One of the most debated rivalries of the 90s was between Digimon and Pokemon. These franchises ruled the playground, no matter the medium. Nowadays, however, it would seem that Nintendo's Pocket Monsters have more thoroughly saturated the culture. This can be seen with games and movies such as Pokemon Go! and Detective Pikachu. That's not even touching the anticipated yet controversial upcoming Pokemon Sword and Shield. Digimon, on the other hand, is not nearly as remembered or supported. Many even see it as a sort of knock off Pokemon, the Gobots to its Transformers. Despite this reputation or lack of, Digimon is actually the superior franchise. While it might not have as acclaimed video games, it more than makes up for it by beating its rival at pretty much everything else.
Digimon Had a Much Better Anime
Many fans will admit that the Pokemon anime is the franchise's sorest point. Essentially, if you've seen one episode, you've seen them all. An almost purely episodic format rarely ever leaves much room to change the status quo or tell great stories. There are a few notable highlights, such as the tear-jerking "Bye Bye Butterfree." More infamous examples are only known for being banned in the West or for literally being seizure-inducing. Overall, the show, much like Pikachu, has refused to evolve. Ash is still the protagonist, showing nothing in way of aging, growth, maturity, or development. The plot meanders for this lack of change, being interchangeable sans the Pokemon featured in each season. The side characters don't help, being just as bland and forgettable as the main hero.
Digimon, on the other hand, had an inarguably superior show. The series protagonists, Matt and Tai, were much more well rounded than Ash. Characters had actual motivations and complex backstories, some of which dealt with dark elements. For instance, the antagonist known as the Digimon Emperor was a psychologically abused child who blamed himself for his brother's death. This level of characterization was light years ahead of the utterly laughable Team Rocket. Characters had actual romantic interests and relationships, as opposed to the ham-fisted "romance" hinted with Ash and Misty. Characters even died, including their Digimon. These deaths would be brought up in later seasons, giving the series a continuity that the long-lasting Pokemon oddly lacks entirely. For instance, Digimon Adventure Tri continues the stories of its original protagonists, who are now older and in much different places. Viewers have been able to watch and see the main characters grow as they did, adding purpose to each episode. This continuity is bolstered further by the fact that the Digimon movies are canon and referenced within the TV show, unlike the Pokemon movies. Digimon Adventure, the original anime series, is also turning 20 this year. Needless to say, it's aged a lot better than the first few seasons of Pokemon.
Digimon Had Better Evolutions
As opposed to simply evolving, Digimon would digivolve. This could lead to various mutations of individual monsters, never limiting monsters to three forms like Pokemon. Some digivolutions were vastly different than previous forms, giving the franchise a greater aesthetic diversity than Pokemon. This is pushed further by the presence of humanoid digivolutions. For instance, the cat-like Gatomon digivolves into the humanoid Angewomon, who looks nothing like its first form. Some types of digivolutions actually foreshadowed concepts that Pokemon would use years later. These include Mega forms, mirrored in Mega Evolutions, and Burst Mode, arguably similar to Z moves.
Digimon's mascot, Agumon, is also way cooler than Pikachu. His base form, similar to the dinosaur Gon, is already far more terrifying than an electric mouse. Then there's his digivolutions: Greymon, WarGreymond, MetalGreymon, and SkullGreymon. These forms grow increasingly powerful and monstrous, with the latter being a skeletal corpse. These far eclipse Raichu, simply a taller, fatter Pikachu. These digivolutions were also much more prevalent than Pikachu's potential next form. This shows that Digimon was above shoving one form in fans faces for the sake of marketing.
Maybe Digimon Games Are Better?
Now, it might seem sacrilegious to suggest that Digimon games surpass the winning formula of Pokemon. The latter is just that, however: formulaic. Many have criticized Game Freak for their lack of innovation with the gameplay of Pokemon, with them often taking away fan-favorite features as opposed to trying to add and innovate. This can be seen in the reception of Let's Go! Pikachu and Eevee and the pre-release reception of Sword and Shield. While some of the spinoffs might use more offbeat or wacky gameplay, mainline Pokemon games seem to have only changed for the worst since the days of the Game Boy.
Digimon, however, constantly digivolved the gameplay of both spinoffs and main entries. Titles ranged from tradition JRPGs like Final Fantasy VII to dungeon crawlers, to sports/pet simulator hybrids. These games had different art styles and tones fitting each storyline. These were typically more creative than the "defeat the evil Team X on your journey" plot told since Kanto. While they may not have ever been Shakespeare, it was the simple virtue of not moving the franchise in a circle that makes Digimon games stand out to the cookie-cutter pattern of their counterparts.
While Pokemon has made more cultural headway through its games, Digimon still has it trounced in the story and design departments. This has helped the franchise continue with its dedicated fan base, despite its reputation as a ripoff. Time will tell of Pokemon's winning formula will ever run dry, but Digimon is a franchise more than willing to change. Whereas Pokemon was the franchise that fans grew up with, Digimon was the franchise that grew up with fans.