Over the past decade, television series like “Teen Titans” and “Young Justice” proved that young, adolescent heroes can shine in the spotlight, as each amassed a wealth of followers during their respective runs. Both share a lot of similarities and are often lauded among DC’s finest work in animation. With their unprecedented success, one has to wonder which one made the most impact on a generation of superhero fans.
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Despite its well-deserved accolades and fan base, there’s no doubting that, in comparison, “Teen Titans” still reigns supreme over the new generation of heroes within “Young Justice.” The former, while not without flaws, outshines the latter thanks to a strong variety of elements that have not been replicated since its premature cancellation in 2006. For this list, we’ll be seeing just what makes the 2003 animated series more successful than its successor.
15. BETTER RELATIONSHIPS
While romantic pairings may have been an underlying aspect surrounding a few of the Titans (namely Robin and Starfire), the series managed to develop them in such a way that allowed them to feel genuine and deeper while not affecting their relationship fighting crime. In “Young Justice,” the relationships were often shallow and didn’t feel as genuine in comparison. Miss Martian’s relationship with La’gaan, for example, felt largely artificial and made it feel like his only purpose in the show was acting as her rebound guy. Even her relationship with Superboy felt forced and as though it never went beyond physical attraction.
These relationships needed time to grow. With the exception of Wally West and Artemis, “Young Justice” wasn’t as adept at letting them blossom naturally. Everybody felt like more of a short-term fling, and such relationships lacked any kind of depth or meaning. The same can’t be said for the Titans. Whether it was Robin and Starfire or Beast Boy and Raven’s affectionate bond, “Teen Titans” excelled at illustrating the team’s bond, as well their affections for one another, in more mature and subtle ways that resulted in bigger and better payoffs throughout the series.
14. PLOT LINE CLARITY
Despite the breadth “Young Justice” offers, the series suffered from an overload of too many overlapping narratives and storylines, especially after the five-year time skip. Developments like the Black Manta / Aqualad duo didn’t feel as authentic as it could have since that part of their relationship was never explored or implied in any significant way prior. Coupled with the multiple villainous factions within The Light and The Reach, and with the overarching premise of an expanded League roster with new characters, the plot became more convoluted and harder to follow.
“Teen Titans” excelled on not bringing too many overarching plot elements into the show at once, and each arc managed to build upon itself. Even with aspects of Titans East came into the fold, it was never to outshine the main founding members and cast. Even as its audience and popularity expanded, the series never lost sight of trying to bring in too many elements from DC as “Young Justice” did, which, for a time, hampered the latter when it came to capitalizing on the success of its first season.
13. BETTER VILLAINS
When it came to villains in “Teen Titans,” each of the Titans were challenged extensively by a villain in some unique way: Robin had Slade, Starfire had Blackfire, Cyborg had Brother Blood, Beast Boy had The Brotherhood of Evil (not to mention a strained relationship with The Doom Patrol) and Raven had her demon father Trigon. Each of these villains challenged the Titans mentally in areas where they were at their weakest and provided instrumental moments for each member as they had to overcome these aspects of themselves to progress and mature as heroes.
On the other side,”Young Justice” villains are lacking a bit on this spectrum. Despite touting names like Ra’s Al Ghul, Black Manta and Vandal Savage, they often came across as very one-dimensional, with the usual goal of world domination and not much else. Outside of the possible exception of Lex Luthor, most of the major villains didn’t add any extra intrigue or depth to the overall plot of the story. It’s important that villains not only be interesting, but challenging to heroes in ways that go beyond combat ability. When it comes to “Young Justice” villains, it seems to be about as deep as it goes.
12. IDENTITY CRISIS
Though it might seem like a non-factor to some, the fact that the Teen Titans didn’t have any regular identities was important to the structure of the story. The team went by and maintained their superhero identity at all times, and given the makeup of the Titans, it would be rather silly for them to make attempts at alter egos. Unlike other DC animated series, the Titans didn’t have any connections they had to protect, so they could afford to move around freely. It also allowed for the younger audience to connect to these heroes and show that even these super-powered and skillful people dealt with real-world problems, becoming a very humanizing agent that worked quite well for this series.
It also made for an engaging debate among fans as they tried to decide which Robin the show was casting. The show was crafty in providing its share of Easter eggs, like showing Robin’s future in 20 years as Nightwing and Cyborg using the last name Stone from the comics during an infiltration mission into H.I.V.E. Academy. The nods to the larger DC universe made for a fuller experience for fans as the series pieced together its various aspects.
One of the strongest aspects that “Teen Titans” thrived on were the various themes it used throughout its episodes, with each one attached to some or another life lesson. “Divide and Conquer,” for example, illustrates the importance of teamwork and how strong the Titans are as a group, especially when a fight between Robin and Cyborg results in the latter quitting the team. The same can be said for the episode “Fear Itself,” a Raven-centric venture that tackles the concept of overcoming one’s fears and acknowledging them; or in the episode “Transformation,” which essentially deals with puberty when Starfire begins undergoing a mysterious and monstrous transformation.
