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Ash Ketchum's Greatest Moments Throughout His Journey

Ash Ketchum has been the main protagonist of the "Pokemon" anime for over 25 years, starting in 1997. The video game franchise quickly caught on worldwide, with the television series premiering in the United States in 1999. It's gone on to become one of the most successful anime series of all time (via VG247), and has remained a staple of pop culture ever since. With every new generation of the "Pokemon" games and series, Ash goes along for the ride with players, spending each season exploring new regions and discovering all kinds of Pokemon. 

Despite this longevity, Ash Ketchum's saga is nearing its end. The most recent season of the anime, "Pokemon Journeys," was somewhat of a victory lap for the eternal 10-year-old. The season brought back many of Ash's old companions, from the original series' Brock and Misty to supporting characters like Korrina and Cynthia. Most recently, Ash Ketchum made worldwide news (via BBC News) when he finally won a Pokemon World Championship, fulfilling his goal from the series' beginning to become a Pokemon Master. 

This news was followed by the confirmation that Ash and Pikachu's journey in the anime was coming to a real end. The characters' story will be wrapped up with 11 final episodes in 2023. After this, according to EW, a new "Pokemon" anime series will begin, following brand new characters in the Paldea region of "Pokemon Scarlet and Violet." Before we meet these new protagonists, let's look back at Ash's brightest moments as a Pokemon Master-in-the-making. 

Ash witnesses his first Legendary Pokemon

The very first episode of the "Pokemon" anime, "Pokemon — I Choose You!" started Ash Ketchum's journey off on a strong note. After waking up late to get his first Pokemon, Ash arrives at Professor Oak's laboratory to find all three starters have been taken. In order to appease a disappointed Ash, Oak gives Ash the only Pokemon he has left: a rare Pikachu. Though this is the first time Ash meets the Pokemon he'd travel with for over 20 years, their bond is earned.

Throughout Ash's first day traveling through the Kanto region, Pikachu is disobedient and lacks trust in Ash, frustrating the rookie trainer. Furthermore, Pikachu ends up angering a flock of Spearow, forcing Ash to escape and take Pikachu to a nearby Pokemon Center, but their path ends up derailed in the rain. After witnessing Ash defend Pikachu on his own, the Electric-type Pokemon shocks the entire flock away, saving them both.

Once the sky clears, Ash and Pikachu witness a truly marvelous sight: a golden Ho-Oh flying through a rainbow. At the time the episode aired, the second generation of "Pokemon" games had not yet been released, so the appearance of Ho-Oh was one of the few times that a Pokemon preceded its video game debut with a cameo in the anime. Though this wouldn't be Ash Ketchum's last interaction with a Legendary Pokemon, its appearance symbolized the bond he had formed with Pikachu during the first day of their journey. 

A tearful goodbye between Ash and Butterfree

One of the most emotional episodes for longtime "Pokemon" fans came early into its first season. In the series' third episode, Ash catches a Caterpie, his first capture after Pikachu, which evolves into Metapod by the end of the episode. It evolves once more into Butterfree in Episode 4, becoming Ash's first fully-evolved Pokemon, and remains a valuable member of his team for over 15 episodes. However, that all changes with the heartbreaking 21st episode (via Crunchyroll) of the anime: "Bye Bye Butterfree."

The episode finds Ash, Misty, and Brock stumbling upon a flock of Butterfree on their route to Saffron City. Ash's Butterfree, naturally, is enchanted by them, particularly one pink-colored Butterfree it encounters. Together, Ash and his friends help Butterfree earn the affection of this special pink Butterfree, while also saving it from Team Rocket's capture. The bravery of Ash's Butterfree during this confrontation wins it the adoration of the pink Butterfree, and the two become mates.

Unfortunately, Ash's Butterfree finding its mate means its journey with Ash has come to an end. In a scene many "Pokemon" fans will shed tears at, Ash bids his first capture goodbye as it flies off into the sunset with its mate. Though the moment is loaded with emotion as Ash releases Butterfree back into the wild, fans can now be relieved that the two have recently reunited in the anime (more on that later).

