Starter Pokémon. These cute little creatures are the mascots of each game; your sidekick that’s with you through thick and thin as your partner, protector, and best pal.
Unless you’re a heartless monster, of course. No starter deserves to be boxed.
These types of Pokémon also represent one of the hardest questions to answer in every game: which one should you choose? Do you go by the first stage design, even if you don’t know what it’ll evolve into? Do you prioritise its future dual typing? Or do you go back to old favourites time and time again in your replays? You know you have nostalgia-glasses on when you pick Chikorita to run through vanilla Johto. You’re gonna have a bad time.
Here are my top 5 starters in Pokémon. As there are so many, first we must ask: what makes a good starter?
Design: is it cute or cool? Does its sharp beak make you want to fly it into battle, or do you swoon at its adorable flappy fins? We all want a Pokémon that fits with our personal preferences, so any you don’t vibe with can be a hard pass.
Evolution line: unless you’re playing a new generation without knowing what it’ll become, its mid and (more importantly) final evolution stages play a big part in choosing your perfect partner. One day we’ll get a cat that doesn’t end up on its hind legs! Maybe. Hopefully.
Typing: of course, we all know we’ll get a Fire, Grass, or Water type Pokémon off the bat (unless you’re playing Yellow or Let’s Go). The real question is: will the Pokémon evolve into a dual type? If so, you have more to consider than whether you prefer to burn instead of drown or…vine whip?...your opponents.
Utility in their region: not all regions are created equal. Whilst some allow Grass starters to thrive (Hoenn’s water routes are ideal here), others benefit from a Fire or Water dynamo to help you become the Champion.
Lore: it’s time to sprinkle in something *extra*. Perhaps you love Ash’s super cool Greninja or his tumultuous relationship with Charizard. Maybe you enjoyed Bulbasaur’s refusal to evolve in Bulbasaur’s Mysterious Garden, or fell in love with Quaxly the moment you saw it flip its hair in the Scarlet and Violet trailers. Either way, side appearances and lore knowledge can impact a starter choice, even when the choice is least ideal for that region.
Let’s get down to it!
Spoilers abound for gameplay. No plot spoilers.
Hoenn was the first region to receive dual typings for its final evolutions—and this greatly benefitted the cute chick Pokémon, Torchic. By the time it evolves into the Fire/Fighting type Blaziken, it has impressive Attack and Special Attack. It learns a variety of moves that help it become the powerhouse we know and love, including Sky Uppercut and Flare Blitz. Nowadays, we have a whole kaleidoscope of Fire/Fighting starters, but Blaziken leads the charge, cementing its superiority. This typing makes it durable against Grass, Bug, Ice, Fire, Dark, and Steel, meaning only Ground/Water Pokémon like Quagsire or Psychic/Water Pokémon like Starmie will cause Blaziken to quake on its powerful legs.
In terms of design, it has the perfect glow up from cutesy chick to frightening falcon. As is the case with most starters, Combusken is the awkward teen of the bunch, but you can clearly see its evolution from Torchic to Blaziken as it grows arms and gets ready to take down its opponents. Its stellar design puts it firmly in my top 5.
Whilst you might have an issue in the early game as Torchic must face the Rock gym in Rustboro City, by the time it reaches even the Psychic gym in Mossdeep, it’s big and ugly enough to hold its own despite its disadvantage. The biggest issue for Blaziken is that it debuts in Hoenn, where water routes comprise half the region, which is why it’s not higher on this list.
One of the best starters found in the newest generations, Rowlet starts off as an endearing bird (I see a theme here…) and slowly becomes one of the most intimidating-looking starters in the whole series.
In its home region, Alola, picking Rowlet essentially means selecting easy mode. Water and Grass type Pokémon are numerous in the early game, so training up your flying fowl with its Grass and Flying moves is a breeze. The Water and Grass trials are overcome with ease, and the first two Kahunas use Rock and Ground types, which, of course, are both weak to Grass.
Fast forward to Dartrix, and you can see how Rowlet is getting slowly fiercer and more mysterious. Dartrix has a fun lock of “hair” that covers one side of its face, like an emo kid finding its feet (or talons). This is one teen who never grows out of this phase—by the time Decidueye comes around, with its cape-like feathers and shadowy face, there’s a full-on goth ready to make its way into the Hall of Fame. This is incredibly fitting for its new typing, Grass/Ghost.
Design, tick. Evolution line, tick. Regional effectiveness, check. Typing, check. What about its appearances outside of Sun and Moon?
In the anime, Rowlet is taken in by a Toucannon and Trumbeak and raised amongst their Pikipek children. This is a sweet and unique origin story for a Pokémon that Ash Ketchum, our lord and saviour, takes under his wing. Additionally, Rowlet is a starter in not just one, but two Pokémon games. Lovers of the Sinnoh (or Hisui) region and open world games will adore Pokémon Legends: Arceus, where you can choose Rowlet as a starter. Its final evolution gets a makeover too: Hisuian Decidueye is now Grass/Fighting, swapping its mysterious green hood and long cape for a traditional red ayaigasa, with shorter sleeves that are perfect for combat. This starter has got a lot of love over its relatively short years, and it shows.
