Hey Manga fans! Welcome to our Guest Post from our in house Manga aficionado Joe Walsh!
As I reminisce on the many hours spent in the car, at daycare, or sitting in a nail parlor with my mom as she got her biweekly manicure, Pokémon was always there with me. While it might have looked like I was just a typical kid in the early 2000s glued to video games, I was actually gripping my atomic purple Gameboy Color in awe as I explored and discovered the Kanto Region and aimed to catch all 151 Pokémon. Since then every iteration of the mainline Pokémon games have made me feel in some way or another the same when it comes to exploring vast worlds and meeting new friends along the way.
The only time another form of media within the Pokémon franchise has had a similar effect on me is with the Pokémon Adventure manga series. Pokémon Adventures is a manga series that started in 1997 in Japan and was then translated to English in 1999. The manga follows the story of the video games (the first of which being Pokémon Red and Green/Blue) which is why you won’t find Ash Ketchum as the main protagonist as he was designed for the Anime. Recently I began to re-read the series with the release of their “Collectors Editions” and it has felt like I just came home to Pallet Town after my long adventure over the last 20 years of my life. I am not the only one who feels this way as Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri has since praised the series, stating:
“This is the comic that most resembles the world I was trying to convey.”
But why would you want to start incorporating these manga titles into your collection now, almost 25 years later? Well, it’s no secret that the Pokémon Trading Card Game has had a massive resurgence this year due to influencers investing in rare and older cards. I can’t judge, being the massive nerd that I am I will still catch myself at Target picking up a pack or two of whatever new set comes out just to see the new artwork and chase what feels like a never ending high of pulling crazy rare cards. A lot of this trend is in part due to a boat load of PokéTubers doing pack opening videos and Logan Paul, a YouTuber with a large following that has been carving his way out of drama for a few years now. Most recently Logan invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into 1st edition Pokémon cards in hopes for a return on his investment. This has bloomed into a spectacle for many fans as he has gone from buying a noteworthy collection to being scammed for around $150K when buying a Pikachu Illustrator Card (a card well-known for its rarity). While I am not a fan of Logan, I cannot deny that he has brought a Snorlax sized audience to the franchise and will ultimately put them in a position to be exposed to the anime, video games, and of course, the Pokémon Adventure Manga.
Outside of the trading card game, kids today have many opportunities to re-watch the anime thanks to streaming services such as Netflix and Pokémon’s own app Pokémon TV. For many kids however, it may pose difficult to play through some of those old video games now just because they are well… old. Someone like me who grew up with these games can look back on them fondly and reflect on the hours spent and the memories made, but how much of that is being observed through glasses of nostalgia? The truth is that the older games (in their original form) are hard to go back to. Gen 1 has some rough balancing issues and is lacking many of the quality of life improvements that many other newer iterations of the franchise can now take advantage of. These games are in no way bad but as it stands today if someone were interested in seeing where the series/franchise got its start, I would absolutely recommend reading the manga. In fact, the manga does a wonderful job of re-creating the world I know so well in ways that make it feel as if I am there. I’m present in this world not as someone who controls a sprite moving through tall grass waiting for a random encounter to pop out so I can battle it, but I am instead transported into the shoes of Red, an 11 year old kid who is setting out on his own journey to explore the vast and exciting world of Pokémon. This is all in thanks to the wonderful artistic direction that transforms the original game sprites ranging from Bug Catcher trainers all the way to Oak’s Lab into a living and breathing world.
This added sense of realism however does come with a different feel that the manga’s writer, Hidenori Kusaka is trying to paint. The manga is a bit “darker” than you might expect but it’s only due to the added sense of realism that the story includes. It isn’t as lighthearted as the anime, but at the same time it is more in-depth than the games are visually. To those who might be concerned about making Pokémon “too real”, I’d say you are overlooking the potential that a more grounded Pokémon story has to offer. The best reference I could make is Detective Pikachu, a movie released in 2019 and Pokémon’s first attempt at a “live action” Pokémon movie. This movie was able to portray the world of Pokémon in a gritty, more realistic, and almost underground kind of way. Something that felt like you shouldn’t be watching it but then again, you can’t look away. It turns out that when a story isn’t watered down to be heavily marketed to the general public/kids in order to push merchandise, you can uncover some amazing opportunities for storytelling within this universe. This is apparent with the Manga as I found it to have better pacing, story, and character development than the Pokémon anime (despite them not being the same exact story).
The manga also capitalizes on this by adding real world problems and threats that the main protagonist must overcome in order to continue his journey and along the way help defeat Team Rocket. Gym leaders such as Sabrina and Lt. Surge are given more life and development which is a welcome change from just rushing to beat a gym leader then having little to no contact with them once you have collected their badges as shown in the games. The manga however takes this to the next level and makes them into executives for the evil Team Rocket which ultimately makes you wiping the floor with Surge’s Raichu even sweeter than you could have imagined. By no means do these themes make the story one that is unapproachable to a younger audience as this is something that I believe everyone can enjoy.
The Pokémon Adventures manga continues to be somewhat of a hidden gem amongst a franchise that feels as if it has touched just about every outlet that it possibly could by this point. And why wouldn’t they? To say that Pokémon hasn’t found success within these mediums is foolish. But as the story and universe expands out further to new and foreign lands containing more Pokémon than ever before (which is creeping closer to 1000 year by year). The manga continues to deliver a fantastic and cohesive story within a universe that to someone who hasn’t seen what the Pokémon Company has been up to over the last 10ish years can seem kind of chaotic. Overall, this is a fantastic way to get kids interested and reading if they have been hooked in the latest Pokémon Boom and videos on YouTube.
Lastly, to fans of Pokémon who haven’t thought about checking the manga series out – do yourself a favor and please read it. There is a reason that the current President and CEO of The Pokémon Company has urged that every Pokémon fan read the manga.
Yes, it’s seriously that good.