1989: Game Boy

Closeup of hands holding a GameBoy
Paul Brown/Shutterstock

Long before you could crush candy or send birds hurtling through the air on your super-smart phone, gamers had the Nintendo Game Boy for on-the-move action.

It was launched in Japan in the spring of 1989, making its way to North America in time for the holiday gift season. It was the perfect gift, so long as your parents remembered the AA batteries.

1990: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Assortment of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys
YouTube / Super Channel G

With the release of the first feature film grossing more than $200 million at the box office, the heroes in a halfshell were in high demand in 1990.

And despite the strange concept, the Ninja Turtles have inspired multiple generations of fans. Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael have starred in numerous films, TV shows, comics and even a live musical tour.

1991: Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Super Nintendo Entertainment System on a white background
Wikimedia Commons

After defining the 8-bit era with the NES, Nintendo followed up with a 16-bit console that’s considered one of the all-time greats.

Though it seems obvious now, a Wired retrospective cites numerous reports of annoyed parents fuming that the new games their kids wanted would only work on a new console.

That didn’t stop super sales — over its lifetime, the SNES sold more than 49 million units.

More: Shopping for one of 2020’s hot toys? Use a free browser extension called Capital One Shopping to scan for better prices from across the web.

1992: Barney

Barney doll on a table
YouTube / TheBazingaFan1997

In his heyday, this crooning dinosaur elicited strong reactions from kids and adults alike. Though children watched and imitated him relentlessly, parents grew tired of Barney’s instructional tunes.

Back in the early ’90s, the purple dino was at the height of his popularity. As capitalism demands, a soft plush toy of his likeness was created for kids to cuddle while watching Barney dance across their televisions.

1993: Pogs

Closeup of pogs match with hands holding pogs
YouTube / Blue Phoenix Entertainment

A simple game that defined the decade, Pogs slammed onto the scene in the mid-1990s.

The origin of the fad goes back generations earlier; kids played “milk caps” in Hawaii as early as 1927. But an endless array of collectable designs made it the hottest gift a kid could want in 1993.

Its intense popularity came despite its simple gameplay. Stack the caps up, then knock them down, trying to get them to land face up. Pogs, unfortunately, couldn’t stand the test of time, and few children of today will know the pleasure.

1994: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

Closeup Mighty Morphin Power Rangers toys
YouTube / SCNS Live

Based on the television show that premiered in 1993, Power Ranger toys were immediately scarce when they went on sale that holiday season.

It was still morphin’ time the following year. Manufacturers thought they’d be prepared, adding 11 factories and sending out 10 times the number of toys as the previous year.

But alas, children’s appetite for these color-coded crusaders was insatiable, and in 1994 stores were still facing shortages.

1995: Beanie Babies

Pile of Beanie Babies
John Alex Maguire/Shutterstock

Entrepreneur Ty Warner created Beanie Babies, pellet-filled plush animals that were “born” with adorable names like Chilly the Polar Bear and Humphrey the Camel.

Warner turned the critters into a craze by “retiring” Beanies — taking them off the market to drive up demand. Before long, collectors were paying thousands for toys that had originally sold for $5.

According to the book The Great Beanie Baby Bubble, one daytime soap star invested about $100,000 in Beanie Babies, thinking he’d make a killing and pay for his kids’ college. But like all bubbles, this one eventually collapsed, and by the 2000s the toys were virtually worthless.

1996: Tickle Me Elmo

Elmo doll standing on a wooden table
YouTube / With or Without Fur

The Tickle Me Elmo toy will live in infamy, sparking one of the fiercest holiday shopping frenzies in history.

The Elmo doll — which, when squeezed, would shake and giggle — was released in the summer of 1996 with a supply of 400,000 units. It didn’t last.

By winter, the competition was relentless. Crowds rushing to get their hands on the doll sent one store employee in Canada to hospital.

1997: Tamagotchi

Hands holding a Tamagotchi toy

Not quite ready for the responsibility of a real pet? In the mid-’90s, you could look after a Tamagotchi instead.

The digital pet was essentially a square screen with three buttons, crying out when it needed food or attention.

