My Top 20 Favourite Pokemon

As of right about now I’ve been playing Pokemon for 20 years. Out of the 809 Pokemon currently available in a Pokemon game at the time of writing, these are my 20 personal favourites (with another 20 honourable mentions for good measure). The list can and will change, but it’s been coming long enough, it’s easy to understand, it’s Pokemon hype season, let’s go.
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20. Tentacruel

There are all kinds of reasons why a Pokemon might make anyone’s personal list and I’m no exception. As someone who started with the first generation in the late 1990s, when I was all over the games, trading cards and anime, Tentacruel didn’t really stand out for me initially. Evolving from the extremely annoying, common-as-salt Tentacool, its only moment in the spotlight came in that one anime episode where Team Rocket forced a gigantic one to appear and wreak havoc.

But fast-forward a decade to my period of highest engagement with the main series Pokemon games, when I would put in literally hundreds of hours breeding, training and battling Pokemon teams with my friends across Pokemon Black, White, Black 2 and White 2, and Tentacruel started to become a real staple on my roster. In just about any competitive game or sport my default strategy is to slow down the game and play defensively, controlling the pace where I can, and Tentacruel used to absolutely excel in that role. Throwing down some Toxic Spikes, burning attacking threats with Scald, and healing off damage in wet weather with the Rain Dish ability and some Black Sludge was never not satisfying for me. I’m sure my friends hated it though.
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19. Lycanroc

A recent addition, Lycanroc was always going to have a decent chance at standing out from the Sun and Moon crowd thanks to its heavy presence in the marketing and its three amazing form designs – one of which served as a promo for the two Ultra games – but its refreshing niche as one of the only properly quick Rock-type Pokemon around makes it a lot of fun to use in battle.

I rarely double up on Pokemon between playthroughs unless I have a good reason, but after putting nearly 50 hours into Sun‘s Battle Tree alongside a Midday Form Lycanroc, grinding for Battle Points and trying to beat the secret boss Red, I didn’t hesitate in adding the Dusk Form Lycanroc to my Ultra Sun team a year later. That +1 priority Accelerock move is too rad.


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18. Vivillon

This guy wouldn’t have been on the list if I hadn’t decided to go back and play through a Kalos run earlier this year. But I did, and I gave Vivillon its own paragraph there, so what are you waiting for? Click here.
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17. Nidorina

As a kid in primary school, this was my third-favourite Pokemon, and it still cracks the Top 20 thanks in no small part to the opportunities provided by Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee‘s wild disdain for mechanical balance. In that game, if you put in enough of a grind, you can strengthen just about any Pokemon to a level where it can compete with the Elite Four, even if it isn’t fully evolved. So I kept one in my team as-is.

One of the many things that initially spoke to me about the Pokemon phenomenon 20 years ago was the idea of fantastical Poke-ecosystems that mirror the real world, so I had a special fondness for Pokemon that were shown in the anime/card art/Pokedex descriptions to interact with other Pokemon on the regular, have regional and/or gender-related differences, or attack with moves that real-life animals might use in the wild. The Nido family checked all three boxes – especially before their final evolutions – a full eight years before the next gender difference seen in the series. Nidorina was blue. That did it.
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16. Zangoose

Ah, Pokemon Ruby. To this day, the third generation of Pokemon games still stand as the best example of The Pokemon Company’s dual-game release strategy in action. If you ask me the suite of version-exclusive Pokemon has never been more generous, nor of a higher quality. Zangoose makes a fine point of embodying this phenomenon, wearing the main colour of its home videogame as a pair of impossibly badass scars across its eye and chest.

Zangoose’s take-no-prisoners stare depicts a natural hatred for its Sapphire-exclusive counterpart, the venomous Seviper. Mirroring the real-life snake/mongoose dynamic but taking it to absurd Pokemon levels, Zangoose’s Pokedex flavour text extends into gameplay with a magnificent stroke of design. Its abilities, Immunity and Toxic Boost, are derived from a life of fighting powerful snake creatures, and its speed and attack power match up with its look and inspiration equally well. While the last decade has not been kind to Zangoose’s relevance in the competitive metagame, I can’t help but love the elegant synergy of visuals, gameplay and lore it represents.
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15. Araquanid

Ever since I could read I’ve found water-dwelling insects both fascinating and extremely cool, but Game Freak’s early-2000s attempt at the concept was a bit of a bust. Surskit doesn’t even stay Water-type when it evolves into the airborne, weird-headed Masquerain. But four generations and over a decade later, along comes Dewpider and its imposing evolution Araquanid.

