Beloved cartoons of yesteryear such as the highly acclaimed Justice League, Teen Titans, Avatar: The Last Airbender and more will forever be looked upon and remembered fondly. Years after the airing of their respective final episodes, these shows remain the topic of discussion when people recall the best that the countless animated series of the 2000s had to offer. The impact these shows have had on a wide range of demographics and media as a whole remains evident.
As we reflect on the days gone by, and nostalgia incites a resurgence that attempts to bring back the old for younger audiences to discover, there are a multitude of shows that still have yet to receive their due. These cartoons are seemingly lost to time, scarcely garnering a mention when discussion and reminiscence necessitates it. Here we will reflect on 15 of the most underrated and underappreciated cartoon series that debuted between 2000 and 2009, shows that either failed to obtain a substantial audience or rarely earn a spot on anyone’s top 10 list. In an effort to avoid picking any favorites, the order in which the following animated television shows are presented is according to the year of their first episode’s premiere date.
15 STATIC SHOCK (2000-2004)
Static Shock premiered on Kids’ WB in the fall of 2000, running four seasons with 52 episodes under its belt. The show followed Virgil Hawkins, a kid who obtained electromagnetic powers after an accident with mutagens. Virgil’s new found powers allowed him to fight crime, leading to his adoption of the Static alias. However, the mutagenic gas that was unleashed also altered the genetic make-up of others, many of which would use their powers for nefarious purposes.
While on the air, Static Shock was applauded for the diversity of its cast. The show was also nominated, and won, several awards. Specifically because Virgil is one of the more likable cartoon heroes of recent memory, it’s a wonder the series doesn’t come up as often as shows like Batman Beyond.
14 X-MEN: EVOLUTION (2000-2003)
X-Men: Evolution is arguably the most unappreciated of the Marvel animated series. Featuring Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Shadowcat, Spyke and Rogue as teens, the show acted as somewhat of a spiritual successor to the highly acclaimed X-Men: The Animated Series, which debuted in 1992. Though Evolution played loose with the X-Men mythos, taking creative liberties to better serve the storytelling at hand, the series generated some interesting original ideas -- the introduction of X-23 being chief among them.
In its four seasons, Evolution also succeeded in the development of fascinating backstories for its cast of characters, while simultaneously telling overarching stories that are still worth revisiting. Again, there’s a lot to appreciate about the series. Perhaps a new generation of X-Men fans and cartoon lovers are on their way to discovering it for the first time.
13 INVADER ZIM (2001-2004)
Premiering in 2001, Invader Zim added a new flavor to Nickelodeon’s line-up, which then consisted of series such as The Wild Thornberrys and Rocket Power. The show was an attempt to appeal to a slightly older audience; thus, a darker tone and diverging themes from the usual were explored. Zim was an alien from Irk, who in an effort to take over the world and enslave humanity also needed to assimilate into everyday human society.
The show was humorous, and told an interesting and award-winning story. For Nickelodeon, though, the target audience wasn’t biting as well as hoped. Invader Zim is now revered as a cult classic, since an unfortunate cancellation during its sophomore season left many questions unanswered. With a return looming in a TV movie helmed by series creator Jhonen Vasquez, here’s to hoping people give it an honest chance the next go around.
12 ACTION LEAGUE NOW! (2001-2002)
This is admittedly a weird one. Action League Now! is a KaBlam! spinoff that follows superheroes Meltman, The Chief, Thundergirl, Stinky Diver and The Flesh. The stop motion animated series only lasted one season spanning 12 episodes. Yet, the Action League’s time on All That and KaBlam! provides plenty of material to return to in the event of one feeling nostalgic for the team’s short-lived and zany adventures.
What makes the team special is their unconventional design. The not so super Thundergirl is essentially a Barbie in Wonder Woman garb; Meltman is a melted action figure who frequently proves his uselessness; G.I. Joe has the distinct honor of inspiring Stinky Diver; and who can forget The Flesh’s “He’s super strong and super naked!” tagline? Whether or not the show was any good is up for debate; however, it is at the very least deserving of our remembrance.
