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.
90. Top Cat (1961-1962)
Taking inspiration from Phil Silvers and The East Side Kids, Top Cat is a street hustlin’ rogue that sticks it to the man every chance he gets. He and his gang consisting of Fancy Fancy, Benny the Ball, Spook, Brain and Choo Choo are all about them money making schemes. Because at its core, it’s a cartoon about the disenfranchised. About the working man getting fucked over by the “man” (the “man” in this case being Officer Dibble). These poor cats are doing whatever they need to to survive.
So what that they pull they ol’ “tie a string to a quarter trick to earn a free soda.” They’re poor. They’ve been let down by the system. Maybe I’m overthinking it or maybe I’m just romanticising the idea of a thief supporting his friends by any means. Maybe it’s just about a wise ass cat and his buddies. Who knows. Oh and across the pond, this is still more popular than The Simpsons.
89. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972-1985)
“Hey Hey Hey…It’s Faaaat Albert!” Based on the stand up routines of comedian Bill Cosby (who also produced and voiced the main character), Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was first and foremost a comedy but it occasionally dealt with serious issues such as racism, homelessness, stealing, and substance and child abuse. Ahead of its time by a couple of decades, Fat Albert is more than just a celebrity fluff piece like Camp Candy or Bobby’s World or Life with Louie. It had something to say about life in the ghetto, a topic most cartoons still shy away from today.
88. Todd McFarlane’s Spawn (1997-1999)
One of, if not the only cartoon HBO ever produced, Spawn is one of the most faithful adaptations ever created. With apologies to Michael Jai White but Keith David was born to play Al Simmons. His unmistakable growl adds a level of depth no other actor could duplicate. His voice alone makes the show a must watch, it’s too bad HBO didn’t feel the same way.
Spawn is about a Vietnam commando who’s betrayed and murdered by another commando and he swears revenge. He makes a pact with the leader of one of the circles of hell named Malebogia and he becomes one of the top soldiers in his army-The Hellspawn or Spawn for short. He’s able to see his wife again but it comes at a terrible price. It’s exactly like that classic story called the scorpion king with the rock. Except with less scorpions.
87. Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers (1988-1990)
Chip and Dale have always been fairly obscure Disney characters. They weren’t the household names like Mickey and Donald but they were cute and had their fans. But then someone had the brilliant idea to take them, dress them up like Indiana Jones and Magnum P.I and then make them detectives. Fucking genius.
Joining them in their detective agency is the cheese obsessed Monterey Jack and the oddly attractive Gadget. (Yes, I had a crush on a cartoon mouse. Don’t judge me). Oh and there was a fly for some reason. Gotta sell them fly toys I guess. My only gripe with the show would be the villains. They’re lackluster compared to Tailspin and Darkwing Duck. Fat Cat isn’t exactly memorable next to heavyweights like Nega duck and Shere Khan but they’re not bad enough to ruin the enjoyment.
86. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983-1985)
The cynic in me would call this cartoon nothing more than a glorified toy commercial but when the toys were as badass as He-man and his buddies, that’s not exactly an insult. I mean who didn’t have the Castle Greyskull playset growing up?
Anywho, He-Man is about the power struggle between the monarchy and the would be zombie usurper for the fictional land of Eternia. Prince Adam is caught in the middle and every time he yelled out “By the power of Greyskull!” he would magically transform into the almighty He-Man.
On his quest to vanquish evil, he’s joined by an annoying flying wizard, a man that has arms and probably a couple of other toys i’m forgetting and they make up the Masters of the Universe. It’s a toy commercial but as toy commercials go, it’s pretty damn great.
85. Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (1995-2002)
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for given a pass to this gem. It was animated in Squigglevision, which made everything shake harder than Michael J. Fox after being locked in a meat locker for five hours. It’s an extremely crude animation style but it was chosen because it was extremely inexpensive to use and they wanted to spend the money animating stand up routines and not the animation itself.
So it’s a trade off really. On one hand, you get ugly as sin animation but on the other hand, you get the funniest routines from the best comedians working at the time. From Dave Chappelle to Mitch Hedberg to Ray Romano, the list goes on and on. It’s a murderers’ row of comedy and more importantly, it’s the first taste the world will get of the comedic legend that is H. Jon Benjamin.
84. Darkwing Duck (1991-1992)
Before I dive into everybody’s favorite protector of St. Canard, pull up a seat and let me talk at’cha for a minute. How amazing would it be if the sequel to Zootopia finally connected all of your favorite Disney cartoons? They could literally combine DuckTales, Tailspin and Darkwing Duck all in the same universe. How incredible would that be?
Ok, back to the main mallard. Darkwing Duck was Disney’s first animated parody and it worked because you could tell the creators had a deep love and respect for the genre. They made references to golden age comics such as The Shadow, The Sandman and obviously Batman. It was a brilliant love letter to the genre and it still has some of the most inventive and creative villains to grace the screen. I mean who doesn’t love Megavolt and Quackerjack? They’re amazing.
83. Speed Racer (1967-1968)
If you were to make a list of the greatest cars in all of fiction, the Mach 5 would have to tie with the batmobile for number 1. It’s that’s fucking awesome. If this was a live action show, it would have the same impact that Knight Rider and Dukes of Hazard had on the car genre. It would easily be as influential but instead, the younger generation got the first taste of anime.
Even though they had no idea at the time. They just thought the animation was a bit stunted and the voice acting was a bit wonky but no kid watching this at the time would’ve complained or even realized it wasn’t American. All they cared about was that rad ass car beating every son of a bitch on that track. And it did because when the odds are against him and there’s dangerous work, you bet your life Speed Racer will see it through.
82. Clone High (2002-2003)
From the brilliant wunderkinds that brought you 21 and 22 Jump Street, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie, Clone High was a one season comedy that instantly became a cult hit among fans. The show is about a high school that consists of nothing but the clones of famous historical figures like Cleopatra (now a cheerleader), Joan of Arc (now a goth), Gandhi (now a party animal), JFK (another party monster), and Abraham Lincoln (the main character who is in love with Joan).
The show was unfortunately cancelled over complaints of the depiction of Gandhi; MTV needed those India numbers apparently. If you’re a fan of Lord and Miller’s distinct brand of comedy or 80’s high school comedies (not only does Teen Wolf cameo in every episode, Michael J. Fox himself voices Gandhi’s liver), Clone High might be your new favorite show.
81. Jonny Quest (1964-1965)
In the days when Disney and Warner Bros controlled the airwaves with Mickey and Bugs Bunny cartoons, I was always the rebel who went with Hanna and his main bro Barbera. They taught me the real lessons of the street. You want to learn out to steal? Boom. Yogi Bear and Top Cat got you.
You want to learn how to solve mysteries like a private dick? Quadruple Wham. Josie and the Pussycats, Jabberjaw, Speed Buggy, Fangface, Scooby-Doo, and the funky phantom have so many episodes, it’s a legally accredited course on sleuthing. Wanna kick ass like a ninja? Pow Zap Kapow. They got Hong Kong Phooey and Frankenstein Jr to show your flabby ass the moves.
What I’m trying to say is, Hanna-Barbera taught me how to live on the streets after my mother and I got evicted because my pops went out for smokes one day and got lost I guess because I haven’t seen him since. Jonny Quest didn’t teach me any useful information (I’m not a boy adventurer and I sure as hell ain’t a super scientist) but it did help deal with my father’s absence. Where are you pappy? Your boy misses you. It’s been 20 years.
What are some of your favorite cartoons? Maybe they will show up later in the list!