Pokémon's History In The US
When the first Pokémon videogame came out in the late 90s, it wasn't clear how popular the franchise would remain. That was 30 years ago, and on the back of major film success and the continued evolution of Pokémon games, the Pokémon franchise continues to thrive in the U.S. and on a global scale.
When it comes to cards, the popularity of Pokémon cards has often eclipsed sports cards, and buying and selling Pokémon cards can be a lucrative hobby. With the card game being entertaining and easy to understand, they became accessible to a large audience.
Here’s a look at the origins of Pokémon in the United States.
The Pokémon videogame came before the trading cards, and the mind behind that game was Satoshi Tajiri.
Born in 1965, Tajiri is currently the president of Game Freak, the primary developer of Pokémon videogames published by Nintendo and The Pokémon Company.
Since the first release of the games, Pokémon has undergone many adaptations, and Tajiri tends to be involved in most of them. He remains passionate about the franchise today and was the executive producer of the 2019 movie “Detective Pikachu.”
Pokémon in the US
The first Pokémon game release in Japan was in 1996. It didn’t take long for the franchise to expand globally, including in the US. The first US Pokémon adaptation was the Pokémon Red and Blue Game Boy game that was released in the US in 1998, around 20 months after the Japanese release.
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Pokémon Game Boy Game
Following the success of the video game in Japan, US development began. Alfred Kahn, convinced the Pokémon franchise to give him the license to distribute the game in the US, which he did through his company 4Kids Entertainment.
As of March 2022, there have been more than 440 million copies of the game’s multiple iterations sold worldwide.
Pokémon TV Show
The US adaptations of Pokémon continued with an animated series. In 1997, the show began to air in Japan, and a year later it was on syndicated TV in the United States with the first episode: “Pokémon, I Choose You!”
The original plotline followed young Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum as he and his first Pokémon, Pikachu, begin their adventure to “catch them all.”
The show is still on today, at the time of this article being written.
Pokémon Trading Cards
Pokémon trading cards were released in Japan in 1996, and three years later they were created in English and sold in North America by the card company Wizards of the Coast.
The first 1999 Pokémon Base Set release had 102 different cards, all with detailed animations and different attacks and defenses that were used when playing the game with friends.
People were buying and trading these cards, in addition to playing against each other in the actual Pokémon trading card game.
Rare cards soon become the most valuable, and the first coveted rare card was a Base Set Charizard. The odds of getting a Charizard in your starter pack of Pokémon cards was 1 in 97, making it valuable even in the early days. Much like other trading cards, rare cards sell for much more than standard cards. Some of the earliest Charizard cards have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, such as a mint condition “Shadowless Charizard” cards that recently sold for more than $300,000.
The most expensive Pokémon card — a mint condition “Pikachu Illustrator” — was sold in 2022 for $5.275 million.
Full-length, animated films were released shortly after the TV show, starring Ash Ketchum as well. The first, “Pokémon: The First Movie,” came out in 1998 and was a huge success, making $172 million at the U.S. box office.
Since then, at least one animated film has been released every year.
In addition to animation, Pokémon has also dipped into the live-action film world with the release of “Detective Pikachu” in 2019. The film is loosely based on the animated series, with Pikachu being the sidekick of the human lead, whose name is Tim Goodman in the films.
Pokémon Go and Other Video Games
The Pokémon Go mobile game was an early example of augmented reality. Pokémon Go is a smartphone game where players search for Pokémon in the real world, but these Pokémon are only seen when using your phone’s camera. Using augemented reality on your camera, you can see and catch Pokémon as you walk around.
Pokémon Go was released in 2016. Since then, the game has generated billions of dollars in revenue and in 2021 alone the game was downloaded 572 Million times.
Other popular video games from the franchise include Pokémon Snap, where players took pictures of their favorite Pokémon. The Super Smash Bros. series also welcomed a few Pokémon characters to its lineup of usable fighters in the game.
Who Are the Most Popular Pokémon?
No matter your level of interest in Pokémon, you would likely know Pikachu, who has become an easily recognizable cultural icon.
A poll conducted by Collider surveyed users on Reddit asking them their favorite Pokémon and Charizard was voted #1. Honorable mentions were:
How Much is the Pokémon Franchise Worth?
Ready for a surprise?
The Pokémon franchise is the highest grossing entertainment franchise of all time, having made more than $118 billion in revenue throughout its history. This significantly eclipses other franchises like Mario ($34.6 billion) and Star Wars ($68.7 billion).
Few other brands have worked so well on a global scale across so many different media outlets.
The Future of Pokémon
Considering Pokémon's success over the last thirty years, the franchise has established a strong global community that continues to grow. From the trading card games to the videogames to the animated series, there are many different ways for people to connect with the brand.
The core message of the franchise is to collect Pokémon, make friends, and go on adventures. This message will remain appealing for the forseeable future.
When did Pokémon start in America?
The first version of Pokémon was in 1998 with the release of the Game Boy game in North America.
When was the first Pokémon show?
The show first released in Japan on April 1, 1997.