With so many great cartoons, trying to list 25 of the best cartoon shows ever is no easy task. A good cartoon can take on a variety of forms. Most of the time, they’re meant to be funny, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, they take on a dark or adventurous tone, putting comedy on the back burner. While some might point to ratings and awards as a barometer for cartoon success, that’s not always a good way to determine the value of a cartoon. Many great cartoons have seen mild ratings and reviews. Ultimately, what makes a great cartoon is a singular vision coming together into one well-crafted and executed show. They make us want to keep coming back time and time again and even when they go off the air, they leave a lasting impression and become a show we’ll never forget. Here are the 25 Best Cartoon Shows Ever.
Based on the video game of the same name, this anime from the 90’s had a catchy theme song, lovable characters, wily villains, and adorable monsters tagging along. It had a light-hearted, innocent, and child-like wonder about how it saw its world, providing a nice reprieve from some of the darker cartoons at the time. While it’s not exactly an intelligent or thought-provoking show, it had its own charm, and for kids just wanting to see Pokemon fight, that was enough.
A cartoon classic, you might not know that this show originally aired on primetime television and was once the longest syndicated cartoon until The Simpsons came around. While its content is a tad archaic for today’s sensibilities, it’s still one of the most popular and beloved cartoons of all time. It single-handedly built Hanna-Barbera’s company. Plus, you probably have the theme song running in your head right now, don’t you?
While thin on plot, this cartoon excels in rich emotional complexity and fantastic visuals. Jack is a lone, wandering warrior on a quest to conqueror a great sorcerer, pitting him against great beasts and worthy opponents along the way. However, many of the real trials are in his inner struggles with relationships and loneliness. It’s entertaining, clever, and certainly worth giving a chance if you haven’t already.
With a great opening theme song, lots of heart, and plenty of laughs, this light-hearted cartoon on Nickelodeon helped kids navigate the awkwardness of adolescence, reminding them they aren’t alone. It waded into several issues kids have to deal with, like friendships, being an underdog, dealing with bullying, and having an epic crush. Thankfully, despite all that, it also knew how to not take itself too seriously and maintain a light tone. The main character’s name is Doug Funnie, after all.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
While there’s been plenty of reboots and movies to this series, the 1987 cartoon version is still the best. About four turtles that mutated into anthropomorphic teens, Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael train with their rat ninja master Splinter to take on the evil Shredder and the Foot Clan. It wasn’t the most insightful cartoon, but it had the best theme song, great action and adventure, and introduced little kids to the word, “Cowabunga.”
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The Powerpuff Girls
This colorful cartoon on the Cartoon Network featured three superhero kindergartners created on accident by Professor Utonium. Together, Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup fought the evil Mojo JoJo among other devious villains before bedtime. It did a great job of embracing its cute and adorable tone while simultaneously giving little girls heroes who can kick some tail. To top it all off, it included plenty of funny jokes, some which went right over kids’ heads.
What started out as one of Nickelodeon’s first original animated shows blew up into a huge sensation among kids in the 90’s and beyond. You’d think a cartoon about a rag-tag team of babies going on adventures around the house wouldn’t be all that exciting, but the writers and animators crafted an entertaining and hilarious show for years. People loved it so much the animated movie became a surprise box office hit when it hit theaters.
Combining a diverse group of friends with real-world social politics, this Disney cartoon excelled at writing three-dimensional characters that broke stereotypes. It did a great job representing what being a kid in school is like, especially on the playground where cliques, social rules, and challenges abound. Most kids learn more about life at recess than in the classroom, and this cartoon showed that concept in spades.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
This Emmy-awarding winning cartoon from Nickelodeon features Ang, the Avatar, who has the ability to bend all four elements, fire, water, wind, and earth. He’s on a quest with his friends to stop the Fire Lord Ozai and the Fire Nation from waging war with the other nations. With wonderful writing, dynamic characters, silly humor, not to mention a flying bison named Appa, this show might be meant for kids, but adults could easily love it as well.
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!
In 1969, the world was introduced to the Scooby gang, a rag-tag team of teenagers and their cowardly Great Dane companion as they investigate paranormal activity. Of course, it would usually just end up being some guy wearing a fiendish mask. Believe it or not, the original show only lasted two seasons, but it has since been revived into various spin-offs and remakes.
This cartoon created by Charles Schulz was mostly a comic strip but occasionally would have animated cartoon specials. Charlie Brown and his eclectic group of friends are all relatable and their antics equally ridiculous. It was slow paced but charming and light-hearted enough to keep you interested. Of course, while many of the cartoon specials are good, nothing tops “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It’s one of the best holiday specials ever created.
King of the Hill
Originally intended by Fox to be a companion series to The Simpsons, Mike Judge, the creator, had other things in mind for this cartoon, and we’re all thankful to him for it. Though it never received much attention, this cartoon did a great job showing the trials of middle America. Rather than using cheap gags, it focused on its diverse, dynamic characters. Turns out, throwing them together was enough to bring out the laughs.
