Animation is great medium for adapting superhero comics. It lets writers clear up muddled bits of comic continuity and adapt famous comic arcs into much more clear and cohesive stories. Many “Justice League” fans found a love of the team through the beloved animated Series, same goes for the many “X-Men” cartoons. One could even go as far as saying that a good chunk of modern comics fans got into comic books because of cartoons.
Animation also serves as a great place for superhero experimentation, both with storytelling — be it adaptation or original ideas — and with character design. The latter is something that’s somewhat rare in cartoons, as most cartoon adaptations use the comic versions of superheroes’ costumes, making only slight changes. That being said, there are a few cartoons that managed to get creative with their superhero costume/character designs, and CBR is counting them down. Here are the 15 most unique superhero designs in cartoons.
15. KID FLASH – “YOUNG JUSTICE”
Let’s start off with a simple, but effective design. Kid Flash wears a pretty comics-accurate costume in the first episode (with added goggles) of “Young Justice,” but by the second episode he’s moved on to a costume that fans of the show know and love. Both versions of the costume keep the classic Kid Flash look — a yellow top and boots, red gloves and pants, and an open-topped mask to show off Wally’s red hair.
His tactical suit gives his original quite an upgrade. The “Young Justice” costume features shoulder-guards, protective padding all down the legs and some and an overall “activewear” look to it — given to him for the purpose of defending him against collisions and impacts. Additionally, Wally’s boots appear more like running shoes and his gloves feature cupboards for storing power bars to fuel his super-speedy metabolism. Plus, like other members of “the team,” Kid Flash’s costume has a “stealth” option that helps the sidekicks on there black ops missions. The details of this costume not only give Wally a much need equipment upgrade, but they also help to make his spandex look less “ketchup-and-mustard-y” and more logically tactical.
14. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2012)
The Turtles have gone through a lot of different interpretations over the years, in both comics and animation. The 2012 adaptation, however, features some of the most creative “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” designs in recent history. In the original comics, the first animated series and even in the 2003 series, the Turtles were mostly indistinguishable, save for their mask colors and/or weapons of choice. The 2012 series took a more modern animation approach to the TMNT.
First off, The Turtles look like turtles, not like buff green men in shells, which is how it should be. Second, each character has, well, character to them; Donatello is tall and lanky with a tooth gap that fits his nerd-like personality. Michelangelo has a child-like appearance, with a rounded face and freckles while rocking the classic series mask. Raphael is short and bulky and has a crack in his shell that fits his hot-headedness. Lastly, Leonardo’s look is simple, almost seeming to have all the traits of his brothers, which is apropos to his leader status. Along with their personalized masks and padding, these Turtle designs help each brother stand out and show off their personalities.
13. ROBIN – “YOUNG JUSTICE”
Yes, another “Young Justice” entry, but can you blame us? The show incorporated a lot of unique character designs, especially with its take on the boy wonder. “Young Justice” featured an actual kid Robin. Sure he’s 13, but he looks and acts like a kid, moving away from the popular late-teen Robin depiction. His youth is partly what makes this design work so well.
Theres a lot to analyze with this version of Robin, so let’s start from the ground up. Robin’s shoes are pretty damn cool, looking like athletic wear versions of “Ninja socks.” His signature yellow utility belt looks functional, like it can actually hold his various birdarangs and other gadgets. The red shirt is reminiscent of the classic Robin aesthetic with the simple “R” logo, yellow straps, and different colored sleeves. His high collard cape, yellow on the inside and black on the outside, works to make him iconic and stealthy. The bulky gloves feature hacking equipment and a projected screen for GPS and other technological needs. Lastly, his boyish haircut and simple domino mask complete the whole ensemble, making the “Young Justice” Robin a truly unique character design.
12. BEAST BOY – TEEN TITANS
Before being reworked as a short-form comedy, “Teen Titans” was an action show, and a hit one at that. The show bolstered anime-influenced humor and designs, the latter of which were mostly done by character designer Derrick J. Wyatt. Though it takes influence from his many comic book costumes, Beast Boy’s “Teen Titans” series costume has a lot of flair and style to it.
In most of his comic book iterations, Beast Boy wore a remnant of his Doom Patrol days, some of them red, some of them purple. This trend continues as the “Teen Titans” costume is a personalized version of the costumes worn by Doom Patrol featured in the series. Beast Boy’s design is clean and doesn’t do more than it needs to. It looks maneuverable, super heroic, and nods to a lot of the classic looks. The coolest part of his design comes from the depiction of his fang and pointed ears, which are more pronounced and really sell him as a “beast,” more than just a normal person with green skin. The smartest part of BB’s design though has has to be the paw-prints that cover the bottom of his shoes. Subtle and brilliant.
11. CYCLOPS – “X-MEN: EVOLUTION”
“X-Men: Evolution” is a great example of adapting comic books into animation. Over the years, “X-Men” comics have featured countless mutants and students of the X-academy. The core of X-Men, however, always comes back to something similar to the original 5: teenage mutants trying to survive puberty and superpowers. “X-Men: Evolution” adapted this concept by bringing fan-favorite X-Men back to their teenage years.