Charizard finally begins to obey Ash

Charizard is another early capture for Ash Ketchum in the original series. Ash first meets the Fire-type Pokemon as a Charmander that's abandoned by its trainer, Damien. He subsequently becomes a solid member of Ash's party, evolving into Charmeleon. However, with evolution, the truant Pokemon stops obeying Ash's commands, a quality that continues after it evolves into Charizard. This conflict drives most of their interactions in the series, costing Ash several significant battles during his travels in the Kanto region.

This disobedience even carries over to the first "Pokemon" movie, "Mewtwo Strikes Back," as Charizard refuses to listen to Ash and preemptively attacks Mewtwo, engaging in a battle with its own clone. It isn't until Ash and his friends travel to the Orange Islands during the original series that things change between Ash and Charizard. During the episode "Charizard Chills," Ash and Misty encounter Tad, a Pokemon trainer who challenges Ash to a battle with his Poliwrath.

After Poliwrath easily defeats Ash's Charizard due to its disobedience, Ash spends the night helping an injured Charizard recover while lamenting its lack of trust in him. Remembering how much Ash has done for the Pokemon since it was a Charmander, Charizard has a change of heart, finally deciding to listen to Ash after refusing to do so for close to 80 episodes. After this, Ash and Charizard are an unstoppable team, though Ash eventually leaves the Pokemon at Charicific Valley before heading to the Johto region. 

Ash's final battle with Gary Oak

Gary Oak becomes Ash Ketchum's first rival in the very first episode of the "Pokemon" anime, motivating Ash to become a stronger trainer every time they cross paths (via Crunchyroll). Although Gary defeats Ash in battle every time they square off, Gary isn't immune to loss himself; he competes in the Indigo Plateau Conference, though he's eliminated after losing to a trainer named Melissa and her Golem. To the surprise of Ash and his friends, Gary places lower than Ash in the conference. 

Nevertheless, Gary continues to best Ash every time they battle subsequently, until Ash nears the end of his travels in the Johto region. In the two-parter "The Ties That Bind" and "Can't Beat the Heat!," Ash and Gary face each other as rivals in a Full Battle for the last time. It's during this battle that Gary reveals his starter Pokemon was a Squirtle, which by now has fully evolved into Blastoise. The battle comes down to Gary's Blastoise and Ash's Charizard, which places Ash at a type disadvantage.

However, Ash's bond with his Charizard is stronger by this point, and he finally defeats Gary in battle. Gary elegantly accepts the loss, promising to cheer Ash on in the future. Although this isn't the last time Ash and Gary battle each other in the anime (per IGN), it's their last match as formal rivals. In the future, Gary would challenge Ash to a battle as his friend. 

Ash conquers the Battle Frontier

Ash Ketchum's travels in Hoenn during "Pokemon the Series: Ruby and Sapphire" are the first big departure in his journey, leaving behind his longtime companion Misty for young upstart May and her brother Max, while Brock still hangs around. This series also sees Ash achieving some of his best accomplishments as a burgeoning Pokemon Trainer (via NintendoWire), particularly in the season titled "Pokemon: Battle Frontier." One of Ash's greatest moments in this series comes during his battle against Brandon, the chief of the Battle Frontier's Battle Pyramid.

The Battle Frontier, which debuted in the third generation games as a test of players' strength, is led by several Frontier Brains, who function like final bosses for each section of the in-game area. In the anime, it works similarly, with Brandon being Ash's final step before becoming a Hall of Famer at the Battle Pyramid. Their intense battle, which begins in the episode "Gathering the Gang of Four," finds Ash summoning three of his past Pokemon: Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Charizard. 

