Cartoons hold a special place in most everyone’s heart. Whether you watched them as a child, were educated culturally by Disney or they’re at the center of some of your most cherished family memories, it’s really of no consequence; we can’t really imagine a scenario where people dislike cartoons! Make no mistake, we’re suckers for nostalgia, and that’s in part why we’ve gone and put together a list of classic cartoons that still hold up today.
If you’d like to keep your memories as is, avoid these at all cost. But rest assured, they’re still all very awesome and they’ll make you feel young again at heart.
10. Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
There’s a small sect of comic books nerds who will argue avidly that it’s this interpretation of the Batman universe that is the most faithful to the comic books. That’s right; not Tim Burton’s Batman universe, not Joel Schumacher’s universe, or even Christopher Nolan’s hyper-realistic take on Gotham…no, the fans prefer Batman: The Animated Series, which aired on Fox from 1992-1995. Starring Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman, along with celebrated guest stars like Mark Hamill (His Joker is still the favorite interpretation of many fans, even in light of Heath Ledger’s posthumous Oscar win for the same role), Ed Asner and Ron Perlman, Batman: The Animated Series won a slew of Emmys during its time on the air, and is consistently ranked amongst the greatest animated series of all time. Special praise is often directed at the series’ darker tone (in relation to most programming aimed at children) and exceptional artwork and animation.
9. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969-1975)
We had to reach way back into the past to unearth this much-loved cartoon series, which originally aired for six years on the CBS network. Produced by Hanna-Barbera and introducing the world to the beloved, semi-talking dog who helps a ragtag group of crime solvers suss out the guilty parties of innumerable nefarious plots, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! holds up surprisingly well upon repeat viewings. Sure it’s dated and formulaic, and yes all the characters fit neatly into their defined roles for almost every episode of the show; all that aside, there’s a charm to the program that simply works, and it’s this enduring capacity that has made it a staple of Saturday morning cartoons since its release over 40 years ago. Featuring Casey Kasem as the voice of Shaggy, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! is one of the more influential cartoon properties to find its way onto television, as it helped Hanna-Barbera programming proliferate after its release.
8. Gargoyles (1994-1997)
This critically acclaimed cartoon series ran on ABC for three years, from 1994-1997, and followed the adventures of a group of legendary gargoyles brought to life in modern-day New York City. Hailed a step forward for darker, more mature cartoons meant to appeal to a slightly older demographic, Gargoyles was a critical success that was canceled in an untimely fashion. Lauded for its art direction and its invocation of Scottish and Celtic lore along with Shakespearian undertones, Gargoyles holds up well despite some limitations in the animation style (the gargoyles themselves are somewhat dated upon a rewatch; however, the show’s background art and the color palette is still as striking as ever). If you watched it as a kid, odds are the nostalgia factor will be more than enough to let you cruise through a few enjoyable seasons.
7. Johnny Bravo (1997-2004)
Johnny Bravo Fun Fact #1: one of the writers on this Cartoon Network series, which is still aired on a regular basis and carries a hefty cultural legacy, would go on to become very famous in the world of animation. Seth Macfarlane, who would later create the beloved cartoon series Family Guy and American Dad, got his start on Johnny Bravo, the hilarious and slyly mature cartoon which followed the misadventures of its title character, an egotistical goon whose handsomeness could not be handled in the best of situations. Beyond launching the careers of several prominent cartoonists, Johnny Bravo gathered a cult following due to its ability to tap into multiple audiences; children found the buffoonish Bravo hilarious in his stupidity and vanity, while teens and adults were able to pick up on the sneaky adult humor often hidden in the show’s jokes.
