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The 75 Best Animated Series of All Time: ‘Daria,’ ‘Cowboy Bebop,’ ‘Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,’ and More

[Editor’s Note: The below piece was originally published on November 20, 2018. It has since been updated.]

Evaluating animated TV can be tricky. Not only is animation a medium that crosses a wide range of genres, but so many of our earliest memories in front of a screen are tied to an animated series, short, or special, and that impermeable nostalgia can be difficult to penetrate with typical critical tools like reason, logic, and other objective criteria. Some shows just click. They hit at the right time and capture a blossoming imagination. When it comes to ranking animated series, you’re not just analyzing TV shows. You’re critiquing childhoods.

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Of course, animation is also one of the more expansive TV subsets, with dozens of different tones and styles that make comparisons often feel like apples and oranges. There are cartoons, anime, short films, short series, short films turned into short series, web series, adult-oriented animation, and that’s before digging into all the individual genres, like old school slapstick comedies all the way up to the ever-more-popular dramatic animated series.

Like any other corner of the entertainment world, animation has also seen its share of waves, popular trends that spawn imitators and evolutions. Each era has a familiar style or approach, whether it’s half-hour comedies meant for mass appeal or more experimental fare unbound by rules or expectations. It’s always fun to track animation history through the years and see where things branch off and follow new pathways.

With all that in mind, animation needs a little extra celebration. Animated series can be dismissed simply because so many viewers see the medium as less substantial than anything done in live-action, thus eliminating even the best of the bunch from discussions of TV’s elite programs. That’s a damn shame, so to help remind everyone of the genre’s extensive impact and utmost significance, the IndieWire staff has put together a list of the top animated series of all time.

Of course, this also comes with a disclaimer that, even though these all fall under the overall branch of “animation,” that’s roughly where the similarities between some of these shows end. As such, there’s the usual difficulty of judging the relative worth and value of shows created in fundamentally different artistic ecosystems, using drastically different tools. We’ve tried our best to put this collection in some sort of order, but think of this more as a gateway to discovering some potential new favorites rather than a definitive, unmovable overview.

Honed from decades’ worth of options, the below ranking still only illustrates a sliver of the storytelling diversity animation has captured over the last century. Seek out what you haven’t seen and remember fondly those you have. Animation is a genre for all ages and all stories, no matter when you’re able to start watching.

Kristen Lopez, Hanh Nguyen, Liz Shannon Miller, Michael Schneider, Jeff Stone, Christian Zilko, and Steve Greene contributed to this list.

75. “X-Men: The Animated Series” (Eric Lewald, Sidney Iwanter, and Mark Edens, 1992-1997)

(L-R): Jubilee (voiced by Holly Chou), Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith), Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Jean Grey (voiced by Jennifer Hale), Gambit (voiced by AJ LaCascio), Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith), and Beast (voiced by George Buza) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.
“X-Men: The Animated Series”Courtesy of Marvel Animation

The X-Men of Marvel Comics have always been the most melodramatic superheroes of all. Between the twisted love triangles, false identities, and convoluted family trees in the Mutant Protectors’ history, their stories often resemble soap operas with heat vision and shapeshifting more than your average action romp. From 1992 to 1997, “X-Men: The Animated Series” faithfully adapted the convoluted mythology of the heroes every Saturday morning on Fox Kids, guiding a new generation through all the time travel plots and Dark Phoenix Sagas that made the franchise so complicated, with just enough focus on the character’s central discrimination metaphor to give it some grounding. It’s hyper-accurate to the comics’ storytelling, including its flaws, but at its best, “X-Men: the Animated Series” was a blast of pure enjoyable ’90s comics cheese. The show’s recent revival, “X-Men ’97,” freshens up the animation a bit, but otherwise leans completely into the heightened, soapy tone that made the original such a delight, because it knows not to ruin a good thing — including that unskippable theme song. —WC

74. “Invader Zim” (Jhonen Vasquez, 2001-2006)

INVADER ZIM: ENTER THE FLORPUS, Zim (voice: Richard Steven Horvitz),    (tv movie, aired August 16, 2019). ©Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Invader Zim”

