The Pokemon anime may have its differences with the games, but one thing remains an important aspect: battles. Most of the Pokemon anime's characters live and breathe to battle one another, whether it's in Gym battles, League Conference battles, or World Coronation Series battles.
Of course, battles don't exist on their own in the anime; they come with stakes that exist outside of official standing. Some battles carry real conflict and emotional weight, and make for some of the most exciting moments of the entire series. This list shows the ten best when it came to battles that not only kept fans on the edge of their seats, but were narratively important for those involved.
10 Ash vs. Volkner (Journeys)
Despite a rocky start, Pokemon Journeys has given fans their fair share of excellent battles, with the most recent battle on this list being a fine example. Of course, this battle is a rematch, with Sunyshore Gym Leader Volkner being a worthy opponent for Ash's first Ultra Class battle.
Volkner was his usual excellent self, showcasing the Electric-type in all its glory with his Luxray, Rotom, and Electivire. Of course, using Pikachu put Ash in a bit of a conundrum. Ash's ace for such a problem was bringing back Pikachu's signature Z-Move, 10,000,000 Volt Thunderbolt. He managed to win the battle by finishing off Electivire with it, seemingly short-circuiting its Motor Drive ability that usually absorbs Electric-type attacks.
9 Ash vs. Clemont
Speaking of Electric-type Gym leaders, the X&Y anime had quite a few awesome Gym battles that could've made this list, but this one stands out thanks to Clemont being one of Ash's traveling companions. Despite the friendship they had, neither Ash nor Clemont held back as the former fought for the Lumiose City Gym Badge.
It was a close fight throughout, and both showed their battling styles very well; Clemont was a smart strategist, but not even a bulletproof strategy could break Ash. Goodra would be the battle's MVP for the latter, as it managed to withstand a flurry of hits from Clemont's Luxray before using Bide to blow double the damage back, knocking the latter out to win the match.
8 Ash vs. Brandon (Third Match)
While Ash's first bout against Pyramid King Brandon was a cringe-worthy possession episode and his second was another disappointment from his Torkoal, his third was both a throwback to the good ole' days and an overall exciting match.
Ash decided to bring back his old trio of Kanto starters -- Charizard, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur -- for his Battle Frontier swan song. It didn't start off so hot, losing Charizard early after a fumbled Seismic Toss. However, the rest of the team managed to hold their ground, especially Bulbasaur, who managed to do a lot of dirty work. As icing on the cake (no pun intended), Pikachu won the Brave Symbol for Ash by adding the first Legendary to his hitlist: Brandon's Regice.
7 Ash vs. Maylene (Third Match)
Fans like to look at this battle as the first one that truly had high-quality action animation, and rightfully so. Momentum never swung too far in one direction, as both Ash and Fighting-type Gym Leader Maylene did everything they could to stay on their feet. Ash in particular showed good patience to switch out Pokemon when necessary.
In the end, it came down to Maylene's Lucario and Ash's Buizel, and the action was non-stop from that point. The two kept canceling each other's power out, even as the roof literally blew off and Buizel's Speed increased in the rain, down to the final Force Palm and Aqua Jet collision. The fight may have ended in a draw, but Ash certainly earned his Gym Badge.
6 Ash vs. Olympia
Arguably the X&Y Gym battle prototype at its best, this bout between Ash and Olympia, the Gym Leader of Anistar City, was absolute visual candy and then some. In arguably the anime's greatest ever double battle, Ash's Frogadier and Talonflame and Olympia's two Meowstic put on a show, taking advantage of the beautiful Gym and pushing the anime's animation capabilities to their absolute limits.
Amidst all the strategic juggling and unbreakable teamwork from both sides that made for an entertaining battle all on its own, the highlight of the match had to be towards the end. Frogadier managed to create a gigantic Water Pulse through paralysis and Meowstic's Psyshock, causing Olympia to literally foreshadow the Ash-Greninja form it would later evolve into.
5 Ash vs. Iris (Journeys)
Another battle from Journeys, Ash's World Coronation Series battle against Iris was long overdue. Seeing how Ash's former traveling companion transformed from immature brat to Champion of Unova was fulfilling, to say the least.
The battle itself was memorable in all the right ways, from the showdown between Ash's and Iris's Dragonite, to Ash's Dracovish getting its feet wet, to Iris's Axew being revealed to have evolved into a Haxorus. With all that said, Ash was this battle's victor, with his Dragonite connecting with Iris through her clairvoyance with Dragon-types, and pulling off an impressive impromptu Draco Meteor. This was one of Ash's more important battles in Pokemon Journeys, pushing him to the Ultra Class.
4 Ash vs. Sawyer (Lumiose Conference)
The "passionate Ash versus analytical [insert name here]" type of rivalry is a beaten-up warhorse at this point, but Sawyer is that trope put to excellent use. It helps that Sawyer was the first person to really admire Ash as a Trainer.
That entire narrative made for an excellent Kalos League semifinal, with both sides cooking up strategies on the fly for most of the battle. It ultimately came down to Ash-Greninja and Sawyer's Mega Sceptile, and despite the massive type disadvantage, Greninja would win the match just by the skin of its teeth. Sawyer was undeniably one of Ash's best rivals from a skill standpoint, and this battle was an excellent way to cap off the rivalry for the meantime.
3 Ash vs. Gary (Silver Conference)
Of course, Ash's first rival is still one of his most iconic, and their battle in the Silver Conference is, too. This was a high-octane battle as Pokemon on both sides went down left and right. Gary's strategies were overwhelming at first, but Ash showed just enough mental toughness to scrap out an even fight. The Pokemon continued to drop until only two were left: Ash's Charizard and Gary's Blastoise.
Ash managed to win that iconic face-off despite the type disadvantage, overcoming his biggest hurdle up to that point and proving himself a worthy and even skilled Pokemon Trainer. Meanwhile, Gary humbled himself after the loss as he gained newfound respect for his rival.
2 Ash vs. Kukui (Manalo Conference)
While it wasn't an official match, the four-episode, six-on-six exhibition match between Ash, Champion of Alola, and Professor Kukui, the ever-popular man behind the Masked Royal, was an instant classic, as both sides showed off their teams' abilities with aplomb.
Just when fans thought the battle had reached its apex after an amazing Torracat vs. Incineroar matchup that lead to Torracat evolving, Tapu Koko came down to the stadium and asked to join Kukui's side. It would later call the other Guardians to recharge both sides' Z-Rings, culminating in a Z-Move showdown like no other: Tapu Koko's Guardian of Alola vs. Pikachu's 10,000,000 Volt Thunderbolt. Ultimately, one of the coolest Pokemon battles ever ended with Ash as the victor.
1 Ash vs. Paul (Lily Of The Valley Conference)
Not only was Ash's Sinnoh League standing on the line in this battle, but so was his philosophy as a Trainer, which his rival Paul opposed so firmly. While Ash was warm and nurturing, Paul was harsh and borderline abusive, and that style wasn't for everybody. It certainly wasn't for the Chimchar he released.
That Chimchar would join Ash's team and evolve into an Infernape, and it would be the connecting string in this three-episode chess match. The battle was neck-and-neck the whole way, and Infernape and Paul's Electivire were the last two standing. Infernape showed Paul what he missed out on as it utilized its formidable Blaze ability and scored the win. In the end, Ash earned Paul's respect, which was hard to do when they first met.
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