Ah, Pokémon gym leaders. With over fifty now appearing through the series, these battles are what we all turn up for, with the characters we meet along the way some of the most interesting from across the franchise. So, we’ve picked out our favourite leaders from over the years, including some familiar faces from the anime, some legendary battlers, and a couple who we just think are really neat.
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With that out of the way, grab your starter, and let’s get into our list of our favourite Pokémon gym leaders.
The first gym leader in the history of the series, and famous for his inclusion in the original anime, the battle against Brock in Pewter City gym is the stuff of legends (even if you only need a Squirtle to ease past the old Onix). It’s the true beginning of thousands, if not millions, of shared Pokémon journeys and marks the moment that so many of us started to fall in love with the franchise.
I can’t mention Brock and leave out Misty, Ash’s second companion and the host of Cerulean City’s gym challenge. Misty is so non-plussed by the prospect of battling you that she doesn’t even stop paddling to pay attention to the battle, leaving her trusty Starmie to frustrate you into submission with its torrent of supersonic attacks. Sure, like Brock, Misty isn’t much of a challenge, but that doesn’t make her any less important in the history of the series.
Blaine makes the list of our Pokémon gym leaders because of his interesting change between the first and second games. In the short time between the two generations, Blaine’s gym burns to the ground in a volcanic eruption, forcing the fire-type user to take up a new office in the Seafoam Island caves. A new home doesn’t mean a dousing for Blaine’s team though, with the challenge souped up in Gold and Silver compared to the original bout.
Ok, this is the last first-generation gym leader, I swear. I can’t not include Giovanni, the original final challenge of the eight gym gauntlet in Kanto, the leader of Team Rocket, and the man who is going to use fissure to make you hate, and I mean hate, one-shot K.O. attacks. Like the other two Kantonians we’ve included, Giovanni is pretty easy work with a water-type on side, but that doesn’t make him any less intimidating a foe first time around.
Of all my Pokémon memories, the most prominent is endlessly trying to take down Whitney’s Miltank to no avail. Really, this entry shouldn’t even be Whitney, it should be Miltank, Miltank is the real boss here, with high HP to keep it alive and a rollout that never seems to miss continuously taking out your entire party until you have to try the whole thing again. Admittedly, taking on Whitney is a little easier when I return to Johto these days, but that doesn’t mean this battle isn’t infamous for making kids question how much they really want to be the champion of them all.
Norman is noteworthy for two reasons. First, he’s your dad, so that makes for the first and only gym leader battle against your own flesh and blood, though your in-game old man isn’t so keen on giving you an easy time. The second reason we love Norman is that he’s brazen enough to make Slaking, a Pokémon that does nothing half the time, his star player, providing all of us with a spare turn to use some much-needed max potions. To make this battle even more special, I like to play Father and Son by Cat Stevens and imagine Norman with a tear in his eye as I leave his gym with a badge in hand.
Tate and Liza
The first of many double battle gym leader challenges, the showdown with Tate and Liza in Mossdeep City is one of my favourite battles to go back to. Sure, it’s a walk in the park if you’ve got a water-type onside to erode Solrock and Lunatone, but if you don’t come prepared, these pair are ready to use their cosmic rocks to frustrate you to no end. It’s also worth mentioning that Mossdeep Gym is one of the most intelligently designed in the early generations, with a puzzle that takes concepts from Giovanni’s gym in the first game and reinvents them for the GBA generation.
If this were a list of the most glamorous Pokémon gym leaders, Fantina would take pride of place at the top of the pile, but she still makes the cut for our favourites. With her team of ghost-types, Fantina is the most memorable gym battle in Diamond and Pearl by a good margin, with her ghosts running havoc on any team unprepared with dark-type attacks. She also uses her style and grace to win plenty of Pokémon contests, using her majestic ghouls to take the prize time and time again.
Pokémon Black and White’s Elesa is the owner of what I’d say is the most fun-filled gym in the history of the series, with a veritable rollercoaster ride necessary to get you to the gym leader. Once you arrive, the battle isn’t particularly difficult, but Elesa’s Emolga can pull some surprises out of its cute little cheeks, making for a battle where you can’t take anything for granted.
Punk rock Piers is our favourite of the Pokémon gym leaders out of Galar. Equipped with a tricky team of dark-types, this battle is made more fun by the back and forth between Marnie, who made the list of our favourite Pokémon characters, and Piers, who happens to be her brother. We also like Piers because he’s not afraid to go against the herd, being the only Galarian gym leader who doesn’t indulge in dynamaxing. Everyone loves a purist.
Larry the salaryman is our favourite of the Pokémon Scarlet and Violet gym leaders, with the sullen normal-type user markedly more downbeat than the rest of Paldea’s top-tier trainers. He’s almost like the Eeyore of the Pokémon universe, moping around in the background and coming out with cynical one-liners that make us wish we could spend more time with Larry. Fortunately, our prayers are answered in the elite four battle, where you take on the salaryman once more, but this time with a team of flying types.
There you have it, our favourite Pokémon gym leaders. For more tips and tricks to catching ‘em all, check out our Pokémon Go event, Pokémon Go raids, and Pokémon Go Community Day guides, as well as our complete Pokedex.