Considering that on the surface, Pokémon is a game about finding, catching, and training adorable cartoon characters, players can be forgiven for thinking that the whole concept is just lighthearted fun.
Hidden among the Squirtles and the Pikachus, though, are some Pokémon with surprisingly disturbing backstories. There are plenty of dark tales scattered throughout Pokémon lore which suggest that Game Freak, the company which makes Pokémon games, are fans of macabre tales of child-snatching, soul-stealing, and mutant zombie infections.
Here are fifteen of the creepiest and most disturbing Pokémon that players might come across while they play.
What’s not to love about Drowzee? An adorably round Pokémon with a cuddly long snout, Drowzee’s design takes its inspiration from tapir, a fairly unaggressive mammal that is about as dangerous as a toddler with a foam baseball bat.
Underneath the cute appearance of Drowzee, though, lies a particularly concerning food source. Drowzees eat dreams, and according to its original Pokémon Silver Pokédex entry, "it rarely eats the dreams of adults because children's are much tastier."
The idea of an adorable Pokémon biding its time to eat the thoughts out of childrens’ heads is a little disconcerting, but with Drowzee’s evolved form, Hypno, it gets worse. According to the Pokédex entry in Pokémon FireRed, "There once was an incident in which it took away a child it hypnotized."
This particular incident isn’t ever touched on again in any of the games, although at one point in LeafGreen and FireRed, the trainer has to save a little girl from a Hypno that’s lured her away into the woods. So while Drowzee might look harmless enough, its enjoyment of kidnapping children to eat their dreams makes it perhaps a little too friendly in some circumstances.
Apparently, somebody at Game Freak likes the idea of monsters that lure away children, because Drowzee and Hypno aren’t alone in their kidnapping antics.
Drifloon was introduced in the fourth generation of Pokémon games and, for all intents and purposes, resembles an anthropomorphic balloon. There’s nothing too sinister about its appearance – and, as it turns out, that’s the point of its disguise.
According to the HeartGold and SoulSilver Pokédex entries, "It is whispered that any child who mistakes Drifloon for a balloon and holds on to it could wind up missing." Apparently, this Pokémon is camouflaged to look like a harmless balloon so that children will take hold of it before being carried away into the sky.
Drifloon just goes to show that, as cute and cuddly as many of the things in the Pokémon world might look, parents have their work cut out for them keeping their kids away from various creatures that want to steal them away.
Often called "the lonely Pokémon," Cubone’s story is an indication of how dark the original story behind Pokémon actually is. While the games make a big deal of the idea that Pokémon faint rather than dying in battle, death is definitely a very real concept in the Pokémon world – and one that leads to irreversible consequences.
In the original Red and Blue Pokémon games, the player stumbles across Lavender Town, home of a large tower block of gravestones for Pokémon. Throughout the game, the player hears about the dastardly actions of the nefarious Team Rocket, but it’s only in Lavender Town that the group’s darkest actions are brought to light in the form of a ghost Marowak. This Pokémon’s child, a Cubone, wears its mother’s skull as a protection now that it’s been orphaned by the actions of Pokémon catchers.
If the idea of a Pokémon wearing the skull of its own mother (and, it’s assumed, using one of her bones as a weapon) isn’t sad enough, there’s the fan theory that Cubones start off as the children of Kangaskhan, a large maternal Pokémon that keeps her young with her at all times.
An addition in the third generation of Pokémon, Banettes could easily be the villains in a Toy Story movie: sentient children’s toys, driven insane by being abandoned, and on a destructive mission of revenge.
According to Pokémon Emerald, a Banette was "an abandoned plush doll [that] became this Pokémon. They are said to live in garbage dumps and wander about in search of the children that threw them away." Meanwhile, FireRed and LeafGreen provide this additional insight: ‘Strong feelings of hatred turned a puppet into a Pokémon. If it opens its mouth, its cursed energy escapes’.
Insterestingly, Banette is actually inspired by a creature from Japanese folklore: according to legend, tsukumogami are objects which come to life after reaching a certain age or as a result of being thrown away by their owners. Banette is also connected to the idea of voodoo dolls and, as such, is often depicted sticking pins in itself to harm its opponent.
It’s probably not worth thinking about what will happen if ever a violently furious Banette actually manages to catch up with the child that first threw it away.
Lampents are sentient, ghostly flame lamps. However, instead of burning gasoline or some other flammable liquid, Lampents burn a somewhat creepier fuel: human souls.
According to Pokémon Black, Lampents wander through cities, "searching for the spirits of the fallen." Upon finding suitable fuel sources, according to Pokémon White, Lampent "arrives near the moment of death and steals spirit from the body."
The idea of a possessed lamp that steals away people’s souls in order to burn them is bad enough, but things get worse: Lampents congregate where they’re most likely to find food. According to Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, "The spirits it absorbs fuel its baleful fire. It hangs around hospitals waiting for people to pass on."
