclear as to whether these are separate universes entirely or simply a younger version of the same character. That being said, she is no slouch trainer in either medium as she always manages to feature some badass dragon-type Pokémon.
As the leader of the nefarious Team Rocket, Giovanni is easily the strongest trainer of the villainous bunch. In the first generation of the Pokémon franchise, Giovanni trains some of the game's strongest characters; the only problem being is that the gym Leader does have an affinity for ground-types. As a result, his teams generally contain some glaring weaknesses, but he is still an expert trainer nonetheless.
In both the manga as well as the Pokémon Origins anime, Giovanni serves as a major obstacle for the protagonist. Red has been referred to as one of the all-time great Pokémon trainers, but the young enthusiast struggles to defeat Giovanni for some time before finally clearing the hurdle.
This big baddie even managed to train Mewtwo for a season before the self-aware creature fled to sulk on a deserted island and plan world domination. If Giovanni would have managed to hold on to the legendary Pokémon, he would have landed much higher on this list, but as fate would have it, this villain serves as our twelfth greatest all-time trainer.
11 Ash Ketchum
The anime’s main protagonist receives flak from fans for backing into gym badges and failing to catch even a sizable portion of the franchise’s available creatures. Although, when the series’ mantra is “gotta catch ‘em all” and Ash only manages to capture roughly 11%, criticism is perhaps warranted. Contrary to popular belief, however, Ash is actually a great trainer.
As mentioned earlier, this (still) 10-year-old boy managed to tarnish the previously unblemished record of Orange Island’s “Head Gym Leader” and thusly became League Champion. Ash has also encountered numerous legendary Pokémon in battle and is currently 3-0 against these powerful creatures. Because Ash starts fresh with a new batch of Pokémon each season (minus Pikachu, of course) it is difficult to truly gauge his strength. If he retrieved some of his old fan-favorites such as Charizard and Greninja, Ketchum would certainly be winning a much higher percentage of his fights. Ash chooses to diversify and catch new, region-specific Pokémon – training a brand new crop of creatures every season – and for that reason, he finds his way on this list of elite trainers.
Wallace may have only made minor appearances in the anime, but make no mistake, this trainer is one of the world’s finest. In Pokémon Emerald, Wallace is known as the League Champion of the Hoenn region. This water type specialist always leads with his signature Pokémon, Milotic, but the rest of his team changes quite often.
In the game series, it is never a great idea to load up on one type of Pokémon – even if you are a capable trainer. Water-types are weak to several different kinds of Pokémon that are often used by the series' elites. However, Wallace’s ability to utilize the move rain dance renders this disadvantage a bit less detrimental.
Wallace is not only known as a great trainer in terms of battling; he is also well-versed in the realm of Pokémon contests, which relies more on style and less on brute strength. Again, featuring his reliable partner, Milotic, Wallace dominates this sphere as well as the battle arena.
Before Wallace was the Hoenn region League Champion in Pokémon Emerald, Steven Stone served in the exact same role in both Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, – as well as their respective remakes, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.
In the Pokémon anime, Steven is viewed as more of an ally to Ash and his friends, but he is still regarded as an extremely strong trainer. This character trait extends to the games as well, as he is very helpful, often lending a hand along with a Pokémon or two.
Like a number of other trainers on this list, Steven tends to gravitate toward a specific type – steel in this case, with his signature partner being the always reliable Metagross. However, just because he has a soft spot for steel-type characters, do not expect to gain an easy victory against the formidable Steven as all his Pokémon (in the aforementioned remakes) are leveled up well into the upper ‘70s.
With the introduction of mega evolutions in the sixth generation of the franchise, Kalos League Champion Diantha quickly rose to power as one of the most powerful trainers. Utilizing the equally graceful and dangerous Mega-Gardevoir, Diantha also took advantage of the (at the time) brand new fairy type.
In the anime, Ash and Diantha partake in quite the showdown. Ash’s Greninja and Diantha’s Gardevoir are locked in battle, and while Ketchum did win the match, the mastery of both trainers was on full display. Some may argue that this match is evidence that Ash should rank higher than the Kalos Champion on this list, but this was merely a one-on-one, non-league matchup. Ash and Greninja may have given the trainer all she could handle for a single battle, but Diantha does maintain the title of Kalos League Champion while Ash does not.
In addition to Mega-Gardevoir, this accomplished trainer battles with the sixth-generation heavy lineup of Tyrantrum, Aurorus, Goodra, Gourgeist, and Hawlucha. Not to mention, all of the previously mentioned Pokémon have a wide range of attacks that make potential strategies somewhat hard to predict. Simply put, good luck beating this champ.
Prior to Iris’ reign as the Unova region’s Pokémon League Champion, Alder stood atop the mountain of elite, generation five trainers. Affectionately referred to as the wandering Champion of Unova, the protagonist of Pokémon Black and White meets with Alder prior to challenging him for the title of League Champion.
Despite what some critics might say, Pokémon Black and White took some relatively major risks in regard to the rest of the series. The choice to emit familiar creatures and characters from the franchise’s previous generations was a bold move that was not immediately accepted by the game's hordes of adoring fans. Thusly, Alder features Pokémon that are exclusive to the Unova region. Also unique to the franchise’s fifth generation of games is the fact that the Pokémon League Champion cannot be battled the first time through the Elite Four. Due to the fact that the champ had previously been defeated, players are forced to return in order to face this dangerously powerful trainer.