Such themes allowed the series to connect heavily to its younger audience, yet maintain its growing appeal to older audiences, particularly as the themes grew heavier and more mature. These consistent themes were an aspect that “Young Justice” veered away from as the series went on, and almost seemed to be close to non-existent in Season Two. The constant presence of these themes served to keep both the series and the characters grounded as they progressed and underwent their various battles.
10. DYNAMIC ANIMATION
When it came to its animation, “Teen Titans” set itself apart from “Young Justice” with the risks it took when it came to its overall visual appeal. With a unique blend of anime-influenced animation, the series made itself unique from its contemporaries and became one of its critical aspects that allowed it to gain such popularity. Frequently used both in the show’s opening and a number of its comedic scenes, this unique style provided a different look for DC superheroes and gave its fans something different than the standard “Justice League” animation that was common during that time.
Of course “Young Justice” is certainly not without good animation quality, with its style being strikingly comparable to a DC Animated Film. But even after all this time, no other series has managed to quite capture that anime-influenced aesthetic the way “Teen Titans” was able to. The series could have easily opted to go with Western animation similar to that of “Justice League,” but opting for a different look proves that taking such risks with superhero properties like this can lead to big payoffs in the long run.
9. QUALITY SCORE & SOUNDTRACK
Out of all the memorable aspects that “Young Justice” has to offer, there’s one thing in particular that can be quite forgettable: its soundtrack. By Season Two, the series all but abandoned what little of an opening it had. When it comes to the “Teen Titans,” its catchy soundtrack is one of the series’ most memorable achievements. With its opening song and track performed by popular Japanese pop stars Puffy AmiYumi, the series firmly established its footing and gave a feeling of excitement to fans whenever they sat down to watch it.
Matching its anime-inspired animation, the opening song even alternated from English to Japanese from each episode, providing a dynamic flow to its audience every week. Certain episodes like “Mad Mod” even had jaunty songs as the Titans chased down villains or objectives, which added to the fun-loving nature and overall experience of the show. More serious scenes weren’t without their own merits, of course, with the music providing a sense of foreboding and adding to the suspense or fast-paced action scenes.A good musical score helps add emotion and clarity to the scenes while complementing the art and animation, and “Teen Titans” shines brighter in this department.
8. A BETTER ROBIN
“Young Justice” gives us a Robin that is too young and inexperienced to take leadership of the team, and as such must relinquish leadership to Aqualad until he’s older. What “Teen Titans” gives its audience is a Robin with a chip on his shoulder looking to take the lead and prove he can succeed on his own merits as a hero. The latter is the Robin fans need.
“Teen Titans” gave us a Robin that, while he knows how to goof off with his teammates, is hell-bent on proving he’s more than someone’s sidekick. Leading the Titans is his first step, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. While this rubs Cyborg the wrong way at times, this iteration of Robin allows for deeper dives into his character.” His encounters with Slade throughout the series, and Red X in Season Three, are some of his best moments, as they juggle with the consistent question: what kind of hero is he trying to be? And how does he go about doing it? Robin’s arcs have a very Batman-esque feel to them, which is often ironic, as he tries to establish himself as a solo hero.
Despite the main focus of “Young Justice” being on a group of young heroes, the Justice League itself remains a looming presence over the group, with heavy amounts of supervision and restraint on activities. While also assisting with aspects like combat training, the League itself maintains control over what the group does and how it conducts its own business. When it comes to the Teen Titans, they only answer to themselves and only have to rely on defending Jump City.
The lack of a looming presence like the Justice League allows the Titans to fully flourish while acting wherever they see fit or deem it necessary to do so. Not having someone else monitor their activities and devices at all times helps give the group that family camaraderie in their living situation while also giving them the added responsibility and accountability in both victory and defeat. It makes for a much more impactful idea of independence, as the Titans have to schedule their own training time, manage their own equipment and be responsible for keeping their living space clean; all very real-world aspects of what having roommates is like.
6. BALANCED TONE
A great aspect of “Teen Titans” was its ability to balance its light and dark storytelling elements. The show prided itself on being able to juggle these elements in an effective way, even in later seasons. While being mostly episodic in nature, these lighthearted moments are instrumental in the Titans’ developing relationships with one another. It’s important to have balance so that when these dark moments do come, their impact is even greater.
This wasn’t necessarily the case with “Young Justice,” which lost out on its lighter moments as the series progressed and maintained a darker tone in Season Two with its “Invasion” plot line being the main focus. While intense to say the least, the elements that made the show fun near the start of Season One were shoved to the side, and the series took on a more serious tone. When they’re not fighting bad guys, young superheroes should have their own elements of fun, as it helps keep the show fresh and not get too bogged down by gravity. “Teen Titans” excelled in this department, keeping its fun-loving nature while not being afraid to take things in darker and more serious directions.
