The adorable pocket monsters themselves may always have been the stars, but Pokémon's Gym Leaders are still among the most popular characters in the franchise. And why wouldn't they be? The Gym Leaders are the player's obstacles to glory. Each one has a unique design, personality, and on-point theming. They're just as memorable as some of the Pokémon they battle gamers with.
But the Gym Leaders are not just challengers to be overcome. Much like everything else in Pokémon, every Gym Leader has a backstory and deep lore behind them. Deep lore that gets kind of messed up in some cases. Being a Gym Leader is pretty cutthroat it turns out. Looking at all the different adaptations: games, anime, and manga, we've dug up some of the juiciest details.
These are 20 Disturbing Facts About The Pokémon Gym Leaders.
20 Pokémon PTSD
Lt. Surge doesn't have that rank for show. He actually is a retired lieutenant of the Unova Region (originally American) military. More than that, he's a combat veteran. The details are sketchy, but Surge fought in a war where electric-type Pokémon saved his life. He might have some PTSD too, as others describe him as cautious and his gym is filled with traps.
19 Whip It Good
The early development of Pokémon was pretty wild. Many elements were dropped before release. The craziest might be that Gym Leaders originally used whips on their Pokémon. The idea in the early game was that trainers had to fight Pokémon themselves to capture them, like Lion Tamers. The only remnant of this is Sabrina holing a whip in her original sprite.
18 The Forgotten Gym Leader
Anyone around in the early days of Pokémania will tell you that Brock is the first Gym Leader. Turns out though, this wasn't always the case. In 2015, series illustrator Ken Sugimori revealed some early concept art on Twitter. It showed an unused character design next to Brock and Misty numbered 1, 2, and 3. This forgotten character might have been the original first Gym Leader.
17 The Air's Thin Up There
There's something... off about Fortree City's Winona. The first time players meet her, she's climbed up a massive communications tower to feel the wind in her hair. Bystanders even comment on how reckless and dangerous it is. While this could be to show she's a "Bird Brain," because she uses Flying-types, it's also possible Winona's brain has suffered from oxygen deprivation at those high altitudes.
16 Volkner's Depression
Volkner has a very unique problem. He's depressed because he's too good at something. As Sunyshore City's Gym Leader, he's desperate for an opponent he can't just beat in two seconds. Because of this, he's turned all his attention to renovating his gym's electrical grid, wreaking havoc on the city. Volkner's causing rolling blackouts in a city covered in solar panels. It's that bad.
15 The Scent Of Sleep
Of the original Kanto Gym Leaders, Erika is the most laid-back. She has something of a bad reputation for dozing off in the middle of conversations. This might not be entirely her fault though. Erika specializes in Grass-type Pokémon, and the powders and spores they give off have given her a form of narcolepsy. It takes a strong battle to wake her up.
14 The Poison Ninja Master
Several things about Koga point to some shady business from him. First of all, there's the fact that he's a ninja master. That wouldn't raise many eyebrows, but Koga also specializes in Poison-types. Flavor text also describes him as an expert potion maker. Then remember ninjas used poison to carry out assassinations. How was there an opening on the Elite Four for him again?
13 Criminal Conspiracy
Team Rocket is a major thorn in the Kanto Region's side. You'd think the Gym Leaders would be more invested in stamping out the organization. Well they might be if half of them weren't secret Team Rocket members. Giovanni's a given, but in the Pokémon Adventures manga, half of the Kanto Gym Leaders work for him. Lt. Surge, Sabrina, and Koga are Team Rocket underbosses.
12 Sabrina The Usurper
For all her infamy, Sabrina was not Saffron City's first Gym Leader. The city originally had a gym for Fighting-type Pokémon run by a different guy. Sabrina started her own gym and the two became rivals. Eventually, she battled the other Gym Leader and beat him handily with her Psychic Powers. He left town, starting the Fighting Dojo, and Sabrina stole his job.
