Everyone growing up with Pokémon knows about the games. They know about the anime. They know about the cards. They know about the movies. What they do not likely know about for some reason, however, is the manga. Out of all the adaptations Pokémon has to offer who would have thought that the one version of the series its creators would endorse the most would be a form in which it is not even playable in? While it has attained a strong following with currently over 58 volumes published since 1997 — or 70 depending on your region and what exactly we are counting — Pokémon Adventures by writer Hidenori Kusaka and illustrator Mato (and later Satoshi Yamamoto) is without a doubt an outlier portion of the world’s best-selling franchise. But why exactly is that? Is it because Adventures is seen as a cash-in on the franchise? Or did it arrive too early before the Western manga market could boom?
For an ongoing series that has constantly been paraded by the franchise’s creators, coders, and artists, it is simply surprising that not many fans have gone out of their way to read the treasure trove of collected volumes available for this particular manga. Pokémon Adventures not only aims to capture creator Satoshi Tajiri’s original vision of his pocket monster stuffed universe, but it admirably attempts to excel upon the ever so growing concept audiences have come to love from the franchise. It flirts with Tajiri’s scribbles and concepts as it aims to create a story that still manages to be in line with the tone of the phenomenon that came to be universally recognized — especially when it comes to those original Kanto adventures that ended in November of 1999.
If you are a reader who has never touched Pokémon Adventures, you have no reason not to pick up the cheap collections or digital prints of the generation one days that are wealthily available. It may just be the best video game manga adaptation there is — and that is a high bar to cross considering the runs The Legend of Zelda and Persona have had.
Outside The Mainline: Pokémon Adventures Vol. 1-7 Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow Chapters
Beginning its run in 1997, Pokémon Adventures is not only the longest-running manga the franchise has to offer but it is still amazingly in publication to this day. It may take you a long time to catch up, but the reward for doing so is nothing short of exceptional. Focusing on its first seven volumes though, the original chapters of the manga naturally spotlighted the Kanto region before its generation two neighbor could make the rounds. Loosely based on Pokémon Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow Version, the debuting volumes would spark a thematically appropriate generational adventure that would continually evolve over the years as new regions and characters were introduced.
Like the plot of the generation one titles, Adventures follows the journies of three key trainers who are each on a quest to become the greatest Pokémon trainers through comparable and contrasting means. However, in the same fashion as the games, their adventures to complete the Pokédex and conquer the Elite Four do not just end there.
The first seven volumes of Pokémon Adventures are practically an origin story for the entire future manga series it would create as it follows its own distinct lore and characteristics. While these specific books may focus on the trainers Red, Blue, Green, and later Yellow as they embark on their dreams after encountering Professor Oak, the characters go on to become vital pillars in future story arcs as they impact other events in different regions — especially Johto.
At the time of their release, they were the stories everyone who played the games could relate to as they ventured off to be the very best. There is more to Pokémon than just completing an encyclopedia of them or conquering the world champion title, and the manga flaunts that exact sentiment the most out of every piece of media available from the franchise.
The entire Kanto region is glowing with characterization as the simple plotlines of the games have been completely overhauled and expanded upon to new levels. Friendly obstacles, mustache-twirling villains, and even seemingly insignificant collectibles like the badges have all been granted long-term purposes that feel oriented to telling a larger story. Every player seen in the narrative has means and motives that are believable as they become intertwined in both evil and heroic acts that always impact the current events of Kanto.
Outside of being faithful to the games in both literal and figurative ways, by far the manga’s greatest strength is the dynamics it presents between both trainer and Pokémon that Tajiri first envisioned. The anime has always been focused on the friendship between the two drastically different living partners, however, the manga really portrays this concept in a more complex light.
Pokémon who are raised by their trainers often reflect who they are in the manga. Whereas Red’s Pokémon are more kind-hearted and selfless, Blue’s team tends to act like behaved soldiers, meanwhile Green’s contain a bit of a trickster-like personality. Building up the lead speaking roles and their stories is just as important as developing creatures who do not simply yell animal cries, act fierce, or just be flat-out adorable.