Jhonen Vasquez’s idiosyncratic animated series felt like an oddball when it premiered on Nickelodeon in 2001, displaying a cynical, often mean dark comedy worlds away from the average “Spongebob Squarepants” joke. So it’s no surprise the series got canned early in its life, and it’s also not a surprise that the show has endured via a massive cult fanbase and the generation of goths and emos it helped birth. Hilarious and totally unique, “Invader Zim” uses its bleak cyperpunk setting to tell the story of two lovable losers — the titular invading alien and the crackpot elementary schooler attempting to expose him — as their schemes fail thanks to their own ineptitude. The only thing more singular than “Invader Zim’s” storytelling is “Invader Zim’s” animation, a hyper-stylized and wildly colored aesthetic that fits Vasquez’s independent comic roots into a Saturday Morning Cartoon package. —WC

73. “Revolutionary Girl Utena” (Kunihiko Ikuhara, 1996-1998)

“Revolutionary Girl Utena”
“Revolutionary Girl Utena”

A dense work flush with symbolism and allegory, “Revolutionary Girl Utena” is one of anime’s most confounding and rewarding experiences. Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara for studio J.C. Staff, the 39-episode saga tells the story of Utena, a teen girl who wishes to become not a princess in waiting for her prince, but a prince herself. Attending Ohtori Academy boarding school, she enters the underground Rose Crest Duels, a sword-fighting tournament for the hand-in-marriage of the demure Anthy. The blossoming relationship between the princely Utena and her princess Anthy provides the fairy tale fable its emotional core, while the film’s dips into avant-garde surrealism allow for messy and fascinating explorations of gender and sexual identity. You might not understand “Revolutionary Girl Utena” the first time you watch it, but the queer storytelling on display will undoubtedly resonate. —WC

72. “Morel Oral” (Dino Stamatopoulos, 2005-2008)

"Moral Orel
“Moral Orel”Amazon Prime Video

Before “BoJack Horseman” gained critical acclaim for deconstructing the adult animated sitcom and turning it into a bleak dramedy, Adult Swim’s “Moral Orel” did the same thing in obscurity. Dino Stamatopoulos’ claymation series began as a straightforward raunchy satire, focusing on the naive Orel Puppington, who lives in the highly religious town of Moralton and attempts to follow the teachings of Christianity in spite of the dysfunction around him. Then, throughout the show’s second season, it slowly grew darker, expanding its focus on the citizens of Moralton and their inner demons. The second season finale saw Orel’s alcoholic dad Clay accidentally shoots him on a hunting trip, and the series’ third and last season became a full-on psychological drama with little to zero jokes in any episode. It’s one of the strangest, most ambitious pivots in TV history, and if “Moral Orel” never had the chance to live up to its potential, watching the show find itself makes for a fascinating and devastating experience. —WC

71. “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” (Bryan Lee O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski, 2023)

Animated image of one male and one female character kissing in mid-air against outlined, colorful graphic of a five-pointed star; still from "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off"
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off”COURTESY OF NETFLIX

There are a ton of remakes, sequels, reboots, and adaptations that dedicate themselves to telling the same story over and over again. What makes “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” such a delight is that it goes in the opposite direction entirely. An anime based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novel series, and featuring the entire cast of Edgar Wright’s 2010 movie adaptation (including Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Allison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, and Jason Schwartzman, among others) returning to voice their characters, “Takes Off” easily could have coasted on the nostalgia people have for the tale of a Canadian slacker fighting his new girlfriend’s evil exes and ended up a serviceable retread. Instead, O’Malley and co-creator BenDavid Grabinski throw out the original story and give fans something very new, commenting on the two decades that have passed since the original graphic novel and the nostalgia people retain for it, while still telling an engaging meta-story about the lovable supporting cast. Combined with animation from Science SARU that makes the world of Toronto, Canada more beautiful than ever, “Takes Off” makes the case for one of Netflix’s all-time best animated series. —WC

70. “Final Space” (Olan Rogers, 2018-2021)

Final Space Angry Mooncake
Final Space Angry Mooncake

At the beginning of “Final Space,” Gary thinks he’s leaving his solitary confinement spaceship. Instead, he stumbles across Mooncake, the cuddliest alien in the galaxy cluster (who also happens to be a mighty weapon capable of incinerating entire planets). Thrust into preserving the fate of the universe, Gary and Mooncake (both voiced by writer/creator Olan Rogers) meet a group of robots and companions and robot companions who help them protect what they love. Along the way, over three seasons’ worth of wild galavanting and close calls, there are enigmatic beings, odd civilizations, and some conflicted unrequited feelings. But where the show had perfect timing in being able to assemble the best parts of other popular space crew adventures, it also became a casualty of a fast-shifting streaming world: Along with other animated shows like “The Fungies,” “Final Space” was part of the HBO Max library culling and is worthy of a proper, stable home. It has that balance between the personal and the universal that make all large-scale space stories worth the journey. —Steve Greene

