Check your watches; it is most definitely time to duel. In celebration of the anime’s enduring legacy, we’re counting down five of Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s greatest duels.
5. Jun Manjoume vs. Chosaku Manjoume
Episode 35: Sibling Rivalry
So it’s pretty clear in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX that Jun Manjoume, the supposed rival character (Chazz in the dub), is just a way better character than Jaden. He is, it’s indisputable. Jun suffers through so many personal hardships and embarrassments, but always rises to the next challenge, learning and changing as a character, arguably more than the actual protagonist of the show. It’s hard not to love him, or at least respect his grind, and this duel perfectly exemplifies why.
Manjoume’s older brother Chosaku, a sleazy business mogul, tries to buy out Duel Academy from Seto Kaiba, but if you know the world of Yu-Gi-Oh, you know a simple thing like money won’t get you squat – you have to prove your worth with card games. Kaiba throws the gauntlet down: “Forget the money,” he says, “beat any student in a duel, set whatever rules you want… because no student of mine is going to lose a duel to you. Winner keeps the Academy.”
Chosaku chooses his own younger brother, Jun, whose deck is characterised by insanely high-attack monsters that steamroll the enemy, and sets a condition; Jun can only use monsters with less than 500 ATK, while Chosaku’s deck will be stacked with high-ATK beasts. After being humbled by Jaden and leaving Duel Academy in shame earlier in the season, Manjoume is forced to swallow his pride yet again and accept that all cards have value, not just the ones with high ATK power. He builds a deck entirely from cards that were thrown away and deemed “useless” by their previous owners, and with creative and smart tactics, he trounces his older brother. AND, just for the added flex, he only uses cards with ZERO ATK. Not only that, this change in heart actually sticks, as he keeps a lot of the “weak” monsters in his deck and uses them for the rest of the show, specifically his signature monsters, the Ojama Brothers.
4. Jaden vs. Yugi
Spoilers for the finale of Yu-Gi-Oh GX. The final duel of the series, the new blood, Jaden Yuki, versus the old guard, the King of Games, the Spirit of the Nameless Pharaoh, Yugi Moto. This was the duel that fans were hyped up for since episode one, when Jaden bumped into an older Yugi, who gave him his Winged Kuriboh. Since Jaden declared that he would be the next King of Games, we have wanted to see this duel, and it didn’t disappoint. Over the seasons we saw how Jaden slowly lost his happy-go-lucky attitude, as he was forced to face stronger, scarier opponents, who duelled to the death, and showed Jaden that duelling couldn’t always be about having fun.
These battles took their emotional toll on Jaden, so much so that Jaden in season four he barely spoke, didn’t enjoy duelling, and isolated himself from his friends, pretty much a polar opposite to season one Jaden. After a fierce battle against the literal embodiment of Death, with the life of everyone in the world riding on the outcome, the spirits of Jaden’s Duel Monsters tell him that he’s lost something valuable, and they want to help him get it back (this all happened in the fourth season that never got dubbed, so if you’re currently asking “when did this happen!?” go watch the rest of it!).
Jaden’s deck’s duel spirits take him back in time to fight the legendary duellist Yugi at his peak, for a battle purely to test each other’s strength. There’s something so cool about watching two protagonists face each other, two characters we both love and know so well, that we’ve seen grow up, and experienced their highs and lows with. Through this duel, Yugi and the Pharaoh remind Jaden of what it is that he lost; his passion and excitement for duelling. We’ll never know the outcome of the duel, but we know that the spark for duelling was re-ignited in Jaden’s heart, and that’s all that really matters.
3. Yugi, Jaden and Yusei vs. Paradox
Yu-Gi-Oh: Bonds Beyond Time
The final duel of the movie Bonds Beyond Time may not be as emotionally or thematically resonant as some of the other duels on the list, but it warrants a spot because, damn. The three protagonists, all teaming up to take down a powerful enemy who wields a deck filled with the best cards from all of Duel Monsters history.
