Top Animated Series
The cartoon is indeed a wonderful thing. Once mostly deemed to be the territory of a kids-only audience, the world of animation has evolved over the years so as to appeal to adults as well as children… or is it just that many adults these days have the minds of children?
Don’t ask us, for if there’s one thing that the IGN editors can claim to be, it’s kids trapped in the bodies of adults. And so it goes without saying that we sure do love us some cartoons. And in particular, television has proven to be a hugely important part of our toon-development, starting from our earliest days with the Saturday morning and after-school shows and continuing right on to today with the more mature Adult Swim offerings and the like.
In fact, as we prepped for this story and looked back at our many favorite animated series from over the years, we were amazed by the diversity of the shows that we came up with. From classic tales of cats chasing mice to the legend of a Dark Knight avenger patrolling the streets of a place called Gotham, from incompetent alien invaders to incompetent nuclear families, from stories of the future to sagas of the past, IGN’s Top 100 Animated Series has it all.
So put away your ink and paint for a while and have a look at this list. You might just find yourself animated by it.
The success of the animated Archie Show was big, as it extended into music with The Archies hit song «Sugar, Sugar.» This led to another Archie Comic coming to television with Josie and the Pussycats, which took pre-existing Archie Comics universe character Josie and put her into a new scenario as she formed a band — the comic book character also reflected the change, in a bit of synergy. Hanna-Barbera produced Josieand it’s an amusing show for how it so specifically combined elements from the success of The Archie Show and Hanna-Barbera’s own Scooby-Doo, as Josie and her friends not only played music together, but inadvertently stumbled into mysteries they would ultimately help solve.
Despite only running for 16 episodes (not counting the amusing spin-off/continuation Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space), frequent repeats, the spunky characters and a great theme song kept Josie in the public consciousness for years to come, ultimately leading to an underrated film version in 2001.
One of the more popular cartoon/toy marketing machines of the Eighties was M.A.S.K., the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (yes, command with a ‘K’, that’s what happens when you have to make an acronym fit into your story concept). The show was a weird kind of G.I. Joe—Transformers hybrid, but it managed to combine the best elements of those franchises while adopting few of their flaws. But what really set it apart was the namesake of the show — the super-powered masks the characters wore. The masks provided the ethnically-diverse-yet-stereotypical cast with abilities like anti-gravity, flight, and energy beams.
Matt Trakker was the ruggedly handsome, rich, charismatic lead of the show. His pimp ride was a red Chevrolet Camaro G3 that transformed into a gull-winged fighter plane. His son Scott and his friend/pet robot T-Bob provided some comic relief. And since Scott was always upgrading his expensive buddy, he provided plenty of validation for the little boys who would grow up to be today’s tech geeks and robot nerds. But one of the more notable aspects of the show was the fact that it showed a single dad taking care of his only son while fighting the forces of evil.
In some ways this is the Firefly of animated series — aired out of order and then quickly discarded by a network that didn’t feel it fit with their programming. Only six episodes were produced, and only two of them aired, but there was a lot of very funny material in Kevin Smith’s adaptation of his own film. A rather brilliant second episode parodied that old television staple, with the characters trapped together, reminiscing on past events — only here, with only one episode having been produced, all of their memories are of that previous week’s events. before things get really hysterical and surreal. Starring the entire main cast of the Clerks films, not to mention Alec Baldwin as the Lex Luthorish Leonardo Leonardo, Clerks was able to do a lot more broad comedy and parodies than the films, with episodes evoking everything from Fast Times at Ridgemont High to the unfortunate results of a Transformer transforming with a person inside him.
Like many of the shows represented on our Top 100, The Smurfs is a cartoon we here at IGN grew up with, and as such it holds a special place in our memories. Based on a Belgian comic strip, the tiny blue-skinned Smurfs became an unstoppable media empire with this popular 1980s Hanna-Barbera animated series. The animation itself wasn’t much to speak of, but the stories told over the course of its 256 episodes were kiddie cocaine to those of us who grew up in the ’80s. The peaceful Smurfs, led by Papa Smurf and predominantly male (with the sole exception of Smurfette), were often chased by the evil wizard Gargamel and his cat Azrael.
Watching the series as an adult, one can’t help but sympathize a little bit with the Smurf-hating Gargamel — the constantly upbeat and overly saccharine attitudes of most of the Smurfs, mixed with whininess and an extreme overuse of the word «smurf» by everyone, makes you start to root for the poor, bumbling wizard who just wants to make some nice Smurf stew.
Lots of live-action TV series have gotten cartoons over the years — Gilligan’s Island, Happy Days, even The Dukes of Hazzard! — but rarely have such hand-drawn variations been so successful in conveying the spirit of their forbearers. Running for two seasons (from 1973 to 1974) on NBC, these Star Trek half-hour adventures are seen by many fans as the lost fourth year of Captain Kirk and crew’s legendary five-year mission. Featuring animation by Filmation, the show didn’t typically excel visually — cartoons proved to most definitely not be the final frontier for the Enterprise. But the world of animation did offer the Star Trek writers the chance to portray things they could never do on a live-action budget at the time — from three-armed crew members to new and exciting alien worlds. Most importantly, many of the writers of the original show returned here, from D. C. Fontana to Samuel A. Peeples to Gene Roddenberry himself. That fidelity to the 1960s show, plus the inclusion of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and most of the other actors (or their voices anyway), led to Star Trek: The Animated Series becoming one of the most interesting, if under-viewed, shows in all of the Trekfranchise.
Although it’s mostly an upbeat story with amazing action scenes, Fullmetal Alchemistscores big points for touching on many aspects of the human condition. The main characters are the Elric brothers, Ed and Al. Ed is the famous Fullmetal Alchemist who almost lost his little brother Al in an accident that occurred when the boys tried to resurrect their dead mother using alchemy. Edward managed to contain his brother’s soul in a suit of armor. While he did manage to save his brother’s life, he had to pay a great price himself. To get back what they lost, the brothers embark on a journey to find the legendary Philosopher’s Stone.
This story doesn’t pull any punches. Right from the first few episodes we’re presented with the topics of death, lost hope, and betrayal. The real emotional engine of the series is the relationship between Ed and Al, as the two boys go through turmoil that no one of any age should have to deal with. By the end of this series you just want to give them both a hug and tell them everything will be okay. FMA is one of those special anime that became more than a mere animated show; it was a powerful weekly drama.
Based on the comic strip of the same name by African American cartoonist Aaron McGruder, The Boondocks takes a sharp satirical look at American society, with an emphasis on black culture and race relations, from hip-hop and movies to icons like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Oprah Winfrey. Controversial from the start, The Boondockshas drawn criticism for its use of the N-word and for its portrayal of such historical figures as King.
The series follows the Freeman family — 10-year-old Huey, his eight-year-old brother Riley and their grandad Robert — and their experiences after the boys moved from the South Side of Chicago to live with Grandad in the suburbs. The two seasons produced so far have been released on DVD, uncensored and complete with two previously unaired episodes from season two, which were highly critical of BET (which makes for some amusing episode commentaries by McGruder and the cast).
Disney Afternoon’s response to Batman, but with a duck looking more The Shadow than The Dark Knight, is one of the many reasons why after-school cartoons rule. This DuckTales spin-off ran from 1991 to 1995, and during that time the goofy yet thrilling adventures of Drake Mallard never ceased to satisfy. And how could they not: awesome sidekick who was more Han Solo than Dick Grayson? Check, his name’s Launchpad and he’s about 10 different types of cool. Duck-themed aerial transport? Check. A few homages to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns? Some nods to James Bond and Marvel for good measure? Double-check. And that theme song makes for a geeky-cool ringtone, which is nice. From DW’s misadventures with Gizmoduck to some throw-downs with villain Flintheart Glomgold, our time in the city of St. Canard was more than worthwhile. It was pure fun.
Want to know what kids are thinking? Well yer gonna. Rugrats might have had a sort of hideous animation style that transformed a bunch of toddlers into grotesque monstrosities, but it sure was popular. Sure, there were grownups around to let us know exactly what was going on, but the focus of the show was «how kids look at things.» How they could see monsters and magic in everyday occurrences simply because they don’t understand the world yet. With all the toddlers able to effectively communicate with each other through baby speak, Rugrats took its cues from earlier shows like Muppet Babies and had the kids use their imaginations to create adventures for themselves. The misadventures of Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil, and even Tommy’s devilish cousin Angelica ran for 13 years! And not only that, the characters have a new show called All Grown Up, where you can find them. all grown up and in middle school.
On the heels of the success of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim launched several series using previously created animated characters in offbeat and bizarre new situations. Harvey Birdman was an especially clever example of this type of show, reimagining the 1960s superhero as a lawyer. A wonderful conceit of the series had Harvey’s cases involving other classic cartoon characters, but with many adult scenarios thrown in — including Scooby and Shaggy arrested for possession, Fred Flintstone turned mafia don, Boo Boo accused of terrorism, and Super Friends‘s Apache Chief suing after spilled coffee on his lap prevents him from, ahem, «growing larger.» Able to make use of these actual characters, and sometimes clips from the shows we know them from, Harvey Birdman worked as both a parody and homage to these animated characters we know and love, with plenty of funny, surreal jokes along the way.
As one of the few currently running cartoons on the list, Afro Samurai has made a quick and indelible impression on us here at IGN. Based on a manga created by Takashi Okazaki, this anime series mixes plenty of top-tier voice talent (including Samuel L. Jackson, Kelly Hu, and Ron Perlman, just to name a few) with an excellent soundtrack (provided by the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA) and a budget large enough to ensure the very best quality from every aspect of the show.
The story is a simple one: As a child Afro watches his father die at the hands of an evil gunman, only to spend the rest of his life training in the samurai way to take down his father’s killer and become «Number One.» Filled with the over-the-top violence and gore that you would expect from a mature action anime series, Afro Samurai added a quirky story with equally as quirky characters to make a series that we couldn’t help but enjoy.
As we write this list, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is still a very new show, only halfway through its first season, thus it’s hard to fully gauge it as yet. What we’ve seen though shows plenty of promise, and even though there are definitely some issues with the series — those ever-annoying Battle Droids perhaps chief among them — the show consistently delivers solid action and fun. More importantly, a couple of the early episodes, especially «Rookies» and «Cloak of Darkness» have been true standouts, telling dark and moody stories in the Star Wars universe that are among the best the Expanded Universe has offered. Guided by talented uber-Star Wars fan Dave Filoni, and using notable writers like Batman: The Animated Series‘s Paul Dini, The Clone Wars has had to overcome cynicism from older fans and those who feel the 2003 Cone Wars series can’t be outdone — and slowly but surely, it’s battling past those obstacles and proving to be a quite entertaining series in its own right.