Ash and Brandon engage in battle, wherein Brandon utilizes the Legendary Titan trio of Regirock, Registeel, and Regice. Even though Ash is certainly at a disadvantage, he manages to defeat Brandon's Regice with his Pikachu, securing his place in the Battle Frontier Hall of Fame. This accomplishment also allows Ash the opportunity to become a Frontier Brain himself, though he nobly turns down the offer in order to continue traveling. 

Ash enters his first Pokemon Contest against May

Ash and May become very close during their time traveling together in the Hoenn region. This is likely due to them having completely different goals: while Ash wants to become a top-tier Pokemon Trainer, May's interests lie in competing in Pokemon Contests. However, like all "Pokemon" anime series, their journey together must come to an end at some point. During the episode "Once More With Reeling!," Ash decides to step into May's world and enters his first Pokemon Contest in Terracotta Town.

Ash and May both perform well during the Appeals Round, with Ash earning praise from fans for his performance in the Ever Grande Conference earlier in the series. They end up advancing to a Contest Battle, pitting the longtime friends against each other in their first Full Battle. While this should be an easy win for Ash, his game is thrown off when, right before the battle, May's Combusken evolves into Blaziken, providing her with a valuable teammate to counter Ash's Sceptile.

The battle reaches a climax in the following episode, "Home is Where the Start Is!," revealing that May and Ash have tied. Instead of continuing to fight, the two split the Terracotta Medal between themselves. Though it's a heartwarming end to Ash's first Pokemon Contest, it's a bittersweet moment as it marks the end of Ash and May's journey together. After parting ways, Ash sets off for Sinnoh, while May decides to travel to Johto.

Ash comes to the rescue of a kidnapped Riolu

Ash's journeys in Sinnoh parallel many of his adventures in Hoenn, replacing May and Max with Dawn, whose dream is to be a Pokemon Coordinator like her mom. The journey also sees Ash not only catch many powerful Pokemon, but befriend them as well. That's where viewers find Ash and his companions at the start of the one-hour special "Pokemon Ranger and the Kidnapped Riolu!" Coinciding with the release of "Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia," the special features Ash meeting the Nintendo DS game's protagonist, Kellyn. 

Kellyn runs into Ash and his friends as the two groups are pursuing an injured wild Riolu, who surprises them with his use of the Aura Sphere move. They soon discover that this special Riolu is a runaway captive of Pokemon Hunter J, a recurring character in the "Diamond and Pearl" series. J traps Ash and Riolu with her Salamence, forcing Kellyn to help rescue the trainer. Using his aura bond with Riolu, Ash and his friends follow its location and free the Pokemon, sending Hunter J scurrying off. 

While Ash doesn't get to keep Riolu, instead returning the Pokemon to its trainer, he remains closely connected to the species of Pokemon, eventually getting one of his own (via The Gamer) in "Pokemon Journeys." For now, this two-part episode ends up being another intense encounter with Pokemon Hunter J, which results in Ash doing some good for another trainer's partner Pokemon. 

The Lily of the Valley Conference tests Ash's strength

Ash Ketchum's adventures in the Sinnoh region culminate in the Lily of the Valley Conference, where he gathers his strongest team yet, comprised of Pokemon he's collected throughout his adventures. The Pokemon League tournament finds Ash starting off strong and winning the first round with his Heracross. However, a looming threat hangs over the entire tournament: a mysterious trainer named Tobias (via The Gamer), who has entered using Darkrai, a Mythical Pokemon native to the Sinnoh region.

Nevertheless, Ash has enough on his plate as he faces off against his rival throughout the "Diamond and Pearl" series, Paul. Taking place over the course of several episodes, Ash's tournament battle with Paul is considered by many (via CBR) to be one of his best battle performances in the entire anime. Ash's team holds their own against Paul, but it's Ash's Infernape that shines. Infernape defeats Paul's last Pokemon, Electivire, ending the rivalry between Ash and Paul. Ash moves onto the semifinals, where he faces off against Tobias.

