Cartoons and animated features have been delighting fans since the very beginnings of motion film. As a medium they allow creators to pull an audience into a realm of pure storytelling without limitations. Among all the beloved titles, it can be hard to choose a favorite. So, in the space of the small screen, we endeavor to ask the question, what are best cartoon series of all time?
A lot of nostalgia is associated with popping on your favorite kids’ movie. One recent article describes, “There’s something about watching your favorite animated film and seeing that Magic Kingdom logo that brings back some of the best childhood feelings and memories.” Although some people may automatically associate cartoons with children and humor, the best cartoons move past this stereotype to become a vehicle for storytelling. Slapstick, violence, and impossible situations are all the hallmarks of iconic animated shows.
Surprisingly, modern cartoons get a lot of backlash from parents. While these shows are memorable and extremely popular around the world, a new study argues some are also sending kids the wrong messages about pain. A team of psychologists say popular kids’ cartoons like “Peppa Pig,” “Toy Story,” and “Frozen” are too violent and give children an unrealistic view of pain. The study finds animated films such as “Despicable Me,” “Finding Dory,” and “The Incredibles” plus TV shows like “Octonauts” often feature characters that do not show empathy when someone is injured. Researchers add this focus on more extreme and violent injuries without compassion teaches children the wrong lessons about pain.
That being said, the modern space offers space for animated story telling to express noir, grim, and even realistic portrayals of the human condition. From laughs to thrills our list of the best cartoon series of all time that the medium of animation has to offer. Let us know what cartoons you love in the comments below!
The List: Best Cartoon Series of All Time, According to Fans
1. “Looney Tunes” (1930)
Looney Tunes are quite literally the Great Grandaddy of Animation. A collection of anthropomorphic animals and zany humans defined the genre of slapstick animated violence and tropes. “They started at the movies way back in the 1930s, but Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Co. have an enduring appeal that has made their slapstick antics pop-culture mainstays. Countless TV incarnations and an extensive cast of beloved characters,” writes TV Guide.
The Looney Tunes also presented accurate and beautifully orchestrated symphonic music. Of “the top 50 greatest animated shorts of all time with What’s Opera, Doc? coming in at first place. Not only do I strongly believe that this (Looney Toons) is the greatest show of all time, I consider these shorts among the most important works of art ever created,” Screenage Wasteland.
In the 90+ year history of the Looney Tunes, they have also presented a cast of some of the most memorable characters ever created. “Talk about a kooky cast of characters! This cartoon series, produced during the Golden Age of American animation, features favorites like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, Tweety Bird, and Pepé Le Pew. And that’s just the short list. A longtime Saturday morning TV staple, the adventures of the Looney Tunes crew are now available around the clock through streaming,” write Readers Digest.
2. “Batman The Animated Series” (1992)
Batman The Animated Series is one of the first great dramatic cartoons in American animation. With a combination of music, action, and superb stories Batman The Animated Series started a new era of dramatic action storytelling in cartoon series. “With an uncanny mix of menacing sharp edges and mysterious moving images, the animation captured the beauty of Bob Kane’s original creation and put the Dark Knight in a world that felt as dangerously real as the power-less superhero bravely faced. The soundtrack struck all the right notes, the voice acting outpaced any live-action interpretations, and the consistent depth in each new episode built grand, meaningful half-hour arcs that still resonate, whether you watched as a child or tuned in as an adult,” writes Indiewire.
This show is iconic because it defined the action genre as a medium for great storytelling. This animated also elevated the canon of Batman Mythos. Fandom Wire writes the following: “Batman: The Animated Series is peak television. Not just peak animation, but peak television… it reinvented the mythos for the better. Batman turned characters like Mr. Freeze from a joke into one of Batman’s most iconic rogues galleries. It CREATED Harley Quinn. Batman: The Animated Series has defined how we see and how we will see Batman and everything that comes along with him forever.”
Put simply, “For some people, though, the Batman of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ is their favorite version of the Caped Crusader. If you like a darker bit of animation that looks cool, this is for you,” says YardBarker.
3. “The Simpsons” (1989)
No list of greatest cartoons could be complete without acknowledging “The Simpsons”. With the distinction of being the longest running cartoon series to date, this cartoon combines humor with social commentary. “We’re still not exactly sure where Springfield is, but we feel right at home at 742 Evergreen Terrace. Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and their friends and relatives have balanced cheeky humor and sharp social satire for more than 500 episodes, making this TV’s longest-running scripted primetime series and as American as apple pie,” says TV Guide.