69. “Regular Show” (J.G. Quintel, 2010-2017)

REGULAR SHOW, (from left): Rigby, Mordecai, (Season 6). photo: © Cartoon Network / Courtesy: Everett Collection
“Regular Show”Courtesy Everett Collection

By the time “Regular Show” made its debut on Cartoon Network in 2010, the animated slacker comedy was already well-worn territory. It was no longer enough to place characters in increasingly weird situations while they avoided work at all costs—you had to do something exceptional to stand out. Fortunately, “Regular Show” did just that, constantly finding ways to cram more laughs into its 11-minute episodes than many competitors could fit into 22. Mordecai and Rigby are lazy, to be sure, but rather than the callous cynicism of “Beavis and Butthead” or the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” there was a sincerity to them that lent a degree of sympathy to their bizarre misadventures. Combine that with a superb cast of supporting characters, including the charmingly delusional Pops and the brilliantly inane Hi Five Ghost, and you get an innuendo-packed show that only got funnier as its eight-year run went on. —Christian Zilko

68. “The Midnight Gospel” (Pendleton Ward & Duncan Trussell, 2020)

The Midnight Gospel Netflix
“The Midnight Gospel”Courtesy of Netflix

Arriving in spring 2020 at the height of a desperate need for escapism and right before the entertainment world was oversaturated with multiverse stories, “The Midnight Gospel” is just as interesting as a time capsule as it is an actual show. But it also works as a visual playground, a chance to bend the rules of physics into the kind of dream logic that makes perfect sense at the time but is incomprehensible to anyone trying to explain it later. The formal setup of the show is perfect for this: Clancy is broadcasting in a rainbow-colored reality where his interviews seem to bend the circumstances around him. As he hops through different dimensions, he and his guests escape zombies, ponder death, exact medieval revenge, and even come face to face with the embodiment of mortality. Using audio taken from episodes of The Duncan Trussell Family Hour podcast, Trussell and the assorted members of a patchwork ensemble all work together to make sense of a nonsensical world. Even amongst the best that Netflix has to offer, it stands out. —SG

67. “Robot Chicken” (Seth Green & Matthew Senreich, 2005-present)

ROBOT CHICKEN DC COMICS SPECIAL 2: VILLAINS IN PARADISE, Two-Face (left), Black Manta (3rd from left), the Penguin (center), Riddler (3rd from right), Brainiac (2nd from right), Mr. Freeze (right), (aired April 6, 2014). photo: ©Adult Swim/Cartoon Network / Courtesy: Everett Collection
“Robot Chicken”Courtesy Everett Collection

“Robot Chicken,” Seth Green and Matthew Senreich’s twisted piece of pop culture pastiche, is undeniably the best piece of art ever adapted from a magazine about collecting action figures. The stop-motion sketch show constantly mines the depths of almost-forgotten childhood media to create an absurdist collage that mixes the sacred (at least, sacred to viewers who grew up with these characters) with the utterly profane, providing an endless stream of rewards to the television addicts who stay up late enough to watch it on Adult Swim. Fueled by a unique visual style that uses recognizable toys as puppets for stop-motion antics, “Robot Chicken” has been able to rise above the multitude of other adult cartoons that lampoon pop culture and grow into a unique voice that’s all its own. —CZ

66. “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist” (Jonathan Katz & Tom Snyder, 1995-2002)

Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Jonathan Katz, 1995-2002. © Comedy Central / Courtesy: Everett Collection
“Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist”Courtesy Everett Collection

One of the greatest things about adult animation is the genre’s ability to constantly find new ways to repurpose preexisting footage to create something new. In the case of “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,” that meant turning stand-up comedy bits into therapy sessions. The show follows a laid-back therapist who frequently treats celebrity clients, often just sitting back and listening while each patient vents. Those lengthy, cathartic rants, of course, are often real stand-up routines performed by the celebrity guests, and each episode invites viewers to appreciate the healing power of comedy. The sessions are interspersed between scenes from Dr. Katz’s charmingly mundane life, and the series that was intended as no-budget content for cable still holds up to this day. —CZ

65. “Birdgirl” (Michael Ouweleen & Erik Richter, 2021-2022)

