While Pokémon has become a cultural phenomenon since its release in 1996, it has also borrowed and taken inspiration from existing pop culture icons and sprinkled them throughout the series.
A quick example: story mode frequently mentions pop culture, and in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire upon player interaction, the television in the player's house says: "There is a movie on TV. Two men are dancing on a big piano keyboard. Better get going!" is an obvious reference to the movie Big (1988).
Ultimately, lighthearted references to movie quotes help keep the world of Pokémon a cheerier place, especially given the horrifically depressing and dark origins of many of their creatures. Look up Cubone’s origin story if you want to cry for the next week straight. Many Pokémon are completely unique concoctions from the brains of the creators, but a majority of pocket monsters have roots in exactly that, monsters.
Open up your Pokédex and get ready to find out the terrifying and downright traumatic source material for many of your favorite Pokémon.
A diamond-eyed, Mudkip-looking monster has origins in an urban legend known better as the Hopkinsville Goblin. An alien creature supposedly invaded Kelly-Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and was described as having pointy ears, bright glowing eyes and a slender frame. Sableye doesn’t imitate the goblin only in appearance; it also twitches and sways similarly to the movements of the Hopkinsville Goblin, as reported by “eyewitness” accounts.
Despite being presented as one of the less threatening and somewhat dopey-looking Pokémon, don’t be fooled by Drowzee’s tapir-looking face as he’s based on the Baku, a creature that eats the dreams of children. The Baku intends to only devour bad dreams, ensuring a child will have a good night’s sleep, but if a Baku is still hungry after eating a nightmare, he will continue to feed and eat the hopes and dreams of the child.
If a mullet is "business in the front, party in the back" haircut, Mawile's are the Pokémon monster version of the same. Adorable from the front, the back of a Mawile’s head is a terrifying alligator-like creature, inspired by the Japanese folklore of a Futakuchi-onnna — or a woman with a second mouth hidden on her head. The legend tells of a farmer who loved how little his wife ate, but found his grain supply was strangely disappearing. One night, he discovers his wife sound asleep... with her hair acting like tendrils and feeding a second mouth on the back of her head.
Japanese mythology boasts a "Nukekubi," a female creature with human features that has a detachable head that can fly through the air, screaming throughout the night to frighten anyone that comes near.
As a screech pokémon, many believe Misdreavus is also inspired by the banshee, and her amulet that turns fear into nutrition means she’s literally feeding on fear.
Most Pokémon are based in Japanese mythology, but Zapdos is a legendary Pokémon based on the Native American legend of the Thunderbird. A massive bird with electric powers, Zapdos is presented almost as if its the source of storms, much like the Thunderbird that was said to be the spirit of thunder, lightning, and rain. Thunderbirds were believed to be so powerful, that the sound of thunder was just the sound of the flapping of their wings.
Evolving from the grim-reaper appearing Duskull, Dusclops is based on the Japanese Chochin-obake or "lantern spooks." Essentially, Dusclops is a haunted paper lantern with an all-seeing eye with a goal to cause mischief and scare humans, but also have really unsettling sexual mythos attached to them.
As a lantern/tool, the Chochin-obake are desperate to be used by men, and those that aren’t given any attention will supposedly attack and sexually assault men unless they use them to illuminate the darkness.
Whiscash looks kind of like a stupid, friendly catfish, but don’t be fooled by his friendly demeanor. Whiscash (whiskered catfish) is based on the Edo time-period Japanese legend of the Onamazu.
A giant catfish residing in the mud underground, the catfish was said to be so powerful, that its thrashing movements would cause massive earthquakes. The Onamazu legend has remained so ingrained in Japanese culture, that Earthquake Early Warning signs in Japan feature a giant catfish as the official symbol.
Froslass isn't nearly as macabre or graphic in fighting, but her origins are far more insidious than her friendly appearance would lead you to believe.
The deceptive ice queen, Froslass is based on the sinister legend of the Yukinko. The Yukinko are seductive women that lure men to their deaths, entrapping victims by icy breath or leading them into inescapable blizzards. They’re known to kidnap children and drinking the blood of their victims.
The Japanese believe weasels to be evil, and the "sneaky-weasel" Sneasel is based in both this belief as well as the Kamaitachi, a dust devil riding weasel monster with sickles for claws.
According to the mythology, Kamaitachi come in a trinity — one to take you down, one to cut your flesh, and one to sew you up and hide the evidence, arguably represented by the three feathers on the back of the Sneasel’s body.
A ghost-like fox with red eyes and nine tails finds its origins in the "cat o'nine tails" weapon often used in corporal punishments, BDSM, and the Japanese legend of the Kitsune.
Kitsune are shape-shifting spirits able inhabit human hosts while growing a new tail every 100 years. Once the spirit has reached its ninth tail, it is said that their red fur will shift to white and they will possess godlike qualities of infinite wisdom.
Confirmed to be based solely on the Venus flytrap, it’s difficult for Western audiences to see the carnivore-vine as anything more than just a flying Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors.
