Almost as long as there have been cartoons, superheroes have been a presence in them. Their bright, colorful costumes and outlandish adventures arguably fit better in cartoons more than any other medium outside the comics they come from, and they carry an undeniable appeal to children of all ages. However, there are only so many heroes that DC or Marvel can draw on before they start reaching into the obscure. And since very few people want to watch a cartoon starring Ultra, the Multi-Alien, eventually it becomes necessary to remake cartoons featuring heroes we've seen before.
But of course, not all remakes are created equal. Sometimes it takes decades for a hero to get another series, so the quality of animation usually (but not always!) improves drastically. Other times the previous series was created in an era that was more creatively restricting, and the remake is able to take advantage of the freedom of a different time period. For this list, we're looking at which remakes managed to become superior adaptations of our favorite superheroes, and which ones couldn't quite match up. After all, quality is timeless. So get ready, because here are 8 Superhero Cartoon Remakes Better than the Original (And 7 That Are Worse)!
15 SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN (BETTER THAN: SPIDER-MAN: TAS)
Spider-Man: The Animated Series is hands down one of the best animated series of all-time. It managed to perfectly capture the intense action of Spider-Man’s superhero career, while also balancing it with the soap opera aspects of Peter’s love life and supporting cast. We saw a wide array of Spider-Man’s villains, and even got some adaptations of key Spider-stories, along with one of the most heart wrenching finales a superhero cartoon has ever provided.
That said, nearly everything the '90s Spider-Man series does, the 2008 Spectacular Spider-Man show does better. Featuring a younger, high school aged Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-Man takes the time to individually build up all of its characters -- even the villains you might not normally care about like the Sandman or Rhino. Everyone’s story has a beginning, even if the end was tragically cut short when the series was cancelled thanks to Disney purchasing Marvel.
14 '70S FANTASTIC FOUR (WORSE THAN: '60S FANTASTIC FOUR)
Probably the most faithful version of the Fantastic Four of all-time is the 1967 cartoon. Created by Hanna-Barbera and featuring designs from legendary creator Alex Toth, this version of the First Family feels as if it was pulled directly out of the comics. But it’s animation is vastly superior to that of the Marvel Super Heroes cartoon from a year prior, and so it remained on the air for three years before coming to an end in 1970.
Several years later, the team would be revived in a cartoon called The New Fantastic Four. Featuring inferior animation despite premiering in 1978, the series’ biggest flaw is that it doesn’t even have the entire FF. The Human Torch was replaced by a robot known as H.E.R.B.I.E. because the rights to the Human Torch had been sold in order to make a television movie…that never wound up being made.
13 YOUNG JUSTICE (BETTER THAN: TEEN TITANS)
Now you’re probably wondering why this is here instead of Teen Titans Go. But Teen Titans and Young Justice are still pretty tightly connected, as both series are loosely based on well-known comic runs set around a team of super-powered teenagers and sidekicks. Young Justice as a name only exists because DC believed Teen Titans no longer had the brand power it did in the '80s.
Still, while Teen Titans is a great cartoon that managed to become beloved by fans worldwide due to a hilarious and relatable cast of heroes…it still can’t hold a candle to Young Justice. While Teen Titans focused on the kids, Young Justice literally felt like the story of the DC Universe told through the eyes of a group of teenagers that functioned as the covert super-team for the Justice League.
12 '60s IRON MAN (WORSE THAN: '90S IRON MAN )
There’s a strong possibility you didn’t know Iron Man even had a cartoon in the '60s. It was a short lived series that was a part of a bigger project known as The Marvel Super Heroes, where Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Namor all got 13 30-minute episodes made up of three stories pulled straight from the comics. The series didn’t last long at all -- it’s original run was roughly four months in 1966. It’s cool that it existed, but these shorts were done using the most limited animation possible, and are essentially motion comics with an even lower investment.
The '90s series isn’t going down in the halls of classic superhero cartoons by any means, but it’s still a much better show, especially the second season which pulls a lot of inspiration from the amazing Iron Man stories from the mid to late '80s.