Birdgirl Bird Team
“Birdgirl”Adult Swim

Animation is a place where anything can happen. Few shows based in the “real” world prove that better than this “Harvey Birdman” spinoff, wihch follows Judy Ken Sebben (Paget Brewster) and her chaotic reign as CEO of a giant megaconglomerate. Like an even more elastic counterpart to the live-action “Corporate,” “Birdgirl” takes the baseline “absurd horrors of capitalism” framework and turbo-charges the insanity. Product launches lead to global hypnotic episodes, company towns get frozen in time, and even the company HQ building becomes a metaphysical prison. Keeping the reins on all this madness is Brewster, who gives “Birdgirl” the kind of vocal adrenaline that could power an entire energy grid. None of this show should make any sense, but through sheer force of will and invention, the Sebben & Sebben team (formed, in part, by the incomparable combined talents of Kether Donohue, Negin Farsad, River L. Ramirez, John Doman, and Rob Delaney) are the perfect foundation for bedlam. —SG

64. “The Legend of Korra” (Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko, 2012-2014)

THE LEGEND OF KORRA, Bolin, Korra, Mako, (Season 2, 2013). ©Nickelodeon / Courtesy: Everett Collection
“The Legend of Korra”Courtesy Everett Collection

Making a follow up to “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was no easy task, but “The Legend of Korra” has only grown in esteem since its 2012 debut. Continuing to exist in a world where certain people can “bend” the elements, “The Legend of Korra” follows a reincarnation of Aang, the eponymous final Airbender from the original series. The sequel maintains the fantastical elements of the original series that fans love so much, while introducing complex themes and real social commentary. While much of its audience was inevitably going to be adults who grew up watching the original series, the show keeps them interested with added depth without ever straying from its mandate to create a compelling show for children. “The Legend of Korra” remained accessible to everyone throughout its four-year run, and moments like its depiction of a same-sex romance proved that even animation aimed at children still had vital, untapped capacity in the 21st century. —CZ

63. “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” (Dave Willis & Matt Maiellaro, 2001-2015)

AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE, Frylock, Master Shake, Meatwad, 2000-, © Cartoon Network / Courtesy: Everett Collection
“Aqua Teen Hunger Force”Courtesy Everett Collection

“Aqua Teen Hunger Force” may not be the best show Adult Swim has ever produced, but no series offers a better illustration of the network’s aesthetic. While Adult Swim’s earliest offerings repurposed old cartoon footage to create new stories, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” took the idea of washed-up pop culture figures living in television purgatory to its logical conclusion. Master Shake, Frylock, and Meatwad are anthropomorphic fast-food mascots who literally and figuratively float through life without a purpose, hovering above the ground as they fill their endless days with meaningless surreal antics. From its grungy animation style to its empty world where nothing ever changes, the nihilistic stoner comedy is an unapologetic love letter to half-assing it through life. The perfect show for a network that made its name by putting in less effort than anyone else. Or, at least, by appearing that way. —CZ

62. “Harley Quinn” (Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker, & Dean Lorey, 2019-present)

Harley Quinn Season 3 HBO Max
“Harley Quinn”HBO Max

It takes a special show to stand out and justify itself amidst a sea of IP-chasing, self-aware metatelevision. For all the superhero saturation in mainstream culture, “Harley Quinn” found a way to make an unfiltered, unapologetic adult-aimed show that was not only hilarious but brought some surprising depth to peripheral figures in the DC canon. Harley Quinn (a career-best Kaley Cuoco) becomes a different kind of star figure than in the most recent live-action movies. She’s messy and impulsive and great at causing chaos in Gotham. Alongside Poison Ivy (a perfectly cast Lake Bell), Clayface (the ever-valuable Alan Tudyk), King Shark (the always-welcome Ron Funches) and a roving band of misfit would-be supervillains, “Harley Quinn” gets to poke fun at the wider comics world without the show ever feeling above it all. The laughs don’t come without caring about the people (or hybrid sea-creatures or shapeshifting piles of mud) that deliver them. With a steady doses of romance, danger, and absurdity, these are half-hour adventures that still work even if you don’t know your Kite Man from your Calendar Man. —SG

61. “Star Wars: Clone Wars” (Genndy Tartakovsky, 2003-2005)