Like several of the classic cartoons on this list, that irascible, nervous-breakdown-prone Woody Woodpecker started life in a series of theatrical shorts that date back as early as 1940. Years later, he would find renewed vigor when the shorts were packaged for television viewing. delighting generations of after-school kiddies. And maybe, just maybe, driving a few of them to nervous breakdowns all their own.
As was the case with many of his peers, Woody wasn’t always a very likable guy. No, the Walter Lantz produced toon (created by Ben «Bugs» Hardaway) was originally a certifiably insane fellow whose design, and personality, evolved over the years into a somewhat more acceptable member of society. Voiced by the inimitable Mel Blanc (and later Ben Hardaway and Lantz’s wife Grace Stafford), the bird is perhaps best remembered for his unmistakable laugh, which was even incorporated into his theme song eventually. He, he, he, he, ha! Hehehehehehe!!
One of the best animated shows of all time? Nay. More like one of the most astonishingly awesome creations ever conceived by our miserable race! Frisky Dingo, from the minds that brought you such greats as Sealab 2021, combines everything anyone could ever want into one grand television extravaganza. It’s got billionaire tycoons playing with plastic dinosaurs, Scion partnerships with big-ass cross promotions, rabbit fights, ant farm keyboards, and the line «shut up hooker!» thrown in there for good measure. If watching Awesome X blast the ever-loving hell out of his own «robotic» Xticle fighting force, seeing the greatest supervillain of all time (we just said that) Killface shove his fist up a man’s half-corpse and then use him like a puppet, or see the blue collar Decepticles — «More than you bargained for!» — gun for the coveted squad leader position in the elite ant-baby-machete-squad doesn’t sound like a completely badass time, you’re reading the wrong site, or looking at the wrong interwebs. If you don’t like it, then there’s the big ass door. Maybe go try «Homes and Gardens dot com» or something. This show kicks so much ass, you’ll probably go blind.
Though its popularity in Western cultures has waned over the past couple decades, Astro Boy is a cultural icon in Japan. Based on a story by Osamu Tezuka (a.k.a the god of manga), the animated series — arguably the first «popular» anime TV series — told the story of Astro, a powerful robot boy created by the head of the Ministry of Science to replace the son he lost in a tragic car accident. Each episode involved Astro using his robot powers to save the day.
The original show aired in black and white, and when American network execs brought it stateside, it became the first anime to be broadcast outside Japan. A 2003 remake of the TV series didn’t make waves in the U.S., but the original 1963 series is still considered to be one of the most important forces in comics, animation, and even videogames. The uber-popular Mega Man/Rockman franchise was heavily influenced by Astro Boy’s story and character designs.
In 2009, Imagi studios will release a new, «Americanized,» CGI incarnation of Astro Boy in a feature film. Fans everywhere are praying that it will do justice to the original, and introduce the beloved franchise to a new generation.
Hey, you know who’s annoying? Just about everyone on Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Taking the Spongebob-ish formula, which is really the Pink Panther-ish formula, of having your main character systematically strip others of their sanity, Foster’s creates a whole new genre of kids show. It’s almost a twist on Artaud’s old «Theater of Cruelty,» in which children’s programming can no longer exist without an element of torturous lunacy. Revolving around a halfway house for «retired» imaginary friends, Foster’s unleashes insanity at every turn. Because most every character is based on the erratic whims of their child creator, they’re all freakin’ bonkers, and serve to pester and drive each other mad at every turn. Our hero Mac doesn’t want to let go of his best buddy Bloo, so he’s allowed to hang around Foster’s whenever he wants. Bloo himself is a study in selfish delinquency and one might wonder why anyone would want to create him in the first place much less keep him around. The great joy of Foster’s however, aside from the animation style and the kickin’ theme music, is that it never truly grates on you. Nothing is malicious. Sure, all the characters spiral out of control in their own way, but it’s also all very funny and very endearing. And of course, all the characters are equal when compared to the most fantastically annoying character every created, Cheese.
This show has a very fond place in the hearts of those who grew up with it in the ’90s, so some might complain about it being rather low on this list. Sorry guys, we have a soft spot for it too, but when you look at The Spectacular Spider-Man, it’s clear that this show, while significant for Spider-Man, was a stepping stone along the way as far as creating a truly great show based on the character. Still, the 1990s Spider-Man series deserves a lot of credit for being the first Spidey show to truly use the comics for inspiration when it came to adaptation, as many familiar stories were given a twist here, including the Venom saga and even Spider-Man’s odd time spent with six arms.
The series was able to use many guest stars from the Marvel Universe too, allowing Spider-Man to team with characters like Iron Man, Blade, Punisher, Captain America, and Doctor Strange. Unlike any of the previous Spider-Man series, long term story arcs were utilized, and certain storylines were given a suitable amount of time to build, continuing for several episodes or even an entire season. The series also benefited from a fun vocal performance from Christopher Daniel Barnes as Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
After years of being wowed by Bruce Timm’s animated take on the DC universe with everything from Batman to Justice League, it was a bit of a shock to see the original «young people’s» superhero group get a whole different kind of treatment in this anime-tinged series. Featuring very young, wide-eyed (literally, not necessarily figuratively) versions of Robin, Raven, Beast Boy, Cyborg, Starfire, and others, Teen Titans is memorable alone for its fun theme song by J-Popers Puffy AmiYumi — «Teen Titans Go!» — but also for its character-based stories that often delved into the troubles of being a teenager. Still, as out-there as the style of the show seemed to be to many fans, the series did often touch on hallmarks of the comic on which it was based, including stories culled from the «Judas Contract» and «Terror of Trigon» story arcs from the New Teen Titans comic. Go, Teen Titans, indeed.
«Hey, hey hey. it’s Faaat Albert!» Created, produced, hosted and primarily voiced by comedian Bill Cosby, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was a show that, as Cosby said at the start of each episode, «if you’re not careful you may learn something before it’s done.» Based on Cosby’s stand-up routines about his childhood, Fat Albert was filled with humor (complete with a laugh track, which was common for animated series during that era) but tackled serious issues like stealing, racism, child abuse, smoking and vandalism.
The series was revisited in a 2004 live-action movie (co-written by Cosby himself) which debuted to middling box office and harsh critical reviews, but the animated series continues to be fondly remembered by many. Fat Albert and his friends — Bill, Mushmouth, Bucky, Rudy, Russell, and Dumb Donald to name a few — taught quite a few lessons to kids over its 13-year run.
There is no way for us to hide it, we here at IGN loved the Disney Afternoon line-up, and TaleSpin was one of our favorites. On the surface the series looked like an easy way to cash in on an older Disney film property (The Jungle Book), but after watching the television movie — which later went on to become the first four episodes — «Plunder and Lightning,» we knew that Disney had found something special. From the creative plotlines to the infinitely catchy theme song, we were hooked.
Following the loveable Baloo and the rest of the Higher for Hire crew of Rebecca and Molly Cunningham, Wildcat and Kit Cloudkicker, TaleSpin had a cast of characters who all served their role in making this one of the more creative and fun cartoons in Disney’s arsenal. Plus, how can you not like a show that features Shere Khan as an evil businessman out to take over the city of Cape Suzette?
There’s nothing funnier than an adult losing his mind. It’s the core of most children’s programming. Kids are allowed to run rampant and inflict pain and misery and grownups just have to take it and love the kids anyway. There’s no discipline. There’s no law and order. And thus, a show like Alvin and the Chipmunks was born. Incorporating the singing Chipmunk hit-makers from the 1960s, Alvin and the Chipmunks brought the scamps into the ’80s and gave them a bunch of cover songs to maul with their little tiny voices. «Beat It,» «Born in the USA,» and «Uptown Girl» all got the treatment as poor Dave Seville became the adopted father for jerky, smarty and fatty — otherwise known as Alvin, Simon and Theodore. The three of those little rodents never missed an opportunity to make Dave’s life a living hell. But all was forgiven since they managed to sell a buttload of records and wound up becoming insanely popular. And just when we thought we might be done with them, they had a huge hit movie in 2007 that’s got a sequel in production as we speak.
Using stock footage from the abysmal 1970s environmental cartoon Sealab 2020, the lazy mavericks over at Adult Swim were able to create magic. Sheer inane magic. Sure, it still dealt with the crew of a deep sea substation, but it stripped them of all humanity and left us with a band of lunatics that usually wound up self-destructing every other show. Sealab 2021 was one of those terrific shows from early on in the evolution of late night cartoons that made you actually feel like you might be losing your mind. Take for example the entire episode that rested solely on the establishing shot of Sealab, «Fusebox.» For 15 minutes you only hear the characters’ voices from inside the station as they deal with a blackout. Or how about the time Captain Murphy spent years trapped under the Beebop Soda machine, or his treks through the corridors of Sealab in his cart while simultaneously searching for, and cursing the existence of, Pod 6? The supporting voice cast was great, but it was Harry Goz as Murphy who brought a touch of fatherly good humor and made us all fall in love with a madman. Grizzlebee’s!
Out of all the shows on this list, Dragon Ball Z may have the largest fan following. Based on the Dragon Ball manga written and illustrated by Akira Toriyama, DBZ was the second incarnation of the popular series, and to this day continues to be the best example of the series’ hard-hitting style. Containing some of the most elaborately choreographed fight scenes in cartoon history, this program is like a love letter to those who enjoy a good brawl between good and evil. so much so that you are willing to watch nearly 300 episodes of build-up and payoffs.
The world of Dragon Ball is filled with an endless list of interesting and memorable characters, and while we don’t have the space to mention everyone, we feel like we need to give a shout out to the series’ main star Son Goku. When looking at the shows on this top 100 list, we are pretty sure that there may not be a hero who is as selfless as he — Goku is downright suicidal in his quest to vanquish the world of evil. Kudos you goofy Saiyan.
Originally airing for just one 26-episode season in 1964-65, this iconic kids’ adventure show thrived in syndicated reruns on Saturday mornings for decades, before coming back for one new season in 1986. The animation was rather advanced for its time, especially for a weekly series, depicting events and sequences one would normally have seen in a live-action show. Present-day cartoon viewers take such things as realistic movements and big action sequences for granted, but for a traditional hand-drawn series the L.A.-based animators did an extraordinary job fitting in a high amount of action and story into each episode.
