As kids growing up in the ’80s I loved Saturday morning cartoons. There were so many good ones that they would keep me occupied for hours – Transformers, Mask, Thundercats, He-Man, Visionaries, Centurions, Starcom, Bravestar, Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles to name a few. As I got older my interest in these cartoons waned, there was an element of thinking that it wasn’t something teenagers did and they lost their appeal somewhat. In recent years I have regained my interest in cartoons because of three main reasons – Futurama was released which I instantly loved, I discovered other cartoons that interested me and finally, I stopped giving a damn about what anyone else thought!
With that in mind, here are the Top Ten Cartoon Series – Not Just For Kids!
Special mentions go to Legend of Korra, Young Justice, Ergo Proxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which narrowly missed out.
It’s nearly 35 years old at this point, the animation hasn’t aged especially well and it’s pretty much just a glorified toy advert but I love it for a variety of reasons. In characters like Optimus Prime, Grimlock, Megatron and Starscream you know what you’re getting for the most part but it’s nearly always fun.
Peter Cullen lends a real sense of gravitas to proceedings and when all said and done its giant robots beating the crap out of each other, what’s not to love?
Special mention must go to the movie released in the ’80s which killed off Optimus Prime (he was brought back later on, don’t panic!) which caused such an outcry that allegedly a similar plan to kill off a character in the GI Joe movie was changed.
9. Cowboy Bebop
This is the only anime that made the cut, I have generally tried to steer clear of the genre in this list. Cowboy Bebop is excellent though, each episode is generally standalone, yet they still find time to explore the main characters backstories and how this affects them in the present.
The characters are multi-faceted and very well realised, you can actually identify with their motivations and foibles which really makes you care about them in a way that is rare for any kind of series. Also, the music deserves a special mention, performed by a blues and jazz band called The Seatbelts – it really is exceptional.
8. Batman: The Animated Series
An absolutely outstanding series and for a lot of people, it is the definitive version of Batman. The series really benefits from Kevin Conroy’s phenomenal voice acting which has led to many views of him being the best Batman ever, which is not even taking into account Mark Hamill’s Joker who is astoundingly good.
In terms of the artistic style, it draws a lot of inspiration from the Tim Burton films but here Gotham feels like a character all of its own at times. The assorted characters feel very close to the comic counterparts. The show also led to the film The Mask of the Phantasm which delves into the dichotomy of Batman and Bruce Wayne in a very compelling way and the film is bloody excellent for it.
7. Samurai Jack
The tale of a Samurai who is thrown through time by an evil wizard just moments before he is about to destroy him. Emerging in a future where the evil wizard, Aku, has conquered the world in his absence and it bears little resemblance to the world he left behind.
Jack must go on an epic journey to find a way back home and to his own time. The art is very stylised however this in no way detracts from proceedings and the show does a great job of getting on Jack’s side throughout. There are some surprisingly touching moments such as Jack finding the village where he grew up but all that remains are some old and battered ruins.
6. Adventure Time
Lets state right off the bat that Adventure Time is utterly mental. It’s so hard to explain but the best overview I can give is that the show mostly follows Finn, who is potentially the last human, and his adopted brother Jake who just happens to be a talking dog, as they adventure through the world of Ooo.
There’s a lot more to it than that but it would take too long, it’s very funny, insanely weird and also strangely moving at times too. It does a good job of investing you in the main characters while also making potentially throwaway characters awesome, a case in point being Ricardio who is a talking heart voiced by George Takei.
Utterly bonkers but well worth checking out.
5. Voltron Legendary Defender
This Netflix show started in 2016 and was created by one of the guys who was responsible for Avatar. It’s a reimagining of the classic anime though I’m not overly familiar with the original to be sure on how faithful it is. What I do know is that there’s a distinct focus on the characters, their relationships and a genuine growth with the personas which is very enjoyable.
The final season of Voltron is due to air later this year which is obviously exciting and a little sad at the same time, either way it’ll be a must-watch.
Imagine James Bond if he were American, with alcoholism, narcissism and sociopathic behaviour then cranked up to 11 – now you have a basic idea of what Archer is like as a character.
