When the Pokémon anime first aired in 1997, it took what was already a best-selling formula in the video game world and increased the popularity tenfold and made Pokémon a global phenomenon. Even today, more than twenty years later, the anime, video game series, and merchandise are still as popular as ever. So, of course, it didn't take long for others to copy Pokémon's winning formula.
For a long time in the late 90s to the early 2000s, it seemed every other anime being shipped out of Japan involved a group of kids collecting powerful monsters to fight with. And with many of those animes came a line of video games, trading cards or toys producers were hoping to capitalize on. While 80s cartoons had kids buying Care Bears dolls and G.I. Joe action figures, anime in the early 2000s had us collecting virtual pets and trading cards.
While many of those toy lines didn't match Pokémon's sales numbers (or were only a momentary fad), a few of the animes were actually pretty good. Today, we'll be focusing on 25 anime that copied or ripped off Pokémon. Some of these are obvious clones with super-powered creatures, while others focus on cards or toys somehow augmented with spiritual powers. To be clear, while these are all obvious Pokémon copycats, not all of them are bad. Some of them do some interesting things with the monster catching formula, and a few of them may even be better than the original example. Enough yammering, let's get right into it!
25 Shaman King
Following the adventures of Yoh Asakura as he trains to become the Shaman King, this series was unique among the other Pokémon clones in that instead of featuring fictional creatures it focused on the spiritual practice of shamanism.
While its portrayal of shamanism is questionable, Shaman King was popular enough to spawn some video games and a trading card game. The series had Yoh fighting other shamans by summoning the spirit of a deceased samurai, as well as summoning the spirits of nature. An interesting anime worth another look.
Combing the Pokémon formula with the magical girl genre, My-HiME focuses on a group of girls with the power to summon and control Children: part-spiritual, part-magical creatures. The series is more mature than most of the other entries on this list, as protagonist Mai Tokiha discovers she and the other HiMEs were gathered to Fuka Academy for a secret purpose.
Dark twists aside, this series did have some merchandise in the form of an adventure game on the PlayStation 2 and two PSP fighting games. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like they've been released outside of Japan.
Of course, Japanese studios weren't the only ones looking to copy Pokémon's success. Monsuno was an American cartoon that aired on Nickelodeon, premiering in 2012. Yeah, for some reason, Nickelodeon waited a long time to produce their "Mon" series, long after stronger competitors like Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh! called it quits.
It's very telling that this series was produced by toy company Jakks Pacific and trading card maker The Topps Company. The show focused on a group of trainers battling monsters made with alien and animal DNA that they keep in devices called Cores. This one wasn't very memorable.
22 Spider Riders
Starting off as a trilogy of Canadian science-fiction novels, Spider Riders was adapted into an anime in 2006 by Japanese writer Yosuke Kuroda. It was then re-adapted into English by another pair of writers (who had no hand in writing the books), so we have a quite a bit of distillation here.
The series stars eleven-year-old Hunter Steel as he learns to (you guessed it) ride giant spiders in the subterranean world of Arachna. There wasn't a lot of merchandising for this one, just a web game and a couple of flip-phone games.
21 Bakugan Battle Brawlers
A joint production between Canadian and Japanese studios, Bakugan Battle Brawlers starts when some magical cards just fall out of the sky one day, for no real reason. Turns out these cards contain powerful creatures called Bakugan. So, of course, a group of kids think it would be a fun idea to make a game out of them.
It seems Japan was tired of these Pokémon rip offs in 2007, because the series flopped over there. However, it was a hit in North America, leading to a few more seasons and a fairly popular card game.
20 Mon Colle Knights
Much like how Pokémon's video games came before the anime, Mon Colle Knights was based on the previously established Monster Collection trading card game. Mondo Ooya and his girlfriend Rokuna travel to Mon World (home of magical creatures like chimeras, forest elves and dragons) to find six items that will bring peace to both worlds.
On their adventures they find that if they chant a phrase they can merge with the monsters and control them in battle. The series consisted of 51 episodes and a movie, which were cut down to 45 when Saban edited them for Fox Kids back in 2001.
19 Cardfight!! Vanguard
Created by the artist behind Yu-Gi-Oh! R and the guy who made Duel Masters, Cardfight!! Vanguard has quite the pedigree. The series focuses on a timid young high schooler named Aichi Sendou who likes to play the titular card game, which apparently takes it's players to an entirely different planet!
The series was pretty popular, spawning a fairly successful trading card game, three more seasons, a movie, and several spin-offs. It's also one of the more recent entries on this list, having first debuted in 2011.
