For any die-hard Pokémon fan who demands more lore and background to some of the characters from the game series, there is an answer for you: Read the Pokémon Adventures manga.
This spin on the Pokémon universe brings you to the closest representation of what real life would be like with Pokémon. The bad guys aren’t just being silly and battling monsters with any young kid that gets in their way. No, they’re actively trying to kill these kids and their Pokémon.
Pokémon Adventures has one arc based on each generation of games, including any remakes. The series began publication in 1999 and is written by Hidenori Kusaka. The first nine volumes of the series was illustrated by Mato, but every volume after that was drawn by Satoshi Yamamoto.
The playable characters and their rivals from those games star in their respective arc, and they’re all named after the pair of games they come from. Regarded not as trainers, but as Pokédex Holders, these characters all have their own goals in mind, whether it’s to be a Pokémon contest expert, the best breeder around or just a general Pokémon master.
Even if some of these goals seem more innocuous than the typical “catch ’em all” quest, that’s far from the case. No other form of Pokémon media features its preteen heroes in situations with such heavy stakes as Pokémon Adventures. While later Pokémon games begin to introduce consequences for summoning legendary Pokémon and letting power fall into the wrong hands, the manga has been doing that since the start.
[Warning: There are spoilers below for the Red/Blue/Green and Gold/Silver arcs of Pokémon Adventures.]
One of the ways this is shown is through reworked character relationships and storylines. The most interesting example of this in Pokémon Adventures is how the series portrays Giovanni. He’s still the Team Rocket leader you already know and love, but his relationship with his son, Silver, is further expanded on in the FireRed and LeafGreen arc of the manga, released in 2004. While you only get a very short glimpse at this in HeartGold or SoulSilver if you bring an event Celebi to Ilex Forest, the manga expands on Giovanni and Silver’s story in a major way.
Not only was Silver kidnapped as a child, but he also spent a majority of his life having no idea who his parents were. Once Silver finds out his dad is the notorious Giovanni and that he’s technically the heir to Team Rocket, it takes a lot of persuading for him to come to terms with this new identity.
There are also times where important trainers will die — die! — from trying to control legendary Pokemon that are just too strong for them. There’s a chapter that ends with Koga’s Arbok getting sliced in half and killed by Blue’s Charmeleon. People in Pokémon Adventures are not fucking around.
Not all of the manga is steeped in grief and sadness, though. There’s something nice about seeing gym leaders and trainers interact with each other, deathly fights aside. You get to find out facts about the series cast that you definitely would not have learned from just playing the games. Did you know Hoenn gym leaders Winona and Wallace were an item? Or that Kanto gym leader Erika is proficient in archery?
If that still doesn’t persuade you to read the manga, please consider that Pikachu looks very cute in it.
Pokémon Adventures is licensed and translated officially by Viz Media, and you can buy physical copies on Amazon or at most comic book retailers. You can also buy the series digitally via ComiXology, Kindle, GooglePlay and Nook.