The 90s will be remembered for a few things: Grunge, Michael Jordan, Bill Clinton’s extramarital hullabaloo, and perhaps the greatest generation of TV cartoons ever. Just like the 2000s had the emergence of great television dramas on HBO, Showtime, and AMC, the 1990s had the persistent excellence of Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and the Disney Channel. If this seems like an exaggeration, then you probably didn’t watch the shows. Hand-drawn animation was still the norm, and characterization took precedence over background and scenery. But even though the animation was great, these cartoons had great stories. You can have a bad TV show with good animation, but you can’t have a good TV show with uninteresting characters and narrative. This list is devoted to cartoons made specifically for kids, so no Dr. Katz, Daria, or The Simpsons. Also, this list is about cartoons that started in the 1990s, if they continued on into the 21st Century, that’s okay, as you can’t fault a series for its longevity. Some honorable mentions that just missed the cut: Courage the Cowardly Dog, Ren and Stimpy, Catdog, Cow and Chicken, and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. Every show that is on this list deserves to be remembered for its iconic characters, humor, and real emotional impact. So without further ado, here we go…
Number 10. – Garfield and Friends
This has got to be the best comic strip to television show of all time since Peanuts! It’s perfectly harmless and comforting to watch one of my favorite strips with new exclusive characters from Orchard’s Farm. This is one of those cartoons that has three shorts into one episode but it’s so worth watching it whenever it’s on television. I can’t imagine anyone never of heard of Garfield, but I’ won’t go too long with this show other than having our beloved cast to be in some of the funniest sitcom-style adventures. Those who only know Garfield as “that comic everyone likes to make fun of” might be surprised to hear how popular this series was and still is. In large part this is because of Lorenzo Music’s dead-on performance as Garfield; anyone who saw this cartoon as a kid will still hear his voice in their head if they read one of the comic strips. Also influencing things is the fact that Jim Davis had little to do with the series, besides putting his name on it (much like Steven Spielberg’s involvement with the 1990s Warner Bros. Animation revival); veteran TV and comics writer Mark Evanier was the showrunner, wrote most of the episodes and was responsible for a lot of the edgier humor.
Number 9. – Animaniacs
Never had I ever seen an original cartoon that somehow captured the style and atmosphere of Looney Tunes without using any of the characters in this very show! Amazingly well-written, unbelievably funny for all ages, able to get away with possibly more than any other kid’s show, Animaniacs redefined Warner Bros. for nearly a decade. The voice talent is wonderful. Jess, Tress, Frank Welker, Bernadette Peters and so many others helped breathe life into some of the funniest characters on television. The animation wanes over the course of five years, but the humor never gets old. The songs are some of the cleverest music ever, period. From “Yakko’s World” to “Wakko’s America” to “The Presidents” to the iconic theme song, Richard Stone’s music team made learning fun for so many children, which is why they are so fondly remembered today. (Paulsen still has “Yakko’s World” memorized, and sings it at all of his public appearances.) For five years, and now thanks to DV Ds and the Net, far longer, Animaniacs will always be remembered as a show that truly broke ground….mostly from the Warners jumping on it and going “Boingy! Boingy!”
Number 8. – The Powerpuff Girls
Sugar, Spice, and everything Nice these are the ingredients used to create the perfect little girls, but Professor Utonium added a nice dose of Chemical X and he got the Powerpuff Girls. Craig McCracken developed a classic, both boys (me included) and girls would tune in to the show not just for their favorite girls, but also for their favorite villains. Whether it was the fast talking Mojo Jojo, the Rowdyruff Boys or even the creepy ass Him, the Powerpuff Girls was never short on entertaining characters. I learned recently that The Powerpuff Girls is the only Cartoon Network show (so far) to have had its own theatrical release film and that just goes to show how passionate and strong its fanbase is. Good news that the Powerpuff Girls remake is made and will be airing some time in the future.