11 We Need To Talk About Sabrina
Her immense psychic powers have always made Sabrina one of the more unnerving Gym Leaders. But the Pokémon anime upped the character's scary factor. Sabrina's father told Ash and co. of how she tormented him and her mother with her powers. Sabrina even trapped her mother's mind in the body of a plastic doll. Pretty tame by horror movie standards, but chilling for after-school TV.
10 Blaine And The Birth Of Mewtwo
Cinnabar Island's Gym Leader Blaine used to be a scientist for Team Rocket in the Adventures manga. His greatest project was helping to create the monster called Mewtwo. In fact, he used his own DNA to fill in the gaps of Mew's. He later left Team Rocket after a change of heart, but Mewtwo still vowed revenge on the bald quiz master.
9 Giovanni: Deadbeat Dad
Giovanni could probably fill out this list alone. The guy is basically Pokémon's equivalent of a mafia boss. But we'll go with a lesser sin of his. He's a deadbeat father. Fire Red & Leaf Green first mention that Giovanni has a child with red hair. Then we learn that Silver, the rival in Gold & Silver, is that child and despises Team Rocket because of his father's abandonment.
8 Well The Cat's In The Cradle
Parental abandonment seems to be a common theme among Gym Leaders. Misty's parents walked out on her when the stress of being Gym Leaders got too much for them. Brock's dad did the same thing in the anime. Falkner, the first Gym Leader of Johto Region, is missing a father as well. So he probably doesn't appreciate Janine bragging about her dad Koga to him.
7 Pryce's Secret Identity
At first glance, Pryce just seems like the cool old guy of the Johto Gym Leaders. He's got experience, but not much else. The version of him in the Adventures manga is another story though. That Pryce has a secret identity as Mask of Ice, Giovanni's successor as Leader of Team Rocket. Mask of Ice even tried catching Celebi to harness its time-travel powers.
6 Rivals Even In Name
After Giovanni's defeat, the main character's rival Blue takes over as the Viridian Gym Leader. Blue has had many names over the years, but one marks him as your rival from the start. Hidden data reveals that the Red and Blue's placeholder names in Red & Blue were "Ninten" and "Sony." "Ninten," of course, short for Nintendo and Sony for the PlayStation makers.
5 Blaine Versus The Volcano
Take note: Building a gym on an island with an active volcano might not be the best idea. Blaine learned that the hard way. Sometime between Red & Blue and Gold & Silver, the volcano on Cinnabar Island erupted, destroying everything. Blaine was left homeless and almost perished himself, forcing him to relocate to the Seafoam Islands. He hopes to rebuild one day.
4 Erika The Archer
She might be a sleepy head, but Erika can fight when it counts. At least, the version of her from the Pokémon Adventures manga could. That Erika was a trained archer, unafraid to use her bow to defend herself or her Pokémon. She joined with Brock, Misty, and Blaine to defeat the Elite Four and Team Rocket. Yes, she actually shot people with arrows.
3 Maylene's Greatest Opponent? The One-Armed Bandit
Maylene is a tough little scrapper, but seems a bit young to be a Gym Leader. The reason she works so hard at her job might be because of her dad. He spends all his time at the Veilstone Game Corner, playing the slot machines. He even mentions his terrible luck but keeps playing. It's implied he's a gambling addict.
2 Don't Tip These Waiters
After Pokémon Blak & White came out, a fan theory sprung up about the Striaton City triplets. Fans wondered if these three waiters were the same as Team Plasma's Shadow Triad, recurring minions. The biggest evidence was that the triplets weren't present with the other Gym Leaders when Team Plasma was taken down. Unfortunately, the theory was debunked thanks to a flashback in Black & White 2.
1 Elesa Likes Girls
Being designed for children, romance isn't a big part of Pokémon. Despite this, there have been subtle hints that Gym Leader Elesa likes girls. Flavor text mentions that she has a close relationship with fellow Gym Leader Skyla. As a model, Elesa is drawn to clothing shops with a "dazzlingly cute girl." She also blows a kiss to the player, no matter their gender.