Animated properties from Japan became quite the craze in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but one particular brand of anime seemed to appear more often than others: the monster fighter. Of course, Pokémon is the most popular of the genre. It has become a worldwide sensation with hundreds of episodes, millions of copies sold of the franchise’s critically acclaimed video game series, and, more recently, hundreds of millions of downloads of the property’s viral mobile game, Pokémon Go.
Success has certainly bred its share of copycats, however Pokémon remains the most celebrated series among its direct competitors today. That being said, just because a franchise is more iconic, does not necessarily mean that it is better.
Since this is a heavily opinion-based article, we feel the need to remind you all that none of the series we will be talking about are objectively better than any other, but in the interest of good fun, we decided to rank some of our favorites anyways. Ahead lie some beloved television series along with a few under-the-radar picks you might want to check out if you are, indeed, a fan of the genre.
Here are 15 Pokémon TV Show Rip-offs That Are Actually Better Than the Original.
15. Monster Rancher
Monster Ranger debuted in the dead heat of Pokémon’s glory days. Not only was this series unable to beat Pokémon to the punch as a major Japanese property making a name for itself worldwide, it also drew a lot of warranted comparisons to the already established monster fighting franchise. It is a shame, too, because the series more or less seemed less unapologetic concerning its Eastern roots and was, quite frankly, a bit meta.
Monster Rancher follows a young boy named Genki Sakura, the master at the titular video game. After Genki is given a commemorative CD in honor of his Monster Rancher tournament win, he is unwittingly transported to another world with real life monsters – not unlike his favorite video game.
While Pokémon’s saga has continued for hundreds and hundreds of episodes, Monster Rancher offered its fans a conclusion. Yes, Pokémon’s exceptional run is admirable and a perfect example of a different style of storytelling, but there is something to be said for seeing a story through to the end, and that is exactly what Monster Rancher did.
14. Yokai Watch
There is arguably no other franchise in the past few years that has drawn as many comparisons to Pokémon than Yokai Watch. Yokai Watch garnered headlines and attention as it was hailed to be the next Pokémon. However, though this franchise has certainly proven itself as a success story, it has yet to meet lofty goals set by early public perception. The game series has yet to surpass its elder in either sales figures or review scores, but its animated television program, on the other hand, is perhaps a different story entirely.
Yokai Watch features some stellar animation as well as some universal themes and life lessons, that are applicable for younger viewers. This is not to say that Pokémon does not contain any of those aforementioned qualities, but while Pokémon can sometimes be seen as stale or repetitive, Yokai Watch often feels like a breath of fresh air.
13. Fighting Foodons
Okay, so stating that Fighting Foodons is a notably better television series than Pokémon might seem to be a bit of a stretch for some, but even still, it was undeniably unique. This short-lived program is certain to put a smile on your face before the end of the opening credits, with its ridiculous theme song and character design. Not to mention, Fighting Foodons is arguably the funniest show on this entire list.
Fighting Foodons is based around the idea of actual meals battling each other – like the most epic battle of Iron Chef you have ever seen. It all started years ago when a king asked his chefs which dish would prevail in a hypothetical battle. A mysterious chef oddly understood the king’s request and provided him with magical cards entitled Meal Tickets that turned his dishes into battling monsters.
So rather than animal-like monsters, Fighting Foodons enlists the battling services of culinary dishes and, while this is certainly weirder than Pokémon (which is saying something if you truly think about it), it also proves to be more entertaining, oddly enough.
12. Cardcaptor Sakura
Like a number of other entries on this list, Cardcaptor Sakura plays into the card collecting and battling aspect of Pokémon that was never really present in the anime. However, that is not the only comparison.
Taking place in the fictional Japanese city of Tomoeda, Cardcaptor Sakura follows 10 year old Sakura Kinomoto as she unwittingly releases unruly magical monster cards known as Clow Cards. Charged with the task of sealing these cards, as well as the magical beasts within them, Sakura works to retrieve each missing card by defeating its respective personification.
The issue with this series and the reason it sits so far down on our list is the fact that the American version contained numerous backstory cuts, which made certain story arcs and character interactions somewhat difficult to understand. That being said, Cardcaptor Sakura still stands out as a memorable series with lovable characters.
