Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It’s responsible for everything from the endless stream of remakes we’re subjected to in the movie theaters, to shows like Fuller House. We love what we loved in our past, and we’d love for it to come back, hopefully to make us feel how we felt during our younger, more innocent times. Nowhere else is this more true than with cartoons, a medium that all of us hold dear because it connects us to our childhoods, and how it felt to enjoy something back when our only responsibility was finishing our homework.
For this list, we’re looking at Marvel cartoons we miss the most. Over the decades, the House of Ideas has generated dozens of different incarnations of some of our favorite characters, some of which went on to become classic series. Unfortunately, due to the nature of cartoons and their need to move toys over everything else means they eventually have to come to an end. Sometimes that end comes sooner than we thought thanks to rights issues, resulting in cliffhangers which will forever leave viewers in the dark. In cases like that, we don’t just miss them, but actively pine to have those shows return so we can finally get the closure we deserve. That said, not every cartoon is going to be Fox Kids’ X-Men or Spider-Man -- sometimes the creatives struck out, and the fans barely even remember them, let alone want them back. Which is which? Well, read on to find out.
19 MISS: IRON MAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
The first season of this is admittedly pretty terrible, taking on the most rote stereotypical tropes from Saturday morning cartoon shows of the '80s and '90s and just grouping all the good guys and bad guys together. Iron Man had Force Works, Mandarin had all of Iron Man’s goons, then at the end of the episode they’d all punch each other in episodic showdowns until the next episode.
But the second season of this was great, tapping into the essence of '80s Iron Man comics and using more longform storylines. They loosely adapted some pretty classic Iron Man stories like the "Armor Wars" and this series was just finding its identity when the show was canceled.
18 DON'T MISS: X-MEN: EVOLUTION
In all honesty, this show was never bad, it was just never quite as much fun as the '90s X-Men cartoon. Inspired by the idea of the First Class of X-Men starting as teens in the comics, Evolution would follow a team of X-Men who attended actual high school… and balanced that life with learning how to control their powers.
On the one hand, it finally made Jean Grey look useful after years of being largely worthless in the '90s series. But on the other, no one really asked for the X-Men to be teenagers again, with all of the angst and drama that came with it.
17 MISS: SPIDER-MAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
This isn’t even a matter of missing the show, it’s a matter of never getting a proper finale to the series in the first place. At the very end of the third season, Mary Jane wound up disappearing into a pocket dimension thanks to the machinations of the Green Goblin and we never saw her again.
For the next two years, Peter has no idea where Mary Jane is or what happened to her, and it’s not until Peter leads the heroes to a victory in the Secret War and saves reality itself that he’s finally allowed to be taken to see Mary Jane. But we never got any of that, and that’s closure any fan of the '90s Spider-Man series would love to have.
16 DON'T MISS: HULK AND THE AGENTS OF SMASH
A few years back someone got the bright idea to do a Hulk cartoon as a comedy-action series. Now despite this running counter to every interpretation of the character we’d had up to that point, occasionally change can be good... but we’re not so sure it worked here.
The basic idea was Hulk’s life would become a sort of reality series courtesy of longtime sidekick Rick Jones (who would be a “Hulk” himself, known as A-Bomb) to make society feel better about having these giant monsters who can bench press mountains running around. Agents of S.M.A.S.H. lasted about two seasons before the gimmick ran dry.
15 MISS: X-MEN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
Aside from having a theme so memorable that upon seeing the image for this entry you undoubtedly started humming it in your head, this was a great series. It captured the complex characterization and relationships of this team of ragtag mutants fighting to make the world a better place for their people, but always kept enough action to keep you engaged as a child.
The last episode for this series begs for a continuation -- Xavier gets attacked by a mutant hater and the only way to save him is by going off to Shi’ar with Lilandra. Xavier goes away and… that’s it. We don’t see what happens to him, or the X-Men, or even a decisive answer on whether humans and mutants can get along.
