Even if you were never part of the Pokémon frenzy, chances are you recognize the name. Pokémon, short for "pocket monsters," first hit the Japanese market as an electronic game series, "Pokémon Red" and "Pokémon Green" in February 1996. Two years later, the U.S. version, known as Pokémon Red and Blue, debuted.
The video games were soon joined by a show, a trading card game (aka, TCG) and toys. In other words, the franchise was officially a marketing department's dream. Collecting cards was an instant craze, thanks to devoted Pokémon fans.
Then, just like with every craze ever, people began to lose interest. But those who held on to their cards were glad they did because interest exploded again between 2019 and 2020. Enthusiastic YouTube influencers are credited with the comeback.
There is a lot to know about Pokémon cards; here's a quick shallow "dip of a toe" in the ocean of Pokémon.
There are three different types of cards: character cards, energy cards and trainer cards. The Pokémon are creatures that live in the wild or with their owner (like you or your child), who's referred to as their "trainer." The trainer's goal is to "catch them all," meaning all 800-plus of them. The more cards a player has, the stronger their deck, and the better chances of beating other trainers. Of course, there is much, much more to TCG.
The rarity of a card is indicated with one of three symbols on the bottom-right corner:
- Black circle = common card
- Black diamond = uncommon card
- Black star = rare card
As with all collectibles, a card must be in pristine condition and rare — preferably a first edition, a limited edition or special in some way, to bring the highest price at auction. In general, cards with mistakes or mistake corrections, are big moneymakers, as are first editions of cards that were only available at specific events, like tournaments. But don't start scavenging yet, the majority of cards out there are worth less than a buck.
Serious collectors often have their best cards graded ($15-$30 per card) by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), the largest and most reputable grader of collector cards. A good rating will significantly increase a card's value. Cards are graded on condition, which includes original gloss and sharpness of borders, corners, etc., The better the condition, the higher the grade, which is a score between 1 and 10. It gets more complicated, but that's a different story.
The market is constantly changing, but here are some of the highest single-card sales of Pokémon cards to date. As you can see, this is no longer just a little kid card swap.
10. Ex Dragon Frontiers Gold Star Halo Charizard #100
Many of the most valuable Pokémon cards are promos from specific tournaments or special events. This card was given to competitors from around the world at the invite-only Tropical Mega Battle in Hawaii (1999). After some rule changes, in 2001 the annual event was renamed, Japanese World Championship. A mint condition card from that event sold for more than $60,000 in October 2020.
9. Tropical Mega Battle Tropical Wind Promo Card
This card is also from the 1999 Tropical Mega Battle event. It's a basic trainer card, but still very rare. Few of these Tropical cards are for sale, and almost none are as pristine as the one sold in October 2020 that was PSA-rated MINT 10 for more than $65,000.
8. 1998 Japanese Promo Card Tamamushi University Magikarp Trophy
The Magikarp is a promo card that only winners of at least one battle during a two-day tournament in Osaka, Japan, received. To even enter the tournament, you had to be one of the 1,000 highest scorers on the "Tamamushi University Hyper Test" tournament that was briefly published in select magazines. Needless to say, this is an epic card if you can find it. A PSA-rated GEM 10 card sold in February 2021 for $66,100.
7. Pokémon Super Secret Battle "No. 1 Trainer" Promo Holographic Card
Some say this is one of the most sought-after Pokémon cards. It's another promo card but this one was given to an estimated seven players in a countrywide tournament in Japan. The finals of the tournament were a secret (seems to be a "thing" with them). To participate, you had to win one of these cards in one of seven regional tournaments. Those with the cards were given the location of the tournament. PSA has certified only seven copies of this card to date, one of those, a MINT 10, sold in July 2020 for $90,000!
6. 2000 Neo Genesis First Edition Holographic Lugia
Now we're getting into the big money cards. We're talking about a mint condition, first edition, Lugia card from the second edition of the Pokémon Game Boy. Lugia is a fan favorite, so this is not a rare card, but in mint condition it is — to date there are only 41 PSA 10 examples, so if you can find one, it's worth big money. The last one sold in May 2021 for more than $144,000!
5. Japanese Promo Card-Family Event Trophy-Holo Kangaskhan
This is one of the rarest Pokémon cards out there. It was given to select winners of the Parent/Child Mega Battle Tournament in Japan in 1998. Only 46 have been evaluated by the PSA. One card that was rated a perfect 10 by the PSA — the first time ever for this particular card — sold at an October 2020 auction for $150,000. Its PSA rating is much of the reason for its high price tag.
4. Black Star Ishihara Signed GX Promo Card
What makes the card rare is it features Pokémon company founder and president Tsunekazu Ishihara and was a gift to company staff in honor of Ishihara's 60th birthday in 2017. But one card sold at auction in 2021 for a whopping $247,230 because it was in near-mint condition and was signed by Ishihara himself.
3. "Backless Blastoise" Commissioned Presentation Galaxy Star Hologram
Not just any Blastoise card, this card is special because there is no printing on the back side. This card was made in 1998 by Wizards or the Coast, the original producer of Pokémon cards, as a test run. And it's one of just two copies produced ... period. This was before the debut and massive popularity of the series in the U.S. This card sold in January 2021 for $360,000.
2. First Edition Charizard, Holographic-SGC Gold Label Pristine 10
The Charizard card has two characteristics that make a card valuable. It's a shadowless holographic, first edition. The earliest cards didn't have drop shadow behind the words or text, which makes them rare and therefore, expensive. It's also a Charizard, the beloved dragon. You might have seen Youtuber Logan Paul wearing one around his neck when he entered the ring for his exhibition fight against Floyd Mayweather in June. Logan claims his card could now be worth $1 million. But another first edition, PSA-rated 10 GEM card did sell in March 2021 for $369,000, so who knows!
1. 1998 Japanese Promo Card Holo Illustrator Pikachu
If you recognize any Pokémon character, it's got to be Pikachu. This is one of the earliest cards to come out of the Pokémon franchise. It's also another Japanese promotional card from a contest sponsored by CoroCoro Comic magazine in 1998. Winners got custom cards with their original artwork, plus this rare Pikachu card. It's sold multiple times for six figures; the latest sale was in February 2021 for $375,000.