From Saturday morning classics to Japanese anime, cartoons have had a long and strange journey to what they are today. Originally airing on prime time TV, cartoons eventually moved to early Saturday mornings and in doing so, gained the reputation of being for children. Much like comic books, they went from being enjoyed by everyone, to being solely consumed by kids. For about thirty odd years, every animated show was made for and aimed at younger audiences. They were either educational, humorous and/or action packed. But then, little by little, shows started becoming more mature.
MTV had an entire block of edgy content, which inspired kid friendly alternatives. There was Batman: The Animated Series, which was lauded by critics and audiences alike and of course The Simpsons, which was the first to get the ball rolling. It was the dawning of a new age and for the first time, the public perception started to change. Soon, it was not only ok to admit you liked cartoons but it became socially acceptable. Fandoms of fancy pony shows could be formed by grown men and actual celebrities could come out as otaku.
Cartoons had become mainstream and not only that, they became amazing. Some of the best written shows within the last fifteen years have been cartoons. The evolution from crudely made shows of the past involving claymation or still images with human mouths super imposed on top of them to current shows that include everything from suicide to abortions, has been insane and I for one can’t wait to see where they go from here. This list honors cartoons humble origins as well as the shows that have and continue to move the medium into newer and better directions.
This is The 100 Greatest Cartoons of All Time.
60. American Dad! (2005 – )
Starting off as “the other” Seth MacFarlane show, American Dad! quickly grew out of Family Guy’s shadow and actually far surpassed in quality. Family Guy started strong and eventually became shit and in a complete role reversal, American Dad! started weak by relying far too heavily on Bush era political humor but switched gears to focus more on character based humor and that’s when it hit pay dirt.
The show also removed the cut away jokes that Family Guy considers comedy and replaced them with actual scripts that contain characters and stories. And jokes that consist of set ups and pay offs. It’s an actual show is what I’m saying. And Roger the Alien’s alter ego Ricky Spanish is funnier than almost anything else on TV.
59. Big Mouth (2017 – )
Dealing with subject matter South Park took years to get to and The Simpsons didn’t dare tackle, Big Mouth is all about prepubescent horniness. Like, extreme horniness. Everything these kids talk about deals with sex. Some of them fuck pillows (who end up getting pregnant), some try to seduce their cousins and all of them just want someone of the opposite sex to touch their naughty bits. Even their hormone monsters try (and fail) to get them laid. And while this all sounds like borderline child porn, it’s actually a realistic portrayal of what it’s like being a kid going through puberty.
The characters might spend every episode talking about sex positions they don’t understand, jerking off, orgasms and periods, they almost always misunderstand them to such a hilarious degree, that it ends up being less about sex and more about the confusion that surrounds sex. Transitioning from a boy into a man or girl into a woman is hard; it’s fraught with unique challenges and complications. This show might be crude as all hell but it depicts those hardships in a realistic and hilarious way.
58. Phineas and Ferb (2007-2015)
In their continued quest to avoid boredom on summer vacation, Phineas and his quiet stepbrother Ferb get into all sorts of adventures, some imagined and some not and all involving science and/or musical numbers. Each episode has two distinct plots we follow: one involving the titular boys and the other follows their pet platypus who’s also a super secret spy. The first part is aimed at younger viewers, while the second one is clearly designed as a filler plot to break up the song and dance shenanigans of Phineas and Ferb with some James Bond type action. Perry the Platypus is an obvious ploy to get slightly older kids to watch what is ostensibly a children’s show but since his segments are the best parts of the show and because he’s just so darn cute, it works like a charm.
57. One Punch Man (2015 – )
You would think a show centered around a super powered being who’s so strong, that he can defeat any enemy with a single punch would be boring and you’d be correct. Except that’s the point. One Punch Man is the first and only show to accurately depict what it would be like to be Superman. Which is to say, extreme boredom. Every episode introduces a new threat for our protagonist to go up against and each time he’s disappointed that he doesn’t get to fight. He just wants to break a sweat or to bleed a little bit but he’s just too damn strong. The show is all about his frustrations and utter lack of enthusiasm in the face of city destroying monsters, gigantic robots and other powerful beings.
It’s also about the threats themselves. Since every episode acts as an origin for what will eventually become that episodes main antagonist, each new storyline is wildly different than the one that came before. Some are comedic, others are tragic and a couple are even borderline horror. With the only common thread being that there’s always an accident that leads to a horrible transformation and that there’s tons of action and mayhem that follow. The show might be about crippling boredom but boredom has never been more exciting.
56. Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-1980)
If you take a step back and look at the entire culture, from the manga, to the anime, to videogames and toys, it’s hard to argue against Mobile Suit Gundam being the most important anime in history. Or at least the one with the biggest impact. Astro Boy is easily the most influential but Gundam created an entire industry of copy cats, sequels, spinoffs and rip-offs. It’s easy to see why: it’s considerably more fun to watch giant robotic mechs fight each other than watch a half naked robot boy fight giant robotic mechs. It also doesn’t hurt the fact that it’s among the best written anime of its time. One of the first anime made specifically for the teen market and not children, Mobile Suit Gundam is a mature story filled with loss and sacrifice and hardships that just happens to include giant robotic mechs.
55. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated (2010-2013)
Scooby and the gang have had countless spinoffs since the original back in the ’60s but Mystery Incorporated is the first that doesn’t feel like a nostalgic retread. Focusing on the mystery part of Mystery Inc., the show never once feels like the Shaggy and Scooby show since it properly utilizes the entire gang and puts clues and deductive reasoning at the forefront. Aimed at the preteen crowd, the show is an excellent gateway horror, with its numerous references to ’80s slashers, Cthulhu mythos and callbacks to older episodes while also making younger viewers feel smart when they piece together who’s behind whatever haunting the gang is trying to solve. While never the most elaborate mysteries (it’s still a 22 minute show made for children after all), the episodes all have at least a couple of red herrings to throw you off and some legit clever schemes. It’s almost never old man Jenkins this time y’all.
54. Mob Psycho 100 (2016 – )
A psychic of unquestionable talent and very little else, Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama, along with his fraudulent mentor Reigen, solve supernatural problems in Seasoning City. Based on a web manga from the cat who made One Punch Man and the animation studio who brought you Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and My Hero Academia, Mob Psycho 100 is every bit as action packed and hilarious as the former and as well written and excellently animated as the latter two. With a great cast of characters, film-quality action sequences, a story you grow to care about with each new episode and more laughs and hell yeah moments than you can shake a stick at, the show knows how to entertain but it’s real skill is in its ability to get you to care.
53. Young Justice (2010 – )
In the early 2010s, DC launched a slew of new superhero cartoons which included Young Justice, Beware the Batman, and Green Lantern. They all did well enough review wise, but they all suffered the same fate: premature cancellation. However, unlike the other shows, Young Justice proved so popular amongst fans, that it was brought back years later. The fandom was rabid, it was loyal but most importantly, it was loud. They never stopped fighting for its return and it’s easy to see why.
The show saw teenage superheroes form their own team, and go up against some of the deadliest villains the DC universe has to offer, all while navigating their personal problems. This was more than just another superhero group fighting crimes or cracking jokes like Justice League or Teen Titans, this was a family of supes who just so happened to also fight crime. Fans related to their problems and connected to their characters much the same way one would an expansive anime. They demanded more and DC actually listened.
52. Hunter x Hunter (2011-2014)
There are so many anime that focus on a group of young characters using supernatural abilities and deductive reasoning to solve a problem and while Hunter x Hunter is definitely no different, it septate itself from the pack by being better written and by having characters that are more likable and memorable. It gets to skirt by any criticisms of unoriginality it might have received simply by being better than the shows that came before it. It’s also very much like Naruto or Dragon Ball Z in the sense that they’re all about determination and hard work and pushing yourself to the limit, but again, no one will label this derivative or uninspired because of their similarities due to its quality.
Following two would-be Hunters on their quest to be the best, the show is ultimately more about their relationship as opposed to their goals. Ones a kind, sympathetic boy, while the other is the youngest member of a family of assassins. They’re diametrically opposed and couldn’t be more different but yet, life has brought them together and made them friends. We watch their struggles, we cheer their successes and by the end, we’re completely emotionally invested in their journey. This is the kind of anime that changes you. If you’re in to it and you watch it all, you’re not the same person on the other side of the experience.
51. Over the Garden Wall (TV Mini-Series 2014)
Since it’s so incredibly short (the miniseries only lasted ten episodes) but densely packed, Over the Garden Wall feels simultaneously not long enough but also the perfect experience. There’s a reason fans still bemoan the loss of Firefly or Terriers or any number of Bryan Fuller shows but not this and it’s due to the fact that it left you satisfied. Those other shows were nothing but promises of excellence to come that went unfulfilled but this show didn’t promise you anything, it delivered the goods immediately. Few shows accomplish what they set out to do as beautifully and succinctly with as many episodes as this show had.
Hell, there are some shows that have 100x the episodes and even they can’t pull off what this one did. Created by Adventure Time alum Pat McHale, Over the Garden Wall is an absolutely joyous mix of old-timey animation, old fashioned dialogue, catchy songs and a refreshing style of humor that most likely won’t put you in stitches but will definitely keep a smile on your face. While I do wish we got more episodes, I wouldn’t risk trading anything for that perfect ending. Over the Garden Wall is the definition of short and sweet, and any show tempted to hang around past its welcome would do well to learn from it.
What are some of your favorite cartoons? Maybe they will show up later in the list!