From Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon encyclopedia.
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Released Pokémon are Pokémon that have been caught by a Pokémon Trainer, but are sent back into the wild.
In the games
In every core series Pokémon game, players have been able to release previously captured Pokémon. Unlike the anime, this cannot be done while traveling, but must be done with the Pokémon Storage System (usually in a Pokémon Center). A Pokémon cannot be released if it is the only Pokémon in the player's party, however. In addition, in Generation III and Generation IV, the player cannot release a Pokémon if it is the only Pokémon in their party or PC that knows certain HM moves. In Generation III, these moves are Surf and Dive. In Generation IV, they are Surf, Waterfall, and Rock Climb, as well as Fly in HeartGold and SoulSilver. Pokémon with these moves or a high friendship will return to the player.
In Pokémon Yellow, the starter Pikachu will refuse to get released by its original trainer.
Released Pokémon cannot be found again in the wild. The only exception is in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, where if a legendary Pokémon is released from its Friend Area or Chimecho Assembly, it will reappear in the dungeon that it can be fought, save those who only join once when they ask to.
In Pokémon GO, the player can choose to transfer a Pokémon to Professor Willow. Pokémon transferred to Professor Willow cannot be taken back. When a Pokémon is transferred to the professor, the player will also receive a Candy.
In the anime
Throughout the Pokémon anime, a Trainer releases a Pokémon for several reasons. The Trainer may see it as weak, as Damian did with Charmander and Paul with Chimchar. The Pokémon may have to do something that requires it to leave (such as Ash and his Butterfree). Another common reason is that the Pokémon does not listen, frustrating the Trainer, much like when Dawn caught Pachirisu. To guarantee release, some Trainers destroy the Poké Ball, as seen with Jessie and her Dustox.
The blue coloring indicating release
Pokémon released in the anime
In the manga
Various manga touch on the aspect of releasing Pokémon.
In the Pokémon Adventures manga
Pokémon Adventures arcs often culminate in the capture of a legendary Pokémon, but these are almost always released afterwards, Diamond's Regigigas, nicknamed Reg, and Black's Reshiram being notable exceptions. Pokémon shown to be released include Red's Vee while under Team Rocket's control and Yellow's Seadra.
Team Plasma's ultimate goal has been to convince Trainers to release their Pokémon. In Pokémon Black and White, it is revealed that their leader, Ghetsis, wanted to make himself the only Trainer to own Pokémon in Unova, making him the region's leader almost by default. N, Team Plasma's king, appears frequently to the player to battle him or her and convince them to release their Pokémon. Each time, he appears with a different team—using the Memory Link in Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 confirms that N released his Pokémon after battles with the player, and the player may encounter and catch them again.
Although there were apparently no other instances of anyone releasing their Pokémon in the games, several Trainers are seen releasing their Pokémon whenever Team Plasma holds a speech in the manga. Black himself owns a Pokémon (Galvantula) previously owned by another unseen person, and now uses on his team after he decided to keep it after Team Plasma's first seen speech and it agreed to be with him. White herself also released her company's Tepig, Gigi, although this was against her own will, as it was technically Gigi who left White after it learned about its battle capabilities.