The '80s is easily one of the decades modern nerds find themselves most nostalgic for in terms of pop culture. Throwback TV shows that turn into big hits like Stranger Things and The Goldbergs, movie franchises like Terminator and Die Hard keep popping back up. We still talk about Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns like they're the gold standard of mainstream superhero comics, and Ted Danson is more popular now than he's been in a while. What Gen-Xers and some older millennials are more nostalgic for, however, are the cartoons.
So many of the beloved cartoons from the '80s have popped up again and again over the years. We've seen or will be seeing reboots of He-Man, Voltron, She-Ra, Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so many more! These cherished shows have been major influences on both up-and-coming, as well as established artists who have gone on to do comic book reboots of properties like Jem and the Holograms and Transformers. Some of these artists have created transformative works in redesigning these classic '80s cartoon characters that we wanted to highlight some of our favorites for you!
Bet you didn't think Smurfs could be this scary, huh? When we think of The Smurfs, we always think of the beloved kids show that became two not quite as beloved movies in recent years. While the Smurfs have always looked somewhat alien, they never looked this unsettling before!
Artist Flavio Luccisano took the Smurfs and gave a horror feel to the design that feels like they're part of the Universal Classic Monsters. Its deep, sunken yellow eyes and wrinkled moist looking skin make them look more amphibious than we thought a Smurf would. Either way, try to sleep tonight after looking at that!
Dinosaucers combined two things that most kids love: dinosaurs and spaceships. Some of you reading this may have grown up solidly in the Dino Riders camp, but Dinosaucers did come first. Also, side note, Dinosaucers was created by Michael Uslan, the guy that produced all the Batman movies. Crazy, right?
The main villain, Genghis Rex, was pretty goofy as this was a kids cartoon in the 80s. This piece by TSRodriguez takes the goofy villain and makes him absolutely unnerving. Seriously, we were spooked just looking at this piece! The artist somehow made him scary while keeping the goofy sci-fi outfit, which is a nice touch.
Thundercats is one of the longer running '80s cartoons lasting from 1985 to 1989. The show featured a group of cat-like warriors from Thundera fighting an ancient evil by the name of Mumm-Ra. Like Voltron, Thundercats got a boost again at Cartoon Network from Toonami and went on to have a reboot back in 2011, as well as an impending reboot embracing a more cartoony style.
Artist vshen on DeviantArt goes in the entirely opposite direction with their fan art. Rather than taking the designs in a cartoonish direction, vshen takes Tygra down a much more realistic-looking route. The details all stand out from the sharp teeth to the beautifully-rendered hair. The artwork is so stunning, it makes you start thinking of how Thundercats might look as a live-action movie!
Few '80s franchises hit the heights of He-Man. Starting as a toy line, the cartoon spiraled out into a spin-off series (we'll get to that later), a live action movie, and multiple reboots over the years. Prince Adam has gone into the future, gone to earth, and has more alternate costume designs than most '80s cartoon characters to keep selling those toys.
One variant that never made it into the show, but was done as a super limited action figure based on an obscure German radio play of Masters of the Universe (we're not kidding) was the Anti-Eternia He-Man, who looks a whole lot like the villain Faker. Artist Killersha did this excellent imagining of this evil He-Man if we were part of an animated series with other evil versions of the characters. Maybe in the next reboot!
11 COBRA COMMANDER
Few cartoon villains from the '80s are more iconic than the nefarious Cobra Commander in G. I. Joe. Yes, he was very over the top and eccentric, and he varied from silly to truly menacing. Overall though, Cobra Commander was a force taken seriously by the Joes.
This fan art by ehudsbloodysword leans heavily on the silly and cartoony. Having him look more like a villain from something like Cartoon Network's Adventure Time gives this reimagining something truly refreshing for a franchise like G. I. Joe. We'd find it hard to imagine if the Joes would ever go this route in canon, and it's probably for the best that they don't, but it's interesting to think about.
10 DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS
We've seen everyone get back into Dungeons & Dragons once again with the massive success of Critical Roll and other similar shows of people playing the game with friends. Gen-Xers might remember that way back in the '80s, there was a Dungeons & Dragons cartoon where the kids were transported to a fantasy world from a magical rollercoaster and the dungeon master was a character in the show instead of being the voice of God.
The designs in the cartoon were very, well, '80s. These reimagined designs from TerminAitor on DeviantArt give the characters all a fresh, modern look, keeping all the core elements of the characters that we could easily picture in a comic book relaunch or even an updated cartoon.
9 WONDER TWINS
Before smash hit animated series based on comic books like X-Men and Batman: The Animated Series came into being, we had Super Friends. While it started in the '70s, the show went well into the '80s with new episodes all the way up to 1986. Two of the stand-out characters in that show that were introduced in it rather than the comics were the Wonder Twins.
This new design by rodavlasalvador on DeviantArt reimagines these twins as more serious superheroes with slicker, sleeker costumes and a new glowing effects over their hands when they're using their powers. They don't look like they'd fit in Super Friends anymore, but maybe Justice League Unlimited.