11 JUSTICE LEAGUE (BETTER THAN: SUPER FRIENDS)
This feels unfair, and yet it’s still completely accurate. The Super Friends existed in some form or another for a little over a decade -- constantly being reinvented, with kid sidekicks added, taken away, and then added back again. They cemented themselves in pop culture and are largely responsible for the reason why no one took Aquaman seriously for the better part of the next two decades after the series finally went off the air with the cancellation of The Super Powers Team in 1986.
The World’s Greatest Heroes would disappear from children’s television for well over a decade, only returning with Bruce Timm and Warner Bros. Animation’s Justice League premiered in 2001. The looser standards allowed them to actually use the Justice League name, and Bruce Timm brought the same iconic animation style and well-written characters to the series that made shows like Batman and Superman such a hit.
10 THE BATMAN (WORSE THAN: BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)
Batman: The Animated Series is a hard show to live up to. Alongside the other superhero cartoons of the era, B:TAS is responsible for ushering in over 20 years worth of great animated series that could appeal to people of all ages. It’s timeless aesthetic and willingness to show a dark, brooding Batman struck a chord with audiences of the '90s that resonates even nearly 30 years later.
The Batman, unfortunately, never stood a chance. With its vastly different, almost anime-esque artstyle combined with its weird portrayal of Batman’s rogues gallery, The Batman’s fate was unfortunately to be forgotten amidst other, far more interesting portrayals of the Dark Knight. It’s only claim to fame was introducing a new version of the Justice League in its final season…which never actually lead to a new Justice League series.
9 X-MEN EVOLUTION (WORSE THAN: X-MEN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)
In the early '00s, both DC and Marvel started to create remakes of the popular cartoons that worked for them in the '90s. From DC we got The Batman, while Marvel gave us X-Men: Evolution and Spider-Man Unlimited. X-Men: Evolution harkened back to the original idea behind the X-Men with a unique twist: with the exception of a handful of “teachers” like Wolverine, Storm, and Beast, all of the main X-Men characters would be teenagers again.
The series was popular enough to go on for four seasons on Kids WB, but it never quite had the same spark as the original 1992 series. That show ran for longer and seems to have stuck in everyone’s memory better, thanks to inspiration from Jim Lee’s X-Men art and adapting some of the best X-Men stories from Chris Claremont’s legendary run. You’re probably humming the series’ theme song right now.
8 2011 THUNDERCATS (BETTER THAN: '80s THUNDERCATS)
One of the last attempts at reviving an 80’s property in kid animation, Thundercats aired on Cartoon Network from 2011 to 2012 for a single season before coming to a stop because of the network’s loss of interest in traditional action series. It’s a shame too, as this version of Thundercats is far superior to the original. Set on the planet Third Earth, the story follows Lion-O and a group of Thunderians who are forced to fight back against an invading Lizard army after the evil wizard Mumm-Ra bestows upon them the power of advanced technology.
The series managed to maintain the weird sci-fi nature of its predecessor while also managing not to come off as hokey or overly comedic like the original series often could. Plus it had beautiful Studio 4C animation that made it a wonder to look at.
7 SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS (WORSE THAN: SPIDER-MAN: TAS)
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends was a series that aired in the early '80s, featuring Peter Parker alongside Firestar and former X-Man, Iceman. The three heroes attended college and fought crime together in their spare time. It was good enough for its era, and looking back it’s got some of Spider-Man’s most meme-tastic moments that don’t come out of Spider-Man 3.
Nevertheless, fun as the series was it couldn’t hope to compete with the FOX series that would come a decade later. Ditching the sidekicks, Peter would truly come into his own in a show that would feature his immense supporting cast and see the Wall-Crawler try to navigate being a college student with a busy social life while also stopping the crime and super-villains plaguing New York City.
6 WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN (BETTER THAN: X-MEN: TAS)
Good as the 1992 X-Men series was, it had its flaws, not the least of which being the hammy voice acting and how it could often feel like the stories were too loosely connected. And while that was a large part of the series’ charm, that didn’t stop it from being a show that could be (and was) surpassed.
