The Pokémon series captured the hearts of many wannabe trainers in the 1990s, quickly cementing itself as one of the largest entertainment franchises in the entire world. After eight generations and roughly 20 mainline entries, there is so much for Pokémon fans to enjoy.
With so many games in the series, it is time to determine the greatest ever. Some games nailed the formula of catching them all, while others honed in on new features and mechanics. Still, other mainline games boasted online functionality or improved graphical style, while others focused on the sheer number of new Pokémon.
The best games took aspects of each of those and mashed them into one unforgettable experience. Keeping in mind that pairs of games released simultaneously are grouped into one entry on this list, here are all 20 mainline Pokémon titles ranked from the very worst to the very best.
1 – HeartGold & SoulSilver
When it comes to Gen 2, which is already the best generation in the Pokémon series, there is no topping the faithful definitive versions of these games in the DS remake titles, HeartGold & SoulSilver. Updating the graphics to the Gen 4 2D/3D mix made these some of the best-looking games.
They also top the series regarding following Pokémon, the impeccable Johto region, and all of the new content, locations, and more that a player can enjoy. This is all before including the already fantastic Kanto region postgame, remaining the only generation with two regions in one.
And yet, Game Freak didn’t stop there, adding new events and other postgame activities for players to complete. Altogether, HeartGold & SoulSilver are the definitive versions of the best overall generation of the Pokémon series, quickly cementing them as the best Pokémon games you could ever play.
2 – Pokémon Emerald
Gen 3’s Pokémon Emerald represents the single greatest leap from the predecessors to the definitive title. Ruby & Sapphire were already great on their own, but the added features, tweaks, and inclusions in Emerald took it to a level only one other game could top in the series.
It finally feels like the whole story, with both Team Magma and Team Aqua being the villains in this game and Rayquaza taking center stage as one of the best legendaries in the entire series. This is all before including the Battle Frontier, the second-best postgame content piece after the Kanto region in Gen 2.
3 -Black & White
Generation 5 saw a significant reboot for the Pokémon series. For the first time, Black & White took place outside of a Japan-inspired region, and players saw no older Pokémon until they beat the main story.
This was a risky move that paid off immensely. The mix of 2D and 3D visuals on the Nintendo DS were gorgeous, the Unova region was massive and varied, and while not all of the new Pokémon designs were stellar, there were too many to ignore how wonderful they were.
This all before considering that Black & White included a hefty adventure with the strongest writing in the series to date. The tale of the mysterious N, the understandable Team Plasma, and the plight to save Pokémon was a moving one with a surprisingly mature tone.
4 – Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon
Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon changed the formula by not being sequels like in Gen 5 but also not being a single game, either. They are the same as the original Gen 7 titles but with fundamental changes that elevated these games to their peak potential.
There are brand new Ultra Beasts to discover, new forms of the three legendary Pokémon, and even significant changes to the core plot that enhanced it considerably. Add in some exciting postgame content, and Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon are some of the longest and best-written Pokémon games around.
5 – Pokémon Legends Arceus
Legends Arceus took the Pokémon series in an entirely new direction, setting the stage for the future. Players returned to the Sinnoh region from Gen 4, now known as the Hisui region, in this prequel experience.
The entire game is made up of various open-world areas, offering the freest form of exploration to date and the option to choose how to engage and capture wild Pokémon. With entirely new ancient Hisuian forms of Pokémon and a well-thought-out story encompassing the truth behind the founding of this beloved region, Legends Arceus is the best Pokémon game in recent memory.
6 – Crystal
The definitive version of the Gen 2 games was, by and large, the same as its predecessors, but it took the already fantastic foundation and built upon it in all the right ways. Players could pick a female main character for the first time, and everyone could enjoy the day/night cycle that matched the real world’s time.
With changed areas, some of the best 2D visuals in the series, and new locations like the Pokémon Tower, Crystal is the epitome of the origins of the Pokémon series on the Gameboy Color and its predecessor.
7 – Sun & Moon
Generation 7 on the Nintendo 3DS followed up on the messy X & Y games with an experience that couldn’t be any more different. Somewhat improving the 3D graphics, players were sent to the tropical beaches of the Hawaii-inspired Alola region for a lengthy adventure.
