The cute and incredibly powerful creatures known as Pokemon are iconic in both American and Japanese culture. Their designs are clearly based off of real animals; Pikachu is a mouse Pokemon, Squirtle is obviously a turtle. However there are a few Pokemon who have some more interesting inspirations behind them. This list contains 5 Pokemon that were originally inspired by real world mythology.
Gyarados — The Legend of the Dragon Gate
This water-flying type Pokemon is a great addition to any trainer's team. Its most obvious inspirations come from sea serpents and the design of Chinese dragons. Gyarados may also be inspired by the Chinese legend of the Dragon Gate. In this tale it is said that a carp that travels up the Yellow River and manages to jump the waterfalls at the Dragon Gate would transform into a powerful dragon. That reflects the struggle of leveling up a Magikarp, a useless Pokemon, into the powerhouse that is Gyarados.
Zekrom/Reshiram — Yin/Yan
The Legendary mascots of Gen 5, Reshiram and Zekrom, are presented in the games as opposites of one another. The mythology within the games reveals why. An in-game myth states that the two were once a single Pokemon — a pair of twin brothers used to create the Unova region. However, the two brothers sought different things. The older brother sought the truth in all things and the younger brother wished for ideals over all. Their disparate views caused them to fight and in reaction the legendary Pokemon split in two. One half became Zekrom and sided with the younger brother, and the other half became Reshiram and sided with the elder brother.
These two Pokemon are meant to represent the idea of Yin-Yang that is the center piece of many ancient Chinese beliefs. Yin (the black side with the white dot) represents slow, soft energy and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity, and nighttime. Yang (the white side with the black dot in it) is fast, focused, and active and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime.
Ho-Oh — The Phoenix and the Fenghuang
Ho-oh is the mascot of the second Gen game Pokemon Gold. In the anime it is the Pokemon that Ash spots flying through the sky at the end of the first episode. The in-game mythology states that Ho-Oh used to perch on top of the Bell Tower in Ecruteak City until the Brass Tower that stood west of it burned down in a fire. Ever since then the Pokemon has flown through the Pokemon world looking for a trainer with a pure heart. Ho-Oh boasts many magical abilities the most powerful of which is the ablility to resurrect the dead, used to create Suicune, Raikou and Entei.
The colorful bird Pokemon is mainly based off of the mythical creature the Phoenix. A Phoenix is a large bird with bright scarlet feathers that, once it dies, burns into ashes only to be reborn again in a younger body. Ho-Oh also resembles the legend of the immortal Chinese bird the Fenghuang, the mythical ruler of all avian species. The bird symbolized many things, mainly high virtue, grace, and the union of Yin and Yang.
Landorus, Tornadus, and Thundurus — The Forces of Nature
Landorus, Tornadus, and Thundurus are the three Pokemon introduced in Gen 5 involved in the Forces of Nature myth. The myth tells of two powerful Pokemon that rampaged about the Unova region causing mass devastation. The two Pokemon were the Bolt Strike Pokemon Thundurus and the Cyclone Pokemon Tornadus. The reckless Pokemon were punished and subdued by the more powerful Abundance Pokemon Landorus, and in thanks the people of Unova built the Shrine of Abundance.
These three Pokemon resemble genies in design with humanoid upper bodies and cloudy formless bottom halves. The concept could come from Japanese entities called Kami. Kami are the spirits or phenomena that are worshiped in the religion of Shinto. They can be elements of the landscape, forces of nature, as well as beings and the qualities that these beings express. Thundurus seems to be based on Raijin, the kami of thunder and lightning. Tornadus could be Fūjin, the kami of wind. Finally it seems that Landorus is inspired by Inari, the kami of fertility.
Gen 6 Starters — Dungeons & Dragons
The Generation six starters are powerful Pokemon. Once they reach their third form they create a double triangle of weaknesses; Chesnaught's grass-fighting type is doubly powerful against Greninja's water-dark typing which in turn is effective against Delphox's fire-psychic pairing which finally is super-effective against Chesnaught.
The three starters are all based off animals you could traditionally find in the woods; a frog, a fox, and a chipmunk or hedgehog. But their designs are what really interest me. Each Pokemon is designed after a different type of fighter that one would find in a role-playing game similar to D&D. Greninja is a stealthy dark-type rouge with high speed and low defense. Chesnaught is a knight/paladin with a high defense and bulky design. Delphox has with its mystical fire-psychic typing is obviously the mage/wizard of the group. Even their signature moves are in line with this idea; Delphox has Mystical Fire, Greninja uses Water Shurukien, and Chesnaught defends itself with Spikey Shield.
I hope you enjoyed learning about the possible origins of these Pokemon's design and concepts. If you want to see me explore the background of any specific Pokemon be sure to comment below.