How Pokémon fans went from outcasts to cool

From our special correspondent in Yokohama (Japan),

The real world isn’t always as comfortable as a Poké Ball. Pokémon fans know this well. But during the last Pokémon World Championships, in August in Yokohama (Japan), pokemaniacs could give free rein to their passion without fearing jeers. Among them, many adults. At the Pokémon Center in Tokyo, where dozens of kinds of Pokémon plush toys are on sale, among countless clothes and objects, Vicky, from England, is doing her shopping. “The collecting side, the money we spend on Pokémon, makes people laugh. But I don’t care, having a Poussacha stuffed animal that handles mochi makes me happy. »

If the primary objective of the Yokohama gathering was to designate the best Pokémon “trainers” in the world, whether in video games or card games, it was also an opportunity, among hardcore fans, to measure the scope of one’s passion. “When you really like Pokémon, you have a fantasy,” explains Karl, who comes from the United States. Living in the world of Pokémon. Here, we can have the illusion, for a few days, that Pokémon exist and that they are the most important and beautiful thing in the world. »

Can’t catch them all

Even without living in Yokohama, where Pokémon passion actually invades public space, fans of the franchise have built a world where Pokémon video games are, every year, the best-selling (440 million copies sold to date). A world where Pokémon cards sell for millions of dollars, and where the search for “Pokémon cards” is by far the most frequent on eBay. A world where the Pokémon brand is the most profitable cultural franchise in history, ahead of Marvel, Star Wars or Harry Potter… And the passion grows exponentially. Of the 9 billion Pokémon cards printed since the game’s creation in 1996, a quarter have been printed in the last two years…

Pikachu fans in the Pokémon Center in Yokohama during the Pokémon World Championships, in August 2023 – B.Chapon/20Minutes

However, these figures are not enough to express the attachment of the biggest fans. “I know Pokémon are very popular today, and that’s very cool,” Karl explains. But for me, it’s really my whole life. I think about Pokémon almost all the time. I am happy when I think of them. »

We are all Magikarps

“Pokémon, for 90% of fans, it’s a refuge, a bubble of kindness where being different is valued, explains Julien Dachaud, aka NewTiteuf, a content creator specializing in (and fan of) Pokémon. I think it comes from the game, with all these different Pokémon, which can be surprising. Magikarp may seem useless with its Dip ability, but it can evolve into one of the most powerful Pokémon. It’s a great lesson…”

If Pokémon fans need this refuge, it’s because life hasn’t always been rosy for them.

“I’ve been a fan for ten years and everything has changed in the general public’s perception of Pokémon fans. Today, it’s stylish, but ten years ago, it was a niche community, we were weird people, explains MissJirachi, pioneer of Pokémon YouTubers, still a fan today. At 16, I was made fun of because I liked Pokémon and had a YouTube channel about it. But for me, Pokémon saved my life. I was bullied at school and I had to leave high school. Pokémon were my outlet. I found a community of people who were harassed like me. And then I started making a little money from my channel and I discovered a path to follow. Without Pokémon, I don’t know what I would have become…”

A colorful community

These kinds of testimonies are legion among Pokémon fans. Suzi, presenter of a show dedicated to Pokémon on NHK’s educational channel, notes that there are “a lot of LGBT people, fat people, disabled people… In short, oppressed minorities, among Pokémon fans. When they play Pokémon, these people forget their problems, they feel valued and accepted, and safe. »

It’s a very… colorful community, confirms Julien Dachaud. There is a joy of living among them. Even introverted people outside of that spectrum reveal themselves when there’s a Pikachu, it rekindles a flame when they’re together. »

The Go revolution

The commercial success of Pokémon has never waned but experienced a considerable boost with the confinement linked to the Covid 19 pandemic. But before that, Pokémon found its central place on the cool map in the summer of 2016. Remember -you, the whole world goes on a Pokémon hunt, their smartphone in hand…

“Pokémon Go turned everything upside down,” explains Julien. Suddenly, everyone was playing, even those who didn’t know. And those who knew said to themselves “but why did I stop playing?”… The problem with Pokémon is that you often stop playing when you no longer have playgrounds. The arrival of online gaming, for video games and then for cards, allowed adults to get back into Pokémon. »

From the 5/12 years section at Longchamp

With its widespread success, being a fan of Pokémon has become almost commonplace. “It’s the triumph of the weirdos and the nerds,” laughs Miss Jirachi. At an event like the Pokémon World Championships, you feel uncomfortable being dressed normally while everyone around you has Pokémon clothes, stuffed animals attached to their shoulders, accessories… It’s a beautiful symbol of this turnaround! »

Plush toys with the image of Pikachu in the Pokémon Center in Yokohama, for the Pokémon World Championships, in August 2023
Plush toys bearing the image of Pikachu in the Pokémon Center in Yokohama, for the Pokémon World Championships, in August 2023 – B.Chapon/20Minutes

“Before, when you wanted Pokémon clothes you had to go to the 5/12 year old section at Carrefour,” Julien recalls. Today they are everywhere, Uniqlo makes adult collections For example. There was a collaboration with Longchamp…The Pokémon Company pays close attention to the quality of its merchandising partners. »

Create meetings

Strangely, commercial success does not seem to have changed the identity of the Pokémon fandom.

“The success of Pokémon Go demonstrated that it was a passion that brought people together,” analyzes MissJirachi. As fans, we didn’t wait for Pokémon Go to see each other IRL and form our close-knit community. But this game put the spotlight on the social dimension of Pokémon. »

“The Pokémon Company is committed to controlling this fandom while keeping it communally safe,” according to Julien Dachaud. This is why there is no Pokémon social network, and why they manage the tournaments themselves. » And in fact, at Creatures, the studio which has been creating Pokémon cards for almost 30 years, we praise the merits of a unifying game, as Atsushi Nagashima, director of the studio, explains: “Our objective is not only to create products but to create moments of play, opportunities to spend time together, between players, to develop our imagination…”


Where other franchises are wary of their most extreme fans, the Pokémon Company on the contrary seems to be banking heavily on them. Better still, the company’s latest creation, an animated web series entitled The horizons, features a young card player. The series tells the story of how a lonely schoolgirl discovers friendship and self-confidence thanks to Pokémon…

This mantra infuses Pokémon’s business philosophy, which wants to place its Pokémon products in every corner of its fans’ lives. “Adults love Pokémon because they loved them as children,” says Takato Utsunomiya, director of operations for the Pokémon Company. Our main target remains children. If Pokémon stop being cool in kids’ eyes, it’s over for us. But we also think about adults who have less time to play and we create other experiences, like Pokémon Sleep…”

We meet Karl again, the fan who wanted to live in the world of Pokémon, his arms loaded with two huge bags of products from the Pokémon Center. “It’s not all for me,” he defends himself. I’m going to give some away, and I’m going to resell some because some things are only available in Japan. » Like him, millions of Pokémon fans have become volunteer ambassadors for the brand.

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