There are generally two main goals for players to accomplish in the Pokémon video games; one is to catch ‘em all, and another is to collect eight gym badges. Gyms in the Pokémon universe are special arenas where players can challenge a particularly skilled Pokémon trainer. Winning will earn the players a Gym badge, and you need eight to join the Pokémon League and challenge the Elite Four. In the early games, the story is pretty much center on you just challenging Gym leaders and collecting the eight badges.
Almost all of the main Pokémon games have eight Gym leaders; the exception being Sun and Moon, which instead had island challenges rather than Gym battles. There have been many iconic Gym leaders in the games over the years. The anime is also a big proponent of why certain Gym Leaders became as iconic as they did. Who can forget about Brock and Misty from the original Red and Blue video games. Not only are they the first two Gym Leaders ever, but their starring role in the anime also helped to establish them as fan favorites.
Best Pokemon Gym Leaders
With that said, which are the best Gym Leaders in the franchise? There are around 48 Gym leaders in the series, and not all of them are winners. But a vast majority is, and we will be counting down the ten best in the entire franchise. Will your favorites be on this list?
The Gym battle with Whitney in Pokémon Gold and Silver is the stuff of children’s nightmare. In general, Pokémon isn’t a challenging game. Whitney is only the third Gym leader in the game, and the first two gym leaders were super easy. So imagine my and many other gamers’ surprise when they had a humiliating loss against Whitney’s Miltank.
For some reason, Miltank was an absolute beast to face against. With its good health and defense stats, it was able to withstand anything that the player was capable of throwing at it. Also, somehow, its Rollout attack would instant faint all of our Pokémon as well. Whitney’s unstoppable Miltank became the stuff of legends within the fandom. Heck, even the anime, had an episode where Ash got entirely dominated by Miltank as well. Even the anime writers knew how difficult Miltank was in the game.
Admittedly, Sabrina’s placement on this list is due to her role in the original anime. Her appearance in the Pokémon anime is so memorable that I had to include her. Sabrina, in the games is just typical psychic Gym Leader with real psychic abilities. We don’t know much about her in the games, yet the anime expanded on her character significantly.
In the anime, Sabrina’s psychic powers are so great that she was able to create a construct of herself that looks like a little girl. She is even capable of turning people into dolls and putting them in her playhouse. Eventually, Ash can overcome her by bringing a silly Haunter, who was able to make Sabrina laugh again. It is such a great set of episodes that it made her such an enduring character in the franchise.
I had a crush on several of the female Gym Leaders in the Pokémon games. With that said, I had the biggest crush on Gardenia from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Possible because of her exposed midriff, or maybe because she is a grass Gym Leader (my favorite type), but there was something about Gardenia I liked as a kid.
I also like how, in Platinum, she was too scared to go to the haunted mansion. I honestly believe that Diamond and Pearl were the first games in the franchise that expanded on the personality of the Gym Leaders. Usually, fans get the nature and characteristics of the Gym Leaders from the anime. In the games, they were nothing more than enemies for you to overcome. Diamond and Pearl changed that and made each leader their characters. Gardenia benefited greatly from that, being a trainer who acts tougher than she really is (but still is super cool). She also has a Roserade, which is one of my favorite Pokémon ever, so that earns her more points in my book.
Drayden is the dragon Gym Leader in Pokémon Black, Black 2, and White 2. Dragons are automatically cool, but what puts him ahead from his White counterpart is the fact that Drayden is a pretty interesting guy. He’s the mayor of Opelucid City, and he loves to wrestle with his Pokémon. He is an old man, but he has some serious muscles on his body. He can knock any person with his bare fist.
Iris is the dragon Gym Leader in Pokémon White, yet she isn’t as cool as Drayden. In the Pokémon anime, Iris served as Ash’s companion for a while. However, no one liked her in the anime. She would end up being a pretty cool Pokémon Champion. Nonetheless, Drayden is still the superior dragon Gym Leader.
We all remember how hard it was to beat Whitney, but I remember Clair being a real pain to defeat as well. The final Gym Leader in the Johto region, Clair, is another dragon based Gym Leader. In those very early games, dragon-type was nearly unstoppable. Unless you had your dragon Pokémon, there was no easy way to beat Clair. Her Kingdra was so hard to defeat; Clair’s Kingdra may be just as hard to beat as Whitney’s Miltank honestly.
