Every Starter Pokemon ranked worst to best

Ah, the Starter Pokémon. For some players, they're just the ones that you're stuck with while you trudge through the early game, waiting to stock up your party with an unstoppable team of Legendaries so that you can crush the Elite Four under your heel. For those of us who aren't quite so goal oriented, they're the cherished friends who are there with us for the entire journey, from our first steps into the tall grass all the way to learning the lessons about the power of friendship and also the power of setting your enemies on fire until they pass out.

Whatever the case, they're the Pokémon that you're going to be battling alongside for a good bit of the game. As a result, everyone's got an opinion on which ones are the best, and which ones are better off staying in Professor Oak's lab forever. Beyond the game mechanics, there's something about them that either appeals to us or doesn't, so from the original Gen 1 starters all the way down to the Alolan trinity, here's every single starter Pokémon ranked from worst to best!

Chikorita

In a 2016 poll, Japanese gamers voted Chikorita to be "the most seriously useless starter Pokémon," and folks, they are not wrong. In what seems like an effort to make the most appealing possible grass starter, the designers of Pokémon Gold basically just made a shapeless green lump and stuck a leaf on top of it, winding up with what amounts to a pear with gigantic eyes. Needless to say, that one backfired on them, with Chikorita's alleged cuteness somehow looping around into just seeming weird.

To make matters worse, it shares a problem with the other Gen II starters, in that its evolutions don't really change. Unlike the drastic shift that you see from, say, Charmander to Charizard, Meganium just looks like a slightly larger Chikorita, meaning that choosing this one sticks you with a squishy-looking lump for the long haul. Thanks but no thanks, Professor Elm.

Mudkip

If you remember Mudkip at all, it's probably because it was the subject of a late-2000s meme, but even that was built on the idea that it's not actually that likeable. What you might not remember is … well, anything else, really. Mudkip is forgettable. The only thing that's interesting — for certain values of "interesting," anyway — is the truly weird shape of his head, which only gets weirder as it evolves into the equally forgettable Marshtomp.

Look: we know nobody was going to pick anything else if the Pokémon that evolves into Blaziken was available, but c'mon, Game Freak. You could've at least tried.

Treecko

For some gamers, the nadir of Pokémon aesthetics comes when the designers just take a random inanimate object like an ice cream cone, a chandelier, or a literal garbage bag, slap some eyes on it, and call it a day. At the very least, though, you have to admit that at least they're taking the step of turning an inanimate object into an animal. Treecko doesn't even go that far. Here's a full and complete description of Gen III's Grass starter:

Treecko is a lizard.

No, seriously, that's it. If you want to get technical about it, Treecko is a plant lizard, but you wouldn't know that from looking at it, since lizards are already green. There might be some more merit to it if it evolved into anything special, but no. Its final evolution, Sceptile, is just a larger lizard, albeit one with a hilariously self-satisfied smirk that it absolutely did not earn.

Froakie

It's tough to evaluate the starters on their own without taking their final evolutions into consideration, and for Froakie, it's more difficult than most. After all, its third and final form, Greninja, basically rules. It's a ninja, with a "scarf" wrapped around its face that's actually its tongue, giving it both a nearly superheroic look and that crucial weirdness factor that makes so many great Pokémon work.

This thing, though … just look at him. Unlike other starter Pokémon, who look cheerful and cute to set the tone of a game about a ten year old trapping monsters in a tiny metal ball while being menaced by organized crime, Froakie just looks confused. It's like it doesn't even know what it's doing here, and buddy, if you don't know, then neither do we. Not a terrible choice in the long run, but the absolute definition of greatness coming from humble beginnings, if you define greatness as a 4'11" frog that is also a ninja.

Totodile

Like the other Gen II starters, Totodile suffers from the same lack of imagination when it comes to evolutions. The good news, however, is that when you start off as a neon blue crocodile and just grow up into a larger neon blue crocodile, that puts you a few steps ahead of a formless green blob that may at some point become a flower.

Unfortunately, it's still pretty generic, to the point where it feels exactly the sort of Pokémon someone would come up with if they knew nothing about the game. "Cuddly neon blue crocodile" is cool, but it also seems like kind of thing that you'd see in a political cartoon about Pokémon Go that referred to them as "Pokémon creatures."