Sun & Moon contains one of the longest main stories of any Pokémon game and excellent characterization. Though the lack of Gyms was much maligned, it made up for that in introducing regional forms of older Pokémon, Ultra Beasts, and the fantastic box art legendary Pokémon, Solgaleo, and Lunala. They rank among the best in the series.
8 – Black 2 & White 2
With Generation 5’s third version game, TPC broke the trends of every generation before it with not one but two new titles. Crazier still, they were Black 2 & White 2, the first-ever direct canonical sequels in the mainline series to their predecessors.
This made Black 2 & White 2 the most unique definitive games to date since they featured an entirely new adventure, storyline, progression, main characters, and even locations never seen before. Though the inclusion of older Pokémon from the start watered down some of what made Gen 5 great, new features like difficulty systems and the World Tournament were welcome.
9 – Sword & Shield
The first new generation of Pokémon on Nintendo Switch was an ultimately worthy one. Though the graphics and performance weren’t the best at times, Sword & Shield showed the possibility of what would come later down the road in games like Pokémon Legends Arceus.
Though it follows a primarily linear storyline with a decent number of new Pokémon, Sword & Shield stands out in the breadth of online multiplayer options it introduced. The Wild Area is a fully open-world area where players can explore, meet friends, and engage in raids. Its story is forgettable and relies too heavily on DLC, but Gen 8 features the single best form of multiplayer in the series, finally connecting trainers worldwide.
10 – Platinum
Whereas Diamond & Pearl felt like rougher versions of the beloved Gen 4, the fanfare surrounding the Sinnoh region comes from the vastly superior Platinum third version. Bringing together the elements from the past two Gen 4 titles was enough to make good on their promise.
In addition, though, Platinum’s new features, such as the iconic ending with Giratina in the Distortion World and the brilliant postgame, helped Gen 4 become one of the finest experiences the series has ever seen.
11 – Gold & Silver
Generation 2 is the ultimate Pokémon generation for a reason. The follow-up to Red & Blue saw the aptly named Gold & Silver games take players to the nearby Johto region. With roughly 100 new Pokémon to discover, including new typings and evolutions for older Pokémon, it built well on the foundation of the original games.
At the same time, it refined the mechanics of the first generation. It introduced much more welcome parts that would become noteworthy elements of the series, such as breeding and baby Pokémon. But these two games soar above most in the unprecedented postgame that featured an entire journey across Kanto from Gen 1 for two games in one.
12 – Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire
Using the original Gen 3 games as a base, Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire showed that the 3DS could play home to some quality remakes. Though the decision to keep out some of the Emerald content was a colossal misstep, ORAS at least attempted some new features.
The 3D graphics introduced in X & Y felt a bit more refined, and the brand-new Mega Evolutions helped to offset the lack of new Pokémon. Those who had put hundreds of hours into the originals could also look forward to the surprising but welcome Delta Episode.
Though not all fans wanted ORAS to be, the new and revamped areas and gameplay mechanics helped these Gen 3 remakes show what the bare minimum should be when creating a solid Pokémon remake.
13 – Ruby & Sapphire
Speaking of Generation 3, the GBA debuted Ruby & Sapphire, the third mainline pair that acted like a soft reboot for the series. A massive amount of new Pokémon rivaled that of Red & Blue, and the almost entire lack of older Pokémon made these games feel like almost a fresh start for the series.
The gorgeous Hoenn region looked colorful, tropical, and stunning on the GBA. Though it might have had too many waterfalls and surfing places, the area had such varied and memorable environments that no place felt like another.
Couple this with some unexpected twists like your father being a Gym Leader, not one but two evil teams, and your heartwarming rival trainer, and Ruby & Sapphire set the stage for one of the best generations of Pokémon.
14. FireRed & LeafGreen
Yellow was at least the best place to play Gen 1 until Pokémon FireRed & LeafGreen on the Gameboy Advance. Entirely remade in the Gen 3 art style, the Kanto region looked better than ever. The colors popped on the handheld system and provided a much more eye-popping way to experience the classic Gen 1 games.
Better yet, FireRed & LeafGreen started a trend as the first-ever remake by introducing new content to shake up what fans expected from the Kanto region. New areas, the ability to catch Pokémon from other regions, and more wholly revamped the first generation to be the best Gen 1 iteration to date.