Lampent’s penchant for waiting around in hospitals for people to die makes it among the more sinister Pokémon and the idea of a Pokémon trainer trying to find food for their beloved Lampent is probably not worth thinking about.
In the third generation of Pokémon, Game Freak decided to mix things up and introduce a few hard-to-find Pokémon that evolved in unusual ways.
One such Pokémon is Shedinja – when a Nincada evolves, it actually produces two Pokémon. Nincada directly evolves into Ninjask, but if the player has space in their party and at least one spare Pokéball, this evolution also creates a Shedinja, which is made of the shed exoskeleton that Nincada has left behind when evolving. This skin is then possessed by a ghost, creating an empty shell of a Pokémon with a single hit point that can only be hit by moves that would under normal circumstances be super effective.
Shedinja never moves, not even a twitch – it merely hovers in place, doing its best to appear like all the other Pokemon. Trainers shouldn’t get too curious about it, though: according to Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, "Peering into the crack on its back is said to steal one's spirit."
Apparently, somebody at Game Freak is really fond of Pokémon with inventive ways of stealing human souls.
While Parasect looks fairly harmless (it’s just a big walking mushroom), its backstory is actually pretty disturbing. The Pokémon is actually two separate creatures: a bug and a form of particularly powerful fungus. The fungus has grown on the back of an ordinary bug to the point that it’s invaded the bug’s brain, taking control of its motor functions as the bug slowly has its mental faculties destroyed by the invading fungus. The dead white eyes of Parasect indicate how far along this disease is, as the original bug underneath is completely taken over by a brain parasite.
Perhaps the worst part of this particular Pokémon’s story is the fact that it’s not a complete work of fiction. The mushrooms growing on the backs of Parasect are identified in the Pokédex as a real world fungus called tochukaso, better known as the caterpillar fungus, which invades the bodies of moth larvae before killing its host and growing out of its body.
This is only one of many such species of fungus: ophiocordyceps unilateralis, for example, is better known as the ‘zombie fungus’ because it infects ants, taking control of their brains and controlling its actions before killing the ant and releasing its spores.
This is a very strange concept for Pokémon to dwell on and the idea that it’s happening in the real world right now is all the more disturbing.
Gourgeist, which look like possessed jack-o’-lanterns with hair, are among the creepiest of Pokemon for several reasons. According to the Pokédex in Pokémon X, Gourgeist sing "in eerie voices," and tend to come out in towns and cities most often under the light of a full moon. According to the Pokédex, "anyone who hears their song is cursed."
Pokémon Y explains a little more about how this curse works. According to the game’s Pokédex, Gourgeists catch hold of their prey using their long, "hairlike arms." The Pokémon "sings joyfully as it observes the suffering of its prey."
So just to recap, Pokémon trainers can capture a creature which wraps its prey in its arms, holds them until they stop struggling, and, particularly disconcertingly, actually enjoys the process of strangling smaller creatures so much that it sings to itself while doing so. That certainly does make Gourgeist’s singing eerie to say the least and it also raises questions as to why Game Freak is so fond of ghost monsters.
The world of Pokémon has some very strange rules. Some Pokémon, like Pidgeys and Ratattas, are clearly inspired by real world creature. Magnemites and Grimers are more artificial in origin, while Clefairys are rumored to be some form of alien.
Of all the strange origins, no other Pokémon comes close to being quite as off-putting as Yamask-- Pokémon that once were human beings and which, having died, are now trapped as slaves to Pokémon trainers.
The Pokédex in Pokémon White provides insight into the origin of Yamask, revealing that these Pokémon used to be human: "These Pokémon arose from the spirits of people interred in graves in past ages. Each retains memories of its former life." Pokémon Black goes further, explaining just how awful the afterlife is in the Pokémon world: "Each of them carries a mask that used to be its face when it was human. Sometimes they look at it and cry."
Apparently, death for humans is pretty awful in Pokémon games: eventually, a soul that hasn’t been eaten by a Lantern will rise from the grave, only to be trapped, forever mourning its former life as a human.
While Lanterns suck the souls of those who die in hospital, their younger form, Litwick, isn’t much better. Tiny Pokémon that resemble candles, Litwicks have little flames on their heads – but only when they’re devouring the souls of people around them. This means that any time a Litwick is being used in battle, it’s powering its attacks by draining the life force from the humans and Pokémon that surround it.
Litwicks aren’t exactly helpful allies to have around. According to Pokémon White’s Pokédex, "while shining a light and pretending to be a guide, it leeches off the life force of any who follow it." So as much as these Pokémon may seem useful for lighting up caves with moves like Flash, they’re actually sneakily sucking away the life from anyone nearby. The fact that, apparently, it’s only "pretending" to be a guide, suggests that Pokémon trainers who see a light on their path probably shouldn’t follow it blindly.
