Since the ’90s, Cartoon Network has created entertaining, original programming that has amused both kids and adults. Classic shows like “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Johnny Bravo” started out as shorts on Cartoon Network’s “What A Cartoon” series before being made into full length series. With slapstick (sometimes adult) humor and quirky characters over half an hour, kids and families could be delighted when they came home from school or work just by tuning into cartoons.
These shows would go on to pave the way for modern hits seen on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and more. Some shows have become so popular that they’ve been rebooted for a new generation to enjoy. For those nostalgic for Cartoon Network’s golden age of cartoons, here are 15 of the channel’s best animated series.
15. STEVEN UNIVERSE
Created by Rebecca Sugar, “Steven Universe” features the adventures and hijinks of a boy named Steven Universe and the intergalactic female warriors known as The Crystal Gems. While the show is filled with fun and laughs that are expected from a cartoon, it also tackles serious themes such as self-acceptance, unconventional families and coming-of-age themes. The show is also notable for its quirky cast of characters that have complex male and female roles and includes different body types, sexual orientations and races.
In addition to having a great cast of characters and intricate storylines, the show also features musical numbers that allow the characters to express themselves or work through their problems. On top of that, the animation is creative, containing subtle, humorous and beautiful nods to Western and Japanese animated works like “Sailor Moon” and “Looney Tunes.” Currently in its fourth season, “Steven Universe” has steadily built a dedicated fanbase among kids and adults alike.
14. ADVENTURE TIME
Inspired by Dungeons & Dragons and video games, “Adventure Time” was created by Pendleton Ward and tells the story of a boy named Finn and his adventures with his shape-changing dog Jake. They live in the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo, rescuing people and defeating enemies that come their way. They also have encounters with other characters such as Princess Bubblegum, the Ice King and Marceline The Vampire Queen. While happy on the surface, there is an underlying darkness that permeates the show due to the fact that it takes place one thousand years after a nuclear war.
As “Adventure Time” reveals more about the characters and what their lives were like before the war, an overarching mythology that connects them and their worlds develops. Like Steven Universe, the show weaves serious themes together with lighthearted moments and is loved by a wide audience. While the show’s eighth season will premiere in 2017, it is set to air its finale season in 2018.
13. POWERPUFF GIRLS
In 1998, Craig McCracken combined sugar, spice, everything nice and then accidentally added Chemical X to create three super-powered girls named Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup. Known as “The Powerpuff Girls,” these kindergarten superheroes would protect the city of Townsville from villains such as Mojo Jojo, Sedusa and The Gangreen Gang. Voiced by Cathy Cavadini (Blossom), Tara Strong (Bubbles) and E.G. Daily (Buttercup), the three girls managed to be cute and kick-butt all at once.
In between fighting crime and going to school, the girls would deal with things only children would, like losing a tooth, sibling rivalry or depending on a security blanket. The show was especially unique for containing tributes and parodies of pop culture, with one episode paying homage to comic book superheroes while another paid tribute to The Beatles. The original series is considered a classic today, earning “The Powerpuff Girls” a modern-day reboot that premiered last year.
12. DEXTER’S LABORATORY
“Dexter’s Laboratory” was created by Genndy Tartakovsky and revolved around the antics surrounding the boy genius Dexter, his secret lab, and his ditzy older sister Dee Dee. The fun of “Dexter’s Lab” came from Dee Dee outsmarting Dexter to get into his lab and mess with his stuff, as well as seeing Dexter’s inventions wreak havoc on himself, his family and his rival Mandark.
Despite its hilarious gags and spoofs of pop culture, the original run of the show only lasted two seasons before being revived in 2001 under creative director Chris Savino. Prior to the revival, an hour-along film titled “Dexter’s Laboratory: Ego Trip” aired and featured Dexter traveling through time and banding together with his future selves to defeat future versions of Mandark. In all, the show would have four seasons. In addition to becoming one of Cartoon Network’s most popular original series, “Dexter’s Laboratory” also began the careers of several high-profile cartoonists, including Craig McCracken, Seth McFarlane and Butch Hartman.
11. SAMURAI JACK
Another Genndy Tartakovsky creation, “Samurai Jack” is the epic saga of a young samurai prince who wields a magic katana and attempts to journey to the past to undo the evil of shape-shifting demon Aku. Jack was voiced by Phil LeMarr and Aku by Mako Iwamatsu until the latter’s death in 2006. Blending dystopian sci-fi with time-travel and a hint of the supernatural, the series was unlike most of Cartoon Network’s usual fare in that most episodes had very little dialogue and featured a cinematic-style.
