It’s hard to imagine Pokémon without rivals. They’re a concept that every iteration of Pokémon has kept present. Ash always has a rival in the anime, Red has Green in the manga, and players characters always have a rival in the mainline games. It’s arguably in the games where rivals shine the most.
At the same time, Game Freak has a bad habit when it comes to consistent writing in general. Not every rival is a hit, but the ones that do stand out and leave an impact tend to be some of the most compelling characters in the franchise, with arcs that might as well make them the main characters of their respective games. Here we've ranked them.
10 Nate/Rosa And Hugh
Black 2 and White 2’s stories aren’t as good as Black and White’s, but they’re still a notch above the series’ standard for writing. Not just that, B2W2 is home to Hugh, not the best rival in Generation V, but one of the best rivals nonetheless. Nate/Rosa’s childhood friend, Hugh decides to travel Unova so that he can get revenge on Team Plasma for stealing his sister’s Purrloin.
Hugh’s incredibly likable and his friendship with the player doesn’t rob him of depth. He’s still allowed to exist as his own character thanks to his connection to his sister and how often he appears in the main plot. Hugh’s a rival and a partner. He’s a friend who pushes his rivals to push themselves.
9 Elio/Selene And Hau
Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon share what might very well be the worst story in a Pokémon game. Terribly paced, terribly written, and a downgrade in almost every way from Sun and Moon’s actually decent plot, there’s little to appreciate here. But there is something to appreciate: Hau’s character arc.
USUM ends up giving Hau so much more depth for whatever reason. He has a fine arc in the original games, but it’s mainly in the background. USUM makes Hau a far more relevant and noteworthy character. He’s likable with a fire and drive that ends up being one of USUM’s saving graces.
8 Hilbert/Hilda And Cheren
Half childhood friend, half little rat, Cheren is a fun rival. He comes off like the best-case scenario of trying to grotesquely fuse all four rivals that came before him into one character. He’s funny, charming, annoying, and genuinely kind of cool all in one. He’s the guy in the friend group everyone likes, but can’t really explain why.
It helps that Cheren is able to bounce off Bianca well, defining his character independent of his rivalry with the main character. At the same time, said rivalry is handled well and seeing Cheren as a Gym Leader in B2W2 only makes his arc B1W1 all the better. Unlike most rivals, Cheren’s building up to better things.
7 Brendan And May (ORAS)
Brendan and May’s rivalry in Generation III is mediocre, to say the least. It’s an enormous step down from both Blue & Silver, and the fact that the rivalry isn’t even resolved– cutting off roughly halfway through the game. It’s disappointing and is arguably the worst rivalry in the series. But their ORAS rivalry is solid.
Not only does the player’s rival play an active role in the plot, both characters actually have a chance to bond. Brendan and May end up having more depth, actually ending up three-dimensional characters this time around. They’re better written, have an endearing bond with the player, and offer up a challenge without being overtly antagonistic.
6 Elio/Selene And Gladion
Gladion is one of the most interesting rivals in the series. The sole rival for Generation VII, Gladion is also a member of the main villain team, Team Skull. He isn’t overtly villainous, but it’s interesting having a rival who’s an antagonist on the same scale as Silver. At least as far as framing goes.
In terms of personality, Gladion is far more likable and his motivations keep him a compelling character. Gladion’s role in the main plot ends up being more important than other rivals as well, giving him further legitimacy. Of course, only Sun and Moon show Gladion at his best, with USUM making him a less interesting character.
5 Dawn/Lucas And Barry
Barry is one of the more annoying rivals, albeit intentionally so. He’s energetic, a total clutz, and seems to have no sense of speed control. It all makes him rather likable, though. He’s a bit on the dumb side, but the story makes it clear that he’s not only a loyal friend but an excellent trainer.
Honestly, it’s Barry’s skill that makes him such a good rival. He still has the highest leveled team in the franchise, right up there with Red’s fight in HeartGold and SoulSilver. He will stop at nothing to assert his Poké-Dominance. That he’s such a lovable guy while doing it only makes him a better rival.
4 Brendan/May And Wally
Wally’s already a good rival in Generation III– a nice alternative to Brendan and May whose role in the plot lasts until the end of the game and tragically ends right before he can challenge the Elite Four. It’s a good story and one that adds some depth to Gen III’s bare plot, albeit mainly in the background.
ORAS capitalizes on this by doing something as simple as making Wally more prominent. He appears more often, he speaks more often, and the end of his arc is clearer. Wally loses his way, loses that love he had for Pokémon and dedicates himself to just getting stronger. If nothing else, he doesn’t seem too beat up over it.
3 Red And Blue
The defining Pokémon rivalry, it’s hard not to consider Red and Blue’s rivalry one of the series’ best. Blue is such a colossal jerk that it’s impossible not to form a genuine desire to rub his face in the dirt. That Blue offers a genuine challenge time and time again before serving as Generation I’s final boss only makes the rivalry all the better.
Red ends up beating Blue in the end, but Blue does everything else first. He defeats all eight Gym Leaders, he clears Victory Road, he defeats the Elite Four, and he becomes the Champion. Blue is a legitimate Champion, just as much as Red. They’re two sides of the same coin.
2 Ethan/Lyra And Silver
It’s crazy to think that Blue and Silver came back to back. Game Freak went from the defining rival to the refined rival. Silver is Blue’s antithesis in many respects. Blue was a jerk, but he was likable and not a bad guy by any means. Silver is outright cruel and incredibly toxic towards his Pokémon. Generation II wants players to hate Silver.
Only so they can learn to love him. He’s a jerk, but he learns from battling the player. He follows the leader and starts to form a stronger bond with his Pokémon. By the end of the game, players can help Silver lose his ego entirely. It’s a great arc that stretches the entire game. What’s not to love?
1 Hilbert/Hilda And N
It’s really hard not to like N in the grand scheme of things. While Cheren fulfills the traditional rival role, there’s no denying that N is a rival. Players intersect with him multiple times over the course of the game, and he’s one of the best-written characters in the series. N makes for a fantastic fight and a great addition to Gen V’s already solid plot.N makes a reappearance in B2W2, and while he’s still cool, it’s not quite the same as his role in BW. He’s likable, prominent, and develops all the way to the end of the game. He’s a Pokémon rival with no equal.