After being introduced in Japan in 1996, the fad moved to North America a year later. During its peak, 15 Tamagotchi units were sold every minute1 in the U.S. and Canada.

1998: Furby

Two Furby dolls on a table, purple and blue
Tony Kyriacou/Shutterstock

Toy manufacturers were leaning heavily into the trend of toys that mimicked real-life behavior. Enter Furby: the five-inch tall colorful doll with bulging eyes that had the ability to learn to speak English.

Like many fads, Furby’s popularity had more to do with hype and scarcity. After heavy marketing throughout 1998, the toy was nearly impossible to secure after it was released in October.

Eventually Furbys were bountiful, and interest in them waned.

1999: Everything Pokémon

Pokemon trading cards
Peter Lawson/Shutterstock

In the late ’90s, Pokémania completely took over.

The 1998 Game Boy game was one of the console’s most popular, kids stayed glued to each episode of the animated TV show and many a puzzled parent sat through Pokémon: The First Movie in theaters.

By the following year, every Christmas list likely included some type of Pokémon gift, be it games, trading cards, toys, clothes or something else entirely.

2000: Razor Scooter

Razor Scooter folded up on the street
Wikimedia Commons

At the turn of the century, parents finally got their wish: Kids dropped their video games momentarily and played outdoors.

The easy-to-use foldable scooter was released in 2000 and sold more than five million units2 in just the first six months.

2001: Bratz Dolls

Two girls holding Bratz Dolls
Nils Jorgensen/Shutterstock

Nobody dared rival Barbie in the world of dolls — that is, until Bratz came along.

The teen fashion dolls with the giant heads and skinny bodies concerned parents, who worried they promoted an unhealthy body image.

But it was already a runaway hit, and by 2006, analysts estimated that Bratz had captured about 40%3 of the fashion-doll market.

2002: Beyblades

Three Beyblades sitting on the ground
David Crump/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

Add a little competition, and something as simple as a spinning top can grow into a craze.

Beyblades were more sophisticated than old-school tops. To appeal to 21st century children, you could launch them on the ground using a ripcord and battle other tops by smashing them together.

They were so popular, they even spawned a television series. Let it rip!

2003: Yu-Gi-Oh!

Yu-Gi-Oh! playing cards
Wikimedia Commons

Like several other crazes on this list, Yu-Gi-Oh! exploded in popularity in Japan before finding its way to the U.S.

After launching here in 2002, the Japanese card game with an ancient Egyptian motif climbed its way to the top of American toy lists by 2003. Key to its success: the Yu-Gi-Oh! TV show, which featured flamboyant characters playing the card game in life-and-death confrontations.

In 2009, Guinness World Records named it the top selling trading card game, with more than 22 billion cards4 sold.

2004: Robosapien

Hand holding a Robosapien toy robot
YouTube / All About Jack

A charismatic robot from the future? That’s always been a winning formula, and now kids could have one of their very own.

Robosapien could walk, dance, practice kung fu moves, whistle, even burp. Universities in Europe put together teams of the bots to play soccer matches.

The product sold more than 1.5 million units5 between April and December 2004. A British TV host reportedly fanned a frenzy in the U.K. by telling kids, “If you wake up on Christmas morning and don’t have a Robosapien under the tree, your parents don’t love you.”

2005: Xbox 360

XBOX 360 on white background
What Laptop Magazine/Future/Shutterstock

Microsoft fired first in the second round of its famous “console war” with Sony, releasing its much anticipated Xbox 360 a year before the competition.

Manufacturers of the wildly popular console couldn’t keep up with demand for the 2005 holiday season. The winter months were plagued with scalpers trying to flip the device for a fortune on eBay.

Not much has changed in 2020, with the newest Xbox Series X selling out worldwide, leaving gamers frustrated. If you’re buying a console this holiday season, you can avoid the scalpers by using a free browser extension that will scan for lower prices elsewhere.

2006: PlayStation 3

Playstation 3 over white background
Wikimedia Commons

Ex-Sony CEO Kaz Hirai became an instant meme when he announced that the full-featured PS3 would retail for $599, making it one of the most expensive consoles of all time. Ten years later, Hirai would take to Twitter, begging for the online abuse to finally stop.

