Pokémon is officially over two decades old now, with the original Game Boy games launching in Japan in February 1996. Since that time, the brand has endured and thanks to more recent releases like Pokémon Go and Pokémon Sun and Moon, is as popular as ever. With over 800 different Pokémon spread out over seven different generations, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with all the different monsters out there to catch and train. However, one thing that does remain clear is that the first generation is still the best or at the very least the most beloved, as many of the first 151 Pokémon are still some of the franchise’s most popular to this day.
In celebration of Pokémon 21st anniversary this year, we’re ranking the 21 best Pokémon from the first generation. You can find our picks below and be sure to sound off in the comments with your own personal favorites (and let us know if we missed any).
Just because Bulbasaur was the least popular first generation starter doesn’t mean he’s not a great Pokémon in his own right. Come to think of it, Grass-type Pokémon tend to get overlooked in favor of pretty much anything that isn’t a Pidgey or Rattata, which makes Bulbasaur’s placement on this list especially meaningful, as he’s arguably the best of his type that you would actually want to have in your possession. Part of the reason for that is that despite the huge gulf in popularity between him and his fellow starters Squirtle and Charmander, Bulbasaur is still a solid pick, especially in the early stages of Pokémon Red and Blue. It also helps that Bulbasaur has the cuteness factor going for him, as you don’t see very many dinosaur/plant hybrids that look this good.
Unfortunately, unlike Charamander and Squirtle, who both get cooler with each evolution, Bulbasuar’s later forms Ivysaur and especially Venusaur are just plain ugly from a design standpoint and are go a long way in helping to explain why so many people chose other starters over Bulbasaur. Still, we’ll always love the little guy … even if we never did pick him.
Lapras feels like the mom of Pokémon , but that isn’t meant to be a slight. Lapras has an air of wisdom and intelligence to her, a characteristic that is backed up by her Pokedex entry, which notes that Lapras is “extremely intelligent” and “able to understand human speech.” It’s hard not to feel comforted when a Lapras is around and it also helps that she’s a Pokémon known for being eager to help humans, willingly ferrying anyone across bodies of water (there’s a good reason everyone taught their Lapras how to use SURF, as it just felt right).
Sadly, Lapras’ docile nature means that they’ve been hunted nearly to extinction but the upside of this is that by catching one, you’re not only saving them from potential poachers, you’re also gaining a Pokémon with some of the best stats in the original games. Thanks Poké-mom!
Not only does Alakazam sport one heck of an impressive handlebar mustache (in case you’re wondering, the female ones have them too!), it’s also an incredibly powerful psychic Pokemon to boot and happens to be the only first generation third-stage psychic evolution. Besides its rockin’ facial hair and prowess in battle, what sets Alakazam apart from other Pokémon is his ridiculous intellect. With an I.Q. that exceeds 5,000, Alakazam is essentially a Pokémon who possesses a mind like a supercomputer, which is both a blessing and a curse.
As its Pokedex entry notes, Alakazam can remember everything it’s ever experienced, right back to when it first hatched as an Abra, which means that it not only remembers its own birth, but every bit of pain it’s ever experienced. In other words, being Alakazam must be nightmare, so we have to give it props for simply choosing to exist and not gouging out its eyes with those spoons it likes to carry around.
When looked at on its own, Eevee is not a particularly great Pokémon, as you’re never going to want to keep one in heavy battle rotation. However, the reason we consider Eevee to be one of the best first gen Pokémon has nothing to do with its combat prowess and everything to do with its potential. See, having an Eevee in your position is all about choice, as unlike other Pokémon, you can literally choose what you want it to evolve into.
Although Eevee has only become more valuable in successive generations as more evolutions have been introduced, even in its earliest form it was great, as Eevee could be involved into the water-type Vaporeon, the electric-type Jolteon, or the fire-type Flareon depending on which evolutionary stone it’s exposed to. Sure, each one of its evolved forms is a much better Pokémon overall, but you wouldn’t be able to get any of them without having an Eevee first (barring a trade, of course). Plus, Eevee gets points for just being so darn adorable.
