My 6 Favorite Cartoons of All Time (This Week)
I have watched cartoons for my entire life. As a child in the 1980s, I was the perfect target for the glut of toy commercial cartoons that filled the airwaves (and now our movie screens). The ’90s saw not only the rise of Fox Kids and after school cartoons, but also the coming of The Simpsons and prime time animated entertainment. I sat through Nicktoons, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, and now I’m basking in a golden age of smart, intelligent and often amazing cartoons like BoJack Horseman and Steven Universe.
So through all these long years, which ones are my all-time favorites?
By popular demand, I’ve finally sat down and figured out my six favorite cartoon shows of all time — at least for this week. This list is subject to change on a whim, but I think it’s pretty rooted in solid cartoon enjoyment. I had to dig deep on this one, and it pained me to cast some of my favorites into the ‘Honorable Mentions’ at the bottom. But these six are truly some of the greats.
For the sake of my sanity and memory, we’re sticking to television cartoon shows. There are plenty of animated movies and web cartoons that are genius, but we’ll save those for another day, perhaps. And please feel free to share your own favorites in the comments below!
6. Sealab 2021
I was the exact right age to have my brain twisted by Adult Swim when it arrived at Cartoon Network in the early 2000s. This was the graduation moment. Not only was I leaving high school and going on to college, but my intake of cartoons was transforming as well. Sealab 2021 was the best, or at least my favorite, of the Adult Swim cartoons. Weirdness was the name of the game, but it was weirdness grounded in the mundane reality of co-workers having dumb conversations — at the bottom of the sea.
That was the key to those early Adult Swim cartoons: weird but ordinary conversations. These guys weren’t doing pratfalls to make you laugh, they were masters of witty, weird dialogue that still tickles the funny bone. The animation was pretty clunky, but the writing was snappy and hilarious, putting these wonderfully voice-acted characters into crazy cartoon situations, then having them mostly just talk about it.
Come to think of it, Sealab 2021 might be one of the defining moments of my sense of humor.
5. South Park
I was obsessed with South Park with it first debuted, and largely because I wasn’t allowed to watch it. The show was simply on past my bedtime, so I found myself reading magazine articles about the series’ sudden booming popularity. And then finally, my dad was kind enough to stay up and tape an episode (the one where the boys run from Death while Stan’s grandfather tries to kill himself), and I was hooked for life. I haven’t missed a season, and continue to watch South Park to this day. It’s still an amazing show, unlike some others on this list.
South Park truly achieved greatness when it morphed from a scatalogical shock show into a biting and intelligent satire. Trey Parker and Matt Stone still write every episode, and their gift for cutting to the heart of any issue is still revered to this day. Who among us is chomping at the bit to see what they do with Hillary and Trump? And who hasn’t referred to this election as choosing between a douche and a turd sandwich?
South Park is larger than life, still producing genius episodes as it heads towards its 20th season (debuting tonight!). And it’s even got another hit video game due out later this year! Love this show.
4. Steven Universe
The most recent show on this list is also one that came under the most scrutiny. Should I celebrate Steven Universe when modern shows like BoJack Horseman and Adventure Time are just as brilliant? I am a huge BoJack fan. But Steven Universe holds this spot for one very important reason: I don’t think I’ve ever teared up at something more often than watching Steven Universe. And it’s not just one scene or one moment; this show brings me to tears all the freakin’ time! The wonderful mix of characters, history, drama and real, personal emotion is unlike anything else I’ve ever watched. Everyone seems to get their own powerful storyline, and when the show really digs in deep, nothing else comes close.
To say nothing of the groundbreaking LGBT themes, which are very important to me. Though it is to the creative team’s credit that these themes are just part of the whole package.
Steve Universe has one of the best mythologies in cartoons, and we barely even know half of it so far. So good is Rebecca Sugar and her team at drawing out the reveals that every new lesson is astounding and worth the wait. But beyond that, the show is just plain fun! Steven is a great kid, and the Crystal Gems are wickedly entertaining. And best of all, the characters are allowed to grow, change and learn from their adventures. Watching Connie grow into a hero has been a blast, and few things are more powerful than watching Steven mature as he finally starts to learn the true depths of the Gems.