Number 7. – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
This is the show that made me the person that I am today! Though this franchise has been in everyone’s childhoods, it’s not as good as most fans claim it to be. A season was made every year, between 1987-1996. The number of episodes in each season varied drastically. From 5 episodes in one year, to 39 episodes in another. So, there was real hard work for the makers to get episodes finished in time, plus there was many different writers who undertook the writing for 1 whole episode. So not every episode was written by the same writer, even if 1 of them wrote the best episodes and some were weaker. To thank though, for the cartoon ever to have been made in the first place. Thank Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the creative minds behind both the comics and cartoon. The animation was never really the strongest attribute of the cartoon, I admit. There was some really bad mistakes or bloopers in the cartoon like unexplained voice-changing, voice swapping (happenend too much), colours on clothes changing etc. It wasn’t exactly the best animation of that era. If this list was the best cartoons of the 1980s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would have been higher on the list because the Turtles craze started to decline in the 1990s leaving room for other franchises like Pokemon to take its spot. Turtles in the 90’s had some of the goofiest episodes that made this show aged terribly (Easter Bunny is one of them) that made the 2003 more of preferable experience. The series picked itself back up from its useless and outdated comedy in favor for a more serious direction in the mid 90’s that’s called “The Red Sky” episodes from seasons 8-10. It’s pretty awkward to not have the show without Shredder, Craing, Bebop and Rocksteady in favor for Lord Dregg, but this was where shit got real! They even went as far as to wonder what life would be like without the mutation. Though the climax was a bit of a dud, at least towards the end of the show, it left us with a big bang! The Turtles has always been a crucial part of Generation Y’s childhood and we still can never forget how much they all meant to us!
Number 6. – Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic SatAM)
Whatever you do, don’t ever waste your precious time with The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon and use them on this Sonic The Hedgehog, or Sonic SatAM, cartoon instead. Adventures of Sonic had barely any plot, this one had a big story about subtle environmentalism and complex relationships with one character to another. I love this cartoon for giving us a video game character into a sci-fi setting with many of his friend, that never made it into the video games, to overthrow the evil Robotnick & his advisor Snively that already has taken over the world and “The Roboticized” innocent bystanders into his servant robots. There are so many of these characters that I grew so much love for like Sally Acorn, Rotor, Bunnie Rabot, Antoine, and many more that should have made it to the game series because they’re so much better than any cast in the video game series. Almost every battle against Robotnick always had consequences, suspense, and drama that you don’t get in children’s television. My blood always pumps up whenever I hear the show’s iconic opening that makes it a show like no other. The first season, which consisted of thirteen episodes, was a rather episodic affair, with not much continuity save for the constant battle to free Mobius. Even so, the series proved that it could be strong in drama, emotion, and moments that would make us care about the characters. For example, one episode had Sonic discover his Uncle Chuck, one of the roboticized Mobians, and used a power ring to restore his free will. Unfortunately, the effect did not last long, and following a mission in Robotropolis (Robotnik’s home city), the two of them had to part ways as Uncle Chuck reverted back to being under Robotnik’s control. Near the end of the episode, Sonic actually cried over losing his uncle again. It is moments like these that made the show more than just another series made to cash in on a licensed property. Rather, it contained powerful, heartfelt moments that would rival even those of animated films like Bambi or The Lion King. And the series continues to get better in the second season where they were able to go to another dimension called the “Void,” making Uncle Chuck a great supporting role, and even some of the best climatic endings that had Sonic and Sally confess their love for each other. Though the series left us in a huge cliffhanger, it’s a damn shame that so many others didn’t give this show a chance to give enough ratings for it to have a third season. The director of the show said that the third season would have Tails to be a prime character, a love triangle between Sonic and Sally, and so many missed opportunities that never made it on television but instead was continued in Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comic series. Fourteen years after its cancellation, Sonic SatAM continues to be loved by Sonic fans everywhere. The old episodes have been released on DVD and posted online so that they can be enjoyed for many years to come. Meanwhile, there have been petitions for a third season, and even some story ideas for that season have surfaced on the Internet. Fans still love the story lines, animation, and characters, all of which are unsurpassed by any Sonic cartoon series made before or since. It is a shame that Saturday Morning cartoons have taken a nosedive in quality since then, with the majority of them being educational or imported from Japan. More shows like Sonic SatAM should be made, and the series itself could use a comeback of some sort. As long as the original episodes are available for viewing, old fans can relive all the excitement and suspense, while new fans can view an example of what a great animated series should be.
