With more than nine main series games, it can be hard to remember all the Pokémon characters. From your Gary Oak equivalent, all the way up to Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s main cast, we’ve gone through each game picking out those most noteworthy, so you can give yourself a quick refresher on the history of the massive monster-taming franchise.
If you prefer the AR title to the main series, be sure to check out our Pokémon Go community day, Pokémon Go event, Pokémon Go raids guides, and our complete Pokedex. Or, if you’re craving a different kind of monster, find some tuneful terrors with our My Singing Monsters breeding guide.
So, let’s get into our favourite Pokémon characters from each generation
Pokémon characters – generation one
The name of your first rival in the Pokémon series is whatever you want it to be – it can be Blue, it can be Gary, or it can be Buttbrain if you really want. With your rival picking the starter that is strongest against your own, the battles between the pair of Pallet Town trainers are some of the best the first generation has to offer, and it’s always a good laugh watching as your rival tries desperately to impress his grandpa.
The original Pokémon professor, Oak is an icon, guiding you on the very first journey through the Pokémon world. Sure, there’s no battle against Oak, but his kind words and occasional gifts make him the Gandalf to your Pokémon trainer’s Frodo, and he sets the whole game in motion in his request for you to complete the Pokedex.
The dragon-taming trainer Lance is the last of the Elite Four, and one of the most challenging battles that the first generation of Pokémon has to offer. Just like Professor Oak, he also pops up in the next generation, returning to offer some serious firepower alongside Dragonite as you take on a regrouped Team Rocket at the Lake of Rage.
The head of Team Rocket and the final gym leader you face before heading to Victory Road, Giovanni is one of the classic Pokémon characters almost all of us know. He plays second fiddle a little to Jessie and James in the anime-influenced Pokémon Yellow, but as far as Red and Blue go, Giovanni is the big bad, and one of the best antagonists the series has seen to date.
Pokémon characters – generation two
Silver / Rival No.2
In keeping with the first game, you can name your rival whatever you like, but according to Pokémon canon, his name is Silver. This rival is much more antagonistic than that of the first games, with him stealing his starter Pokémon before going on a crusade of what can only be called Pokémon abuse. He does see the errors of his ways eventually, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take him down hard with every opportunity you get.
A slightly more haphazard Pokémon professor than Oak, Elm is Johto’s preeminent researcher in the field of Pokémon, and the person who gives you your starter and, later, a Togepi egg. Outside of that, he really doesn’t do much else – but, with Professor Oak also hanging around Johto, he doesn’t really need to.
Possibly the most iconic character in the history of the franchise, Red is the toughest battle of the second generation and arguably the whole series. Essentially, Red is Ash from the Pokémon anime, with a powerful team of fully evolved starters, a Snorlax that won’t budge, and, yes, a potent Pikachu. Standing in the snow atop Mt. Silver, the memory of the first battle against Red is one many trainers still hold dear.
Pokémon characters – generation three
Professor Birch is the scientist-in-residence of the Hoenn region and the person who hands over your starter to save them from a wild Poochyena attack. Outside of this, they don’t do much else to progress the story or help you out besides introducing you to their daughter/son, leaving most of the important bits to them. Of course, you report back to Elm on completing your Pokedex, but outside of that, he’s not much help.
Depending on which gender you pick at the start of Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald, you meet the opposite, be that Brendan for girls, or May for boys. The third generation also marks a change in how the rival approaches you, with Brendan and May being almost annoyingly helpful, handing out key items and HMs like it’s no big deal (really, where are they getting this stuff from?).
The steel-type user Steven is the giga-trainer of the third generation of Pokémon, acting as the Elite Four champion in Ruby and Sapphire, and a post-game challenge in Emerald that still ranks as one of the most difficult in all the series. Outside of that, he’s generally a pretty nice chap, clued in about the region enough to help avoid the apocalypse through either Team Magma or Team Aqua – thank Arceus – and even as kind as to give you a shiny Beldum after beating the league. Cheers, Steven.
Archie / Maxie
Archie and Maxie are Team Aqua and Team Magma’s respective leaders, each of them locked in a bitter grudge with the other as they seek to transform the world. Archie wants to force Kyogre to flood the world, while Maxie wants to bring Groudon out of its slumber to plunge the world into serious drought. Either way, you team up with one to take down the other, and thanks to some winning battles, and a little help from Rayquaza, the world doesn’t end after all.
