After 25 years on the air, the Pokémon anime has undergone countless evolutions. Yet the core premise of the series remains the same, following Ash Ketchum on his journey to become a Pokémon Master. The young trainer has remained steadfast in the pursuit of his dream. But what does it mean to be a Pokémon Master?
Perhaps catching every Pokémon would turn a trainer into a Pokémon Master. After all, "Gotta catch 'em all" was the show's slogan in its early days. Or, now that Ash has become a League Champion, he can now finally qualify for the prestigious title.
What Does It Mean To Be A Pokémon Master?
From the trading cards to video games to the show itself, collecting Pokémon has always been at the heart of the franchise. A trainer who has caught every Pokémon would have major bragging rights at the very least, considering the initial Pokémon count of 151 has ballooned to 898. Outside of the main series was Pokémon Origins, where the main protagonist Red -- inspired by the original Pokémon games -- worked to complete his Kanto Pokedex, even catching the Legendary Bird Trio and Mewtwo. Although it is non-canon as far as the main series is concerned, it is the closest example to a trainer catching all of a region's Pokémon, but was he considered a master?
Aside from catching Pokémon, trainers work with their companions to defeat other trainers, gym leaders and opponents. The world of Pokémon battling is very complex, with most trainers choosing to challenge gyms to test their strength. Once a trainer has collected all of a specific region's Gym Badges, they can enter a tournament to compete against others who have accomplished the same feat.
Pokémon Champions Aren't Masters
When looking to characters in the franchise who could hold the title of Pokémon Master, there are more than a few who spring to mind. Cynthia is the Champion in the Sinnoh Region, hailed as one of the most powerful trainers in the Pokémon canon with her infamous Garchomp. A trainer must collect eight Gym Badges, win the 64-person Sinnoh League Championships, and then defeat the Elite Four to challenge her.
Leon of the Galar Region currently holds the title of Pokémon Monarch. Introduced in Pokémon Journeys, the World Coronation Series allows over 10,000 participants from the entire world to battle each other, with the eventual top eight trainers competing in a final tournament. Leon, the reigning champion, is officially acknowledged as the strongest Pokémon trainer in the world as a result of winning this tournament. So, it sounds reasonable enough to say that the world's best trainer is a Pokémon Master -- right?
Will Ash Ever Become a Pokemon Master?
Despite winning the Alola League Championships and becoming the region's first-ever Champion, Ash does not consider himself a Pokémon Master. He is currently competing in the World Coronation Series -- ranking in the Top 99 at the time of this article -- in the hopes of challenging Leon, the reigning Monarch. Although, Ash himself has stated that winning this tournament would still only be a step toward becoming a Pokémon Master.
If becoming the strongest trainer in the world does not make him a Pokemon Master, what will? Ash does not actively seek to complete his Pokedex either, making it unclear what his goal actually is. The Pokémon Company itself declined to clarify what makes someone a Pokémon Master, opting to leave it up to interpretation. A term seldom used by anyone other than Ash, it's possible that even he hasn't decided what it means just yet.