Number 5. – Batman: The Animated Series
This very cartoon earns all the praise for it’s effort, complexity, and well-written stories that other children’s programming has never offered before. This show is representation of the Batman universe, that it changed everyone elses interpretation of it since then. For example. Mr. Freeze was up until this series a joke villain – it was the episode “Heart of Ice” that gave Mr. Freeze back story and made Victor Freeze one of the first villains in the series to have more motivation than just another psychopath out to cause mayhem for money. Since this animated series, Victor Freeze and his tragic story of a lost wife and accident that has relegated him a cold suit has become cannon. Lastly, the animation style of this show was phenomenal. It’s easy to see that they took inspiration from the Tim Burton movies (very art deco in style), but incredibly dark and noir. A big change that this series took in their art direction was instead of starting with white paper, the animators used black paper and then had to draw in all the light, vs drawing in some shadows. The world of Gotham City and Bruce Wayne really is one of darkness and shadows. Not only that, but we were so many opportunities that were nailed with all of our favorite characters in Gotham City like Joker, Mr. Freeze, Riddler, Pinguin, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and many more that displayed perfect voice acting and great episodes that forever changed the way we look at storytelling. This still is my favorite incarnation of Batman and since then, everything after this cartoon regarding to Batman could never be as good as this very phenomenal series! Every episode has a great variety of tone, humor, drama, and emotion that still sticks with us many years after the series was over. Sure, season 4 is a dud when the animation quality decreased to be similar to the Superman: Animated series that was running at the same time, however the first three seasons will always be an iconic part of animation history!
Number 4. – The Simpsons
No room for argument, so don’t even try. Twenty-three years down the line and the writing is sharp, the jokes are fresh, the themes are challenging and, well, everything having to do with artistic expression is riding higher than any other show on TV. This is the very cartoon that not only made adult animation a popular television programming, but it also changed our society! Everyone who seen the show remembers the episodes, take not of each trivia, and even the cameos and references that forever imbedded in our memories! Who knew that a cartoon about a dysfunctional family can had some of the wildest, most creative, and funniest adventures that any character can get. Everyone is always anticipated for the couch gag in the opening, the plots that somehow changes in the course of the episodes, the once-a-year special “Treehouse of Horrors,” the catchphrases, see favorite characters & the recurring gags, and so many more that makes us take the show very seriously and at the same time have the best laughs of our lives! For those who still believes that the Simpsons lost their magic, go ahead and rematch the entire series and see why The Simpsons has such a reputation! By almost any measurement, The Simpsons is the most influential television comedy ever created.
Number 3. – Reboot
This is actually the very first animated show that was entirely CGI beating Pixar by 3 years before Toy Story. Reboot is simply the most original cartoon that I’ve ever laid my eyes on and even though their graphics didn’t age as well, I’m still blown away with the idea of life and society within a computer program where data and viruses face each other in many battles. Thanks to the Canadian studio Mainframe Entertainment that given us later cartoons like Transformers: Beast Wars, Reboot delivered some of the most epic and fascinating adventures that cartoons has ever had. Bob is the guardian of Mainframe. (Guardian is Rebootian for “cop”, more or less.) Comes from the Super Computer (back in 1990 so it probably had as much power as your Mp3 player). Bob would have been deleted long ago if it wasn’t for Glitch, a tool that’s a cross between a swiss army knife and an iPhone. He is a clumsy, laid back teenager with the hots for Dot Matrix, who she along with her brother Enzo help maintain Mainframe from being destroyed from Megabyte. The show is filled with so many suspense, amazing 90’s computer animation, and many references whenever they play against “the user” in whatever video game they’re playing. The first two seasons is all expositions and many laughs in the world of Mainframe, showing how does the computer work and the many aspects of this world as a tiny data. There was even a part where going on the internet was some of most fascinating adventures that the show has ever had. Towards season 3, it makes a complete 180 where the storylines become series and characters developed into more serious characters than they ever were before! Never could I ever expect to see a kids program that has blew off the water and created something memorable, despite how forgotten the show has become over the years. Though the show has given us a cliff-hanger Season 4 (also known as the movies) fans everywhere are still craving for more Reboot! From Seasons 1 – 3 (just skip 4) it was some of the most epic and satisfying animated experiences that makes me wonder why aren’t there more cartoons could do any better than this show? A lot has changed since the finale of Season 4 and Mainframe Entertainment has now became Rainmaker Entertainment and we’re all hoping that we can have one more epic finale for this innovative show!