Watching an episode today, it seems almost laughable — the short, abbreviated dialogue, the use of cycling animations and showing reaction shots by the characters instead of always what’s going on — but one can still be impressed that so much story was able to be told each week, providing a rich adventure story for kids of all ages.
Giant lion-shaped robots that combine to form an even bigger humanoid robot that fights huge monsters with a sword and rocket fists.
That pretty much sums up the show. Simple, but highly effective.
Though there were two original Voltron seasons cobbled together from two separate Japanese anime, most of us fell in love with the Lion Force Voltron (though Vehicle Voltron had his moments). The show scored big with the male audience because you just can’t go wrong with big robots that fight. The whole lion thing was just icing on the cake.
Ask most fans what the show was actually about and they’ll probably draw a blank, mainly because there wasn’t much plot. Most episodes of season one featured Prince Lotor or his witch gal-pal Haggar conjuring some butt ugly monster. Then the forces of good would assemble to form the baddest metal man in the galaxy, and much pwnage would ensue. Voltron was mainly about Voltron opening cans of whoop-ass.
The first run of Voltron had a big hand in ushering in the age of giant robots in American culture, and it inspired a number of imitators (we’re lookin’ in your direction, Power Rangers).
Using a therapist’s couch as a forum for stand-up shtick was a great idea. Comedians are usually just complaining most of the time anyway, so you might as well just work it into a show. And instead of just giving a comedian their own sitcom, why not just have a show that gives a bunch of comedians a chance to run with their best material. And let’s animate it in Squigglevision. Of course, a lot of the comedians actually went on to get their own shows anyway; Ray Romano, Sarah Silverman, Denis Leary, Joy Behar, and Jon Stewart to name a few. But the show really wouldn’t have worked without Jonathan Katz as Dr. Katz and H. Jon Benjamin as his lethargic son, Ben. Listening to the two of them together was like having two Bob Newharts collide in an endearing stammer-fest of love. The animation was crude, but the heart and humor were there.
Though he recently received a big-screen adaptation from Spyglass Entertainment and Disney that did little to evoke the feel of the original cartoon, the super-powered Underdog remains near and dear to the hearts of many a kid who caught his adventures in the treacherous minutes before having to leave for school in the morning way back in the day. Debuting all the way back in 1964, and running for some 124 episodes, the series detailed the adventures of a mild-mannered shoeshine dog, appropriately enough named Shoeshine Boy, who when needed would jump into a phone booth and transform into the Superman-esque character of the title. Typically he was called upon to battle criminals with names like Simon Bar Sinister and Riff Raff, rescuing his canine ladylove Polly Purebred along the way. Oddly enough, Underdog’s powers were not derived from our yellow sun like Superman’s, but rather from an Underdog Super Energy Pill, which he stowed in his ring. There’s no need to fear, Underdog the pill-popper is here!
We feel that before we give this specific Gundam story its due that we need to point out the popularity and importance of the overall franchise. It is no secret that Japan loves large robots fighting, and Mobile Suit Gundam brought that to the forefront of manga and anime in the late 1970s. Since the series’ inception it has become one of the most profitable animated programs ever — from model sets to DVDs. So when we state that Mobile Suit Gundam Wing is our favorite of the series within the metaseries, we understand the weight behind that decision.
Following the actions of five fighters and their Gundam suits (large robots made for destruction), Gundam Wing is a heavily political, dramatic action anime that is centered around a war between Earth and its surrounding colonies in space. Spanning 49 episodes, a film and additional backstory to the main characters, Gundam Wing was so good that even those opposed to anime have to give the show its due credit.
Originally appearing as shorts on Cartoon Network’s World Premiere Toons (later known as What a Cartoon! Show, now known as The Cartoon Cartoon Show), Dexter’s Laboratory introduced the world to its creator, Genndy Tartakovsky, who would later become known for his creations Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars. The star of the show was Dexter, a young boy in a normal American family who happens to have a thick European accent, a secret laboratory, and the intellect of a mad genius. Dexter’s elaborate experiments were often interrupted by his flighty older sister, Dee Dee, who had a knack for getting into his lab despite his best efforts to keep her out.
While aimed at and immediately accessible to children, Dexter’s Laboratory was part of a new generation of animated series that played on two levels, simultaneously fun for both kids and adults. The humor often revolved around Dexter and Dee Dee’s fights, but also delved into absurd situations, regularly leaving things completely bizarre at the end of an episode (e.g., clones of Dee Dee and Dexter running around, a giant tentacled monster attacking the house, Dexter’s lab being destroyed) — but everything would be back to normal at the start of the next episode.
Another by-product of Cartoon Network’s World Premiere Toons block (a.k.a. the What a Cartoon! Show, which also spawned such series as Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, and Cow and Chicken), Johnny Bravo started out as a collection of seven-minute shorts, like the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The series’ titular star, Johnny Bravo, was a not-so-bright manchild who talked like Elvis and thought he was God’s gift to the ladies (even if he struck out every time). He’d often strike body-building poses to show off his physique, was completely full of himself, and was generally over-the-top ridiculous.
Johnny Bravo the show, like Johnny Bravo the character, was mindless fun — a show that never tried to be anything more than it was but was still enjoyable for both kids and adults. The popularity of Johnny Bravo and other «Cartoon Cartoon» characters from the mid-’90s — Dexter, the Powerpuff Girls, Ed, Edd & Eddy — helped elevate Cartoon Network beyond a repository of random, vintage cartoons into a home for unique, original animated programming.
Don’t be afraid to admit that you’ve watched this show at least once. Despite the many negative associations with the kiddie fanbase, the show had clever writing and a golden marketing formula designed to spread Nintendo’s Pokémon videogames into new, lucrative territory. The merchandise spread to every corner of the known mediaverse: from movies, to TV, to comics, even Happy Meal toys.
The Pokémon anime, which was only loosely related to the games it was based on, revolved around strange, yet lovable, creatures with limited vocabularies and nearly endless commercialization potential. The premiere character was the now iconic and often hilarious Pikachu, but the episodes often revolved around introducing yet another Pokémon that the main characters just HAD to have. Gotta catch ’em all! Did you hear that boys and girls?! You gotta catch ALL of them! You go buy, NOW!
«Here I come to save the day!» And here’s another case where the content of this show, at least in its original incarnation as The Mighty Mouse Playhouse, was mostly made up of pre-existing theatrical shorts. However, it was on TV that Mighty Mouse truly became a star, as kids became quite fond of the cute little mouse who packed quite a punch, as he clobbered villains with Superman-type strength and abilities. There were several revivals of the character through the years, including a 1980s series by Ralph Bakshi that has quite the cult following and a place in TV controversy history, due to an accusation that a scene in which Mighty Mouse sniffed a flower actually alluded to cocaine use (yep, you read that right).
Of course, Mighty Mouse also needs to be singled out for one other reason — the wonderful theme song, which remains as catchy today as ever, and of course was the inspiration for a famous Andy Kaufman bit.
Today, Popeye might be merely seen as the greatest endorsement of one of the most lackluster vegetables of all time. But «back in the day» this malformed, one-eyed, corncob pipe-smokin’ sailor was the complete franchise. In 1929, Popeye appeared as a supporting character in the comic strip Thimble Theater, which was originally a venue for Olive Oyl and her kin. He quickly stole the hearts and minds of America. Soon the comic strip was focused on him, and Olive even dumped her longtime boyfriend Ham Gravy to become Popeye’s main squeeze. Sounds a bit like an «ole timey» Urkel if you ask us. In 1932, Popeye got his own animated series, which usually found him getting pounded to a pulp by nogoodniks until he finally ingested canned spinach and fought back with superhuman strength. Popeye was an icon that spawned movies, lunchboxes, pinball machines and even his own line of frozen food. And yes, the Popeye cartoon did give a much needed shot in the arm to the U.S. spinach industry, which is not only fascinating, but might also constitute a high crime.
After a few Pink Panther films had hit the big screen in the ’60s, America was treated to a cartoon showcase based on some of the themes and characters from the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers franchise. The Pink Panther Show featured the bumbling adventures of a cartoon Inspector Clouseau and his «peanut butter and garlic sandwich»-loving Spanish sidekick Deux Deux; a Jackie Mason inspired aardvark trying to catch a sly red ant; an actual Pink Panther who lives only to infuriate his mustachioed next door neighbor; and a slew of other stories. All of the little cartoon-ettes were accompanied by the sizzling Henri Mancini jazz score from the famed movies. It was a cool collection of animation that ranged from slapstick to surreal, and gave us some wonderful characters to cherish. And let’s not forget the most important part: Even though all of these animated nuggets were only loosely tied to the films, they were still exponentially better than the Steve Martin remake.
This long-lived cat and mouse team (or anti-team, as the case might be) began life courtesy of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera for MGM in a series of theatrical shorts back in 1940. Telling the age-old tale of the feline and rodent who quite simply can’t get along, Tom and Jerry eventually made its way to TV as did many of its movie-house peers. And there, on the small screen, the duo has thrived for generations, continuing to churn out new material to this day.
Winners of the Oscar for Best Short Subject seven times (!), Tom and Jerry have nonetheless had their ups and downs over the past 69 years. The dark years of detente between the two in the mid 1970s in particular brings a tear to this writer’s eye, but the franchise as a whole has persevered nonetheless and even inspired plenty of imitators and successors, not the least of which is The Simpsons‘ Itchy and Scratchy.
Airing on HBO in the late ’90s, this short series was a for-adults-only adaptation of McFarlane’s comic book. Unlike the rather cheesy, toned down live-action Spawn of 1997, this animated series held nothing back in the violence department, making full use of its home on pay cable. Todd McFarlane himself introduced each episode in a live-action segment, in the style of Alfred Hitchcock or Rod Serling.
Much like the comic, the animated series followed a man who, upon dying, sold his soul to the devil in order to remain on Earth and see his wife. He was turned into a creature others call «Spawn,» who we learn is expected to lead an invasion into heaven. Meanwhile, Spawn is forced to watch his former wife, Wanda, marry his best friend and have a child with him. The series is an interesting take on free will and the old adage, «Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.»
This was one of the best cartoons ever made. Yes, it still stings one’s psyche to know that none of the poor kids ever wound up making it home, but it was sure a lot of fun while it lasted. The final episode of this show was written, but never produced. It’s out there. The show where they all make it back to their loving families. But we’ll never see it. Taking its cues from the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game franchise and borrowing a little of the plot from Land of the Lost, Dungeons revolved around six friends who hop on the Dungeons and Dragons ride at their local carnival and get transported to, and stuck in, the realm of D&D. Each of them is given a «class» and from there on in it was like watching The Breakfast Club fend for their lives in what the National Coalition on Television Violence claimed was the most violent show on network television. In one episode we saw Hank the Ranger’s face melt off. We saw people get whipped. We saw people die. The show had jealousy and betrayal. The decisions that the kids made held certain consequences. The villains were malicious and cruel. It dealt with the notion of being stranded in a different space-time continuum; 20-plus years before Lost, mind you. It was truly a mature soap opera with swords and monsters.