11. Angelic Layer
Unlike Pokémon, which masterfully dominated the market with a long-running anime series, countless best-selling video game titles, and a successful card game, Angelic Layer unfortunately never quite took off, despite its central premise being fairly similar to other monster fighting anime series.
Angelic Layer is set in the same universe as the successful series Chobits, and manages to tie into the series. Angelic Layer primarily follows protagonist Misaki, who has just moved to Tokyo with her aunt. The show focuses on the doll fighting game by the same name, which is extremely popular in Toyko. The game pits two custom-design, mentally-controlled dolls, known as Angels, against each other.
While the similarities between Angelic Layer and Pokémon appear obvious, Angelic Layer features some more sophisticated themes that better lend themselves to repeat viewings, and is perhaps more applicable to an older demographic.
10. Bakugan Battle Brawlers
Out of all the franchises on this list, Bakugan may have done the best job of product promotion outside of the television series itself, but, in this regard, it still pales in comparison to Pokémon. The anime, however, arguably succeeds its rival in terms of quality storytelling.
Again, cards play a major role in the series itself, but in classic anime fashion, these cards are not as mundane as they may seem on the surface.
It begins with main character Dan Kuso discovering magical cards randomly falling out of the sky. Again, like in other anime series of this genre, the protagonist and his friends are dragged into an alternate dimension, where they are tasked with defending the world in a fight against the forces of evil.
Sure, Bakugan may have followed some of the same genre tropes that numerous other series fall into, but this doesn’t change the fact that it is a quality show – and good news for fans: a series reboot has already been announced and will likely release in 2018.
9. Cardfight!! Vanguard
Cardfight!! Vanguard might draw more similarities to another card-based anime by the name of Yu-Gi-Oh, but we will tackle that one later. The central premise of monster fighting, however, remains similar to that of cultural icon Pokémon.
What separates Cardfight!! Vanguard from other television series is the main character Aichi Sendou, a young boy who shyly ekes his way through junior high school. Through the alternate planet-based game entitled Cardfight!! Vanguard, Aichi is able to gain confidence as a youth and find more fulfillment within his own life.
Cardfight!! Vanguard contains numerous genre tropes that have littered this genre of anime for the past couple of decades, but it is the series’ main protagonist, Aichi, that makes this story stand out among the rest, making it much deserving of a spot on our list.
8. Dragon Drive
Hardcore Shonen Jump fans, or even gamers from the early PlayStation 2 and GameCube era, may remember the name Dragon Drive. Yes, this may be more of an obscure pick, but the series’ fans swear by its quality.
If there is one attribute that countless fan-favorite anime characters share, it’s passion. Whether it be Ash Ketchum, Naruto Uzumaki, or even Light Yagami, they are all passionate about something. However, Dragon Drive’s main protagonist Reiji Ozora begins as someone who seemingly lacks passion, but soon discovers his love for a game by the name of – you guessed it – Dragon Drive.
Reiji is later sucked into an alternate dimension in which the fate of multiple worlds lie upon his shoulders (another classic anime trope), but Reiji’s relationship with Chibi the dragon, as well as his newly discovered passion for the game, makes this series an enjoyable watch from beginning to end.
7. Zatch Bell
Zatch Bell follows the titular monster of the same name and a 12 year old school boy Kiyo Takamine. The aforementioned Zatch Bell is what is known as a Mamodo, a creature that travels to Earth every millennium or so in order to battle for the rightful position of king in the Mamodo world. After Kiyo discovers Zatch, the two quickly become partners.
Like countless other anime series, the powerful monsters needs a human partner in order to unleash their full power. However, the series takes an interesting twist when it is revealed that Zatch has lost his memories so the two must rediscover the world of Mamodo.
One of the more interesting aspects of the show is the fact that not all of the monsters wish to fight for the throne, while others are obviously more nefarious. Perhaps even more interesting than the show itself is the idea behind it, and while it is similar to several other anime, Zatch Bell contains enough creative changes to make it feel unique in its own right.
