So, what is Electric-type?
Electric-type is not an invention of Pokémon, but Pokémon's interpretation of it is rather unique. The classical Fire/Ice/Electric trio seems to have been popularized by Final Fantasy, and since Pokémon had Fire and Water, it made sense to have Electric as well.
Electric as an element is not a recent phenomena, as many main deities of various Indo-European pantheons had it(Indra, Thor, Zeus etc.) However, all of these abilities were generally associated with divinity, as thunder and lightning, coming from sky, that is, heaven, were believed to manifested by divine rage and control of main gods. Shintoism is a bit different at this, due to Raijin's oni-like disposition, caricatures of onis controlling electricity, and various other yokai having thunder powers. Pokémon's Electric matches with latter, but also mixes modern day knowledge about electricity to fully develop the type.
Nonetheless, Indo-European association with divinity still sticks at Electric-type, causing it to remain a rare type despite common nature of most famous members of its species. Vast majority of statistically and moveset-wise good Electric-types remain Legendaries, and others that have good stats and movepools are far below from making the cut for serious competitive metagame.
The History of Electric-type in Pokémon:
In the first generation of Pokémon, Electric type was obviously rare. Earliest Electric-type you could obtain, Pikachu, was a well known rare encounter and rare capture. The other common capture, Voltorb, was much later in Route 10, right before the third gym. The rest were either in the Cerulean Cave(which was a post-game area) or Power Plant, which was largely an optional area.
This was all intentional, of course. Outside of the facts regarding electricity's rarity in the nature(hence the artificial nature of the early Electric-types), Kanto's industrial theme made large plains with thundering weather impossible. So, Electric had to conform an urban role initially. One major element introduced in this generation was commonality of Electric-type moves in contrast to rarity of Electric-types, same thing happening with Ice and Fairy, and in later generations. This made Electric connect with three major types, Normal, Psychic and Poison, all three of which it shares thematic connections with.
The next generation of Pokémon took place in a less urban region, a blessing for Electric-type, as it allowed the type to have two famous organic Electric lines. In addition, with the introduction of breeding, the two of the three organic Electric types from Kanto gained baby stages. Sadly though this generation did not provide much more for Electric-types. Spark was limited to two evolutionary lines, which make people think the move was introduced in Gen 3, and Zap Cannon, the TM of this generation that was never brought back. Despite the introduction of Rain and its connection to Thunder, the only Pokémon to benefit from both Water and Electric-types was old Water-types and Lanturn itself.
Special split have not changed things significantly, but nerfed the type significantly. Most Electric-types got their Special as their Special Attack, with their Special Defense being significantly weaker. This sealed Electric's fate as an offensive type. Similarly, one of the major Electric-types of the previous generation, Magneton, was nerfed significantly, though got the Steel-type in compensation(and an evolution much later). The new Steel-type, like the previous three types, was immediately associated with Electric-type, but this was largely with the association of Electric with Steel, not the vice verse, due to organic nature of the first few Steel-types.
The next generation was a significant boost to Electric-types' popularity, as one of the mascots of the generation were Plusle and Minun, two Pikachu clones introduced to showcase Double Battles and the new Ability mechanic. Another big Electric-type was Manectric, an early Electric-type that can fought and caught in the wild.The previous two inorganic Electric-types, Voltorb and Magnemite gained some significance, due to their usage by Wattson, New Mauville and in Electrode's case in Magma/Aqua Hideouts as fake items. This generation also introduced Shock Wave and Charge, two new early Electric moves that got better with time. However, most significant change was Pikachu's Volt Tackle, an exclusive move introduced in Emerald.
This generation also cemented the Steel-Electric connection, with many new and in Forretress' case old Pokémon gained Electric moves. However, a weaker connection with Water was on the way out, with the last major Electric-type move spamming Water-type being Kyogre, lord of the seas itself.
The first few abilities brought in for Electric-type were largely hilariously bad, Static was largely useless, Lightningrod did not have the absorption and Special Attack increase at the time, and Volt Absorb was the only worthwhile of them. Magnet Pull turned out to be extremely useful later on, but that wasn't brought back to Electric-types until Alolan Geodude line.