Although Ash doesn't last long against Tobias, he pulls off some impressive feats here as well. Ash becomes the first trainer in the tournament to knock out Tobias' Darkrai, thanks to his Sceptile. Nevertheless, Tobias' Latios proves too much for Ash's team, despite Pikachu managing to knock it out before fainting himself. Ash loses the tournament, while the rest of Tobias' team remains a mystery, but fans view Ash proudly for his growth in strength. 

Ash quells the Forces of Nature

Like many seasons of the "Pokemon" anime, "Pokemon the Series: Black and White" starts off with Ash venturing into a new region, ready and willing to explore and encounter all kinds of new Pokemon. Joined by Unova region Gym Leaders Cilan and Iris, Ash meets many Pokemon unique to the fifth generation games (per Den of Geek) early in his journey, including several Legendary Pokemon. The two-part episode, "Stopping The Rage of Legends!," finds Ash and his friends adventuring to the Island of Legends on a fetch quest for Driftveil City's Gym Leader.

While they're there, they encounter Lewis, a local who asks them to help summon the fertility god, Landorus. Unwittingly, the gang ends up summoning the chaotic forces of Tornadus and Thundurus, who wreak havoc on the island. As Ash and his friends attempt to calm the two forces of nature, Team Rocket plots to capture the Legendary Pokemon. Once Landorus arrives, the fighting stops, allowing Team Rocket to swoop in, only for them to be felled by Ash and his friends.

With Team Rocket sent blasting off again, fertility returns to the Island of Legends. This allows Ash to retrieve Revival Herbs and bring them back to the Driftveil City Gym Leader, Clay, earning an opportunity to battle the Ground-type trainer. Given that Ash rarely encounters Legendary Pokemon outside of feature films, this two-part episode features one of his most daring missions in all of "Pokemon the Series: Black and White." 

Ash helps take down Team Plasma with a mysterious ally

Ash Ketchum and his Unovan companions encounter Legendary Pokemon again, toward the end of their travels in "Pokemon the Series: Black and White." After Ash competes in the Vertress Conference, placing in the top eight of the Unova League, the anime's story begins to follow the Gen 5 games "Pokemon Black and White," as well as aspects of its sequels "Pokemon Black 2 and White 2." Soon enough, Ash and his friends meet the mysterious N, a green-haired Pokemon trainer who is determined to free Pokemon from capture by trainers. 

N proves to be a commendable ally to Ash. But things get more complicated when it's revealed that N was a former member of the villainous Team Plasma, led by the evil Ghetsis, who plans to awaken the Legendary Pokemon Reshiram. Ash and N team up to stop Ghetsis but fail, allowing Ghetsis to summon the Pokemon and control it. Since N has no Pokemon of his own, the ability to defeat Team Plasma lies in the hands of Ash's Pikachu and Charizard, who have returned to Ash's team for a brief period in the series.

Through their teamwork, Ash and N successfully stop Team Plasma after Pikachu frees Reshiram from being mind-controlled by Team Plasma's scientist Colress. Even though N's character arc in the anime isn't as interesting as his role in "Pokemon Black and White" (via TechRaptor), he and Ash make a great team. 

Ash's Greninja takes on a new form

Ash Ketchum has always grown close to his partner Pokemon, especially Pikachu, during his travels. During "Pokemon the Series: XY," however, he forms an extra-special connection with Froakie, a Water-type Pokemon he encounters during the first episode of his Kalos region adventures. Ash catches Froakie in the next episode, eventually evolving it into Frogadier, and then finally Greninja. As many "Pokemon" anime fans know, Greninja wouldn't be the final form of this Pokemon, as Ash would soon discover.

Ash first discovers this new form in the episode "Championing a Research Battle!," where Ash faces the Kalos region champion, Diantha, in a Pokemon battle. During the battle, Greninja morphs into Ash-Greninja, sporting a similar color scheme to Ash's own clothing and becoming incredibly powerful. Though he'd revert to his regular Greninja form after battles, Ash-Greninja would prove to be an incredibly powerful member of Ash's team (per The Gamer), despite Ash losing the Kalos League Championship.