The Huckleberry Hound Show is notable for several reasons. First is the fact that it introduced more than one animated character who would stand the test of time — not only the distinctively voiced title character, but also the even more popular Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, who starred in their own animated segments of this series before getting a spin-off of their own. O.K., the other segments of Huckleberry Hound (starring mice Pixie and Dixie and Hokey Wolf) didn’t have quite as big an afterlife, but this was still quite an impressive stable of characters to launch with, and audiences quickly responded to Huckleberry Hound himself, a blue dog who had quite the fondness for singing «Oh My Darling, Clementine.» Huckleberry Hound was also the second series from Hanna-Barbera, and the one that made them a true success, paving the way for many other series that would follow, including The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo. The Huckleberry Hound Show would go on to make television history as the first animated series to win an Emmy.
Not to be confused with Mighty Mouse, or the music producer of the (save for a single space) same name, DangerMouse was a British-produced series that featured the title character, a rodent who served as a secret agent. A play on the James Bond scenario, the show was one of the first cartoons from the U.K. to crossover to American audience acceptance via syndication. In fact, DangerMouse continues to have a fan following in the U.S. and has maintained a presence on cable television here (via A&E and Nick at Nite) years after its original run.
Sporting an eye patch and a «DM» logo on his chest, our hero is a great man. er, mouse. Fluent in dozens of languages, physically perfect, mentally superior, DangerMouse is accompanied by his Watson-esque hamster sidekick Ernest Penfold (voiced by Terry Scott) in his never-ending battle against archenemy Baron Silas Greenback and other foes. The show was popular enough, in fact, to lead to a spin-off which is perhaps better know here in the U.S.: Count Duckula.
A spin-off of the British cartoon DangerMouse, Count Duckula‘s title character began life as a villain on that comedic spy series. The program has got the kind of premise you simply must love in a kids’ show: Essentially based on the legend of the vampiric Count Dracula, Count Duckula is a fowl who was once an actual bloodsucker. But after an ancient resurrection ritual went awry (involving ketchup rather than blood), the good Count arose once again as a vegetarian vampire. So no tearing out of throats for this vamp, but rather a pursuit of fame and fortune was the purview of Count Duckula. much to the chagrin of his faithful assistant Igor, who does his best to get his master back to his old vamping ways. Other familiar archetypes show up throughout, such as Duckula’s nemesis Doctor Von Goosewing, a Vincent Price-like narrator, and a variety of supernatural creatures, leading to much humor for fans of classic horror. and regular old cartoon fans too.
We’re not saying that a catchy theme song guarantees admission on the list, but it sure helps. Rescue Rangers‘ opening music is catchy in that stuck-in-your-head-for-days, foot-tapping sorta way, so much so that 15 years since it went off the air, we still hear it. Its inclusion on our Best Ever list is in some small part our way to address the special guilty pleasure we have for this show. Part of the Disney Afternoon line-up, Chip and Dale did their best impression of Indiana Jones and Magnum P.I., respectively, solving crimes too small for the full-sized police to handle. That’s right, chipmunks playing CSIbefore there was CSI; and in some cases they made Indy look like Regarding Henry. Pals Gadget, Monterey Jack and Zipper were on hand for back-up, and then there’s that damn song again. «Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Chip ‘N Dale, Rescue Rangers. » Somebody stop us. Actually, don’t. We’re too busy having fun watching C and D take care of Fat Cat.
Let’s put aside the 1980s cartoon hotness that was Firestar for a moment (and no, we’re not referring to her powers with that remark), for there was something else about this show that has kept it alive in our memories for all these years. Perhaps it was the «team-up» aspect — the old Marvel idea of giving Spidey some superpowered pals to play with (the X-Men’s Iceman rounded out this team of «Spider-Friends,» serving as counterpoint to Firestar’s hotness abilities [we are referring to her powers this time]). Other familiar Marvel faces would show up too (Captain America, Sunfire, S.H.I.E.L.D., et al), which helped to distract our young minds from the strange fact that the group — even Firestar — all lived with Aunt May and her anthropomorphized dog, Ms. Lion. The animation was predictably budget for the time, particularly when viewed in this post-Spectacular Spider-Man world of ours, but it was fun nonetheless.
«By the power of Greyskull, I have the power!» This redundantly ridiculous catch phrase was repeated by every kid who grew up in the ’80s watching this animated series, which was a mix between a commercial for the action figures and a show that would shove a preachy lesson in at the end (a la G.I. Joe). The animation in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was limited at best, but the show lives on in our childhood memories as something we had to watch every day. Just two seasons were produced, during 1983 to 1985, but consisted of a whopping 130 episodes (suggesting the production’s emphasis was on quantity, not quality).
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the show was that it became the launching point for several budding TV screenwriters, including J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5), Paul Dini (Batman: The Animated Series), and David Wise (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).
The Emmy Award winning Invader Zim came from Nickelodeon with its tale of a very short alien named (one guess. ) Zim, from the planet Irk, who escapes from his exile on Foodcourtia and lands here, doing his best to wipe out, conquer, and otherwise rid the universe of planet Earth. Thing is, Zim isn’t exactly the best and brightest (and certainly not the tallest) of his kind, so his plans are usually undone either by Dib, an expert in the otherworldly who is one of the only people who recognizes Zim for what he is, or by Zim’s own ineptitude.
The show, which has developed a cult following since its debut in 2001, never fared well in the ratings and was cancelled after its first season. A partial second season was finally aired five years later. Some 10 more second-season episodes were never completed, however, including a two-part finale, though some bits and pieces of these segments have been leaked to fans over the years.
Yet another instant classic from the people at Adult Swim, The Venture Bros. takes the well-worn tropes of Jonny Quest and its ilk and adapts them for the snarkier audiences of today. The brothers of the title are the dimwitted Hank and Dean Venture, who thanks to their sketchy hyper-intelligent scientist dad find themselves in all manner of adventures. Along to protect the boys from Dr. Venture’s enemies, and from themselves sometimes, is the muscled secret-agent/bodyguard Brock Samson. Full of pop-culture references and off-color humor, the show operates as a sort of postmodern take on the Jonny Quests of yesteryear: The Venture Bros.‘ revered creators, Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, have said that the show is all about failure — which may or may not be yet another joke from the pair. But looking at the misadventures of Hank and Dean and the rest, this take on things sort of fits, doesn’t it?
They, are the world’s most fearsome fighting team. They, are heroes in a half-shell and they’re green. And you know what? When the evil Shredder attacks, these turtle boys don’t cut him no slack. Welcome to the world of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Following the adventures of four mutated turtles that were taught by a martial-arts trained rat (the radical Splinter), Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo keep the streets of New York safe from Shredder’s Foot Clan. As amazingly preposterous as the idea is, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s comic book was adapted into this fun series that hypnotized a generation into buying toys and taking kung fu lessons. While it may not be as faithful to the source material as other TMNT cartoons, and the animation may not be to the same quality as some of the more recent adaptations, hell if any of the other series made as large of a dent on pop culture (and many of the lives of us editors here at IGN) as the 1987 animated program. Plus, how could we not give the nod to the series that created Krang, the talking brain housed in a giant man suit?
Forgive us if we reference yet another theme song, but it seems that the title music for so many of these shows has done much to make them permanent residents of our collective psyches. In the case of this DIC Entertainment produced cartoon (huh, huh, huh, we said DIC!), the absentminded adventures of the cyborg (or was he a full-on robot?) Inspector Gadget were certainly made all the more exciting by the unforgettable «Go, Gadget, go!» music. Throw in the far superior intellectual abilities of Gadget’s «niece» Penny, the master of disguise canine Brain, and the villainous (and barely glimpsed) Dr. Claw and his M.A.D. Cat, and untold hours of afternoon TV addiction were to be had. That Maxwell Smart himself, Don Adams, lent his voice to the title character — a fact we as kids were probably not even aware of on a conscious level — well, that was just icing on the bumbling cyborg detective cake, wasn’t it?
Co-created by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini (both of Batman: The Animated Series fame) and Steven Spielberg (of movie blockbuster fame), Freakazoid! was a very fun spoof of the superhero genre. The show’s title character is a manic, out of control superhero who’s the secret alter ego of geeky teenager Dexter Douglas.
Freakazoid — who would appear when Dexter would say «Freak out!» and go away when he said «Freak in!» — had a wide range of powers, including strength, speed, endurance and the ability to assume the form of electricity. He was, however, very easily distracted, and often not interested in being a superhero. Each episode Freakazoid would meet up with a ridiculous villain, such as a giant-brain-headed man called The Lobe, a blue caveman named Cave Guy with a voice like Gilligan’s Island‘s Thurston Howell III, a former model stuck in a jaunty pose named Arms Akimbo, and an eye-patched villain named Armando Guitierrez, voiced by the inimitable Ricardo Montalban.
This show definitely falls under the cult heading — it actually didn’t run very long, and many don’t remember it all, but those who do have fond memories. The story of two human teenagers brought to an intergalactic high school, Galaxy High was developed by Chris Columbus, the Goonies and Gremlins writer who would go on to direct films like Home Alone and the first two Harry Potters. While certainly a show of its time in terms of its low-animation quality, there was a lot of appealing aspects to this series — it’s got an engaging wish fulfillment concept (going to school in outer space, with flying cars and crazy aliens everywhere!) and impressive character design, not to mention the sheer number of creatures the series portrayed. There were also some amusingly dark moments snuck in, such as a scene in which lead character Doyle smashes a fly between his hands, only to be told that the fly was a fellow student.
While there are plenty of anime programs on our list, Death Note is the most recent. Just finishing up its animated run in the U.S., this series was based on the manga created by writer Tsugumi Ohba and illustrator Takeshi Obata. Gaining momentum immediately, this show was an instant hit with the anime audience, due to a smart story, interesting characters, and a premise that is just odd enough to separate itself from other shows in its genre.
Propelled by its two main characters, Death Note moves from episode to episode keeping us at the edge of our seat wondering whether the ultimate detective L can in fact take down the murderous Kira (the series’ main character Light Yagami). With plenty of surprises, including one massive bombshell halfway through the series, we are left wondering what it will take to stop the brilliant and evil Light Yagami. A note to those who haven’t seen or read the series. avoid spoilers and Death Note will blow you away.
