Starter Pokémon Ranked
Last week, Nintendo revealed POKÉMON SWORD and SHIELD (2019) during a Pocket Monsters-centric Direct on Pokémon Day. It was a whole week of Pokémon news, with new trailers for DETECTIVE PIKACHU (2019) and the first animated movie CG remake (2019), among other developments. In any event, as usual, the internet took to making the new starter Pokémon viral. Sobble, the depressed frog, especially took web humorists by storm. Memes abounded. But it got me thinking about the reaction to past reveals of starter Pokémon, and so I thought I’d take to evaluating all from past core games. This doesn’t include Pikachu or Eevee from POKÉMON YELLOW (1998) or the LET’S GO games (2018). By the way, also check out my ranking of all of the original 151 creatures! OK, here are the 24 starters ranked, which I should mention is based solely on design and “personality”; this has nothing to do with how they play in the games.
#24 — Fennekin (Gen. VI Fire Type)
Alright, I should probably say here that I haven’t played any of the POKÉMON games past Generation III, RUBY and SAPPHIRE (2002), but not necessarily for lack of interest. I just haven’t gotten around to them, although clearly I’ve kept pace with announcements and the inspirations for the new regions and the standout Pocket Monsters that have come out of the games. That being said, I’m super underwhelmed by Fennekin, the fire type starter from X and Y (2013). It’s a “pretty” fox creature, sure, but Fennekin is just a bit too…DeviantArt for me.
#23 — Snivy (Gen. V Grass Type)
I don’t love Snivy’s snake/lizard design. It also looks a little arrogant.
#22 — Chespin (Gen. VI Grass Type)
Chespin’s little grass hat thing is really cute, but I can’t pin down why I don’t like it more than I do. I think its tail and feet don’t really fit the design of the upper half of the Pokémon, which is also just a little too…neat. Generic maybe?
#21 — Litten (Gen. VII Fire Type)
I know I said Fennekin smacks of DeviantArt, but Litten definitely does. It totally looks like an edgy, angsty addition to the fan-made Sonic the Hedgehog character canon. That being said, it gains points just for how sullen it is. It’s funny.
#20 — Scorbunny (Gen. VIII Fire Type)
Any ranking of the newest starters may seem a little iffy since they’re so new, but Scorbunny is kind of a boring design, a little too simple in the wrong ways. I appreciate its big, doofy feet, but I don’t love its conjoined ears and hair tufts off the side of its face.
#19 — Grookey (Gen. VIII Grass Type)
Grookey may have the worst name of all the starters, but it’s a cute little dude. It’s a monkey, man. I gotta dig it at least a moderate amount.
#18 — Tepig (Gen. V Fire Type)
Tepig, more like tepid, amirite!?! No, but Tepig’s cool. I love hogs of all kinds, and Tepig’s little poingy tail is hilarious. The snout!
#17 — Chikorita (Gen. II Grass Type)
I don’t know exactly why, but I’ve never been a huge fan of Chikorita. I just think I don’t love how it doesn’t have a nose and how…bulbous its head is, rising from its little stubby body. Still, the creature’s not ugly, and I love its fabulous head leaf. Nostalgia has a lot to do with this decision, though, as it does with a lot of my behavior lately. Childhood’s innocence seems so remote and powerful when you’re drowning in the morass of adult depression. What!?!
#16 — Popplio (Gen. VII Water Type)
Look, Popplio, this dumb seal boi, gets dragged too much. But honestly, I used to like the monster much more. There’s something about its circus clown appearance that doesn’t delight me so much anymore. It just feels a little bit more…cheap.
#15 — Chimchar (Gen. IV Fire Type)
Usually, I would side with the chunkier option, in this case the other starter monkey Pokémon Grookey, but there’s something so cute about Chimchar’s huge head on such a thin torso. Its hair also looks like mine, so I gotta stand in solidarity.
#14 — Oshawott (Gen. V Water Type)
I love otters as much as the next person, but Oshawott in contrast to some of those that have come before on this list, feels a little over-designed. I guess I’m just referring to the ruffly coat and shell insignia on its torso. Maybe I just have too high standards, but I expected more from an otter Pokémon.