X-Men: The Animated Series
It might seem impossible now with Marvel being the powerhouse that it is, but back in the 90’s, no studio wanted to touch this cartoon. Thankfully, Fox finally took the plunge. It stood apart from the rest when the creators made a huge decision to write 13 episodes that told one long, serialized story, something most kids’ cartoons shied away from. Its diverse and dynamic characters, many at odds with each other, helped keep it interesting, and besides, they all had really cool powers. Also, if it weren’t for this cartoon, the X-Men film that came out years later likely wouldn’t have happened.
This Nickelodeon cartoon about a football-headed boy growing up with his grandparents in a big city became a massive hit from the pilot episode, going on for five seasons and two movies. It had intelligence, charm, wit, bizarre, silly humor, and above all, made average kids, like Arnold, cool. Because, face it, you know you wanted Arnold’s awesome attic bedroom.
Created by Steven Spielberg in partnership with Warner Bros. Studio, this wildly popular cartoon kept the wacky, Looney Tunes humor alive while adding their own spin on it. It appealed to a wide audience. Kids loved the slapstick humor while adults, especially college students, loved the sly adult humor peppered throughout. This inventive, creative, and mostly original show went on for several seasons until it was eventually cancelled in 1998.
Dragon Ball Z
Originally airing in Japan, this popular anime was ported to the United States thanks to the Cartoon Network afternoon block, Toonami. It saw massive success, introducing an entire generation of Americans to anime. From the strong, and often silly heroes to the progressively evil villains, the show excelled at keeping its viewers hooked to its characters and plots with each episode usually ending on a cliffhanger.
A sci-fi comedy from the creator of The Simpsons, this cartoon threw together every sci-fi trope and idea in the book and ruthlessly made fun of it. The creators toiled over every episode, making sure the writing and jokes were the very best. As such, it could take up to a year to complete an episode. No joke. While it didn’t have the ratings of The Simpsons, it garnered a loyal fanbase and took home a few Emmys to boot.
If you’re an adult and you haven’t started watching this cartoon on Netflix, then it’s time. About a washed up sitcom actor, who also happens to be a horse riding the highs and lows of not having much of a career anymore, it’s perhaps one of the most complex, cynical, and hilarious cartoons to be on television. It also happens to have one of the best opening credits to ever grace the screen. It’s so good, you’ll never want to click “Skip Intro.”
Arguably a fantasy cartoon masterpiece in its own right, this cartoon went to bizarre and surreal ends that few cartoons have gone to before. By skirting convention and embracing weird, it became an inventive, clever, and must-see show for kids of all ages. At the same time, it didn’t avoid real conflict and real emotion, pitting its hero up against obstacles that most kids likely will face in some shape or form. It recently had its season finale, but it’s doubtful fans will let it go anytime soon.
Created by Seth MacFarlane, this often irreverent cartoon about an American family dealing with a number of issues has had its ups and downs as a series but ultimately became a powerhouse leading to many seasons and a number of spin-offs. While it has both fans and haters alike, it’s hard to deny the show’s success and unabashed humor in the pantheon of great cartoons.
At face value, a cartoon about an anthropomorphic kitchen sponge that lives underwater in a town called Bikini Bottom might sound ridiculous, but – No, you’re right it is ridiculous, but that’s what makes it so hilarious. However, if you go beyond its wacky and weird humor, there’s quite a bit of witty subtext and commentary; plus, many of the characters are well-written and designed. The show has seen wild success becoming Nickelodeon’s longest running cartoon.
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This cartoon, first animated with paper cutouts about four boys getting through school and life, is in no way meant for kids. It’s obscene, violent, and full of adult content that has routinely been denounced by a whole host of organizations. Rarely has it shied away from addressing hot button issues in an irreverent fashion, poking fun primarily at American culture. Still, despite all that, it has become an award-winning, highly rated comedy with a massive fanbase.
First created to compete with Disney’s Mickey Mouse cartoons, Warner Bros. Looney Tunes’ iconic and massive variety of cartoons arguably overtook Mickey Mouse in both popularity and the number of shorts they released. From Bugs Bunny to Elmer Fudd, pretty much every Looney Tunes character is iconic and recognizable. To top it all off, many of their shorts are hilarious and set the bar for many future cartoons to come.
Groundbreaking, award-winning, iconic, and ultimately hilarious, this cartoon by Matt Groening went on to become the longest running television show in history and set the stage for multiple adult cartoon comedies to come. But aside from all that, it’s the characters and the endless lampooning of American culture, society, and politics that we love so much.
Batman: The Animated Series
Batman: The Animated Series forever altered how kids saw cartoons in the 90’s. It never felt like a kids cartoon and consistently transcended the genre. With clever writing, a fantastic score, unique art and animation, along with iconic voice acting from Kevin Connelly as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Mark Hamill as the Joker, there’s little this show did wrong. Dark, mysterious, and tonally nuanced, it gave us the best depiction of Batman and Bruce Wayne, setting a bar for all future Batman shows to follow. Oh, and did we mention it gave us Batman: Mask of the Phantasm?