"Star Wars: The Clone Wars"
“Star Wars: The Clone Wars”Lucasfilm

After the success of “Samurai Jack” and “Dexter’s Laboratory,” Genndy Tartakovsky had nothing left to prove in animation. But that didn’t stop him from taking on his most daunting challenge yet: creating a “Star Wars” cartoon for Lucasfilm. A show like “Clone Wars” was always going to have high expectations, which were not helped by the fact that its original run coincided with the rollout of the divisive prequel trilogy. But Tartakovsky rose to the occasion, and the result is a visually stunning show that can go toe-to-toe with the most stunning sequences from his past classics. To this day, it remains one of the most respected entries in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. —CZ

60. “The Venture Bros.” (Jackson Publick, 2004-2018)

THE VENTURE BROS. SPECIAL, 'All This and Gargantua-2' l-r: Amber Gold (voice: Paget Brewster), Brock Sampson (voice: Patrick Warburton) (aired January 20, 2015). ©Cartoon Network/Adult Swim/courtesy Everett Collection
“The Venture Bros.”Courtesy Everett Collection

At first glance, “The Venture Bros.” is clearly a parody of “Johnny Quest,” with many characters inspired by the Hanna-Barbera adventure series. But to last as long as “The Venture Bros.” did, you clearly need a lot more than jokes about a 40-year-old cartoon. While many adult animated series revel in the fact that their characters don’t really do anything, “The Venture Bros.” embraces serialized humor and proactive protagonists as it tells the story of an adventurous family who fails at missions far more often than they succeed. The show consistently engages with comic book and adventure movie tropes while still plotting its own course, making it one of the smartest and most compelling animated programs in recent memory. —CZ

59. “Futurama” (Matt Groening & David X. Cohen, 1999-2013)

FUTURAMA, Kif Kroker, Zapp Brannigan, Leela, Fry, Bender, Nibbler, Amy, 1999-present.TM and Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.
“Futurama”Courtesy Everett Collection

Never bet against “Futurama,” the cartoon that just won’t die. Matt Groening’s other animated series was originally developed as a companion to “The Simpsons” on Fox, but an abrupt cancellation led to its revival as a series of TV movies on Comedy Central, which led to several more seasons on the cable network, which soon proceeded to cancel it again. But now there’s another revival in the works, this time on Hulu. What makes “Futurama” so resilient? A cult fanbase that keeps coming back thanks to some of the most consistently smart comedy writing on television. The show’s science-fiction premise and roots in animation allow writers to unleash their creativity on a canvas limited only by their imaginations. Fry, Leela, and Bender’s trips to strange planets are a sandbox for an endless stream of puns, visual gags, and straight up weirdness, and the attention to detail rewards multiple viewings. But while the show earns plenty of style points for its outside-the-box settings, the heart of “Futurama” has always been the relationships between its leads. The combination of the dim-witted Fry, the crass robot Bender, and the cyclops Leela, as the ever-frustrated straight woman, produces self-sustaining comedy, and the show has never been afraid to lean into sincerity and or let its characters grow. Any show with the range to produce the infamously sad “Jurassic Bark” episode as well as extracting hundreds of laughs from a robot saying “I’m boned” deserves a spot on this list. —CZ

58. “Popeye the Sailor” (Jack Kinney, 1960-1963)

POPEYE THE SAILOR MEETS SINBAD THE SAILOR, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Wimpy, Popeye, 1936
“Popeye the Sailor”Courtesy Everett Collection

Odds are you know who Popeye the Sailor is. He’s a sailor man, who lives in a garbage can, and through the supernatural power of spinach he’s able to best any man regardless of size. “Popeye” initially started out as a comic strip in newspapers, but when the theatrical short features started airing on television in the 1950s, King Features Syndicate TV thought there might be something to taking the character and turning him into a television star. A series of made-for-television short features were hastily assembled, bringing Popeye into people’s homes. A whopping 220 cartoons were created in just two years, resulting in a prolific television show, albeit with rather rudimentary animation, particularly when compared to the feature shorts. But it certainly kept the character in the public consciousness long after his initial popularity had waned. Popeye the Sailor remains a character people know, even if they never watched the television show. In 1980 director Robert Altman attempted to adapt the character for a feature film, starring Robin Williams, but it was an unmitigated disaster though it’s been reassessed and has become a cult film. —Kristen Lopez

57. “Pokémon” (Satoshi Tajiri and Ken Sugimori, 1997-present)

POKEMON, Misty, Ash Ketchum, Pikachu, Brock, 1998-present
“Pokemon”Courtesy Everett Collection