6. Beast Wars: Transformers (1996-1999)
The “sequel” to the Generation 1 Transformers series that was immeasurably popular in the 1980s (more on that series later), Beast Wars: Transformers (broadcast as Beasties: Transformers in Canada) was a critically acclaimed computer-generated cartoon that ran from 1996-1999 on YTV. Produced by Mainframe Entertainment, the show was a huge step forward in the employment of computer-generated characters, and going back and watching the imagery progress from the first season to the third is a really enjoyable process. The show, which was at first greeted with skepticism but eventually grew into an accepted canon in the Transformers Universe, took place in an alternate future where Autobots and Decepticons had crash-landed on a distant planet and required organic forms (like a gorilla cheetah) in order to traverse the dangerous terrain.
5. Pokemon! (1998-2000)
Similar to The Transformers, we feel it’s important to specify just which cartoon series we’re referring to when speaking of Pokemon; while the anime is still active today, we’re speaking to the show’s original run from 1998-2000, which featured Ash Ketchum and his quest to catch ’em all (all in this instance being the original 151 Pokemon, none of the later generations). The series, which captivated an entire generation and brought Pokemon and all their requisite merchandise from Japan to a Western audience, is one of the more enjoyable nostalgic experiences you can run through these days, as it’s still as lovable and well-intentioned as it always was. Including a wildly successful feature film, Pokemon The Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back, this first run follows Ashe, Brock, and Misty as they travel through the Kanto region of the Pokemon world, gathering badges and encountering all sorts of trainers and wild Pokemon.
4. Hey Arnold! (1996-2004)
The flagship show of Nickelodeon during its heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Hey Arnold! was created by Craig Bartlett and followed the adventures of Arnold, a fourth grade student living in an inner-city boarding house with his grandparents in the fictional town of Hillwood (which itself was an amalgamation of several large cities like Seattle, New York and Portland). The show, which is often praised for its eccentric and lovable characters, is also lauded for its ability to tackle issues that affected children all over the world; whether it was trouble fitting in, difficulties in school or a rift between friends, Hey Arnold! offered authentic experiences for its target audience, a fact which has ensured its enduring legacy in popular culture. The show’s long television tenure, along with the continued dedication of its fan base, speak to its quality as a program.
3. The Tick (1994-1996)
A cult classic which aired on Fox from 1994-1996, The Tick was created by Ben Englund and was originally conceived as a comic book character, a satirical riff on superheroes whose popularity grew exponentially when the series was adapted for television by Englund and Richard Liebmann-Smith. Featuring smart humor and a whimsical tone that appealed to both children and adults alike, The Tick has taken up a place in the annals of pop culture history as one of those superhero parodies that actually plays quite well. The animated series, which is far superior to the live-action adaptation starring Patrick Warburton, has spent time in syndication on both Comedy Central and Toon Disney, helping to continue the show’s popularity with both the young and the old.
2. Dragon Ball Z (1998-2003)
Ahhh, Dragon Ball Z. If we could get back the hours we’ve spent watching you, we might be in a very different place in our lives. That said, there isn’t a single regret present in our brains when we think back to the lazy Saturday mornings spent investing time in Goku and his team of ragtag fighters who engage in various quests to save the universe from evildoers; in fact, it was the impressive world building and the surprisingly deep philosophy incorporated into the show which helped many a young viewer develop active imaginations of their own, and when you combine those impressive elements with the show’s incredible animation and action sequences, it’s easy to see why Dragon Ball Z is so high on these lists. A continuation of the successful Dragon Ball series, which followed Goku’s adventures as a child, Dragon Ball Z follows Goku as an adult.
1. The Transformers (1984-1987)
To clarify, when speaking of The Transformers animated series, we’re speaking of the original set of seasons which ran for four seasons (from 1984-1987) and included the bridging feature film The Transformers: The Movie (1986). This Generation 1 run (as it’s now known) brought this Japanese series to the forefront of popular culture and created a cultural legacy that is still strongly felt in the contemporary age, what with the extremely profitable live-action series dominating cinemas since their release in 2007. The cartoon series, which followed several human protagonists caught in a war between the righteous Autobots and the evil Decepticons, was critically lauded for its production value and entertainment factor. What’s more engaging than giant robots going toe to toe (nothing, right Michael Bay?).