Kids from the ’90s might try to claim they had the best cartoons growing up, but let’s be honest, every era of animation has had some great standouts. In fact, the following generation of cartoons had a lot of amazing hits, some that still hold up to this day. The Early 2000s was a great time for animation as networks were trying new things, experimenting with art and storytelling styles. Then again, not every cartoon from the’00s was a hit, some bombed pretty badly, and looking back at them now, it’s not hard to see why, be it thanks to dated humor or unappealing visuals.
The ’00s produced some of modern animation’s greatest feats, Samurai Jack being perhaps the greatest of them all. We here at CBR decided to go through a few ’00s cartoons to see if they have stood the test of time. Two rules, however — the series must have aired primarily in the 2000s and they can’t have continued after 2010 — so Jack is unfortunately out of the running. With that, here are 8 cartoons from the ’00s that have held up, and 7 that haven’t.
15. HOLDS UP: JUSTICE LEAGUE
Let’s start with an easy/obvious one, Justice League and the follow up series, Justice League Unlimited. It’s not even an argument over wether or not these series held up, as they are often referred to as some of the best superhero shows of all time. Justice League and JLU did a lot to expand the DC animated universe, both shows balancing action and dramatic, compelling storytelling to make one of the greatest animated shows of all time.
Justice League and JLU both hold up incredibly well, the stories are still compelling and relevant, and the animation looks just as good as when it first premiered. Sure, Bruce Timm’s style might be a bit out of fashion, but it doesn’t make the show look aged, just different. In the age of binge-watching, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited hold up incredibly well and are worth a rewatch.
14. DOESN’T HOLD UP: TIME SQUAD
What’s Time Squad you ask? That’s a valid question, since the short-lived series somewhat flew under the radar and has since been long forgotten. Time Squad was about, as the title implies, a squad of time-travelers who right the wrongs of the time stream. The Squad was made up of Buck, a burly time cop; Larry-3000, a sarcastic robot voiced by Mark Hamill; and Otto, an orphan boy with an extensive knowledge of world history.
It might be a bit much to say that this show doesn’t “hold up,” because there’s definitely a lot to like about it; the premise is strong, the art style is great and the character chemistry makes for some great laughs. However, the show is, ironically, very of its time. To put it simply, the comedy, art style and overall feel of the show come off as a bit dated.
13. HOLDS UP: INVADER ZIM
Though a release date has yet to be announced or even teased, Invader Zim is receiving a TV movie revival. Since it’s not out yet, we can look back at the original run of the series as an entity of the 2000s, and boy what an entity it was. Invader Zim not only holds up incredibly well, it also feels like it was rather ahead of its time and maybe it would have lasted longer today.
Think about it, the weird humor, the eccentric characters and even the premise all feel like a show that would have easily gotten green-lit in the modern cartoon renaissance that began with Adventure Time. The show only ran for two seasons, which makes it such a shame when you realize how much it would have thrived in modern times. Now, more than ever, is a perfect time for a revival TV movie.
12. DOESN’T HOLD UP: JIMMY NEUTRON
The original Jimmy Neutron film was a huge hit for Nickelodeon, so much so that a followup TV series premiered soon after. The Jimmy Neutron TV series was pretty successful during its heyday, but looking back, the show has a lot of shortcomings. For one thing, the CG animation doesn’t hold up very well, and comes off as very dated. The design was pretty unappealing as well, the look didn’t really work in 3D, and definitely wouldn’t work in 2D.
As for the writing, it was rather formulaic: Jimmy’s new invention causes some kind of crazy situation. It was a premise that was a bit too derivative of Dexter’s Lab, but wasn’t pulled off as well. The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius might have been successful enough to go on for three seasons, but we say skip this one if you’re going on a nostalgia binge.
11. HOLDS UP: TEEN TITANS
Another show that really doesn’t need any more praising is the original Teen Titans cartoon. There was never really a direct reason given as to why the show was cancelled, and lots of fans were left wanting more. Teen Titans ran for five seasons and presented bold new reimaginings of iconic DC heroes creating its own unique lore along the way.
The show was known for blending action and comedy, and this is perhaps its greatest trait, part of what makes it hold up so well. The jokes still hit, every fight scene is action-packed and all the high-drama points still cut as deep as they did when the show originally aired. With how successful Teen Titans Go is, it’s rather unclear if the original Teen Titans will be coming back, but we can still hope.
10. DOESN’T HOLD UP: CODE LYOKO
For those who don’t remember Code Lyoko, it was this weird French cartoon that was brought over to America, dubbed in English and shown on Cartoon Network. It followed a group of middle-schoolers who traveled to the virtual world of Lyoko to stop the computer virus Xana from infecting the real world. It was an awesome premise, and the show rocked a unique art style and pretty interesting writing.
However, the show manages to date itself in a few ways. For one thing, the CG 3D animation used for the world of Lyoko has not aged well, and the English dubbing feels a lot like early dubs of anime, somewhat off and hard to follow at times. Furthermore, old references and constantly used flip cellphones definitely date the cartoon to the early 2000’s. Code Lyoko might be worth a rewatch, but don’t be surprised if it feels dated.
9. HOLDS UP: AVATAR
It’s almost unfair to include Avatar: The Last Airbender on this list, both because it has a sequel series that aired after 2010, and because it’s pretty much the best cartoon ever. Seriously, it’s not even a question of wether or not Avatar: The Last Airbender holds up, since any and all discussion about the show is most likely in praise of it. The world of Avatar is just so inventive and creative, combining an unforgettable aesthetic, with its mix of martial arts and superpowers. The show uses these, pardon the pun, elements to create a truly unique, deep story.