Not only that, she doesn’t even hand over the badge to you after you overcome her. You have to go on a separate quest before she hands over her badge to you. She is far more likable in the anime, which is odd given that she is so stubborn and prideful in the games. It could be argued that she was one of the few early Gym Leaders that had a real personality in games, rather than be someone for players to conquer.
Elesa is a supermodel, electric-type Gym Leader. That sentence alone is more than enough to add her to this list. Her gyms are often designed to be like a fashion show, with her showing off her latest outfits. Elesa’s placement on this list is straightforward; her design is great, and her gyms are creative and fun to traverse in. There isn’t much to say about her other than that, except that her Zebstrika, which is an electric Zebra Pokémon, is also pretty neat.
She is also one of the few characters in the games to have two unique outfits. In Black and White, she wears a yellow outfit and has blond hair. In Black 2 and White 2, she wears a yellow and blue outfit and has dyed her hair black. Her change in outfit cements her as a distinctive character.
Volkner is an electric-type Pokémon trainer, and the final Gym Leader in Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum. I always liked Volkner’s design (even though I swear he looks like Minato from Naruto), and he kind of bucks the trend as seen from other Gym Leaders. Volkner is a jerk, who grew bored from being a Gym Leader after being challenged by trainers he thought have been weak. He was planning to abandon his gym, and head to the Pokémon League unless the player trainer beats him.
He was a great final challenge in the games he appears in, and his standoff-ish personality made you want to beat him. His electric Pokémon are also really impressive, especially in Pokémon Platinum. What else can I say other than the fact I think he is an excellent trainer, and I love battling against him in all the games he appears in.
Some of the hardest Gym battles in the Pokémon games are often some of my favorite because they end up being very memorable because they were so challenging. Whitney and Clair are some of my favorites, precisely because I love how hard they were. Norman from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire is one of the most challenging Gym Leaders in the franchise as well. His Slaking is a total Juggernaut; it was incredibly challenging to make that Pokémon faint.
Norman is also the father of the player trainer, adding in a personal connection to the confrontation. Norman is also completely aware of his strength. Despite being the first Gym players come across, Norman doesn’t allow his child to challenge him until they had four badges. He wanted to face his child when they were ready, and thank god we didn’t challenge him first. His Slaking would have decimated us in the early game.
I will maintain that Giovanni being the final Gym Leader in the original Pokémon Red and Blue is one of the best twists in the franchise. Even though it doesn’t make any sense (Why would the leader of a criminal organization run a Gym where anyone can challenge him?), and there wasn’t any real foreshadowing with it. In spite of that, having Giovanni be the final challenge for players to overcome before they head to the Pokémon League to face against the Elite Four was awesome.
Giovanni is the charismatic leader of Team Rocket and serves as the main villain of Red and Blue. He is probably the most iconic villain from the entire franchise; even the lame man probably knows who Giovanni is. However, it is acceptance of defeat that makes him enduring. While it is kind of pathetic that this grown man would throw in the towel after being defeated by two children, I always perceived it differently. Giovanni didn’t disband Team Rocket because he was a sore loser; he did it out of respect. He respected that player defeated him, and he decided to end Team Rocket out of honor. At least that’s how I perceive it.
1. Brock And Misty
To me, there wasn’t anyone else to put on the top of this list. For many old school fans of Pokémon, the anime was about the inseparable trio of Ash, Misty, and Brock. Brock and Misty were based on the Gym Leaders of the same name in the Red and Blue video games. The game versions of them aren’t that similar to characters in the anime. Nevertheless, it is the anime versions of Brock and Misty that I picture in my head when I think of them.
I remember how Brock is continuously flirting with every attractive woman in all of Pokémon, and I remember how Misty is following Ash because he destroyed her bike. These are traits not in the game, yet are the first things I think of with those characters.
Misty and Brock haven’t been a part of the Pokémon anime for years (Misty left around the early 2000s, while Brock left around the early 2010s). Nonetheless, they are the first characters other than Ash that people recall about the anime. For many people, the show was all about the adventures of three young Pokémon trainers traveling the world and discovering new Pokémon. I’m not the only person to say this, and I am definitely will not be the last person afterward, but the Pokémon anime has never been the same since Brock and Misty left.