Every viewer has their own opinions about the best cartoons of all time. While all different animated shows have specific aspects that make them appealing to the audience, some cartoons have reached a wider audience and have impacted pop culture.
Cartoons such as Scooby-Doo, Looney Tunes, and Pokémon have influenced generations of viewers, withstanding the test of time while evolving with modern culture. Others, such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Avatar: The Last Airbender, are great kid shows that even adults enjoy watching. These hit cartoons are among some of the best of all time.
Updated by David Giatras September 22, 2023: The idea of cartoons was mainly geared toward children back in the day but has evolved over the couple of decades to include shows made exclusively for adults. With the ever-changing landscape of television due to the rise of streaming services, some of the most popular cartoons ever made were made popular by an older fanbase.
15 Adventure Time
Adventure Time is one of the best modern cartoons for both adults and children. While aimed at a younger audience, the characterization, and fantastical elements have enticed many adult viewers. The show follows Finn and his magical dog, Jake, who fight evil in the Land of Ooo.
While Adventure Time is one of the darkest Cartoon Network shows, this only adds to the intrigue of the overall story. The cartoon quickly became an iconic show, backed up by an impressive 100% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It also has a spin-off special, Adventure Time: Distant Lands, as well as a series spin-off Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake that streams on Max.
14 Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends
Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends is one of the most impressive cartoons from Cartoon Network. The charm of this series is evident in the concept. Madame Foster takes in imaginary friends that kids have outgrown, giving them a community and home.
The concept was just quirky enough to create intrigue, and the storyline and characters were amazingly crafted, giving the audience everything they wanted from a children’s show. In addition to the goofy situations and characterization, the overarching theme is a wholesome focus on the importance of friendship.
Futurama follows Philip J. Fry, a delivery boy who is accidentally preserved for a thousand years and awakens in the 30th century. The series then follows his adventures adjusting to his new time alongside his friends Leela and Bender, as well as his great-grandnephew Professor Farnsworth.
The series was extremely popular upon release but was canceled after 4 seasons. However, due to its popularity, the series continued with 4 films that were remade into a fifth season, and Comedy Central picked up the show for additional episodes. It was then revived yet again by Hulu in 2022 and premiered the following year.
12 Courage The Cowardly Dog
Courage the Cowardly Dog was short-lived, with only four seasons, though the show is well-remembered as one of the overall best ’90s cartoons. The titular character is a fearful dog that lives in an area of strange occurrences. Despite his cowardly nature, Courage works hard to protect his owners from dangerous paranormal villains.
Courage the Cowardly Dog is another cartoon beloved by children and adults alike. The creepy atmosphere and themes are a rare addition to cartoons, leaving a lasting impression on lovers of darker shows. The character even crossed over with Scooby-Doo in the 2021 film, Straight Outta Nowhere: Scooby-Doo! Meets Courage the Cowardly Dog.
11 Samurai Jack
Samurai Jack is about a warrior transported into the future by a villainous wizard. As he tries to get back to his own time, Jack makes friends and fights the evil henchmen of the wizard. This show is another beloved one from Cartoon Network that has withstood the test of time.
The storyline of Samurai Jack is enticing, offering an action-packed sequence that adds to the charm and danger of Jack’s journey. The likable protagonist and creative antagonists make this cartoon a family watch. The animation style of the cartoon is an icon of early 2000s animated shows, placing it among the best of the time period.
10 Rick And Morty
Rick and Morty is one of the most popular animated series of the modern era. The show depicts the interdimensional adventures of scientist Rick and his grandson Morty. Due to the series’ popularity during its first few seasons, it received an unprecedented renewal of 70 episodes in 2018.
The show is currently the most popular show on Adult Swim and has expanded to comics, various merchandise and even cameos in other films and television shows. The series has also been popular with critics, winning the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program in 2018 and 2020.
9 Family Guy
Family Guy premiered in 1999 and has taken the world by storm. The series follows the dysfunctional Griffin family, led by patriarch Peter, in Quahog, Rhode Island. It put creator and voice actor Seth MacFarlane on the map and the show is best-known for its edgy and often controversial humor.