The characters of Avatar: The Last Airbender are perhaps its strongest trait, nearly every major cast member goes through a compelling character arc, changing and growing as the show covered mature and complex themes. The cartoon had it all, action, adventure, drama and comedy, all of which definitely hold up.
8. DOESN’T HOLD UP: ROCKET POWER
Rocket Power was one of the many Nickelodeon shows created by Klasky Csupo, the animation company that also created Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys. Rocket Power technically started in 1999, but most of its seasons aired in the 2000s, ending in 2006. The show followed four friends who loved extreme sports, and boy is it very of its time.
Coming out of the tail-end of the ’90s and continuing into the last years of the whole “extreme” trend, Rocket Power feels incredibly dated. The premise of kids who love surfing, skateboarding, BMX and other extreme sports is so totally ’90s, along with a lot of other elements in the show. As beloved as the Klasky Csupo style is, it doesn’t age well, and it’s part of the reason Rocket Power has not held up over the years.
7. HOLDS UP: MEGAS XLR
Megas XLR was both a parody of and a love letter to giant robot anime. It followed Coop and his friends as he piloted a robot from the future to fight aliens and monsters. Megas XLR was a pastiche of so many inspirations from muscle cars and heavy metal to anime and video games. Though it was action-heavy, it was also hilarious, playing with giant robot tropes and drawing comedy from Coop’s tendency to cause massive collateral damage.
What makes Megas hold up so well is the fact that it would be right at home in today’s animation market. Modern cartoons are mostly comedic, and even action shows push for laughs more than anything. This pretty much describes Megas XLR in a nutshell, and thus the show has great rewatch value.
6. DOESN’T HOLD UP: LIFE AND TIMES OF JUNIPER LEE
Like a few other entires on this list that “don’t hold up,” The Life and Times of Juniper Lee has a great premise. It followed the titular character, Juniper Lee, who protected the balance between the magical world and the human one, often fighting mythical monsters along the way. The show was fun and full of action, but ended up only lasting a total of 40 episodes.
Juniper Lee was created by comic artist and writer Judd Winick, who was inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Simpsons when creating the show. Despite the actiony premise, the show was overly campy and silly, something that might work today, but wasn’t really handled well at the time. Juniper Lee had a cool setup, but it might not be worth a rewatch.
5. HOLDS UP: DANNY PHANTOM
Butch Hartman’s Danny Phantom is one of the most underrated superhero cartoons of all times. It pays homage to characters like Spider-Man by playing with teenage superhero tropes and mixing them into some new and fun. Danny Phantom followed the titular character, a ghost-powered superhero who protected his home town from ghost attacks, trying to make it through high school along the way.
Danny Phantom might have a few elements that firmly place it in the 2000s, but the storytelling and design still feel fresh and fun in modern day. The show was full of action and humor, and the characters felt real and layered. If you’re looking for an old Nickelodeon cartoon to rewatch, Danny Phantom should be on your list.
4. DOESN’T HOLD UP: ALL GROWN UP!
Speaking of old Nicktoons, who remembers the Rugrats spinoff, All Grown Up!? It started as a TV special showing everyone’s favorite adventuring babies when they were “all growed up.” After the success of the special, a full series was launched, following the Rugrats as middle-schoolers, and it’s… not really that great.
For one thing, the show started premiering long after the original audience of Rugrats had grown up, so it’s unclear who the target audience was. Regardless, All Grown Up! feels uninspired, doing little more than putting the characters in a different setting and time. Though it had its moments, All Grown Up! really hasn’t aged well, mostly due to the fact that it worked better as a TV special than a full-fledged series.
3. HOLDS UP: ED, EDD N EDDY
Ed, Edd n Eddy is easily one of the best comedy cartoons of all time. It brought classic slapstick cartoon comedy into modern animation and is looked back on as one of Cartoon Network’s greatest original programs. Strangely enough, the show was created on a dare; Danny Antonucci was dared by a friend to make a kid-friendly show after he had become known for grotesque adult cartoons like The Brothers Grunt.
The show followed the titular Eds as they tried to scam the local children out of their allowance so they could buy jawbreakers, their plans often escalating into crazy situations. There’s not really a bad episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy; even in the later seasons, the show was consistently funny. Without a doubt, Ed, Edd n Eddy holds up well.
2. DOESN’T HOLD UP: SHEEP IN THE BIG CITY
Who remembers Sheep In The Big City? It had an insane premise — a sheep moves the city and is constantly pursued by a secret government organization looking to use him for their sheep-powered-ray-gun. Yes, you read that right, the military was trying to use a sheep for a doomsday device. The organization gets weirder too, as it was lead by General Specific and his henchman, Private Public and the Angry Scientist. The show has its merits and was actually pretty popular with older audiences at the time, but it’s not really worth rewatching.
For one thing, the premise gets old pretty quickly, and the zany-cartoon antics Sheep gets into as the government chases him become rather repetitive over time. The series was rife with self-aware comedy, and while this gives it some rewatch value, it’s not enough to carry the series.
1. HOLDS UP: MY LIFE AS A TEENAGE ROBOT
The incredible art style of My Life As A Teenage Robot alone is enough to make us want to watch this show over and over. Created by Rob Renzetti, My Life as A Teenage Robot followed XJ9 — a teenage robot created to defend the world even though she just wants to be a normal teenager — and it featured a retro-futuristic art-deco style with brilliant color design. Seriously, this show is so beautiful to look at.
Aside from the look of the show, Teenage Robot had a fun premise that made for some great action comedy storytelling, and it definitely holds up. Though the show’s depiction of teendom is somewhat outdated, the cliches actually end up working in favor of the humor. Though there’s not a lot of story progression throughout the series, My Life As A Teenage Robot is still a whole lot of fun.
Which cartoons from the early ’00s do you think hold up, and which are unwatchable today? Let us know in the comments!
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