Easily the cutest first-gen starter, Charmander stands alongside Pikachu as one of the most beloved Pokémon in the franchise. Admittedly, it’s hard for any kid to resist choosing a fire-spewing lizard as their first Pokémon, but Charmander also benefits for having one of the best evolutionary tracks in the whole franchise. While it’s true that Charmander stands on the opposite end of spectrum from its third stage evolution Charizard in terms of sheer badassery — as it’s hard for bipedal, doe-eyed lizard to compete with a fire-breathing dragon — but for as cool as Charizard is, it lacks the charm of its earliest form.
In other words, Charmander is a Pokémon you’d want to cuddle up on the couch and watch some movies with (assuming you can find a way for it not to burn the couch and the rest of your house down) and that’s pretty awesome in its own way.
While not as popular as Charmander, Squirtle remains our favorite first generation starter and a lot of that has to do with how it was characterized in the anime series. Squirtle is already an appealing Pokémon in the games because of the inherent cuteness of its design, but the TV show took things to the next level by presenting a Squirtle with attitude. The Squirtle Squad arc remains one of the most entertaining things in Pokémon history, primarily because it featured a group of short and stocky bipedal turtle acting like a rogue motorcycle gang, Plus, those shades …
Squirtle arguably has the overall best evolutions out of the three original starters, but considering how much personality the first stage has, we can kind of understand why Ash decided to keep Squirtle around and not have him evolve. After all, a Wartortle or Blastoise just wouldn’t be able to pull off the Squirtle Squad look correctly.
Middle tier evolutions tend not to get a lot of love but then, Haunter isn’t your average middle-of-the-pack Pokémon. A ghost-type and evolved form of Gastley, Haunter is especially fond of licking things and scaring the crap out of people. Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, things get much more disturbing when you dig a little deeper into Haunter’s bio. It turns out that Haunters like to scare people because they want to kill them and their tongues are actually used to inflict convulsions until the victim dies.
So yeah, Haunter is basically a serial killer but despite (or maybe because of) his penchant for inflicting terror and death for fun, he’s definitely a Pokémon you want on your side, especially since they’re known to be loyal to their trainer, especially in death (which it may very have caused).
The second of three original legendary birds (that “dos” in its name didn’t get there by accident), Zapdos is basically the equivalent of Zeus in the Pokémon universe, able to create thunderstorms just by flapping its wings. As if that wasn’t cool enough, Zapdos actually gains power when its hit by lighting bolts and only ever appears during thunderstorms, meaning that you’d have to be crazy just to try and catch one, let alone succeed in the endeavor — and that’s if you even manage to find one, since they’re extremely rare. Zapdos also has some of the most striking (pun intended) features of any first-gen Pokémon, with wings and a tail that look like they could poke your eye out.
When it comes to the original trio of legendary birds, we have to give the nod to Articuno over Zapdos (Moltres is okay, but is definitely the least appealing of the three). Part of the reason for this is for the simple fact that ice-type Pokémon were much more difficult to come by in the early games compared to electrics and are practically essential to get through the final battle against the Elite Four, making Articuno the most desirable of the three legendary birds.
The other reason all has to do with aesthetics. While Zapdos is definitely cool-looking, there’s a certain laziness to its design that isn’t shared with the much more elegant Articuno. Like Zapdos, Articuno exerts a certain amount of control over weather patterns, able to produce snow fall by flapping its wings and is said to appear to doomed travelers in icy regions and is even known to guide them safety. Now those are characteristics worthy of being considered legendary!
Come on, what’s there not to like about a pair of fire dogs? We honestly couldn’t decide between Growlithe or Aracanine, so we thought we’d bend the rules and include them as a package deal. While Growlithe isn’t as powerful or intimidating as its evolved forms, it makes up for this by being a perfect prince of a pup. Like, just look at that little guy. Adorbs!