A typical episode focused on Jack’s efforts to find a portal to return to his own time and defeat Aku before he takes over the world. Since Aku attempts to either kill him in disguise or put obstacles in his path that cause him to miss portals, Jack’s journey is seemingly never-ending. The series aired from 2001 to 2004 and would go on to influence other animated works like “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Kung Fu: Panda.” In 2015, it was announced that the series would be revived with a new season airing on Adult Swim’s Toonami programing block in 2017.
10. CODENAME: KIDS NEXT DOOR
Kids might think the adults are evil, but in Tom Warburton’s “Codename: Kids Next Door” they really are. In response to adult tyranny, kids have banded together to form the secret organization, the Kids Next Door. Using codenames and two-by-four technologies, they fight adults, teenagers and evil children that commit crimes against children like eating vegetables or attending school on a snow day. The series focuses on Sector V, the main home members of the Kids Next Door, which includes Numbuh 1(Nigel Uno), Numbuh 2 (Hogie Gillian), Numbuh 3 (Kuki Sanban), Numbuh 4 (Wallaby Beatles), and Numbuh 5 (Abigail Lincoln).
A kid-friendly take on the spy-genre. some of the most unique aspects of the series were the mission acronyms that made up each episode’s title, the technology and the huge cast of characters that made up the Kids Next Door and their enemies. The show aired from 2002 to 2008, with six seasons and two movies called “Operation: Z.E.R.O.” and the series finale “Operation: I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S.”
9. ED, EDD N EDDY
If you’ve ever dreamed of an endless summer vacation as a kid, then “Ed, Edd n Eddy” was the perfect show for you. Created by Danny Antonucci, the show featured three boys named (get this…) Ed, Edd and Eddy, who would come up with get-rich-quick schemes in order to earn money to buy jawbreakers. The three Edwards usually did their schemes in the fictional suburban neighborhood of Peach Creek and would often raise the ire of the other kids when their schemes failed.
Neighborhood kids included quirky characters like Jonny 2×4 and his imaginary friend Plank, jock bully Kevin and the teenaged girls known as The Kanker Sisters. The show’s first four seasons had the characters in an endless summer vacation, but the characters would attend school from the fifth season onward. Featuring slapstick humor and violence reminiscent of The Three Stooges and cartoons from years gone by, the show would air for 10 years and become one of Cartoon Network’s longest-running animated series.
8. THE GRIM ADVENTURES OF BILLY AND MANDY
What would you do if Death was your slave for eternity? In Maxwell Atom’s “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy,” two kids named Billy and Mandy have the time of their lives after the Grim Reaper becomes bound to them as their friend and slave. Mandy is basically Wednesday Adams in a pink dress and Billy is a shorter version of Ed from Ed, Edd n Eddy. Together, the two bounce off each other well as they deal with supernatural antics using Grim’s powers.
Some episodes even feature humorous versions of famous monsters like Dracula and The Wolfman. One notable episode, a Halloween special, featured an immortal human named Jack O’ Lantern who loved to pull pranks. Grim himself is also amusing, not only because of his powers, but also because of how he manages to adjust to modern life by watching television and making snarky comments about humans. Although the award-winning show lacked continuity, its dark humor would give it a good four-year run from 2003 to 2007 to much critical and commercial acclaim.
7. BEN 10
When humans get involved with aliens, they are usually fighting them or trying to become friends. In Man of Action Studios’ “Ben 10,” a 10-year-old boy named Ben Tennyson fights aliens by turning into 10 different alien forms using a watch called the Omnitrix. With the help of his grandfather Max and older sister Gwen, they save people from evil alien forces and protect the Omnitrix from falling into the wrong hands. Some of the aliens that Ben would transform into include the magma-based Heatblast, the dog-like Wildmutt and the super-strong Four Arms.
As the series progressed and became a franchise, the Omnitrix would reboot itself so Ben could transform into new aliens in addition to the ones he could previously change into. Characters like Max and Gwen would also be developed with backstory and abilities that are just as powerful as Ben’s. After the original series and its three sequel series ended, the franchise was rebooted last year. Airing for 11 years, the show is currently Cartoon Network’s longest-running original series.
6. YOUNG JUSTICE
In the world of superheroes, sidekicks are often seen as less than their hero counterparts. “Young Justice” takes this concept to a bigger level by having the sidekicks of superheroes form their own team. Created by Brandon Vetti and Greg Weisman, the original team that made up Young Justice included Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad (Kaldur’ahm), Superboy, Miss Martin and Artemis. As the series progressed, new characters were added such as Zatanna, Blue Beetle and Wonder Girl.