It’s time for another starter from the Hoenn region: Mudkip. Its evolution, Swampert, has one of the best typings of any starter, Water/Ground, nullifying its weakness to Electric types and leaving it with just one weakness. Its bulk makes it powerful defensively, and it has the sixth-best attack of any starter. Surf and Earthquake are two of the most useful and formidable moves in the game, making it a necessity in most playthroughs—and Swampert boasts STAB for both. Its ability, Torrent, means that it’s even stronger once it goes under one-third of its HP. What a force.
Let’s go back to the first evolution for a second. Mudkip is based on an axolotl, which, as I had just got into double digits when Ruby and Sapphire first came out, I hadn’t even heard of. It’s such a unique and creative design, but its early enough that it’s a timeless, clean classic.
Plus, this starter’s strong against three of the first four gyms, Rock, Electric and Fire, and it holds its own comfortably against all others in Hoenn. Good thing there are no Grass gyms here!
That’s right, it’s another Water starter: the penguin Pokémon, Piplup. And, oh no, another bird. I guess that would be my gimmick if I were a trainer in the Pokémon world—avian Pokémon that aren’t Flying type.
Piplup has proven to be a popular starter across both the games and the anime, almost becoming a third mascot alongside Pikachu and Eevee. For good reason: penguins are adorable, and the design is clean and effective, once again showing that a simple design leads to a timeless starter.
However, Piplup wouldn’t be as impressive without its final evolution, Empoleon. Not only is this a fantastic name that alludes to a polar climate, Emperor penguins, and Napoleon, but its dual Water/Steel typing is a force to be reckoned with. This combination isn’t for new trainers, as it’s hard to use to great effect. But when it is, Empoleon can be a daunting special sweeper with Surf, Ice Beam, Flash Cannon, and can stall effectively with access to moves like Aqua Ring and Protect. Agility also helps to overcome its worst stat, Speed. Just look out for moves like Earthquake, which can take Empoleon out swiftly.
I remember first seeing Empoleon in the wild in Legends: Arceus, and being incredibly intimidated. With its bladed wings, trident crown, and steely gaze, you don’t want to trifle with this regal raptor. It probably didn’t help that it was huge and had evil red eyes, either.
The reign of the bird is officially over. Cyndaquil is my pick for the number 1 starter Pokémon in the whole series.
Cyndaquil is an adorable echidna/porcupine Pokémon, with (once again) a simple, yet ingenious design: its ‘spikes’ are actually flames, highlighting that it’s not just cute, but deadly when provoked. This is clearly a creature that’s destined to take down your enemies, no contest, from its first stage to its last. Quilava is one of my favourite mid evolutions in the whole of the series as, for once, it doesn’t look awkward, but an interesting Pokémon in its own right. And, of course, Typhlosion is intimidating, cool, and powerful, almost looking like a fiery cousin of the pseudo legendary, Tyranitar.
In Johto, Cyndaquil is strong against the most gyms. It excels against the Bug, Steel and Ice gyms, and is at least neutral for all, as there are none that entirely use Water, Ground or Rock. It may be weak to Whitney’s Miltank in the Normal gym due to its use of the Rock move, Rollout—but most every Pokémon struggles against Whitney. Come on, it’s Whitney.
Before you put my choice purely down to bias (Johto is my region, after all), you caught me. I was always planning to put this in my top 5, but further down the list. That is, until Legends: Arceus swayed the decision.
The one problem with Cyndaquil, in my opinion, is that Typhlosion doesn’t have a dual typing. Legends: Arceus remedies this. Much like Rowlet, Cyndaquil is one of the starters you can choose from, and Hisuian Typlosion has one of the most awesome designs and typings in all of Pokémon: Fire/Ghost. What a ghoulishly strong combination.
And, its look is fearsome. Instead of a fire ruffle, it now has a collar of spectral purple flames, and its coat has a purply, supernatural hue. Its signature move, Infernal Parade, tosses purple fire balls at the opponent, showing off this fantastic design. Now Cyndaquil has access to dual typing, nothing can stop this sweet little guy from taking the number one spot on this list and in my heart.
If you play a Pokémon game, you (usually!) must get to know at least one of the starters every generation. No wonder every fan has their own opinions that they will defend to the end.
A few honourable mentions include: Fuecoco, for its ditsy behaviour and vocally-talented final form; Greninja, for its cool design, its role in Super Smash Brothers, and its unique Ash form; Delphox, for the awesome Fire/Psychic combo; and Charizard, one of the ones that started it all. It would have benefitted from a Dragon typing instead of Flying, but we can’t have everything!
I hope this list has helped you decide who to try out next time you play through a Pokémon game. Let us know your favourite starter via our Zatu socials!