Antagonists in Pokémon tend to be hit or miss, but one thing is certain: Team Rocket rocks. By far the most iconic, prevalent, and interesting antagonists in the series, Team Rocket can (almost) always be counted on to serve as villains. After all, they’re basically just domestic terrorists, something fairly grounded when later villains try to flood the planet.
While the anime’s depiction of Team Rocket is all over the place with no real cohesion, the games keep things consistent. There’s a hierarchy and the Gen I & Gen II remakes even went out of their way to give the main Team Rocket baddies some personality. Between Gen I, Gen II, the remakes, Let’s Go, and Team Rainbow Rocket, they won’t be blasting off for good anytime soon.
7 Team Rocket James
Jessie and James more or less serve as basic Team Rocket grunts when they appear in the games– which makes sense since that’s the role they serve in the anime– but it’s interesting to note how Game Freak adopted characters invented for the anime and actually kept them around. They’re not just in Yellow, they recently appeared in Let’s Go.
In Pokémon Yellow, Jessie and James end up sharing a team, with James’ contribution being his Koffing. Come Let’s Go, that’s his only Pokémon, but both him and Jessie are much stronger. In Yellow, they’re fought for the last time with a team in their 30s. In Let’s Go, both Jessie and James hit the 50s. Granted, that’s not a lot, but it’s a reasonable improvement from Gen I.
6 Team Rocket Jessie
James’ partner and other half, everyone knows that Jessie’s the real brains of the operation. While they aren’t as well characterized in the games as in the anime, Jessie’s Arbok is arguably the larger threat, especially in Let’s Go. James’ Koffing does have Flamethrower and Thunderbolt which can catch players off guard, but Arbok’s Glare & Crunch can be a nasty combo.
It’s also worth noting that they’re introduced as Jessie and James. Of course, that’s because of Jessie James, but Jessie is usually the one taking charge between the two. It would only make sense that Jessie would be James’ superior, if only in a peer to peer capacity where he defers to her. Which he does in the anime.
5 Executive Proton
Executive Proton has a neat little arc in Gold, Silver, and Crystal where he starts out the game as a Rocket Grunt the player defeats in the Slowpoke Well before being promoted to an executive & fighting the player again in the Rocket Executive Tower. It’s a small detail that helps Johto feel alive and the remakes fittingly give him more character.
Unfortunately for Executive Proton, his team isn’t all that great. He’s even weaker than both Jessie and James’ depictions in Let’s Go (though that’s a trait all the Executives share.) In Gen II, his highest level (and only as an Executive) Pokémon is a Lv 36 Golbat. In Gen IV, he has a Lv 28 Golbat and a Lv 33 Weezing. It’s a party this time around, but overall a downgrade.
4 Executive Petrel
Of all the Team Rocket Executives, Petrel is the most memorable and entertaining. He’s fought twice, both in Gen II and in the Gen IV remakes, but what makes him notable is his second battle. Disguised as Giovanni in Gen IV, players are treated to a full party fight against a team of Koffings in their 30s.
Johto is a pretty easy region in general so this isn’t too bit a deal, but it’s an incredibly fun battle and the most memorable of the Executive battles. An unprepared or injured party could actually find themselves struggling against six whole Koffings.
3 Executive Ariana
Executive Ariana is an incredibly fascinating character. Along with essentially serving as Team Rocket second-in-command while Giovanni is gone, Ariana actually appears in FireRed and LeafGreen with a much stronger team than either of her Johto counterparts. With a team in their low 50s, Ariana can pose a decent post-game challenge for FRLG players.
Not so much in either GSC or HGSS, though. Both of her fights are on the underwhelming side, but her team is at least interesting. All in their low 30s, Arbok, Vileplume, and Murkrow make a fun little team. It’s just a shame she doesn’t have a full party in any of her battles.
2 Executive Archer
Pretty much the closest thing Gen II has to a main villain, Game Freak has typically done a very good job at making Executive Archer an interesting character, especially after the fact. As expected of a low level region, his sole fight in Johto isn’t much to write home about, but he does appear in FireRed and LeafGreen along with Let’s Go.
Archer is fought multiple times in Let’s Go and his final battle has him sporting a four party team of Pokémon all in their 50s. He even appears in Pokémon Stadium 2 alongside Ariana. Said game serves as the only time either Executives have been depicted with a full party, although the same can be said for most Trainers who overlook between Gen I/II and the Stadiums.
1 Leader Giovanni
The most iconic and prolific villain in the series, Giovanni is always bound to entertain when he’s on-screen. There’s something scummy but admirable about him. He’s a dynamic character who’s blatantly a bad guy, but grounded almost. None of his fights are hard, but they’re not easy either. In Kanto based games, he’s usually fought for the last time with a team pushing their 50s.Interestingly, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon introduced a brand new direction for the character with the inception of Team Rainbow Rocket– an antagonistic group made up of the series’ previous villains. The leader, Giovanni has a much stronger team. Of his party of 5, four Pokémon are Lv 68 and his Mewtwo is Lv 70. It’s a shame he doesn’t have a full party, but he offers a fun fight, one that can actually be challenging.