The amazing Hanna-Barbera cheese-fest that made up most of the Super Friends run was nevertheless a wonderful thing back in the mid- to late-’70s. Here we had not just Batman (and Robin, of course), but also Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and, uh, Wendy, Marvin, and Wonderdog. So, yeah, like we said — there was cheese. But this was not just one of the earliest filmed incarnations of the Justice League, serving to entice us with the possibility of what these characters could be like together on the screen, but as the series progressed through its many permutations over the next 13 years, more and more characters from the DC universe were introduced, not the least of which was the villainous Legion of Doom, making their first appearance here but featuring a baker’s dozen of familiar comic-book baddies. Eventually the series took on various secondary titles, as in its last two seasons with the monikers The Legendary Super Powers Show and finally The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians, where the cosmic evil dude called Darkseid showed up and things actually got kind of, well, dark story-wise (even Batman’s origin story was told here, which is certainly lightyears away from the content of the old Wendy and Marvin stories).
But perhaps the best part of the Super Friends cartoon was that it introduced the world to the Wonder Twins, which in turn has given us the never-ending joke about «form of a bucket of water» and «shape of a gopher»! Adult Swim had a lot of fun with the pair too with a series of shorts in 2002.
«Eye of Thundera. give me sight beyond sight.» We all know the spiel. Lion-O was about to use his magic sword to spy on the action-packed goings on that were happening. elsewhere. There was no time to lose. He and the remaining feline survivors of the dead planet Thundera, Panthro, Cheetara, Tygra, Wilykit, Wilykat, and Snarf, had battles to fight against Mumm-Ra and The Mutants. Never had so much different source material been mashed into one show. There were aliens, mummies, beastmen, android teddy bears, demon priests, reptile phantoms, and cyborg pirates. There were pyramids and castles mixed with spaceships and laser beams. It tackled issues of destiny, extinction, furry fetishes, and elongating phallic power swords. Plus, Lion-O gave us some of the best distressed inner monologues ever. He thought all of his pain. «Water. filling lungs. can’t breathe.» «Must. escape. quicksand. sinking. to my doom.» Thundercats was a rousing adventure series that had us all glued to the set as kids. Plus, Snarf was part of a race called. The Snarfs. And his name was Snarf. And all the Snarfs said «snarf» over and over again. That’s amazing. Plus, you know who was hot? Cheetara.
Based on the Dark Horse comic by Everett Peck, Duckman is a hilarious and completely bizarre show about a foul-mouthed duck who’s a terrible private detective and an even worse person to be around. The only reason Duckman gets any detective work is due to his genius partner, Cornfed Pig, who talks like Joe Friday and has a plethora of hidden skills.
Unabashedly an adult-oriented cartoon, Duckman aired during USA Network’s «Up All Night» Saturday night programming block for four seasons. Voiced by Seinfeld‘s George Costanza, Jason Alexander, Duckman was a lazy, self-serving sex addict — and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Belting out catch phrases like «Hommina hommina how wah,» «D’wah!» and «What the hell are you staring at?» Duckman, along with his dimwit son Ajax (voiced by Dweezil Zappa) and genius twin sons Charles and Mambo (who share a body), was a constant source of late night entertainment.
A spin-off of the Pinky and the Brain sketches on the successful Kids WB! series Animaniacs, the series told the story of a super-genius mouse with plans to take over the world, and his dimwitted assistant, Pinky. The Brain’s elaborate schemes would never work out, but it didn’t stop him from trying again and again. The best comedic moments in the series belonged to Pinky, the master of the non sequitur. His unique responses to the Brain’s weekly question, «Are you pondering what I’m pondering?» are comedy gold. Usually starting with «I think so, Brain. » Pinky would follow up with the most off-the-wall comments imaginable, including: «But how are we going to find chaps our size?»; «But, the Rockettes? I mean, it’s mostly girls, isn’t it?»; and «But this time youput the trousers on the chimp.»
There was little continuity on the show, instead focusing on gags and parodies of movies and novels. Like the other Warner Brothers-produced series of the ’90s — Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs and Freakazoid! — Pinky and the Brain was aimed at and accessible for children, but every episode contained enough humor to entertain adults as well.
Have you met George Jetson? His boy, Elroy? Daughter Judy? Jane, his wife?! Of course you have, thanks to good old Hanna-Barbera, who first gave us the adventures of this futuristic nuclear family all the way back in 1962 — on primetime no less. Animation during evening viewing times just didn’t happen back in the day, until fellow HB series The Flintstones arrived in 1960 and started a mini revolution. Several other cartoons followed, but The Jetsons, along with its Stone Age brother, proved to be the most enduring of these primetime shows. at least until The Simpsons completely changed the playing field in the late 1980s.
The future-world depicted in the show was all gee-whiz airships and robots and, uh, treadmills, and the overall feel of The Jetsons‘ setting proved to be incredibly persuasive considering that the show originally ran for just one season of 24 episodes. Another 50 or so episodes would follow in the far-off future of the mid 1980s, as did TV movies and theatrical films. A live-action film is rumored to be in the works.
Disney had one hit animated series after another in the late ’80s and 1990s with the likes of DuckTales, TailSpin and Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers. However, the iconic studio went outside their usual style in a big way with Gargoyles. Far darker, stylized and serialized than the other Disney series, not to mention almost any other animated series of the era, Gargoyles featured mature characters, and references to Scottish history and Shakespeare, while telling an engaging story about the title characters — centuries old Gargoyles secretly living amongst humans in modern day Manhattan, who turn to stone during the day. The creator of the series, Greg Weisman (now the man behind The Spectacular Spider-Man), told a layered and intriguing story, refusing to write down to his audience. A decent success at the time, Gargoyles has maintained a strong cult following since it ended more than a decade ago, and the story has continued in comic book form.
Known as Gatchaman amongst anime aficionados, Battle of the Planets holds a special nostalgic place in the hearts and minds of the 30-and-older club. The original Japanese show had tons of violence and somewhat-mature themes, but the version that appeared on U.S. airwaves was toned down in a fashion that would surely have made our Puritan ancestors proud. Despite that, the show still had real plot, interesting characters, and grand space battles.
Five young people collectively known as G-Force comprised the main cast of the show. Their job: protect our galaxy from the evil planet Spectra. To do this, they used their special technologically enhanced (and absolutely fabulous) outfits and a host of impressive vehicles. Their main ship was the Phoenix, which as its name implies, could transform into a fiery bird that would proceed to totally demolish anything its path, thus inspiring many childhood pyrotechnic accidents.
Thirty years later, this anime still has a huge following and a flood of merchandisers seeking to cash in on the nostalgia. This year, Imagi Animation Studios will release a new CG animation feature length movie based on the original Gatchaman series.
Created by Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory), Samurai Jack is a fun, action-heavy animated series that appeals to kids and adults alike. The show’s simple and colorful art style lends itself well to the cinematic scope and frenetic action sequences that fill each episode. Influenced by spaghetti westerns, Star Wars, Conan, and Seven Samurai, Samurai Jack tells the story of a boy who was sent to train with the best fighters in the world in an attempt to defeat the evil Aku. When Jack finally faces Aku, he’s thrown far into a bizarre future, and must fight his way back to take on Aku, battling others and having adventures along the way.
The show’s unique style and humor make the most out of the animation format, producing elaborate action sequences and bizarre situations that would be impossible to do in a live action film. Over its four-season run, Samurai Jack won four Emmys and was nominated for two more.
How many of the shows on this list can boast an Emmy nomination, let alone five nominations? The Powerpuff Girls is an Emmy winning animated program about three little kindergarten girls with superpowers who were created by Professor Utonium using sugar, spice and everything nice. Like all great children’s shows, Powerpuff Girls was geared towards a younger audience, but it excelled at its animation, humor and storytelling style so well that despite the target audience, adults were able to get in on the fun as well.
While the Powerpuff Girls themselves were the main characters, it was the supporting characters which made this show classic. Parodying properties like Batman, Spider-Man, Power Rangers and many more, the rogues gallery for the girls was always worth a laugh as they poked fun at the superhero genre. Our personal favorite baddy is the brilliant and maniacal monkey Mojo Jojo, whose creation is enough reason alone for this fun series to show up on this list.
The Looney Tunes characters hadn’t been used for much original content in quite some time, but this series not only brought them back, it also kicked off a slew of successful new Warner Bros. cartoons through the 1990s, produced in conjunction with Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment, including Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain and Freakazoid. Tiny Toon Adventures took a clever, post-modern approach to the Looney Tunes characters, re-introducing Bugs, Daffy, Porky and the gang as instructors at Acme Looniversity, where they teach the next generation of Looney Tunes things like how to take an anvil to the head like a pro. A genuinely likeable and fun group of young new characters were the focus, including Buster Bunny, Babs Bunny, Plucky Duck and Hamton J. Pig — though perhaps the most inspired creations were the antagonists, Montana Max and the blissfully dense and dangerous Elmyra Duff, who was known to squeeze pets to death. literally. While nothing could recapture the perfection of the original Looney Tunes shorts, Tiny Toon Adventures was a worthy homage to those shorts, made up of funny and creative episodes that included moments of subtle and smart humor for older viewers.
As much as audiences loved Batman: The Animated Series, there was still some trepidation towards this spin-off/sequel series. After all, the idea of re-imagining Batman as a teenager living in a techno-filled future sounded like some kind of test-marketed nightmare, and not a proper continuation of the legacy of the Dark Knight. As it turned out though, Batman Beyond — which included many alumni of Batman: The Animated Series among its producers — was a worthy follow-up, and another cool piece of the evolution of the DC animated universe. Lead character Terry McGinnis was no Bruce Wayne, but he wasn’t meant to be, and he still made for a brave and heroic Batman. And an integral part of the show was the inclusion of an elderly Bruce Wayne (still voiced by The Animated Series‘ Kevin Conroy), who gave Terry guidance while trying to move beyond what were clearly some bitter tragedies — tragedies that would eventually be illuminated in the great direct-to-DVD movie Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.
