It’s an age-old question for Pokémon fans, which are the best starter Pokémon? I’ve got a few standout memories from my childhood; riding a bike, holidays to Spain, pogs, and so much more, but few things stick in my mind as much as that difficult first decision that Pokémon forces you to make. Should it be Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle? And over the years, the question of which starter Pokémon to choose has only gotten harder.
In the never-ending quest to find the best starter Pokémon, additional generations only confuse matters further with even more adorable ‘mons to pick, though a few duds alleviate the anxiety somewhat. We’re on the brink of a new gen with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet and ready to decide all over again, so let’s settle this once and for all. Also, this is a guide to the first evolutions, so while we will touch on the final evolutions, it’s mostly about those cute starters you choose from right at the beginning of your journey.
We love all Pokémon here at Pocket tactics towers, so be sure to check out some of our other great guides to help you find some new virtual pets with our articles covering the best fish Pokémon, the best monkey Pokémon, the best cat Pokémon, the best dog Pokémon, and get ahead of the pack with our Pokémon Scarlet and Violet mystery gift codes.
Here’s our guide to the best starter Pokémon. In it, pick the best starter Pokémon from each gen with the odd nod to our runners-up.
You heard me. Look, the first gen is really tough to choose from. I love Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle almost equally, as they each have a huge amount of charm and the full weight of 90s nostalgia behind them. As a kid, I picked Charmander, but when the time came to pick again in Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen in 2004, I decided to choose my favourite little blue boy because, over the years, I’ve become endeared to the little turtle for so many reasons.
First up, Charmander and Charizard get way too much love. Yes, they’re awesome, but the games keep giving them so many different forms that you could be mistaken for assuming that they’re the franchise mascot (I mean, in a way, they are). But ever since the Squirtle squad invaded our screens in the anime, I’ve been convinced that Squirtle just has the most charm, and ultimately I think the better evolution. Nobody is a loser in this gen, but if I had to pick all over again, it’s gonna be Squirtle every time.
Just look at him. I have to say, I really struggled to pick between Totodile and Cyndaquil here, but the fire hedgehog…thing… just about pips the post as they’re just immeasurably adorable, and Typhlosion is by far the best evolution of the starters from Gold and Silver as well and is somehow made even better with the great new Hisuain form from Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Also, full disclosure, I think if I hadn’t picked Cyndaquil here, it may have cost me my job, as my editor Ruby loves to bully me about my love of Totodile.
Learn more of our favourites with our guide to the best fire Pokémon in Pokémon Go.
Sometimes Pokémon can be overdesigned, with too many appendages, stripes, or jarring additions that take away from the simplistic, animalistic designs of those original Ken Sugimori illustrations. Torchic is just a little chick that can shoot fire. What else do you need? Plus, fire-types are hard to come by in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, so at the very least, it provides somewhat of a tactical advantage in the early hours of the game.
Another great thing about Torchic is that it evolves into the awesome karate-chopping bird known as Blaziken, who somehow turns this tiny chick into a brick chick-house of a monster. It does begin a trend that I will come back to, that being bipedal and human-like final evolutions of starters that I think have mixed results. Blaziken gets away with it for being one of the first and still looking like an animal instead of a human in a fur suit.
Another really tough gen to choose from, Diamond and Pearl probably have the strongest line-up of starters outside of the original gen. Turtwig is the rare grass-type with something of a personality. Chimchar is just a joyous little bundle of fun, and Infernape is undoubtedly rad, but Piplup is the sassy penguin that holds my heart and it’s only grown in my estimations over the years. It’s a really solid design that conveys the arrogant and confident nature of the whole line, while still managing to be adorable.
Importantly, Empoleon also absolutely rules. Adding the steel-type to a starter Pokémon was a really neat touch at the time, and the look marries the Emperor Napoleon vibe it gets its name from, while also having a trident on its head and those awesome wing-swords for arms. Just an all-around fantastic line of water Pokémon, and one of the main reasons I keep going back to Pokken Tournament DX is just so I can slice up foes as my favourite sassy bird.
While we’re sending love to water types, be sure to read our guide to the best water Pokémon in Pokémon Go.
I’ve got a real soft spot for Pokémon Black and White, and especially Pokémon Black and White 2. Coming in at the tail end of an incredible run of Pokémon games on the Nintendo DS, Black and White took some big swings, not only offering the best-looking Pokémon games on the DS but also changing up the formula significantly. However, this gen drops the ball with starter Pokémon, other than my darling Snivy. Tepig and Oshawatt aren’t bad Pokémon, but I just don’t think they’re particularly interesting either, and the same goes for their evolutions.
Snivy stands out from the pack for one reason that I think is very important for starter Pokémon. Its design conveys its attitude and tells you everything you need to know. There was a brief period before the launch of Black and White where we knew the designs of the starters but not the names, and the community affectionately decided to give Snivy the inspired name Smugleaf. It stuck so much that I named my actual Snivy that on my first playthrough, and it’s always been one of my favourites ever since.
For even more grassy pals, read our guide to the best grass Pokémon in Pokémon Go.