Chimchar

Maybe it's just us, but it seems like there's something just a little … off about Chimchar. Maybe it's the fact that a monkey, but on fire is yet another one of those "first idea that pops into your head"-type Pokémon. Maybe it's the idea that even in the context of this series, which is completely built around the idea of adorable animals shooting poison out of their faces at each other and trying to knock out living deities that control time and space, sending a tiny primate into battle still feels a little too real. Maybe it's just that its official art looks like it's constantly shooting fire out of its rear end, which lacks the cartoonish charm of, say Charmander.

Whatever it is, it's nebulous enough that we can't justify putting Chimchar any lower, but we definitely aren't going to put it any higher. Pick him if you want, just … just keep him away from us, okay?

Piplup

To say that Pokémon design has always skewed towards cuteness is sort of like saying that rubbing Ghost Pepper hot sauce into your eyes is a bad idea. It's the primary attribute, the driving force of the entire franchise, the reason the words "electric rat" conjure up cheerful feelings rather than sheer, unmitigated horror.

The apotheosis of that design philosophy is Jigglypuff, who is literally just a circle with gigantic eyes, and whose occasional lapses into fury only make it cuter. For the starter Pokémon, though, the champion of cuteness is clearly Piplup, a pastel baby penguin that might as well be made of cotton candy and wishes.

Its rounded, no-sharp-edges appeal is definitely there, but it lacks the appealing edge for a game that's built around combat — at least at first level. By the time it evolves into its final form as an emperor penguin with a face made of golden knives, its gotten all the edges that it needs. A solid choice — especially compared to the unsettling unsavoriness of Chimchar.

Pikachu

We probably don't need to describe this guy, but on the off chance that you decided that your first-ever exposure to Pokémon should be a list ranking the starters, the little yellow lightning rat above is Pikachu. He's the most well-known Pokémon in the world, the mascot for the entire franchise, a fixture of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and arguably the most beloved fictional animal since Winnie the Pooh. Getting the chance to set off on your Pokémon journey with one of these cute little guys at your side is every kid's dream, especially one that walks alongside you just like in the cartoon, rather than being cooped up inside a Pokéball. 

And then you actually get a few steps into Pokémon Yellow, the only title that offers Pikachu as a starter, and find out that he isn't actually that great to be stuck with for the entire game. 

Don't get us wrong, we love him as much as anyone, but his plucky determination doesn't exactly translate well to game mechanics. He also lacks the uniqueness of other starters — anyone who wanders through Viridian Forest is going to pick up a Pikachu or two along the way. Really, the only reason Pokémon Yellow even offers him as a starter is so that you can feel like you're playing the role of Ash Ketchum, and no one should want that.   

Torchic

On the one hand, Torchic doesn't seem to be anything special on its own, although making a Fire-type bird whose feathers look like flames rather than actually being on fire is a pretty cool idea.

On the other hand, Torchic also brings one of the greatest glow-ups of all time to the table. You wouldn't know it if you're the type of person who goes into Pokémon games totally cold, but Torchic's humble beginnings eventually pay off with a straight-up badass. Blaziken, its third and final form, is basically a Muay Thai phoenix who can canonically leap over buildings and sets its own hands on fire before punching its enemies, like the pocket monster equivalent of Tony Jaa.

If its other two forms were even remotely that good, it would have a solid shot at topping this list. As it stands, it's still a worthy choice for Gen III.

Oshawott

At this point, it should be pretty clear that there's a delicate balance to creating a starter Pokémon. They need to be cute enough that they seem like the younger version of something that's taking its first steps toward greatness, but not so cuddly that there's no hint of what they'll eventually become. More than any other starter, Oshawott hits that balance, and it all has to do with a simple seashell.

As the name implies, Oshawott is basically just an adorable watery ocelot, who carries around a seashell. At level 17, however, right before it evolves into its second form, it learns its signature move: Razor Shell. That means that for the entire time you've been walking around with him, Oshawott has been sharpening up that cute little seashell so that he can slash his opponents' faces with it.

That makes adorable Oshawott the first starter Pokémon to pack a straight up shiv, and that's exactly the kind of balance we're looking for.  

