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Pokemon Black and White: Every Gym Leader Ranked

The fifth generation of Pokemon was a time of great change for the series, with a move away from Japan-based regions, a string of new ways to battle, and 156 new Pokemon all being introduced in two short years. One thing that didn’t change, though, was the inclusion of eight great Gym leaders that make up the bulk of the games' major boss fights.

Pokemon Black and White do add some small twists on the Gym leader formula though, with new mechanics and an increased emphasis on the leader’s personalities, many of which play off the Unova region’s USA inspiration. Some of these changes are so great that many fans consider Unova's lineup of Gym leader to be the best the series has ever had. Here's every Gym leader in Pokemon Black and White, ranked from worst to best.

8 Burgh

Another generation, another Bug-type Gym leader. Burgh is the latest in a line of traditionally weak Gym Leaders, and is especially disappointing considering that he gets to run the Castelia City Gym.

The glitz and glam of the Pokemon equivalent of New York City isn’t really captured by a few insects, and Burgh is the perfect example as to why that is. Weak Pokemon and a meh Gym puzzle design do not make for a memorable fight. GameFreak gets some bonus points for having his name be a pun, though!

7 Brycen

Brycen is a cool Gym Leader that can’t overcome the limitations of the Pokemon type that he’s chosen to raise. Ice-types have never been the strongest of Pokemon, a fact that becomes even more clear with the Gen-5 only Pokedex that restricts the teams of the Unova Gym leaders.

With no Froslass or Abomasnow to back him up, Brycen is destined to get completely melted by your high-leveled team with minimal effort, a sad state for the seventh Unova Gym leader to be in.

6 Clay

You couldn’t have a Pokemon region based on the USA without a wild west gold prospector, and Clay is here to fit that bill. He’s a brilliantly absurd choice to have as the Driftveil City Gym leader, something that becomes ever more apparent as his Excadrill smashes your entire team into the ground time after time.

Every Gym leader should have a recognizable ace, and Excadrill is an excellent one. Even if you bring the strongest Pokemon Unova has to offer, it'll still give you a great challenge.

5 Lenora

In a game full of tough boss battles, Lenora is perhaps the most familiar. Her Normal-type Pokemon guard the Nacrene City Gym badge, and come equipped with moves that are anything but ordinary. Those that are still scarred from Whitney’s Miltank will have to get ready for a new nightmare – Lenora’s Watchog.

Watchog knows how to use Retaliate, a move that doubles in power if you’ve just knocked out one of Lenora’s Pokemon, effectively punishing you for doing a good job. Time to get grinding!

4 Skyla

Skyla is the best Flying-type Gym leader that has ever appeared in the Pokemon series, and it's not even close. As well as a strong team of Flying-type Pokemon, she also brings a strong personality that is different from the typical Pokemon trainer.

Rather than being solely focused on Pokemon battling, Skyla spends her free time as an engineer, even going so far as to build the cannons that shoot you around the Mistralton City Gym building. It's great to see a Gym leader that gets a fleshed-out personality in the games, rather than just the anime. Hopefully Game Freak will aim to create more leaders like Skyla in the upcoming Pokemon Scarlet and Violet.

3 Elesa

Elesa runs the Nimbasa City Gym and is far tougher than she looks. She's easily the hardest Gym leader in Black and White, and she may even be the hardest in the entire series. Her Emolga’s immunity to Ground-type moves stops you spamming Earthquake until you win, and the speed of her Zebstrika all but guarantees that it moves first.

Elesa is so strong that it almost seems like her inclusion is a cruel joke that’s being pulled on you. Thought you could win just by bringing a Ground-type? Think again.

2 Chili, Cilan and Cress

Chili, Cilan and Cress are the three trainers that guard the Striaton City Gym badge. In an amazing twist on the Gym formula, the Gym leader you’ll face depends on the starter Pokemon you choose at the beginning of your journey. Each of the three trainers has a Lillipup and one of the three Unova monkeys.

The trainer you fight will always be the one with the monkey that deals super-effective damage against your starter. This forces you to learn about the type-effectiveness system without having a rival that never stops talking about it (I’ll never forgive you, Hop).

1 Iris and Drayden

Iris and Drayden are the Gym leaders of Opelucid City, a pair of trainers that symbolize the game's themes perfectly. The trainer that you’ll face depends on the version you’re playing, with owners of Pokemon Black facing Drayden, and owners of Pokemon White facing Iris.

Iris and Drayden differ from each other in just about every trait: their genders, ages, career standings, and personalities are all opposites. Crucially, though, the teams that they fight with are identical. Two people so opposite in circumstances end up battling in the same way, finding a middle ground in the most unlikely of places.

Iris and Drayden wonderfully encapsulate the message of Pokemon Black and White’s story: no matter our differences, we should all seek to find what can bring us together.

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