It is quite obvious that Family Guy was influenced by The Simpsons, but the show has been able to carve out its own identity and is currently entering its 22nd season. Many of the show’s characters are easily recognizable in today’s society and the show’s popularity has reached books, video games and even live performances by the cast.
8 Avatar: The Last Airbender
Between the animation, characterization, storyline, and themes, Avatar: The Last Airbender is a timeless cartoon that has not lost its charm throughout the years. Focusing on Aang, the 112-year-old boy frozen in ice for a century, and his friends, the storyline has natural progress as he learns all four elements to defeat the Fire Nation and save the world.
ATLA is an epic fantasy TV show perfect for fans of all ages. The scale of the world-building in this cartoon is exceptional, offering beautiful imagery and a diverse cast of characters. The Legend of Korra sequel has added to the world’s intrigue, ensuring the original series’ legacy lives on.
7 Batman: The Animated Series
Batman: The Animated Series is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, superhero shows ever made. A darker, noir look to the adventures of Batman as he fights crime in Gotham City, the show is still beloved even 30 years after its release. The series was praised for its ability to be enjoyed by both children and adults.
The show made Kevin Conroy into a household name for his work as the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne, and he continued to voice the character until his untimely passing in 2022. It also gave fans the great pleasure of Mark Hamill voicing the Joker, as his memorable performance rivals even some of the live-action Jokers.
The Pokémon Universe is massive, including eight shows, dozens of movies, and many video games. Originating on TV Tokyo, the anime series quickly became a worldwide sensation. Though fans love young Ash and his pal Pikachu, the universe is expansive with dozens of characters and thousands of Pokémon with complex and fascinating lore.
Some of the most popular shows are Pokémon Origins, Pokémon Generations, and the original series. From collecting and trading Pokémon Cards to playing the sensational Pokémon Go! phone game, the franchise continues to have a prominent influence on pop culture.
5 South Park
South Park has long been one of the most controversial cartoon shows of all time, but that has done nothing to affect its popularity. Four friends – Stan, Kyle, Eric and Kenny – cause mayhem and hijinks in their small town of South Park, Colorado.
Despite its controversies, the series has been hailed as one of the greatest cartoons ever made. The show’s ability to satirize timely issues and dark subject matter has made it a memorable show. Even with over 300 episodes aired to date, the show has branched out to a feature film as well as specials on Paramount+.
The original Scooby-Doo cartoon, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, aired in 1969. Though the shows have had different levels of success, there’s no denying the immense influence this sensational cartoon has gained. Scooby and his gang are iconic characters who have kept their charm throughout the generations.
Scooby-Doo is another franchise with many shows, movies, and games. From live-action adaptations to cross-overs with other popular shows and pop culture icons, Scooby-Doo has changed throughout the ages while maintaining the general themes and characters it’s known for.
3 The Simpsons
Among the top-rated cartoons, The Simpsons is one of the few truly designed to appeal to the whole family. Hilarious and entertaining for all ages, The Simpsons has maintained its appeal since the late ’80s, making history as one of the longest-running shows of all time.
The show is about to enter its 35th season. This satirical animated sitcom depicts the most ridiculous themes associated with a typical American family. Adapting to appeal to new generations with different storylines and references to pop culture icons, The Simpsons remains relevant.
2 SpongeBob SquarePants
Running since 1999, with a four-year break from 2012 to 2016, SpongeBob SquarePants is a cartoon that a couple of generations can say they grew up watching. This undersea sponge in his pineapple home and his sea critter friends are beloved by adults as much as kids.
SpongeBob SquarePants has changed as animation became more advanced. However, the charm of the animated series has lasted throughout the alterations, staying true to the silly and humorous plots that are also endearing and wholesome.
1 Looney Tunes
Arguably the most influential American cartoon of all time is the Looney Tunes franchise. Originally shorts that began in the 1930s, the series has expanded to many animated series. Characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and Elmer Fudd are pop culture icons referenced and mimicked in different shows and movies.
Though many of the original Looney Tunes shorts haven’t aged well, the silly and fun themes of the franchise have entertained generations. Recently, Max has released the Looney Tunes Cartoons, which capture the charm of the original shorts with fresh storylines.
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