And then there’s Arcanine, a giant fire dog that looks like what you’d get if you crossed a Bernese Mountain Dog with a dragon and tiger. It’s also hard to think of many Pokémon that exude the same level of majestic grace as an Arcanine does, which may have something to do with the fact that it’s technically a legendary Pokémon, despite not technically being a rare Pokémon. Probably has something to do with being such a good boy (or girl).
With its razor sharp blades for arms and banshee wail of a voice (if you ever hear “Scyyyyyther!” you should run the other way), Scyther is absolutely terrifying but undoubtedly one of the coolest-looking Pokémon there is from a design standpoint. Pokémon, especially in the first generation, tended to save all of its best character designs for the rarer and more powerful types such as dragon, ice, or psychic, but Scyther is proof that the much-maligned bug-type can be a force to be reckoned with.
We’d have to wait until the arrival of second generation Pokémon to meet Scyther’s equally great evolved form Scizor but to be honest, Scyther is already so good that he could have easily never been given an evolution and remained a favorite.
It’s hard to remember now considering it’s such an established part of Pokémon lore, but the fact that the floundering, useless Magikarp evolves into a giant, powerful water dragon called Gyarados is one of the best surprises in all of Pokémon. It also means that Gyarados is a Pokémon you have to earn, routinely sending out your pathetic Magikarp at the start of battles so that it can agonizingly gain bits of XP in order to reach its ultimate form.
This arduous task was even carried over to Pokémon Go, in which it takes four times as many resources to evolve a Magikarp into a Gyarados than any other Pokémon in the game. Of course, all that hard work would be for naught if Gyarados wasn’t worth the effort, but considering it can crush stones with its fangs, has nigh-impervious scales all over its body and is one of the most powerful Pokémon you can get in the original games, we’d say it is.
While dragons typically aren’t this cuddly-looking, as anyone familiar with Pokémon will tell you, Dragonite’s innocent exterior disguises one of the most powerful Pokémonof the first generation. While Dragonite’s popularity is certainly helped by the fact that dragon Pokémon are in short supply, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s one of the most satisfying evolutions in the game and nearly as essential to have in your roster as Mewtwo.
The interesting thing about Dragonite is that he’s not only much more powerful than his appearance would suggest, but much more capable too. For instance, the Barney the Dinosaur-like visage would make you think that it wouldn’t be able to fly very well, but it turns out that Dragonite can somehow fly faster than the speed of sound, with a top speed of over 1,500 mph. If that wasn’t enough, Dragonite is also the Pokémonequivalent of Jesus, regularly saving people from drowning and guiding ships to safety.
What’s not to love about this thing?
With fantastic stats and a devious personality, it’s no wonder that Gengar has been a favorite amongPokémon fans from the very beginning. Known for its distinctive grin and striking appearance, Gengar is both similar and very different from his previous forms, Gastly and Haunter. For one thing, Gengar actually has four limbs and perhaps most peculiarly, actually has a tangible physical form, tipping the scales at almost 90 lbs compared to Haunter’s 0.2 lbs.
Gengar is one of the best Pokémon because he loves a good time, regularly playing pranks on people and delighting in their fear, as well as being super effective in combat. In Pokémon Red and Blue, you had to trade your Haunter to someone else in order to get it to evolve into a Gengar and while it sucks to lose Haunter, gaining a Gengar is definitely worth the effort.
Psyduck’s very existence is agony both for itself and any trainer who happens to take a chance on it. A water/psychic type, Psyduck is plagued by constant headaches that prevent it from thinking clearly about anything, which means that half the time, it just kind of sits there stunned by its own inability to do anything remotely useful, which would surely frustrate its owner to no end (and indeed, we see this quite frequently in the anime with Misty and her Psyduck).
However, much like the X-Men’s David Haller (fans of FX’s Legion will understand the reference), Psyduck’s mental problems are really the source of its power, as it can bust out incredible psychic abilities once it unleashes the tension. We’re not quite sure if we’d even want to own a Psyduck if it was possible, but we adore him anyway.
