19) Dexter’s Laboratory
Synopsis: Dexter is a boy genius capable of creating the most wondrous of inventions in his giant laboratory. However his scientific pursuits are continually thwarted by his older sister Dee-Dee who annoys him at every turn and often destroys his creations Why I Like It: Series creator Genndy Tartavosky has a lot of love for classic anime and Japanese media and it shows in all his works. For this show in particular it’s a love letter to japanese mecha and sci-fi, continually parodying them throughout various episodes. It’s a really fun comedy and it’s easy to see where his later works like Samurai Jack and Sym-Bionic Titan got their influence as his style is very much present in this show despite it’s lighter nature and while the post movie seasons aren’t quite as good, it’s still earned it’s place as a beloved classic.
Synopsis: The show follows the adventures of Clarence Wendell and his two friends Sumo and Jeff as they get into various, and occasionally weird situations.
Why I Like It: Surrealism in animated comedies for kids is pretty much something of a staple at this point so a show that’s genuinely about regular kids living out their lives is something rare to come by and this show does it well. The show captures the spirit of childhood effectively and has an enjoyable cast of characters and some pretty fun stories to tell. It functions as something of a spiritual successor to Ed, Edd n Eddy and the Rugrats while it occasionally dips into surreal scenarios, it generally does a better job of keeping itself grounded than it’s predecessors.
17) Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
Synopsis: When the world’s most dangerous supervillains are released from prison, superheroes Iron Man, Wasp, Ant Man, Thor and Hulk form an alliance to re-capture them and form a team known as the Avengers.
Why I Like It: Marvel’s managed to turn their movies into a gigantic franchise, and general quality to match, but their success with animated works has always left something to be desired. This show however is a pretty strong exception. It breaks away from the usual mostly episodic storytelling of superhero action toons and weaves together lengthy storyarcs that make just about every episode significant later down the line. It also does a solid job of exploring the group dynamics of the Avengers as they slowly grow into an actual team and have to struggle to keep them all together. This is definently the best action toon I’ve seen from Marvel and it’s a bit of a shame it got replaced by the more lighthearted Avengers Assemble series, just to have something closer to the movies (thanks again Disney)
16) Hey Arnold
Synopsis: Arnold is a kid growing up in New York City and trademarked by his football shaped head. Together with his friend Gerald he helps various people throughout the city with their problems while also dealing with the local bully Helga who secretly has a crush on him.
Why I Like It: This is another one of those rare slice of life shows that tends to almost never exist in western animation. What separates this one from the others though is that it not only mantains a completely down to earth tone, but also puts a lot of focus on it’s character writing. It sets up a lot of good stories for each character of the week and while it never delves too much into actual drama it does manage to usually wrap up those stories in a way that’s satisfying. Sadly thanks to the movie being a flop, we never did manage to get that second movie that promised a more complete conclusion but what we do have is more than enough and there’s some inklings going around that the show may be prepping for a comeback so hopefully there’s some truth to that.
15) Batman Beyond
Synopsis: After years of being the Batman, Bruce Wayne’s age finally starts to catch up with him and he decides to hang up the cape. Decades later a young man named Terry McGinnis finds himself involved with Bruce after his father’s murder, and decides to take the Batman suit in order to find out the truth behind it. Initially reluctant to lend him help, Bruce eventually decides to take Terry under his wing and trains him to become the next Batman proper.
Why I Like It: I have a pretty unabashed love for ol’ Batsy but the story of Bruce Wayne’s transformation has become something of a tired tale, and it certainly doesn’t help that across the various Batman stories that exist, his backstory is the one thing that always remains the same. Thus the idea of someone else taking up the mantle as Batman was pretty appealing to me even as a kid, and moreso when he was trained by Batman himself. The show came off the heels of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, and though the writing isn’t quite as strong it manages to delve into darker territory (with Return of the Joker being the most infamous example). Terry’s tale as the Batman is a pretty interesting one as he actually has his own character before wearing the mask rather than it defining him so it gives him a much more manageable character arc. I’m still waiting for DC to make a live-action movie of it someday but in the meantime the show is pretty good stuff.