Long-time X-Men leader Cyclops got a serious costume makeover for the show. His visor, hair, and color scheme — though blue and yellow are the whole team’s colors — remained the same, but the overall look was something entirely new. Cyclops’ costume is simple, with a giant “X” around his torso, short gloves, and armored boots. The simplicity is what makes this costume unique; the costume screams “X-Men,” which is what the leader of the X-Men needs, an iconic costume that represents their team and their cause.
10. DANNY PHANTOM
Another costume that’s simple, but works well, is the one belonging to “Danny Phantom”. An original creation by Butch Hartman, the ghost boy’s powers and origin revolve around ghosts. Danny can — as the theme song goes — walk through walls, disappear and fly. Danny’s costume doesn’t exactly shove the ghost motif down our throats with symbols and the like, but it still gives the teenage superhero a ghostly appearance.
Character design is about more than just the costume. The shape of the character’s body, the color choices and even their hair can effect how we perceive a character and Danny’s design takes all this into consideration. The story of his costume is that it was simply the jumpsuit that Danny was wearing when he activated his parents ghost portal and got his powers. The suit’s colors were inverted during the accident and he’s been rocking the jumpsuit ever since. The stark-white against pitch-black suit mimics the effect of a ghost in the night, and his white hair and glowing green eyes continue that idea. Even the white glow effect that Danny is given when in ghost form adds a nice touch to his ghostly theme.
9. BATMAN BEYOND
A definitive product of the late ’90s/early ’00s, “Batman Beyond” continued the story of “Batman: The Animated Series” by fast-forwarding to 2039, where a new, younger Batman — Terry McGinnis — has taken over for the aging Bruce Wayne. Terry uses a Batsuit that is much higher-tech than the cape and cowl seen in “BTAS.”
The “Beyond” bat-costume created a contemporary suit that completely covers Terry. The black suit covers every inch including his mouth — with a neat “white mouth” effect taking over when Terry talks — and keeps the classic white eyes, pointed ears and spikes on the forearms. The insignia is changed up, skipping yellow or black in favor of a bright red bat-symbol that matches the under-arm wings. The wings are used to stabilize the jet-boots of the costume, one of the suit’s many high-tech features. On top of flight, the suit gives Terry enhanced strength, stealth-mode, spy equipment, and an artillery of auto-shooting batarangs.
8. POWERMAN – “ULTIMATE SPIDERMAN”
Marvel’s “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoon might elicit mixed reactions amongst Spider-Man and cartoon fans, but it’s hard to deny it’s design work. The main cast of characters in “Ultimate Spider-Man” are Spider-Man himself, Iron-Fist, Nova, White Tiger, and Luke Cage, A.K.A Powerman. All but Luke’s costume designs are highly derivative of their comic book counterparts and don’t change much.
Luke Cage, on the other hand, gets a wholly original costume. And not just a “street clothes” costume that comic book Cage tends to wear, but rather a full fledged, spandex and mask costume. Though a bit derivative of the costume worn by the second Powerman — Victor Alvarez — the suit has a lot of cool things going for it; the metal bits, the “suspenders” look, the gauntlets and even the visor-mask are all reminiscent of the first-appearance Luke Cage costume, only with an updated vibe about it.
7. SAITAMA – “ONE-PUNCH MAN”
A lot of Japanese superhero designs tend to be armored, helmeted, and detailed. Not that these are bad things — shows like Power Rangers and Kamen Rider have created some of the best superhero costumes out there — but it does mean that more American-influenced costumes like “One-Punch Man’s” Saitama ring a little more unique amongst other anime heroes.
The coolest part about Saitama’s design is that not only is it simple, but also it looks like an upgraded version of a kid’s pretend costume. Stick with us here, can’t you easily see the yellow jumpsuit being footie pajamas, the gloves being dish gloves and the boots being rain boots? Heck even the cape — stark white and just a little to big — looks a lot like when a little kid grabs a white bath towel and ties it around their neck to play superhero. This child-like costume fits into Saitama’s superhero life, since he is, as he says “just a hero for fun.”
6. CYBORG – “TEEN TITANS”
Cyborg is another one of those comic book characters who, prior to the New 52, sort of had one-note costume designs, with very little changing about his silver/white metal cybernetics over the years. Even during the New 52, Cyborg’s looks only went through small changes with each advancement of his tech. The “Teen Titans” cartoon gave us what has to have been — and still is — the most unique Cyborg design out there.
The “Teen Titans” Cyborg hits all the main beats of the comic version; flesh arms, a left cybernetic eye and use of white metal. Otherwise, the design goes in its own direction, especially with the introduction of the “blue tech” pieces. There really isn’t a better name for the blue segments of the design, which appear to be glass encompassed circuitry of some sort. The blue parts are really what make the entire design so unique, especially when they were used on vehicles and other deceives that Cyborg built in the show, cementing them as part of his signature look.