“Young Justice” was driven by these characters as they not only fought crime and evil villains, but also handled their own personal coming-of-age challenges and earned respect from the Justice League. Notable arcs involved Superboy struggling to get the attention and approval of Superman and Artemis coming to terms with her shady family lineage while trying to become a hero. Although the series was initially canceled after only two seasons, it was announced in 2016 that a third season is currently in production.
5. FOSTER’S HOME FOR IMAGINARY FRIENDS
Everyone who has had an imaginary friend as a kid can surely relate to “Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends.” Created by Craig McCracken, the series begins when an eight-year-old boy named Mac is told that he must say goodbye to his imaginary friend Bloo. He finds an orphanage for abandoned imaginary friends that will eventually be adopted again. Bloo’s friendship with Mac allows Bloo to stay in the orphanage without being adopted as long as Mac visits him every day. It is these visits and Bloo’s adventures at the house that form the heart of the series.
Bloo and Mac end up befriending a colorful cast of imaginary friends and humans. These include characters such as the tall and friendly Wilt, the kind horned purple creature Eduardo and the bird-plane-palm tree hybrid Coco. The show aired from 2004 to 2009 and won seven Emmy Awards during its incredible run. The show also ended up being Craig McCracken’s final project at Cartoon Network.
4. COURAGE THE COWARDLY DOG
John R. Dilworth’s “Courage The Cowardly Dog” is what would happen if a horror movie was set in the middle of nowhere and humans were stupider than usual. Instead of frightened humans trying to avoid getting killed, a small, easily-scared lavender dog named Courage is the main character. The series mainly involves Courage saving his owners Muriel and Eustace from supernatural perils like monsters, aliens and mad scientists. Muriel and Eustace are barely aware of anything happening and can do nothing to help, while the only thing Courage has to assist him is a computer.
The supernatural aspects of the show often contain surreal dark humor that is heightened through different types of animation, scary music cues and creepy characters that sometimes bear a startling resemblance to things in real life. One example is the character “Freaky Fred,” who has a weird obsession with shaving people against their will. In all, the show ran for four seasons before ending in 2002.
3. REGULAR SHOW
Life in your twenties can be dull, especially if you’re working at a boring job. No one knows this better than Mordecai and Rigby, two twenty-somethings that happen to be a blue jay and a raccoon. On their series “Regular Show,” they become so bored working at a park that they decide to avoid work by having adventures. As characters, Mordecai and Rigby are slackers, but also extremely nerdy, often getting excited over video games or a rare product seen on television.
As a result of their boredom and enthusiasm, the two end up in ridiculous situations and create the comedy that is at the heart of the show. One episode involves the pair trying to impress unicorns after attracting their attention with their cologne. The unicorns end up farting and being so annoying that Mordecai and Rigby end up fighting. Although the show can come off as random and weird, it can be appreciated by those that share its oddball sense of humor. Created by J.G. Quintel, the show premiered back in 2010 and recently aired its series finale.
2. COW AND CHICKEN
Combining adult humor and silly antics, David Fletcher’s “Cow and Chicken” followed the mishaps of two unlikely siblings of human parents called Cow and Chicken. Many of their episodes had them being annoyed by Red Guy, a devil who would dress up in various costumes in order to scam them. Cow was the big-hearted younger sister who loved her family and playing with her dolls, while Chicken was the cynical and snarky younger brother. Both of them had quirks that made for interesting episodes, such as Cow transforming into a superhero to rescue Chicken and Chicken cross-dressing in order to see what the girl’s bathroom is like.
The adult humor consisted of things like Cow & Chicken eating pork butts and Cow’s superhero costume having holes for her udders. Woven in between the crude humor were episodes dedicated to school problems and coming-of-age issues, like Cow getting bigger horns to impress a boy. Running from 1994 to 1998, the show’s influence can be seen on newer shows like “Regular Show” and “Flapjack.”
1. JOHNNY BRAVO
If Elvis Presley was a blonde womanizer who failed to get the ladies, then he would be “Johnny Bravo”. Created by Van Partible, his first appearance was in a 1995 animated short in World Premiere Cartoons. His cartoon series followed not only his attempts to pick up women, but also his misadventures with his child neighbor Suzy and run-ins with celebrities like Donny Osmond and the Scooby Doo gang. He was best known for his signature catchphrase “Whoa momma!”
The most hilarious aspect of Johnny Bravo is that despite all his brawn and good looks, he manages to be so clueless that little kids, women and animals cause him trouble. The series ran from 1997 to 1999, but despite its short run, would cause Cartoon Network to become the place for great, original programming. Its success also resulted in some of its creative team moving on to work on other shows like “The Misadventures of Flapjack” and “The Fairly Odd Parents.”
What was your favorite original programing at Cartoon network? Let us know in the comments!
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