Sadly another mediocre generation in my opinion, Pokémon X and Y seemed poised to actually shake up the Pokémon series with the addition of Mega Evolutions and the move to a true 3D graphical style, but the actual games are sadly bland and derivative, with a woeful post-game offering to boot. Another reason they’re so forgettable is because of the lacklustre offerings of starter Pokémon, though I can say that Froakie is the clear standout here.
We already have a fair few frog Pokémon, but Froakie is well designed and immediately loveable, thanks in large part to those massive adorable eyes. I often like to go into new Pokémon games as blind as I can to new Pokémon, including the starters evolutions, and let me tell you, I felt like I’d won the lottery when my cute froggy boy evolved into the fearsome Greninja, especially when I saw the dull design of Delphox and the bizarre Chesnaught. A generation I’m not eager to revisit anytime soon, but at least it gave me my beloved Froakie.
Here we go, now we’re back on form. Sun and Moon are a far cry from the offerings of X and Y, not least because the shift to a region based on Hawaii gives us a good bit of distance from the last games and a chance to flex the creative muscles of Game Freak with the new regional forms of Pokémon. This line-up of starters is also absolutely stellar, with Litten being a very near second in this list, with Popplio not far behind that (sorry Popplio, but you’re just not cute enough, and I really don’t like Primarina either).
The clear winner though is everyone’s favourite owl and the mon’ that sold a million plushies, Rowlet. It’s a simple design and yet one that conveys a lot of charm. It even has a little bowtie made out of leaves. Let’s not forget the awesome Decidueye as well, the archer-owl Pokémon who gains the ghost-type, in a very interesting twist to the starter Pokémon meta. Rowlet just fits in perfectly with the vibes of Pokémon Sun and Moon, and stands out in a generation with a lot of great monsters.
Oh no, we’ve gone back down again. After such a solid generation, while Pokémon Sword and Shield offers some absolutely outstanding new monsters to catch, the starters aren’t among that crowd. When I picked up Sword and Shield back in the halcyon days of 2019, I went straight for Sobble, the adorable little anxious lizard with that face of earnest wonder and worry that I just adore. But not since the cancellation of The Santa Clarita Diet have I felt so betrayed, as Sobble grows up into the gangly and unsightly Intellion. While clearly meant to be based on the spies from British culture, it just looks so thin and weirdly human, leaving me devastated with my choice.
Luckily, there is another Pokémon here to pick up the slack. Not you Grookey. You’re also awful (and Rillaboom, just a sad state of affairs that one). Scorbunny is an energetic homage to the football-loving youth of Britain, and the idea of a little rabbit who can kick fireballs is actually pretty great. And while, for some reason, every single starter Pokémon from Sword and Shield becomes bipedal and anthropomorphic (please, Game Freak, I’m begging you to make Pokémon animals again), Cinderace is the best of the bunch and keeps a lot of the charm that made Scorbunyn so appealing to begin with.
Now, this is a tough choice. First up, I absolutely adore Sprigatito. Even its name is fun to say! The gorgeous little grass cat has got a cosy place deep in my heart, but I’m very nervous about what it’s going to evolve into. For some reason, I can just see another Inceneroar, where a cat previously on all fours starts walking around like a 40-year-old man at a My Little Pony convention. But I have hope for Fuecoco, and I still think he’s the best of the bunch.
A hungry little crocodile crossed with a chilli pepper, the fire-type Fuecoco also manages to look like the dragons from Bubble Bobble, and gets an extra couple of points just for that. Time will tell if I regret my pick in a few months when I evolve him into some bipedal monstrosity of a man-crocodile with human features, but for now, I live in hope that this cute lizard stays somewhat of a quadruped, or at least keep the animal characteristics that I love in a good starter Pokémon. You might notice I haven’t mentioned Quaxly, and that’s because other than looking startlingly like Josuke Higashikata (one of the best Jojo protagonists), I just don’t have a lot of good things to say about it.
The worst starter Pokémon
Every Pokémon is beautiful in the eyes of Arceus, but we have to admit that some of them are just a tad more beautiful than others. Some starter Pokémon suffer from the worst crime of all, just being a bit boring. I’m not going to dig into a load of them here, but I’m going to pick out some of the worst offenders and explain why I think they belong in the starter Pokémon bin.
Chikorita, what are you? A blob with a leaf on your head? I’ve seen more life in a bean bag, and your evolutions do little to resolve this issue either. Chespin, you just look stupid. What’s with the little hat? You look ridiculous, and I can’t believe you somehow look even more stupid when you evolve into Chesnaught. Fennekin is also just a solid “meh” from me. Very little interesting about you, and I can’t stand your evolutions for the many bipedal reasons I mention above. Finally, Grookey. Oh, Grookey. The idea of a little monkey banging a stick like a drum should be adorable, but Grookey doesn’t do the work in terms of actually being cute, and the less said about Rillaboom, the better.
Well, that’s it Pokémon trainers! I’m sure you’ve got very strong feelings about our list, so if you disagree please be sure to email any of the other staff at Pocket Tactics to make a new list because I don’t care and won’t be changing my list. If you’re somehow not frothing with hatred at my picks, why not check out even more of our writing by reading our guide to the Pokémon Scarlet and Violet new Pokémon, as we get ready to be enamoured by a whole new generation of monsters.