In case you missed it, Entertainment Weekly dropped a list their Top 10 Cartoon Network programs of all-time. We’re not going to link to it because it’s trash, but we got to thinking, what do we consider some of the greats?
Cartoon Network has had a long run since establishing itself as a true toon powerhouse when it launched in 1992. At the beginning it purely consisted of old Hanna-Barbera properties and Looney Tunes before introducing other syndicated programming from the former Kids WB block. By the mid to late 90s, Cartoon Network launched its own series of cartoons dubbed “Cartoon Cartoons” that created the brand that 80s and 90s babies know, love and remember to this day. While it hit a slump in the mid-2000s, the network has since rebounded relatively well with some good long runners such as Regular Show and Steven Universe. Even though it’s no longer what it used to be, it still has helped shape and identify part of the Older Millenial Culture that exists today.
So today, Ron (@RonQuixote_), AJ (@AJ_Phx), Ryan (@EagleEye1906) and our guest, Ms. Courtney Campbell (@courtlizcamp), decide to take a look back at Cartoon Network’s Top 20 programs. This list includes not only Cartoon Cartoons, but properties that CN acquired the rights for that had a huge impact on the network. Keep that in mind. Podcast after the drop, the list will be after that for you impatient types that just NEED to read ahead.
Note: This list does NOT include Toonami or Adult Swim entries, we will handle those, along with Nickolodeon at a later date.
Before we get things rolling, I’d like to rattle off a few honorable mentions that almost made the list or that were just personal favorites of an individual that didn’t make the collective list.
Class of 3000 (2006-2008, 2 seasons, 28 episodes)
The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy (2001-2007, 6 seasons, 79 episodes, 3 movies)
Pokemon XYZ (2013-2016, 3 seasons, 140 episodes, 3 movies)
Now let’s get into the list!
#20. The Amazing World of Gumball (2011 – current; 5 seasons, 166 episodes)
One of the newer entries on this list, the Amazing World of Gumball just aims at being funny. There’s no darker lore to it, no overarching storyline, it’s just weird plots centered around the Watterson family or Elmore at large. Plots range from trying to make one of the more stoic characters feel emotion, with dire consequences to Gumball and Darwin ruining a rental movie DVD and remaking it from scratch.
#19. Cow and Chicken (1995-2004; 4 seasons, 52 episodes)
An original Cartoon Cartoons for the network that launched in the mid-90s. Premise is pretty simple: Momma had a Chicken, Momma had a Cow, Dad was proud, he didn’t care how. Exposition delivered, premise handwaved.
#18. Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends (2004-2009, 6 seasons, 79 episode)
We didn’t touch on this one much, this was one we agreed upon because of its run and its depth. Foster’s looks like a traditional kids cartoon with whacky premises for each episode. The overall premise for the series is simple: when kids outgrow their imaginary friends, they come to Madame Foster’s, who along with her staff members: Mr. Harriman and Frankie, take care of the abandoned friends until they find new homes.
#17. The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest (1996-97, 2 seasons, 52 episodes)
The latest revival of Johnny Quest tried to create an edge to the cartoon that didn’t backfire horrendously. Quest World was a legit, new experience, seeing a cartoon transform from 2D to 3D was mindblowing back in the mid-90s.
#16. Space Ghost: Coast to Coast (1994-99; 2001-04, 10 seasons, 110 episodes)
Here’s the major note for this show: it basically launched Adult Swim. It created the idea for several spin offs and similar brainchildren: Sealab 2021, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, Brak Show, etc.
#15. Adventure Time (2010-Present, 7 seasons, 238 episodes)
Another CN original with its own lore and backstory. Adventure Time doesn’t really become a story driven series until towards the end of the second season, but it’s worth watching all the way through. Some of the metaphors and euphemisms can become too big for their own good, but still a fantastic series that bears watching.
#14. Young Justice (2010-Present, 2 seasons, 46 episodes)
Cancelled due to lack of merchandise sales, Young Justice had a solid following that was able to turn the tables on its cancellation and revive it for a 3rd season. AJ stanned for this one, he wouldn’t let us drop it further than this.
#13. 2 Stupid Dogs/The Super Secret Secret Squirrel (1993-95, 2 seasons, 39 segments)
This show was meant to just be funny by rule of dumb, and it worked. A few instances of gross-out/toilet humor, but still a solid show overall. Also, Brad Garrett was the big dog.
