Top 15 Best Trainers In The Pokémon Anime, RankedThis post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
Some say the bond between trainers and their Pokémon is really all that matters to determine who’s “the best”.
And to some extent, that might just be true.
But then again, the majority of the series shows us that skill, leadership, and mental toughness are all necessary traits for a trainer to succeed.
After all, the main “hook” in this anime lies in the exciting Pokémon battles. Now that’s what it’s really all about.
So then, which trainers in the Pokémon anime have what it takes to “be the very best like no one ever was”?
These are some of our top picks.
15. Gary Oak
To kick things off, we have Ash’s first-ever rival – and the very first character in the anime that was confirmed to have caught over 200 Pokémon.
And props to him!
After all, this guy took the show’s “Gotta catch ’em all!” slogan way more seriously than Ash ever did at the time of their rivalry.
His Pokémon-catching prowess aside, Gary is also an accomplished trainer who once breezed through countless gyms in numerous regions.
Oh, and he also used to have a whole team of dedicated cheerleaders by his side during his battles.
How’s that for flashy?
Sure, he’s transitioned from being a trainer to a Pokémon researcher just like his grandfather.
But he clearly never lost his touch. This much is obvious, even now in his “Project Mew” days.
Iris is by far the strongest companion Ash has ever made throughout his long and illustrious journey — nay, journeys.
And if we consider just how long this seemingly unaging kid has been at it, and how many companions he’s had in his lifetime, Iris’s achievement becomes much more amazing.
Much like Ash, she’s a seasoned veteran when it comes to Pokémon battles – and is also a gym leader, and Unova’s league champion.
Did I mention that she also had a 99 win streak with her Excadrill in her younger years?
Though I guess that’s just to be expected for someone who aspires to be a Dragon Master.
Alder might look like your usual energetic and happy go lucky middle-aged man, but he was actually an absolute mad lad in his youth
He was once obsessed with being the strongest, until he eventually learned that life as a Pokémon trainer is not just about power and glory.
From then on, he became the fun and easygoing Alder we all know and love – although bear in mind that he hasn’t lost his skills from his glory days.
Far from it, actually.
After all, he was the League Champion of Unova until Iris beat her — finally allowing him to retire and to be as carefree as he wants.
Diantha is yet another league champion who would give almost every trainer in the show a run for their money.
Not only is she a charismatic and talented actress, but she’s also a force to be reckoned with, as seen with the few Pokémon battles we can catch.
This includes her immensely one-sided battle with the Brackish Town’s best trainer, and of course, her battle with our very own Ash Ketchum – whom she had beaten the second time they fought.
Sure she might’ve not beaten Ash easily, and would’ve arguably lost if Ash hadn’t fainted…
But we have to remember that Greninja is Ash’s strongest Pokémon.
Considering that, it’s not hard to see just how great of a trainer Diantha really is, especially paired with her majestic Gardevoir.
Paul — much like Gary and a few other characters you’ll see further down this list — is one of Ash’s strongest rivals.
Pathetic trainers would be better off getting out of this guy’s way, as he’s not exactly the type to make friends or hold back in a Pokémon battle.
Sure he’s a bit of a jerk to both his Pokémon and the people around him.
But his prickly attitude barely offsets his natural ability as a trainer.
He’s cold, calculating, and extremely witty when he fights – and would often push his Pokémon as far as he possibly can during training.
This distasteful training style of his is rightfully met with distaste by the fans, though he does have many badges that he’s collected in at least three different regions to show for it.
10. Professor Kukui
Kukui might have the title of “Professor” before his name, but don’t be fooled.
This 30-year-old man is actually an absolute beast of a trainer.
He’s a teacher in Alola, and is coincidentally also the founder of the region’s entire Pokémon League.
Needless to say, this highly regarded distinction also comes with tough challenges and battles along the way.
One such battle is the one he had with everyone’s favorite Elite Four member, Lance. Though the outcome of their battle was left somewhat vague.
Beyond that, however, he also competes regularly in competitions under the guise of “The Masked Royal”.
Sheesh. Tough luck for his opponents.
Tobias is one of the few trainers who have, not just one, but two legendary Pokémon under his belt — namely Latios and Darkrai.
Using those two, he practically bulldozed his way through the Sinnoh region and through the entire Lily of the Valley Conference.
It sounds like something we, as players, can only do in the Pokémon games.
But this absolute madman actually did it in the series.
What’s even more interesting about this guy is that he’s mostly an enigma, as it’s still a mystery whether or not he’s hiding even more overpowered Pokémon.
8. Steven Stone
One of Steven’s favorite hobbies is collecting different kinds of stones throughout his travels, hence his name.
