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Levels are a measurement of how strong a Pokémon currently is. They are portrayed differently in the anime, games, manga, and Pokémon Trading Card Game.
In the games
Levels are featured predominantly in the Pokémon games. They are determined by how much experience that Pokémon has. A Pokémon's level will range from 1 to 100. When a Pokémon gains a level, its stats increase by a small amount. It may also learn a new move or evolve. Opponent's levels may be viewed in-battle, and players may see their own Pokémon's levels in-battle, in the PC or by using the menu.
A Pokémon's level will also affect its friendship, raising it slightly when the Pokémon levels up. This means that a Cleffa trained in battle will eventually evolve into a Clefairy, with its friendship going up slightly each level. Using Rare Candies will also raise friendship, though for a long time people thought it did not, due to a Pokémon's friendship also being raised by the large amount of walking.
In Generation I, Pokémon will grow straight to the new level, which can make Pokémon not learn a move it would learn at certain level. In Generation II, it happens only if Pokémon was switched out, and Pokémon learn moves normally. Generation III onwards, Pokémon grow level by level.
In the Pokémon games, the level cap is level 100. When a Pokémon has reached level 100, it cannot gain any more experience or level up. Due to this, level 100 Pokémon cannot evolve in any way which requires leveling up.
In Generations III and IV, when a Pokémon has reached level 100, even if it has not gained maximum EVs, it cannot continue gaining EVs through battle (except Deoxys). Vitamins can still be used to raise EVs. In Generations I and II, the player can use the Box trick. From Generation V on, stats are recalculated after every battle, so a level 100 Pokémon gains and applies EVs normally.
By exploiting the old man glitch in Generation I, a Pokémon can be acquired at a level higher than 100. Also in Generation I, any Pokémon can also be raised to a level above 100 via the Pokémon merge glitch; however, Pokémon in the Slow experience group need to be merged with a glitch Pokémon who requires even more experience at level 100. These Pokémon can continue to be leveled up with Rare Candies until level 255. Whenever a Pokémon over level 100 gains any amount of experience, its level will revert to 100, and if a Rare Candy is fed to a level 255 Pokémon, it will revert to level 0.
In Generations I, II,and III, Pokémon were not legitimately available at a level below 2 due to the fact that in Generations I and II Pokémon assigned to the "Medium Slow" experience formula (1,059,860 Exp. at level 100) had a negative experience value at level 1, causing them to level up instantly to 100 if they were to gain less than 54 experience points in battle (a high possibility on the games' early routes). Due to this, Pokémon on the games' earliest routes were found level 2 or level 3, and starter Pokémon are given out at level 5. When a Pokémon Egg is hatched in Generation II and Generation III, it will likewise be at level 5.
This oddity was corrected in Generation III via use of a lookup table, rather than the use of a programmed equation in Generation I and II, to determine level via experience points, though Eggs still hatched at level 5, and no wild Pokémon could be found at a level below 2, possibly to maintain continuity. In Generation IV, however, this was changed, with Eggs now hatching at level 1 and certain special Pokémon being available in the wild at level 1. Pokémon on the early routes of the games are still found at their lowest at level 2, however, and starter Pokémon are still given out at level 5 even as of Generation VI.
Through some unique circumstances, it is possible to have Pokémon at a lower level than they are usually available via evolution. Underleveled Pokémon appeared as early as Red and Green, with level 4-6 Kakuna and Metapod available in Viridian Forest. Kakuna and Metapod cannot be obtained by evolution until level 7.
Prior to Generation V, Pokémon obtained in in-game trades are always the same level as the one being traded away, so many underleveled Pokémon can be obtained through in-game trades. For example, in Red and Blue and FireRed and LeafGreen, it is possible to obtain an Electrode as low as level 3, even though the species evolves from Voltorb only at level 30 or above. This Electrode can be obtained by catching a Pikachu in Viridian Forest at level 3, evolving it with the Thunderstone, and trading it on Cinnabar Island.
Some non-player character Trainers use underleveled Pokémon in battle. For example, Lance has three underleveled Dragonite in Generations II and IV, with one being at level 50 and two at level 49 in HeartGold and SoulSilver (Dragonite does not evolve naturally until level 55). Many other in-game Trainers also possess underleveled Pokémon.
The Pomeg glitch allows players to obtain any stage of a Pokémon capable of being hatched from an Egg. In Emerald, this means that all these Pokémon can be obtained at level 5; in Generation IV, these Pokémon can be obtained at level 1. This glitch was fixed in Generation V.