In the video game franchise, Cynthia appears numerous times throughout several titles as a guide of sorts. That being said, she is also quite the intimidating Pokémon trainer. Her signature Pokémon is either Lucario or Garchomp, who not only serve as some of the franchise’s most popular mascots in recent years but also some of the series’ most powerful characters. And when these characters gain the advantage of a mega evolution in later titles, they become even more powerful.
In the anime episode, Memories are Made of Bliss!, Ash and company watch her respective battle with lifelong trainer Flint. While Flint delivers quite the performance, when all is said and done, Cynthia lives up to her title as League Champion. Cynthia is not only one of the most well-designed characters in the entire franchise, but she is also the first-known woman League champion that gamers will encounter on their respective journey.
In the original generation of the Pokémon franchise, Blue was one of the most talented young trainers to come out of, not only Pallet Town but the entire region of Kanto. In the video game titles, the Pokémon Origins anime, as well as the Pokémon Adventures manga, Blue always managed to find himself one step ahead of his peer, Red.
Red and Blue became quick rivals when they both received their starter Pokémon at the exact same time from the respected Professor Samuel Oak. After this point, the two young trainers found their paths crossing repeatedly. Blue did manage to become Pokémon League Champion at a young age, but this accomplishment was is short lived as he was quickly beaten by his Red before Oak could even travel to congratulate his own grandson.
Note: The character of Gary from the mainline anime is based on Blue, however, Blue soars higher and farther than Gary ever has throughout the series to this point. And while the anime character is, again, based on the video game antagonist, they have defined themselves as separate entities over the years.
Before Blue and Red, Lance was the proverbial top dog in the sphere of Pokémon trainers. His dragon-type beasts dominated aspiring enthusiasts across the land before some talented kids stepped in and stole the crown. However, Lance’s journey did not end there as he continued to work and better himself as a trainer.
After his defeat at the hands of the young trainers, Lance stepped down from his post as an Indigo League Elite Four member and moved on to the Johto region. Before this decision, he was the world’s resident dragon-type expert and master trainer, and while Lance continued his quest to become the all-time greatest dragon-type trainer, he did so in a new region, with a new crop of creatures to train and battle. After of years and years of hard work and dedication, Lance regained his position, once again – this time as the Pokémon League Champion of the Johto League.
As previously mentioned, Lance later gained allies from later generations, but even after all of these years, he is never without his reliable partner Dragonite.
N’s story takes place during a tricky time in the Pokémon game series. Video game publisher Game Freak is not generally known for their tightly scripted narratives, but Pokémon Black and White versions contained some of the series' most interesting themes and characters – one of those being N.
The big joke surrounding the Black and White titles is the fact that the antagonists were not actually villains at all. N and his group of rebels wanted to put an end to the battling of Pokémon, more or less calling this an act of Pokémon cruelty. Whether or not Team Plasma acted as some sort of meta knock against the various animal rights organizations that have criticized the franchise over the years is up for debate, but regardless, the series’ fans found this group of baddies to be quite memorable.
Despite his willingness to speak out against Pokémon battles, N was quite the exceptional trainer and formidable opponent. This villain trained some of the world’s most powerful legendary Pokémon and even managed to defeat the previous Unova League Champion, Alder, ironically making him one of the strongest trainers of all time.
The character of Red is mentioned in passing throughout the history of numerous other notable trainers, but it is usually to denote the fact that he had defeated them in battle at one point or another. At an extremely young age (which is unspecified in the various mediums of the franchise), Red becomes the Indigo League Champion – defeating the entire Elite Four as well as his lifelong rival, Blue.
In the Pokémon Origins anime, Red manages to actually collect all 150 original Pokémon, including psychic-type creation, Mewtwo. Afterward, Red stepped down from his post as League Champion in order to train even harder and become even more of a boss. In the series’ second generation, in fact, gamers can find Red honing his skills at Mt. Silver.
Again, similar to Gary, the protagonist (Ash Ketchum) of the mainline anime is based on this video game character, but it should be noted that Ash and Red are also very different entities. They have both separated themselves as unique personalities within their own respective anime, manga, and video game titles over the years, and thusly, deserve separate entries.
1 You (The Protagonist)
Red and Blue are easily the most defined character of all their similarly-named cohorts (Silver, Gold, etc.). Therefore, the rest of these color-based trainers are collected within the category of "protagonist." Yes, these characters all star in their own respective manga stories and video games, but they are far less recognizable to the more casual fans and thusly are amalgamated in this entry.
In each in every game, it is the protagonist that always ends as the strongest trainer. Anyone who has beaten a mainline title has (until Sun and Moon that is) endured the steps of collecting eight gym badges and defeating both the Elite Four as well as the League Champion. These steps serve to mark the protagonist as the strongest trainer within the entire game, and as a result, the entire Pokémon universe.
If you still need convincing, keep in mind the fact that each trainer that has come before on this countdown has been defeated by the game’s protagonist. So, pat yourself on the back, world’s greatest trainer; you did it!
Did your favorite trainer make the cut? Make sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section!