Why Digimon Never Became As Big As Pokemon: It’s Not Just That Pokemon Came First

Back in 1998, Pokemon made its debut in the United States. Not too long after that, in 2000, Digimon made its first appearance. Plenty of fans hold the view that Digimon was actually a rip-off of Pokemon, considering that both include either digital or pocket monsters that can evolve, and kids end up on some adventure in which they rely on these creatures to progress.

There were some differences though, such as Digivolution not always being permanent. If a Digimon takes too much damage or loses too much energy, they can actually devolve, which is a concept unheard of in the Pokemon world. Digimon don’t exist as the equivalent of animals in the real world like Pokemon do, either. The Digimon actually exist as virtual lifeforms in a digital world, further separating it from the Pokemon series.

But no matter how alike or similar they are, we know for a fact that Pokemon became much more of a cultural phenomenon than Digimon. Of course, the fact that Pokemon came out first gave the series a good head start, but there is actually more to it than just the timing. Pokemon became more successful than Digimon for a few other reasons too.

To start, the Pokemon shows were much easier to follow along with and understand than Digimon. As we all know, Pokemon follows Ash (and is still following the 10-year-old) around on his journey to become a Pokemon master. Considering that this is always the plot, kids could jump into the anime at any time and still understand what was going on. Digimon, on the other hand, was much more complex with its show. Multiple dimensions and timelines within Digimon made the television series much less accessible for kids. Since episodes weren’t self-contained stories, there was a good chance that kids would tune in and have no idea what was actually going on, and an ever-changing cast of characters in Digimon made this even more difficult.

In a similar flavor, the Digimon anime was significantly darker than that of Pokemon. While kids of all ages could sit down to understand and enjoy watching Pokemon, Digimon was geared towards kids a bit on the older side. For example, one of the arcs in Digimon, known as the Dark Ocean arc, is about how the Dark Ocean can bring the darkest and twisted thoughts of humanity to life, and it can inverse the natural order of the universe. Can you imagine seeing that in a Pokemon game? So, since Pokemon could appeal to all ages, the scope of its target audience was much wider, ensuring that Pokemon would have more viewers.

Another aspect of the franchise that aided Pokemon’s solid establishment in the industry was its consistent releases. Games came out on a schedule, so it was easy for Pokemon to gain a solid following. Digimon games, on the other hand, were wildly inconsistent, and the game quality could have been anything between great to just terrible. Considering Pokemon followed the same formula for almost all their games, it was easier to trust that what you’d be purchasing was going to be exactly what you’d expect.

More than that, the Pokemon games were generally better overall, in addition to having a more aggressive marketing cycle. It would be hard to outsell a franchise that’s being sold on Game Boy when Digimon had PlayStation. It’s not to dunk on the PlayStation, but having portable games for children was a significant benefit, considering how popular hand-held video games have always been with kids.

Better timing, marketing, simplicity, and overall kid-friendliness have all been contributing factors to why Pokemon made it much more than Digimon ever did. But this isn’t to say that Digimon doesn’t have a following—games are still being released, with Digimon Survive coming out this spring.

Next: Digimon: 10 Amazing Digimon Designs That Blow Pokémon Out Of The Water

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Stephanie is an Editor at TheGamer, solidly aligned chaotic neutral. Though her favorite game is Fire Emblem: Three Houses, she vows to do everything in her power to one day see a Legend of Dragoon remake. Absolutely nothing can top her immense love for The Lord of the Rings.

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