Pokemon has been around for more than 20 years. In all that time, it somehow never got a live-action movie. Warner Bros. changed all that in 2018, letting fans know very bluntly, with the trailer for Detective Pikachu. Featuring live-action humans interacting with CGI Pokemon, the movie represents a bold leap forward for the franchise. While the games and anime have largely been stagnating, Detective Pikachu might be the breath of fresh air the franchise needs to bring it back to global domination. With the release of the trailer, we saw a lot of (occasionally horrifying) realistic re-imaginings of both classic and more recent Pokemon. With all this nostalgia buzzing in the air, and nightmares about Jigglypuff swimming in our heads, we thought we'd look back at the very first generation of Pokemon.
Pokemon Red and Pokemon Green launched in Japan in 1996. Red and Blue launched as enhanced versions in North America in 1998. With them came the first 151 Pokemon, firmly embedding the colorful creatures in the minds of '90s kids forevermore. While future generations have had their ups and downs, Gen 1 remained fairly strong design-wise throughout. The designs largely stuck to "animals with fantastical elements" that would define the design philosophy of the franchise for decades to come. Nevertheless, there were a few questionable choices that maybe should have gotten a second look before being sent out to launch. Even with those rough patches, Gen 1 also has some of the best designs in the entire franchise, and it was a real struggle at times to narrow it down to just ten.
20 WORST: EXEGGCUTE
One of the major throughlines of Gen 1 Pokemon was the concept of mimics. Voltorb, Geodude, Magnemite, and of course Ditto. All Pokemon that look like non-Pokemon things. One of the mimic Pokemon was Exeggcute. A Grass/Psychic type, Exeggcute looks like a bunch of eggs with faces. That's all. While the Pokedex entry reveals that Exeggcute is actually a bunch of seeds, it's still not a particularly creative design.
Exeggcute and its evolution Exeggutor generally wallowed in obscurity until the release of Pokemon Sun and Moon, which saw the Alolan form of Exeggutor turn into a bit of meme. Exeggcute unfortunately didn't get a redesign, and remains one of those "oh yeah" Pokemon.
19 BEST: CUBONE
A lot of what made Generation 1 Pokemon so memorable was the backstories provided by the Pokedex. No other Pokemon represents that as well as Cubone, a fairly rare Ground type Pokemon. Cubone wears its mother's skull as a helmet, and uses a bone as a club. The striking design combined with the tragic backstory have made Cubone one of the most enduring Pokemon.
Like Exeggcute, its evolution, Marowak, got an Alolan form in Sun and Moon, as a Hawaiian firedancer. Unlike Exeggcute, Cubone and Marowak played a major role in the proto-gym challenge at the center of Sun and Moon's story.
18 WORST: LICKITUNG
Ah, Lickitung. You're so gross. No one is really sure of the exact origins of this thing, but one thing everyone is sure of is how gross it is. Theories usually point to Lickitung being based on any number of lizards with extending tongues, including chameleons and the blue-tongued skink. But at the end of the day, it really just exists to be a big gross tongue that attacks things by licking.
Bafflingly, Lickitung somehow managed to receive an evolution in Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, alongside fan-favorites like Rhydon, Magmar, and Electabuzz. The evolution, Lickilicky, manages to look even dumber than Lickitung.
17 BEST: BULBASAUR
Debates have been raging for 20 plus years over who the best starter Pokemon is. Well, we're here to end it. It's Bulbasaur, accept no substitutes. This tiny little frog/dinosaur does its very best, and has one of the most perfect designs in the franchise. He's a frog, and he's got a bulb stuck to his back.
As the very first Pokemon in the Pokedex, and one of the first Pokemon players will see in the game, Bulbasaur comes right out the gate providing an excellent representation of the games' design philosophy. While Charmander and Squirtle are of course very popular, they don't have quite the same immediate fantastical pop that Bulbasaur does.
16 WORST: HYPNO
While Cubone's story presence and Pokedex entry solidify it as a great Pokemon, Hypno's does the opposite. Its first form, Drowzee, is actually a pretty good design, an upright tapir that eats dreams. Then things go off the rails with Hypno.
Hypno maintains the dream eater aspect of Drowzee, but ramps it up a notch. On top of sort of losing the tapir's mini-elephant trunk, and replacing it with a mildly caricatured nose, Hypno starts kidnapping children once it evolves. Pokemon has never really shied away from having creepy Pokemon, but Hypno definitely tops the list, and it's only Generation 1!