When the manga is not showing off with building character through drama though, it is enacting some incredible battles that still proceed to leak with dynamic. Not only is the art just grabbingly engaging for nearly every single page from front to back cover, but the Pokémon battles allow the humans and creatures to continue connecting with one another. For a franchise where battles take up tremendous amounts of time and involve critical decision-making within gameplay, the manga manages to follow the same philosophy as it never wastes time that is spent.
It meticulously showcases how humans are not simply commanders for their Pokémon; they are their friends and equally play a role in achieving success. Trainers are intertwined in battle with their partners as they not only give out moves but actually traverse the environment and sometimes even have to get their own hands dirty. A Pokémon battle is bound to have collateral damage with the insane moves some species are pulling off and the manga always shows this. The cast is always encouraging their partners to fight on to victory as they run into action with them as they dodge attacks and even sometimes taking hits for them.
Pokémon Adventures does not just excel upon the ideas found in the games, anime, and concept art, though. It also harbors original ideas that would make their way into the source material years after they would first debut. One of my favorite examples of this is DNA splicers — a mechanic that was implemented into the franchise with Pokémon Black 2 and White 2. In the final entries of generation five where it first appeared, the legendary creature Kyurem could be combined with Reshiram and Zekrom to create new forms of itself through what is canonically known as absofushion. While this idea of combining Pokémon DNA to create a new form of a species was a first for the games, the concept appeared in some of the earliest volumes of Pokémon Adventures that predate generation five by well over a decade — almost fifteen years actually.
For such a notable feature of one of the mainline titles, it is so odd yet fitting that the concept of combining Pokémon appeared so much earlier than it did in gameplay form. A prevalent idea that is more important than something inessential as DNA Splicers though can even be seen in simple concepts such as having the male and female protagonists both be present at the same time with individual personalities. Never did both the male and female protagonists appear at the same time until Ruby & Sapphire where you could play as both Brendan and May.
Whether it’s changing how Pokémon interact with one another or character utilization though, practically all of Adventures’ inventions for the franchise all feel right at home — which in the end is perhaps the point. It may not be the traditional Pokémon experience we all imagine, but it still harnesses the heart, wit, emotions, and creativity of the creature-catching world.
“This is the comic that most resembles the world I was trying to convey.”Satoshi Tajiri, Creator of Pokémon
Pokémon Adventures Volumes 1-7 captures the essence of the first games viciously well, yet at the same time, it manages to be a special experience that feels fitting to its own universe — coincidentally the title of the manga in Japan is actually called Pocket Monsters Special, and that perhaps may just sum up the manga’s entire existence perfectly. In the same vein as the games, cards, anime, and everything Pokémon-related in general, the manga has continued to evolve and adapt to new generations as it continues to also cater to the old. As can be seen even from its debuting days, it is a nostalgic trip never afraid to dabble into the future and originality.
Pokémon Adventures‘ first-ever tales from the Kanto region is not just one of, if not the most, successful video game mangas there is, it is one of the most prestigious jumps to another medium that a franchise has quite possibly ever taken. From the well-developed characters and creatures to those nostalgic Game Boy esthetics and direct callbacks, each volume is guaranteed to bring a smile to a Pokémon trainer’s face. Even if you are not a fan of the Pokémon franchise, there is a chance the Adventures series could turn your perspective around thanks to its high-quality storytelling and action.
Whether you have been catching them all since 1997 in the Kanto region, just embarked on a new world with the latest generation, or are looking to embrace the franchise through an emotionally connecting method outside of how the franchise is traditionally perceived as, Pokémon Adventures‘ first slate of volumes is damn well worth your while. Outside of its maturity and sexuality depending on your regional copy, there is absolutely no reason not to read all of its earliest journies through whether you are 13 or 31.
As for the tales from the Johto region — well that is a topic for another time…