14 DON'T MISS: SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS
In the '80s this was actually a pretty popular cartoon, and if we somehow could have done this list on the web back then, it probably would have wound up on the other end of this list. However, after multiple excellent Spider-Man cartoons this doesn’t quite measure to the same standard.
Yet another cartoon featuring Spider-Man in college, this series teams the wall-crawler up with Iceman and Firestar and sees them fight crime with help from the occasional superhero guest star. While this show had its time in the sun, it’s doubtful anyone is clamoring for it to return.
13 MISS: FANTASTIC FOUR
The first one hundred issues of Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are some of the most influential comics in all of superhero history, showing a level of world building and creativity few have matched since. So when Hanna-Barbera decided to adapt the First Family in 1967, they were smart enough to pull directly from the stories that made these characters such favorites in the first place.
Shockingly thorough, this would be the first time we were exposed to Doctor Doom, Galactus, the Super-Skrull, and many other classic Marvel villains. And while Hanna-Barbera animation was rarely ever top-notch, things were still solid enough to feel like you were watching those Silver Age classic stories in motion.
12 DON'T MISS: AVENGERS: UNITED THEY STAND
Though X-Men and Spider-Man had already wound down, Fox Kids would continue to try and rely on Marvel for some of their cartoon needs for quite some time, although none would ever have quite the same success. One such cartoon they attempted was Avengers: United They Stand, which was a mishmash of bad decisions tossed into a blender and then spat out onto Saturday mornings.
Due to licensing problems they couldn’t have Captain America, Iron Man, or Thor and they were left with a cast of largely unknown at the time leftovers like Tigra and Wonder Man. They also inexplicably had the ability to summon suspiciously toy-able armor, presumably to match up with the needlessly futuristic New York the series was set in.
11 MISS: SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN
In 2008, Marvel had an idea for a brand new Spider-Man series -- one which would find our wall-crawler going back to the very basics. While Spider-Man cartoons for the past two decades had featured him in college, this one would see him back in high school, trying to balance his responsibilities as a teenage kid with his responsibilities as Spider-Man.
With Gargoyles creator Greg Weisman at the head of things, Spectacular Spider-Man featured well-developed characters and intricate characterization -- developing the villains and supporting cast just as much as Peter Parker. Sadly, the show only received two seasons before disputes between Marvel’s new owners Disney and Sony brought the series to a close.
10 DON'T MISS: THE NEW FANTASTIC FOUR
Ten years after the creation of the original Hanna-Barbera Fantastic Four cartoon, the people at DePatie-Freleng Enterprises decided they would try their hands at their own version of the Fantastic Four. This show is memorable for introducing the Fantastic Four’s robot, H.E.R.B.I.E., to the group as he was forced to replace the Human Torch because someone else had the rights to him.
As if replacing Johnny Storm with a kid-friendly bot wasn’t bad enough, this is also the series that had Reed defeat Magneto with a wooden gun. There’s laughs to be had from the absurdity of this series, but it certainly doesn’t ever need a second season.
9 MISS: INCREDIBLE HULK
In the mid-'90s, Marvel was enjoying a period of animation domination, as they managed to have their characters ruling Saturday mornings on two channels. Spider-Man and the X-Men were on Fox, while Iron Man and the Hulk were on UPN.
This rendition of the Hulk was actually fairly solid for the time, capturing the loneliness of being Bruce Banner as he’s forced to live his life on the road trying to escape General Thunderbolt Ross, the Leader, and the other trouble that only happens when you’re a superhero. The series captured the tone so well they even tried to lighten things up with the second season, thinking it was too dark for children.
8 DON'T MISS: SPIDER-MAN: THE NEW ANIMATED SERIES
Know what probably isn't the best idea? If someone did a show about Spider-Man, but took away all his most famous villains to keep continuity with a film trilogy that will never, ever reference said show.
To be fair to this series, having Peter in college is something rarely explored because most shows are too obsessed with seeing him in high school, and shrinking his supporting cast down to Mary Jane and Harry Osborn could have made for some real character development. But the show only lasted one season because it aired on MTV and they were more interested in running reruns of Road Rules.