Cyndaquil

Like the other Gen II starters, Cyndaquil doesn't change much on its evolutionary progression, with Quilava and Typhlosion essentially just being bigger, older-looking versions of the original. This time, though, they have a good reason for it: it's a porcupine made of fire.

There just aren't a lot of ways to improve on that idea, although it's worth noting that it's only slightly more threatening than a real-life porcupine. And really, it's not even close when your other choices are Totodile and … you know, we've honestly forgotten what the other one was. Pearface? Was it called Pearface? Whatever, Cyndaquil's great. 

Snivy

Most starter Pokémon, even the ones that later evolve into massively burly dragons or intimidating frog-ninjas, have their beginnings in a form that looks friendly. Snivy, on the other hand, takes the absolute opposite route.

Rather than a happy smile or even an adorable frown, Snivy shows up with narrowed eyes and the kind of smirk that says, "You're going to pick me? Ha, sure, okay." There's a charming sort of pretentiousness to him that makes it seem like he wants you to pick Oshawott so that he can go with your rival and use his type advantage to trounce you for the rest of the game. By all rights, that should be something that makes him easy to hate, but since it's so rare to see a Pokémon act like its out of your league — especially when it's one that you get to pick without even having to battle for it — it comes off as downright delightful.  

Popplio

It's easy to argue that Gen VII had the best trio of starter Pokémon since the original Red and Blue, so while Popplio might be in third place out of the three of them, that's not really a bad thing.

It has one of the weirdest high concepts in the entirety of the franchise, in that it's a circus-performing mermaid dog. That sounds like the sort of thing you'd come up with if you sneezed while you were holding a bag of magnetic poetry, but it also lends itself to the intriguing idea that the Pokémon world has a sad clown that isn't as beloved as the other two starters of its generation. In fact, it reminds us of a story about a pocket monster who got so depressed that it went to a doctor, who told it that it should cheer itself up by going to see the great Pokémon Popplio battle that night. "But doctor," it cried, "I am Popplio!"

Turtwig

The Pokémon world has its share of creatures that you could accurately describe as "majestic," but they tend to be the high-level demigods that you encounter later in the games, like Arceus or Zekrom. Turtwig, on the other hand, is pretty far along that path right from the start.

Admittedly, it doesn't quite get there until it finally evolves into Torterra, a giant armored turtle with a full-on bonsai growing out of its back that radiates a quiet strength and peacefulness. Even in its first form, though, with its stumpy legs and the goofy little twig sprouting from the top of its head, Turtwig has a hint of epic mythology to it. Grass-type starters often get a bad rap — see also: Chikorita and its evaluation by fans — but Turtwig is the thinking person's plant monster.

Chespin

While it does eventually evolve into a massive hulk of plant-based destruction, Chespin's appeal is rooted entirely in its original form. The canonical idea, of course, is that it's meant to be a sort of hedgehog that's also a chestnut, but thanks to the winding road of pop culture influences, it looks a lot more like the designers were attempting to create a fursona for Louise Belcher from Bob's Burgers.

That image only gets more ingrained when you look at her next to her fellow Gen VI starters, with Froakie's cautious apprehension coming off as pretty Tina-esque and Fennekin matching up to Gene's colors, if not his general attitude or keyboard skills. Sadly, the game doesn't really bear that out, but it does give us a glimpse at a beautiful world where Professor Sycamore tells them "you're my Pokémon friends and I love you, but you're terrible. You're all terrible."

Squirtle

Squirtle might not crack the top five, but make no mistake: this little dude rules. For one thing, he's the only starter Pokémon that evolves into a form that literally has gigantic cannons growing out of its back, but turning into a full-on living tank isn't his only attribute. He's also the starter Pokémon that has the best story in the anime.

Charizard might have the tragic backstory and the conflict with Ash, but Squirtle is the one that has a posse: the Squirtle Squad. When he slides on a pair of shades and joins up with his old crew, that's when you know that things are about to get real, but there's another layer to it, too. The Squad was made up of Squirtle that had been abandoned by their trainers, joining up to support each other in a show of self-sufficiency that you don't often get from the often-codependent relationship between people and Pokémon. In other words, he doesn't need a trainer.