#13 — Froakie (Gen. VI Water Type)
Now, maybe the same could be said for Froakie. There’s a lot of fluff going on with its back, but ultimately, we’re talking about a frog here. Frogs rule, so translating that design, and incorporating huge disparate eyes with a whole lane of highway on the animal’s head, makes for a winner.
#12 — Bulbasaur (Gen. I Grass Type)
The lowest ranked Gen. I starter, Bulbasaur has never really been one of my favorites. Its cute, and like Chikorita, I like the connection to its type with its titular “bulb” indicating some kind of plant-based physiology. But something about Bulbasaur has never clicked with me. Still, I clearly don’t hate it, and being #1 in the whole of the Pokédex system isn’t nothing. I like Bulbasaur’s voice in the show too.
#11 — Turtwig (Gen. IV Grass Type)
Turtwig is an awesome name, by the way. And the creature itself is an even cooler little dude; for some reason it reminds me of the giant turtles with islands/worlds on their back that appear in folklore. The design of the facial structure is also a bit more nuanced for starter Pokémon. Turtwig is a great example, and we’ll see the best of those examples from here on in, of a simple, cute design done incredibly well.
#10 — Cyndaquil (Gen. II Fire Type)
I would want to cuddle and cherish my bashful sleepy little anteater if it wasn’t for the pit of hellfire bursting from its back.
#9 — Treecko (Gen. III Grass Type)
Treecko is my lean, mean, grassy fighting machine. I love the gecko-inspired design, and unlike a lot of other grass starters, Treecko’s connection to plants isn’t hammered home. Sure, its tail is “lush” or whatever, but otherwise, the Pocket Monster is just a cool-looking green lizard. I can dig it.
#8 — Piplup (Gen. IV Water Type)
Penguins are one of my favorite animals in the real world, so of course a Pokémon equivalent would hold a special place in my heart. Piplup is just incredibly cute. I’m using that word a lot, but come on! Pokémon, people!
#7 — Charmander (Gen. I Fire Type)
Although it eventually evolves into seemingly everyone’s favorite (overrated) Pokémon, Charizard, this starter (like almost every single one) is superior to its later forms. Charmander, along with Squirtle, would define the kind of stubby, chunky, round-headed, big-eyed, bipedal starters to come; same with Bulbasaur, but you know, with four legs instead. I find it interesting that every one of the Gen. I starters are essentially reptiles. Anyways, yeah, of course Charmander is great. Remember that episode of the show where one gets abused and almost dies from its flame going out? Real-ass shit.
#6 — Torchic (Gen. III Fire Type)
“Torchic” is such a great play on words. The creature itself also happens to be the smol-est of all the starters, in my opinion. It’s somehow the least threatening of these Pokémon, which is why I love it so.
#5 — Mudkip (Gen. III Water Type)
What is Mudkip? Like an axolotl or some shit? Well, whatever it is, it’s real rad. Its design taps really well into that “weird amphibian” vibe that an axolotl or salamander or tadpole has, with just strange outgrowths all over the place. But then it’s also like kind of a dog! Mudkip has always been one of my favorite Pokémon in general, and Marshtomp and Swampert are some of the few evolutions of a starter that can even come close to rivaling the original form.
#4 — Totodile (Gen. II Water Type)
Totodile has always seemed like it has too much energy, but kind of like Bulbasaur, the appreciation I have for it mostly comes from the show and how its personality is represented there. But I also like how it distills the threat that crocodiles represent into such a palatable, likeable chungus.
#3 — Sobble (Gen. VIII Water Type)
I may be speaking too soon, but Sobble may truly be my spirit Pokémon. Much ado has been made about this anxious little buddy and comments like “big mood” have been thrown around in response to its apparent neuroses. But, like, seriously, big mood.
#2 — Rowlet (Gen. VII Grass Type)
I love my studious little blob. Look at his leaf bow tie! Look at it! Rowlet would be so supportive of your emotions and have answers you need if it could speak more than its own name. Rowlet is a truly nice soft boy.
#1 — Squirtle (Gen. I Water Type)
Squirtle is the starter Pokémon. Its simple deviation from real-world animal life is the perfect encapsulation of what these Pocket Monsters are all about and it looks lovable and cool while doing it. (See Squirtle Squad for the latter). Squirtle is my second favorite Pokémon of all time, so of course it’s the best of the starters. But I can appreciate all the little pals.