Though the surging popularity of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu has certainly snatched a lot of headlines, don’t call it a comeback. The truth is, Pokémon never really went away. From video games to merchandise, trading cards, and TV shows, the Pokémon franchise has spread into all forms of media.

Sure, the waves of Pokémon’s cultural relevance has ebbed and flowed over the last two decades, but it’s never even come close to fading out. Collectors, gamers, and anime fans have kept the Pokémon fire burning bright.

If you find yourself asking, “What is a Pokémon,” on the daily, then this article is for you. Today, we’re going to dive into the origin of the internationally successful franchise, break down its various media offerings, and round it all out with a breakdown of the most popular — and cutest — Pokémon. Let’s go!


Pokémon is what happens when passion and hard work get hit with a lightning bolt of luck.

As a child, Satoshi Tajiri, founder of Pokémon’s parent company Game Freak had one interest: insects. In fact, he loved collecting them so much that his childhood nickname was Mr. Bug. As Tajiri grew older, his attention turned to video games.

Tajiri, a noted eccentric, focused all of his energy on the budding electronic industry. Game Freak began as an amateur gaming fanzine. Tajiri’s gaming exploration eventually led him to a historic partnership with now-legendary game designer and illustrator Ken Sugimori. The two would go on to reshape the gaming landscape forever.

The first Pokémon games released on the Game Boy in Japan in February of 1996. The series built on Tajiri’s desire to explore, collect, and connect with other gamers in a brand-new way. Tajiri provided gamers with an opportunity that they didn’t even know they craved. And boy, did it ever catch fire.

Video Games

We’d be remiss if we didn’t begin our deep dive on all things Pokémon with the ultra-successful series of Pokémon video games!

As mentioned previously, the Pokémon franchise began with the release of Pokémon Red Version and Pokémon Green Version in 1996. Actually, the original name was Pocket Monsters but was changed when the games hit the North American and European markets in 1998 and 1999 respectively.

The game was structured like a traditional Japanese role-playing game where players roam an open map in search of collectible Pokémon to fill out their party. While each version of the game contained the same content, there were key differences in which Pokémon were available to collect. In order to collect all 150 Pokémon, players would need to use a Game Boy Link Cable to trade with others.

Did we mention that it was a success? The first Pokémon games sold 10.23 million copies in Japan and 9.85 million copies in the U.S. Plus, the series has continued releasing games periodically — and to unanimous success — to this day.

The 2016 launch of Pokémon GO had adults and children alike, flooding the streets in search of their favorite fictional critters. The augmented reality, smart-phone enabled, GPS discovery game spread like wildfire and, though its popularity has diminished substantially, still provides hours of fun for millions of players all over the world.

If you’re hoping that the Pokémon craze will die down, you’re going to have a bad time. That’s because there’s a brand-new Pokémon game just around the corner. Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are set to launch on the Nintendo Switch on November 15, 2019. So, expect this Christmas season to be dominated once again by all things Pokémon!

Trading Card Game

The Pokémon Trading Card Game, commonly referred to as Pokémon TCG, has produced over 25.7-billion cards in over 11 different languages since its inception in 1996.

Parlaying the success of the Game Boy games, the Pokémon creators set out for a new, cardboard-inspired frontier. And boy, did it ever take off.

In order to play this all-ages, tabletop card game, you require two players, each with a 60-card deck of various Pokémon cards. Using a combination of Trainer Cards and Energy Cards, the two players battle it out to reduce the health points of their opponent until they draw their six prize cards or no longer have any more Pokémon or draw cards to play.

Pokémon TCG is about much more than a card game though. The market for rare and unique cards has been building steadily since the TCG’s 1996 launch, with some consistently selling for thousands of dollars.

Animated Series

Building on the Pokémon game’s lovable cast of characters and signature art style, the Pokémon Animated Series provided fans with added depth and accessibility to those thirsty for more.

The Pokémon animated series premiered on Japan’s TV Tokyo in April of 1997 and, in traditional Pokémon fashion, it caught on like wildfire. The success of the TV show is often cited in discussions of the growth of anime in the Western world. The show is in its 22nd season and shows no signs of stopping any time soon.


Books, games, trading cards, plushies, toys, clothing, if it has room for a logo, chances are you can find a Pokémon-inspired version of it.

How prolific is the market for Pokémon merchandise? In 2009, there were roughly 3,500 different, officially licensed Pokémon products available.

Pokémon merchandise rakes in on the collectibles market too. It’s not crazy to believe that the right, limited-edition Pokémon merchandising item could net you tens-of-thousands from the right eBay collector.

Who’s That Pokémon?


Pikachu isn’t the most powerful Pokémon in the video games, but in terms of cultural appeal, Pikachu reigns supreme. This lovable, electric-type critter has been around since the dawn of the franchise and has been featured on t-shirts, lunch boxes, and movie posters ever since. Heck, this lovable electric mouse is the star of its own feature film.


Greninja, a powerful water-type frog ninja, owes its popularity to its prominent role in the Pokémon anime. In the series, Greninja forms a strong bond with protagonist Ash Ketchem, which allows this stealthy froggy to transform into Ash-Greninja.

This bipedal, frog-like Pokémon has since been featured in the two recent Super Smash Bros. video game and, more recently, Detective Pikachu.


Few individual Pokémon have had a larger impact on the storyline of Pokémon as the mysterious and powerful Mewtwo. This lab-created psychic Pokemon has driven the plot of many Pokemon animated movies.

Considering Mewtwo is one of the most difficult creatures to catch, it serves as the “final test” for the first Pokémon game and their remakes.


Charizard exemplifies power. This flying, fire-breathing dragon Pokémon is consistently one of the most powerful creatures in the video gaming universe.

Charizard’s power isn’t just limited to the digital sphere though. Charizard’s trading card has stood atop the collectible mountain since its release in 1999.


Another OG Pokémon, Squirtle won over people’s hearts with the rebellious antics (and iconic sunglasses) of the Squirtle Squad and has been a fan favorite ever since. Although Squirtle is one adorable turtle, its final evolution, Blastoise, is easily one of the most powerful creatures in the entire franchise.


Grookey is far from a household name just yet, but rest assured, it will be. As a starter Pokémon, this chimp-like Pokémon is prominently featured in the upcoming Pokémon Sword and Shield, which is projected to be one of the best-selling games in the franchise’s history.