36 years ago tonight, Matt Groening first introduced “The Simpsons” to the world as a short on “The Tracey Ullman Show.” pic.twitter.com/hqchdYEt0Y
— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) April 20, 2023
The longevity of this program is mentioned by many of our sources. “The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening that originally started on April 19, 1987 as shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show. It got its own series on December 17, 1989 and is still running as of 2023, making it the longest running animated sitcom. It is about a man named Homer Simpson and his family (wife Marge and children Bart, Lisa and Maggie and pets, Snowball II and Santa’s Little Helper) going through a long series of misadventures,” writes The Top Tens.
More than just a long-running show, “The Simpsons” is also recognized for its place in broadcast history. “From its start as rough shorts airing during The Tracey Ullman Show, the dysfunctional Simpson family has been a sharp parody of the middle class American lifestyle. Many fans view the first eight seasons as the series’ best, containing such classics as ‘The Crepes of Wrath,’ ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish,’ and ‘Marge vs. the Monorail,’ but it can be argued that even with a dip in quality from the early seasons, The Simpsons remains an entertaining and relevant series,” states IGN.
4. “Bojack Horseman” (2014)
The most recent entry on our list, Bojak Horseman is a moody show that depicts mental illness and loss. This surreal cartoon is described as follows: “The world of ‘Bojack Horseman’ can be a little strange for people, what with humans and anthropomorphic animals having relationships and stuff. Also, you might think a show about a former celebrity horse is a trifle. That’s not true at all. ‘Bojack’ is often a searing portrait of depression, failure, addiction and so much more. It just happens to focus on a talking horse,” says YardBarker.
BoJack Horseman takes a poignant look at real problems through the absurdist lens of talking animals. “This Netflix original follows the story of talking horse BoJack Horseman, a washed-up sitcom star from the 1990s, as he navigates his depression, addiction, and hopefully triumphant return to Hollywood royalty with the release of an autobiography… The series has received numerous awards and been praised for its honest, tragicomic outlook on life,” writes Reader’s Digest.
In fact, many of our sources consider the subject matter of Bojack Horseman to transcend the label of cartoon to be more of an animated black comedy. “‘BoJack Horseman’ has accomplished more in five seasons than most TV series, animated or otherwise, do in twice that span, and it does so with the most economical storytelling every put to screen. From the five-second spans of dialogue that bridge heartbreak and hilarity, to the hidden jokes populating every square inch of the frame, to the inventive, eye-catching animation that builds worlds without a drop of exposition, ‘BoJack Horseman’ is an incredible story to behold. That it makes us laugh and cry in unprecedented amounts is almost secondary to how much is being offered,” says Indiewire.
5. “Avatar The Last Airbender” (2005)
Avatar The Last Airbender was a sleeper hit that first aired in 2005 on Nickelodeon. Through its original storytelling and respectful representation of fictional eastern culture, Avatar the Last Airbender has become a beloved classic. In 2023 the series is positioned to become a large franchise with the addition of new animated features, cartoon series, and an Live-action adaption for Nextflix. This show resonates deeply with its audience. “Avatar tells you a story and it leaves you begging for more at the end of each chapter. Where so many cartoon characters stay the same to keep a level of consistency for a younger audience, Avatar allows its characters to grow. Aang and his friends mature and learn after each episode. While the core tenets of their personality remain, they become better people throughout the course of the show,” writes FandomWire.
Along with numerous reviews that go into great detail there are also succinct summaries as well. “In this fantasy series, the world is divided into four nations—the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads—and benders are special people able to control and manipulate the element native to their region. The Avatar is the only person able to bend all four elements, and that person happens to be 12-year-old Aang. The series follows Aang and his friends Katara, Sokka, and Toph as they go on adventures, fight evil, and learn lessons along the way. Fans often count it among the best TV shows of all time,” according to Reader’s Digest.
Avatar is a uniquely American product, “In an industry often dominated by Asian imports, Avatar found a way to emulate the best features of Japanese animation while keeping some unique elements of western cartoons, and that formula made it the top rated animated show in its demographic,” Says IGN.
You might also be interested in:
- TV Guide
- Reader’s Digest
- Indie Wire
- One37 PM
- Yard Barker
- The Top Tens
- Fandom Wire
- Fox News
- Screenage Wasteland
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.