Surprised Pikachu meme.

Meme History: Surprised Pikachu

No internet craze can take off without some element of mockery, cuteness, self-importance, irony, or nostalgia.


Kyle Calise


Posted on Apr 21, 2024   Updated on Apr 23, 2024, 3:14 pm CDT

You’d think that since the title of this meme is two words long and one of those words is “Pikachu,” that this story would begin with Pikachu.

You would be wrong.

Like the Pokedex itself, the story of Surprised Pikachu actually begins with #001 itself, Bulbasaur. In the Summer of ‘97, Pokémon: Indigo League was 10 episodes into its original run when for the first time ever, a wild Bulbasaur appeared to Ash Ketchum and company.

Foolishly choosing his Butterfree of all options to try and weaken it, Ash was easily rebuffed by the seed Pokémon, to the surprise and shock of everyone—most notably, Pikachu.

On TV, this was a blink-and-you’d-miss-it moment. But a generation later, in the fall of 2018, a Tumblr user and Pokémon superfan posted the image to her blog, thinking it “looked a bit…off.” It was neither her first meme post, nor her first Pokémon meme, but for whatever reason it is the one that stuck.

In Body Image

Four days later, it was reposted to /r/MemeEconomy, and a few days after that, to a Facebook page called “Meme Extreme.” It soon began to leak into other unrelated subreddits like /r/Freefolk, dedicated to the Game of Thrones fandom, /r/me_irl, and especially X.

The use case for Surprised Pikachu is actually a pretty accurate reflection of the in-universe scenario from which the image is taken.

In Body Image

Internet people post surprised Pikachu either to tease someone or to self-deprecate in a situation where the outcome was obvious and they should have known better.

Angela, the original Tumblr poster, should have known that forcibly bending a thing would cause it to break, and Ash Ketchum should have known better than to use Butterfree’s “Sleep Powder”—a grass type move—against a Bulbasaur, a Pokémon who is naturally resistant to grass type attacks.

Ultimately, Surprised Pikachu became so popular that the official Pokémon X account leveraged it to promote the first trailer for their 2019 film, Detective Pikachu.

The following March, X users noticed that their accounts would be suspended for “depicting gratuitous gore” after posting the meme.

That’s weird because little Pikachu’s awe of Bulbasaur is innocent, cute, and fluffy, and not actually gory in any way whatsoever

A leading explanation on Reddit /r/OutoftheLoop was that when enough users all report the same image, eventually X’s content removal system learns to auto-classify said image and then bans the users posting it. In other words, Surprised Pikachu may have gotten so popular that it inspired an organized and coordinated effort by users who were sick of seeing it, in order to get it blanket-removed from the site.

But that’s not the only evidence of obsessive devotion to this meme. At least one TikToker got a tattoo of Surprised Pikachu on their left arm, and another person created a series of Surprised Pikachu pixel art—matching the style and colors of the original Gameboy games.

No internet craze can take off without some element of mockery, cuteness, self-importance, irony, or nostalgia. This one happens to have all of the above, and it went viral.

Is anyone Surprised Pikachu?

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*First Published: Apr 21, 2024, 6:00 am CDT