Pokémon has been around for a long time, and in those twenty plus years, Ash Ketchum is still ten! Our favourite dingbulb extraordinaire may spend his days repeating and failing to win the Pokémon League, but at least he has good companions on his journey. From Kanto to Alola, Ash has met many dear friends who have become popular and beloved amongst fans. So, in celebration, we’re going to give our definitive ranking of Ash’s friends from worst to best. All serve to bring out the best of Ash and help him to become a better person. Now if only they could figure out the secret behind his eternal youth!
A couple of ground rules. Only full-time companions will be listed, so Alexa, who travelled with Ash for one season, is left out. Secondly, rivals like Gary Oak and Paul are left out too, as are companions exclusive to the movies. I haven’t watched much of the current season, Pokémon Sun & Moon, so my opinions on Ash’s classmates are limited at best. And, no, Ash’s Pokémon won’t be included, as we’d be here all day. Maybe they’ll be ranked in a follow up listicle?
It does pain me to put Iris at the bottom of the list, but she just dragged the whole of the Black & White anime down. Though the first major black character in Pokémon, Iris’ character is all over the place. She’s a bit of a wild girl, but also wants to be a dragon expert. She reminds me a little too much of Misty with her playfully smug sarcasm. Weighed down by her condescending attitude, and her character being pulled in a thousand directions, Iris is hard to pin down as a person. She has some good points, like her troubled relationship with her Excadrill, and educational struggles, but nothing comes of it. Her English dub dialogue consisted mostly of stating the obvious, which really didn’t help an already flawed character be anymore likeable. And how did she catch a blinkin’ Dragonite!?
May’s little annoying brother Max is the only one of Ash’s companions who lacked a significant Pokémon partner. Though smart for his age, Max doesn’t really contribute much to the gang beyond his knowledge. Like Iris, he has a bit of a patronising, snarky wit about him, though it actually works when bantering with Ash, May, and Brock. Max has the makings of being a good Pokémon trainer, but it is a shame the anime never explored his potential. His encounters with a Ralts and Jirachi are perhaps his series’ highlights.
So far, Sophocles has been the least impactful of the Sun & Moon gang. He feels a bit like a rehash of Clemont, being a brainy inventor kid who specialise in electric-type Pokémon. Still, never judge a book by its cover, as Sophocles is quite creative in his use of his Pokémon. He is a hobbyist and collects information about all of sorts of things, and his inventions at least don’t implode like Clemont’s. His backstory is surprisingly dark – as it will be for most of the Alola characters – involving finding a spacefaring Minior, which, due to lacking its protective shell, faded away, leaving Sophocles traumatised.
Though Cilan is low on this list, he is a hilariously multitalented character. He’s a Gym Leader, chef, train enthusiast, food taster, waiter, and Pokémon connoisseur all in one. Though a bit of a discount Brock, Cilan’s enthusiasm and flavoured personality makes him incredibly likeable. He is excellent at reading another character’s personality, is patient and caring with Ash, and is one of his better mentor figures. Cilan has a lot of personality oozing out of him, and is certainly the best thing of the Black & White arc. On the downside, he doesn’t really have much going in terms of an interesting background or challenging relations with his brothers.
Tracey sadly doesn’t get a lot of love due to replacing Brock, though his creation is certainly interesting. Anime director, Masamitsu Hidaka, replaced Brock, fearing he would be seen as a racial stereotype with his dark skin and closed eyes. Tracey himself is a Pokémon watcher, who joined Ash and Misty in the Orange Islands. He is a nice guy, though a bit of a pushover, chummy, and the amount of teasing he threw at Ash and Misty was great. Above all, Tracey was pretty smart when it came to Pokémon, and was an excellent artist, though the anime did tend to make him the butt of jokes. Tracey was a big admirer of Professor Oak, though once he becomes his idol’s assistant, Tracey was forgotten about. His Pokémon are pretty cool, being a Venonat, a Marill, and an elderly, battle-hardened Scyther.
Unlike Max, Bonnie works to be a Pokémon trainer, befriending her mousey friend Dedenne. She works well as a foil to Clemont, being his little sister, her bubbly and cheery attitude makes her very likeable. Bonnie isn’t just a tagalong kid, but is very forthright, observant, and cheery. Yes, she is immature and childish as expected, but she has great relationships with her travelling companions, particularly Serena. She becomes the guardian of the mysterious “Squishy”, actually the legendary Zygarde.
There is something just cool about Kiawe, and is the first of Ash’s many rivals to double as a companion. Perhaps the oldest of Ash’s friends, Kiawe is an experienced fire-type Pokémon trainer. He acts aloof and calm, but is quite hot-headed, volatile, and prone to bursting into tears or fury at the drop of a hat. He comes from a humble but hardworking farm, and is very respectful of Alola’s traditions. Besides, if a person can fly around on a Charizard, how can they not be cool?
Lana is as calm and gentle as the sea, but can be equally fierce and stormy. Oceanic analogies aside, Lana is a water Pokémon trainer, so much of her character revolves around the sea. She loves fishing, sailing, surfing, and spending time with her partner Popplio. Lana is quiet and soft-spoken most of the time, but can be fiery if she catches someone abusing Pokémon. Lana has a big family, with two annoying younger siblings, and has inherited her mother’s habit of spinning tales for a little mischief. She is a very brave young girl in spite of her quiet demeanour, and has one of the most stand out character designs.
