Animation is a storytelling medium unlike any other. It isn’t restricted by budget or bound by logic. The only imitations are that of the imagination. A child didn’t understand that Speed Racer was animated on 3’s, saving time and paper but giving it an unnatural motion that’s been parodied dozens of times. They didn’t give a shit because the car was cool and there was a monkey in it. No kid cares why Bugs Bunny can talk or why the Simpsons are yellow. They’ll accept it because it’s animated. Cartoons have to ability to suck us in but also present a world that we’ll instantly accept. Nothing taps into the imagination like cartoons, Whether it’s old school like The Ruff and Reddy Show (Not on the list) or brand new like The Happy Fun Times of Bojack Horseman (That’s not the title), animation has been here since the beginning and it shows no signs of going anywhere. Here’s my list of The 100 Greatest Animated Shows Of All Time.
If I were to ask you (as in the royal you) who the most popular cartoon character of the 30’s was, I guarantee most of you would answer Mickey Mouse. Maybe some of you would say Betty Boop or Felix but the correct answer was Popeye.
There was a time where he was bigger than the mascot of the biggest film company working today. Something about this spinach chomping ol’ sailor resonated with the audiences of the day. Maybe he represented the working class? The little guy, who has to constantly fight for the things he wants. Maybe it was that delicious ass spinach. I have no idea But suffice it to say, Popeye was a hit then and his legacy has endured for generations. And if you don’t like the live action film starring Robin Williams, I don’t like you.
29. Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Some of the cartoons on this list are brilliantly written dramas, Some are childhood favorites seeped in nostalgia and others are just stupid. I can’t really defend or explain the appeal of ATHF and I loathe the phrase “It’s not made for you.” If you don’t like this show, I completely understand. The main character is an unlikable asshole, the neighbor is a jerkass and the talking mound of meat speaks like a baby with a mouthful of marbels. I get it.
But on two separate occasions, this show made me laugh so hard, the beverage I was drinking (milk the first time, Pepsi the second) came shooting out of my nose. No other TV show has done that before or since. It’s stupid anarchy that Adult Swim has tried and failed to recapture time and time again.
Number 1 in the hood, G.
28. Justice League Unlimited
This spot is for both Justice League and it’s direct sequel Justice League Unlimited. I didn’t see the point in separating them considering there’s so much bleed over from one show to the next. Before Kevin Feige had the brilliant idea of creating a connected cinematic universe of superhero films, Bruce Timm did the exact same thing but in animation. He took Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series and put those characters and that universe in Justice League.
Obviously there were shows about superheroes before Justice League, Superfriends best them to the punch over twenty years previous but this was the first time a show was made up of elements of multiple other shows.
It was fanboy heaven but the show never sacrificed quality for nerdgasms. It didn’t rely on nostalgia or the novelty of its premise to coast along. It told compelling stories, involving almost every DC character imaginable. It’s almost ironic how bad the DCU is when the heavy lifting was done for them years and years ago. Just follow the blueprint this show created because it’s perfect.
I feel like I’ve already covered this show extensively because I constantly reference it in regards to its amazing spin off or it being the crown jewel of the animated Spielberg collection but that’s how great it is. Its shadow looms over the vast majority of the kids programming of the 90’s. Because it didn’t just appeal to kids but adults as well.
Telling the mostly fictionalized account of the Warner Bros and their sister, the crazy antics of Yakko, Wacko and Dot were also accompanied by a slew of side characters with their own segments. It was a variety show in the same vein as Looney Tunes but updated for modern audiences. It kept the amazing character designs of its precursor but added an extra level of wacky the original never dreamed of. Animaniacs is a perfect throwback to the wildness of a Tex Avery and Chuck Jones but adding enough to stand not on their shoulders but side by side as equals. Not you’re not going crazy, I bumped it up and switched it with American Dad. It’s just easier to do it now then wait two days when I move everything around.
