Pokemon is all about duality:Where there’s light, there’s dark. And alongside each iteration’s introduction of you, the player, as a shining example of good, it also offers up a team of dastardly villains to balance things out. Over the seven generations of core pokemon RPGs, we’ve seen just as many evil groups as heroes, each with its own outlandish manifesto and fancy bad-guy uniforms. So which of the Pokemon villainous teams is the best? Which one has the most noble cause? Which one comes out on top in terms of fashion sense?
We’ve taken into account several deciding factors when compiling this—the definitive ranking of the core Pokemon RPGs’ villainous teams. Motive, appearance, battle theme, you name it! We’ve done our homework. Let’s take a look at which evil Pokemon team rises above the rest.
7. Team Galactic
First Appearance: Pokemon Diamond and Pearl
The first villainous team on our list, and therefore the worst of the bunch, is Team Galactic. Upon planning out this list, Team Galactic were the only team I couldn’t remember a single thing about. This is, I think, mostly down to just how muddled and convoluted its motives are. For those who need reminding (and I bet you do), Team Galactic mostly runs around Sinnoh dressed in Elon Musk-concept space suits stealing weak Pokemon from equally weak trainers. As Team Galactic’s plans slowly reveal themselves over the course of the game, we’re introduced to its leader Cyrus. He’s a real nutball, on a quest to remodel the universe in his image... or something. For this, he obviously needs the help of the two legendary Pokemon Dialga and Palkia, a plan also employed by multiple team leaders over the years. Ultimately Team Galactic will go down as being largely forgettable, which is a shame because there’s a lot to love about Gen 4 (Leafeon, I’m looking at you).
6. Team Magma
First Appearance: Pokemon Ruby
We’ve chosen to split up Team Magma and Team Aqua from Gen 3, given their wildly different ideologies and the fact that one team’s design is quite clearly cooler than the other’s. Team Magma drew the short straw though, mostly because they’re huge science nerds whose plan to increase the landmass of the Pokemon world is both infuriating and kinda dumb. I will always appreciate the step up in stakes from Pokemon Gen 2's baddies to Gen 3 though. It’s hard to argue the conviction of a group that wants to enact permanent global climate change to mirror its ideals, especially when you consider that the last villainous team was just scamming people to get rich (more on Team Rocket later on). The introduction of Team Magma and Aqua was the perfect way to showcase Gen 3’s shiny new weather system, and the added depth given to Team Magma’s plans in Omega Ruby definitely helps legitimize its plans a little more. Out of all of the villainous Pokemon teams we’re shining a light on, I think Team Magma has my least favorite design of the bunch. The weird wool stockings, the red leather crop tops, the teany little horns on their hoods—Team Magma just look like they’re trying too hard.
5. Team Aqua
First Appearance: Pokemon Sapphire
Team Aqua are really improved upon in Pokemon Alpha Sapphire. The team’s motives are changed significantly, realigning them as a sort of militant animal rights activist group. Team Aqua essentially wants to flood the world to reset the world to a primordial state where Pokemon can thrive without human interference. It’s essentially just a mirror of what Team Magma wants to achieve, but it’s definitely refreshing to see alternating villain routes for both games in a generation. The main reason they just about edge out their rivals though is because their pseudo-naval-pirate style is the bomb. Team Aqua is all stripes, shanties, and bandannas, and I’m all here for it.
4. Team Flare
First Appearance: Pokemon X and Y
Nothing about Team Flare makes a lick of sense. It aims to make the world beautiful by using style, money, and tight-fitting red suits. At least, that’s what it says it's doing. The true motive is revealed around halfway through Pokemon X and Y, when leader Lysandre states that he’s after an all-powerful weapon which he’ll use to wipe out all life on the planet, except Team Flare of course. It’s essentially the plot of Zoolander, and when you combine this ridiculous motive with the group’s penchant for fancy belt-buckles and fashionista battle poses, it’s all a bit brilliant. I’ve always loved when Pokemon doubles down on its weirdness, and Team Flare is definitely the wackiest of all the wicked Pokemon teams we’ve had so far. Team Flare, I have no idea why you’re doing the things you’re doing, but damn do you sure look good doing it.