Another one of his more notable hobbies, however, is absolutely owning other trainers in a Pokémon battle.
Steven might be humble about it. But this guy is an elite-level Pokémon trainer who would put even some seasoned veterans to shame.
He’s the champion of Evergrande City, and the entire Hoenn League by extension — making him more than just a serious contender, even against some characters further in this ranking.
No one hates losing as much as Alain.
And that’s probably one of the reasons why he’s so good at what he does.
Alain is often quiet — he’s cool and unshaken even while fighting through the most intense battles.
And considering he has the best mega-evolved Charizard in the history of the show, I’d say he has every right to come off the way he does.
He’s also the Lumiose Conference Winner, the only non-champion trainer to defeat an Elite Four member (Malva), and a hero that was once awarded the Medal of Kalos for saving the entire world.
Oh, and he’s also the only rival that Ash has never outright beaten.
For now, anyway.
This guy might be the oldest character on this list, but Drake isn’t one to be underestimated.
He’s chill as all hell and is one of the best Elite Four members in the anime.
First off, he was introduced as an absolute badass of a gramps. He defeated Ash handily in a three-on-three Pokémon battle, and taught him a very important lesson in humility.
He’s also a ship captain who has traveled to a lot of different regions – which further helped him sharpen his skills as a trainer.
Plus he’s met and battled with all kinds of opponents. His extensive battle experience was pretty darn obvious when he trashed Team Rocket without even breaking a sweat.
Drake is a brilliant technician who’d rather observe his opponents first before making a decisive move.
Sinnoh (in the games at least) is considered by most to be the hardest region to go through as a Pokémon trainer.
And considering Aaron made it through the masses to become a member of the Sinnoh Elite Four speaks volumes to his abilities.
Despite his age, Aaron is shown to be a mature and friendly person, who cares a lot about bug-type Pokémon — especially the ones that are under his care.
What’s even more surprising is that he often challenges Cynthia (one of the best League Champions of all time) to a battle, and still manages to keep up with her.
Sure he’s never won even one of those matches… but trying to beat Cynthia is basically a near-impossible feat from the get-go.
Lance is one of the few Elite Four members that we got introduced to very early in the main series.
As if that distinction wasn’t enough, he’s also a Pokémon Master (with very vague criteria..)
And he’s the Champion of the Indigo League, plus a member of the Pokémon G-men.
Through and through, he has the heart of a true hero – and is a kind trainer who just wants to keep the world safe for both Pokémon and humans alike.
Naturally, this titular “cool-guy” is also among the few fan-favorite characters in the show, as he should be.
Oh, and did I mention that Lance is also the only trainer that was shown to have successfully caught and trained a red Gyarados in the anime?
Now that’s dedication right there.
When it comes to the best and the greatest trainers in the Pokémon anime, it’s a no-brainer that Leon should be on the list.
You know what? Scratch that.
His feats and reputation alone demand him to be included.
He might be one of the newer League Champions that’s been introduced in the show, but Leon’s popularity has skyrocketed ever since his first appearance.
Leon is the Champion of the Galar League, and has defeated Lance in the World Coronation Series in order to become the Monarch.
This amazing feat (along with many others) has earned him the recognition of many fans as one of the most unbeatable trainers in the anime.
She might be number two in this ranking, but my heart says she’s number one.
Cynthia is by far one of the most well-known, celebrated, and iconic fan-favorite characters here.
Not just in Pokémon, but maybe even across all of anime.
She’s one of the Masters Eight, and is considered as one of the strongest competitors/league champions ever anime.
Her dominance as the Sinnoh League’s champion is absolute (again, arguably the hardest league), which more or less cements her greatness as a trainer.
In fact, she’s so darn strong that she’s not just overpowered in the anime — she’s also an absolute pain to deal with in the games too.
Yeah. She’s just that good.
1. Ash Ketchum
Now let’s get one thing straight.
We all know Ash is still nowhere near his dream of being “the very best like no one ever was”.
And let’s be honest, with the whole floating timeline thing going on (and as long as the show keeps printing money for Bandai Namco), it will probably take Ash a long time to get there.
Perhaps a couple hundred more episodes, give or take? Five hundred?
Maybe even a thousand?
I mean, it took Ash 20 years just to win his first league.
And it’s safe to say at this point that he still has a lot to prove if he wants to be the best trainer in the show.
Despite this, I think we should consider the fact that he’s not the main character for nothing.
In addition to being one of the most seasoned Pokémon Masters, Ash is also a passionate trainer – and an excellent companion to every Pokémon he trains.
And at the end of the day, who knows?
Maybe this kid is still just getting started.