Ash-Greninja is also significant to the anime since the alternate form was made available for players in "Pokemon Sun and Moon" through completion of the game's demo (via IGN). This special Greninja possesses the ability to Battle Bond, transforming it into Ash-Greninja after KOing one Pokemon. Not only does this form immensely boost Greninja's stats, but it was also the first acknowledgement of Ash Ketchum in the mainline games. Hopefully, with Ash's departure from the anime coming soon, the Pokemon will be attainable in "Pokemon Scarlet and Violet" at some point.

Serena says goodbye to Ash

Serena was a unique companion for Ash Ketchum during his travels in Kalos. The character initially meet at Pokemon Camp as kids, where Ash inspires Serena to overcome her fear of Pokemon. Later, the two encounter each other after Ash's Gym Battle against Viola and become fast friends, with Serena joining Ash, Clemont, and Bonnie on their adventure. Along the way, she discovers her desire to perform in Pokemon Showcase, mimicking a similar journey as Dawn and May in earlier seasons.

Where Serena vastly differs from Dawn and May, however, is that she secretly harbors a crush on Ash throughout their adventures. Even though Ash remains oblivious, they continue to motivate and inspire each other, becoming a fan-favorite team. However, Serena's crush takes a backseat as her Pokemon Showcase career continues, resulting in an iconic moment where she cuts her hair and changes her look, to the shock of her companions.

Nevertheless, as their journey together nears an end, Serena is extremely grateful for Ash's support towards her. As Serena plans to leave for Hoenn, she has an emotional goodbye with her friends. Just before departing, Serena gives Ash a kiss (it happens off-screen, though according to Polygon, creators have confirmed that this was implied), leaving Ash, Clemont and Bonnie in complete shock. Suffice it to say, this was a moment that had fans of the "Pokemon" anime all around the world cheering for the two. Hopefully (via Dexerto), their story in the anime has yet to end. 

Ash catches a Pokemon from another universe

"Pokemon the Series: Sun and Moon" was a huge departure for the "Pokemon" anime (via Forbes), especially for longtime fans. Rather than spend the series traveling the seventh generation's Alola region, it instead follows Ash becoming a student of the Pokemon School, befriending the in-game characters Lillie, Mallow, Sophocles, Lana, and Kiawe, as well as Professor Kukui, their teacher. Nevertheless, it took many mature approaches to the series, such as its storylines involving Pokemon dying (per Polygon). 

Nevertheless, the series also has its fun moments, as well as giving Ash some pretty incredibly feats to boast about. One of those occurs late in the series, after Ash and his classmates discover the existence of Ultra Beasts. Similar to their roles in "Pokemon Sun and Moon," Ultra Beasts are special Pokemon who come from another universe (according to Gamerant), sporting powerful abilities and stats. Ash befriends one of these Ultra Beasts, the Poison-type Poipole, who allows itself to be captured by Ash until they're able to return it to its homeworld. 

Despite becoming close with Ash's Pikachu, Poipole eventually does return to its own world, later reappearing in its evolved form, Naganadel (via ComicBook), and becoming a temporary member of Ash's team. Naganadel is even utilized by Ash during his championship battle against Kukui, before returning to its homeworld for good at the end of "Pokemon the Series: Sun and Moon." However, it will always remain one of Ash's strongest and closest partner Pokemon.

The Manalo Conference becomes Ash's first Pokemon League victory

"Pokemon the Series: Sun and Moon" also marked a significant milestone for Ash Ketchum after 20-plus years of adventuring in the world of Pokemon. The Manalo Conference serves as the first Pokemon League championship for the Alola region, which Ash and his classmates enter. The tournament lasts for over 10 episodes, featuring some of the series' best battles yet. However, it reaches a climax as Ash faces off against Gladion, the older brother of Lillie, in the final round of the tournament.