Pokémon characters – generation four
The Pokémon professor of the Sinnoh region, Rowan is a good bit grumpier than his fellow scientists but still nice enough to offer you your starter Pokémon. As a professor, Rowan is one of the most esteemed in all of the world, with one of his aides claiming that even Oak sees himself as junior compared to Sinnoh’s foremost scientist.
Sticking with the introduction of nice rivals in generation three, Barry is just a neighbourhood kid who happens to be on the same adventure as you due to a circumstantial day by Lake Verity. He helps out in a big battle against Team Galactic during the crescendo of the fourth generation’s story, but outside of that, he doesn’t do all that much aside from offering you the occasional key item.
Cyrus is the leader of Team Galactic and spends much of his story desperately trying to figure out how he can summon Arceus, the god of Pokémon. His whole idea is that, by bringing Arceus back, he can somehow use the almighty mon’s power to make himself a god in a newly formed universe. Obviously, it’s left to you, a ten-year-old trainer from the smallest town in the region to take him down.
The fourth generation’s master tamer, or Lance equivalent, is Cynthia. Recognised widely as the toughest Elite Four champion to take on, Cynathia’s mixed team includes Garchomp, Spiritomb, and Milotic, making for a test unlike any other in the build-up to the final challenge. Still, if you think this battle is tough, wait until you see Cynthia’s team in Black and White too. That’s a post-game bonus right up there with the epic showdowns against Red and Steven.
Pokémon characters – generation five
A lot of people think that the fifth generation marks a series high for the storyline of Pokémon games, and a big reason behind that is N. Found as an orphan by Ghetsis, the real big bad of Pokémon Black and White, N was raised to take over Team Plasma, but the more you interact with him, the more he realises he’s not cut out for the supervillain lifestyle. No, N would much rather ride on a ferris wheel with his Pokémon friends, and we don’t blame him.
The true leader of Team Plasma, Ghetsis spends much of both Black and White and the direct sequels trying to bring about the end of the relationship between people and Pokémon. His original goal was to use N to rule over the world with either Reshiram or Zekrom at his side, but when his foster child turns against him, he takes matters into his own hands, coming back after his first failure to try and raise Kyurem. This doesn’t go too well for him either, with the story ending with Ghetsis’ second attempt at world domination gone awry, and the baddie losing his heart.
As the first female Pokémon professor, Juniper is a breath of fresh air for the series, and not just because she’s much more chipper than Rowan. You meet Professor Juniper at the start of the game where she leaves behind a starter Pokémon present for you, Bianca, and Cheren. She also hands out TMs for meeting Pokedex milestones, but outside of that, you don’t spend all too much time with her.
Bianca and Cheren
One rival? Psh. That’s nothing. In Pokémon Black and White, you have two rivals in Bianca and Cheren, with the pair picking up the spare starter Pokémon. They both get a glow up in the sequel too, with Cheren going on to be the Aspertia gym leader, while Cheren ends up as Professor Juniper’s assistant.
Pokémon characters – generation six
With the introduction of mega evolution in generation six, it’s only fitting that the local professor is an expert on the subject. That’s exactly what professor Sycamore is, a font of wisdom on the special evolutionary mechanic, who hands out not just one starter Pokémon, but also one of the starters from the first generation, just so you can mega evolve them at a later point. Outside of his giving nature, Sycamore is always around to offer advice on catching new species.
Calem / Serena
The fifth generation of Pokémon goes back to basics in some ways, with your rival dependent on your own gender just like it was in Gold and Silver. As part of the gang you grew up with, Calem / Serena is the best trainer besides the player character, and it’s these rival battles that test you the most. They’re also the most giving of the gang, offering a non-evolved version of their starter to you after you become the Elite Four champion.
Shauna, Trevor, and Tierno
If one rival wasn’t enough, Shauna, Trevor, and Tierno are there to keep you on your toes, with sporadic battles between your childhood buddies littered throughout Kalos. Throughout your adventure, each of this trio of pals is on hand to dish out key items, HMs, and powerful moves, so long as you can beat them in a battle.
Pokémon characters – generation seven
Professor Kukui is quite different from any of the other professors. He’s a wrestler, the founder of the Alolan league, and he’s got no t-shirt on. Oh, and he’s also the current champion of the league too, with a potent team of Pokémon including Snorlax, Braviary, and Alolan Nintetales. Things are a little different in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, with Kukui handing over the final battle to Hau. There was also a long-running fan theory that Kukui might be Ash’s dad, but that seems to have been put to bed by Poketheorists.