While wandering in circles following the light of a mischievous Litwick, trainers may notice unusual grass Pokémon following along behind them. These could turn out to be Cacturne, a dark Pokémon that can mostly be found in deserts and other arid climates. According to the Pokédex, Cacturne are almost completely stationary during the day in order to absorb moisture while under the hot sun, but take on a new and far more unsettling persona at night.
Pokémon Sapphire reveals that "If a traveler is going through a desert in the thick of night, Cacturne will follow in a ragtag group. The Pokémon are biding their time, waiting for the traveler to tire and become incapable of moving."
The Pokémon world is a place where children as young as ten are able to train and capture Pokémon, so it’s not difficult to imagine unprepared Pokémon trainers wandering into the desert to die of exposure. It’s all the more awful to think that they’re being hunted by the very monsters they’re trying to catch.
What happens to all the children that die during their Pokémon adventures? Or the ones who are stolen away by Drowzees, Hypnos, and Drifloons? Perhaps they become Phantumps, tiny possessed tree stumps which the game informs players are all that remains of lost children.
Pokémon Y provides a tiny insight into yet another case of human souls being transformed into Pokémon within the games, and where Phantumps come from: "According to old tales, these Pokémon are stumps possessed by the spirits of children who died while lost in the forest."
Anyone who’s played Pokémon X and Y will attest that Phantumps are not uncommon, which suggests that an awful lot of children die while lost in the forests of the game – which does seem to fit with an overall mythos containing many, many dangerous creatures that specifically target children as prey. It’s pretty horrible to think of kids running around, trying to catch deadly monsters, but it’s all the more horrible to imagine that, once dead, these children can be captured by other Pokémon trainers and forced to fight each other for blood money.
4 Mr. Mime
One of the original 150 Pokémon, Mr. Mime is a rare sight in Pokémon Red and Blue, as it can only be obtained by trading with another trainer for an Abra, which itself isn’t easy to catch.
Mr. Mime is by far the most human-looking of all Pokémon from the original generation and something in its big, round face means that it often falls squarely into the "uncanny valley," looking a little too human to be treated as a joke.
At times, Mr. Mime can look sweet – certainly in the cartoon series the character looks silly and fun, rather than particularly unsettling or off-putting. In Pokémon X and Y in particular, Mr. Mime’s movements are so stilted and jerky that the creature is more than a little weird.
It doesn’t help that mimes are fairly creepy at the best of times – having an entire Pokémon species that’s devoted to the profession is a bit excessive.
The goth subculture, while visually striking and often fairly morbid, is generally pretty inoffensive. The Pokémon line based on goth fashion, though, is another story entirely.
It’s pretty clear where Gothita, Gothitelle, and Gothorita draw their inspiration – with plenty of bows and frilly dresses, the Pokémon are inspired by gothic Lolita fashion that’s popular among Japanese teenagers. These Pokémon gain psychic energy from starlight and often are able to see glimpses of the future.
However, the middle evolution for the Pokémon, Gothitelle, suggests that there’s something a little darker underneath the surface. According to Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, Gothitelle doesn’t always receive predictions that it enjoys: "When it learns its Trainer's life span, it cries in sadness."
While it’s nice that Gothitelle shows concern for its trainer, it’s more than a little troubling to be followed around by a Pokémon that’s constantly crying because it knows when you’re going to die.
Espurr’s eyes are one of the most absolutely terrifying elements of the Pokémon franchise.
The small psychic cat’s glassy-eyed gaze is enough to unnerve anyone. Whether displaying a blank expression, or smiling while still staring rigidly into the distance, Espurr is always more than a little creepy.
Delving into the Pokédex doesn’t make things any better – according to Pokémon Y, "it has enough psychic energy to blast everything within 300 feet of itself, but it has no control over its power." So apparently, this creepy little creature is also a walking time bomb of psychic radiation that could explode at any second, destroying everything around it.
Of course, a Pokémon with the ability to blow up a large chunk of the landscape, no doubt taking a few children with it, is pretty standard for this series. Perhaps that’s the most disturbing thing about Pokémon in general – the fact that ten year olds are trusted to capture, train, and battle these potentially catastrophic creatures.
Pokémon is, ultimately, a cartoon world. As weird, worrying, and creepy as a lot of the pocket monsters on this list might be, the show is dressed up in such a colorful way that most of these particularly tragic and disturbing backstories are overlooked by the majority of these players.
It is worth wondering, though, what goes through the minds of Pokémon designers when coming up with new ideas. There are an awful lot of stories of kidnapped children, crushed souls, and depressed ghosts littered throughout a series that’s otherwise bright and happy.
Which is the creepiest Pokémon on this list? Which creepy stories from Pokémon lore did we miss out? Share your insights in the comments section below.