We could watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force forever. It wasn’t as much of a completely out-and-out crazy woo-woo show as Sealab 2021 since Aqua Teen made attempts to have plots every so often and had more discernable characters, but what it lacked in randomness it made up for in joyful gore and engrossing cruelty. Master Shake, with his lovably shrill voice provided by Dana Snyder, has to be one of the funniest, dimwitted a-holes ever created. Just watching him float about in a frenzy of selfish madness almost made life worth living. And let’s not forget the neighbor Carl, gruffly voiced by co-director Matt Willis. The poor Foreigner-loving slob lived next door to three giant pieces of fast food and routinely found himself getting mutilated. There was an attempt, right at the beginning of the series, to have Meatwad, Frylock and Master Shake act as crime-solving private detectives, but that got scrapped pretty quickly. In fact, you can almost physically feel the moment when the last strand of sanity snapped and they decided to just let the whole show fly into beautiful oblivion.
It’s the Japanese version of Harry Potter, based on an old favorite: ninjas. You can’t go wrong with ninjas. Make a good story with ninjas, and you can practically reserve your plot in mansion land. Manga creator Masashi Kishimoto cashed in big with Naruto, which has become a full-fledged, worldwide phenomenon. The vast numbers of hardcore fans of the show know its ever-increasing mythology and terminology better than they know some of their school subjects, and any anime convention these days is sure to be dominated by Naruto cosplayers.
The only talk show on our list, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast is the Adult Swim’s first and finest foray into relaunching an old character/series into something completely new. Hosted by everybody’s favorite undead superhero Space Ghost, Coast to Coast was a spoof talk show that borrowed characters and animation directly from Hanna-Barbera’s campy ’60s cartoon Space Ghost and Dino Boy.
With help from his friends/nemeses Zorak, Moltar and Brak, Space Ghost puts on the funniest and least relevant talk show in animated history. Boasting appearances by notable names such as The Ramones, Metallica, Hulk Hogan, Rob Zombie and Bobcat Goldthwait, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast found comedy in confusing and infuriating those being interviewed. as well as those watching the program. But that was the real comedy of the series: creating situations that were so absurd that when you finally understood the joke you couldn’t stop laughing.
Continuing the amazing run of Warner Bros.’s DC animated universe (a.k.a. the Timmverse) series that began with Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, this cartoon version of the Man of Steel is certainly one of the finest and definitely the most complete version of the character ever put onto film. (Sorry, Smallville fans, but there’s no competition here!)
Featuring the voice of Tim Daly as the title character, the show mixed elements of both the post-Crisis version of Superman with older, more classic aspects. As with all of the series that spun-off from Batman: TAS, the focus was on presenting a more «realistic» version of the DC universe. As such, this led to some rather serious storylines for the Kryptonian at times, as with the fantastic series finale Legacy which saw Supes getting brainwashed by galactic boogeyman Darkseid into attacking Earth! This is a storyline that would eventually play into the follow-up series, Justice League, which we’ll be getting to a bit later on this list.
Though short-lived, Avatar: The Last Airbender garnered a lot of attention with its crisp animation and carefully crafted fantasy world based on Eastern culture. It was different in many ways (who would’ve guessed a 12-year-old bald kid could be popular?), and the storytelling was top notch — which is rare in Nickelodeon’s usual fare.
Fans of true Japanese anime think Avatar is a cheap American knockoff, and there’s no denying that the show borrowed heavily from anime. In an industry often dominated by Asian imports, Avatar found a way to emulate the best features of Japanese animation while keeping some unique elements of western cartoons, and that formula made it the top rated animated show in its demographic. It’s so popular with the kids that the King’s Island theme parks cashed in on the fun with an Avatar-themed thrill ride. The Avatarphenomenon is sure to grow even more with the upcoming release of three live-action movies directed and written by M. Night Shyamalan.
Talk about a vast and expansive sci-fi franchise. Three different, and unrelated, anime series were combined to create the world of Robotech. The technology aboard an alien ship that crashed to Earth is used to help the human race develop robots that are used to fight off alien invaders. That was the basic premise. But due to the fact that the three cartoons were separated in their characters and themes, three different generational «wars» were created to explain the new heroes and adversaries. There is way too much to get into here regarding the entire saga of Robotech and the movies and such, but just know that it was one of the first pieces of anime to come over to America with a ton of its violence and sex left intact. It was pretty mature stuff when compared to the hijinx of The Smurfs to say the least. Most of the earlier anime that we got, like Astro Boy and Speed Racer, were softened for American audiences and had a lot of the more mature themes and scenes removed, but Robotech had a bunch of that stuff left in. Anime purists might like to trash Robotech as a patchwork Franken-show that crapped all over the original separate stories to create one big unintended masterwork, but for us it changed the way we looked at cartoons and raised the bar for storylines and violence. Plus, we probably wouldn’t have been able to follow the original shows anyway.
Not a TV show as much as an ongoing series of shorts that made the Saturday morning circuit for almost 30 years, Schoolhouse Rock! is a touchstone cartoon for most of us who grew up anywhere during that three-decade stretch. While new episodes weren’t particularly the norm throughout that long period, the series’ lessons about history and English and science and all that other good stuff were more than worthy of the many repeat airings they were given, especially as they were couched in the fun and instantly appealing (for kids and adults) world of music. The catchy ditty «Conjunction Junction,» the conservationist-minded «The Energy Blues,» and of course the how-it-works classic «I’m Just a Bill» are just a few of the classics from this series, though a quick search on YouTube reveals a ton of more Schoolhouse rock-outs that have been laying dormant in our minds for decades now, just waiting to burst out in song and teach us an enjoyable lesson once again.
We certainly agree that MTV is a pale imitation of its former self, and that its glut of television series doesn’t reflect the «music» part of their name at all. But there was a time when the shows MTV offered were actually pretty clever and interesting, and Liquid Television was among the best of the bunch. A combination of material created expressly for the show and older material now getting the chance to be seen by a broad audience, Liquid Television offered offbeat and creative animated shorts that ran the gamut from silly and amusing to truly surreal and trippy. The show served as the launching pad for some very notable franchises too — it was here that Mike Judge’s short, «Frog Baseball,» about two giggling morons playing a rather violent sport, gained the popularity to spin-off the soon to be huge Beavis and Butt-head. Then there was the ultra-cool Aeon Flux segments, about the silent but deadly (though always doomed to die herself) assassin, which were actually stronger than the full-length Aeon Flux series that followed it.
First introduced via an imaginary sequence in The Muppets Take Manhattan, the cute and fuzzy Muppet Babies proved so popular that an animated spin-off was quickly launched. Focusing on baby versions of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and their friends, episodes revolved around the vivid imaginations of the characters, which allowed them to have globetrotting, otherworldly adventures without ever leaving their nursery. Obviously aimed at a very young audience, this was a legitimately charming series that involved some clever ideas, such as having every visual be from the perspective of the children, meaning objects above them loomed in the distance — and of course the face of their beloved nanny was never seen.
For kids growing up in the 1980s, the show was also exciting because it included clips from many popular films of the era, such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones, which would be crudely but effectively incorporated into the Muppet Babies’ fantasies, allowing them to take part in an X-Wing flight or run from a giant boulder. It’s rumored that some rights issues with these numerous clips may be a factor in releasing Muppet Babies on DVD — hopefully, if that is the case, the situation can be eventually resolved.
You’ll find other Spider-Man series on this list, as the iconic comic book character has been brought to life via animation several times since he was created in the 1960s. But it’s the most recent series that we’re giving the highest slot to, as it has quickly established itself as the definitive animated version of Spider-Man. Gargoyles creator Greg Weisman clearly has great affection for Peter Parker, and culls from not only the original comic books but also the recent Ultimate Spider-Man title and the popular Sam Raimi film series for inspiration. But rather than coming off as a rehash, there is energy, humor and pathos in this series that make these stories feel as fresh as ever. Beginning with Peter Parker still in high school, the first season did a wonderful job establishing Spider-Man’s world, and his relationships with characters like Gwen Stacy, Norman and Harry Osborn and Mary Jane Watson, while offering pitch perfect incarnations of allies and foes like Black Cat and Doctor Octopus. Considering how strong Season 1 was, we’re very excited to see where this show goes next.
This classic show about exotic supercar races was the first taste of anime for many American viewers. It featured the best car in all of anime, the Mach 5. Like the Batmobile and KITT from Knight Rider, the Mach 5 is more than just a car — it’s an icon.
Speed Racer‘s mass-market success helped set the stage for the influx of anime we see in today’s media, mainly because the American adaptation of the show was surprisingly good for the time. The new English theme song was a bit reminiscent of old radio jingles, and millions of Americans can recognize the tune in just a few notes. The title change from «Mach GoGoGo» to «Speed Racer» was probably one of the best marketing moves in animation history, and the often-parodied, fast-paced, sometimes-awkward English dub added a strange kind of charm to the show.
In retrospect, the show comes off as campy and low-budget, but back in the ’60s and ’70s it was the new hotness, and its legend grew even more with syndication. Attempts to remake and modernize the series have pretty much ended in disaster, but the original still remains a nostalgic favorite with fans across the world.
Co-created by Loren Bouchard (Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist) and Brendon Small (who would go on to create Metalocalypse), Home Movies tells the story of a precocious eight-year-old boy named Brendon (voiced by Small) who likes to create home films with his friends. The writing is hilarious, driven forward by the comedic deliveries of the cast. Brendon’s conversations with the other characters feel real, from his mother Paula (voiced by comedian Paula Poundstone in the first season, then by Janine Ditullio for the remainder of the series), to soccer coach John McGuirk (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), and his friends Jason (also voiced by Benjamin) and Melissa (Melissa Bardin Galsky).
The first season, which lasted just five episodes on UPN before being picked up by Cartoon Network, was produced in production company Soup2Nut’s Squigglevision, the signature style of Dr. Katz. The subsequent four seasons were produced in a more straightforward animation style.
King of the Hill has never gotten the hype of the shows that it shares FOX’s Sunday night schedule with, and the Hill family might not have the «buzz» factor of the Simpsons and the Griffins, but we’re guessing Hank Hill would be fine with that. Created by Beavis and Butt-head‘s Mike Judge and future Office showrunner Greg Daniels, King of the Hillhas delivered solid stories and laughs for 13 seasons. The style of comedy is much more subtle and character based than most animation, and in fact King of the Hill is so dialogue oriented, it could probably work just as well in live-action as animation. Hank, Peg, Bobby and Luanne are wonderfully awkward — coming off as very believable as they try so hard to be the. well, you’ve seen the title. This often under-appreciated series exists in a fully formed world, as characters like Dale, Bill, Boomhauer and Lucky bring the town of Arlen, Texas to life.