The first definitive version of a Pokémon generation, Pokémon Yellow, was unlike any game before or even since. Arriving as a single game, it mashed together the version of exclusive Pokémon and features from Red, Blue, and the Japanese-exclusive Green into one experience.
Unlike future third versions, Yellow also shook up the storyline entirely by following the events of the Pokémon anime. Instead of the somewhat blank slate of Red, you play as Ash Ketchum with his partner, Pikachu, as he takes on Jessie, James, and Meowth from Team Rocket. The slightly enhanced graphics made this the best place to play Gen 1 for a long time.
16. X & Y
The first mainline of all 3D games was a bold move on the restrictive Nintendo 3DS hardware. Whereas the past games on this list have the issue of repeating the same mistakes, X & Y at least tried to be one of the freshest experiences in the series, even if that didn’t pan out so well in the end.
This was seen in the choppy performance and rough character models around the edges. There were also some clear edges cut to save time and money with removed content, a terrifyingly short story, and the lack of new Pokémon. That said, the move to 3D was ultimately worth it for the inclusion of Mega Evolution and the small but varied and fun collection of new creatures to collect.
17 – Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl
Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl were the most requested remakes of a Pokémon generation yet, but they were also the most disappointing. Instead of following the formula of the vastly superior Platinum, it simply recycled the original Gen 4 games that felt reused upon their initial release.
With only a few minor changes like the chibi 3D art style and Grand Underground, there isn’t much reason other than to revisit these experiences on the Nintendo Switch. These games sorely lacked desired mechanics like Mega Evolution and the Battle Frontier, showing that you can be a little bit too faithful when it comes to remakes.
18 – Diamond & Pearl
Generation 4 celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Pokémon series with some of the most formulaic games of all time. Diamond & Pearl aren’t inherently horrible experiences, like the last two entries on this list at this point in time, but there is no reason to play them these days.
The Sinnoh region has been painted much better since Diamond & Pearl’s release when the series began to hit its stale point. There was only so much that fans could take of capturing yet another Pikachu clone, going through the Gym challenge, and stopping legendary Pokémon from destroying the world. All the while experiencing a region and storyline that was about as cookie-cutter Kanto as it gets. It was clear a fresh start was necessary for the series.
19 -Red & Blue
This is where it all began in 1996. Set in the Kanto region, based on the actual location in Japan, players embarked on an unprecedented journey. With the simple goal of capturing all 151 Pokémon, stopping the evil Team Rocket, and becoming the Pokémon Champion, it was a simpler time back then.
Or, at least, it seemed that way. The pacing is rough and doesn’t hold up in the modern age. The gameplay is exceedingly slow, dungeons are a nightmare to navigate, Pokémon designs aren’t fun to look at, and the replay value is lackluster compared to games that came directly after it. Red & Blue holds a lot of nostalgia, but there are much better ways to experience Gen 1’s iconic Pocket Monsters.
20 – Let’s Go Pikachu/Let’s Go Eevee!
At the bottom of the Pokémon pile is the 2018 games, Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee. It isn’t every day that you get a remake of a Pokémon game, but when you do, chances are high that it’ll be related to the first generation of Pokémon.
Once again, The Pokémon Company returned to the Kanto region for a new take on the Generation 1 games with some fresh ideas. As the debut mainline Pokémon game on Switch, it boasted colorful, cartoony graphics that were much sharper than that of the Sun & Moon titles.
That said, this was by far the most positive part of the experience, as the Let’s Go games predominantly featured watered-down gameplay compared to before. The extra easy difficulty, lack of battling wild Pokémon, the inability to have abilities, and the strange pseudo-sequel storyline (but not really) was bizarre and a mess, somehow worse than the original games. But, hey, at least you could see Pokémon in the overworld.
Bonus: Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra DLC
Instead of featuring a third definitive title for Gen 8’s Sword & Shield, The Pokémon Company tried something new with two DLC packs. Because they aren’t full-on new games, ranking them with the rest is difficult, but they deserve an honorable mention.
Both DLC content packs, the Isle of Armor and the Crown Tundra, feature entirely new Galar region areas that are open-world. Adding older fan-favorite Pokémon, some new legendaries, and even some extra postgame content adds to the value of Sword & Shield, even if they are a bit on the short side of DLC content and not actually complete games themselves.