Still the face of the franchise over two decades after its debut, Pikachu remains one of the best Pokémon, first generation or otherwise, due to its enduring appeal and all-around excellent design. Still the only Pokémon to get its own mainline game dedicated to it, Pikachu’s popularity stems primarily from its prominent role in the anime as Ash’s best friend and constant companion. While many Pokémon can be considered disposable in terms of their designs and personalities, Pikachu was arguably the first one to feel like an actual character and not just some creature that could be used to battle other creatures.
Pikachu, as presented in the anime, is a proud, determined little rascal who makes Ash work to earn its respect and this element was carried over to the Pokémon Yellow game, where you had to work to make Pikachu like you. Pikachu may not be the best Pokémon, per se, but it’s certainly the most popular and it’s difficult — if not impossible — to talk about the best first generation Pokémon without mentioning Pikachu’s name.
It’s hard not to gravitate to the extremely rare Pokémon and for good reason. Mew was essentially only an urban legend when the original Pokémon games were released and players spend an obscene amount of time trying to figure out how to catch it. Many eventually settled on using Game Shark or Game Genie to attain one, although a legitimate way was eventually found, but it turned out that Mew more than lived up to its legendary status.
Mew is equal parts cute and powerful, a psychic Pokémon that could learn almost any ability. No other Pokémon has elicited quite the same thrill of discovery among the player base as Mew did back in the early days of the franchise and it’s hard to think that any ever will.
One of the franchise’s earliest mascots, Blastoise’s popularity has held strong over the years, perhaps because badass turtles never really go out of style (just as the Ninja Turtles). While it’s kind of weird that it naturally has two high-pressure water cannons jutting out of its shell, those cannons have helped establish Blastoise as one of the all-time most powerful water Pokémon, with its Hydro Cannon attack being a force to be reckoned with. While some Pokémon rely on their speed to get by, Blastoise understands its limitations and instead relies on its bulk and power to get the job done. We sure wouldn’t want to mess with one!
Snorlax is the physical embodiment of what we aspire to be: beings that subsist only on sleeping and eating. Of course, as his incredibly unhealthy-looking appearance betrays, this is not the wisest way to live one’s life, but you kind of have to respect Snorlax’s dedication to being lazy af all the time.
Fortunately, Snorlax is surprisingly useful in battle if you can get him to stay awake for more than five minutes and we’d imagine he’d made one heck of a permanent fixture in your living room. Who needs an oversized bean bag chair when you can just lay on a Snorlax? Plus, he’s probably the only Pokémon who wouldn’t judge us if we decided to just stay in and watch Netflix all day; in fact, he’d probably choose what we watched!
If there was any Pokémon that deserves to be considered essential, it’s Mewtwo, the human-engineered clone of Mew who was so powerful he could only be contained by a Master Ball, of which there was only one in the original games. That is because Mewtwo was one if, if not THE most powerful Pokémon in the game and no self-respecting player would be caught dead without him on their squad.
As if that wasn’t enough to elevate him into the top ranks, the very first Pokemon movie centered on his diabolical scheme to wipe out humanity and even though that movie ended with Mewtwo realizing the error of his ways, it’s hard not to admire a Pokémon that looked at the status quo of humans basically enslaving his kind in order to pit them against each other in violent battles for sport and said “No thanks, you die now.” What we’re saying is is that Mewtwo is pretty awesome, as far as wild genetic experiments go.
All respect to Dragonite, but everyone knows that Charizard is the true dragon Pokémon, even if he technically doesn’t fall into that category. Charmander’s final evolved form is formidable in all the right ways and is definitely the best final evolution out of all the starter Pokémon (can Venusaur and Blastoise fly and spew fire? Didn’t think so.)
What we really love about Charizard is that it suffers no fools, as evidenced by its refusal to take any of Ash’s s–t until it deemed him worthy. Charizard’s strong stats and move set have helped ensure that he remains a popular choice in competitive play to this day and even if he’s not your personal favorite Pokémon, it’s hard to deny that he’s one of the all-time greats.
Plus, if you managed to attain his legendary holographic card back in the heyday of Pokémon trading cards, you basically won at childhood (but your friends totally hated your guts).