18 Dragon Drive
Starting off as a manga in Monthly Shonen Jump, Dragon Drive's hero, Reiji Ozora, stands apart from the determined protagonists common in this genre in that he is a lazy slacker that can't finish anything. That's when his childhood friend Maiko introduces him to the titular virtual reality fighting game in which players and their dragon partners face off in a virtual city.
He eventually becomes a more driven hero when he discovers it's up to him to save multiple worlds. This series spawned a few memorable video games, including Dragon Drive: D-Masters Shot on GameCube.
17 Angelic Layer
Most of these anime are catered to boys, so shoujo manga publisher Clamp decided to throw in their own female-focused "Mon" series with Angelic Layer. The story follows Misaki Suzuhara, a seventh grader who is so short, people think she's an elementary student.
Misaki becomes interested in Angelic Layer, a game in which players use custom-designed robot dolls called Angels to fight via mental control. While there is no card or video game associated with this anime, it is notable for its mature themes on the relationship between humans and artificial intelligences, a common theme with Clamp's later work Chobits.
16 Yo-Kai Watch
Starting off as a franchise of video games and toys, Yo-Kai Watch has become so popular in Japan that the movie beat The Force Awakens when it premiered in theaters. Part of that reason may be due to the anime serving as a parody of Pokémon-type shows.
While most of these shows have a protagonist who is trying to "be the very best", Nate is just trying to live a normal life, but all these Yo-Kai (ghosts) keep interrupting his life. What you get is a comedic slice-of-life anime about a boy who sees funny ghosts.
Though 4Kids Entertainment was well-known for licensing anime for American television, they have produced some original western shows as well. One of these was Chaotic, which was based on a Danish trading card game of the same name. The series follows a boy named Tom who loves playing Chaotic.
One day he receives a special password and enters it into his game scanner, taking him to another world where all the characters, locations and items from the game are real, and uses his scanner to become creatures during battles. The card game is now out-of-print and this series mostly forgotten.
14 Zatch Bell!
Most of these Mon-type animes feature people teaming up with animal-like monsters, but Zatch Bell! stands apart by featuring very human looking creatures. This series follows 12-year-old school boy Kiyo Takamine and his Mamodo partner Zatch Bell as they fight Mamodo battles so Zatch can become the king of the Mamodo world.
This anime combined the Pokémon formula with shonen fighting anime like Bleach and Dragon Ball Z in an interesting way. The series lasted 150 episodes and was popular enough to spawn a video game series and two animated films.
13 Zoids: New Century
Although this is the second series to be based off the Zoids mecha models, Zoids: New Century was the first to be dubbed in English and air on Western television. Taking place long after Zoids: Chaotic Century, Zoids are no longer used for warfare. Instead, they are used in a series of competitions and tournaments run by the Zoid Battle Commission.
As such, this series is much lighter than the previous one. Also, it's only 26 episodes long, making it ideal for binge watching. If you ever thought Pokémon battles would be cooler with giant robots, this is the series for you.
Starting off as a way to promote a line of spinning tops, Beyblade is one of the more recognizable Pokémon knockoffs from the early 2000s. The anime focuses on a group of kids who battle each other with the titular Beyblades. This one is different among the other copycats in that there aren't really any monsters, and the series instead focuses on the kids.
That's not to say its any better, as the story is as simple as can be: Tyson and his friends are the good guys. Their opponents are bad guys. They battle tops. The End.
Based on the card game Magi Nation Duel, Magi-Nation is a Canadian/Korean animated series. It premiered in 2007 on both CBC Television and Kids' WB. Taking place in another world known as the Moonlands, the long-sealed evil Shadow Magi Agram plans to escape and bring the Moonlands under his control, and it's up to a group of kids and their Dream Creatures to stop him.
The cartoon and the card game itself weren't that good, and the series was cancelled during its second season due to low ratings, with the remaining twelve episodes being dumped online.
Starting off as a manga created by Bandai back in 2003, the Legendz anime is less about the monster catching and training of Pokémon and focuses instead on the background of the mysterious "Soul Dolls," toys that contain legendary, powerful creatures within them. It's up to Ken Kazaki and his faithful Windragon to uncover their mysterious story.
While Hasbro produced a pilot for an English adaptation, the series was never picked up, so this is a lesser known series in the West. There were also a couple of video games, but none of them were released outside of Japan.