The new generation of Pokémon was not significant for Electric-types much, as Physical-Special split did not effect Electric-types as it did other types. To compensate this, this generation introduced a bunch of Physical Electric-types, with no moves to back them up. The new moves introduced in this generation were fun, but not useful enough, besides Discharge, which was pretty powerful in doubles.
Electric also gained a new Ability, Motor Drive, which was introduced to bring Electivire's lost speed due to evolution. New Rotom forms were extremely powerful, but unused for Wi-Fi battles due to obvious reasons. New Pikaclone, Pachirisu, was not a significant addition initially, though people's perceptions have shifted since then.
The fifth generation was something of a low level renaissance for Electric-types. New Lightning Rod mechanics made this useless ability one of the most useful abilities in the game. Motor Drive was brought in for new Pokémon. Two new major Legendaries were introduced. First somewhat useful Pikaclone was introduced. Statistically strongest two stage early Electric-type was introduced. Several new moves, all of which are sufficiently powerful were introduced. Cell Battery was introduced. Rotom forms gained types of their new moves. Etc.
While Electric-type continued to lack, things were looking bright for the type. Or so it seemed.
Sixth generation of Electric-types was basically something that can described as "janitorial processes". Electric-type until this generation lacked an area of effect move, and status moves in general. It gained one in the form of Electric Terrain, though the move only gained prominence a generation later. Several new Electric-type moves were introduced, none of which were useful, including Parabolic Charge(who got better the generation later). Raichu and Pikachu gained proper minimalistic stat boosts, Plusle and Minun got Hidden Abilities, Ampharos and Manectric got Megas, with latter becoming associated with Houndoom.
All of these were good, but none of them, besides Electric Terrain, were groundbreaking. New Electric-types were notoriously weak(particularly Dedenne), no new Legendary was introduced, and in general Electric didn't get a game changer. Nuzzle was a neat way to connect Pikaclones, though.
Seventh generation was much more generous for Electric-types. The primary early Bug of this generation was an Electric-type with high BST(though low stats besides Sp. Attack). One of the Orocorio forms was Electric. Togedemaru was a Pikaclone with somewhat viable type combination and moveset. Tapu Koko and Xurkitree, two very powerful sub-legendaries, were introduced.
However, on the other fronts Electric continued to slack. Surge Surfer and Electric Surge were signature Abilities, only new move introduced was Togedemaru's Zing Zap, which was an Electric-type Iron Head clone, and all the new Z-Moves introduced were largely focused on Pikachu-line. Though Pikachu finally got a Volt Tackle tutor, that was not sufficient enough. Neither was Alolan Raichu.
The Overview of Electric-types:
As a replacement of Grass for later game, Electric-types have largely failed, especially due to Ground immunity, which made more Electric-types use Grass-type moves, instead of reverse. Electric's other enemy, Flying, have either learned ways around Electric, or faced greater challenges from Rock and Ice-type moves, which are worser types than Electric.
This is due to two major reasons:
- The Pikachu clause: No Electric-type that fills Pikachu's role can surpass Pikachu's role, can surpass Pikachu's role, because Pikachu was chosen as the mascot of the franchise. This sounds simple enough, but one can immediately notice this creates two issues, as Pikachu belongs two major archetypes, and has the strongest physical Electric move, which is just a Double-Edge clone. This means Pikachu cripples anything that is Physical, an early route Electric-type and looks popular by merely existing.
- The Initial Momentum: Electric-type was created in the context of Kanto, before Dark, Fairy and Steel-types, and while earlier elemental types remained supreme. This means that Electric-type, by nature, cannot adapt to more natural regions of the recent era due to its birth defects, so to speak. And they really cannot adapt properly to late-game roles because they have nothing to defeat late-game types like Dragons. This means that the only archetypes that can adapt are paradoxically early Electric-types and Pikaclones, which are hampered by the above clause.
That said, Electric-types' status is not all bad. Due to their special status there has been an Electric-type specialist in every region, a Legendary in most regions, and at least two new evolutionary lines in a generation. While Electric will continue to decline into nothingness and sorely misses cross-generational evolutions, its traditional and only hope for regaining supremacy, Electric-types have long and calm road to the graveyard on their path.