Pricey though it was, the Playstation 3 was still hard to come by in the early months. Headlines at the time warned of fights and robberies taking place as people camped out overnight.

Once the holiday craze was finally over, the PS3’s lack of strong launch titles cooled sales for some time.

2007: Nintendo Wii

Two women play with Wii
Nils Jorgensen/Shutterstock

Though this oddly named console first launched in November 2006, its popularity endured into 2007, ensuring it was still a hot item for families that missed it the first time around.

Key to its success was Nintendo’s decision to stop competing with its rivals on power and go for creativity, accessibility and a lower price point. The Wii’s motion-controlled remotes made it easier for kids to share their pastime with their parents and even grandparents.

Though the focus on casual gamers alienated some, the gamble paid off, and the Wii has since become one of the top-selling consoles of all time.

More: Shopping for one of 2020’s hot toys? Use a free browser extension called Capital One Shopping to scan for better prices from across the web.

2008: WALL-E

Person playing with Wall-E toy
YouTube / Robot Elixir

While the console wars raged between Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, Disney Pixar’s Academy Award-winning WALL-E robot endeared itself to kids and adults with its timid demeanor.

Timed with the home video release, this $60 animatronic toy of the movie’s titular character had over 1,000 programmable action combinations, and its iconic sounds put it at the top of the list for tons of kids.

2009: Zhu Zhu Pets

Zhu Zhu Hamsters in small boxes
Solent News/Shutterstock

Let’s be honest: Zhu Zhu Pets were and are robot rodents. They’re electronic hamsters that make cooing and purring sounds, scurry around the house and sleep when they’re tired.

They were pitched to kids as “real” pets that didn’t require feeding — or cage cleaning. Children wanted them so badly that parents were forced to line up outside toy stores before dawn in the hopes of scoring a battery-powered hamster.

During the 2009 holiday season, America went so cuckoo for Zhu Zhus that shortages became a problem, and some shoppers felt they had no choice but to pay scalpers $100 each for toys that normally cost $9. In later years, there were Zhu Zhu Puppies and Zhu Zhu Ponies.

2010: iPad

Steve Jobs holds up first generation iPad
YouTube / Cloud

Though tablet computers existed before the launch of the iPad in 2010, the hype surrounding Apple’s first-generation device is widely thought to be a catalyst for tech’s overall popularity.

Shortages after launch spurred massive demand. Millions sold within 60 days of the launch.

By the end of the year, iPad sales were even surpassing those of Macs6.

2011: Let’s Rock Elmo

Elmo doll sings into mircophone
YouTube / TTPM Toy Reviews

Hasbro had just taken on the Sesame Street license and was ready to bring a number of new toys to the market. In what would have been an effortless decision, the company went back to the Elmo well.

FIfteen years after the Tickle Me Elmo sensation, the little red monster returned to show his musical skills. Let’s Rock Elmo could play drums and tambourine, and he came with a microphone to help sing his six songs — over and over again.

More: Shopping for one of 2020’s hot toys? Use a free browser extension called Capital One Shopping to scan for better prices from across the web.

2012: Rainbow Loom

Rainbow Loom bracelet on child's wrist
Wikimedia Commons

Who says rubber bands are boring, only good for holding together broccoli bunches or asparagus spears at the supermarket? Certainly not Cheong Choon Ng, an automotive crash-test engineer who gave kids a way to turn rubber bands into wearable art.

Ng’s two tween daughters were already making bracelets out of small rubber bands in 2010 when he invented Rainbow Loom so he could join in the fun. His fingers were too big to handle the tiny bands, and with Rainbow Loom he could help the girls make larger, colorful creations in more interesting designs.

Within a few years, tens of millions of brightly colored rubber bands were sold. Even Pope Francis was spotted wearing a Rainbow Loom bracelet.

2013: Big Hugs Elmo

Child hugs an Elmo doll
Youtube / DealsDirect.com.au

After Tickle Me Elmo and Let’s Rock Elmo, America’s favorite red furry monster was back to conquer yet another Christmas.