- Main article: Obedience
When a Pokémon is obtained in a trade, it oftentimes will not obey the player's commands if it is at too high a level. The Pokémon will either ignore orders and use a different move, do nothing at all and loaf around, hurt itself, or go to sleep. This can be corrected if the player has the proper Badges. Having fewer than two Badges means that no traded Pokémon whose level is above 10 will obey the player, while having all eight makes all Pokémon obey the player. The specific Badges that cause a rise in the level of obeying Pokémon can be found on their page, though they are typically the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth Badges obtained. Unova breaks this trend, with each Badge giving various levels of obedience.
In the anime
The concept of levels of Pokémon is not as detailed, nor as frequently mentioned, in the anime. The first time levels were referred to was briefly by Meowth during the second episode when he said Ash's Pikachu was "powerful beyond its evolutionary level."
It was later mentioned more obviously by students at the Academy in The School of Hard Knocks. One of them was able to quote the levels at which Pidgey and the rest of its family evolve and learn certain moves, and another stated that Pikachu should be at least level 25. However, the main characters and their Pokémon remain seemingly oblivious to the idea.
Misty mentions them in Bulbasaur's Mysterious Garden where she says "That Rhyhorn must be at a high level!" referring to a Trainer's Rhyhorn's formidable strength as it uses Take Down on Ash's Bulbasaur, severely injuring it. In Fighting Ire with Fire!, Brock mentions Barry's Empoleon has leveled up a ton since last seeing it, referring to how its battle against a Mothim went. In Dealing with a Fierce Double Ditto Drama!, when teaching Narissa, Brock says "Now let's level you up. And the only way to do that is to get experience from battling." These mentions confirm the ability to inflict damage on certain Pokémon becomes easier when a Pokémon grows a level.
Drake comments that Ash's Charizard is on a higher level than he thought.
Brock mentions in Doin' What Comes Natu-rally! that moves become more powerful as a Pokémon's level is raised; and Ash adds that the best way to raise levels is by battling. Despite this, Ash's most used Pokémon, Pikachu, doesn't show signs of being at a higher level than any other Pokémon. After appearing in more than 700 episodes, and battling in most of them, its level would be expected to be very high; however, at the start of each series of the anime, it either has as hard a time defeating other Trainers' Pokémon as his more recently-obtained Pokémon do or outright loses against them, an example being Trip's recently-obtained Snivy.
Dawn's Piplup also shows that the anime does not strictly follow the games' system. In its debut episode, it used Bide, a move Piplup normally does not learn until level 18, by which point it would be showing signs of evolution. This did not happen until Stopped in the Name of Love!. Therefore, level up moves can generally be learned at any time in the anime.
In the two Mystery Dungeon specials, levels are mentioned, but not explained. This may mean that Pokémon themselves understand the concept of levels in the anime but humans do not.
In the manga
In The Electric Tale of Pikachu manga
The concept of levels appears rarely in the The Electric Tale of Pikachu manga; however, in Pikachu's Excellent Adventure, Samurai specifically mentions level 99 Slowpoke and Magikarp which can be found in the Hidden Village.
In the Magical Pokémon Journey and Pokémon Chamo-Chamo ☆ Pretty ♪ manga
Levels do not appear to exist in the world of the manga series Magical Pokémon Journey and its sequel, Pokémon Chamo-Chamo ☆ Pretty ♪.
In the Pokémon Adventures manga
At the end of every volume, or starting from Volume 15, at the end of certain rounds, the current levels of at least one of the main characters' Pokémon are given in a Pokédex or Adventure Map section.
In the Pokémon Gotta Catch 'Em All manga
The concept of levels seems to exist in Pokémon Gotta Catch 'Em All, as in Catch Bellsprout!, Shu comments that the Bellsprout he is battling against is at a higher level than his Ponyta.
- Before Generation IV, it was impossible to get a Pokémon at level 1 without the aid of a glitch or cheating device. The lowest level Pokémon would be at level 2 in the wild, and Eggs would hatch at level 5. In Generation IV, however, Eggs are hatched at level 1, Regigigas and Magikarp can be caught at level 1 in Pokémon Platinum, and Dialga, Palkia, or Giratina can be obtained at level 1 in Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver.
- In Generation I, it is possible to encounter and catch Pokémon at levels over 100 through the old man glitch, and encounter them in glitch Trainers' parties through the Mew glitch.