In case you were unaware, Pokémon (poe-kay-mon, intended to mean “pocket monsters”) has been a cultural juggernaut since the late 90s. I should know because I was 11 when the very first Game Boy games arrived in America. Within the first day of playing, my middle school friends and I were immediately in the thrall of that world full of fantastical creatures, their trainers, and the different cities and environments to explore. Don’t take my word for it, though—there have doubtless been children asking your library where the Pokémon manga are.
There are multiple series within the Pokémon Adventures manga, each one based on a different video game, and now Viz is reprinting them in combined editions, starting with this 3-in-1 volume that collects the first three volumes of the original manga. Great news: this thick paperback represents the first story arc and reads well on its own, so even if you’re not interested in purchasing a few dozen more books in this series, you can at least stock this one and know it represents a satisfying reading experience.
Pokémon Adventures starts as the adventures of a young boy named Red with an affinity and empathy for Pokémon. He is tasked by a local Professor Oak with finding and capturing Pokémon in order to send him their data for study. However, Oak has also sent his accomplished grandson, Blue, on a similar quest, leading to an intense rivalry. Each chapter of the story, often named in a punny fashion (“…But Fearow Itself,” “A Hollow Victreebell”), centers on a different featured Pokémon and contains a lesson or challenge for Red. His eagerness to help others in danger and all-around good heart see him win the day more often than not, though there are recurring villains from the ruthless organization Team Rocket to battle.
Reading this manga for the first time, I am pleasantly surprised by how unerringly wholesome it is. Girls are drawn with the same proportions as the boys, and free of any leering perspectives. The harshest word in the text is “heck.” Early on, Professor Oak tells Red, “Do you know what it takes to be great? Knowing a lot of clever tricks? Having a Pokémon power house in your arsenal? …What counts is in your heart! That connection you had with the Bulbasaur… that feeling from deep within… that’s the key to becoming a great Pokémon trainer.” That ethos informs Red’s entire journey, along with expertise gleaned from trainers he meets along the way. As this book includes the first three volumes of the original manga, it also represents Red’s initial journey in three clearly delineated phases. He starts part one as a rough-and-tumble enthusiast, learns the ropes during part two, and is an expert in his own right by the finale.
It’s hard to interact with Pokémon stories and not notice how close the franchise comes to a sort of sci-fi dogfighting ring. Pokémon trainers carry Pokémon in tiny, spherical containers and mainly let them out to fight others for sport and profit, which leads to the impression that Pokémon are strictly interchangeable commodities. The manga goes out of its way to emphasize the importance of friendship and empathy with Pokémon, starting with Red’s backstory. His first Pokémon was a tadpole-like Poliwag that played in water with him and helped him escape bullies when he was younger. It evolved into a larger, stronger Poliwhirl in order to save Red from drowning in an accident. There is a Pokémon fan club that refuses to evolve or battle their Pokémon, preferring them to remain small, cute, and docile. There’s a through line in this arc of Pokémon performing more reliably and powerfully when they fight of their own free will and not under coercion. Team Rocket experiments on Pokémon to enhance their strength without regard for what modification does to them physically or mentally. Meanwhile, “good” trainers like Red, Blue, and the enigmatic Green are able to count on their Pokémon friends to show extra endurance and surprise enemies with unpredictable tricks because of their bond. Living things are not ends that justify any means, and Red personifies compassionate concern for Pokémon. There are a couple of chapters that note the importance of unspoiled nature and the harms of pollution.
There’s a wide variety of Pokémon in this volume, representing many different types from the original 151. Bugs, fish, bipedal humanoids, dino- and kaiju-esque monsters, and many other designs resembling real-world animals and elements burst off the page with special attacks and fighting poses. Kusaka and Mato share goals in their forewords about imagining how Pokémon live and move, and it shows: Pokémon will appear cute, scared, hurt, angry, tired, joyful, in various turns. This manga reads right to left, and the paneling is usually simple enough to not riddle anyone grappling with reading order. Action is also easy to follow, though some attacks will result in powerful beams or splashes of impact that won’t make much sense to someone unfamiliar with every last Pokémon command. Pokémon violence includes slapstick, martial arts, fantastical elemental and psychic abilities, and even some mortal danger. Humans and Pokémon alike are stomped, slashed, burned, electrocuted, frozen, drowned—what was Prof. Oak thinking to send children on such a journey?!
It is worth noting that girls take the center stage in this series, too, and they go toe to toe with the boys. Where Pokémon trainers are concerned, there’s the tomboyish Misty, elegant Erika, mischievous Green, and the menacing Sabrina. In one chapter, Red assumes the local Pokémon gym leader must be a boy, when his new friend Misty was the actual expert all along. No character is the best at all things, and everyone has their own personal strength or talent.
There are a few moments in the series where characters will check a handheld device for Pokémon information and see graphics from the original Game Boy game, a neat Easter egg that bridges the formats. This 3-in-1 edition includes some color artwork and a map of Red’s adventures after each third of the story. Younger readers may have trouble recognizing the technology of 1997, with floppy disks, desktop computers, and a buttons-only cell phone making appearances. They will not, however, have any trouble latching onto this manga, and I absolutely recommend it for children’s collections. Whether readers have already mastered the games or are learning about Pokémon for the first time, these stories have evergreen appeal.
Pokémon Adventures Collector’s Edition, vol. 1
By Hidenori Kusaka
Art by Mato
Publisher Age Rating: A (All Ages)
Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Highlights: Japanese
Related to…: Game to Comic