Cartoons and comics have long shared a close relationship with each other. Many of the most popular cartoon series started out as four-color creations of the printed page, and their popularity there would eventually lead to them receiving an animated adaptation. Meanwhile, other series began their life in Saturday Morning and Early Afternoon blocks for children, only to eventually find their way into the comic world. Sometimes a series works better as a cartoon, other times it’s best in the world of comics. But since this is Comic Book Resources, for this list we’re talking about the 15 classic cartoons that work way better as comic books.
Some of the series that help make up this list might have gotten their start as comic books, but they still earned their spot here because they attained their greatest popularity in their animated form. Either that, or the series wound up with so many different cartoon versions that it can belong equally to both worlds. Also, this list isn’t in any particular order, with the exception of the #1 spot, which is unquestionably better as a comic than it ever was as a cartoon series. So without further ado, let’s get to the ‘toons!
15. DARKWING DUCK
All the way back in 1990, Disney started Disney Afternoon, an animation block featuring both new characters and some of their more popular older ones re-imagined in new settings. Darkwing Duck was one of a handful shows that would air on Disney Afternoon, and though it ran only a little over a year, the series was one of the most popular parts of the syndicated block. Starring Drake Mallard as a pulp-inspired superhero, Darkwing Duck often straddled the line between superhero adventure and wacky comedy.
When the series was revived in 2010 by BOOM! Studios with the mini-series “The Duck Knight Returns”, it instantly understood all the things that made the original work, maintaining the series’ roots as a parody of superheroes, spies and all things pulp.
14. SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
Despite possessing one of the coolest themes in cartoons (“Blue streak…speeds by…”), none of the cartoons featuring video games’ fastest blue hedgehog have ever lasted terribly long, with the longest being the Japanese anime Sonic X, but even that only lasted three years before coming to an end in 2006.
On the other hand, the Archie Comics’ published Sonic the Hedgehog ran for 290 issues, achieving a Guinness World Record for being the longest-running comic series based on a video game. Remaining in publication until July of 2017, the Sonic the Hedgehog comic managed to continuously remain fresh, expanding its universe with new heroes and villains and carving out an impressive lore for the character that none of the cartoons could ever hope to aspire to.
13. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
The oldest tabletop role-playing game of all time, Dungeons & Dragons’ popularity eventually lead to a cartoon in the ’80s that lasted three seasons but only spanned 27 episodes. The cartoon followed a group of children who find themselves trapped in the D&D world after a trip through an amusement park’s magical roller coaster.
Setting aside the hilarity of that idea, D&D isn’t the worst cartoon of the ’80s by far, but there’s no comparison to the comics. Whether we’re talking about the classic Dungeons & Dragons’ comics from the late ’80s and the early ’90s, or the IDW Fell’s Five series by John Rogers and Andrea DiVito, D&D comics tend to be excellent high fantasy fare that perfectly emulate the feel of a good D&D campaign.
12. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles began as a comic book parody of some of the most popular comics of the ’80s but through merchandising, and an immensely popular cartoon, would eventually become one of the biggest franchises to come out of the 80s. The first cartoon series ran for 10 seasons and nearly a decade, but as popular as it and the numerous reboots it spawned are, the comic book series have almost always been better.
While the cartoons have varying levels of quality, the comic series have always been consistently good, with the recent IDW series having a strong focus on the concepts of family and brotherhood that have always been at the heart of the story of the Turtles. And without being forced to constantly reboot, the IDW ongoing has had the space to grow the mythos, not only incorporating old fan-favorites but creating new characters of its own.
Archie Comics have existed almost as long as Superman, with the first issue debuting in Pep Comics #22 in December of 1941. Featuring the adventures of the clumsy Archie Andrews living everyday life alongside his friends Jughead, Reggie, and the members of his eternal love triangle Betty and Veronica, Archie’s had staying power equivalent to any superhero. The series’ popularity has lead to several cartoons, dating all the way back to the ’60s, and for awhile the two of them have been pretty even in terms of quality.
But all that changed when the series received a relaunch in 2015 under the New Riverdale imprint. With the old-school aesthetic replaced with a hip new art-style and characters much more relatable and accurate to teens of today, Archie’s more relevant (and better written) than he’s ever been.
Created by Rankin-Bass Productions, Thundercats debuted in 1985 and would go on to become one of the most popular cartoon series of the ’80s. The series featured a group of catlike humanoids known as the Thundercats, who are forced to land on the planet Third Earth after leaving their dying home of Thundera and being attacked by a group of mutants in search for the Thundercats’ powerful Sword of Omens. After landing on Third Earth, the Thundercats find themselves locked in a years-long battle with the mutants and the evil sorcerer Mumm-Ra.
Thundercats ran for four years before ending in 1989, but a revival of ’80s properties lead to WildStorm publishing a group of mini-series that further explored Thundera, and gave a long-awaited continuation to the never-ending battle between the cats and Mumm-Ra.
Originally known as “Beast King GoLion”, Voltron was one of many Japanese anime to be brought over and “Americanized” — having its dialogue re-written and scenes deemed too violent for children here edited out. Still, Voltron was massively popular — becoming the top-rated children’s show during the two years of its original run, which would eventually inspire multiple reboots including the one that’s currently airing on Netflix, Voltron: Legendary Defender.
But the original ’80s series doesn’t have anything on the Dynamite-published revival that began back in 2011. Starting with Voltron: Year One, the Lion Force is re-cast as “Space Explorer Squadron #686”, a group of sci-fi super-spies that take on the most dangerous missions in the galaxy, proving the team is more than just a group of teenagers with a giant robot.