First encountered by the grassy edge of the rain-soaked pond where you encounter the titanic totem terror known as Wishiwashi, this acid-green/clear-blue monster has an immediately arresting design even when pre-evolved. But the real kicker is its exclusive ability, Water Bubble, which doubles the power of Water-type moves and makes it immune to the burn status that would otherwise cripple it. Paired with fresh Gen 7 move Liquidation, this makes Araquanid another modern entry in Pokemon’s beastly bug category.
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14. Arcanine

Of all the entries on this list, Arcanine is probably the one I’ve heard listed the most among other people’s favourites. An absolute Gen 1 legend, “majestic flaming dog” was always likely to be a winning design template, and it most definitely worked out that way – Just look at all the Arcanine merchandise over the decades. But the original class of Pokemon was hardly light on four-legged fire-breathers. As a young’un I was always more of a Ninetales or Rapidash guy.

Fast-forward four generations to the peak of my competitive battling phase, and the picture changed drastically for me. Once I discovered what the immensely powerful thing could do with a defensive mindset I fell in love. Using the Attack-lowering ability Intimidate in combination with the devastating Will-o-Wisp was just the start, as Arcanine could heal off both incoming and recoil damage using Morning Sun and thus serve as an unlikely protective pivot for its team. From what I hear Arcanine can also hold its own in the Gen 7 doubles metagame. That’s staying power.
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13. Toxicroak

As you may have already guessed, my favourite abilities in the Pokemon series are the ones that have real-world parallels, and Toxicroak’s Dry Skin fits the bill magnificently. Loses health in harsh sun and has a de facto extra weakness to fire, but gains health in the rain and absorbs HP from opposing Water moves. Just like a real amphibious reptile. But Parasect and Heliolisk also pack this ability, so what pulls the evolution of the meme-friendly Croagunk onto my list?

How about a sick poisonous claw-hand design, a neat frog-inspired gender difference, or a super-fun (and still unique at the time of writing) type combination in Poison and Fighting? How about being among the few Pokemon in the series to be equally effective at attacking from both the special and physical ends of the spectrum, either way boosting its power while healing off damage? Toxicroak brings the goods, I tell you.
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12. Grovyle

The overwhelming majority of starter Pokemon follow a cute-to-badass evolutionary formula that leaves the middle-stage evolution looking like supremely awkward teenagers. Dewott, Torracat and the next Pokemon on this list stand apart from the crowd as fun exceptions, but there is no middle stager in Pokemon starter history that looks better than Grovyle. Its basically a bounding hair metal velociraptor, with a sharp watermelon colour palette, speed to burn and one hell of an iconic signature move. While the powerful Leaf Blade has gone on to become the staple offensive tool of myriad grass types, Grovyle was the first to learn it, and there has never been a more deserving wielder. The Pokemon it eventually becomes, Sceptile, is certainly not unpopular – none of the Gen 3 final evos are – but Grovyle still somehow outshines it.
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11. Quilava

The highest entry on my list from a Pokemon starter family, Quilava is not only one of those rare middle-stagers with a design that can stand on its own, its also a hugely nostalgic Pokemon for me. The only time I haven’t picked the Grass starter for an initial generational playthrough, Quilava stuck with me through the loss of my Game Boy Color as a kid, evolving from Cyndaquil on a borrowed black-and-white Game Boy Pocket and looking s-h-a-r-p despite this. What’s not to love about a flaming mohawk, right?

Get the full emotive story here.
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10. Mareep

I’ve got one or two problems with the pacing of new Pokemon reveals throughout Pokemon Gold and Silver, but there ain’t nothing wrong with those opening few hours, which still fill me with nostalgic glee. And while I could put Ledyba, Spinarak or Wooper on this list to represent that perfectly concocted initial chapter, none of them are as cute or as useful as Mareep.

From the first moment I saw one in the wild, this fluffy ball of static energy caught my attention with perhaps the earliest instance of an audio cry that actually sounds vaguely like it’s real-world inspiration. Considering the first 151 Pokemon had cries consisting of mainly beeps, boops and bass, and Gold/Silver was still working with Game Boy hardware, this was a bit of a big deal. More importantly, though, Electric is always a handy type to have on hand, and Mareep absolutely dominates the early game. Then it evolves twice and continues to take out all the plentiful Water and Flying types in the game with ease, while not particularly caring about the ghosts that run the midgame. Anyone who used an Ampharos in their Johto playthrough can attest to how powerful it is, despite having one of the lowest Speed stats in the game.