15 BEST: PIDGEOT
Pidgey is one of the very first Pokemon a new trainer will encounter in the wild. It's likely also one of the very first Pokemon they'll catch, and it can follow them through the entire game. Strong Flying-type Pokemon were fairly rare in the original Pokemon games, and Pidgey's final evolution Pidgeot was one of them.
While Pidgey is a fairly unremarkable pigeon-esque Pokemon, aside from the angry eyes, Pidgeot comes with gorgeous plumage that sets it apart from most other bird Pokemon, even going down the generations. Pidgey and its evolutions proved so popular that Pidgeot eventually received a Mega Evolution in Pokemon X and Y.
14 WORST: DIGLETT
Now we're gonna be honest here: we actually like Diglett. Cute, a good typing, fast as heck, a powerful evolution, and ready availability, Diglett is a pretty good Pokemon, all told. Despite all that, its design isn't that great.
Intended to be a mole, something apparently got lost in translation and we ended up with one of the laziest Pokemon designs in history. Two eyes, a nose, and a half-oval body, with the hole it pops out of along for the ride. Its evolution, Dugtrio, doesn't fare much better, being simply three Digletts stuck together with angry eyes. At least the Alolan form is hilarious.
13 BEST: LAPRAS
Lapras is popular as heck for a lot of reasons. It's an Ice type, which in Generation I meant it was the only counter to the powerful Dragon type. It's also a Water type, making it a good candidate to learn Surf while still being powerful.
The typing itself is fairly common, especially in Gen I, but on top of that, it looks like the gosh darn Loch Ness monster, which is pretty cool. Even better, trainers receive it for free, taking out the hassle of hunting and catching it. Lapras also had a prominent role in the anime, and has been catchable in every single game barring those set in Hoenn.
12 WORST: ZUBAT
Now, we'll be up front here. We're not putting Zubat in the "worst" pile because of anything wrong with its design. Zubat actually captures the "real animal but slightly fantastical" design philosophy pretty perfectly. No, Zubat's here because of everything else about it.
When it was first introduced, it was an annoying trashpile Pokemon that basically existed to annoy you in caves. It didn't have a particularly good moveset, and its typing wasn't great. Now, as time went on, it got a third evolution in Crobat, who turned out to be a pretty great Pokemon, even being competitive in tournaments. But Zubat was still a trash cave filler that we hope to never see again.
11 BEST: SANDSLASH
Time for one of our personal favorites, the woefully underappreciated Sandslash. Incorporating elements from pangolins, echidnas, and porcupines, Sandslash is one of the most striking designs in the first generation. Between the spines and the claws, it certainly sticks in the mind, no pun intended.
Unfortunately, Sandslash was pretty slow and had an absolutely terrible moveset in Red and Blue, leading it to be severely underused on serious teams. Things improved as time went on, and it eventually got a powerful Alolan form in Sun and Moon. It's still slow, but its moveset has greatly improved, and the Alolan form has a good typing.
10 WORST: SEEL
Everything about Seel is goofy. The little horn, the stupid little tongue, the name. It's not even an Ice type until it evolves. The best it managed in the anime was holding the Cascade Badge in Cerulean City. Not only does it have a dumb design, it's also a pain to get.
Appearing only in the Seafoam Islands, it is already outclassed by the Lapras the trainer has received in the Rocket HQ, and almost immediately after acquisition by Articuno, the legendary bird of Ice. On top of that, it takes a while to evolve into Dewgong, which again, already outclassed by Lapras and by Articuno.
9 BEST: VENOMOTH
Venomoth is at the center of one of the biggest fan theories in Pokemon. Most fans noticed that Venonat and Venomoth look nothing alike, while Butterfree has plenty in common with Venonat, but nothing in much in common with Caterpie and Metapod.
Fans began to theorize that Venomoth and Butterfree's sprites were accidentally switched, and the game shipped before GameFreak had a chance to fix it. Regardless of the truth of the theory, Venomoth is still pretty cool. A big giant butterfly/moth, Venomoth is a staple Pokemon of Fuschia City gym leader Koga, and the signature Pokemon of his successor, Janine.
8 WORST: JYNX
We all knew this one was coming. Often thought to be a racial stereotype, Jynx's exact origins have never really been explained. The most popular fan theory posits that she is based on ganguro, a Japanese fashion where women tan heavily, bleach their hair blonde, and wear heavy makeup.
