Some cartoons only last a season and are soon forgotten, while others leave a lasting impression for years to come. Warner Bros, Disney, and Hanna-Barbera are examples of companies that paved the way for generations of classics with characters like Bugs Bunny, the Flintstones, and Mickey Mouse. During the '80s, cartoons that weren't solely focused on slapstick comedy and quick-witted puns made their way onto the small screen. Shows began to focus on dramatic fight scenes and character development, leaving the audience with a range of emotions. Here are nine cartoons that are must-see classics, all of which should be on your animation binge list.
The Animaniacs starred three siblings; Yakko, Wakko, and their sister, Dot. These three kept the spirit of classic Warner Bros. cartoons alive while offering something different for its '90s audience, combining slapstick comedy with educational lessons. A great example of this is Yakko's song, in which he names the countries of the world.
The show also featured jokes only adults would understand. For example, one of the main character's name is Dr. Scratchansniff. That being said, Animaniacs was more than just Yakko, Wakko, and Dot's adventures. The cartoon was host to a plethora of great characters like The Good Feathers, Slappy Squirrel, and the widely popular Pinky and the Brain. In fact, this duo was such a hit with fans that they eventually had their own spin-off.
Related cartoons: Tiny Toons Adventures (1990-1995) Pinky and the Brain (1995-1998)
Everybody knows that life is like a hurricane in Duckberg, and every fan wanted a giant money pit to swim in after seeing this show's opening. In DuckTales, Scrooge McDuck and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie went on weekly adventures in search of treasure.
Along these adventures, Scrooge and his nephews ran into all kinds of villains; Criminals trying to steal Scrooge's fortune (the Beagle Boys), a witch named Magica De Spell who was trying to steal Scrooge's number one dime to make herself more powerful, and the second richest duck in the world, Flintheart Glomgold.
DuckTales was the first Disney cartoon to be produced for syndication and ran for 100 episodes. The popular show also gave us Launchpad McQuack, who made regular appearances in our next show, Darkwing Duck.
Related Cartoon: TaleSpin (1990)
Darkwing Duck (1991-1992)
Darkwing Duck is what happens when you mix the mystery of Batman with golden age comics like The Shadow, and then include spoofs of popular Spider-Man villains. It might sound odd, but Darkwing Duck was a sure-fire hit.
Darkwing Duck had all the goofiness of Disney's afternoon cartoons with a touch of comic book drama. The titular character had a mild mannered persona to throw off his enemies, a pilot to fly his ship (Launchpad McQuack from Ducktales) and an adopted daughter (Gosalyn Mallard) who wanted nothing more than to love her adopted dad.
Related: Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (1989-1990)
Hey Arnold! (1996–2004)
Throughout the '90s, #Nickelodeon ran some of the most iconic original cartoons to date, and Hey Arnold! was undoubtedly one of the best.
This show was unlike most '90s cartoons, and remains unique to this day. Hey Arnold!, while intended for a younger audience, touched on a lot of serious subjects as the show dealt with life, love, and even death. While the show may have been dark at times, it was still funny and managed to keep viewers intrigued.
Related: Doug (1991-1999)
Fairly Odd Parents (1998-2001)
Whether it's live action or animated, sometimes there's no need for an intricate plot - all you need is great comedy with even better characters. This is exactly what we got when Fairly Odd Parents was released in 1998.
Throughout the show, fairy godparents Cosmo and Wanda would grant Timmy's wildest wishes. While Wanda would say that some of these wishes weren't good ideas, her husband Cosmo would grant them and shenanigans would inevitably ensue.
The show had a ton of side characters that stood out with their own memorable moments. The show wasn't afraid to feature lengthy musical moments, and there's even an Arnold Schwarzenegger-inspired fairy drill sergeant called Jorgen Von Strangle.
Related: Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (1994-1997), Invader Zim (2001-2004)
Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999 - 2002)
If I had to describe Courage the Cowardly Dog in two words, they'd be 'weird' and 'creepy'. Courage and his two owners live in the middle of nowhere in Kansas; Muriel is a sweet older woman and her husband is... well, he's a bit of an a-hole. Regardless of this, Courage loves them both.
Courage the Cowardly Dog was still among the funnier #CartoonNetwork shows, but it was distinctly creepy for a kid's show. There were aliens, talking cats, ghosts, and all sorts of other paranormal beings.
Related Cartoon: Ren and Stimpy (1991-1996)
Transformers (1984- 1987)
If your introduction to the Transformers franchise was Michael Bay's live action blockbuster series, do yourself a huge favor by checking out this classic cartoon for the authentic experience.
Transformers was more than just an action-based cartoon with giant robots fighting each other. It was one of the few cartoons where things could actually go wrong, permanently killing characters. Even if the good guys won, the Deceptacons sometimes managed to get away with just enough to consider their venture a victory. Needless to say, this made every episode a memorable adventure.
Related Cartoons: G.I. Joe (1983-1986), Beast Wars (1996-1995)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003-2009)
People look back fondly on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon of the 1980s, but it doesn't come close to being as good as its successor in the early 2000s.
The creators of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made sure that the characters improved their skills little by little. In the first season, you could see them getting beaten by foot ninjas, but they became so talented that they could challenge Shredder as the series progressed. With real character growth, the turtles didn't always deal with adversity and loss in a positive way. They had to grow as characters, giving audiences a huge pay off when a lesson was learned.
Related Cartoon: Jackie Chan Adventures (2000-2005)
Batman The Animated Series (1992-1995)
If I had to pick one cartoon as the greatest of all time, it would Batman The Animated Series. This cartoon shows off everything that is great about Batman, and is still loved by fans worldwide.
The show focused on Bruce Wayne's detective skills, showcasing his abilities to overcome the odds thanks to his intellect. On top of Batman's greatness, there are an assortment of villains that made Batman's adventures fun to watch. All in all, this was the perfect cartoon. Without Batman: The Animated Series, we might not have gotten the vast amount of great DC Comics animated movies that exist today.
Related Cartoons: Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000), Justice League Unlimited (2004-2006)
What must-see cartoon would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!