In 2009, the X-Men were brought back to cartoons with Wolverine and the X-Men. In this series, the X-Men disband after an explosion at the Xavier Institute, and Wolverine is forced to find a way to get the gang back together to avoid a horrible future where the Sentinels conquer all of humanity. The hook gave the season something to work towards, setting it apart from any other series out at the time, and only the untimely purchase of Marvel by Disney kept the show from getting its second season.
5 2003 TMNT (BETTER THAN: '80s TMNT)
The '80s version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the most beloved cartoons of that era, and the 2003 series initially received quite a bit of pushback for being one of the earliest reboots of a classic '80s property. However, that didn’t last terribly long once fans saw what 4Kids and Mirage Studios were going for.
While the '80s series leaned heavily into comedy, making both the Turtles and their eternal rival the Shredder walking one-liner machines, the 2003 series instead attempted to hew closer to the comic book source material. Everything from the animation to the storylines were darker, grittier, while still maintaining the core themes of brotherhood and family that had made the series such a hit from the beginning.
4 '90s IRON MAN (WORSE THAN: IRON MAN: ARMORED ADVENTURES)
While the 1994 Iron Man cartoon was easily better than its predecessor from 30 years ago, the same can’t really be said for the 2009 sequel. To be sure, initially Armored Adventures ruffled a few feathers for being reminiscent of one of the worst eras in Iron Man comic history by having Teen Tony…but the excellent writing of Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost shone through.
The creative team on this series took full advantage of the popularity boom Shellhead was experiencing thanks to his recent film, and created a love letter to the Iron Man universe -- tossing in as much of the old and new ideas from the comics as possible into the series. Meanwhile, though the '90s Iron Man series was pretty good in its second season…the first season wasted 13 episodes in endless battles with the Mandarin and his goons.
3 FANTASTIC FOUR: WORLD’S GREATEST HEROES (BETTER THAN: '90S FANTASTIC FOUR )
It’s easy to have missed Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes if you live in America -- the series had one of the most inconsistent airing schedules of any television show ever. We got eight episodes in 2006 before disappearing for an entire year, only to return and give us another nine episodes just in time for the second Fantastic Four film in 2007.
Still, World’s Greatest Heroes is pretty fantastic (pun absolutely intended), drawing on the lore of multiple era of Fantastic Four cartoons without ever doing direct adaptations of those stories like the ‘67 or ’94 cartoons do. Plus, it boasts some of the slickest animation thanks to the France studio MoonScoop. Too bad the show only got a single season before coming to a stop thanks to its weird airing issues.
2 NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (WORSE THAN: '80S SUPERMAN)
The New Adventures of Superman were Filmation’s follow up to the popular 1950’s live-action series The Adventures of Superman. The series was wildly successful, even if it was eventually responsible for edicts on future series that wouldn’t allow heroes to throw punches. Nevertheless, Filmation series were never known for their especially great animation, and this series isn’t an exception to the rule.
Meanwhile, though airing 30 years later, the 1988 Superman series is a hidden gem of gorgeous animation and great stories courtesy of veteran writer Marv Wolfman. Set directly after John Byrne’s Man of Steel comic, it was the last chance we got to see a Bronze Age Superman before the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini era began making everything timeless and not as directly attached to the comics of the era.
1 AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES (BETTER THAN: AVENGERS: UNITED THEY STAND)
Many of you might not even remember the first attempt at an Avengers cartoon. This series aired on Fox Kids in the late '90s, and featured Power Ranger-like transformation sequences that gave each member of the team bulky, unnecessary armor. United They Stand lasted a scant 13 episodes before being canceled. At the time, FOX had done excellently with superhero series so this was almost unheard of. Still, it’s not terribly surprising once you consider the series couldn’t even have Captain America, Iron Man, or Thor because of licensing issues.
Fortunately, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were able to provide Avengers fans with the quality superhero cartoon they’d been waiting for. Though initially putting people off thanks to its weird art style, it eventually won them over again through its complex characterization and adaptation of classic Avengers storylines across several eras.