5. NO TIME SKIP
The five-year time skip in “Young Justice,” while a good idea in theory, wasn’t quite executed quite as well as it could have been, as it left a lot of plot threads dangling, leaving it to audience interpretation to put the pieces together. The benefit of young superhero teams like these is that the audience is able to grow and connect with them. Inserting such a long time skip robs the audience of key character development, and key events (Wally and Artemis’s retirement, Aqualad’s deeper relationship with Black Manta) were all eschewed for an expanded roster and thrown into an overarching narrative.
By forgoing an extended time skip, “Teen Titans” manages to keep the majority of its character development on-screen, which allow for moments to be even more impactful. In comparison, Terra’s betrayal in becoming Slade’s apprentice felt much more organic and believable, and allowed a much better look at the fragile and unsteady mindset of the young Titan, especially when compared to Aqualad and Back Manta. Such a long time skip from “Young Justice” bypassed a number of missed opportunities that could have made the series’ footing in Season Two go a lot better than it actually did.
4. EPISODIC INGENUITY
If there’s one thing “Teen Titans” didn’t lack, it was creativity. Being a mostly episodic series, it could eventually run the risk of becoming stale and predictable. However, the good thing about this show was that one episode was never exactly the same as the others, and the audience could be in for a surprise each and every week.
One week, you might have the Titans wind up in a wacky Britain Wonderland school where everything is topsy-turvy, as was the case in “Mad Mod,” where they must apprehend a slippery villain who is near impossible to catch. The next could be more serious, as the Titans could be whisked away to compete in a grand battle royale, as was the case in “Winner Take All” when Robin, Cyborg and Beast Boy are chosen to fight in such a tournament. Coupled with its balanced tone, “Teen Titans” made for a fresh and compelling watch, given that you never knew what direction the show might take the viewer on. It made for quite the fun ride knowing that not every episode followed a standard formula.
3. INTIMATE CAST
If there’s an instance of quantity over quality, “Young Justice” had it, particularly in Season Two when its roster greatly expanded. This large cast, while pleasing to comic fans and those familiar with DC lore, did not always work in its favor. The consequences of such a cast can result in neglecting some characters in favor of others, as was the case with this one. Popular comic heroes like Wonder Girl and Batgirl got little development and screen-time, which resulted in them being little more than DC fan-service to the audience and the bulk of time going to Blue Beetle instead.
Keeping the main Titans’ cast smaller made for a more cohesive story and allowed for a more proportionate amount of screen-time. Even when honorary Titans were inducted, the show maintained its focus on the founding members, dedicating only one episode to Titans East. Pushing the main characters into the background without properly developing their replacements stalls the story and doesn’t allow for the audience to connect with or care about them. As popular as these new characters may be in the comics, it’s harder to care about them, especially given the lack of meaningful time viewers actually have with them.
2. TEENAGED HIJINKS
At the end of the day, “Teen Titans” made sure to remind viewers one constant thing: these heroes aren’t adults. They’re still adolescents, and they are going to act their age and worry about teen-related problems. By the same token, they’re also going to do a wide ranged of classically teenaged activities, from playing video games and partying to continually going out as a group to their favorite pizza place.
One example of the Titans’ continual hijinks includes Beast Boy in “Employee of the Month.” Hell bent on getting a moped, the young shapeshifter is forced to get a minimum wage job at a fast-food restaurant (which just so happens to be the center of an alien conspiracy) to save up the money to get it. The premise of the episode is such a teenage-centered one that it reminds viewers that these heroes aren’t adults and makes them more relatable. The teenaged hijinks of “Teen Titans” are a welcome departure from the more serious teenage heroes of “Young Justice,” who are more often constantly fighting or training. Such hijinks allow for viewers to step back and take a deep breath after serious events occur.
1. BETTER CHARACTERIZATION
Though it had its moments in Season One and somewhat through Season Two, “Young Justice” seemed to falter at times when it came to character development. This was especially the case as it expanded its roster without really giving the opportunity to develop them. Such a method only got worse after the time skip once the narrative became so Blue Beetle-centric and pushed other characters to the side.
“Teen Titans,” on the other hand, easily outshines “Young Justice” in this regard. Each of its founding members was always shown growing and developing, both individually and with each other. The series acts in many ways as a coming of age story as the Titans matured and overcame various obstacles. Whether it was Cyborg’s humanity, Raven’s past, Robin’s independence, Starfire’s adjustment in a foreign world or Beast Boy’s need for companionship, all of them experienced major growth that allowed them to learn and become better heroes in their own ways. It seems that, for the most part, “Young Justice” heroes are still dependent upon Justice League acknowledgment for growth, and while there has been some development from these heroes, it pales in comparison to what the Titans experienced.
Is “Teen Titans” truly better than “Young Justice?” Or does it have less to offer? Let us know in the comments!
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