For the first couple of seasons of the Pokémon anime, it seemed as though Ash would always catch the same group of Pokémon in any one region. He would always catch the three starter Pokémon, always catch the regional bird, and round off his team with a Bug type for good measure. Thankfully, this trend ended before it could become a problem and resulted in some surprise catches on Ash's part.
Ash has in fact caught every starter Pokémon in Kanto, Johto, and Unova, as well as catching every regional bird except for Toucannon in Alola. But there have been several of Ash's team members that no one expected he would ever catch, even in the episodes in which he catches said Pokémon.
Updated on January 12th, 2023 by Tom Steel: Ash Ketchum has been the spearhead of the Pokémon anime since the very beginning, traveling through all the known regions and meeting new people and Pokémon along the way. Despite the franchise's English slogan of "Gotta Catch 'Em All," Ash is quite selective when it comes to the Pokémon that he catches, and he hasn't even acquired 100 unique species. However, some of the Pokémon in Ash's party have been truly surprising selections and additions. As Ash finally nears the end of his long and storied Pokémon adventure, this list has been updated to include more Pokémon that fans were surprised to see him catch and obtain.
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20 Lucario Is A Natural Fighter Who Has Formed A Strong Bond With Ash
Lucario has emerged as a standout Pokémon ever since its debut in Generation IV's Sinnoh region. The powerful Steel/Fighting-type Pokémon has even become a popular addition to fighting games like Super Smash Bros. and Pokkén Tournament. Curiously, Ash's first encounter with his Lucario was back when it was still just a Pokémon Egg.
The Egg reacted to Ash's aura and the troubled Riolu that hatched from it eventually learned to trust Ash. This renegade Pokémon exhibited serious trust issues, so it's a testament to Ash's character that Riolu allowed him to capture it, with it later evolving into Lucario. Lucario then ended up being a valuable asset to Ash's team, ultimately helping him win the Masters Eight.
19 Sceptile Gets More Attention As Ash's Sole Gen III Starter
The Gen III series of the anime was the first time that Ash didn't end up catching all three of that region's starter Pokémon. Instead, he only caught Treecko, while Brock had Mudkip and May had Torchic. The concept of Ash having a starter isn't unexpected in itself, but surprisingly, Treecko was only the second starter Pokémon that Ash fully evolved, despite being his seventh starter.
Treecko's final form Sceptile has proven itself as a great battler, prompting fans to question why Ash never used to fully evolve all of his Pokémon. Ash even used the middle form Grovyle for the Hoenn League, with it only evolving into Sceptile during the Battle Frontier arc.
18 Snorlax Has Been Valuable Since The Orange Islands
Snorlax is remembered as one of Ash's most powerful and capable Pokémon, but the common misconception is that Ash caught it during his Kanto adventures when it was actually during the Orange Islands arc. Snorlax adds so much to Ash's overall roster, with its tanky defense, overwhelming offense, and a diverse movepool all wrapped up in one Pokémon.
Snorlax's worth and value were felt the most during Ash's Johto adventures, which got fans wondering what could have happened if he had caught it back in Kanto, way before journeying to the Orange Islands. Regardless, Snorlax has proven to be a priceless battler for Ash.
Melmetal is a true juggernaut of a Pokémon that doesn't seem like the type of creature that Ash would turn to for his Pokémon party. Melmetal matured into one of Ash's strongest Pokémon, but the journey between the two of them began in a highly unusual manner.
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Starting off as an innocent Meltan, the Steel-type Alolan Pokémon forged an unlikely affinity with Ash's Rowlett, which caused it to sneak along with them. Ash eventually noticed the Meltan and the sense of community that it felt with the rest of his Pokémon, so he added it to his party. The addition of Melmetal remains a rare instance of Ash getting to use a Mythical Pokémon in battle.
16 Incineroar Is A Fiery Juggernaut Who Always Has Ash's Back
Incineroar was one of the more reliable Pokémon in Ash's Alolan party, but the impressive bond between Pokémon and Trainer was only because these two had experienced so much together. Ash first met Incineroar when it was just a wild Litten.
Litten's hunger pushed it to try to repeatedly trick Ash and company out of food, which primed Ash to catch the scamp. Ash instilled proper structure in Litten, which in turn helped it evolve into Torracat and finally Incineroar during a suspenseful showdown with another of the Fire/Dark-type Pokémon belonging to Kukui.
15 Ash's Dusk Lycanroc Overcame Tremendous Adversity
Pokémon has explored increasingly creative means of evolution throughout the series, which can result in some of the franchise's most coveted Pokémon. Lycanroc is a ferocious Alolan Pokémon that can take on a Dusk, Midday, or Midnight Form based on the time when it evolves.