That being said, if you try to play a Malefic deck in real life… good luck, I guess? Have fun holding all your Ls. We don’t use this word lightly, but this duel is epic. The three duelists don’t know each other’s strats, but they combine their power anyway, fusing their monsters, backing each other up, and of course, giving motivational speeches to one another.
After you’ve watched all three of their series, you know what’s at stake to all of them, and what this duel means, and it makes it all the more satisfying to see them work together. It’s definitely the most ambitious crossover in cinematic history, and for that reason, it must be on the list.
2. Team 5Ds vs. Team Taiyo
An obscure duel to take the #2 spot on such a prestigious list, but it is undoubtedly deserving of it. The best duels in Yu-Gi-Oh! are usually not the ones where the cost of failure is death, because they’re against a villain we want to lose already, and the tension can only get so high when we know the characters are obviously going to win. This is one of these duels where death isn’t a part of the stakes, the only thing on the line is the pride of the duelists, and one where you might be cheering harder for the opponents than the protagonists. In other words, the best kind of duel.
In the World Racing Grand Prix finals bracket, Yusei’s Team 5Ds goes up against the oddball Team Taiyo, odd because their deck is exclusively filled with low-level, low-ATK Normal monsters, and yet they already passed their preliminary round somehow, with a deck any sane person would call trash… It’s revealed later that Team Taiyo are just three country boys with a dream of competing on the world stage, in the WRPG.
By pooling all their time, effort, and resources, they built a single D-Wheel and made a deck from nothing but scrap, mirroring Jack, Crow, and Yusei, who built their own decks and D-Wheels from junk, with the hopes of escaping from the slums of Satellite. With nothing but a dream and a single powerful card that they had to build their only strategy around, Team Taiyo faced Team 5Ds.
When Team Taiyo spends the entire duel just placing down Normal monsters, shoring up a defensive wall, and using Speed World 2’s effect to deal tiny amounts of damage with no real attacks, the crowd boos them, but Team Taiyo duels their own way no matter what. Too late does Yusei realise the one strategy they could be using – Zushin the Sleeping Giant. A very common card, but one with a summoning cost so steep, nobody has ever bothered to play it in the history of Duel Monsters. All you have to do is tribute a Level 1 Normal Monster that has been on the field for 20 turns, a daunting task to say the least, but worth the challenge. Zushin’s ability is to make his own ATK power the same as the monster he’s attacking, plus 1000. It also can’t be targeted by Spell or Trap cards, and it negates the effect of whatever monster it battles.
It’s a formidable card and powerful strategy that forces Yusei to surpass his own limit, giving birth to a new ace monster! The crowd that once jeered Team Taiyo starts cheering for them, as they try to make an impossible miracle a reality! Team Taiyo, the team named after the Japanese for ‘Sun,’ the team that rises brightly every day, are the best characters in the show, and have the (second) greatest duel in all of Yu-Gi-Oh!.
1. Yugi vs. Kaiba
Episodes 22-24: Face Off, Parts 1-3
Any of the epic Yugi vs. Kaiba duels could be on this list, from their showdown in Dark Side of Dimensions, where Kaiba finally learns to move on and accept defeat, to their clash in the Battle City Tournament, where their respective God Cards face each other, to their first match that started it all, when Yugi summoned the mighty Exodia, but for this list, the spot goes to their battle in the Duelist Kingdom arc.
Both Yugi and Kaiba have had loved ones’ souls abducted by Pegasus, and the only way to win them back is to face him in the finals, but neither of them trusts the other one to get the job done.
They fight each other for the right to challenge Pegasus, and Yugi seems to have the upper hand, until Kaiba backs up onto the edge of the tower they’re on, threatening to throw himself to his death unless Yugi forfeits. Kaiba hates every moment of having to sacrifice his pride for such a tactic, but you see how important the outcome of this duel is to him in that moment.
Kaiba always plays the cold “I don’t care about anything except winning” character, but he puts his ego aside in this duel, just to save his brother Mokuba. It really makes Kaiba a much more interesting anti-hero, than the one-dimensional villain he was at the start of the show
So, those are our top five duels of Yu-Gi-Oh! Did you agree with all of them? What’s your favourite duel? Let us know!