More than 25 years ago, Nintendo introduced players to the iconic and venerable Pokemon franchise with the now-legendary Pokemon Red/Blue/Green (or Red/Blue/Yellow here in the West). With 151 catchable monsters spread out across the Kanto region, millions of players quickly became acquainted with the innate drive to “Catch ’em All”, successfully birthing the most successful IP in pop culture history in the process. The Pokemon franchise, for better or worse, continues to stick to its guns by bringing players to new regions with new Pokemon to catch, but few have reached the iconic status of the original Gen 1 pocket monsters.
Whether via nostalgia or the important formative nature of the games for many players, the Gen 1 Pokemon remain the most iconic across the entire franchise. To test this theory, show a non-gamer a picture of a new monster from last year’s Pokemon Violet/Scarlet, and then show them a picture of Pikachu or Charizard. In terms of which one the non-gamer will instantly recognize, it’s not even a question. With appearances across animated shows, movies, the collectible card game, and (of course) the original trilogy of Pokemon games themselves, these Gen 1 Pokemon are the best of the best.
Contrary to many of the Pokemon in this list, Jigglypuff is actually the evolved form of a Gen 1 Pokemon rather than being a larval form. Coming from the equally adorable Igglybuff, Jigglypuff is a Normal-type Pokemon with the ability to sing enemies to sleep via lullaby. Between its utility in the first three Pokemon games and its cute appearance, Jigglypuff continues to be a fan-favorite. It even has some important appearances in the animated Pokemon television series and motion pictures.
Despite being a hugely popular Pokemon from Gen 1, Slowpoke has gone largely overlooked by Pokemon merchandise until recently. Thankfully, the character is about to receive its own dedicated plush, making it the last Pokemon in this list to receive one. Although Slowpoke has a pure psychic form in later Pokemon games, its Gen 1 appearance is a dual-type water/psychic type. With a body resembling a cross between a slamander and a hippopotamus and a penchant for slothlike behavior, there’s not much to dislike about this Pokemon.
Psyduck is one of many monsters on this list to make repeat appearances in both the games and animated series of Pokemon. An iconic water-type Pokemon that appears in almost every game in the series, Psyduck also happens to closely resemble a real-world animal. It’s resemblance to a duck-billed platypus aside, Psyduck is instantly recognizable thanks to being a commonly encountered Pokemon in the early hours of the first three games in the series.
Just look at him! Snorlax is one of the most instantly recognizable and iconic Pokemon not just for his appearance in the mainline games but for his use as a mascot and highly-sought after Pokemon in the Nintendo 64 classic Pokemon Snap. In terms of iconic images associated with the early days of the Pokemon series, few can match the notoriety of the photos of sleeping Snorlax from the first Pokemon Snap game. So profound is the love of fans for Snorlax that he’s the face of the new Pokemon Sleep app.
Eevee isn’t just an adorable Pokemon that combines the best parts of dogs and cats into one irresistably cute creature. She’s also one of only a handful of Gen 1 Pokemon on this list to get its own game where it acts as the star. Prior to the launch of Pokemon X and Y, the first Pokemon games on the Nintendo Switch were the Pokemon: Let’s Go series starring Eevee and Pikachu. Similar to Psyduck, Eevee can chart multiple appearances across several generations of Pokemon, but its her iconic Gen 1 form that cements her place in fans’ hearts.
Now that we’ve entered the top 5, we’re beginning to see the Gen 1 monsters that act as the face of the franchise in some capacity. Starting with number 5, Bulbasaur, the face of Pokemon Green, few others on this list are as instantly recognizeable as the loveable grass-type Pokemon. Not only is the Bulbasaur hugely important in the first three games in the series, it’s also one of the main recurring characters in the animated series and films, being one of the Pokemon held by series hero Ash Ketchum.
In addition to being the unmistakable face of Pokemon Red (which was, for many, the first introduction to the world of Nintendo’s “pocket monsters”), Charmander is also the larval form of the incredibly powerful and popular fire-type Pokemon Charizard. Not only is the Charmander and its many evolutions an iconic symbol of the Pokemon franchise and multimedia empire, some of the Pokemon Collectible Card Game’s most valuable cards belong to the monster and its evolutions. Aside from that, the tiny orange dragon exemplifies all of the irresistible charm of the franchise.
Just like Charmander, Squirtle is another Gen 1 Pokemon that acts as a face of the entire franchise. Serving as the mascot for Pokemon Blue, millions of fans worldwide got their first glimpse of the Kanto region through ownership of this famous water-type Pokemon. Aside from its importance in the iconography of the franchise, Squirtle also has one of the best evolution paths of any Gen 1 Pokemon by eventually turning into the hugely powerful Blastoise, another iconic and invaluable addition to any self-respecting trainer’s stable.
Mew is hugely important to both the Pokemon games and animated series as a mysterious legendary monster that can learn any move, regardless of type. It appears as one of the rarest Pokemon for players to catch in the first three games in the series, as well as the basis for the animated film based on its genetic mutation Mewtwo. Notably, Mew cannot evolve into another Pokemon or evolve from another. The “evolution” into Mewtwo is something that was done through genetic engineering by humans. In addition to the other Gen 1 Pokemon that act as the mascots of the early games, Mew holds the most appearances across the series’ multimedia empire.
Of course it’s got to be Pikachu at number one, who else could it be? After being one of the more popular and resonant characters with Western players, Pikachu’s adoration led to it becoming the new mascot for the Western release of Pokemon Green, which was subsequently renamed Pokemon Yellow. Since then, Pikachu has served as the unofficical face of the entire Pokemon franchise, becoming as reconizable and impactful an icon as Disney’s Mickey Mouse. Not only does Pikachu have more starring games in the franchise than any other Pokemon, he’s also the focal point of the successful Detective Pikachu major motion picture. In terms of iconic Gen 1 Pokemon, it doesn’t get any bigger than the little electric mouse that shocked its way into our hearts 27 years ago.