Team Rocket’s James has a running gag of his grass Pokémon showing him affection by harming him, making the Audrey II/Seymour Krelborn relationship even more apparent.
In cultures all across the world, a common way for people to show their respects to children who have died is to release balloons, offering a whimsical gift to the heavens. It is said that children who tug on the hands of Drifloon, mistaking it for a balloon will mysteriously disappear.
It’s commonly believed that Drifloons steal children, causing them to float away with this ghost balloon. You’ll float, too... or something.
The name may just be "motor" spelled backward, but the Rotom is based on poltergeists or the tsukomogami, due to its ability to possess other objects. It’s an extension of a belief system that ghosts are really just the electric currents left behind when a body leaves the mortal plane.
This cute, yet dark and electric Pokémon can also manipulate electronic objects, like something out of Maximum Overdrive.
With a name comprised of the words "bane" and "marionette," this evil doll come to life is based heavily on the belief of voodoo dolls, going as far as frequently sticking itself with pins and needles. Banette’s Pokédex backstory even includes a warped Child’s Play-esque origin of being a regular doll that comes to life.
Based on the Egyptian sarcophagus, Cofagrigus ("coffin," "sarcophagus," and "egregious") can passively turn other Pokémon into mummies that in turn can also transform other Pokémon into mummies, not unlike the spreading of a zombie virus.
In appearance, the Lombre is very similar to the Japanese mythological creature known as the Kappa. Kappa has a dish on its head filled with water, and if it spills, it can be severely weakened.
Despite this, Kappas engage in sumo wrestling and are known to assault humans in water and removing a mythical organ called the shirikodama from their victim's anus.
Another lamp-ghost, Lampent is a combination of the Hitodama, a blue, black, or purple-fire associated with ghosts, the Yōkai (whose equivalent to the Western world is the will-o'-the-wisp) and an oil street lamp. Its name comes from the combination of the words "lamp" and "lament," the act of grieving or mourning.
Essentially, Lampent is a haunted lamp with serious depression.
Based on the Egyptian god Ba holding a death mask, this is the pre-evolution of Cofagrigus. Death masks have been used by cultures across the world, a mask created of a person's face following death, often made by taking a cast or impression directly from the corpse.
According to its Pokédex entry, Yamask became a Pokémon when they rose from the graves of humans, and the masks they hold are actually their former human faces.
A cross of "phantom" and "stump," Phantumps are based heavily on the stump of a Kodama.
In the world of Pokémon, Phantumps are specifically rotten tree stumps possessed by the spirit of dead children and can imitate the sound of children's voices to draw unsuspecting victims into their forests, not unlike Mrs. Voorhees luring out camp counselors onto the archery range in Friday the 13th.
If Sam from Trick ‘r Treat were a Pokémon, he’d be a Gourgeist. (Note: This is 100 percent me drawing cultural parallels that are impossible to ignore.)
Evolving from the painfully adorable Pumpkaboo, Gourgeist (meaning 'gourd ghost') is based on a jack-o'-lantern and is a malevolent creature that takes great joy in inflicting pain on others. If the Sam relationship wasn’t already clear enough, Gourgeist and Pumpkaboos are the only Pokémon that can learn the move "Trick-or-Treat."
This legendary Pokémon is an amalgamation of a lot of different mythologies, such as the Celtic death-goddess Morrigan (who often took the form of a raven) and the Norse mythological figures of Hræsvelgr (which takes the form of an eagle and sits at the end of the world), the Hawk Veðrfölnir, or the unnamed eagle that resides at the top of the world tree Yggdrasil.
Due to its dark appearance, Yveltal resembles carrion birds like crows and vultures. According to some fans, Yveltal also shares a resemblance to a species of fungus known as "devil's fingers."
A Pokémon resembling a sandcastle seems harmless enough, but when you realize that its Japanese name, “Sirodethna” is a combination of shiro (castle), death, and sand, it makes the origins of what exactly the sand is a lot creepier.
Sand is typically made of ground up rocks, shells and other naturally occurring elements. Palossand? It’s made of the dried-up bones of its victims drained of their vitality.
This poor little Pokémon is based on the Bugul Noz, a Breton myth of a kind fairy spirit that is so ugly, it’s perpetually alone because no one wants to look at it.
The Mimikyu recognizes that Pikachu is the most beloved, and has chosen to hide itself underneath a disguise based on bedsheet ghost costumes, with a crudely designed Pikachu face drawn onto it, just hoping for someone to love it.
The true origins of Giratina are debated amongst Pokémon fans, with many believing it to be based on the biblical 'Fallen Angels,' the angels that rebelled against God and were excommunicated from Heaven.
However, many also believe Giratina to be the personification of antimatter, based on interviews creators did with G4.
The name is based on Project Ozma, an experiment to search for signs extraterrestrial life (and Princess Ozma of The Wizard of Oz) but Necrozma is also heavily influenced by the concept of prisms and light refraction, incorporating similarities, both literal and symbolic to black holes.
However, as Pokémon fans have uncovered, Necrozma is actually the severed head of its next steps in fusion forms.