Do we remember a time before we had to “catch ’em all?” Pokémon initially burst onto the scene as a series of games for the Nintendo Gameboy and from there it became nothing short of a juggernaut. Children learned to eat, breathe, and consume nearly everything associated with the Japanese pocket monsters, particularly the cute Pikachu. After becoming the top selling toy brand worldwide the company turned to media and premiered the animated television series of the same name. The anime saw game hero Ash Ketchum and his companion Pikachu go on a quest to become a Pokémon master. Along the way he’d butt heads with other Pokémon teams and the various creatures themselves. The Pokémon franchise wasn’t just limited to the television show, which is still ongoing. A series of films would be released over the years with Ash continuing his quest. The series revitalized the Fox network back in the 1990s and now remains one of the most beloved franchises in animation history. —KL

56. “Dexter’s Laboratory” (Genndy Tartakovsky, 1996-2003)

DEXTER'S LABORATORY, (from left): Dexter, Dee Dee, 1996-2003. © Cartoon Network / Courtesy: Everett Collection
“Dexter’s Laboratory”©Cartoon Network/Courtesy Everett Collection

In 1996 Cartoon Network audiences were introduced to Dexter (voiced by “Rugrats” alumni Christine Cavanaugh), a boy genius with a massive hidden laboratory under his house. Every episode would see Dexter plan a wonderful experiment, only to see it foiled by his annoying sister Dee Dee (voiced by Allison Moore and Kat Cressida). The series would become one of the highest rating series on the Cartoon Network with it garnering a Primetime Emmy Award in 1996. The series would make Tartakovsky one of the premiere voices of animation and he would end up leaving the in 1999 to begin work on his next project, “Samurai Jack.” “Dexter’s Laboratory” would see a revival in 2001 before concluding for good in 2003. Though it’s been off the air for over 15 years audiences are still drawn to its enigmatic animation style and quotable lead character. There weren’t many shows that could pull out an entire episode from its lead character only being able to say “cheese omelet” in French. —KL

55. “Alvin and the Chipmunks” (Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. and Janice Karman, 1983-1990)

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS, Theodore, Alvin & Simon, 1987-1991
“Alvin and the Chipmunks”Courtesy Everett Collection

The loveable threesome known as Alvin and the Chipmunks have been around since the 1960s, when their song “Witch Doctor” raced up the charts. In fact, the Chipmunks were so ubiquitous that in right after the success of “Witch Doctor” creator Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. created a television show, entitled “The Alvin Show.” It wasn’t a success, lasting little more than a year. But in the early-1980s the attempt to revive the series concept finally found an audience. “Alvin and the Chipmunks” on NBC in 1983, starring the rascally Alvin, the bookish Simon, and the loveable Theodore (the first two voiced by Bagdasarian, Jr. and the latter by Karman) as they got into all manner of hijinks. The series would garner a large following, especially once the Chip-ettes, girl versions of the Chipmunks, were introduced as rivals. In 1987, off the success of the show, the Chipmunks would get their first feature film, “The Chipmunk Adventure.” And they haven’t gone away, even though the series was canceled in 1990. Another series would premiere on Nickelodeon in 2015 and is still going strong, even though Alvin has transitioned from 2D animation to CGI. —KL

54. “Rugrats” (Gabor Csupo and Arlene Klasky and Paul Germain, 1991-2004)

RUGRATS, Angelica with mom, Phil and Lil with mom, Tommy Pickles with mom, Chuckie, Spike the Dog, 1991-present, episode 'Mother's Day' aired 12/14/96, (c)Klasky-Csupo/courtesy Everett Collection
“Rugrats”Klasky-Csupo/courtesy Everett Collection

One of Nickelodeon’s first major successes, “Rugrats” combined humor for both children and adults in a bright ’90s animated package. Brave baby Tommy Pickles (voiced by E.G. Daily) went on all manner of exploits with his best friends, showing that “a baby’s gotta do what a baby’s gotta do.” The series was a massive success upon debut in 1991, becoming a franchise behemoth for Nickelodeon. A series of feature films and merchandising opportunities would abound, with the Rugrats themselves slapped on everything aimed at children. But outside of that the series has aged surprisingly well. You might hear stray references to the likes of Clarence Thomas and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” on top of the babies realizing the horrors of clown dolls and what dwells in the basement. The series saw a short-lived spin-off, with the characters growing into teenagers, 2003 to 2008 and there are plans for a reboot arriving in 2021. —KL

53. “Reboot” (Gavin Blair and Ian Pearson and Phil Mitchell and John Grace, 1994-2001)

