Pokemon is inarguably one of Nintendo’s biggest sellers. What other reason could there be for the endless new additions to the Pokedex and the equally infinite media tie-ins? It says something that Pikachu arrived on the silver screen before Mario, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a gamer alive that hasn’t captured at least a few Pocket Monsters in their time.
However, the real question is, which version of Pokemon resonated the most with players? Which region has seen the most players, and which starters accompanied the most 10-year-olds on their initial journey? Thanks to research from go-to Pokemon expert Joe Merrick from Serebii.net, we have that answer and can go through the games in order of popularity from worst to first. Gotta rank ’em all.
20: Pokemon Crystal – 6,300,000 Copies Sold
The game that sold the least of all of Pokemon’s mainline entries is Pokemon Crystal, which does make some sense. The series was arguably at its peak during the days of Gold and Silver, but even that couldn’t sell a Game Boy Color game to everyone who had already purchased a GBA.
Still, Crystal had some fun innovations, including Japan-only linkups with early mobile devices, the first example of a playable female trainer, and colorful 2D sprites that moved as they slid into battle.
19: Pokemon Emerald – 7,060,000 Copies Sold
Pokemon Emerald continued from the example of Crystal, adding minor features to a redone version of the GBA generation. New features included the addition of animations following their removal from Ruby and Saphire and endgame features for competitive battling.
18: Pokemon Platinum – 7,693,000 Copies Sold
The third game in Generation 4, Pokemon Platinum, introduced the Distortion World and a new Cthulu-esque forme for Giratina. Despite that, it was a typical entry for the Nintendo DS days and didn’t give players much reason to play again if they’d already ventured through Diamond and Pearl.
17: Pokemon Black 2/White 2 – 8,250,000 Copies Sold
Black 2 and White 2 mixed things up from the norm when they arrived in Generation 5. Functioning as direct narrative sequels to their predecessors and splitting the traditional third game into two, even players who mastered Black and White front to back had something to enjoy here.
The developers were experimenting with the formula to try to sell these extra games to more than the most dedicated of fans. Still, that effort didn’t pay off, and generational remakes and DLC releases eventually replaced these additional releases.
16: Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon – 9,090,000 Copies Sold
This pair of Generation 7 ultimate editions split the difference between Black/White 2’s narrative sequel and the more traditional upgrades. While almost everything was the same as the previous games in the generation, Ultra Sun and Moon introduced new monsters mid-generation, something the developers hadn’t done before this entry. It also shook up a few aspects of the game’s unique story and progression but still played the same for most of its runtime.
15: Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen – 12,000,000 Copies Sold
The first remakes in the mainline series, FireRed and LeafGreen came on the heels of Generation 3 and its third game, making it sell significantly less than you may think it would have because of its inspiration. Still, it’s quite a jump up in number compared to Ultras Sun and Moon, which shows just how high nostalgia ranks in the world of Pokemon.
As for the games themselves, in addition to providing significant graphical and gameplay upgrades to the Kanto region, FireRed and LeafGreen introduced wireless trading to the series via an adapter for the Game Boy Advance, something that would come standard in future portable consoles of all sorts.
14: Pokemon Legends: Arceus – 12,640,000 Copies Sold
Pokemon Legends: Arceus is probably the most experimental original game in the series. That makes it all the more disappointing that it lands below several remakes and rereleases on the sales charts.
Taking place in the distant past of the Sinnoh region, Arceus tweaks the tried and true mechanics of battling and raising monsters. Pokemon evolve on their own time, catching Pokemon involves sneaking up on creatures visible in an open world, and complexities like held items and breeding are nowhere to be seen.
13. Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver – 12,720,000 Copies Sold
The Johto remakes didn’t have to work as hard to upgrade their source material as the games covering Kanto, but they still provided quite the experience for long-time fans. The best of these let your monsters follow behind you in the overworld, a feature that fell by the wayside in subsequent games for no fathomable reason.
Another big selling point for this pair was the PokeWalker, a step counter device that paired with the Nintendo DS after long jogs to gain items and Pokemon caught along the way. Think of it as a Pokemon GO prototype with better catching mechanics.
12. Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire – 14,500,000 Copies Sold
Following up from Generation 6’s mainline entries, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire bring Mega Evolutions and the expanded online options to the Gen 3 originals. While there are significant story upgrades and a whole epilogue featuring Rayquaza, the game’s changes are lesser than previous remakes. This could be due to Ruby and Sapphire kicking off a more modern era for Pokemon games or because those generational upgrades from X and Y are so significant. It could also be due to the game having too much water. It’s hard to say.
11. Pokemon Yellow – 14,640,000 Copies Sold
Pokemon Yellow was my starting point in the franchise, and I’m sure that my fond memories of playing it while watching the early seasons of the anime are shared with many. Based on the TV show first and foremost, this initial example of a “third game” brings in elements like the bumbling Team Rocket duo and gym leader redesigns to reflect what kids were obsessing over directly in the game.
Most importantly, rather than starting with one of three new Pokemon, players start with a Pikachu that reflects heavily on the TV character. The creature can’t evolve, refuses to stay in its Pokeball, and reflects its mood via in-game animations whenever you talk to it. Not only did this introduce the following Pokemon mechanic that would pop up from time to time, but it also inspired several spinoff entries in the series, including the N64’s Hey You, Pikachu! and the entire Pocket Pikachu virtual pet console.