7 MISS: IRON MAN: ARMORED ADVENTURES
Against all odds, this actually wound up being a fairly decent cartoon. It had a couple of major red flags when they first announced it -- unlikable 3D animation and a focus on Tony Stark as a teenager -- but the show actually wound up being the longest running adaptation of Iron Man, and included a lot of really cool aspects from the character’s history.
Showrunner Christopher Yost made sure we got everything from old school rogues like Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man to newer ideas like Pepper Potts as Rescue. If this were around today, maybe it could find a place for Ironheart, Tony Stark’s awesome young protégé?
6 DON'T MISS: MARVEL SUPER HEROES
The good side of Marvel Super Heroes is that it was one of the only times comic fans would be exposed to classic heroes like Thor, Cap, and Iron Man. The bad news is that… none of these were very good. Appearing in 1966, the now defunct studio Grantray-Lawerence took five of Marvel’s biggest heroes at the time and tossed them into seven minute shorts that were fairly direct adaptations of the comics.
The truth is, most of us wouldn't miss this show because once these cartoons fell out of syndication they basically disappeared from the public eye for years. But even if they hadn't, their limited animation makes them look so bad it's hard to care for them either way.
5 MISS: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN
After four Spider-Man series across 20 years of television… you’d think fans would have been a little webbed out on the wall-crawler. Still, in 2012 Marvel decided it was time to swing back around to giving the friendly neighborhood hero another shot. Tapping into his Amazing Friends roots, Ultimate Spider-Man saw Peter lead a young team while working with S.H.I.E.L.D.
Despite being an action series, the story also took a decidedly different approach to Spidey’s usual humor as well, employing the use of Family Guy-like cutaways. It was all new, but it worked, and even though the series went on for a record breaking 100+ episodes, we still would have loved to see it continue.
4 DON'T MISS: SILVER SURFER
With X-Men already over and Spider-Man on its way out, Fox Kids needed new content that would replace some of their superhero offerings. With so many other heroes either already having cartoons or having their rights tied up in knots, Fox had to start getting creative with their choices. Enter: Silver Surfer.
The truth is this cartoon wasn't really all that bad -- it covered a variety of social topics in an easy to digest manner and had some beautiful animation. But it also only ran four months and didn’t spend that much time in reruns. It’s not that we don’t miss it, it's that we never saw enough of it to miss in the first place.
3 MISS: WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN
This show only got one season before Disney bought Marvel and upended the partnership Marvel had with Nickelodeon to air it. It’s a shame too, because despite the name indicating the show would be overly Wolverine-centric, the writers behind this series managed to tell an engrossing serial story.
In the aftermath of the X-Mansion blowing up, Wolverine is forced to reunite the X-Men by an Xavier from the future in order to save the planet. All our favorites were present and this show was shaping up to be something special until it came to a very abrupt end, with the show clearly needing at least one more season to wrap things up.
2 DON'T MISS: SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED
A year removed from the popular Spider-Man: TAS series, Fox decided they could get a bit more from the wall-crawler by doing a completely different, newer series. It would have been a great idea, but some rights issues forced them to do a completely different storyline from their initial plans.
So we get Peter Parker traveling to a completely different version of Earth where humans are second-class citizens and the High Evolutionary’s Beastials reign supreme. This show did well enough, but the truth is most people just wanted a sequel to the first Fox series, not some completely new show that couldn’t solve the cliffhanger at the end of the original.
1 MISS: AVENGERS: EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES
By the late '00s, the Avengers hadn’t gotten many opportunities for television shows, and the only one they’d had wasn’t very good, so when pictures first leaked for this series, fans were skeptical.
But surprisingly, EMH turned out to be great, tapping into everything from classic stories like "The Korvac Saga" to modern stories like Bendis' New Avengers in order to fashion its own version of the Marvel Universe that felt familiar to long time fans and welcoming to newcomers. Unfortunately the series only ran for a short two seasons before Marvel decided to go in a different direction in the aftermath of being purchased by Disney.