Starting in the episode "Final Rivals!," Gladion is off to a strong start as his Silvally bests Ash's Melmetal, and his Lycanroc is revealed to be a Zoroark in disguise, fooling Ash's Pikachu. Zoroark and Pikachu both utilize Z-Moves to take each other out, leaving Gladion and Ash both with one Pokemon remaining: each of their Lycanroc. It's an intense battle between the Rock-types, ending in a climactic moment where Ash's Dusk Form Lycanroc uses Counter to defeat Gladion's Midnight Form. 

With this victory, the Manalo Conference becomes the first time Ash has ever won a Pokemon League championship (via IGN). He doesn't get to celebrate his victory for long, however, since Team Rocket interrupts the ceremony by summoning a Guzzlord through an Ultra Wormhole, thrusting the newly-crowned Alola Champion into action. Ash later defends his title against Professor Kukui in an exhibition match, which he also wins. 

Ash masters Mega Evolution

"Pokemon Journeys: the Series" is somewhat of a victory lap for the "Pokemon" anime (via The Gamer), finding Ash and his new companion Goh traveling all across the Pokemon world rather than solely exploring the eighth generation region of Galar. While Goh's quest is to catch every Pokemon he can, Ash's journey remains the same: becoming a Pokemon Master. This also means that Ash spends most of the series assembling the best team possible, while also reuniting with several characters from past seasons of the anime. 

In addition to Ash's new captures in "Pokemon Journeys," including Dragonite and Gengar, Ash also hatches a Riolu from a Pokemon Egg he acquires. Eventually, Ash's Riolu evolves into Lucario during a confrontation with the Legendary Pokemon Eternatus in the episode "Sword and Shield... The Legends Awaken!" Once Lucario evolves, Ash takes him to Shalour City in the Kalos region, seeking the mentorship of Fighting-type Gym Leader Korrina, who possesses a Lucario capable of Mega Evolution. With her help, Lucario becomes Ash's first Pokemon to Mega Evolve (via ComicBook), proving himself a valuable member of his new team. 

Ironically, Ash's use of Mega Evolution in "Pokemon Journeys" extends past Mega Evolution's inclusion in the mainline series games (via Polygon). It feels right that Ash finally makes good use of a Lucario, as he's had a close connection with the Pokemon in the past, including the film "Pokemon: Lucario and the Mystery of Mew," as well as the kidnapped Riolu plotline in the "Diamond and Pearl" series. 

Ash finally becomes the very best, like no one ever was

After 25 years of traveling, battling, training, and learning, Ash Ketchum does the impossible in a recently-aired episode of "Pokemon Journeys." Ash competes in the Masters Eight Tournament, a World Coronation series to determine the strongest Pokemon trainer in the world. His opponents include the most powerful trainers in the history of the "Pokemon" franchise, such as former traveling companion Iris, as well as Champions like Cynthia, Diantha, and Lance from generations past.

Ash performs exceptionally well in the tournament, making it all the way to finals against Leon, the older brother of Goh. Their high-stakes battle spans four episodes, with Ash using his most competitively viable team yet: Pikachu, Lucario, Gengar, Dragonite, Sirfetch'd, and Dracovish. As Ash's former companions and friends spectate from around the world, the battle culminates in a grand climax: Ash's Pikachu versus Leon's Charizard. 

In a compelling, climactic moment for Ash's Pikachu, reminded of the bond it shares with Ash and all the Pokemon he's fought with over the years, Pikachu survives a brutal attack from Charizard, who subsequently faints. Ash has done it; he's truly become the very best, like no one ever was. Sadly, this achievement marks the beginning of the end of Ash and Pikachu's journey (via CBS News), but longtime fans of the anime will be incredibly satisfied to see Ash end on top. 

If that's not enough, Ash also reunites with a long-gone Pokemon (via ComicBook) upon returning to Kanto: his Butterfree. Cue the waterworks.