Ash's Rockruff evolved into the rare Dusk Lycanroc after a traumatic altercation with Tapu Lele. However, Ash's connection with his Rockruff went back to its early days as a wild Rockruff. Professor Kukui and Ash grew concerned over the Rockruff's injuries and learned that it was prone to attacks. Ash helped the Pokémon refine its skills and went on to capture it as a member of his team.
14 Gliscor Is A Ferocious Flying Pokémon With A Sensitive Soul
Ash's Gliscor is arguably one of his most emotional Pokémon, and it has had to overcome some challenging hardships over time. Like some of Ash's most poignant Pokémon acquisitions, Ash first captured Gligar after he helped the Pokémon and its herd trying to glide against harsh winds.
Gligar initially struggled to thrive under Ash’s care due to its intense fear of battling. Not only did Ash help build confidence in Gligar, but the Pokémon evolved into Gliscor after surpassing its limits to help save Ash's life.
13 Noctowl Is A Rare Shiny On Ash's Roster
It isn't really surprising that Ash caught the regional bird of Johto. However, what made this Pokémon acquisition so surprising was that he didn't capture it while it was still a Hoothoot. This Pokémon's presence on Ash's team was made even more surprising by the fact that it's a Shiny, a trait not often seen in the Pokémon anime.
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Ash's Shiny Noctowl is also significantly smaller than the standard breed. A typical Noctowl would be close to Ash's height, but this variety is substantially smaller, which has created some cute character dynamics for the team. As Ash nears the end of his Pokémon journey, Noctowl remains his only Shiny acquisition.
12 Noivern Is A Rare Dragon Type That Ash Raised From An Egg
Egg Pokémon have appeared in most of the generations ever since Misty obtained Togepi, and in the XY series of the anime, Ash got his hands on an Egg when his Hawlucha found it. An adorable Noibat hatched from the Egg, which Ash eventually worked out would later yield him a powerful Noivern.
Noivern became the baby of the party, with Hawlucha in particular looking out for it and protecting it when needed. Despite its general inexperience, Noivern was a surprising part of Ash's Kalos team, as very few could have predicted that such an intimidating Dragon type could spawn from the Egg Pokémon trope that so often introduces cute species.
11 Poipole Is An Ultra Beast That Stuck Around For A While
During the Sun & Moon season of the Pokémon anime, Ash caught a handful of Ultra Beasts while attempting to return them to Ultra Space. Ash's chivalry here was par for the course, but what came as a greater surprise was that he ended up keeping one of those Ultra Beasts on his team by the end of the excursion.
Ash acquired Poipole, who became one of Ash's best Pokémon before it ultimately wound up back in its homeworld. Ash and Poipole accomplished a lot together and the two were later reunited during an opportune moment when Ash was in dire need of a sixth Pokémon for his exhibition match against Kukui. It was such a formative battle for Poipole that it evolved into Naganadel.
10 Gible Is A Powerful Pseudo-Legendary Pokémon
Ash caught some left-field Pokémon before he reached Sinnoh, such as his Krabby and Snorlax, but Gible was an entirely different class. Ash has still never evolved Gible, but the fact that he has had a pseudo-legendary Pokémon in his party for any extended period of time at all is a huge showcase of his development as a Pokémon Trainer.
Gible spent most of its time on Ash's team and was content to latch onto Ash's fellow Pokémon with its gigantic mouth. Gible got a proper chance to shine during Ash's participation in the Sinnoh Pokémon League. There, Gible proved just how powerful it can be through its newly mastered Draco Meteor attack.
9 Roggenrola Is Unlike Ash's Usual Quick & Frail Pokémon
The Unova region was kind of a reboot for Pokémon. There were many old tropes that returned, such as Ash's incompetence in battle and how the new area became the perfect environment for him to catch more Pokémon than ever before. This meant that much of Ash's team didn't experience the same growth as past members, but there were still some notable exceptions.
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Unova became an important region for Ash because it was where he caught his Roggenrola. Roggenrola was a significant step up from his standard battle partners, and it pushed Ash to develop new strategies since Roggenrola was markedly different from a Pokémon like Pikachu.
8 Snorunt Is One Of Ash's Few Ice-Type Pokémon
Lapras, who Ash briefly traveled with during his time on the Orange Islands, used to be the only Ice-type Pokémon that Ash had in his party. All of this changed after Ash arrived in the Hoenn region, and he encountered a wild Snorunt. Ash experienced some bad luck with plenty of Pokémon, and Snorunt was no different.
This pesky Pokémon attempted to make off with Ash's signature hat and Gym Badge case. These intense origins led to Snorunt being one of the Pokémon that Ash rarely relied upon in battle. However, Ash began to recognize the value in this creature after its mastery of the Ice Beam technique culminated in it evolving into a Glalie.