5. DIAMONDHEAD – “BEN 10”
Because of the series’ premise, “Ben 10” left a lot of room for unique and original character designs in the form of the aliens that the protagonist could turn in to. Though each alien was unique in its own right, they all looks pretty, well, alien. That is, except for Diamondhead. Yes, the crystal-bodied hero doesn’t exactly look human, but he does have the most humanoid look amongst all the aliens in Ben’s arsenal, and he’s definitely the most super-heroic-looking of them all.
Diamondhead is a faded blue-green color (meant to look like a crystal, since that’s essentially what his body is made out of), is tall and muscular, has a pretty pronounced lower jaw and two spikes coming out from his back. The geometric shapes that his muscles and limbs form are fitting to the whole “diamond” aesthetic, as is the shape of his head. As for Diamondhead’s costume, his clothes are formed from Ben’s outfit, black and white for the original series, and green and black for “Omniverse.” Diamondhead uses a lot of elements of classic “heavy hitter” comic characters — like The Thing of Fantastic 4 or Colossus of the X-Men — and combines them into something fresh, simple and unique.
4. STATIC SHOCK
Over the course of “Static Shock’s” three seasons, Static had two incredibly unique costumes. In the comics, his superhero outfits were creative combinations of classic spandex and hip hop fashion, and he went through quite a lot of them. The series found a good middle ground for all of these outfits, taking some of the elements and creating something new in the process.
Static’s cartoon look is still very hip-hop fashion inspired — oversized hood, baggy pants, etc. — but it’s simplified for animation, kept clean while still singing its own unique tune. Honestly, it’s hard to find a costume like the “Static Shock” look. It had two unique iterations that celebrated the character’s origins and evoked the classic “teenage superhero” feel, meaning that the costume is meant to look cool, because Virgil, a teenager, wants to look cool — wearing goggles on his head that he almost never uses and the like. It’s really hard to ignore how iconic and original Static’s costume was on “Static Shock.”
3. GREAT SAIYAMAN – “DRAGONBALL Z”
Known for ridiculous poses and long-winded speeches about justice, it’s “Dragonball Z’s” The Great Saiyaman! The Great Saiyaman is the secret identity that Son Gohan takes up so that he can use his Saiyan powers for good without being found out by his new school friends. The Great Saiyaman story arc takes place immediately before and leading into the series’ final “Majin Buu” arc, and features a lot of tropes and cliches of both American and Japanese superhero storytelling.
The Saiyaman suit was created by Bulma when Gohan asked for a disguise so that he wouldn’t be spotted by civilians. She created the suit and gave him the ability to put it on instantly with the help of a Capsule Corp. watch. The transformation watch is a staple of Tokusatsu shows, as is the use of a helmet instead of a mask. The Great Saiyaman’s helmet has the appearance of a bug with its twin antenna which, while reminiscent of “Kamen Rider,” isn’t afraid to do it own thing. The tights, big gloves, and cape evoke American superheroes while the belt almost looks like a championship wrestling belt. Lastly, the green gi helps tie it all together as a uniquely “DBZ” design.
2. WASP – “AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES”
The fan-favorite series “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” was known for using the silver-age designs for most of its large cast of heroes. Characters like Thor, Captain America and Hawkeye had costumes that didn’t veer too far from their comics origins. There was, however, one hero that stood out amongst the rest, Janet Van Dyne, A.K.A. the college-aged Avenger known as the Wasp.
Wasp’s EMH design is delightfully youthful. She’s shown with cropped hair, a fashionable-looking dress and a set of cute, theme-appropriate headphones. The costume looks both home-assembled and college-student designed. The headphone antenna are the best touch, establishing her bug theme while giving the entire costume an anime/cosplay look about it. Wasp’s costume definitely looks like it was made by a nerdy/geeky college girl, and there has yet to be a design like this. This version of Wasp is truly a unique take on the shrinking and stinging Avenger.
1. NIGHTWING – “BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES”
A lot of Nightwing fans know of the iconic black and blue costume that the former-Robin rocked for most of his comic career. “Batman: The Animated Series” took its own spin on this costume, by changing just enough to let it sing its own tune, like many of the show’s designs. The costume premiered in the sequel series “The New Batman Adventures” after Dick Grayson graduated college, quit being Robin, and travelled the world.
This design is the epitome of simplicity. The costume is almost entirely black, with nothing but an extended blue bird icon forming a “V” shape on the front and back of the costume. That’s it. There are no bulky belts or arm pouches like previous comic iterations, just the black suit and a V-shaped masked to complete the whole look. Well, of course there’s also the mullet which, surprisingly, doesn’t actually age that badly. Dick’s long hair helps fit with the rebellious nature of Robin’s transition into Nightwing, despite it’s adherence to the ridiculous hair trend of the 90’s. Regardless of wether or not you dig the bat-mullet, it’s hard to deny the unique simplicity this Nightwing costume had.
Which superhero’s costume was your favorite? Be sure to tell us in the comments!