Archer for the most part is an absolute arsehole to the other characters he works with, especially his ex-girlfriend Lana who has to deal with the full gamut of his douchebaggery. And yet in spite of this, he’s still an inherently likeable character, possibly due to the fact that he’s a bit of an idiot and hasn’t sussed the correlation between how big a dick he is to people and how bad things tend to go for him.
In terms of supporting characters you have Cyril – a put-upon accountant with a sex addiction, Pam – A blabbermouth HR lady who likes bare-knuckle fighting, Cheryl – a billionaire secretary who likes to be choked, Ray – a gay redneck with bionic legs, Mallory – Archer’s mother and the head of ISIS where everyone works and last but by no means least Krieger – a mad scientist in the true sense of the term who may also be a clone of Hitler. The whole show is essentially mental as evidenced in the 5th season where they go from being spies to being absolutely atrocious drug dealers, but it’s always very funny indeed.
Had this list been made a couple of years back then Futurama would have been number one and it’s entirely possible that it will be elevated back up there at some point. It’s the tale of Philip J Fry, a pizza delivery boy from the year 1999 who falls into a cryogenic freezer and is defrosted in the year 3000. The show then follows Fry as he becomes a space delivery boy and meets Leela, a one-eyed mutant, and Bender, an alcoholic criminal who is also a robot (his full name is Bender Bending Rodriguez).
Futurama worked because it was very good at working different tones. You get episodes where you have a view into the sense of wonder that Fry is feeling with his new surroundings, like when he gets to go to the moon and is more impressed by the moon itself rather than the theme park that now exists there. You get the sense of hope as he tries to woo Leela, which leads to some very touching episodes, and you also get full-on emotional kickings, we won’t go into it but The Luck of the Fryrish and Jurassic Bark are both heartbreaking for different reasons.
It says a lot for the writing that it effortlessly runs through various different emotional ranges. Futurama has been cancelled a number of times now but due to the love of the people that watch and make the show it’s been brought back a couple of times. Sadly, it looks like Futurama is gone for good now but you can never be 100% sure that it won’t be back again and when all is said and done what’s life without a bit of hope.
This show is also known as Avatar: The Last Airbender, not to be confused with the James Cameron film with the blue dudes. Avatar is about element benders – Firebenders, Waterbenders, Earthbenders and Aang who is the Last Airbender of the title, and also the Avatar, an entity that can master all the elements and is responsible for protecting the world. Aang fled from his duties and froze himself in ice. He is woken 100 years later by Katara and Sokka, a sister and brother from the southern water tribe, into a world that has been at war and finding that the way of life he knew has been extinguished by a fire lord who massacred the Airbenders.
The show follows Aang as he journeys to master water, earth and fire in order to eventually battle the fire lord and bring peace to the world. The show manages to have the perfect blend of adventure, humour and all-out fun – it gets seriously dark towards the end of the 2nd season. There is a lot of character development and you really get a sense that the Aang, Sokka and Katara grow up as the series progresses. The most development goes into Zuko, the banished heir to the fire lord, who goes from antagonist to ally in an arc that feels entirely natural.
The supporting characters are great, with a special mention to Uncle Iroh who manages to be both funny and at the heart of the more emotional moments regarding Zuko. There is also the nice surprise that some characters have shown up in the follow-up series Legend of Korra.
1. Gravity Falls
I first discovered Gravity Falls after a discussion with a friend, and after watching a short clip I was hooked. It only lasted for two seasons, but oh my word were they good.
The show follows Dipper and Mable as they go to stay with their Grunkle Stan for summer in Gravity Falls and discover all manner of adventures and weirdness. It’s genuinely funny! It’s a shame the show didn’t get a longer run but it’s creator, Alex Hirsch, had told the story he set out to do.
The plus side of this, of course, is that Gravity Falls it never outstayed it’s welcome and went out on a high. I hope there will be a new series at some point in the future but if it doesn’t happen then I’ve certainly got no issues re-watching what there already is.
Agree with my top ten, more than likely not. I would love you to tell us about all of the cartoon series we didn’t include in the comments below!