10. Let’s Go, Pikachu!/Eevee! – 14,660,000 Copies Sold
Pokemon’s debut on the Switch was a wake-up call for longtime fans. While Sun and Moon mixed up the core series mechanics to varying effects, the two Let’s Go games were radical shifts away from those RPG mechanics toward something much more casual.
With catching mechanics based on Pokemon GO and limited options for backward compatibility with previous games, it was clear that this remake of Yellow was aiming solely at newer or lapsed fans that took up the Pokemania following the franchise’s mobile success. Those changes didn’t entirely subsume subsequent games, but the break of backward compatibility may have been a portent of things to come with the next Switch entry’s incomplete Pokedex.
9. Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl – 14,790,000 Copies Sold
The first mainline entry not developed in-house at Game Freak, the Gen 4 remakes took a safe approach to recreate what made the Nintendo DS entries so special. In doing so, it put off some critics and players thanks to a chibi art style and a lack of content from the generation’s third entry.
Coming out jammed between Sword and Shield’s DLC and Legends: Arceus may have negatively affected Game Freak’s innovative title in terms of pure numbers. People will still come for mainline entries, but games that straddle the line like Arceus seem to have trouble breaking through.
8. Pokemon Black and White – 15,640,000 Copies Sold
Black and White are the worst-selling mainline games to kick off a generation, and that’s a shame. Starting with an entirely new bestiary of over 150 creatures, Generation 5 hoped to kickstart an entirely new era with in-depth storytelling and unique town designs. Instead, it proved that many Pokemon fans are interested in nostalgia over originality. There’s a good reason why Generation 6 leans so hard on the Kanto region for inspiration, and it’s all right here.
7. Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire – 16,220,000 Copies Sold
Generation 3 proved that Pokemon was mortal. Sure, the series never truly died out, but the GBA debut arrived on a downturn for the pop culture juggernaut. After six years, Pikachu and friends were no longer the hot new thing, they were just quietly running in the background and serving existing fans. They were mainstream, and everyone who grew up with Red and Blue was ready to move on, even if just temporarily.
Of course, this is all graded on a vast curve, as Ruby and Sapphire were still a big success. The games became the highest-selling games on the Game Boy Advance, with FireRed and LeafGreen following behind them on the overall chart.
6. Pokemon Sun and Moon – 16,280,000 Copies Sold
Pokemon Sun and Moon were the last hurrahs for the series on Nintendo’s solely portable consoles, and it tried to mix things up in more subtle ways than Black and White. Switching up the formula in terms of gym leaders and other series staples, the adventure in the Alola region feels like Game Freak pushing the boundaries of what could be adjusted right before everything needed to change on the Switch.
5. Pokemon X and Y – 16,620,000 Copies Sold
Out of all the post-Game Boy generations, X and Y felt the most like coming home for many fans. This is mainly due to a reset following Black and White’s shift in a different direction, but that change brought on some great mechanics.
Mega Evolutions are still the best generational gimmick in a long while, and the world of the Kalos region got all the design advantages of the previous generation while also presenting a story that balances the simple joys of older games and the depth found in Black and White. Considering what came after, this could be considered a sendoff for the original style of Pokemon’s RPG mechanics, and it does that job well.
4. Pokemon Diamond and Pearl – 17,670,000 Copies Sold
Diamond and Pearl rebounded from Ruby and Sapphire in several ways, but the most important was in its endgame. No other game made it easier to achieve the fabled goal of catching them all. This is all thanks to robust online features, streamlined breeding, and engaging post-credits activities. It also hit that initial wave of fans as they emerged from their “too cool for school” phase, making for a successful launch that cemented Pokemon as a mainstay in Nintendo’s catalog for the foreseeable future.
3. Pokemon Gold and Silver – 23,700,000 Copies Sold
The original Pokemon games were a proof of concept, and Gold and Silver delivered the polished final product that all others would be judged against. Adding new mechanics and creatures to the tried and true formula in a way that made it feel like a whole new game, the Generation 2 pair triumphed even if you don’t count the fantastic feeling of beating the Elite Four and realizing that you have a whole other region to explore after the end credits.
2. Pokemon Sword and Shield – 24,500,000 Copies Sold
Pokemon Sword and Shield delivered many things fans of the franchise had been asking for ever since the originals came out. Everyone wanted a mainline game on consoles, an expanded landscape with creatures outside of the fall grass, and an open world they could fully explore as the years went on. The Nintendo Switch’s release let Game Freak deliver many of those promises, and the immense success of the system led to this generation’s game climbing up the charts despite the final product’s controversial lack of polish in some areas. It’s the first game where you can’t actually catch ’em all, and it’s hard for anyone with a collector’s mentality to get over that.
1. Pokemon Red and Blue – 31,380,000 Copies Sold
For anyone who wasn’t there at the start, it’s truly hard to explain just how popular Pokemon was. Maybe it wasn’t as popular as Marvel or Fortnite is today in terms of genuine numbers, but it was inescapable in a way that things just can’t be after the death of the monoculture.
Thanks to the game’s portable nature, you could ride for a half hour on a school bus and see 90% of the kids venturing toward their next gym leader. You could go to a local book store and jam out the Pokemon TCG with fifty other kids for hours on a Saturday morning. You could turn on the TV and see an anime episode followed by a loud religious man calling Pikachu the devil on the news. Video games were smaller back then, making the success of the original games and the franchise they spawned all the more impressive.