For the eighth generation of Pokémon, your rival is Hau regardless. I say rival, it’s at this point and going forwards that your rival starts being less competition and more like a hype-man, building you up for big battles and offering out exposition about the convoluted multi-dimensional storyline. Hau’s family play a role in the continuation of Alolan traditions, with his grandfather acting as kahuna – the big chief to me and you – of Melemele island.
Guzma isn’t like the leaders of most of Pokémon’s evil organisations in that, well, he’s pretty chill. It turns out that he’s not even the leader! No, Guzma is just another lackey, putting on the appearance of Team Skull’s leader so Lusamine can get on with trying to find the Ultra Beasts in the background. Eventually, Guzma comes to his senses and renounces his wicked ways, breaking apart Team Skull in the process.
The real big bad of the eighth generation of Pokémon is Lusamine, who is driven by her quest to find the powerful ultra beasts across the multiple dimensions. As a surprise antagonist, Lusamine begins the game as seemingly the most loving trainer in the land, but it’s not long until you find out all isn’t as it seems. Across both Sun and Moon and Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, Lusamine manages to turn her entire family against her in her quest for power, leading to one of the sadder storylines in series history.
Pokémon characters – generation eight
Magnolia, or ol’ gramma Pokémon as I like to call her, is the least involved Pokémon professor so far. Really. We’re not even sure why she’s present, but still, she does know a lot about dynamaxing, and considering that’s Galar’s big deal, she does come in handy to explain the lay of the land in terms of the new mechanic.
As one of three rivals in the Galar region, Hop is your childhood friend and brother of the league champion Leon. Like many recent rivals, Hop is more of a support than he is an antagonist, providing background information on Galar’s quirks and local history. That doesn’t mean you don’t battle it out though, with more than eight encounters throughout your adventure.
Occupying the miserable and mysterious secondary-rival role in Pokémon Sword and Shield is Bede. Despite starting the game as a psychic-type user, Opal takes Bede under her wing to become the new fairy-type gym leader, swapping out their mind readers for some fluffy pink pals.
League leader Leon is the big dog in Galar, famous among its people and adored by his little brother Hop. With his signature dynamaxing Charizard, Leon is the final challenge you face in Sword and Shield after overcoming the threat of Eternatus. He also ends up opening Galar’s first battle tower, where you can meet him again for some even more challenging encounters with legendary Pokémon on his side.
Pokémon Sword and Shield have a surprise antagonist, with Rose appearing to want to help Galar in his quest to find an unlimited power source. Unfortunately, as Pokémon antagonists quite often seem to do, he doesn’t quite anticipate this power, and it’s eventually up to you, Leon, and Hop, to make sure Eternatus doesn’t decimate the region.
Pokémon characters – generation nine
Sada / Turo
For the first time ever, the ninth generation of Pokémon has two separate professors dependent on what version of the game you have. Considering this is the latest title in the series, we’re not going to give you spoilers here, but let us just say that all is not what it seems when it comes to this pair of Pokémon professors.
As your ninth rival, Nemona follows the recent trend of being more of a support to the player character than a direct competitor or antagonist. Still, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to battle all the time, with her role as champion of the league on the line in the final showdown. She’s also the student class president and the dictionary definition of a keen-been, always on hand to offer out academic advice.
Arven is a bit of a loner, but for good reason, considering he’s the child of the absentee professor parents. With him, you set off on a quest to find all the herba mystica you need to fix up your legendary ride and his adorable Mabostiff, which eventually leads to a confrontation between the dog owner and his parent in Area Zero. Arven’s story is a tragic one, but he still ends up becoming one of your closest pals in Paldea.
Clavell is the director of the academy you attend and the man who is trying to take down Team Star. With Clavell, or his alter-ego Clive, you take to the five Team Star camps littered around Paldea to figure out why the students haven’t returned to class. In a change from the usual, it’s also Clavell who offers you your starter Pokémon, not this region’s professor, with the principal keeping the spare for your final battle in the academy ace tournament.
There you have it, our favourite Pokémon characters from each generation. For another long list of Nintendo icons, be sure to check out our pick of our favourite Mario characters.