True Digimon fans will argue that the franchise is much more than the "Pokémon Clone" that it has long been dubbed. This is, of course, true in terms of the anime, but it's also at least a little bit more complicated than that. When Bandai created Digimon, it was admittedly trying to cash in on the popularity of Game Freak and Nintendo's hotter-than-hot IP, but it was also trying to cash in on the former giant of the collectible toy fad -- Tamagotchi.
In the late '90s, as with today, there was a lot of money to be made in collectible kids' toys, and Pokémon had proven that the best way to do this was to take a multi-media approach. Thus, like any massive cultural phenomenon that manages to make that massive cultural phenomenon money, Pokémon spawned a new genre of anime/video game/TCGs that range from unique spins on the monster-catching concept to painful knockoffs which quickly faded from memory.
That's where Digimon comes in. Created by Bandai and Toei Animation in 1997, of all the franchises spawned in the post-Pokémon gold rush, Digimon is by far the longest-lived. This might be thanks, in part, to the fact that it was Pokémon's first big competitor and its two-pronged approach, which ensured that if one arm failed, the other (in this case, anime, manga and video games) could keep going. Unfortunately, Digimon's failed arm came as a result of its creators attempting a hattrick with its first foray into the collectible space.
1996 saw the release of the classic '90s fad, Tamagotchi, the virtual pets that evolved over time with love and care. The franchise was absolutely massive but ultimately faded, as all fads do. The colorful keychains were popular with young girls, the target demo, and though more "masculine" colorways were released with the hopes of drawing boys in, they didn't pull the numbers Bandai hoped they would. Digimon, which came out a year later, was a line of digital pets aimed squarely at the boys that wouldn't dare touch a Tamagotchi -- and who were likely to bounce over to Pokémon if Bandai didn't rope them in quick. These digital monsters had rougher, tougher designs, could battle each other and train for fights within their device. The designs of the units were a bit overboard, though, as they were basically little bricks with a screen in them, void of the cute touches Tamagotchis had and would have as they continued well into the new millennium -- unlike their more aggressive cousins.
By the early 2000s, Bandai had all but given up on moving the Digimon v-pets and changed tack to selling the anime and everything in it. It was for the best, really, since the v-pet craze petered out for good around 2006 and the strong writing behind Digmon's various anime has kept it alive to this day.
But, surprisingly, fans can still get hold of Digimon v-pets. For the franchise's 20th anniversary last year, Bandai reproduced the original virtual pet with some minor updates and even released new ones in the Digital Monster X series, which have their own storylines and unique Digimon. It seems Digimon really is anime's "never say die" series, after all.