9 Duel Masters
Though it's mainly remembered as being a cheap rip off of Yu-Gi-Oh!, Duel Masters was actually pretty popular in Japan, with its manga selling 4.46 million copies in total. The anime follows a young boy named Shobu Kirifuda who likes to play the titular card game. Somehow, he is one of the few duelists able to bring the monsters on his cards to life.
The plot and Shobu's motivation of trying to be the best duelist felt a little too familiar for Western audiences, and the anime became a source of ridicule, though the card game was a somewhat popular fad.
8 Fighting Foodons
Of all the Pokémon rip offs on this list, this one has to be the most ridiculous. Fighting Foodons is a series where all the monsters are living food items. With the use of some magical cards called Meal Tickets, young apprentice chef Chase can turn his culinary concoctions into combat-ready creatures.
As crazy as this show is to comprehend, it is kinda neat to see an Iron Chef-like competition end with the dishes actually fighting each other. This series is filled to the brim with food puns, like the Foodon Hot Doggone-It and the villainous King Gorge.
Starting off as a video game series, Medabots was adapted into a 52 episode anime series in 1999. In the near future, robots known as Medabots serve humans in a variety of ways, but ten-year-old Ikki Tenryo just wants one so he can be champion of the World Robattle Tournament.
He's able to buy an outdated model and finds a rare medal in a river which, despite giving Metabee an attitude problem, makes him a better fighter. Though the anime ended in 2001, the video game series is still going strong, with the latest entry appearing on the Nintendo 3DS.
6 Dinosaur King
Based on a card-based arcade game by Sega, Dinosaur King was adapted into an anime in 2007, making it a pretty late Pokémon knockoff. As the name implies, this one has kids training and fighting dinosaurs, which are contained in some futuristic cards that are activated when rubbed against some stones from a meteor.
This series can be seen as Sega's attempt to once again compete with Nintendo. Though the arcade game may have been popular, the same can't be said about the anime and DS game. The most ridiculous thing about this anime, though, is the kid named Rex Owen.
5 Shadow Star
Nearly all of these Pokémon clones are made with the idea of selling cards and toys to kids, but Shadow Star instead aimed to deconstruct the entire Pokémon genre. Things start the same as all the others, following twelve-year-old girl Shiina Tamai and her "dragonchild."
Don't let the cute creatures and kiddie opening fool you, as this series shows what would really happen if misfit teenagers could control supernaturally powerful monsters. Things get very violent very quickly, turning this into a dark horror anime on the same level as Parasyte.
4 Monster Rancher
Out of the original three "Mon" franchises, Monster Rancher is the most forgotten one and is usually only mentioned mockingly. Starting off as a series of life simulation RPGs, the anime starts when a young boy is sucked into his Monster Rancher game, with the key to finding his way back home lying with the elusive Phoenix "disc stone."
Though the video game series is still going strong (with its fourteenth installment being released as a mobile app), the anime borrows a little too heavily from Digimon and Pokémon.
3 Cardcaptor Sakura
At first glance, Cardcaptor Sakura looks more like a regular "magical girl" anime than a Pokémon knockoff. And while it is a great example of that genre, Sakura's mission to capture a magical set of cards she accidentally set free feels a little too familiar.
It doesn't help that due to Pokémon's popularity in the West, American television heavily edited the 70 episode series into 39. This version removed most of the drama and plot essential elements and focused solely on the card collecting aspect. The anime had a ton of merchandise, including video games, but strangely no card game.
The second of the original "Mon" franchises and the biggest competitor to Pokémon at the time, Digimon is probably the first name you think of when you read "Pokémon Anime Rip Off." Starting off as a series of virtual pets similar to Tamagotchi, the franchise really took off with its first anime series, Digimon Adventure, as well as the Digimon World video game.
Though the idea of adorable monsters evolving into larger, edgier monsters is ripped straight from Pokémon, this series had some original ideas, including using the monsters to defend the world from evil forces instead of just fighting for badges.
Though Digimon was the first big Pokémon copycat, Yu-Gi-Oh! is unquestionably the most successful. Starting off as a manga in Weekly Shonen Jump, the series follows Yugi Mutou who, thanks to his Millennium Puzzle, has an ancient alter-ego that's really good at playing games.
The series mainly focuses on the magical card game known as Duel Monsters, which is the basis for the real life trading card game. The sequel series, GX, pushes the Pokémon similarities further with the idea of Duel Monster spirit "partners." More importantly, though, it is still one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time.
Did we forget any other Pokémon rip offs? Let us know in the comments.