This ’90s series, originally from Canada, was the very first completely computer-animated series, and the medium became a part of the message thanks to the premise. On some level, “Reboot” was basically a cop drama following the adventures of a “Guardian” who lives inside of a computer mainframe keeping things operating safely despite evil viruses trying to destroy the system. The metaphor is relatively bonkers, but the quality of the animation is pretty impressive for the time period, anchored by some really engaging character design and meta jokes about coding and gaming which have kept the franchise active in other forms to this day. – Liz Shannon Miller

52. “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” (Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, 1969-1970)

"Scooby Doo"
“Scooby Doo”Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Zoinks! Although this particular Hanna-Barbera title only lasted two seasons, it launched an animated franchise that continues to this day. The cowardly Great Dane with a speech impediment who solved crimes with his, like, totally groovy teen friends captured imaginations with the light horror elements, hilarious catchphrases, bonkers mysteries, elaborate Rube Goldberg-like traps, and goofy characterizations. This series launched many reboots — one that included pop culture greats such as the Harlem Globetrotters and Sonny & Cher, as animated versions of themselves — bizarre spinoffs like “Scooby’s All-Star Laff-a-Lympics,” and multiple imitations. Ranging from comics and films to pop culture references in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and a recent crossover on “Supernatural,” Scooby and his pals have become embedded in the American consciousness. And it would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids! – Hahn Nguyen

51. “Teen Titans Go!” (Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath, 2013-present)

Keep your phone silent while watching “Teen Titans Go!” or you’re sure to miss a joke. The fast-paced animated series packs in more laughs per minute than just about any other show on TV, filled to the brim with pop-culture references, sly jabs at the DC universe, and plenty of self-deprecating gags. Born from the ashes of “Teen Titans,” the show kept the original series’ voice actors but changed up virtually everything else. The show features comedically heightened versions of Robin (Scott Menville), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Raven (Tara Strong), Starfire (Hynden Walch), and Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), who are usually too busy discussing 1980s technology, political philosophies, dancing, and so much more. Perhaps the subtle joys of “Teen Titans Go!” can best be summed up by this logline from a Season 1 episode: “Robin and the Titans become annoyed when Beast Boy and Cyborg will only say the word ‘waffles.'” – Mike Schneider

50. “The Flintstones” (William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, 1960-1966)

"The Flintstones"
“The Flintstones”Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Inspired by “The Honeymooners,” “The Flintstones” became the first animated series released in primetime, and remained the most successful of its kind until “The Simpsons” came along 30 years later. The secret of its charms was its satirical take on modern suburban culture using absurd, anachronistic elements in a Stone Age setting. Fred Flintstone’s bluster and his pal Barney Rubble’s easygoing nature delivered a familiar sitcom magic, whilst dinosaurs and sabertooth tigers added prehistoric exoticism. It also inspired the futuristic counterpart, “The Jetsons,” which also took a ‘60s sitcom flair to the space age. “The Flintstones” is the first primetime animated series to earn an Emmy nomination, and it’s still considered a classic more than half a century later. And that’s something to “Yabba Dabba Doo” about. – HN

49. “Superman: The Animated Series” (Alan Burnett and Paul Dini, 1996 – 2000)

Superman always sprung to life on the page, but repeatedly proved to be a challenge onscreen. How do you provoke an indestructible, goodie-two-shoes hero? Villains have to be specially engineered to pose any threat whatsoever (they can’t all have kryptonite), and Clark Kent can’t be the only identity offering the audience a human connection. Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s WB adaptation, the first of Warner Bros. Animation’s follow-ups to “Batman: The Animated Series,” made wise choices from the get-go. First, they introduced a Superman who was extremely durable rather than totally impervious. He felt pain when he was crushed by a toppling building, even if it wouldn’t kill him, and watching him strain to save the day made his efforts that much more engaging, week after week. Making Lois Lane an active hero herself helped as well, and the realistic animation fit these updates, along with the bright tone and driving score. – BT

48. “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” (Lauren Faust, 2010-2019)

"My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic"
“My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.”Discovery Media

The plastic equine toys from the ’80s have had a remarkable endurance among collectors, but the Hasbro franchise really hit the big time when Faust’s cartoon deepened the mythology of the ponies and created a media and merchandising phenomenon. In Ponyville, the unicorn pony Twilight Sparkle and her dragon pal Spike befriend five other ponies as part of a task given to her by mentor Princess Celestia. The show’s themes about friendship and kindness balanced with clever pop culture references appealed to a wide audience, including a rabid adult fanbase — most notoriously young and middle-aged men who style themselves as “bronies.” It’s now embedded in remix culture and has inspired countless memes, imaginative cosplay, and, of course, imitators. – HN

