The main reason the world of Pokémon has proved to be a place many so often return to is a simple one: The chance to meet new creatures and pit their unique abilities against others in battles.
Having run continuously for over 20 years and a thousand episodes, the Pokémon anime has produced some truly incredible battles across its legions of episodes. Which of these battles reign supreme as the most memorable and exciting? Let’s dive in and find out.
10 Ash vs Tobias
Just when it seemed like Ash might finally triumph in the Sinnoh League during Diamond & Pearl, mysterious trainer Tobias appeared with a Darkrai in tow. Though destined to lose from the start, it’s a testament to Ash’s evolution as a trainer that he went down swinging, and struck harder against the seemingly invincible Tobias than any other trainer was able to do during the League.
Ash’s Heracross, Gible, and Torkoal all fell to Darkrai, but when all seemed lost, his Sceptile did the seemingly impossible and defeated Darkrai with Leaf Blade. The victory was short-lived, however, as Tobias sent in Latios, who defeated the weakened Sceptile then Swellow before drawing with Pikachu. Tobias may have won, but Ash proved there can be grace in defeat.
9 Ash vs Paul (Lake Acuity)
The second act of any story should leave the hero at their lowest point, and by that definition, Ash and Paul’s battle at Lake Acuity certainly ends the second act of the Diamond & Pearl saga. In their first full six-on-six battle, Ash slowly had his confidence broken down bit-by-bit as Paul overwhelms him with brutally strategic thinking and his Pokémon’s raw power.
Paul ends the match victorious, with four Pokémon still standing to boot. It takes Ash a full episode to get out of the funk the loss leaves him in, and the way it forces him to evolve as a trainer shows why most fans still consider Paul the most important rival Ash has faced to date.
8 Ash vs Noland
The first challenge Ash faced in the Kanto Battle Frontier was at the Battle Factory, where he dueled Frontier Brain Noland. Noland battled alongside an Articuno, the legendary Freeze Pokémon, while Ash called upon his Charizard for assistance.
Despite Charizard’s proven strength and type-advantage, Articuno showed why it earned its “Legendary” status, consistently dodging or powering through Charizard’s attacks while damaging the Fire-Type with Water Pulse. Charizard’s trademark Seismic Toss attack, however, defeated the Legendary Ice-Type and won Ash his first Frontier Symbol. This also marked the first time Ash defeated a Legendary Pokémon, and it was certainly a victory well-earned.
7 Ash vs Brandon (Third Battle)
Ash’s final Battle Frontier bout was just as memorable as his first. For his third match against Battle Pyramid King Brandon, Ash again called upon Charizard (in addition to Bulbasaur and Squirtle). This time, however, Ash wasn’t able to rely upon the Fire/Flying-Type to steamroll over his opponents, as Charizard’s attempt to use a Fighting-Type Seismic Toss against the Ghost-Type Dusclops backfired and allowed Dusclops to deliver a mortal blow with Shadow Punch.
Bulbasaur and Squirtle thus got their moments in the sun, but the match ultimately came down to Pikachu vs Regice. Pikachu knocked out the Iceberg Pokémon with a powerful Volt Tackle, a move that propelled Pikachu to join Charizard in the exclusive “defeated a Legendary” category.
6 May vs Drew (Kanto Grand Festival)
Of all of Ash’s companions, May had one of the most dramatic character growths, going from a newbie clueless in the ways of Pokémon training to a capable Pokémon coordinator. Partly due to Ash’s tutelage, partly due to the challenge posed by her rivals, foremost among them Drew. When May and Drew had their climactic battle in the Kanto Grand Festival, it was a match to remember.
Both coordinators used striking attack combinations, with May blending her Combusken’s Fire Spin and Squirtle’s Bubble, while Drew amplified his Absol’s Razor Wind with Flygon’s Dragon Breath. In the end, it came down to Combusken vs Absol, a match-up the former won.
5 Ash vs May (Terracotta Contest)
Ash having to battle one of his friends is a semi-frequent occurrence in the anime, but his battle with May in the Terracotta Contest, the denouement of Advanced Generation, remains the best. Ash and May were co-protagonists of Advanced Generation, thus, a battle between them was the only logical way to end the season.
May used her Blaziken while Ash used Sceptile, and both Pokémon proved evenly matched, with Blaziken’s type advantage countered by Sceptile’s agility. The matched ended in a draw, with Ash and May deciding to split the ribbon they’re awarded by having Sceptile slice it down the middle with Leaf Blade. The memories of the battle preserved in the split ribbon are a reminder of not just one of the best battles in the anime, but of how both young trainers helped the other grow.
4 Ash vs Professor Kukui (Alola League)
Here it is; the battle that finally gave Ash the championship title he’d been after since the beginning of the series. If this battle had been a letdown, the whole journey to that point would have been undermined. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. The battle had some memorable match-ups and stunning victories for Ash’s team, with his Torracat felling both Kukui’s Venusaur and Incineroar, before Melemele Island Guardian Tapu Koko appeared to test Ash by fighting for Kukui.
The battle came to Z-Move vs Z-Move, specifically Tapu Koko’s Guardian Of Alola vs Pikachu’s 10000 Volt Thunderbolt, but in the end, Ash and Pikachu’s bond prevailed. With this victory, Ash (literally) surpassed the man who had mentored him throughout the Sun & Moon saga while becoming the first champion of Alola.
3 Ash vs Sawyer (Lumiose Conference)
Ash’s Kalos League loss is held in infamy by the Pokémon fandom, so it’s easy to forget that the semi-finals yielded one of the finest battles in the XY saga. Ash faced his rival Sawyer for the fifth time. Ash and Greninja, struggling to control their “Battle Bond” phenomenon, lost to Sawyer and his Sceptile in their previous battle, so this rematch had a lot riding on it.
The preceding match-ups were exciting in their own right, but the duel between Ash-Greninja and Mega-Sceptile was what made the battle. The two went mano-a-mano with Cut/Leaf Blade before Ash-Greninja finally defeated the Forest Pokémon with a super-powered Water Shuriken, a moment of victory that was one of the most thrilling in the entire Pokémon anime.
2 Ash vs Gary (Silver Conference)
Gary was Ash’s first true rival, and so emotions had never ridden higher during a battle in the Pokémon anime than this. Finally, Ash had a chance to prove himself to the one who had so often mocked his training abilities.
While Gary held the upper hand for most of the battle, Ash’s Charizard brought Ash back from the brink of defeat, triumphing over Scizor, Golem, and Blastoise, thus winning the battle for Ash. While Ash has won many battles since then, this was the first that proved he could surpass a longtime rival.
1 Ash vs Paul (Lily Of The Valley Conference)
It may not have netted him an official commendation, but no victory was more satisfying for Ash than when he finally prevailed over Paul in the quarter-finals of the Sinnoh League. Paul challenged Ash in a way none of his other rivals before or after have, for he made Ash question the very core of his training methods; while Ash saw his friends as friends and partners, Paul saw them as weapons who must be pushed to achieve their full potential.
As such, it was an unbelievable satisfying moment when Ash’s Infernape, abandoned by Paul as a Chimchar, triumphed over Paul’s Electivire, proving that it was Ash’s nurturing approach which unlocked Infernape’s full potential, not Paul’s abuse. The battle had plenty of other memorable moments, from Ash’s Gliscor defeating Paul’s Drapion to Infernape using a Dig/Flare Blitz combo to burn Toxic Spikes out of the field, but the climax simply can’t be beaten. Ash and Paul’s final battle wasn’t just their greatest battle, it was the best battle in the anime, period.
Pokémon's anime has had so many memorable battles over the years, but which ones were the greatest?