3. Team Plasma
First Appearance: Pokemon Black and White
Team Plasma will always be, in my mind, the villainous team with the most tragic backstory. At first, it’s quite easy to relate to the group. Team Plasma intends to separate Pokemon from humans, believing that Pokemon are treated unfairly. They present a compelling argument, and aren’t shown as a wholly evil movement in the same way other teams of past entries are. Predictably though, this apparent advocacy for Pokemon rights is all a front to serve the boss-man at the top. Ghetsis, the leader of Team Plasma intends to be the last Pokemon trainer in the world, and he does some pretty awful things to get it. This includes brainwashing a boy named N from a very young age into believing that all Pokemon are treated poorly by humans. Black and White 2 actually splits Team Plasma into two separate groups (with new group adopting a new design that is oh-so Metal Gear), further highlighting the ideological differences at play. There are genuinely good people in Team Plasma, good people that have been lied to and led astray by a seriously bad dude. Team Plasma just seems more real than other Pokemon villains, existing in a weird grey area between cult and traditional villainy. Also the knight-inspired outfits are fantastic, and the Team Plasma battle theme is an absolute jam, making this group more memorable than most of the others.
2. Team Rocket
First Appearance: Pokemon Red and Blue
Deep down, I know that Team Rocket are way too high on this list. To me though, they will always be absolutely terrifying, a shady underground movement made up of truly bad people. I’ll never forget learning that Giovanni, masquerading as a gym leader, was actually a bad guy. In a moment, the game pulled away the idea that gym leader’s were this shining example of good and humility. I’ve had trust issues ever since.
Team Rocket are undoubtedly iconic, mostly thanks to the colorful, pantomime version that appears in the Pokemon anime series. In the games though, they’re a dark, wretched organization, one that doesn’t think twice about amputating a Slowpoke’s tail as long as it fetches a decent price. Though Team Rocket’s place in Pokemon games has evolved over time. Its plans got larger in scope, its schemes more silly. The iteration shown in Pokemon Red and Blue however—the ones squatting in a casino basement scamming good people out of their money—that’s the version that sticks with me. Giovanni will always make me feel uneasy, the strange Team Rocket grunt sprites will always creep me out, and the battle music will always make my heart jump.
1. Team Skull
First Appearance: Pokemon Sun and Moon
Where Team Rocket always seemed to contrast with Pokemon's whimsical nature, Team Skull fits it perfectly. Team Skull are the bad guy team from Pokemon Sun and Moon, and can always be found dressed head to toe in ‘90s punk gear. The thing I love so much about Team Skull is that it’s comprised entirely of snot-nosed loser kids with something to prove. Many of its members joined the team after failing the Island Challenge, essentially a coming-of-age trial of sorts that proves your true worth as a Pokemon trainer. The Skulls aren’t bad people, per se. They’re just a bunch of down on their luck kids, trying to make an impact on a world that largely ignores them.
Pokemon Sun and Moon’s island setting is one of my favorite in any Pokemon game so far, offering up ludicrous island variants of iconic Gen 1 Pokemon, and exuding a more laid back and decidedly sillier approach than what we’ve seen previously. Team Skull’s all-black design is the perfect counter to the colorful world of Alola, inspiring the same level of respect you might feel when spotting a fully-clad goth at the beach. Team Skull proves that not all villainous teams need to crave world-ending catastrophe or universe-shifting peril. Sometimes they simply want attention, and never really register as anything more than a mild annoyance to the people around them.
That’s it for our ranking of the Pokemon villainous teams. Let us know what your order would be in the comments below, and stay tuned for more on Pokemon.