Wooloo has a lot to live up to.
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9. Tsareena

Oh boy, that image search was a mistake.

The introduction of Tsareena in Pokemon’s seventh generation represented an exciting moment for the Grass type, which traditionally sucks at offense. While not nearly fast enough to be a pure sweeper, it packs a great 120 base Attack stat for a member of the green squad and its exclusive move Trop Kick comes with a guaranteed Attack drop on the Pokemon hit, which pairs nicely with Tsareena’s high-ish defensive stats to make for a tropical cocktail of super-fun shenanigans.

Tsareena is also a good old-fashioned three-stage evolutionary family, which are kinda rare these days. It boasts a cool fruit-based concept and is easily my favourite Pokemon native to Alola.
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8. Yanmega

Packing edgy ’90s pseudo-shades, a rigid made-for-action-figure body and one of the coolest cries in the Pokemon series, Yanmega is the epitome of a wish-fulfilment Pokemon for anyone who grew up on Power Rangers and/or Godzilla. It’s just not the kind of thing you’d want to see blotting out the sun.

One of many new evolutions to older Pokemon introduced in the fourth generation, Yanmega saved the relevance of one of Pokemon Gold/Silver‘s handful of unremarkable single-stage ‘mons by turning it into a special attacking powerhouse that gets faster every turn. But it wasn’t until the Battle Subway of Black and White that I forged a fruitful hundred-hour partnership with the dangerous dragonfly. With the Tinted Lens ability and a set of Choice Specs, Yanmega becomes one of the most outrageous battering rams in the game, ignoring most enemy type resistances and tearing through premium AI opposition like its nothing. Farming Battle Points was never so stress-free again.
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7. Vespiquen

The third Bug/Flying type on this list (a bit of a surprise to be honest), Vespiquen is a favourite of mine by sheer good fortune. To get a Vespiquen on your team in Diamond or Pearl you need to run into a female Combee, which only appears once every eight encounters, and you only find Combees in the first place by marking trees with honey and then waiting several real-world hours. So it’s not Milotic-hard to find, but it’s not far off.

I got one on my first attempt while trying to lure a rarer Pokemon, and after an underwhelming couple of hours spamming Gust, my Combee evolved and immediately learned a move I had never seen before, Power Gem – the first special-attacking Rock move in the series. From there, Vespiquen kept on learning completely fresh moves. Three of them – Attack Order, Defend Order and Heal Order – remain completely exclusive to this day. Its visual design is also a victory, but it’s that rarefied air that really makes Vespiquen one of the series’ most memorable Pokemon to me.
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6. Joltik

Last bug. It doesn’t get any simpler than this. As the equal-smallest Pokemon on record to date, not to mention one of the fuzziest, Joltik is just adorable. Game Freak’s ability to make a Bug-type Pokemon this freaking cute is one of the hallmarks of their ongoing mega-success. It even made it into the Detective Pikachu movie with a short-and-sweet cameo. LOOK AT ITS FACE.
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5. Solrock

It levitates. It pops, locks and rotates like a transforming anime weapon. It shines like the insignia of a Final Fantasy endgame boss. From one angle it looks like it wants to mess you up, and from another like it doesn’t have a care in the world. It uses the power of the sun to make itself untouchable, then attacks with the power of celestial minerals, psychic energy and solar flares.

Solrock may not have the stats to back up its concept, but that concept has been magnetic to me ever since it made its debut as one of Pokemon Ruby’s famously fantastic suite of exclusives. I’ve had some super-satisfying battles with the mysterious orange rock on my side, and have recently rediscovered my affection for it in the mobile game Pokemon Masters. Solrock is just one of those Pokemon that I’ll probably always like, regardless of how it’s treated going forward.
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4. Dragonair

The official second-favourite Pokemon of a ten year-old me, Dragonair was repping the unexpected, drastic final evolution before it was cool. And don’t get me wrong; Dragonite is great, but Dragonair is a majestic water snake with pegasus ears that doesn’t even need to get near you to mess you up, cause it can make the weather do it.

In terms of competitive strength, Dragonair has been languishing behind other sea serpents like Milotic, Gyarados and even Gorebyss for a long time. But just like Nidorina, I rediscovered my affection for Dragonair via Let’s Go Eevee, which let me jack up its stats to the point where it could at long last live up to those mysterious Pokedex entries of two decades ago. With a moveset of Thunder, Surf, Dragon Pulse and Fire Blast, the unevolved weather maestro got to tear elemental holes in its opponents like I always figured it should, and that ended up being the most memorable part of the half-spin-off game for me.
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3. Sawsbuck

Cool animal meets favourite type meets eye-catching gimmick. Sawsbuck is practically targeted at people like me. Joining a select group of Pokemon based on quadruped mammals, essentially all of which are home runs design-wise, the majestic deer stands out from the crowd by way of its season-changing aesthetic quirk. This essentially gives Sawsbuck four strikingly different looks and when it comes to picking a team, grants an inherent advantage over the other 150-odd new Pokemon that Black and White introduce to the fold.