Of all the projects completed by ex-Saturday Night Live players, The Critic is the most fully realized, hilarious and heartwarming. It took its cues from Woody Allen movies like Annie Hall and Manhattan, and offered up a style of random abstract humor that wouldn’t really be seen again until Family Guy. Jon Lovitz simply was Jay Sherman. We know it’s really Lovitz, since he doesn’t alter his voice in any way to inhabit the cartoon character, but Jay Sherman was such an endearing sad sack of a film critic that he completely stands alone as his own entity outside of Lovitz. And that’s a good thing. All fat Jay Sherman wanted to do was wear sweaters, love his fat son, find someone to grow old with, argue with his tummy and see a good movie. For the love of God, just give him a good movie. Instead he’s forced to watch such tripe as Schwarzenegger’s Rabbi P.I. and Eastwood’s Beverly Hills Robo Canine Cop and a Half 2. This show was just grand. And hey, Jay Sherman even got a guest spot on The Simpsons. Who else can say that?
Seth Green and Matt Senreich never stopped loving toys, and guess what? Neither did we. Tapping into the collective geek memory its creators and audience share, Green and Senreich’s Adult Swim series delivers fast-paced comedy via segments lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. Using stop-motion animation and toys (and a bevy of notable voice actors), the targets here run a wide pop-culture gamut, from the Olsen Twins to He-Man. When it comes to the toys, movies and cartoons Robot Chicken has parodied, there is obviously a lot of knowledge and love at work — you have to remember Turbo Teen well to make such a twisted, hysterical send-up as the one seen on Robot Chicken. From Mario driving his Kart into Vice City, to the Saved by the Bell gang meeting Saw‘s Jigsaw, to Emperor Palpatine dealing with a phone call from a whining Darth Vader, Robot Chicken constantly keeps us laughing.
Welcome to the cartoon’s first «procedural.» There have been a ton of Scooby Doo cartoons over the years, but this was it. Scooby Doo Where Are You! was the one that had the gang solving crimes in the Mystery Machine. Chasing ghosts and revealing them to be old crusty codgers in masks. This was before all of the Scooby Doo movies that featured guest stars like Don Knotts and Batman (?). This was the show where they changed the world by tackling the tough cases that no one else could crack. Their van would break down, and then they’d all learn that wherever it was that they managed to get stranded had a ghost problem. Then Fred would have the brilliant idea of splitting up the gang to look for clues, in which he always sent the two pothead cowards, Shaggy and Scooby, off together. Then they’d set a trap for the fake monster. Then they’d pull off the mask to reveal it was really old man Withers/Snyder/Malloney. and that they were just trying to scare people away from the land so they could buy it cheap. And of course. «I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for you meddling/snooping/pesky. kids.» Was there a formula to it? Damn straight. Just like there is for CSI and NCIS. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
«More than meets the eye. Transformers! Robots in disguise!» The mighty Autobots — robots who transform into cars and trucks — take on the evil Decepticons. Has there ever been a show that’s more tailor-made for young boys? There have been numerous iterations of the animated series over the years, but here at IGN our favorite will always be the original 1980s cartoon.
Viewed 23 years after its debut, The Transformers is hardly what we could call great television. The stories are fairly simplistic and repetitive, consisting of variations on the same storylines, with many of the same beats occurring time and again. But as kids we certainly weren’t troubled by how many times Megatron would yell «Decepticons, retreat!» or Spike and Bumblebee would get into trouble, or that the fight scenes are, well, kind of lame actually. We just enjoyed seeing giant robots change into other things and then fight each other.
There’s a part of us that actually appreciates The Real Ghostbusters more than the actual Ghostbusters movies. Well, certainly the second movie anyway. Don’t get us wrong, the first movie was classically hilarious, but The Real Ghostbusters just told some really mean and nasty supernatural stories. Their take on The Boogeyman — and we all know that everyone has their own take on that creature — was the best we’ve ever seen. This show had a notably darker tone than other cartoons on at the time, and did well in its research of creature myths and folklore. Most of the time, like on the CW show Supernatural, Venkman, Stantz, Spengler and Winston could often be found thwarting famously diabolical creatures. Samhain, Grundel, Tiamat, Marduk, Russian Domovois and even the freakin’ Lovecraft beast Cthulhu! They all fell to the power of the real Ghostbusters! Interesting note: The original voice of Venkman was old Rhodavoice actor Lorenzo Music, who was also the voice of Garfield for 12 years. And who did they get to do the voice for Garfield in the movies in order to echo the old Lorenzo Music dry tone? Bill Murray.
Not to be confused with the new CGI series which has a «The» in front of the title, Clone Wars debuted in 2003 on Cartoon Network as a series of three-minute shorts (eventually extended to 12-15 minute segments). The goal of this unique format was to delve into the specifics of those famous titular battles, first mentioned in the original Star Wars, long dreamed about and imagined by fans worldwide, and finally seen on film at the end of Attack of the Clones in 2002. Or at least, the very beginning of the Clone Wars was depicted in that film. It would be up to animator Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack) and his team to really show us what was going on during the most famous conflict in Star Wars history.
Generally regarded as actually being better than the live-action prequel films, Tartakovsky’s all-too-brief series fleshed out the characters, amped up the action and the visual style, and played homage to the best aspects of George Lucas’ creation. For all the perceived faults of the modern Star Wars films, Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars proved that the franchise can soar when in the hands of a creative team that truly gets it — and loves it.
After years of jokes about the old Super Friends cartoon, and more than one aborted attempt at filming a live-action version of DC Comics’ famed Justice League, the greatest heroes of that universe were finally banded together by the mighty power of animation guru Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series, et al). It was almost too much for a fanboy to hope for, not just incorporating the Bats and Superman seen in their previous Timm-produced series, but also bringing in the core group of Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkgirl — several of whom were new to the modern world of animation.
The show, basically, rocked, and for its first two years it was known simply as Justice League. But for its final three seasons it morphed into Justice League Unlimited and expanded its basic roster of seven to cycle in a multitude of DC heroes, with the main players still getting their fair share of screen time too. (Fifty characters appear in the first episode alone, setting the tone of the revamped series.) Standalone episodes and arc storylines were mixed together, including epic battles against a government organization called Project Cadmus and, in the final season, against the Secret Society (a.k.a. the Legion of Doom). Great, great stuff for even non-comic book fans.
«Yo Joe!» «Cobra!» «Now I know. and knowing is half the battle!» If nothing else, this series gave all children of the ’80s plenty of iconic battle cries and proclamations. One of several toy-inspired animated series of the era, G.I. Joe was the most entertaining of the bunch, thanks to the many fun characters the toy line provided. Even the things that are silly about it — wow, those Cobras sure could parachute out of any plane they were in that was shot down, huh? — are somewhat endearing. And while this isn’t a show known for its gritty realism, there were some blissfully strange and interesting occurrences, as we followed the Joes and Cobras through weather domination, the creation of the clone emperor Serpentor, a trippy journey to an alternate reality (Baroness and Steeler in love!), and of course, the musical bliss of Cold Slither.
We all know that Scottish people are cheap, right? Well so are Scottish ducks. And due to their spendthrift ways, they’re able to amass great fortunes and swim around in their vaults filled with gold coins. And even though they have miserly names like Scrooge, their hearts are still big enough to take in their great-nephews when the nephews’ other uncle, Donald, heads off to join the Navy. This was Disney’s first syndicated animated TV series and it paved the way for other hugely successful shows like TaleSpin and Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers. It even created two spin-offs, Darkwing Duck and Quack Pack. Disney made the smart movie of taking classic characters like Scrooge McDuck and Baloo from The Jungle Book and giving them a late ’80s reboot. All this only leaves us with one question: Where were Huey, Dewey and Louie’s parents and why did they keep getting bounced around from uncle to uncle?
Filled with off-the-wall comedy and numerous parodies per episode, Animaniacsappealed to kids and adults alike. Purportedly telling the story of the original Warner Brothers — Yakko and Wakko — and the Warner sister, Dot, Animaniacs episodes were made up of three mini-episodes, each featuring different characters. The second cartoon produced by Steven Spielberg and Warner Bros. Animation (the first being Tiny Toon Adventures), Animaniacs was in many ways a throwback to the slapstick and cartoon violence of classic toons like Looney Tunes.
Much like other animated Warner Bros. series during the ’90s, Animaniacs was accessible to children but contained a level of sophisticated humor and older references that only adults would enjoy. The series had the feel of a vintage variety show, with running gags and catchphrases galore, from Yakko’s Groucho Marx-esque «Goodnight, everybody!» to Wakko’s «Faboo!» Two characters became so popular they got their own spin-off series, Pinky and the Brain.
Like a little psycho-drama with your superhero escapades? Or perhaps you like a little hero-action in your poetic melodramas? Based on the comic book by Sam Kieth, The Maxx often kept the frame by frame references intact, and in most cases moved the characters very little, if even at all. There’s a lot of emotional turmoil and damage caused by physical assault, and we haven’t seen any show give that damage as much of a voice as The Maxx. The Maxx, in all of its glory, allowed for grief, rage, guilt and despair as we followed the supernatural after-effects of the attack and rape of Julie Winters. Julie’s own personal desire to feel whole again causes her to create an inner psychological landscape called The Outback, where she rules as The Jungle Queen. The Maxx might be the hero and protector of Julie’s Outback subconscious, but in the real world he’s a confused, homeless drifter. Both of them live in a state of denial that might become their own undoing — that is if they’re not done in first by the sadistic Mr. «You might say that I’ve got a problem with women» Gone. The Maxx was part of MTV’s Oddities program, back when MTV was interested more in art than commerce.
No matter what your age group is, you like SpongeBob. You just do. It’s true that a lot of the newer cartoons have thrown in a ton of «jokes for daddy,» in order to make their ad nauseum viewing by children slightly more tolerable, but SpongeBob found the absolute perfect balance. Whether you’re four or 40, you can find joy in this show. Oftentimes, SpongeBob will actually win out in the battle over «there’s nothing good to watch on TV right now.» Essentially it’s about an idiot savant and an idiot, a.k.a. SpongeBob and Patrick, and their knuckleheaded escapades down in the sea town of Bikini Bottom. This show is not meant to be held under a microscope, as there is not a single thing that actually makes any connection with logic or actual aquatic science, but it sure is fun to behold. All SpongeBob wants to do is catch jellyfish in his jellyfishing net and work as a burger chef at The Krusty Krab and make Krabby Patties. He divides his time equally between inadvertently infuriating his next door neighbor, and co-worker, Squidward and suffering giant panic attacks about everyday life occurrences. He’s a tremendous case study in both the easily «annoying» and the easily «annoyed.»