Number 2. – X-Men
This show, along with Batman: The Animated Series, the made comic books to animated series to be possible in the 1990s. In my personal opinion, this show was a much better show because it was consistent from beginning to the very end of the show and did a much more successful job in representing the comic book medium. The art style is like the 1980’s comic book series and many of the story arcs and episodes were borrowed heavily from the comic book series. Rather than just praising how great the show did in promoting the comics it was based on, the whole show has EVERYTHING! Mutants, dinosaurs, time traveling, demons, giant robots, superheroes and villains, political statements, romance, drama, humor, puns… EVERYTHING! This was some of the most exciting television programming to watch as a kid because of its level of intensity, well written storytelling, and incredibly deep characters from both the heroes and villains. The X-Men cartoon does a great job for letting the audience see what each of these characters struggles in becoming a mutant that society fears. It’s political statements is reminiscent to the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s the teaches audiences of all age about evil of discrimination. At the same time, we get a chance to see some of the most badass adventures with the greatest superhero team of all time! It certainly took a while for action cartoons throughout the 1980’s to have deep characters and tell wonderful stories, but X-Men succeeded on what other ’80s action cartoons failed to do. Also, how can you argue with the best cast of characters ever seen in television? Each and every one of them has a backstory and unique character traits that the show carefully shows us what they were all about with the many episodes that they were able to televise. In a matter of fact, this is the cartoon that even made the live-action X-Men movie possible, and if we didn’t have that either we wouldn’t have so many Superhero movies that we now have today. Without them, these comic book franchises would still remain in comic books. But for some reason, X-Men still holds up better than most Comic book movies and television series. The moment you’re listening to that epic theme song, you’re totally grasped into tuning into the show and never changing the channel until the episode is over. It’s a show that does everything imaginable and executes them so intelligently. Never again has the X-Men franchise (excluding the comic books) has ever been as memorable or as iconic as X-Men. It is the finest comic book cartoon show ever made and it’s one of the greatest of the 1990s cartoons.
Number 1. – King of the Hill
I always knew that King of the Hill is miles better than Mike Judge’s other show, Beevis and Butthead, and for many reasons! This underrated animated sitcom has told stories that incorporate hot button issues that takes mature themes and somehow make subtle humor out of this redneck town of Arlan. Such themes like going through puberty, alcoholism, family issues, religion, friendship issues, temptation, and many more that many adult cartoons has perhaps tackled, but not as intelligently and wildly as King of the Hill executed. Not everyone will “get” King of the Hill because it straddles the fence between good clean livin’ and hedonism in a very interesting way. Troubles are hashed out by the community in a comic manner, though it’s sometimes difficult to discern whether the moralistic views are real “American values” or a parody of them. This is where the conflict arises and the comedy comes through. Once you get the comedy of King of the Hill, all of their running gags and creative humor becomes a laugh riot and all the episodes that you though wasn’t funny at first, clicks with you. Keep in mind, however, that some mature topics might offend sensitive viewers (especially the period episode), others might not appreciate the way these topics are clumsily handled, since King of the Hill can hit pretty close to home. Many reasons why this cartoon is so great, and at times better than the Simpsons, is that they were able to make their characters realistic in proportions, backgrounds, and everything else that has been animated. People can argue all they want about this should have been live-action instead of animated, but there are a lot of episodes where there’s no way that they could make it live action (like Bill driving his tank). This show is so funny to me that any familiar scene or gag become iconic to me, like Hank, Bill, Dale, and Boomhaur drinking in the ally. I fell in love with all the characters, and they all give me a different sense of humor. It is definitely the most human cartoon ever created and there are more than enough stuff seen from this episode that made me relate to these southerners and still laugh at redneck humor time and time again! The most relatable aspects of the show for me is when Bobby Hill was growing up because I too faced the many issues of becoming a man at that age. All of these character traits that has been established in this series has always been comforting to watch. Few other shows would dare touch on topics like this and it always feels so well written to see how intuitive and creative they can take any matter into their own hands. And here I am still watching King of the Hill again and again, laughing forever with how honestly funny the show really is!