Ash’s male friends come in two flavours – older mentor figure, or a rival. Clemont is neither, instead being a spectacled, geeky, somewhat clumsy inventor. Gym Leader of Lumiose City, Clemont is somewhat of a reluctant leader, due to his bizarre relationship with a Mega Man-like character he designed to substitute for him in his role. Clemont strongly boasts of the importance of technology and the future, sporting many gadgets he conveniently has made for whatever the occasion. Unfortunately, most of his gadgets have a habit of exploding when overloaded. Clemont has a close relationship with Bonnie, often having to stop her habit of asking women to marry him. After Ash beats him in a gym match, Clemont’s character focus diminishes, aside from a forgotten friendship with a Luxray.
Ash’s female companion in the Diamond & Pearl seasons, Dawn is certainly an energetic and chirpy girl. Whilst May was more reluctant to be a Pokémon trainer, Dawn jumps into the role with enthusiasm and charm. She aims to become a Pokémon Co-ordinator, using her mass energy, passion for fashion, and showmanship to win. She has some great Pokémon companions, especially her pompous Piplup, and an adorable Buneary who is smitten with Pikachu. When Dawn loses or is insulted, she can take it to heart, and falls into depressive moods several times in the series. The big question is who the heck decided to give a ten year old girl that preposterous miniskirt?
Lillie gets this high up for her character development. The resident bookworm on Pokémon knowledge on Alola, Lillie is studious, polite girl with a troubled past. At the start of the series, she is terrified of touching Pokémon, brought on by a suppressed traumatic experience. When entrusted with an egg, which hatches into an albino Vulpix, Lillie begins to overcome her phobia. Overtime, we learn of her relationships with her angsty brother Gladion, and workaholic mother Lusamine, who often babies Lillie, ignorant of her maturity and trauma. Lillie’s rise to becoming more mature, vocal, and fearless makes her one of the most compelling characters in Pokémon.
Mallow is the motherly figure within Ash’s companions in Alola, laidback, approachable, and is a skilled cook. Her family run a restaurant with a colourful menu, and she applies such talents to her meals. She is more outgoing and exciteable than Lillie or Lana, often cast as the straight man to her friends’ antics. However, she has a more personal, deeper story in the series. Her mother suffered from a vague but fatal illness, Mallow having to watch her wither away. Her last words to her were of anger and resentment, which she came to regret. This might explain her maternal behaviour around others. Mallow has an especially moving reunion with her mother’s ghost, and comes to adopt the legendary Shaymin shortly after. Also, seeing her go to drown her sorrows at a jungle bar run by an Oranguru is just hilarious!
Replacing Misty, May is from the Hoenn region, serving as Ash’s female companion in the “Advanced” generation. Rather than being a Gym Leader, May is the daughter of one, namely Norman of Petalburg City. May was at first unenthusiastic about Pokémon training, acting as a newcomer to the profession, with Ash and Brock being her mentors. Eventually, May decided that Pokémon Contests were her thing, and she became a talented co-ordinator. She is a sweet, adorable character, one for shopping, good food, and travel. Her rivalry/romance with Drew is cute. Perhaps her best highlights include her Blaziken versus Ash’s Sceptile, and mothering Manaphy in the ninth Pokémon movie.
Out of all of Ash’s companions, no one is more devoted to him than Serena. A forgotten childhood friend Ash met at summer camp, Serena recognises him on TV and decides to become a Pokémon trainer to find him. Serena’s ongoing romance towards Ash is absolutely adorable, though it doesn’t define her character. Even more of a showman than Dawn, Serena pursues a career in Pokémon Showcases, and is a talented performer. Her first loss is such a crushing blow, but inspires Serena is cut her hair and change her appearance to start over. And her farewell kiss to Ash was a fantastic way for her character to depart the series, the culmination of her growing self-confidence and bravery. She has developed a huge fanbase, and we wait for Serena to hopefully return in the anime.
Oh, come on, you knew Ash’s original companions would be at the top of the list. Misty is actually my favourite companion, and not just because I am a Pokéshipper! A bit bratty, fiery, romantic, stubborn, and impatient, Misty acted as a foil to Ash back in the early days of his journey. Misty gives Ash a very damning speech in the third episode, telling him about the practicality and judgement needed to be a good trainer. It really defines her character and the reality of the Pokémon universe. Misty is the runt of her family, her three sisters being fabulous beautiful and popular, leaving her very self-conscious. As such, she wishes to become a great water Pokémon trainer to escape their shadow.
Misty’s more sharper edges are filed once she becomes the mother to Togepi, showing her kinder, motherly side. Though Misty initially followed Ash after he trashed her bike, it turned into friendship and potential romance, which the dub teased for all that its worth. So when Misty left to lead her family gym, it was quite heartbreaking. Thankfully, Misty has made several returns to the anime, and will always be welcome. Plus, her Psyduck is awesome!
Brock is the man! Ash’s longest-running companion, the Pewter City Gym Leader, and eventual Pokémon Doctor, Brock is a great character. He is a two-sided kinda guy. On the one hand, he is wise, knowledgeable, and supportive to Ash and friends. He at first wants to be a Pokémon Breeder, but becomes a doctor over time. He is the big brother we all want. On the other hand, he is an absolute nutcase. He falls in love with and then hits on every beautiful woman he sees. From Officer Jenny to Nurse Joy, Brock’s heart belongs to every woman he meets, and his pickup lines are delightfully cheesy.
Brock’s history is long and eventful. His backstory set the standard for good storytelling in Pokémon – his good-for-nothing father abandoned the family after being a failed trainer, secretly hiding on the outskirts of town to watch his many children from afar. Brock’s mother than “died”, leaving Brock to care for his younger siblings. Ash’s gym match with Brock leads to the rebuilding of his family. However, his mother later turned up alive with no explanation. Brock is perhaps best known for his closed eyes, and, a lot like Kakashi of Naruto’s lower face, it was a mark of mystery for fans. And when he did open them, they were something to behold!