Best Kanto Gym Leaders: Every Gen 1 Pokémon Gym Leader, Ranked

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Gen I easily had the most memorable gym leaders out of any generation.

I was able to comfortably recall seven out of eight of these gyms off the top of my head, whereas I would struggle to tell you even one of the Kalos leaders.

That being said, all eight of the Kanto badge holders are not made equal.

You might not agree with this list entirely, but I have my reasons for ranking all of the Kanto gym leaders from worst to best.


8. Blaine

Blaine from Pokémon Origins anime

We’re working in descending order, meaning Blaine is the “worst” Gen I gym leader, in my opinion.

That’s not to say he’s bad; he’s just the least memorable for me.

That’s a shame, too. Because Blaine is the OG Pokémon quiz master.

It’s an idea that should have led to an incredibly memorable trainer, but for whatever reason, it didn’t.

If Blaine were in almost any other generation(especially gen 6) then he would be at the top of this list.

His Arcanine and Rapidash can give you serious trouble when you’re not prepared, so his team ticks that box, too.

It’s also a little known fact that the only time Blaine takes off his sunglasses is when he’s designing a new quiz, meaning he wears them in his sleep.

So much potential, but the execution doesn’t live up to it.


7. Sabrina

Sabrina Gym Leader in Pokémon anime screenshot

Pretty much every trainer on the list from here on out could be reasonably put in any other spot.

I’m going to avoid talking about the anime for most of this list, but there are a few exceptions where I think it has to come up. Specifically, we have to talk about Sabrina.

The Pokémon anime early days were a bit…. Out there…. There’s no better example of the psychedelics that the writing room was taking than the Sabrina episodes.

She is(and I mean this quite literally) a psychopathic supervillain with magic powers, and she also happens to have dissociative identity disorder apparently.

When Ash and the gang lose to her the first time, she shrinks them all down and traps them in a toy town. When they fail a second time, she turns Misty and Brock into dolls and traps them in a dollhouse with her actual mother.

Sabrina in the games is far tamer. But that anime episode is too bizarre to gloss over.


6. Lt. Surge

Lt. Surge Gym Leader in Pokémon

I struggled with where to put Lt. Surge on this list.

He started out at number three, and over time was relegated to number six. That’s a shame, too, because the very existence of Surge is incredible.

The team at Game Freak designed his character based on the Japanese stereotype of Americans at the time, and that really shows. He’s overly intense and OTT in everything he does. On top of that, he’s like eight feet tall in the anime, and he’s ex-military.

Surge is also the first time we ever got a mention of the infamous “Pokémon war,” which gets bonus points with me. Seriously Game Freak, when are you going to pull the trigger on that 18+ project?

His team isn’t very intimidating in-game, though.

I mean, you can catch a Diglett down the road and wreck him. But it’s the style points that count here.


5. Brock

Brock from Pokémon anime

I know, I know, you can put your pitchforks away.

The only reason that Brock is hitting mid-way is that I treat his anime and game characters like two completely separate entities.

If this were a list of best anime characters, he would be every single entry on the list; it would be like an ode to Brock.

As it stands, he sucks in the game.

Despite serving as the first gym leader, he has nothing interesting going for him. And he plays no part in any grander narrative. You could replace him with Youngster Joey and it would not make a difference.

Granted Brock can be tough to beat if you took Charmander. But as a Squirtle main, I never had that issue.


4. Giovanni

Giovanni from Pokémon anime

Ah yes, the literal mob boss that somehow managed to get verified league status as a gym leader.

If there was ever any proof that the Indigo League was corrupt, this is it.

Giovanni serves as the villain to the entirety of Gen I, as well as the penultimate gym battle. So logically, he should be higher on the list.

But I found that he was just too easy to beat.

He’s a ground type gym leader, and in case you forgot, I was a Squirtle main. Not only did this make his fight trivial, but it meant that I had nothing to remember him by except for being the annoying dude that I had to keep beating up.

It was only years later that I realized the darker context of him being a literal crime lord.


3. Koga

Koga Pokémon Gym Leader

Koga has always been a cool gym leader.

There’s nothing to complain about a ninja design that fights with poison types, which happens to be a tricker thing to counter, making his battle not an immediate sweep.

I’m not putting Koga on this list for his battle or his design, though.

I’m putting him here because he should serve as an inspiration to all working fathers around the globe.

After years of working a 9-to-5 at the gym, he got promoted to the league after Lance took over as champion. Not only that, but he also left the gym to his daughter. He cemented his family’s legacy, and we should all be proud of that.


2. Erika

Erika from Pokémon anime

I’ll confess: Erika was a massive childhood crush of mine.

She was only a few block of pixels, but that was enough for my young eyes.

She runs one of the most memorable gyms in the game that shows off the clear lack of anti-discrimination laws in Kanto. As a young boy, though, I had no complaints about that.

Then there was also the creepy old man that used to stare through the gym’s windows all that. Talking to him is one of my most vivid Pokémon R/B/Y memories, and it should be fairly obvious why.

To top it all off, Erika is a grass trainer. So she kicked me and my Squirtle’s ass.

A great design, a great team, and a great gym all get Erika my number two spot.


1. Misty

Misty Pokémon Gym Leader

I’ll confess once again: Misty was a massive teenage crush of mine, and admittedly still is to this day.

I shouldn’t have to explain why, especially when it comes to the later games. If I do need to explain, then you might be too young to worry about it.

Her design feels so much more like her anime one does, even after the redesign. There’s enough substance there that I can connect the two characters.

The mirror matchup always presented a problem to me, too, because of that damn Starmie.

She’s one of the most iconic figures in Pokémon history for a reason. So there’s plenty of justification for putting her in first place.

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