Since it first aired in 1997 in Japan, and 1998 for international audiences, the ongoing Pokémon anime has had a successful run. Audiences have followed Ash Ketchum for 25 seasons and 23 films as he strives to explore the world and become the greatest Pokémon master he can be. The fun blend of comedy, intense action, and dynamic depictions of Pokémon helped to introduce the games to a broader audience and contributed to the franchise’s success.
Of course, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Ash and his friends. Every new region comes with its own dangers, including those who wish to harness the power of Pokémon for their own evil ends. These villains range from leaders of powerful organizations to wicked Pokémon.
Ash’s most consistent opponents are Jessie, James, and a talking Meowth who work for Team Rocket. While their goal is to steal Ash’s Pikachu, they are comedic villains who get sent blasting off at the end of every episode. Meanwhile, the leader of their organization runs his operations from the shadows.
While he poses as the Viridian City gym leader, Giovanni’s true intentions are to use Pokémon to further his criminal empire, and he tasks his agents with stealing the rarest and most powerful. Despite being the boss of Team Rocket, Giovanni and Ash have rarely met, though Giovanni’s his Persian was able to effortlessly defeat Ash’s Pikachu in the Black & White arc.
After discovering a fossil of the Pokémon progenitor, Mew, a group of scientists sought to clone it and create the world’s most powerful Pokémon. They succeeded and dubbed the clone Mewtwo. Unfortunately, Mewtwo had no intention of being subservient to humans and decided to forge his own place in the world.
Mewtwo is a terrifying villain thanks to its unmatched power and its cold, calculated approach to things. No matter what the heroes try, they cannot overcome Mewtwo with brute force. Instead, Mewtwo is defeated when shown that its ideals are misguided by Ash and Mew, and concludes that the circumstances of one’s birth do not define them.
The Iron Masked Marauder
Appearing as the villain in Pokémon the Movie: 4Ever, the Iron Masked Marauder is a high-ranking Team Rocket member who invented his own Poké Ball called a Dark Ball. Any Pokémon caught with it becomes hyper-aggressive and under his control. He intends to use the Dark Ball to capture the legendary Pokémon, Celebi, and use its power to usurp Giovanni.
While the Iron Masked Marauder’s motivation might not be the most complex, the idea of the Dark Ball and its personality-warping effects are terrifying. He is the first villain to successfully capture a legendary and show how destructive their power is in the wrong hands. The fact that the antagonist is voiced by Dan Green, known as the voice of Yugi and the Pharaoh in Yu-Gi-Oh, makes the character even more powerful and intimidating.
Pokémon Hunter J
Since Jessie, James, and Meowth are the most recurring members of Team Rocket, it’s easy to forget that there are legitimately cold-hearted people who are okay with exploiting Pokémon for their own personal gain. The worst of them in Hunter J, one of the best Pokémon anime characters not in the games, from the Diamond & Pearl arcs. Unlike the trio, J is given no redeeming qualities, and once she sets her sights on a target, she’ll do anything to acquire it.
Though she lacks the global organization power of Team Rocket, J makes up for it thanks to her advanced technology, including her signature arm cannon that can petrify humans and Pokémon. She also had a team of nasty threats, including the spider-like Ariados, the ogre-scorpion Drapion, and Salamence, one of the strongest Dragon Pokémon. J was so successful that she was able to defeat Ash occasionally, evade capture, and catch legendary Pokémon.
Though Cyrus poses himself as a well-meaning businessman who financed many of Sinnoh’s libraries, this is a front for his true intentions. He is secretly the boss of Team Galactic, an evil organization out to capture the Pokémon who represent time and space. To that end, he hires Pokémon Hunter J to capture a trio of Legendary pixies to forge a red chain to bind the dragons-gods.
Cyrus is terrifying due to his lack of emotions and his ability to manipulate others. He believes that the human spirit is a weakness, yet understands how to use emotions to get others to do what he wants. However, his selfish intentions are seen by all when he jumps through a portal created by Dialga and Palkia to claim a new world for himself.
One of the more interesting villains in the Pokémon games, Colress appears in Black 2 and White 2 as the new boss of Team Plasma. Alas, this is a means to an end; his goal is to find the ideal way to unlock a Pokémon’s inner potential while his anime counterpart is far less willing to listen to the hero’s opinion on the matter.
Colress works under Ghetsis in the anime by designing weapons for Team Plasma to force Pokémon into an enraged state. While in this state, they would also be subservient to Team Plasma’s every command. The worst part is that he’s so apathetic about the suffering his experiments cause — all that matters is gathering his data.
The mastermind behind Team Plasma, Ghetsis raised a young boy named N around abused Pokémon in the hopes of turning the boy against humans. However, the Legendary dragon, Reshiram, attacked his mansion, allowing N to escape and eventually meet Ash and his best traveling companions. Undeterred, Ghetsis shifted his tactics and commanded Colress to create a machine that could control the dragon.
While Ghetsis lacks the nuances of his game counterpart, he is still a terrifying force in the anime. Mind-controlling Pokémon rather than catching them through the traditional means adds an extra level of cruelty since the anime shows that Pokémon can choose to reject trainers if they wish. This just reinforces how Ghetsis sees Pokémon as nothing but tools for his ambition.
Usually, when a Pokémon turns to villainy in the anime, there is a reason for it. They’re either trying to find their purpose in life like Mewtwo, or they’re desperate due to a loss of food, homes, or a loved one suffering from illness. None of this is the case for a particular Malamar from the X & Y arc.
This mysterious squid-Pokemon uses its psychic powers to hypnotize people and Pokémon in the hopes of creating an army for world conquest. Unlike most megalomaniacs, Mamalar knows its weaknesses and would rather flee or recruit other Malamar to its cause than stand and fight. By the end of the Kalos arc, the trio is still at large, waiting for their next chance at world domination.
In his youth, Lysandre devoted his life to helping the downtrodden and less fortunate. However, when the people he helped began to grow dependent and expecting of him, it hardened his heart and made him think humanity was inherently selfish. This set him on a path to capture the Legendary guardian of nature, Zygarde, one of the most powerful Pokémon, and use its power to restart the world.
Lysandre covers all bases for a good villain: he can manipulate others in desperate situations to aid in his goals, and when exposed, is still capable of holding his own in battle. This is best seen in his fight against Alain and Ash, where his Mega Gyarados manage to defeat four of Ash’s six team members. He ends up being one of the few examples of how the anime actually improved on the games and gave Kalos fans a glimpse of what a Pokémon Z could have offered.
The Alola region’s resident troublemakers are Team Skull, but nobody takes these street punks seriously. Their leader, Guzma, the self-styled greatest trainer in Alola, is another matter. When Professor Kukui announced the forming of Alola’s first Pokémon League, Guzma decided to enter to prove his strength and destroy Kukui’s dream.
What makes Guzma a true villain is how relatable he is. It’s revealed that he feels inferior to others due to his inability to master Z-Moves and would rather run away from a fight he can’t win than face the humiliation of defeat. This means that when he battles, he pulls no punches and makes sure that both Pokémon and trainer are crushed physically and mentally.
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