11 KIM POSSIBLE (2002-2007)
2002 was a great year for stellar animated television series, and Disney’s Kim Possible undoubtedly remains one of the stand-outs. A high school cheerleader, Kim’s average life isn’t so average when she, alongside Ron Stoppable and Rufus the naked mole rat, undertake secret missions to thwart the villainous threats of evil-doers. In a world where The Powerpuff Girls and Buffy were still going strong, the show’s premise was familiar yet remarkably unique.
The show never picked up steam , even though it was very well-received, garnering acclaim for its writing and characters, and even went on to spawn two films and a bevy of video game tie-ins. Why the series is seemingly not held to a higher regard now is a mystery; everyone should have hopped aboard Team Possible years ago.
10 THE ADVENTURES OF JIMMY NEUTRON: BOY GENIUS (2002-2006)
The spinoff to the 2001 film release of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius premiered in the summer of 2002. The show followed fifth grader Jimmy Neutron’s navigation through life as a boy genius, saving the world one experiment at a time… which was typically in peril because of his experiments to begin with. For three seasons, Jimmy and his friends were put in precarious situations. Along the way, each episode offers a teachable moment or two about science.
Jimmy Neutron worked on a variety of levels as a comedy, science fiction and action-adventure series. A slew of television specials were developed over the course of the show’s run, a few of which allowed the computer generated series to crossover with The Fairly OddParents in the always fun “Jimmy Timmy Power Hour” events. Sadly, Jimmy Neutron doesn’t get nearly enough praise for its storytelling, diverse cast and visuals.
9 WHAT'S NEW, SCOOBY-DOO? (2002-2006)
No Hanna-Barbera franchise has withstood the test of time as well as the inimitable Scooby and the Mystery, Inc. gang. When What’s New, Scooby-Doo? premiered on Kids’ WB in the fall of 2002, the beloved canine was making waves in theaters but hadn’t appeared on the small screen since A Pup Named Scooby-Doo’s final season in 1991.
Aside from the live-action film, What’s New, Scooby-Doo? followed in the success found with direct to DVD movies. Thus, the gang was reintroduced to the modern age, solving mysteries to rival the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? series. A catchy theme song and a host of new mysteries for the kids to meddle in allowed the new show to run for three seasons. When talking Scooby-Doo in general, What’s New rarely earns a mention and it’s a crying shame.
8 DANNY PHANTOM (2004-2007)
From the creator of The Fairly OddParents, Butch Hartman, Nickelodeon debuted Danny Phantom during the spring of 2004. In an unfortunate accident in his parents’ laboratory, Danny Fenton gained the power of the paranormal, becoming a half-ghost, ghost-hunting hero named Danny Phantom. For three seasons, audiences watched as Danny went ghost to protect his hometown of Amity Park from Ghost Zone threats.
The short-lived series received much acclaim for its writing and cast, which remain impressive a decade later. A host of interesting villains and stories that resemble comic book narratives are likely responsible for Danny Phantom’s appeal. As such, it’s baffling to think the show has little more than a cult following, especially when compared to The Fairly OddParents’ longevity and continuously expanding universe.
7 JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED (2004-2006)
In the pantheon of DC animated television series, Justice League Unlimited isn’t often regarded as highly it deserves. One of the primary differences between Unlimited and the original Justice League series, of which it is a continuation, is the expansion of the League itself. As the final outing for the DCAU that had initially been spawned by Batman: The Animated Series, Unlimited was tasked with broadening the franchise’s horizons.
A living, breathing world existed beyond what audiences were used to seeing with the core team of seven, and Unlimited explored it in full. This is the show’s most awe-inspiring triumph. Managing to tell gripping character-driven stories with such a massive cast to service is but one of the reasons Unlimited is owed continued praise. Another is that our current landscape of superhero television probably wouldn’t be the same without JLU’s contribution to the medium.
6 THE BATMAN (2004-2008)
In the fall of 2004, Warner Bros. Animation brought a Bruce Wayne/Batman-centric show back to the small screen for the first time since The New Batman Adventures. Of course, it was met with an abundance of comparisons to BTAS, despite the stark stylistic differences. The Batman’s character designs seemingly get the brunt of the criticism, but those who chose to steer clear of the series because of an unusually depicted Joker have missed out on something special.
