Jeremy enjoys dueling in between working as a chemical analyst and campus building manager.
Rivals in Yu-Gi-Oh
For every heroic Yu-Gi-Oh protagonist, there's a rival character who pushes them to their limit, offering some of the best duels throughout the franchise. Contrasting their heroic counterparts, rivals are often jaded loners, and I'd argue they usually have better character development.
Speaking of which, today we're ranking them by character and impact, not necessarily the strength of their deck (though we'll mention win ratios). With that in mind, these are the ten most iconic Yu-Gi-Oh anime rivals!
10. Ryoken Kogami
Season: Yu-Gi-Oh VRAINS
As of this writing, VRAINS protagonist Yusaku hasn't lost any true duels outside of flashbacks, but Ryoken (with his avatar Varis) remains the only one to pressure him into a draw—twice.
Ryoken initially serves as a misguided villain, but gradually turns into a reluctant anti-hero as the show progresses. He's also got an impressive win record; as of this writing, no one outside of Yusaku has beaten him.
9. Zane Truesdale
Season: Yu-Gi-Oh GX
For those interested in Yu-Gi-Oh anime, do yourself a favor and watch the English subbed versions instead of the notoriously bad dubs, especially with GX. Either way, Zane is his academy's top student and the first person to defeat protagonist Jaden (which very few have accomplished). And Jaden never really gets revenge, only able to tie Zane in their next matches.
Zane also has some interesting growth, shifting from calm but compassionate top student to cynical duelist after developing a heart condition. And yes, his Cyber Dragon cards were probably the coolest monsters of the era.
8. Kite Tenjo
Season: Yu-Gi-Oh ZEXAL
In addition to ZEXAL, Kite was selected to represent the xyz dimension in the universe-crossing ARC-V jumble. Similar to Ryoken, Kite is ruthless, but ultimately has good intentions and slowly shifts towards the hero's side.
Speaking of which, Kite is the only mainstream rival who has never lost to the core protagonist. That's right, Kite beat Yuma multiple times without ever losing to him (only Vetrix and Quinton have defeated Kite in ZEXAL).
7. Reginald Kastle
Season: Yu-Gi-Oh ZEXAL
Better known as Shark (and later Nash), Reginald was Yuma's most persistent rival. Yuma generally got the best of him in their duels, but Shark did manage to beat him once, something some rivals have never achieved. I also enjoy Shark's development, going from arrogant jerk to reluctant ally to surprise antagonist.
6. Joey Wheeler
Joey's probably the most relatable protagonist of his season; Kaiba's a genius millionaire and Yugi has the power of an ancient spirit. Joey's just a regular guy caught up in events bigger than him. And despite his shaky win record, he's scored some impressive victories, like out-dueling Marik (only losing because he collapsed and couldn't continue) and having an implied off-screen win against Yugi himself.
By the time of GX, Pegasus ranked Joey as the third-best duelist in the world, quite an accomplishment considering his modest beginnings.
5. Aster Phoenix
Season: Yu-Gi-Oh GX
Whether you know this character as Aster (dub) or Edo (sub) Phoenix, he's a rather late addition to the series, not appearing until episode 53. Still, he quickly proves his strength, being listed by Maximillion Pegasus as the fourth best duelist in the world (after Yugi, Kaiba, and Joey).
Not many characters have beaten either Jaden or Zane, but Aster has accomplished both. Plus, of the many rivals in GX, it was Aster who was chosen to represent the universe in ARC-V (alongside Alexis Rhodes), highlighting his prominence.
4. Chazz Princeton
Season: Yu-Gi-Oh GX
Chazz (subbed as Jun Manjome) doesn't have the strongest win record, and he initially starts off as a shallow and overconfident duelist. But his losses humble him, and he gradually gains both compassion and skill.
Chazz's duels were engaging because you never knew what could happen. Not only did his deck frequently evolve, but Chazz would now and then pull of a titanic win, like his victories against Aster and a would-be win on Jaden (Chazz was forced to throw the match).
3. Jack Atlas
Season: Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's
Represented in ARC-V as well as 5D's, Jack shares many similarities with Seto Kaiba, being incredibly arrogant but usually having the skill to back it up. Jack managed to beat Yusei once (though it was only in a flashback), and he's always an entertaining duelist, pulling off a surprising number of wins against main villains.
2. Declan Akaba
Season: Yu-Gi-Oh ARC-V
Known as Reiji Akaba in the sub, Declan is very likely the best duelist in ARC-V. Out of three matches against protagonist Yuya, Declan out-duels him twice (though he's forced to forfeit one to attend to more pressing matters).
Declan's also a welcome deviation from previous rivals. While he's incredibly skilled and intelligent, he's polite and soft-spoken rather than arrogant and hotheaded. Declan also has a terrific win record, easily outperforming other rivals from any of the anime.
1. Seto Kaiba
The original heroic foil, Kaiba is cocky, condescending, and sometimes cruel—yet he's the most popular character from the original series. After all, Kaiba displays a phenomenal intellect, founding his own corporation and becoming perhaps the richest person in the world. And he's an impressive duelist, wielding famed cards like "Blue-Eyes White Dragon" and the Egyptian God "Obelisk the Tormentor".
Kaiba's actually never beaten Yugi in a fair match (although there's controversy regarding their latest movie battle), but he's still a worthy duelist whose inflated ego just makes him all the more entertaining.
Future Yu-Gi-Oh Rivals
The relationships between hero and rival remain some of the most interesting contrasts throughout the anime, offering ongoing conflicts that span several arcs. Rival duels engage audiences because they're hard to predict; unlike the main heroes and villains (whose plot armor wins most fights), their battles can go either way.
I hope to encounter more engaging characters in future seasons, but for now, vote for your favorite rival and I'll see you at our next Yu-Gi-Oh countdown!
© 2019 Jeremy Gill