This is a comprehensive look at all the times playable characters from Pokémon’s core series and spin-off games appeared in the minline anime.
The Pokémon anime isn't well-known for showing off the games' protagonists. Of the 26 known, core series playable characters, only 10 of them have been featured in the mainline anime; that's less than half of them. This fraction becomes even smaller when accounting for the main characters from the spin-off games, some of whom have been featured in the anime. For how rare these characters are, it's always a welcome surprise when they actually do appear. With that in mind, here's a look at all the times player characters appeared in the anime.
To keep things as simple as possible, a few rules will be observed. Only protagonists up to Pokémon Legends: Arceus will be covered. This is primarily a search for protagonists in the main anime; they may appear in other animated media, but it won't confirm they exist within the same continuity as Ash. With that said, special episodes, movies, and other media directly related to the anime will be counted. Games in which the player characters are Pokémon won't be counted, either; of course they're in the anime. Characters from spin-off games will only be discussed briefly; the number of spin-off characters present is even smaller than the number of core series characters. Rival characters won't be covered as most of them aren't playable. With all of that in mind, here's where to see these characters animated.
Starting with Kanto, there are four playable characters from the mainline games. Red is the protagonist of Pokémon Red, Blue, Yellow, FireRed, and LeafGreen. Leaf was also formally introduced as a playable character in FireRed and LeafGreen. It should be noted that Green, despite bearing a striking resemblance to Leaf, is not the same person, therefore, she doesn't count as a playable character. Chase and Elaine are the protagonists of Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! Retroactive continuity has given the Kanto Region quite the collection of protagonists.
While Red never made an appearance in the anime proper, it's widely recognized that Ash is meant to stand in for him; the two of them even share a lot of their Pokémon, including Charizard, Pikachu, and Snorlax. Leaf, on the other hand, has no anime counterparts, nor do Chase or Elaine. Depending on how one views Ash, Kanto's representation is either really good or really bad.
Johto's representation is a little strange. Ethan, the male protagonist of Gold, Silver, Crystal, HeartGold and SoulSilver, appears in the made-for-TV movie The Legend of Thunder! However, his name was changed to Jimmy. What's more, another Ethan appears in the Zoroark: Master of Illusions movie; not only is his outfit based on his HeartGold and SoulSilver outfit, but he actually has Ethan's name, too. Apparently, Ethan and Jimmy, while based on the same character, are two separate people.
Johto's female protagonists are Kris and Lyra. Kris also appears in The Legend of Thunder! Like Ethan, Kris had her name changed to Marina. Besides the movie, she also made cameo appearances in the opening sequence of Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea, as well as Diamond and Pearl Episodes 10, 41, and 62.
Lyra arguably had the most impressive showing of the Johto protagonists. Not only did she actually meet Ash and co. in Diamond and Pearl Episode 143, "An Egg Scramble!," but she traveled with them until Episode 147, "Bagged, Then Tagged!" Next to Ash and his traveling companions, this is the most time a protagonist has spent on screen.
The Hoenn region features May and Brendan as the protagonist of Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire Emerald, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Brendan only made brief cameo appearances at the start of some of the movies, specifically Jirachi: Wish Maker, Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea, and Giratina and the Sky Warrior. He had absolutely no speaking lines, but seeing him in the anime was still cool.
May was something of a trendsetter. She was the first protagonist to become one of Ash's long-term traveling companions. She stuck with Ash throughout his Hoenn journey and his Battle Frontier challenge.
After Hoenn, May would make infrequent appearances throughout the anime. She reappeared in Diamond and Pearl Episodes 75 through 79 to participate in the Wallace Cup; it's worth noting that she changed from her original Ruby and Sapphire outfit to her Emerald outfit for her return. She also made cameo appearances in Black and White Episode 142 and Journeys Episode 105. She also has prominent roles in the movies Jirachi: Wish Maker, Destiny Deoxys, Lucario and the Mystery of Mew, and Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea; she makes a cameo in the end credits of I Choose You! This is one of the most impressive showings of any game protagonist.
The Sinnoh Region introduced Dawn and Lucas, the protagonists of Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. Lucas only appeared once in Giratina and the Sky Warrior as Brendan's opponent. As short as this appearance was, he did put up a good fight. It's also worth noting that Ash's outfit in this region bears a striking resemblance to that of Lucas.
