A bittersweet ending: Ash and Pikachu’s best moments, ranked

Ash and Pikachu celebrating
Image via The Pokémon Company

Earlier this month, The Pokémon Company announced that Ash and Pikachu would be leaving the anime after 25 years of adventures. Pokémon began airing in 1997, so there’s a lot to reminisce about as far as our main heroes are concerned, but in 2023, the Pokémon anime will shift its focus to a new batch of protagonists. Beginning Jan. 13, 2023, Ash and Pikachu’s story will come to an end with 11 episodes dedicated to their departure; this short epilogue will also close out Pokémon Ultimate Journeys: The Series, which began airing in December 2021. From then on, a new series will focus on Riko (whom fans believe to be Ash and Serena’s daughter) and Roy, her companion.

Before Ash and Pikachu sing their swan song, we have 25 years worth of iconic moments to look back on. So much has happened and there isn’t enough time to talk about everything, so we’re narrowing it down to the most emotional, impactful and substantial achievements and acts of friendship between Ash Ketchum and his beloved partner Pokémon.

7. Pikachu gets poisoned — “An Undersea Place To Call Home!

After encountering a Skrelp, Ash and friends cower behind a rock to avoid its mud shot attack. Pikachu leaps to their defense, but Skrelp attacks and poisons him in Pokémon the Series: XY Kalos Quest‘s second episode, titled “An Undersea Place to Call Home!” With Pikachu indisposed, the heroes are lucky that Skrelp had fled, but their primary concern is rushing the injured Pokémon to the nearest Pokémon center. Ash cradles Pikachu in his arms as they flag down the nearest vehicle and hitch a ride. It’s such a missable moment, but it’s a testament to the lengths at which Ash is prepared to go to protect his Pokémon — especially his best friend.

6. Pikachu defeats Tapu Koko — “From Z to Shining Z!

For anyone familiar with Pokémon the Series: Sun & Moon, they’ll be aware that Topu Koko, the guardian deity of Melemele Island and a dual-type Electric/Fairy Legendary Pokémon, features heavily throughout the series. Tapu Koko debuted in “Alola to New Adventure!,” where it identified Ash as the worthy owner of a Z-Ring equipped with an Electrium Z (designed to be used by Pikachu). In the 52nd episode of Sun & Moon – Ultra Legends, titled “From Z to Shining Z!” (otherwise known as “Alola’s Strongest Z! Tapu Koko VS Pikachu!!”), Tapu Koko becomes Professor Kukui’s partner in a battle against Ash and Pikachu, but ultimately, the latter emerges victorious with the infamous move known as the 10,000,000 Volt Thunderbolt. IT’s a monumental moment in itself for Ash and Pikachu to battle a Legendary, but Tapu Koko, an Electric-type Legendary, no less? That’s one for the history books.

5. Pikachu achieves Gigantamax form against Leon — “The Climb to Be the Very Best!

Although it was unheard of initially, Gigantamax Pokémon began appearing in the early episodes of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield and became a frequent plot device for the remainder of the series. In “The Climb to Be the Very Best,” the 13th episode of Sword and Shield, following the match at the World Coronation Series between Ash and Leon, a Drednaw Gigantamaxes in the stadium, but Ash’s Pikachu retaliates by Gigantamaxing also. Even though Pikachu is ultimately defeated, Leon and Ash pledge to rematch in the future (and, spoiler, they do!), so Pikachu’s ability to Gigantamax is explored further later down the line and eventually becomes the key to Ash’s World Championship victory. It’s proof of Ash and Pikachu’s unbreakable bond and the true extent of their power.

4. Pikachu leaves Ash? — “Pikachu’s Goodbye

Turning back the clock to much earlier episodes of the Pokémon anime, we find ourselves at “Pikachu’s Goodbye,” the 39th episode overall. Conjoined with Episode 40, “Pikachu’s Goodbye” was also the first-ever hour-long special. When Ash, Pikachu and co. encounter a group of wild Pikachu, Ash’s partner befriends the fellow members of his Electric-type Mouse Pokémon species. Ash and friends watch on as all the Pikachu play happily together, then a realization strikes Ash — Pikachu would be much happier without him. Convincing himself that he was forcing Pikachu to travel and battle with him, Ash demands that Pikachu stay behind, claiming that it’s for the best. In a heart-wrenching moment, Ash begins to run away, pursued by Pikachu, who jumps into Ash’s arms and professes (in his own way) his love for the young boy. There were differently tissues at the ready for this one.

3. Ash turns to stone — Pokémon: The First Movie

Back in 1998, just one year after the Pokémon anime debuted, we saw Ash and Pikachu opposing Mewtwo, a Psychic-type from Generation I, in Pokémon: The First Movie (also known as Mewtwo Strikes Back). When Mewtwo, who was wrong by Team Rocket’s Giovanni and suffered a traumatic past, plots revenge against humans and Pokémon alike, he invites some of the most notable Pokémon trainers from around the world to a remote island. There, he challenges them to battles against his genetically-enhanced Pokémon clones. In the final act, Mewtwo wages war with Mew, but as they both battle, Ash gets caught in the crossfire, resulting in his turning to stone. As a supposedly deceased Ash lies still, Pikachu and all the other Pokémon — clones included — grieve his loss, and by some miracle, the magic of Pikachu’s tears resurrects Ash. After witnessing the act of true compassion, Mewtwo agrees to end the senseless violence and flee along with his clones. Pokémon: The First Movie will forever be remembered, but this specific scene is a real tear-jerker.

2. Winning the Pokémon World Championship — “The Finals IV: “Partner”

In the 42nd episode of Pokémon Ultimate Journeys: The Series, titled The Finals IV: “Partner,” the unthinkable happened: Ash and Pikachu became the very best that no one ever was — Pokémon World Champions. See? The Gigantamax milestone came in handy in the end. Eventually, Ash and Leon — his long-time rival and former Champion of the Galar region — meet again in the Masters Eight Tournament, where Leon’s Charizard is defeated by Ash’s Pikachu, thus earning him the title of World Champion. After 25 years, Leon and Ash’s battle was a culmination of everything Ash had learned and perfected since he met Pikachu way back when. It’s touching to see Pikachu recover in the midst of battle after being greeted — in a subconscious white void — by all of Ash’s previous Kanto Pokémon, who cheer him on and inspire him to fight til the bitter end.

1. Escaping the heard of Spearows — “I Choose You!

Although one might think that Ash and Pikachu’s victory over Leon might be their greatest moment, there’s nothing more nostalgic and moving than Ash defending a mistrusting Pikachu in “I Choose You!” After waking up late, Ash hurries to Professor Oak’s lab, where he will be given the opportunity — as he’s now 10 years old — to choose his very own, very first Pokémon. Unfortunately for him, he was far too late for the choosing ceremony, so all the Pokémon were taken besides a stubborn, disobedient Pikachu. Ash reluctantly chooses Pikachu as his partner, quickly discovering that it hates being trapped inside a Pokéball. In order to appease Pikachu, Ash allows him to remain out of the Pokéball for the foreseeable future, but shortly after leaving Pallet Town, the pair encounter a pack of wild Spearows. When the aggressive Bird Pokémon attack, Ash and Pikachu defend one another and henceforth spark an unlikely friendship.