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.
70. The Huckleberry Hound Show (1958-1962)
Following the success of their first animated series for television, The Ruff & Reddy Show, producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera hit paydirt again with their next endeavor. Premiering one year later, The Huckleberry Hound Show introduced the world to the affable, blue-skinned canine with the cartoonishly stereotypical Southern drawl who had a penchant for singing the song, “Oh, My Darling Clementine”. A dog of many hats, Huckleberry Hound held many occupations (such as but not limited to: cowboy, chef, lion tamer, police officer, farmer, and “stuff like that there”), all of which he easily conquered.
No obstacle was ever too big or difficult for ol’ Huckleberry and audiences loved his unflappability. But despite the popularity the title character amassed, the show’s supporting segments would prove to be an even bigger draw. This was the birth of one of the biggest cartoon icons of the time: Yogi Bear. I mean, it also featured Hokey Wolf, so I guess in the immortal words of Meatloaf, “two outta three ain’t bad”.
69. The Real Ghostbusters (1984-1991)
Based on the hit 1984 film Ghostbusters (you would think that would be obvious but don’t forget, before the movie, there was originally a TV show with the same name and premise, except that one featured a gorilla), The Real Ghostbusters continued the adventures of everyone’s favorite paranormal investigators: Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Egon Spengler, Winston Zeddemore and Dr. Ray Stantz. Now with 100% more Slimer (gotta sell that Ecto Cooler somehow), the team faced over one hundred episodes worth of kid friendly horror comedy. While never getting as scary as the 90’s reboot titled The Extreme Ghostbusters, the show nevertheless struck the right balance of both laughs and spooks to keep every viewer, regardless of their age, entertained.
68. Hey Arnold! (1996-2004)
There’s not many cartoons that deal with what it’s like to be a kid. Recess comes kind of close and I’ve always related to Doug but Hey Arnold! captures adolescence almost better than any other show at the time did. It shows what it’s like to be a kid, albeit with exaggerated character models but the spirit of childhood is the same. Most children’s shows try and focus on the fantastical like Phineas and Ferb or unbelievable like Steven Universe and even though those shows are great, they’re escapism.
They’re not meant to be realistic. Besides the fact that he has a football head, every thing about Hey Arnold! is realistic. I knew those kids. I had those problems. I never had a pet potbelly pig though. Nickelodeon recently announced that they’re bringing Arnold back and I couldn’t be happier. Younger generations need some Arnold in their lives.
67. Pinky and the Brain (1995-1998)
Starting as a recurring segment on Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain quickly rose the charts of popularity to such a degree, that the network demanded they get their own cartoon. Pinky and the Brain follow two rodents on their quest “To take over the world.” Pinky is simple like Forrest Gump and the Brain is an Orson Welles sounding genius that really just wants to rule the world. He’s a simple mouse. Every episode is a parody of whatever movie that just came out and while that does date the humor a bit, it’s still a very entertaining bit of mouse shenanigans. Oh and skip the spin off show Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain. It’s terrible.
66. Rugrats (1990-2006)
Building off of the “what are babies thinking bout?” conceit started by Muppet Babies, Rugrats took that premise and ran with it. Generating three films, three spin off’s and is still the second longest running Nickelodeon cartoon behind Spongebob, Rugrats was a monumental success.
Starring Tommy Pickles and his baby cohorts Chuckie, Phil and Lil and of course Angelica, the show followed the babies misunderstanding of basic everyday things. Because as Angelica loved to remind them “They’re stupid babies.” She might’ve been an asshole but she was right, they a bunch of dumbass babies. The show stayed constantly great until the first film came out. Then they introduced Dil (as in pickle. Oh the wit) and the show slowly started to decline but the good far outweigh the bad and the Rugrats are still beloved by generations to this day.
65. Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999-2002)
Originally debuting in the What a Cartoon! Show pilot showcase (Seriously, no other show launched more cartoons. It’s insane how many cartoons got their start on What a Cartoon! Show), Courage was quickly picked up and audiences everywhere were treated to four seasons of the craziest shit Cartoon Network ever aired. In the middle of nowhere live an elderly couple, the man’s name is Eustace and his wife’s name is Muriel. They also own a pink pug named Courage that Eustace takes extreme pleasure in scaring half to death. But Eustace isn’t the only thing trying to scare Courage, the show also involves monsters, aliens, sexy French ducks, zombies and demons. It was the closest thing we’ve ever gotten to an animated horror cartoon for kids and it’s incredible.
64. Tiny Toon Adventures (1990-1995)
There was a time when all you needed to be successful, was for Spielberg’s name to be slapped on your cartoon. Where have you gone Spielberg? Why have you forsaken us? We got shit like Catdog when you left. I hate Catdog. How does it take a shit? Is it like the human centipede? Answer me Spielberg! How does he shit!!??
Tiny Toon Adventures is about the descendants of the original Looney Tunes going to school to learn how to become the next generation of Tunes. Three things: 1) I probably watched the made for tv movie “How I spent my summer vacation” about 30 times when I was a kid, 2) Remember the spin off The Plucky Duck Show? Of course you don’t, 3) Animaniacs literally killed this show. They cancelled Tiny Toon Adventures in favor of Animaniacs. Coldblooded.
63. Astro Boy (1963-1966)
Created in 1959 by the “Godfather of manga” and “Japanese Walt Disney” Osamu Tezuka, Astro Boy is set in a futuristic utopia where man and robot co-exist. It focuses on the adventures of a little robot boy who was created by Dr. Tenma after his son died in a tragic car accident. The manga was crazy popular in Japan and they quickly made it into a television series. Running just shy of 200 episodes, Astro Boy was and still is incredibly influential on all aspects of pop culture. Fun fact: Osamu Tezuka was so beloved by the people of Japan that when he died, more people attended his funeral than that of the emperor.
62. The Tick (1994-1997)
Ben Edlund is a genius. He single-handedly created the best superhero parody of all time when he created the comic in the mid 80’s and then did it again when he made the cartoon ten years later. The Tick is one of those properties like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that started off obscure but once it went mainstream, it’s never left the public conscience.
The Tick is about about a big blue superhero and his sidekick named Arthur who dresses like a moth and their attempts to save “The City” by a cavalcade of evil that constantly wants to destroy it. Like El Seed or Chairface Chippendale who, as you may have guessed, has a chair for a face. It’s hilarious and the 2003 live action TV show was equally as great but just like the cartoon, it was cancelled far too soon.
61. Doug (1991-1994)
Let me make this abundantly clear: this entry is for the Nickelodeon version only. I’m not covering the abomination that is Disney Doug. Because there’s nothing worse than Disney Doug. Socks for Christmas? Disney Doug is worse. Coming home from school to find out your dog, who’s just a puppy, died suddenly? Disney Doug is worse. Finding out that your mom is having sex with that teacher you hate? Disney Doug is worse. It’s the holocaust of cartoons.
Nickelodeon Doug on the other hand is a charming show about a kid named Doug Funnie and his day-to-day activities, which involve trying to muster up the courage to talk to his crush Patty Mayonnaise, hanging out with his buddy Mosquito Valentine or trying to avoid the neighborhood bully Roger.
It’s a great show about a great kid but seriously, stay away from Disney Doug.
What are some of your favorite cartoons? Maybe they will show up later in the list!