Regardless, Jynx's unfortunate implications, intentional or not, still exist either way. Even after GameFreak redesigned her to have purple instead of black skin, she's still just a downright weird looking Pokemon. Which is a shame, since she's got a very powerful typing (Psychic type being the most powerful type in Generation I) and a good moveset.
7 BEST: SEADRA
Seadra is a real classic. Perhaps one of the best examples of evolutions adding spikes and angry eyes, Seadra starts out as the adorable Horsea. It ends up being a fairly strong Water type Pokemon, although it is often overshadowed by fan favorites like Blastoise and Lapras.
Regardless, Seadra managed to find its niche. Somehow, it turned a fairly goofy looking real world sea horse into a pretty cool looking fantasy creature. Things only got better for Seadra as the franchise progressed, getting an evolution in the form of Kingdra. Kingdra would go onto cause many nightmares as the signature Pokemon of Johto gym leader Claire.
6 WORST: GEODUDE
Like Zubat, Geodude acts as an annoying cave filler that trainers will see a million of in the course of their journey. Unlike Zubat, Geodude doesn't have a good design going for it. It's a rock. With arms. And angry eyes.
Granted (granite), it has a pretty good moveset, and Rock and Ground types are both fairly useful against a number of powerful trainers. But if we have to see that dang rock with arms one more dang time, we're gonna explode. Which is another annoying thing Geodude tend to do, usually knocking out one of your party in a long and grueling cave.
5 BEST: SCYTHER
Scyther is, simply, cool. It's a giant bug with swords for arms! And it can (technically) fly! It's fairly rare in the original games, and unfortunately not very useful, as Bug type would take several generations to actually become viable. But it's still so cool.
It looks like a dragon crossed with a praying mantis! Come on now! On top of that, it got a very cool evolution in Generation 2, with Scizor, who actually managed to be somewhat competitively viable. It also became the signature Pokemon of the second Johto gym leader, Bugsy, causing many nightmares with its Fury Cutter attack.
4 WORST: MR. MIME
Mr. Mime. Forever one of the most bizarre and confusing Pokemon. Like, we get they were going for a mime, but how in the gosh darn heck does a mime fit into the larger ecosystem of what are essentially animals (and Jynx)?
At least other more "human" looking Pokemon like Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan had the decency to be very obviously non-human. But Mr. Mime just looks like...a guy. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Detective Pikachu trailer, where Mr. Mime stands out as particularly nightmare-inducing even compared to the rest of the perhaps too realistic Pokemon. He's got literal dodgeballs for shoulders, for Arceus' sake!
3 BEST: EEVEE
Eevee has long been one of the most popular Pokemon, almost on par with Pikachu. It even got to finally be the poster child for a game, with Let's Go Pokemon: Eevee. While most of Eevee's popularity comes from its myriad evolutions, it's also a great Pokemon all on its own.
It casually walks the line between overly cute and generic, although it does kind of lean into the cute. Still, it's got that perfect little niche of "believable animal with elements of fantasy," particularly once you the evolutions. We'd include all three of the Gen 1 Eeveelutions if we could, but we'll just give them a shout-out right here. Vaporeon's the best.
2 WORST: DRAGONITE
Ugh. Dragonite. One of the most disappointing Pokemon we've ever encountered. One of only three Dragon types in Generation 1, Dragonite is the final step in the Dratini line, and the first "pseudo-legendary." Pseudo-legendaries are very powerful, very rare, and very hard to train Pokemon that can usually only be obtained towards the end of the game.
Dragonite evolves the more snake-like Dratini and Dragonair. For some reason, instead of following off of their sleeker designs, Dragonite somehow pops out as a weird Barney the Dinosaur looking thing with tiny little wings and weird little antennae. Like, what was the thought process here?
1 BEST: ARTICUNO
We're gonna be honest, Articuno is just about our favorite Pokemon ever. We just love that big dang icy boi. We even based a Pokemon Trading Card Game deck around it in the long-forgotten time of 1999. Anyway. The big flowy tail, the poofy wizard-beard chest feathers, the little feather crown, the big majestic wings.
Out of all the original Legendary Pokemon, Articuno by far felt like the most legendary looking one. Honestly, it hasn't really been topped. Equaled, maybe (we also like Raikou), but Articuno still stands tall among the dozens of Legendary Pokemon that have been introduced since the release of Red and Green.