14) Samurai Jack
Synopsis: Long ago in the distant past, Aku the shapeshifing master of darkness unleashed an unspeakble evil across the world. But a young samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose him. Before the final blow was struck however, Aku tore open a portal in time transporting the warrior to the future in which Aku’s evil is now law. Now the young warrior, taking on the alias of Jack, travels the world seeking a way to return to the past and to undo the evil that is Aku.
Why I Like It: As I said before with Dexter’s Laboratory, Genndy Tartavosky’s stuff is pretty heavily influenced by japanese media and this show is the most blatant example, as well as the most iconic. It pays homage to classic samurai movies with each episode serving as it’s own mini film of sorts and each one delivering on quality action and direction (while also finding some clever ways to get around censorship at the time). The actual stated goal of the series is never really achieved (unless we ever get that movie Genndy keeps promising) but it certainly doesn’t need one to be enjoyed as it’s a purely episodic tale and each episode is pretty cool.
13) Courage The Cowardly Dog
Synopsis: Eh, you know the drill
Why I Like It: So if you couldn’t already tell I like genre spoofs a lot and this show is one to horror series. It’s a really fun comedy that makes fun of the horror genre just as much as it plays it straight as some of the stuff in the show can be downright creepy (I mean seriously what IS that?). It also has the tendency to occasionally veer into heartwrenching territory as some of it’s stories occasionally ditch the horror elements in favor of more heartwarming or tragic tales and it all makes for a series that’s held up pretty well over the years.
12) Green Lantern: The Animated Series
Synopsis: The series focuses on the adventures of Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of Sector 2814, and his partner Kilowog. Hal Jordan travels t “Frontier Space” the region of space at the edge of the Guardians’ territory, where Green Lanterns are being picked off by the Red Lanterns and they must make their return back to central guardian space to bring news of the threat
Why I Like It: This show is a bit of an odd duck among the DCAU toons as it’s the least like a superhero show despite being based off of one DC’s most iconic superheroes of all time. Instead it functions as something more akin to a classic space opera anime with a few superhero trappings. This works out pretty well for the most part as it makes for a tightly plotted show and gives plenty of room to explore it’s characters as the crew members learn to deal with each other and their respective pasts. It’s also interesting in that it deals with the whole “tragic widower” thing that sometimes pops up in fiction in a way most tend not to as one of the ongoing elements of the show is one of the main characters Razer dealing with his desire to avenge his wife versus letting himself fall in love again. The show was technically cancelled but it ends on a strong enough note that you can mostly take the ending as is and be relatively satisfied.
11) Code Lyoko
Synopsis: Jeremie Belpois, a gifted child attending boarding school at Kadic Academy, one day discovers a supercomputer in an abandoned factory near his school. Upon activating it, he discovers a virtual world and Aelita, a young girl trapped inside Lyoko. After unusual events begin to occur at school, Jeremie learns of X.A.N.A., a malevolent destruction-bent artificial intelligence/multi-agent system running on the supercomputer whose goal is to take over the world. Jeremie soon forms a goal to materialize Aelita into the real world and stop X.A.N.A. in his tracks. With the help from Jeremy’s friends and classmates, Ulrich Stern, Odd Della Robbia, Yumi Ishiyama, and Aelita, the group goes to Lyoko in hope to saves the world.
Why I Like It: As a kid, I mistook this show for an anime for the longest time until I learned what (theoretically) seperates the two and for good reason. This show is still probably one of the most heavily anime-influenced things I’ve ever seen and so much so that it even extends into it’s theme song (to be expected of a french cartoon I guess since anime is a much bigger thing over there). As it’s something of a “Monster of the Week” show in structure what really makes it work are it’s characters. Despite adopting more ongoing plotlines in later seasons, it’s by and large a character show and the character interactions are usually great. Though one oddly unique thing about it is thanks to the French creators being largely involved in the english dub’s production, pretty much all of the fanservice that was in the french version somehow made it over here, and it makes you wonder what the heck was up with Cartoon Network’s censors. Even though most of the episodes have the same structure it manages to avoid being too repetitive and having seen the whole thing through again in recent years, it still holds up surprisingly well.