This unique series combines various genres and musical styles, producing a very original — and arguably one of the best — anime. Set in the late 21st century, Cowboy Bebop follows a group of bounty hunters as they travel in their spaceship, the Bebop. The series’ wonderfully animated action sequences — from space battles to martial arts fighting scenes — are set to mostly American music, including rock, jazz, and heavy metal.
Most episodes follow the Bebop’s crew as they hunt down criminals wanted by authorities, but the series smartly inter-mixes flashbacks and details of the crew’s pasts, providing a strong, overarching storyline for the series. The main character, Spike Spiegel, is a bounty hunter with a dark past, as he formerly worked for a violent crime syndicate. Each episode pulls equally from such disparate genres as spaghetti Westerns, film noir and 1970s cop shows, complete with cowboy slang, femmes fatales, and chase scenes that are perfectly mixed together in a way to make a completely fresh and unique series.
While other animated series based on comic books had adapted specific stories before, the 1992 X-Men series gets a lot of credit for making a much bigger overreaching attempt to translate some of the most iconic and popular comic stories of all time and letting them play out over multiple episodes. From the Dark Phoenix Saga to Days of Future Past, some of the most beloved stories in X-Men history were touched upon here, in a show that used long term serialization in a manner most Saturday morning cartoons typically avoided.
Meanwhile beyond the core cast of characters (based around the lineup seen in the early ’90s comics), an amazing selection of X-Men from throughout the comics’ history made appearances on the series, including of-the-moment characters such as Cable and the then modern version of X-Factor. For the first time, Marvel Comics fans truly felt like they were seeing the stories they loved played out on television, and those who grew up with this series have fond memories to this day. and eternal hopes for proper season set DVD releases!
Who would’ve thought that a series featuring an asthmatic Chihuahua and a mental midget of a manx cat could provide so many gut-ripping laughs? Well, anyone, actually, who is familiar with animation’s long relationship with antrophomorphic animals. Created by John Kricfalusi for his Spumco International cartoon studio, the show began life on MTV before being sold to Nickelodeon, where Kricfalusi and the network soon came to loggerheads over the series’ violence as well as (reportedly) the animator’s many missed deadlines. But the show’s subversive humor appealed to audiences, and even after Kricfalusi was fired from his own show, Ren and Stimpy continued for three more seasons. Eventually the creator of the pair returned for Spike TV’s Ren and Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon in 2003, which featured a more overtly adult edge, but the series was cancelled a month after it debuted, with Kricfalusi’s deadline problems again coming into play. A shame, really, because we always loved to see some serious Ren violence.
The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show deserves an honored spot in the annals of American animation history for being the first animated series to purposely appeal to both adults and children. Kids love the wacky characters and crazy situations, while adults picked up on the additional layer of comedy just for them, in puns and topical references.
Actually two separate series (it premiered in 1959 on ABC as Rocky and His Friendsand changed titles to The Bullwinkle Show when it moved to NBC in 1961), The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show consisted of rather limited, choppy animation, but more than made up for that with memorable characters and clever humor. Aside from Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose, other classic characters introduced on the series include Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale, Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Rocky and Bullwinkle also introduced many children to humorous takes on famous fairy tales, fables, nursery rhymes and poems in the segments «Fractured Fairy Tales,» «Aesop & Son,» and «Bullwinkle’s Corner.»
If you were to ask the anime fanatics here at IGN what our favorite anime series of all time would be, we would answer Neon Genesis Evangelion. Why, you ask? Because no other anime series has been able to capture our attention with an intelligent adult sci-fi story that borrows heavily from religion, psychology and philosophy, while somehow meshing it with the angst-ridden teenage characters which have become a staple of the genre.
The main premise of Evangelion follows young Shinji Ikari as he is forced to deal with the awkwardness of maturity, his daddy issues and alienation, all while being placed in charge of a giant robotic combat machine that is necessary to fight off the evil invading Angels. Staying introspective, the series prefers to analyze the pain of Shinji and the other children like him, rather than creating a spectacle out of the grandiose sci-fi plot. While the show is certainly complicated, and the ending is less than stellar, the bulk of the series has set a benchmark in anime programming which has yet to be surpassed.
In 1960, Hanna-Barbera Productions broke the animation mold and launched the cartoon into primetime glory — the toon previously occupied only the realm of kiddie programming hours. With the arrival of The Flintstones, however, the path was paved for such eventual success stories as The Simpsons and Family Guy.
You know the drill: Working-class hero Fred Flintstone spends his days making a buck as a «bronto crane operator» at Slate Rock and Gravel Company. Dearly in love with his barefoot (and eventually pregnant) wife Wilma, Fred lives next door to his best friend, the dimwitted Barney Rubble, and his wife Betty. Come to think of it, they were allbarefoot. Oh, didn’t we mention that The Flintstones is set around the year 10,000 B.C.? No, not the 1950s — you’re thinking of The Honeymooners, which is a completely understandable mistake.
Regardless, the tale of Fred and his extended family (Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm would join the crew eventually, and let’s not forget Dino and Hoppy) held the attention of America for six years of original content, before entering the immortal annals of syndication. A plethora of spin-offs, movies, and specials would also follow.
The redheaded stepchild of Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Futurama nonetheless remains near and dear to the hearts of several of IGN’s editors. A futuristic sitcom that was a cross between The Jetsons and The Simpsons, the adventures of the dimwitted Fry, mono-eyed Leela, drunk and disorderly robot Bender, and all the rest of the Planet Express crew aren’t just often hilarious — they’re also loaded with references that will make the average sci-fi and genre fan feel smart. And isn’t that what life is all about in the end? Feeling smart?
From the darker strains of the early episodes (suicide booths?!) to familiar staples (the recurring robotic and evil Santa of the future, the «Anthology of Interest» segments which are Futurama‘s version of «Treehouse of Horror,» various and sundry disembodied heads) and right on up to the post-cancellation resurrected adventures that have been making the DTV and Comedy Central rounds lately, Futurama is, to paraphrase Fry, «like a party in my mouth and everyone’s throwing up.» Well, actually it’s better than that.
This reminds me of the time IGN was making a Top 100 Animated Series list and didn’t give Family Guy #1. Yeah, that happened, but you can’t complain with making the Top 10. Surpassing animated comedies such as Futurama, The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo Where Are You! is a hell of a feat and Family Guy guru Seth MacFarlane deserves all the credit in the world for making it happen.
Kicking off strong after the 1999 Super Bowl, MacFarlane’s wildly popular series about a dysfunctional family and their wacky misadventures would eventually prove its power by being cancelled and coming back even stronger than before. Now a major comedy presence, Family Guy has gone from tangentially making reference to other programs (in their «manatee gags») to now being lampooned and referenced itself. And the show deserves it, as we can’t think of another TV comedy that creates as many laughs in a half hour as Peter Griffin and the rest of Quahog.
«SPOOOOOOOON!» Nuff said? Probably. But for those of you who’ve never seen The Tick, or read the Ben Edlund comic book series that it’s based on, you sure missed out on some rich chocolate, because it was the first great lampooning of the superhero genre. Sure, we’ve read Spider-Ham and Groo the Wanderer, but they didn’t hit the nail on the head like The Tick. Combining the comedy stylings of Mel Brooks, Monty Python and. we dunno, maybe Emo Phillips. the Tick was ready to protect «The City» at all costs. Which city? Why, the one with all the ridiculously costumed heroes and villains of course. Like a guy who dressed up like a giant blue tick, and yet exhibits no powers or abilities that have to do with ticks. Or the dude who’s got a chair for a face and is named Chairface. But the best part of this show was the Tick’s own personal harebrained hero rhetoric. Some of our favorites include «Mucal invader! Is there no end to your oozing?» and «Evil is out there making hand-crafted mischief for the swap meet of villainy! And you can’t strike a good deal with evil. No matter how much you haggle!» And of course. «You wouldn’t lie to me, would you, Little Wooden Boy?»
The genius of Beavis and Butt-head was that they both shared the simple goals of the common teenage boy — to be able to score without actually having to leave the couch or stop eating nachos. It was an admirable dream, and one that we could all relate to. There was something cathartic about watching these two miserable nitwits fail at just about everything they tried to do but still walk away with the feeling that they were both utter «badasses.» And even though the show’s fans weren’t actually delinquents from the fictional town of Highland, Texas, they all still took their cues from what both Beavis and Butt-head thought was «cool» and what they thought «sucked.» If Beavis and Butt-head liked a band, all of a sudden we found ourselves discovering a new «appreciation» for their music. And if Beavis and Butt-head thought a band sucked, all of a sudden we started second-guessing our own fandom. Mike Judge took real life Gen X slacker idiocy and put it out there for all of us to love and admire. And as frequent identifiers of every single double entendre, it could be said that Beavis and Butt-head started the whole «that’s what she said» craze. The animation was often crude, but we were still transfixed on this parade of stupidity.
Very few shows — animated or not — have been on for 12 seasons and still retain the relevance and entertainment value of South Park. Episodes alternate between sharp satirical looks at society to pop culture parodies to scatological humor, sometimes all within the same half-hour. Seemingly unafraid to take on any subject, Matt Stone and Trey Parker have created a forum for their opinions that’s unfiltered and raw, making some of the freshest comedy currently on the air.
The show’s incredibly fast production schedule allows Parker and Stone to write and produce episodes almost up to the day they air, something unheard of in the animation genre, where it normally takes months to produce a half-hour episode. The show’s style, while looking like stop-motion construction paper cut-outs, is animated completely on computers. Sometimes the style even changes to fit the episode’s content, such as the anime sequences in season eight’s «Good Times with Weapons» and the World of Warcraft-style sequences in season 10’s «Make Love, Not Warcraft.»
No matter your sense of humor, political stance, or lifestyle, there’s bound to be a South Park episode that makes you laugh, infuriates you, or just plain offends. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Currently airing its landmark 20th season, The Simpsons is a veritable pop culture icon. The Simpsons is not only the longest running American animated program, it’s also the longest running American sitcom, and is currently tied with Gunsmoke for the longest running American primetime series. Those records alone don’t earn it the top place on our list, however. The Simpsons is also an incredibly funny show that’s produced more amusing characters and situations than the vast majority of all other American sitcoms.
From its start as rough shorts airing during The Tracey Ullman Show, the dysfunctional Simpson family has been a sharp parody of the middle class American lifestyle. Many fans view the first eight seasons as the series’ best, containing such classics as «The Crepes of Wrath,» «One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish,» and «Marge vs. the Monorail,» but it can be argued that even with a dip in quality from the early seasons, The Simpsons remains an entertaining and relevant series, and after two decades stays accessible to both the original fans and a whole new generation of viewers.