The show’s earlier seasons are the most notably well done. Secondary characters flourish, the line between Batman and Bruce Wayne is interestingly drawn, and some pretty intriguing story arcs are explored. This series accomplished for Clayface what BTAS did for Mister Freeze; for this alone it should be awarded endless praise.
5 BEN 10 (2005-2008)
Ben 10 is a riveting beast. It has a following, and is set to return in video game form this coming November. However, Ben 10, not unlike many of Cartoon Network’s original series, appears to never rise above its status as a children’s show. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it is curious that the show does not garner the wide-reaching acclaim and attention of shows like Young Justice or Teen Titans.
Ben 10 follows ten-year-old Ben Tennyson, who, in using a watch-like device (The Omnitrix), can transform into a variety of alien species. Out of this premise evolves an incredibly detailed and massive universe. Several sequel series have been spawned since the original aired its final season in 2008, yet few outside of its targeted demographic seem captivated by its staying power.
4 TRANSFORMERS: ANIMATED (2007-2009)
Debuting in 2007, Transformers: Animated brought the Robots in Disguise back to television in the Cartoon Network original series. Avoiding ties to the Gen-1 series and its subsequent iterations, Transformers: Animated set out to begin the franchise anew. The show ran for three seasons, telling an overarching story that treads old ground and explored new characters, tales and themes. A fourth season was in the works, but cancellation swept such plans aside.
The short-lived show held plenty of promise. It also received its fair share of praise, despite the unusual nature of the art. A younger depiction of Optimus Prime and a slew of human baddies in the first season kept it from hitting its stride early on, but the sluggishness eventually paid off. Regrettably, not too many audience members were willing to stick around to raise the show above its cult status.
3 THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN (2008-2009)
The Spectacular Spider-Man, while an acclaimed series, will likely be remembered by many for the things it could have achieved if it had been renewed for a third season. According to producer Greg Weisman, another run could have entailed the debut of characters like Carnage. The disappointment doesn’t stop there, either.
To many, The Spectacular Spider-Man is considered Marvel’s best small screen animated effort. It once sat in the conversation alongside the likes of Batman: The Animated Series, but has evidently been dropped to the wayside since cancellation. Of course, woes regarding the rights to the series hinder any hope it has of ever returning, but that does not mean Spectacular Spider-Man isn’t worth a watch. On the contrary, this compelling show warrants revisitation and first time discovery, regardless of its incompletion.
2 WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN (2008-2009)
In an attempt to seemingly recapture the glory days of X-Men: The Animated Series, Marvel launched yet another X-Men show in 2008. Wolverine and the X-Men acts as a successor of sorts to X-Men: Evolution, as some of the plot points from the older series’ final season were carried over -- for instance, the Jean and Phoenix Force story.
Unfortunately, Wolverine and the X-Men arguably suffered a fate worse than its predecessor, not even receiving a second season renewal. The show was reportedly cancelled due to funding troubles, which stripped plans for a sophomore effort of the opportunity to see the light of day. Consequently, the show is scarcely recalled, and it is a shame considering the quality of the series.
1 BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (2008-2011)
Cartoon Network’s debut of Batman: The Brave and the Bold in 2008 returned the Bat’s small screen adventures to a lighter tone that hadn’t been explored in earnest since the Adam West-led series of the '60s. Forgoing an overarching narrative to instead focus on standalone stories, the series allowed the Caped Crusader to team with lesser known DC heroes. In addition, while a few of them appeared from time to time, Batman’s rogues gallery was not always at the heart of the show’s villainous exploits.
Lasting three seasons, the series covered a lot of ground. It was fun to watch and consistently managed to take the DC Universe in fascinating directions. The show is fondly remembered, sure; however, many nostalgic discussions concerning its run are specific to certain characters or moments, i.e., Music Meister. The Brave and the Bold as a whole is worthy of much more adoration.
Which of these shows do you remember fondly? Share your thoughts in the comments section!