But what gets the Summer-Autumn-Winter-Spring Buck up near the top of my list – other than its accidental resemblance to the mascot of the South African national rugby team – is its trailblazing niche within the traditionally defensive Grass type. Though Gogoat and Tsareena have followed in its footsteps as Grass-type attackers in the years since, doing some things a tiny bit better, neither of them can boast the blinding speed of a Chloropyhll-boosted Sawsbuck in full flight, charging through enemies with Swords Dance, Return, Jump Kick and the ever-reliable Horn Leech. Grass types suck at getting the space to move in most battles due to their awful type weaknesses, but the few times I’ve set up a Sawsbuck sweep in a game, the failures have felt well worth it.
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2. Flabebe

My all-time favourite Pokemon hasn’t changed in two decades, but as the “best of the rest” I had no idea going into this post what to put in second place. My opinions just change so often. So I decided it would be best to put up a Pokemon that’s symbolic to me more than anything else.

Seeing any picture of Flabebe instantly reminds me of the ridiculous hype leading up to the first 3D Pokemon games, X and Y. These games were the first to get a simultaneous worldwide release, and there was no widespread demo release containing inadvertent Pokedex spoilers like there was for Sun and Moon. A bunch of my friends and I changed our Facebook profile pictures to the same render of Flabebe in anticipation, and I can’t even remember how or why that happened. What I do remember is seeing one in the wild during the launch day festivities, having my mind blown that they came with different-coloured flowers depending on where they were caught, and deciding to keep it in my party until the very end of the game.

Seeing the adorable and deceptively-typed fairy evolve twice – each time into a Pokemon I had never seen before – transported me back to the days of Johto and Hoenn, when I had no ability or reason to know what was around each proverbial corner. Packing monstrous Special Defense and rather handy Special Attack, Floette and eventually Florges were extremely useful team members, and ended up as my favourite Gen 6 additions to the wider Pokedex. Then, a month later, I went to Japan and discovered that different Pokemon Centers across the nation were carrying different-coloured Flabebe plushes. That was it. That was all I needed. This shy dandelion-inspired pocket monster was cemented as one of my all-time faves.
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1. Vaporeon

My first favourite and still my favourite. A founding member of arguably the most famous Pokemon evolutionary family, there’s just a whole lot to like about Vaporeon. Evolving your Kanto Eevee with a Water Stone, which can be purchased far too easily from the Celadon City Department Store, gives you a Pokemon that will fill the gap in any Water-starved team with such ridiculous ease it makes you wonder why people even pick Jolteon or Flareon. I’M JOKING GUYS.

Vaporeon really shouldn’t work visually. On paper, putting fish parts on a vaguely canine-feline thing is a recipe for disaster. And yet those bastards did it – Vaporeon is somehow an elegant sky-blue icon. It can melt its particles into water to make itself undetectable, giving it access to the move with the most metal name of the entire first generation, Acid Armor. Even without the considerable defensive buff that move bestows, you are gonna have a hard time getting this bulky combatant to sit down, and you’ll have a chunk of health missing for your troubles if you do. Vaporeon was still a serious threat in the metagame a decade after it made its debut, such is its ongoing ability to turn a match on its head.

Considerably difficult to take down, a cool gimmick to its lore, deceptive offensive power, a universally appealing visual design, ongoing staying power in pop culture. I mean, in a way, it’s just what we all want to be, isn’t it?

#ThankYouGameFreak
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Honorable Mentions

(Alphabetically)

Articuno
Clefable
Cacturne
Cofagrigus
Gliscor
Gogoat
Igglybuff
Infernape
Jumpluff
Kabutops
Lapras
Ludicolo
Mudkip
Ninetales
Noivern
Pheromosa
Roserade
Serperior
Talonflame
Zebstrika
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Generational Breakdown

1stKanto: 10 Pokemon
2ndJohto: 4 Pokemon
3rdHoenn: 6 Pokemon
4thSinnoh: 6 Pokemon
5thUnova: 5 Pokemon
6thKalos: 5 Pokemon
7thAlola: 4 Pokemon

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