Big Hugs Elmo loved hugs, of course, but he could also sing and dance and even dole out exercise suggestions, like, “Let’s pretend we’re horses.”

It wasn’t all fun and love, though. In its review7, PC Magazine warned parents that this Elmo was on the chunky side, weighing 3.4 pounds and making him “perhaps a nifty weapon for siblings in a fightin' mood.”

2014: Elsa doll

Girl holds Elsa dolls
Jonathan Hordle/Shutterstock

After Frozen became a surprise hit in 2013, no one could let it go. So much so that toys and merchandise for the $1.3 billion movie flew off the shelves. Retailers were so blindsided by demand that for a whole year there was a big freeze on supply.

It was so bad, Disney Stores had to put two-item limits on Frozen goods from April onward in 2014. The shortage made Elsa dolls all the more popular during the holiday season, when stores finally started catching up with the demand.

2015: BB-8

Bb-8 Droid toy
Christopher Jue/EPA/Shutterstock

For a time, it was hard to imagine Star Wars without the cheerful or sardonic beeps of R2-D2. Well, someone at Disney had the bright idea to take R2 and make it roll.

So naturally when roly-poly BB-8 debuted in the trailers for 2015’s highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens, everyone wanted the realistic and app-controlled BB-8 toy — if only to terrorize the cat.

The manufacturer, Sphero, noted that it sold over 1 million BBs8, though the toy has since been discontinued.

2016: Hatchimals

Young girl kisses her Hatchimal, other kids in the background

A Tamagotchi for a more advanced time.

Kids can take care of their Hatchimals egg before it hatches into a small creature. The anticipation of what would emerge from the egg was most of the amusement, but the fun continued — you could teach them to walk, talk and play.

By December 2016, Hatchimal shortages became common. The New York Times wrote on Dec. 5 that a new batch wouldn’t be available until early 2017.

2017: Fingerlings

Young girl holds Fingerlings on her fingers
Ash Knotek/Shutterstock

Fingerlings swung away from shelves at a record pace in 2017.

The small monkeys that could hang from your fingers would make realistic monkey sounds to let you know how they’re feeling, matching the spirit of life-like pets found elsewhere on this list.

Parents didn’t hesitate to scramble to the secondary market when stores sold out. That year, eBay told CNBC9 that one Fingerling was being bought every minute the week ending Nov. 1.

2018: L.O.L Surprise!

Two girls holding L.O.L Surprise Pets toys
Ray Tang/Shutterstock

L.O.L. Surprise! dolls were the toy industry’s answer to kids’ fascination with YouTube’s “unboxing” videos, where people slowly peel away product packaging to reveal what’s inside.

These toys come encased in balls made up of seven layers of crinkly wrapping that kids love to pull off to reveal a tiny doll with giant eyes.

If you’re the type who likes to “go green” at every opportunity, you probably didn’t and won’t buy your child an L.O.L. Surprise! The Atlantic reported that kids were mostly into the unwrapping and just tended to cast the toys themselves aside.

2019: Baby Shark song puppet

Three Baby Shark Song Puppets
YouTube / WowWee

It was a great gift for kids — and for any frenemy who was really asking for it and deserved a brutal earworm.

These hand puppets sing that children’s song that in early 2019 was impossible to escape, no matter how hard you tried. The New York Times called it “as infectious as anthrax”:

Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo

Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo

Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo

Baby shark!

Kids loved the puppets and loved to drive Mom and Dad crazy with the “Tempo Control” feature for speeding up and slowing down the song while playing it over and over and over and over.

More: Shopping for one of 2020’s hot toys? Use a free browser extension called Capital One Shopping to scan for better prices from across the web.

1 The Ringer

2 Washington Post

3 New America Foundation

4 Konami

5 University of Minnesota

6 Apple Insider

7 PC Mag

8 Sphero


About the Author

Ethan Rotberg

Ethan Rotberg


Ethan Rotberg is a staff reporter at MoneyWise. His background includes nearly 15 years as a writer, editor, designer and communications professional. He loves storytelling, from feature writing to narrative podcasts. His work has appeared in the Toronto Star, CPA Canada and Metro, among others.

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