From Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon encyclopedia.
A player character in the world of Pokémon is the protagonist of the games. Remarkably silent, player characters are the avatar of the player; it is left up to the latter to "fill in" what they imagine the character is feeling, thinking and acting, thus immersing the player within the world of the game.
The player characters of the core series games
In the core series games, the player characters are Pokémon Trainers beginning their Pokémon journey. They start their journey in their hometown by getting a starter Pokémon, a Pokémon that appears very early in their native region's Pokédex, and is usually of the Grass-, Fire-, or Water-type. The region's native Pokémon Professor will always give them this, as well as a Pokédex. Starting in Pokémon Crystal, players can also choose their character's gender. Usually, they have rivals who begin their journey at about the same time. Players take part in several events, and meet a great number of Pokémon and people during their adventure. A common target is to conquer a Pokémon League's eight Gym Leaders and Elite Four, and become the Champion. Several additional sidequests occur during and after each game's main plot.
To date, only one player character has reappeared from an older generation in a role other than that of the player. In Generation II and the Generation IV remakes, when Ethan or Kris/Lyra travels to Mt. Silver and reaches the deepest point of the cave, Red is found, utterly silent as he was under the player's control. At the time of these games' respective releases, Red's Pikachu was the highest-leveled Pokémon owned by an in-game Trainer (Barry's fully evolved starter Pokémon temporarily surpassed the standard set in Gold and Silver until the release of their remakes, HeartGold and SoulSilver).
Side series games
Three unnamed player characters appear in Pokémon Stadium series. Japanese-only Pokémon Stadium featured one male character, whose design was likely based on Red. However, for the sequel a brand new male character was created. This player was also in Pokémon Stadium 2, where he was given a female counterpart. She appears when a player uses a Pokémon Crystal Game Pak. Like the core series player characters, these three remain silent throughout the games.
Aside from the standard that many of the games' player characters take in their journey, there are also several other ways in which other player characters complete their journey, such as Wes and Michael in Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness who are called to defeat Cipher and free all of their snagged Pokémon from their Shadow state.
Pokémon Card GB series
In the Card GB series, Mark and Mint do not use actual Pokémon themselves, but cards instead.
Pokémon Ranger series
In the Pokémon Ranger series, Lunick, Solana, Kellyn, Kate, Ben and Summer are not Pokémon Trainers, but instead Pokémon Rangers. They use the Pokémon they have captured with the Capture Styler to help them along the way. They also have partner Pokémon that follow them wherever they go.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series
In the Mystery Dungeon series, players play as actual Pokémon. Unlike most other Pokémon games, the player actually talks, but is given pre-generated phrases to say to questions. In Explorers of Time, Explorers of Darkness, and Explorers of Sky, after defeating Dialga on the top of the Temporal Spire, on the way back to Wigglytuff's Guild, the player speaks in full sentences instead of silently thinking to themselves or having answer choices. This type of dialogue is used by the player on rare occasions, in small amounts, throughout the story of Gates to Infinity.
Pokémon Rumble series
In Pokémon Rumble, the player starts as a Toy Rattata.
In Pokémon Rumble Blast, the player starts as a Toy Pikachu.
In Pokémon Conquest, the player character is the Warlord of Ransei's kingdom of Aurora. Their objective is to unite the seventeen kingdoms of the region, stop Nobunaga, and meet the legendary Pokémon that created Ransei.
In the anime
In the anime, six of the player characters have been given major roles, four of them in the main anime series. Ash represents Red (his game counterpart), being based on him in appearance as well as basic history (Ritchie, by extension of resembling Ash, also resembles Red, although his basic history is unknown). At the beginning of the Advanced Generation series, May was introduced in order to better represent Generation III, as both Misty and Brock are characters who originated in Generation I. Likewise, at the beginning of the Diamond & Pearl series, Dawn joined Ash. Alternatively, in the Best Wishes! series, Hilda was not present, and instead, Iris and Cilan, Gym Leaders from the Generation V games, joined Ash. In the following XY series, Serena joins Ash in order to represent Generation VI.
Jimmy and Marina appeared in The Legend of Thunder! special, taking a similar role to Ash and his companions, fighting Team Rocket members to protect legendary Pokémon. While the protagonists of Generation II were not represented in Ash's party, these two filled the roles as the anime counterparts to Ethan and Kris.
Lyra appears in An Egg Scramble!, and joins the group for a brief time until Bagged Then Tagged!.
Ash and his friends have also encountered several player characters from the side games. Todd Snap was the first, and a special case, as he originated in the anime before appearing in Pokémon Snap. He joins the group for a few episodes at two points in the anime: once during the Indigo League and once during Johto League Champions. The others, Solana, Kellyn, and Ben are all Pokémon Rangers that Ash and friends assisted in rescuing and protecting Pokémon.
So far, Brendan has only made a few select cameo appearances at the beginning of some of the movies, while Lucas made a cameo at the beginning of Giratina and the Sky Warrior battling Brendan. Ethan also appears with a second counterpart at the beginning of Zoroark: Master of Illusions.
Serena is one of the main characters in the anime, having met Ash when they were kids at a summer camp held by Professor Oak. Soon after arrives in Kalos, she sees Ash facing Garchomp atop the Prism Tower on TV, and departs on a journey to meet with him. Even though she finally meets Ash, he doesn't initially remember her. Later on, Ash finally remembers her, and she joins the group on their travels.
None of the Generation V player characters have yet been seen in the main anime.
In the manga
Many of the characters appearing in various Pokémon manga are based on player and rival characters from the core series games. These characters usually play a major role within the series.
Pokémon Adventures features many cross-canon counterparts for most of the player and rival characters in the games, with Red being based on his game counterpart. This is also the case for his two fellow Kanto Pokédex Holders. The same applies for nearly all other main characters in the series; Gold, for example, is based on the then-unnamed player character Ethan. However, because the Yellow version, the fourth installment to the first generation, gave no additional protagonists, Yellow was created, revealed to have been the girl Red rescued in Viridian Forest before his battle with Giovanni. Emerald is another cognate case, as in the entirety of Generation III, only two player characters were given. Wally, the closest thing to a third main character, was dropped in favor of this new character designed entirely from scratch. As of the DP and Platinum chapters, only the first ten main characters have met each other, as none of the Sinnoh Dex Holders have ventured out of their region.
Additionally, though Lyra is almost universally accepted as a different character from Kris, rather than a redesign like Ethan, Crystal has appeared wearing her clothes to serve as a counterpart, rather than introducing a second Johto female protagonist for the HeartGold & SoulSilver chapter.
In addition to Pokémon Adventures characters, there are many characters that have very similar character designs as player or rival characters from the games. These include Red from Pokémon Pocket Monsters, Rald from Pokémon Battle Frontier, Hareta and Mitsumi from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl Adventure! and Black from Golden Boys.
- Most of the male characters that Ash, the main character from the Pokémon anime, has encountered have been from side games, like Pokémon Ranger. Only one counterpart of a male player character has met Ash, in the thirteenth movie.
- Red's dialogue during his appearance as an NPC in Gold, Silver, and Crystal and their remakes, reflects the games' player characters' status as silent protagonists.
- The list of default names per gender generally repeats* from game to game. Exceptions to this are character-specific names, which are names unique to a character, usually references to the title or aspects of the game.
- Until Generation V, the given Japanese names of the male player characters in the core series games (as NPCs) all end in ki (キ). This excludes Red's appearance in Generations II and IV, as he is not a player character during the games when he is an NPC. Inclusively, Lunick's Japanese name also ends in ki.