You don't choose Squirtle. Squirtle chooses you.

Tepig

Tepig undergoes a staggering transformation once it evolves into Emboar, becoming a swole, fire-bearded razorback that stands five feet tall and is fully ready to take opponents down and Fire Punch them until they can't stand up. Even in that form, though, it retains a little bit of the cuteness that it has as the sizzling piglet you can pick up from Professor Juniper.

Not only is it adorable, a pig that's always on fire — but, you know, in a pleasant, non-fatal way — has the added benefit that it definitely smells like bacon all the time. Who can say no to a Pokémon that always reminds you of a delicious breakfast? Not that we'd ever, uh, eat a Pokémon, that is. Generally speaking, you don't eat your friends, even if they do smell like they'd go great with waffles. 

Bulbasaur

We'll admit being pretty partial to Bulbasaur, the dinosaur that is also a flower, because there's no part of that setup that isn't purely delightful. Sadly, looking at it objectively, Bulbasaur is not without its faults. Of the three original starters, it's the one that changes the least as it evolves, even if just getting bigger and blooming into a gigantic tropical flower is a great way to convey the idea of "evolution" as aging into newer, more powerful forms.

Still, it's cute, strong, and may or may not have inspired the name of a recently discovered real-life dinosaur. It might not top this particular list, but it certainly remains #1 in plenty of peoples' hearts … and the entire 800-entry Pokédex, too.

Fennekin

Despite its instant adorability, Fennekin's original design might come off as a little lazy. All of its exaggerated traits are lifted directly from the namesake animal that inspired it: the big-eyed, huge-eared fennec fox. The real-life version even has the same color scheme, meaning that at first glance, this thing wasn't even as creative as Totodile.

And then you see what it evolves into. As cute as fennec foxes may be, they did not, as far as we know, transform into full-on wizards as they grow older, complete with wands that function as flamethrowers. Making the leap from a real-world animal to a semi-humanoid creature that can roast its enemies with the power of darkest sorcery is both a) exactly what fundamentalists were so terrified of back in the '90s when they were delivering sermons about how Pokémon was the work of the devil, and b) exactly what makes the franchise so great.

Rowlett

Even though he eventually becomes a badass feathery archer that has a good shot at being the second-best animal version of Robin Hood ever, you don't need to focus on evolutions to see why Rowlett is so great.

Just look at this extremely good bird who showed up to be chosen by a Pokémon trainer in his best little leafy bowtie! He's so excited about the opportunity to get out there and make friends! Seriously, Rowlett is unquestionably the most polite and well-mannered of all the starter Pokémon, and if you don't want to cherish and protect him, then you may need to go to the doctor to check on your actual, physical lack of a heart.

Charmander

Bulbasaur and Squirtle are great, but when it comes to the OG starters that made their first appearance in Red and Blue, there's no real question of who the champion is. It's the one that turns into a literal dragon that fights by throwing its enemies at the ground so hard that it causes the Earth itself to erupt into lava.

Even in its earliest form, though, Charmander rules. It's got the cuteness factor on lock, but by throwing in the flame on its tail that only burns as long as Charmander's life force fuels it, the designers added an interesting touch of weakness and mortality that it could shed on its way to becoming an unstoppable monster. Throw in the complicated relationship with Ash that you see in the anime, and there's a good reason why Charmander is still a fan-favorite over 20 years after its original debut.

Litten

We've already talked about the delicate balance between cuteness and strength, but there's a third axis that all of the best Pokémon exist on, too: a little bit of gross-out factor that can add the finishing touch to a great idea. Litten gets top marks across all three.

It's an on-fire cat that — according to the official, canonical Pokédex — battles opponents by horking up oily hairballs that are also on fire. That's great, and also a much more realistic depiction of cat ownership than, say, Meowth, who owns a hot-air balloon and can shoot money out of its head.

Plus, while Owl Robin Hood and Beautiful Mermaid Dog are great final evolutions, none of them can hold a Litwick to a fire-breathing, pro-wrestling tiger that was directly inspired by the legendary Japanese wrestler and real-life anime character Tiger Mask. Call it recency bias if you want, but in a roster of great Pokémon, Litten stands out as the best possible choice for a starter.