The very popular He-Man spin-off (we told you we'd get back to it!) has been making the rounds again in all the pop culture news sites with the impending reboot, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, coming to Netflix helmed by Noelle Stevenson featuring a brand new, younger and less objectified design of the character.
Many fans over the years have created their own redesigns for She-Ra, however. Artist Killersha on DeviantArt created these redesigns, which have more of a Sailor Moon vibe as the characters are wielding star rods rather than swords and seem to be somewhere that looks like the moon with a palace on it. These designs have a much more sci-fi look than She-Ra tends to have and gives a new feel to the franchise.
7 MY LITTLE PONY
My Little Pony has one of the more interesting -- and intense -- fandoms based around an '80s cartoon. The show's popularity led to a resurgence in recent years with a new cartoon, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, as well as new comic books by IDW Entertainment. There is also a large legion of male-identifying fans called bronies, My Little Pony-specific conventions, and a whole Bob's Burgers episode poking fun at the fandom.
TysonTan on DeviantArt took the character from My Little Pony and gave them a new look while keeping much of the original design elements in place. They're anthropomorphized here, and their eyes are made larger with more of an anime feel. Just having them as bipedal is still a bit mind blowing!
6 HUEY, DEWEY AND LOUIE
Ducktales is the kind of '80s cartoon with a fun, catchy theme song that you probably just caught yourself humming right now. Featuring one of the most iconic Disney characters, Donald Duck, with arguably too many more ducks, Ducktales went on to be a hit show with a spin-off series and a recent reboot on Disney Channel.
Many of the stories centered around Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Artist Jojodear on DeviantArt took those three ducklings and made them... human kids? It's an interesting choice and clearly a radical redesign that would change the very nature of the show. Huey here is also wearing shorts where Dewey and Louie are dressed in layers, making us think that Huey is just reckless.
5 JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS
Jem is her name! Another cartoon from the '80s that was a Hasbro property, Jem and her band went on to clash with The Misfits for three seasons. The show's success led to a live action movie that was released a few years ago (but we do not talk about it), and a comic book reboot at IDW Entertainment with gorgeous redesigns from artists like Sophie Campbell.
This redesign by Canadian artist Sebastien Leblanc takes a radically different approach to the characters. Going with gigantic hair (even by Jem standards) with very thin figures and long legs, the designs feel inspired by the kind of artwork you might expect in a late '90s early 2000s Cartoon Network show.
4 TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
The smash hit indie comic book turned into an even bigger smash hit once the '80s cartoon debuted. Turtlemania lasted well into the '90s with action figures, video games, and one of the most successful independent movies to hit theaters. Over the years other cartoon reboots surfaced that never quite hit like the original, as well as a few more movies.
While the iconic '80s cartoon is the design many go back to when they think of the turtles, there have been so many redesigns by fans. This design by Owen Davey takes a more bulky, minimalist approach in the design while giving each of the turtles a clearly different shade of green to have them stand out even further -- a more modern design note. This great piece got to be a part of a 30th anniversary tribute exhibit back in 2014 too!
While kids in the '90s had Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, '80s kids had Voltron. The five pilots of giant lion robots combined their trusty "steeds" and transformed into the galaxy protector Voltron. With the launch of Toonami at Cartoon Network, Voltron got a new wave of fans and interest which in turn led to multiple reboots with new designs. The latest reboot is a Netflix Original and enjoying wide praise.
Artist Xen Vita takes the Voltron pilots and gives them a complete makeover here! Going with what looks like a design inspired somewhat by cartoons like Adventure Time, the characters are more cutesy with large heads and look aged down. Maybe they'd be a little young to pilot fierce, giant lion robots, but their adventures would be adorable!
Okay, chances are you don't remember Visionaries: Knights of Magical Light. Don't feel bad though; we barely remember them ourselves. The short lived '80s cartoon had a toy line from Hasbro and comics from Star Comics. They've never received a proper reboot since the '80s outside of a Transformer/Visionaries crossover in the IDW comics earlier this year.
The original designs for the Visionaries were, well, clunky. The costumes look kind of like something out of Tron, but more cumbersome. Artist warthogrampage on DeviantArt leans into that clunky, cumbersome look by reimagining these characters in a chibi style so they're smaller and more compact looking than the original designs. Also, they're much cuter!
The incredibly popular Jim Davis creation, Garfield, jumped off the newspaper page and onto the small screen as a hit kids cartoon in the '80s. Sure, he had to share the spotlight with Orson and his friends on that farm, but Garfield got top billing. Throughout the series, Garfield either had a disinterested facial expression or looked head over heals in love... with lasagna, of course.
This gorgeous fan art by Javas shows Garfield in a way none of us had really thought of before. This Garfield looks more like a real cat while also having a more animated face. Either way though, we don't think that lasagna there stands a chance.