Though now is a good place to finally point out how I really, really dislike the decision that Steven doesn’t age at a normal speed, and he’s essentially stuck in a little kid body. I haven’t wanted to watch a young hero grow up this much since Ultimate Peter Parker. It will be a crime against humanity if we never get to see teenage Steven and Connie battling the evil gems of Homeworld.
3. Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar: The Last Airbender is probably the greatest and grandest cartoon ever made. Heck, it’s probably one of the greatest and grandest stories ever told. That it’s a cartoon just means it got to go really big using animation instead of live actors and crappy CGI. This is a true vision of a show. It’s a full, all-encompassing story about characters and a world that grow and change in meaningful ways, while exploring every corner of a new fantasy world and filling it magic and amazingness. Taken as a whole, Avatar: The Last Airbender is a masterpiece of the highest order.
The story starts out simple enough, with your typical adventure of a couple of kids and a bit of magic. But Avatar grows into something truly spectacular. The depth, breadth and scope of Avatar are unlike any other cartoon you’re ever likely to see, and as large as, if not larger, than any other fictional world. Everything is so well-thought out, so full of life and creativity, so full of wit, intelligence and sorrow. That the story and characters are just as good as the world, that they all live up to the potential, makes this show something truly special, and truly adventurous.
2. The Simpsons
The thing you’ve got to know about The Simpsons is that it really was that damn good. I’ve been a fan of The Simpsons since the very beginning. I can still remember my family sitting down to watch The Simpsons Christmas Special way back in the day, and then making sure it was appointment viewing every Thursday or Sunday night. I loved the show even back then, despite being a kid who didn’t know anything. But recently, I rewatched all of the old episodes alongside the creator commentary, and I was blown away by just how damn good the jokes, characters and stories were.
I have seen very few new episodes, and those that I have weren’t all that great. But they don’t need to be. The Simpsons is a worldwide institution, and it achieved that status by being the best, smartest and funniest show on television. There are dozens of episodes that are all-time classics. There are jokes and lines and references that will be with us for years to come. If had a better memory, I would be dropping Simpsons references all the time.
Despite latter day crumminess, The Simpsons is a perfectly cromulent show that embiggens all who watch the golden years.
It may not be as good as The Simpsons or Avatar: The Last Airbender, but the X-Men animated series from the 90s is my favorite cartoon show of all time. Not only was it a great show at the time, but it helped to blossom my love of comic books. I knew some, but not everything, about the X-Men when I started watching (thanks to my dad’s old comics and my love of Marvel trading cards), so it was a nice mix of meeting a lot of new characters while also geeking out at the multitude of cameos and guest appearance. The Iceman/Multiple Man episode is a clear favorite of mine.
I watched all of the superhero cartoons of the 90s, and something about X-Men just makes it stand out. Obviously it’s not as well-made as Batman: The Animated Series, and it’s not as deep or impressive or as polished as Justice League Unlimited, but it had heart, and its intentions were in the right place. It was a big, wonderful dose of X-Men, with very few filters or anything to stand in the way. It was fun X-Men action at an age where I was ready to dive into something deep and amazing.
The animated X-Men series in the 90s wasn’t the best of the superhero cartoons of the era, but it was the most important to me, and that’s what matters.
Honorable Mentions: Adventure Time, BoJack Horseman, The Venture Bros., Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (both the 1980s and the 2010s versions), Real Ghostbusters, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Muppet Babies, Ducktales, Chip N’Dale Rescue Rangers, Sonic the Hedgehog, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Rocko’s Modern Life, Batman Animated Series, Gargoyles, Spider-Man, Tiny Toon Adventures, Rick and Morty, Daria, Futurama, Gravity Falls, Kim Possible, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and probably many, many more.
Posted on September 14, 2016, in Cartoons, Lists of Six!, Television, X-Men and tagged Adult Swim, Avatar the Last Airbender, Cartoon Network, Sealab 2021, South Park, Steven Universe, The Simpsons. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.