8. WACKY RACES
Wacky Races was another one of Hanna-Barbera’s many, many briefly-lived cartoon series. Based off the 1965 classic comedy The Great Race, Wacky Races ran for 17 episodes across five months in 1968 and 1969, and followed a colorful cast of racers that each sought to win and become the “World’s Wackiest Racer”.
The series was rebooted in 2016 by DC as Wacky Raceland, a much more gritty version of the series that took place in a post-apocalyptic time period and resembled Mad Max more than any slapstick comedy film. As awkward as “gritty” reboots tend to be, Raceland did manage to create unique backstories for these off-beat characters and give reason to their races instead of the original, which had them in a new race every episode for seemingly no real prize or purpose other than a ridiculous title.
7. JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS
This entry on our list is one that started out as a comic book, but it wasn’t until Josie and the Pussycats aired on CBS that it really became popular. It ran for a total of 16 episodes before the series was given a makeover and launched the girls into space (yes, seriously) and the show became Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space for another 16 episodes before finally being canceled in 1972.
The series was revived by Archie Comics’ New Riverdale imprint in 2016, and has been a better series than the cartoon almost since the very first issue. The most recent arc featured the team foiling a kidnapping and piloting giant robots, which is quite the come-up from only having a cartoon to try and replicate the success of Scooby-Doo.
Let’s face it: most of us don’t remember anything from this series besides its theme song. An unholy hybrid of G.I. Joe and Transformers, M.A.S.K. debuted in 1985 and ran for two seasons before coming to an end in 1986. It starred Matt Trakker, a wealthy entrepreneur who lead the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand against the criminal organization known as V.E.N.O.M. The original M.A.S.K. had all the hall-marks of ’80s cartoons: tons of vehicles, secret organizations and annoying little kids who tag along on dangerous missions.
In 2016, the series was given an ongoing by IDW Publishing that has a much more compelling storyline: the technology of M.A.S.K. was made from reverse-engineered Cybertronian tech in order to keep Earth from being a casualty in Cybertron’s civil war. Eventually when the tech gets stolen by a member of the first M.A.S.K. group, it ignites a new, different war of its own.
Another part of the Disney Afternoon block, Gargoyles would quickly become a cult favorite amongst fans of all ages for its mature storytelling and complex plotting. The series started in 1994 and ran for two seasons and 65 episodes on Disney Afternoon, before being shifted to ABC’s “One Saturday Morning” block for its third season, known as The Goliath Chronicles. Changing both its animation and writing crew, The Goliath Chronicles was decidedly less popular amongst fans and the series was canceled in 1997.
Fortunately, Gargoyles was able to receive a brief revival in 2006, when publisher Slave Labor Graphics brought on one of the series’ creators Greg Weisman to do his take on the series. Weisman ignored the unpopular Goliath Chronicles and created a well-received take on the series for three years until Disney pulled the license from SLG.
4. HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
One of the giants of ’80s cartoon shows, He-Man was about a young boy named Adam, prince of his planet Eternia. Prince Adam possesses the magical Sword of Power that turns him into He-Man — the most powerful man in the universe — and with that power and the help of his allies, he defends Eternia and Castle Grayskull from the evil Skeletor.
Entertaining as the original ’80s series (and its sequel, New Adventures of He-Man) was, DC’s series of He-Man comics from 2012-2016 was far superior. Over several mini-series and ongoings they gave depth to the lore of the He-Man Universe, explaining secrets behind characters and finally providing fight scenes not hindered by ’80s standards and practices. Plus, the comics also gave us a crossover with the Thundercats. Who didn’t want that?
Everyone’s favorite talking Great Dane, Scooby-Doo first appeared in Hanna-Barbera’s Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? from 1969 to 1970. The spooky cartoon series featured a gang of teenagers meddling kids and their talking pet, solving crimes that would always seem supernatural at first, but eventually prove to have completely logical explanations. Easily Hanna-Barbera’s most enduring creation, Scooby has seen nearly a dozen series and nearly 40 films since his creation.
Still, the comics remain one of the most entertaining versions of the character. In comics, the franchise has the freedom to do something as daring as the post-apocalyptic Scooby Apocalypse, or to partner up in Scooby-Doo Team-Up with various heroes such as Captain Marvel in the DC Universe or Space Ghost and Frankeinstein Jr. from the H-B world.
2. HANNA-BARBERA SUPERHEROES
This is more of an umbrella for several series. Across the ’60s, animation studio Hanna-Barbera created a half-dozen different action series that ranged from deep space sci-fi like Space Ghost and Galaxy Trio to superhero spies like Birdman and The Impossibles, to Jonny Quest’s pulp fiction. All of these series featured tons of heroes and villains with creative powers and origins, but were also very short-lived, lasting no more than two years before being canceled, destined to live only in reruns.
That is until DC gave all these characters a much-needed revival in 2016 with the maxi-series Future Quest. Brought to life with beautiful art from Evan Shaner and Ariel Olivetti and written by Jeff Parker, DC found the perfect creatives that could make these characters feel modern without losing any of their old-school Golden Age heroic appeal.
Yet another famous ’80s cartoon property, the original Transformers cartoon series launched in 1984 and ran for four seasons until 1987. The series would get rebooted several times over the next three decades, generally starting from scratch and covering the same base points without adding much new to the mythology.
But each of the comic book series have always been an additive to the Transformers franchise. The Dreamwave comics of the early 2000’s gave us a glimpse at the war as it took place on Cybertron, and showed us Cybertronian alt-modes not tied down by Earth vehicles. The IDW series has added character development and given us a definitive end to the civil war, while also being the basis for the massive “Hasbro-verse” IDW has been building since 2011. Transformers comics aren’t just better than the toons, but they’re superior to all other Transformer adaptations — films and video games alike.
Did we miss a cartoon that works better on the page ? Let us know in the comments!
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