With over 1,000 total episodes out, Pokémon viewers have seen Ash Ketchum travel far and wide on his journey, encountering and befriending hundreds of different characters and Pokémon over the years. Countless moments, spread across a variety of Pokémon leagues and gyms, speak to his likability. Despite loads of entertaining side characters and Pokémon, Ash cannot help but showcase why he is such an iconic protagonist every time he is on-screen.
Given Ash’s propensity for heroics, it should come as no surprise that the Pokémon anime is brimming with examples of him stealing the spotlight. However, even among these episodes, some special moments stand above the rest.
10 Ash Protects Pikachu In The Very First Episode
One of Ash’s shining moments is in the very first episode of the Pokémon anime. After receiving his very first Pokémon, Pikachu, from Professor Oak, Ash is crestfallen to find out that Pikachu refuses to follow any of his commands. However, later that evening Ash sacrifices his own health to protect Pikachu from a flock of angry Spearows, winning over his new companion and creating the bond that has now become iconic across the world.
Something about watching Ash pedal as fast as he can, surrounded by pecking Spearows and lightning strikes, still tugs at the heartstrings of Pokémon viewers all these years later. Pikachu might be the most-loved Pokémon, but here Ash proves that he is the true star of the show.
9 Ash Proves The Value Of His Approach To Training
Ash may have several rivals, but none are as much of a natural foil as his Sinnoh opponent, Paul. Whereas Ash leads with love and appreciation when interacting with his Pokémon, Paul instead treats his companions with a dictatorial tone and callous attitude. Eventually, this approach backfires, as Ash’s Pokémon clearly value their relationship with Ash and push past their limits to help him defeat his rival for the first time.
What makes this moment in the Pokémon anime even more cathartic is that Ash rescued Infernape because Paul abandoned them as a Chimchar, setting up some poetic justice for when it helps take down Paul’s final Pokémon, Electivire.
8 Ash Sacrifices Himself Against Mewtwo
One of the saddest scenes in Pokémon history, very few events in the series bring tears to watchers’ eyes like seeing Ash sacrifice himself in Pokémon: The First Movie. Despite being surrounded by Mew, Mewtwo, and a battlefield of cloned Pokémon, Ash manages to keep all eyes on him by sacrificing himself in an attempt to stop the conflict between the two legendary Pokémon.
Thankfully, Ash returns to normal shortly after, but that doesn’t make watching droves of adorable Pokémon cry over his presumed death any easier.
7 Ash Finally Wins His First Pokémon League
After over 20 years of watching Ash come up just shy of winning his first Pokémon league title, viewers were ecstatic to finally see the main character receive the recognition that he deserves. His championship team, consisting of old-school staples like Pikachu and new faces like Incineroar and Lycanroc, brings life to every scene. Ash’s final battle against Gladion is a thrilling conclusion to his tropical adventures.
Ash has traveled to every region, won countless battles, and either caught or encountered almost every known Pokémon in existence. His moment of glory as a Pokémon League champion was long overdue.
6 Ash Defeats Long-Time Rival Gary
While Ash has developed several quality rivalries over his Pokémon travels, none have matched the notoriety of his relationship with the grandson of Professor Oak, Gary. Despite losing to Gary several times, Ash never gave up hope of beating his rival, and in the Johto Silver League, he received the final opportunity that he needed to achieve this victory.
Seeing Charizard stand victorious over Blastoise was not just unlikely — it was the culmination of the work put in by Ash over the course of several hundred episodes of Pokémon.
5 Ash’s Battle Against Katie Highlights His Quick Wits
Although many battles in Pokémon take place on neutral terrains, Ash’s battle against Katie in the Hoenn League placed him in some seriously unfavorable circumstances. Dwindled down to his last Pokémon, Ash was forced to use his Grovyle in an arena almost completely filled with water, and to make matters worse, his opponent was fielding Walrein, a Water and Ice-type.
After doing some quick thinking, Ash was able to trick Katie into commanding her Pokémon to freeze the water, giving Grovyle solid land to stand on and the opportunity they needed to finish off Walrein. Lots of battles in Pokémon showcase Ash’s Pokémon and their devotion to their trainer, but this is a great example of Ash’s aptitude and natural talent for battling against other trainers.
4 Ash Lucks His Way Into Discovering Thunder Armor
Tag-team fights and the unique pairings they inspire are certainly a treat when they appear in Pokémon, but the focus in this episode is less on the duos of trainers and more on the move that Ash discovers during the battle. With the Mossdeep Gym Leaders using Solrock and Lunatone, Ash tosses out Pikachu and Swellow as his choice.
Ash’s two Pokémon are barely holding their own until he commands Pikachu, who is riding Swellow at the time, to use Thunder on itself and the Bird-type. Against all odds, this idea works and gives the two Pokémon Thunder Armor, providing them just enough help to get past the gym leaders. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart, and despite Ash being a pretty sharp 10-year-old, this is certainly one of those times.
3 Ash Goes Full Hero-Mode To Save Lusamine
Long-time Pokémon viewers have seen Ash perform some heroic deeds during his journey, but he has rarely faced the sort of grave circumstances that he did when saving Aether Foundation Leader, Lusamine. The mother of Ash’s acquaintances, Lillie and Gladion, Lusamine was unwillingly merged with an Ultra Beast towards the end of the main character’s time in Alola, leaving only him and her two children to save the day.
Against all odds, Ash and Pikachu were seemingly able to manifest a new Z-move that halted the beast in its tracks. The conclusion of this saga provides that regardless of the magnitude of the circumstances, Ash will always find a way to be front and center when saving the day.
2 Ash Finally Earns Charizard’s Respect
While Charizard is one of the most memorable companions that Ash has ever traveled with, some Pokémon viewers may recall that the Fire-type was not always such a reliable option. Similar to Pikachu’s initial behavior, Charizard grew reluctant to listen to Ash’s commands over the course of his evolutions, eventually costing Ash a defeat in the biggest moment of his young career: his first Pokémon League match.
Thankfully, after suffering a defeat and being frozen in a block of ice, Ash spends all night tending to Charizard and ultimately wins back the trust of the Pokémon, showing why he is a true Pokémon champion.
1 Ash Handles Losing To Alain Like A True Champion
Almost every Pokémon League tournament that Ash has ever competed in has resulted in a crushing defeat for the trainer, but he never came as close to winning it all as when he lost in the Kalos League finals to Alain and his Charizard X. Ash even enjoyed a type-advantage in the final contest, so this loss was particularly brutal.
However, Ash harkened back to his first-ever loss in the Indigo League by displaying maturity beyond his years, taking this loss in stride and furthering his relationship with his Pokémon in the process.