Surprised Pikachu, also known as Shocked Pikachu, refers to a screenshot from the Pokémon anime of the character Pikachu with its mouth agape, as though it were surprised at something. In the autumn of 2018, the image was used as a reaction image paired with captions where a set-up leads to a predictable outcome that nevertheless leaves one surprised.
The episode from the Pokémon anime where the image comes from is Season 1, Episode 10, "Bulbasaur and the Hidden Village" (shown below at 3:05).
The post began spreading to other websites in the following days. It appeared on /r/MemeEconomy on September 30th, gaining 880 points. It appeared on Facebook meme page Meme Extreme on October 2nd, gaining over 3,900 likes and reactions and 4,000 shares. As October progressed, the image was paired with more captions. The format grew particularly popular on /r/me_irl. On October 14th, a post with the format gained over 3,900 points (shown below, left). On the 24th, a post edited to be blurry in order to make a point about the effects of prolonged computer use on eyesight gained over 6,200 points (shown below, right).
The format also appeared on other subreddits and sites. A post on Game of Thrones subreddit /r/freefolk gained over 20,000 points (shown below, left). A tweet using the meme (shown below, right), gained over 42,000 points on /r/me_irl.
March 2019 Twitter Suspensions
On March 16th, 2019, Twitter user @0xKruzr reported that tweeting a Surprised Pikachu image caused an on-site suspension for posting gratuitous imagery. The report was confirmed by several other users, including @bangishotyou and @StephenAymond, who also confirmed that only posting the original (blurred) Surprised Pikachu image would cause on-site suspensions.
On March 18th, @StephenAymond reported that the posting the image no longer leads to a suspension.
On March 19th, 2019, Redditor Psherman01 posted an inquiry about the auto-locks to /r/OutOfTheLoop subreddit, where it received over 700 upvotes in one day. While the exact reason why Surprised Pikachu was automatically considered gratuitous imagery was not determined, several users suggested that it could have been a result of the image being mass-reported.