The Pokémon games had an incredible influence on me as a kid. They were my first games, and I continue to play them today for a lot of reasons. One thing Pokémon has always done differently than most other games is the franchise’s inclusion of female characters in positions of power as gym leaders.
For those who don’t know, in Pokémon a gym is a building where the player does battle with an elite trainer known as the gym’s leader. Often these gyms have puzzles, traps, and a number of less challenging Pokémon trainers. Even in the first Pokémon games, several gym leaders were female, and the representation only got better as the years went on. This is a list of my favorite female Pokémon gym leaders, all of whom are memorable or significant to me in some way.
#5: Roxie – First Appearance: Black and White 2
Appearing only in Black and White 2, Roxie only has one chance to make an impression. Her gym is an underground music club, where Roxie herself leads her own band. She sports a purple and black bass guitar and fights with poison type Pokémon. Even though she’s only the second gym leader, she still leaves an indelible impression.
Not only is she incredibly cool, she also overflows with confidence that translates into encouraging the player even in the middle of battle. After she is defeated she says that she at least gave it her best shot and feels ready to keep going, and that you should do the same.
Especially because her battle can be quite difficult for so early in the game, it’s safe to say that Roxie definitely rocks pretty hard.
#4. Jasmine – First Appearance: Gold, Silver, Crystal
When the player first meets Jasmine, she is nowhere near her gym. Instead she is taking care of a sick Pokémon and refuses to battle until the Pokémon is feeling better. Jasmine sports the steel type and premieres the first Steelix in the games. Her gym also has no other trainers and no traps or puzzles for challengers to overcome.
This is what made Jasmine so memorable for me. She is unique from other gym leaders in her shy, mellow, and caring demeanor. Being the only gym leader to come close to matching my personality, I always felt connected with her and her affinity for solitude. Although her battle never seemed particularly challenging, Jasmine still made a mark on my childhood.
#3. Flannery – First Appearance: Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald
I remember the first time I entered Flannery’s gym while 10-year-old me played through Pokémon Sapphire. It immediately had at atmosphere like no other gym I could remember. It was smoky and brown, with small hot springs sprinkled throughout acting as teleporters. It didn’t surprise me then that Flannery herself was one of the most fun and interesting battles that I had participated in.
Flannery is truly a badass. Using skills inherited from her grandfather, she erupts with both skill and personality. Despite being a brand-new gym leader, she can put up fight with her fire-type Pokémon.
Her persona as a fiery, passionate woman created an image that will be forever burned into my mind.
#2. Sabrina – First Appearance: Red, Blue, Yellow
Oh, Sabrina. The cause of many a child’s frustration. Arguably one of the hardest gym leaders ever, Sabrina uses a team of psychic-type Pokémon, and because of some oversights on the part of the game’s developers, psychic-types were virtually invincible in that first generation of games.
Sabrina herself is one of the more interesting characters of the Pokémon universe. She apparently has actual psychic powers, starting with bending a spoon as a small child. She has developed her powers so that she can now telepathically communicate with her Pokémon, giving her a bond with her Pokémon like no other trainer can have.
The battle against Sabrina is one that has stayed with anyone who played the games as a child. Her seeming invincibility, the confusing gym layout, mysterious persona, and the satisfaction of finally beating her adds up to a character that left an impression (or maybe scar) that even hypnosis can’t remove.
#1. Clair – First Appearance: Gold, Silver, Crystal
Clair is by far the most intimidating gym leader I ever battled. Her gym is filled with lava, and she commands terrifying dragon-type Pokémon. I distinctly remember getting wrecked by her entire team multiple times in a row, to my great frustration. And then when I finally beat her, she decides that I have to do an extra challenge before I could get the hard-earned badge.
She is stubborn, self-centered, and frightening, characteristics that women aren’t typically given in media meant for children. For me, this meant that Clair continues to stick out in my mind as the coolest and strongest gym leader of all the Pokémon games. Who doesn’t remember getting absolutely schooled by her Kingdra or literally praying that her next attack would miss?
The Pokémon games taught me a lot of things about strategy and logic, but through characters like Clair they also showed me at a young age that women can be just as interesting, strong, and nuanced as their male counterparts.
Joel Wallick is currently pursuing a degree in film studies at Bowling Green State University with an undecided minor. He has been gaming since early childhood, beginning with Pokemon Silver.