7 Tauros Was Caught In A Controversial Episode That Was Banned
While visiting the Safari Zone, Ash made off with a whole herd of the Normal-type Pokémon Tauros, albeit with many of these captures being unintentional on his part. The pack of Tauros that Ash caught became a running joke in the episode, but any of these Pokémon in Ash's party confused North American audiences.
The original Pokémon anime episode where Ash caught Tauros, "The Legend of Dratini," wasn't initially aired outside of Japan due to questionable subject matter. This caused a good deal of confusion in the anime's English-speaking fans when Ash's Tauros seemingly showed up out of nowhere in "Showdown at the Poké Corral."
6 Dragonite Quickly Became An Affectionate Member Of Ash's Team
Ash achieved serious success at the Alola League, which prompted an unexpected identity crisis as he considered his future. So much of Ash's earliest adventures were defined by his desire to win the Pokémon League, which he eventually did. Ash began to work for Professor Cerise to locate the mythical Dragonite Island, which led to a chance encounter with a struggling Dragonair.
Ash formed an affinity with this Dragonair, who lacked flight and vital Dragon-type attacks. Ash's time with the Pokémon, as well as his efforts to save it from Team Rocket's wicked ways, resulted in its passionate evolution into Dragonite. Ash left the island with a new level of self-confidence, but also an extremely affectionate, powerful Pokémon.
5 Ash's Galarian Farfetch'd Served As A Sparring Partner For Riolu
The Pokémon Journeys anime series teased through copious promotions that a Riolu would be joining Ash's party. Audiences were expecting this capture, but Pokémon Journeys threw a curveball at its crowd when Ash also obtained a new spin on an old favorite: Farfetch'd. Ash came across Kanto's Farfetch'd several times, but never managed to capture one.
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In Journeys, however, Ash managed to catch himself a Galarian Farfetch'd. Ash's Galarian Farfetch'd had an ornery personality, but those it trusted become lifelong friends. A particularly cute dynamic formed between Ash's Farfetch'd and Riolu, who became sparring partners and helped each other grow stronger until they eventually evolved into Sirfetch'd and Lucario respectively.
4 Dracovish Was Ash's First Ever Fossil Pokémon
As Ash nears the end of his Pokémon journey, he has somewhat slowed down in his Pokémon catching efforts, but one of his most recent acquisitions is also one of his most surprising and powerful party members of all time. Dracovish, an ancient Fossil Pokémon who debuted in Generation VIII's Pokémon Sword & Shield, packed more power than Ash can handle.
Dracovish needed to prove itself worthy of a place on Ash's extensive Pokémon roster, and it did just that in notching big wins over the likes of Cynthia's Roserade and Leon's Rillaboom. Plenty of fans have legitimately struggled to capture Dracovish in Sword & Shield,which makes it particularly shocking that Ash casually captured this Galarian heavy-hitter in the anime.
3 Ash Caught Muk Early On But Rarely Used It
Muk isn't a Legendary or Mythical creature, and it's not a Pokémon that causes much of a stir in the video games. However, Ash's Muk is a more unique situation and the Sludge Pokémon formed a codependent attachment with its Trainer. Ash had no interest in catching a Muk and this act happened purely by chance, as his priority was simply to clear out an unruly pack of Grimer.
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However, his efforts to ward off their leader, Muk, confined the creature to Ash's Poké Ball. Ash first showed signs of embarrassment over his Muk, especially since it loved to climb onto him and occasionally swallow him whole. However, it turned into a valuable battle asset in Kanto and Johto on the rare occasions that it was actually used.
Ash Ketchum has rescued some abused and abandoned Pokémon over the years, but Chimchar's situation was something entirely new and intriguing. Chimchar was introduced early on in Ash's Sinnoh adventures alongside a rude Trainer named Paul. Paul quickly became a fierce rival to Ash, and it became clear that he was abusing his Chimchar in an attempt to reach its full potential.
Chimchar kept trying to do its best until eventually Paul released and abandoned it. Luckily, Ash was on hand to adopt it in an instant, and the rest is history. It eventually evolved fully into Infernape and got its ultimate revenge on Paul at the Lily of the Valley Conference.
1 Gengar Was A Long-Awaited Acquisition For Ash
With Ash's Pokémon journey winding down to a close, his Pokémon Journeys team will always be remembered for winning him the huge victory at the Masters Eight Tournament. Galarian Pokémon Dracovish and Sirfetch'd accompanied Pikachu in Ash's team, but it was rounded off by three fan-favorite species that had been around a long time yet kept evading Ash's grasp.
Lucario and Dragonite were huge additions in themselves, but Gengar was a surprising addition, given all the Gen VIII Ghost-type Pokémon that Ash could have caught in Journeys. Gengar brought the mischievous side to Ash's team, but it also brought an added depth with its friendly nature. It even helped Ash win the Masters Eight Tournament, with it knocking out Leon's Inteleon.
NEXT: Every Pokémon Generation, Ranked By Ash Ketchum's Team