6. Zoids: New Century Zero
It should be noted that, for the purposes of this list, we are strictly talking about Zoids: New Century Zero, rather than other series that either came before or afterward. The difference between New Century Zero and Chaotic Century, for example, is the fact that Zoids in the former series are not used for warfare. Rather, New Century focuses in on battles and tournaments between Zoids and their human counterparts – think along the lines of Pokémon league tournament battles, but for every episode.
One of the best aspects of Zoids: New Century Zero is that it only has a 26-episode run. Again, the long form series behind Pokémon is a valid method of storytelling, but after hundreds of adventures with ageless 10 year old Ash Ketchum, we get the sense that the series is not necessarily being made for its original audience anymore. New Century, on the other hand, can be binged, from beginning to end, on a long weekend if you so desire.
Beyblade is by no means anywhere near as successful as Pokémon, but it comes closer than most properties we have discussed up to this point. Originally following a young boy named Tyson, –though various series have seen several different protagonists – Beyblade is a monster-fighting series that utilizes spinning tops called Beyblades, rather than actual monsters or even magical cards like we have covered previously.
Again, what is so enticing about Beyblade (the original series, at least) is the fact that the story revolves around tournaments and battles. While Pokémon episodes can, at times, feel like fluffy filler intended to kill time until the next gym badge or even the Pokémon league, Beyblade generally takes place during a tournament or during a training period prior to an upcoming tournament. This gives the anime a sense of excitement and momentum even during some narrative lulls.
4. Digimon Adventure
During the late ‘90s and early 2000s, there were arguably no two series that drew as many comparisons or caused nearly as many playground fights as Pokémon and Digimon. Arguments between the two series generally sounded the same: Pokémon featured some great GameBoy games, but MetalGreymon could easily beat up Charizard.
Across the web today, there even appears to be a general consensus among various groups of fans that Pokémon is the better gaming franchise, while Digimon is largely the better anime. This statement does not apply to everyone, but the sentiment is one that many have stood behind.
Digimon has always been more adventurous with its characters than other children’s series. While Ash largely remains stationary, the various DigiDestined have grown and evolved as new and daunting challenges appear.
Medabots was one of those criminally underrated cartoons that became overshadowed by more successful Japanese properties, which all seemingly served the same purpose. Like Monster Rancher, Medabots simply suffered the misfortune of debuting alongside both Pokémon and Digimon, and, while the rising tide was good for adapted anime at the turn of the century, franchises like this one quickly became buried.
Shows such as Digimon still continue on today with new episodes and films such as Digimon Tri, but Medabots (the anime) never found its way past 2001. This series might be showing its age today, but, in its own time, it hung in there with the best of them. Not to mention, the character of Mr. Referee makes this show an absolute must watch.
2. Yu-Gi-Oh: Duel Monsters
There have been several other magical card-based brawlers on this list, but Yu-Gi-Oh: Duel Monsters is easily the most recognizable to the general public, and for good reason. Not only did the real-world card game quickly catch on with enthusiasts of all ages, but the anime proved to be quite good as well.
In fact, Duel Monsters is just one of the many different Yu-Gi-Oh-branded anime series, and, while some are more popular than others, its longevity and the demand from its fans speaks of its quality. Out of all the card-based monster fighting anime out there – and, as you can see, there are certainly more than a few – Yu-Gi-Oh: Duel Monsters is arguably the best and undeniably the most iconic.
1. Digimon Tamers
Stating that Digimon Tamers is better even than the original (Digimon Adventure) might sound a bit like blasphemy to some hardcore fans, but more adult themes present within the narrative helps this series to hide its age far less than others. Tai, Matt, and the gang may very well be the most beloved characters from the entire franchise, but the franchise’s narrative really found its footing during season 3, aka the Digimon Tamers series.
Some story arcs may have overstayed their welcome in Tamers, but this series is easily the most sophisticated of the bunch and therefore remains a fan-favorite to this day. Not to mention, Guilmon, Renamon, and Terriormon are all still extremely popular mascots. Needless to say, there are plenty of reasons to adore Digimon Tamers, and fans over the years have certainly taken notice.
What are some of your favorite Pokémon rip-offs? Did we miss any? Make sure to let us hear it in the comment section.