26. Bojack Horseman
Bojack Horseman is about an alcoholic, washed up actor from a late 80’s, early 90’s sitcom called Horsin’ Around trying to write a memoir about his shitty life. He has a “roommate” (squatters rights, I suppose) named Todd, who is his only friend. An old girlfriend named Princess Carolyn is his only confidant and his ghost writer Diane is the only one that can put up with his shit for more than 5 minutes. He’s a piece of shit that literally can’t function without self imploding. He has either convinced himself that he can live with the chaos or he’s come to terms with the fact that that’s all there is.
Half of the entertainment is trying to guess when the inevitable foot will come down to crush him ala Monty Python. He’s a ticking time bomb that constantly finds a lower spot than rock bottom.
I know it sounds like a dead serious drama but it’s a comedy. A comedy with the best visual gags since Arrested Development and some of the strongest writing in any medium. It’s borderline nihilistic but that’s Hollywoo baby.
25. King of the Hill
Created by Beavis and Butthead mastermind Mike Judge and the future showrunner of The Office Greg Daniels, King of the Hill is a portrait of an all American propane salesman and his family living in Arlen Texas.
One of the only shows on this list that could easily be done in live action, the humor is subtle and the situations are always realistic. The characters are so well developed, that they feel like real people. You knew a Bobby Hill growing up. You know at least one Dale, probably a couple of Boomhauer’s and if you don’t know a Bill, odds are, it’s you.
It doesn’t feel like a cartoon in the typical sense. It feels more akin to an early Errol Morris documentary. King of the Hill is king of the cartoons.
Well, not technically because there’s 24 cartoons above it but it felt like a good pun to go out on.
24. Bob’s Burgers
The show centers around the Belcher family who own and operate a burger restaurant. Bob and his wife Linda and their three kids Gene, Louise and Tina.
Gene likes to eat and fart and will usually be seen playing and singing a song he just made up. Usually about those two things.
Tina likes ponies, zombies, butts, and writing erotica about a combination of the three. She’s also painfully awkward (in the dictionary sense, not the “OMG, Becky is wearing the same shirt as you, that’s so awkward” sense) and has a crush on her neighbor named Jimmy Jr.
Louise is a violence loving, bunny ear wearing 10 year old that will usually accompany Gene on whatever stupid scheme he’s cooked up purely out of boredom.
With its amazing cast of characters and clever humor, It’s the closest a cartoon has come to recapturing that old simpsons magic. Oh and H. Jon Benjamin is in it. So, automatic win.
23. Tom and Jerry
Two of the longest lasting animated characters in history, this duo has been entertaining audiences for decades. Winner of 7 academy awards, Tom and Jerry follows the patented formula of a thing trying to eat another thing and fucking up severely.
Wile-E Coyote tries to eat the roadrunner and blows himself up because he refuses to buy American, Ralph the wolf tries to eat the sheep and Sam the dog stops him, Sylvester tries to gobble up Tweety bird and that old lady with the broom whaps his ass.
It’s a well worn story but Tom and Jerry have been doing it better than anyone else for almost 60 years.
22. Neon Genesis Evangelion
I didn’t include Robotech or Mobile Suit Gundam Wing on my list because when it comes to mech driven anime, there’s none better than Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Interweaving religion, philosophical themes and psychology, Evangelion tells a complex narrative that rewards as well as confounds. Its story is almost as impenetrable as the best of Lynch but never too weird or confusing to alienate potential viewers.
It’s about a teenager who not only has to deal with the task of piloting a robot to fight angels but the emotional and spiritual toll it takes on him. He’s an emotional wreck who has father issues and feels alienated by everyone around him.
It’s a character study that just so happens to involve massive amounts of violence towards angels.
21. Space Ghost: Coast to Coast
The show that helped launch Adult Swim into the cultural phenomenon it is today. Space Ghost: Coast to Coast was an animated talk show that took childlike glee in confusing every guest that appeared on the show. Years before Eric Andre would use weaponized absurdism to agitate his celebrity guests, Space Ghost was bewildering not only the guests but the viewers as well.
It’s hard to imagine a world before Jackass and before hipsters discovered irony but Space Ghost, along with his pals Zorak, Moltar and Brak (who got his own spin off), were there first.