by Grant Smuts

The hero is rarely alone in seeking resolution. Along the way, he often finds unlikely companions. A few of them don’t always get along with the hero – they compete with them, usually trying to prove that they’re better, stronger, smarter. Sometime the contest isn’t physical, but ideological. An idealistic hero will often be contrasted with his rival, who will be far more pragmatic. If the hero is gentle and wouldn’t hurt or kill anyone normally, expect the rival to have no qualms about it whatsoever. They are the foils to the hero, the ones who are usually just as strong or as driven as the hero is – though in the end, they tend to fade into the background so that the protagonist can take centre-stage. Even so, the hero’s rivals are usually fan-favourite characters and tend to be considered as integral to the story as the hero himself.

We take a crack at who we think are the five greatest rivals in manga and anime.

  1. Gary Oak (Pokemon)

Although Ash Ketchum of Pokemon has had a different rival in every season of Pokemon, few are remembered more fondly than Gary (Muthafuckin’) Oak. One memorable moment in Pokemon had him showing up after Ash had won a gym badge to reveal that he already had TEN gym badges. Then you understand that the region that he was in only had EIGHT gyms. He did this while rolling up in a car, filled with cheerleaders. Because he’s Gary Muthafuckin’ Oak. For the first two seasons, that little incident meant he was effectively the Chuck Norris of the Pokemon world. Sadly, Gary Oak lost to bland Ash Ketchum at the end of the second season of Pokemon, after which he stopped battling competitively. Still, he was awesome while it lasted.

Kanto has only EIGHT badges. Dammit Gary...
Kanto has only EIGHT badges. Dammit Gary…
  1. Iori Yagami (King of Fighters)

In the ubiquitous fighting tournament-style video-games, few rivalries are as well-defined or as eternal as that between Iori Yagami and Kyo Kusanagi. Stemming from an ancient family feud between the Kusanagis and the Yagamis, the latter of whom made a pact with an ancient devil (Orochi) to give them powers to rival the Kusanagis. Of course, this is backstory – I doubt many people pay much attention to the story of KOF – which is actually quite full of Japanese mythological allusions, and get to the awesomeness of the fighting. But even here, their rivalries are given the highlight, with special intros between Kyo and Iori in every game they face off with each other. Sure, sure, maybe Ryu and Ken are more well known, but that’s a friendly rivalry. With Iori and Kyo, you can taste the vitriol in the air whenever they collide. And for God’s sake, Iori goes berserk in every other game, giving us another version of him – faster, more volatile, and utterly batshit crazy!

Weird hair, purple flames. The metrosexual and utterly psychotic badass.
Weird hair, purple flames. The metrosexual and utterly psychotic badass.

3) Saito Hajime (Rurouni Kenshin)

The quasi-historical tale of Kenshin featured one particular badass – Hajime Saito, based on the real-life captain of the Shinsengumi of the same name. The moment he entered the show, the series became remarkably more serious, and moved from ‘Villain of the Week’ to a true story arc. In the series he was usually depicted as the equal to Kenshin, and fought him to a stalemate in their first duel. While they never fought again quite so seriously, they continuously butted heads throughout the series. While Kenshin vowing to never take another life after his bloody history as Hitokiri Battoussai (Battoussai the Manslayer), Saito adhered to a singular code that guided him as captain of the Shinsengumi and as an agent of the new Meiji government – ‘Aku Soku Zan‘, (which roughly translates to “Slay Evil Immediately”). He was the gritty, tough as nails guy who was more than willing to do the dirty work. While he initially wanted a chance to finish his duel with Kenshin, he came to see and respect Kenshin’s new philosophy to never take a life, and decided that the man he wanted to kill no longer existed.

“Aku-Soku-Zan”. Roughly translated means, ‘Die now, Bitch!’
  1. Vegeta (Dragon Ball Z)

He’s the quintessential rival, the badass, the pragmatic warrior, the token evil team-mate. He was the foil to the all-loving hero Goku, and he even went so far as to sell his soul (well, his mind, technically) to gain power to defeat his rival. He was a saiyan prince and the guy who loved fighting more than anything. He lived for it, but there was always a bitterness in his fighting after he met Goku. He wanted to be the best, the strongest, and damn it if it didn’t get in everyone’s way every fifty episodes. The worst scenario was when he was fighting Cell, who goaded him into allowing the monster to reach his Perfect form. And, well, we all know that turned out. He eventually turned from the dark side, but he remained a dick to everyone, which was a lot of fun. So why isn’t he first on this list? Well…

His level of awesome is over 9000
His level of awesome is over 9000
  1. Uchiha Sasuke

Here we go – quite possibly the most divisive character in the history of anime and manga. The number of people who positively hate this guy is matched only by the number of people who absolutely love him. But in terms of being a rival, Uchiha Sasuke reigns supreme. Unlike every other rival on this list, Sasuke remained relevant to the very end of the series, and his power upgrades very conveniently matched or spurred that of the hero. Even Vegeta was completely outclassed by Goku in the end (something he even admitted), but Sasuke continually proved himself able to both keep up with and outstrip the hero several times throughout the series. It could be argued that the entire series is essentially a game of one-upsmanship between the two. And what seals it, in the end? At the very end of the series, when all the evils of the world have been defeated by Naruto and Sasuke, the two of them duke it out one last time to decide the course of the future. Yep, Sasuke is the final boss for Naruto, and both guys pull out all the stops in a battle that costs both of them an arm. The kicker? Even though Sasuke concedes a loss to his buddy in the end (consequently reforming and admitting his friendship to him), the fight technically ended in a tie.

His theme song is 'Crawling' by Linkin Park. Admit it, it's perfect.
His theme song is ‘Crawling’ by Linkin Park. Admit it, it’s perfect.

Say what you like about the guy – and many will – but Sasuke was the ultimate rival in anime.

Do you agree with our list? Share your thoughts below!

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