Dawn more than made up for Lucas' absence. She was Ash's female traveling companion throughout Sinnoh. As such, she was also featured prominently in the movies The Rise of Darkrai, Giratina and the Sky Warrior, Arceus and the Jewel of Life, and Zoroark: Master of Illusions; like May, she also made a cameo appearance in the end credits of I Choose You! She came back for Black and White Episodes 85 through 93, as well as the same fantasy as May in Episode 142. She also appeared in Journeys Episodes 74-75 and 89-90, as well as the "Arceus, the One Called God" special. This not only makes her one of the female protagonists with the most screentime but also the most recurrent.
Unfortunately, protagonists, become much scarcer starting in Generation V. The Unova region was supposed to feature Hilbert and Hilda for Pokémon Black and White or Nate and Rosa for Pokémon Black 2 and White 2. None of these protagonists show up in the anime, though Ash's outfit somewhat resembles Hilbert's.
The Kalos Region has a much better showing than Unova. Unfortunately, Calem isn't in this series, either, though Ash's outfit looks a lot like his. Serena made up for this by being present all throughout the XY anime and movies; she also reappeared in Journeys Episode 105 and the end credits of I Choose You! She's become a fan favorite, so Kalos can definitely be considered properly represented.
Unfortunately, neither of the protagonists from Alola, Pokémon Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun and Und Ultra Moon have been featured in the anime. Ash dressed like Elio for the duration of Sun and Moon, but that's it. Besides that, neither Elio nor Selene have been spotted.
Neither of the protagonists of Sword and Shield have been seen either. This presumably has to do with Pokémon Journeys being a globe-trotting series rather than one locked to a specific region, namely Galar. Thus, Ash has no special occasion to meet up with Victor or Gloria. He doesn't even dress up like the former.
Rei made a surprise appearance at the end of the "Arceus, the One Called God" special. He was seen crafting Pokéballs in Jubilife Village, then he set out to explore the wilderness of Hisui with a Rowlett, a Cyndawuil, and an Oshawott. It's not much, but it's more than a lot of player characters get, including Akari of the same game.
Todd Snap of Pokémon Snap fame made a couple of key appearances in the early anime. He traveled with Ash and co. from Episode 55, "Pokémon Paparazzi!," until Episode 57, "The Breeding Center Secret." He made one more appearance in Episode 187, "Moving Pictures." He hasn't been seen since.
Many of the main characters from the Pokémon Ranger game series were also featured in the anime, especially Solana, the female lead of the first game. She appeared for a grand total of five episodes. She debuted in Ruby and Sapphire Episode 155, "The Green Guardian," as well as the "Pokémon Ranger — Deoxys' Crisis" two-part episode. She also made cameos in the Japanese opening Spurt! and the opening of Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea. She returned for another two-part episode in Diamond and Pearl— Episodes 71 and 72 "Pokémon Ranger and the Kidnapped Riolu!" For a character from a spin-off game, she was pretty well represented.
Kellyn, the playable boy of Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia, was the main Ranger featured in Episodes 71 and 72 of Diamond and Pearl. His mission was to protect a special Riolu from Hunter J. It was a fairly dramatic episode, which made it perfect for showcasing Kellyn in action.
Ben, the male protagonist of Pokémon Ranger: Guardian Signs, also got special treatment. First, he appeared in Diamond and Pearl Episode 169, "Pokémon Ranger: Heatran Rescue!" Shortly after that, he was featured in a two-part special based on the early events of his game.
These are the only spin-off characters explicitly featured in the mainline anime. Excluding the Rangers listed, Lunick (Pokémon Ranger), Kate (Shadows of Almia), and Summer (Guardian Signs) are all absent. Since they're all from spin-off games, it seems unlikely that they'll ever be featured in the main series.
Marc York is a writer for CBR. He possesses an understanding of comics, video games, and movies, and his true expertise comes forth when it comes to the topics of anime and manga. His knowledge spreads to the past, present, and future of both the anime and manga industry, especially when it pertains to titles under the Shonen Jump banner. Marc also likes to write about the movies he’s watched in theaters; these aren’t officially published articles, but they may be seen on his Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/marc.york.7