#12. Swat Kats (1993-95, 2 seasons, 23 episodes)
AJ describes it best on the podcast: it’s quintessential 90s. The explosions, the anthropomorphic animals, etc. There isn’t a ton of replay value in it, but it’s good to back and watch if you haven’t seen it in awhile.
#11. Star Wars: Clone Wars
I can’t really comment. I didn’t really watch. But the Star Wars fans said it was great!
#10. Justice League/Unlimited (2001-06, 5 seasons, 91 episodes)
DC doesn’t tend to get movies right, but hot damn can they make a cartoon. Justice League and Justice League Unlimited were two of the best DC animated series to ever be made. Seriously, DC should just stick to making animated shows, we’d pay for an animated feature length film.
#9. Johnny Bravo (1997-2004, 4 seasons, 67 episodes)
AJ and Ron tried to argue that if J.B. was released today it would be massacred for Johnny’s misogynistic attitude. I’d argue it would be the opposite, because damn near every woman Johnny hit on left him hanging or kicked his ass. So…..but yes, Pepe Le Pew commits sexual assault.
#8. Ed, Edd and Eddy (1999-2009, 6 seasons, 69 episodes)
The Eds got the send off that virtually every beloved cartoon should get: a full blown movie to wrap up the story. All of the characters from the cul-de-sac got full fleshed out personalities, even if they got flanderized towards the end of the run.
#7. Looney Tunes collective (forever, too many)
This MIGHT be considered a cop out, but before Cartoon Network created their own original programming, they aired rehashed compilations of Looney Tunes shorts. CN was vital to the Looney Tune property revivals. Even some of the newer ideas they’ve pieced together have been solid. Duck Dodgers was a cult favorite and The Looney Tunes Show was well done but never had a 3rd season ordered.
#6. Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999-2002, 4 seasons, 52 episodes)
This cartoon was creepy and dealt with some creepy themes at times. It is straight up defined as a horror-comedy, so that explains some of the crazy stuff that went down in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas. Leave Eustace, Muriel.
#5. Codename: Kids Next Door (2002-2008, 6 seasons, 72 episodes)
Another show that I didn’t care for, but it’s highly respected and I understand why. KND got the full cartoon treatment: got all main characters fleshed out, created several movies giving it a little backstory and ended on its own terms.
#4. Original Teen Titans (2002-2006, 5 seasons, 65 episodes)
While Ron tried to make Teen Titans Go! appearing on this list a thing, we shoved him back in the locker and went with the original Teen Titans at #4. Even though it originated on Kids WB, it spent the bulk of its original run on Cartoon Network. It birthed the formula that Young Justice later played upon: exploring the world of the sidekick, and created an angsty tween drama simultaneously.
#3. Original Powerpuff Girls (1998-2005, 6 seasons, 78 episodes)
The 2016 Powerpuff Girls revival is what people will point to when someone tells them to give a good reason why you shouldn’t revive a dead show. It took everything that made the original great and gutted it apart. PPG did such a wonderful of making you really love the relationship the girls had with Professor Unitonium, while giving its main villain a tragic backstory. It also featured one of the creepiest villains of all-time in Him.
#2. Dexter’s Lab (1996-2003, 4 seasons, 78 episodes)
Dexter’s Laboratory’s original run might have been one of the most endearing programs on television. It was a typical brother/sister TV relationship, but Dexter’s personality is what really drove the show. His need and desire to be secluded and build contrasted by an annoying sister that really didn’t care for privacy. Spanned a big finale movie and everything. Only reason it did not make #1 is because it fell off a bit after it’s revival in the early 00s.
#1. Samurai Jack (2001-04, 4 seasons, 52 episodes)
Really wasn’t that hard of a decision. It has been 13 years since Samurai Jack last aired and that generation is still searching for an answer and for an ending. While Aku’s voice actor has indeed passed, Genndy Tartavoski has decided to revive the series, hopefully where it left off. It’s style was unlike anything else out there in terms of flat out design (no character had an outline), the story was vastly different, and it played off minimalism. Samurai Jack is Cartoon Network’s most creative property and easily its best. When tasked to come up with our Top 10 programs, everyone involved had Samurai Jack in their Top 10.