47. “Sealab 2021” (Adam Reed and Matt Thompson, 2000-2005)

One of Adult Swim’s initial launch of cartoons, “Sealab 2021” took a forgotten ’70s adventure cartoon and, well, crapped all over it, turning the environmentally-friendly adventure ‘toon into a profane hotbed of workplace resentments and absurd humor, which creators Adam Reed and Matt Thompson would hone in their future series. Still, “Sealab” had plenty to offer, like a bottle episode where the insane Captain Murphy gets trapped under a fallen vending machine and befriends a scorpion. Or the one where the crew was visited by their Bizarro counterparts. Or all the ones where Sealab blew up at the end, only to be perfectly fine in the next episode. It’s okay, though. Pod 6 was jerks. – Jeff Stone

46. “Rocko’s Modern Life” (Joe Murray, 1993 – 1996)

Rocko's Modern Life
“Rocko’s Modern Life.”Nickelodeon

A wallaby, a cow, and a turtle walk into a television set, and the jokes just kept rolling from there. Joe Murray’s satirical adventures of an Australian immigrant, Rocko, his friends Heffer and Philbert, and the various deranged characters populating the fictional American “O-Town” made for wildly creative kids’ tales. Whether warning against the dangers of megacorporation Conglom-O, visiting Heck for some existential lessons from satanic overlord Pinky, or taking a poke at celebrity culture in Holl-o-Wood, the cult favorite was self-aware, sharp, and introduced the world to impeccable talents like Tom Kenny and Carlos Alazraqui. Plus, even for ‘90s Nickelodeon, “Rocko’s Modern Life” was never afraid to get super weird — a respite for children whose imaginations should, and usually do, surprise you. – BT

45. “Gargoyles” (Frank Paur and Greg Weisman and Dennis Woodyard, 1994-1997)

Magic, science fiction, and Shakespeare came together in the mid-1990s for one of the most bonkers animated series ever. The premise might have seemed relatively complicated: Mythical creatures known as gargoyles spend their days hanging out on the corners of buildings, frozen in stone, and at night, they come alive. But really it was a tale of family and romance set against a fantastical backdrop, which delivered no shortage of crazy plot elements (especially in its second season). “Gargoyes” never became as iconic as some of the other shows on this list, but the imagination it put on screen each week was hard to top. – LSM

44. “Duck Tales” (Jymn Magon, 1987-1990)

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1562645a)Disney Duck TalesFilm and Television
“Duck Tales.”Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Much is made of the theme song with its signature “Woo-oo!” chorus — and for good reason. Not only is Mark Mueller’s ditty catchy as hell, but it also encapsulates the fun and adventure present from the series’ early days as a comic book to its onscreen adaptation that continued the vibrant and dynamic visual style. The wealthy Scrooge McDuck is a curmudgeonly yet charming foil for his rapscallion grand nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and along with the pilot Launchpad, they enjoy all manner of global and historical escapades worthy of Indiana Jones himself. This is zippy escapism shared between two seemingly disparate generations, something not seen in children’s cartoons that usually keep authority figures in the background. The series was so popular that it lives again in a 2017 reboot on Disney XD. – HN

43. “Samurai Jack” (Genndy Tartakovsky, 2001-2017)

Samurai Jack Premiere Movie
“Samurai Jack.”Cartoon Network

Genndy Tartakovsky is one of the modern day masters of animation, and “Samurai Jack” might be his masterpiece. Airing on Cartoon Network from 2001 to 2017, the strikingly beautiful martial arts series taught its fanbase patience — because given the inconsistent release schedule, the fanbase had good reason to wait. The series won eight Emmys over the course of its run, made great use of voice-acting legend Phil LaMarr, and again, changed the way people thought about what might be possible with television animation. Nearly every frame of this series is a work of art worthy of being framed on a wall. – LSM

42. “Gurren Lagann” (Hiroyuki Imaishi and Kazuki Nakashima, 2007)

Almost the polar opposite of Studio Gainax’s other giant robot anime – the sterile and repressed “Neon Genesis Evangelion – Hiroyuki Imaishi’s “Gurren Lagann” wears its emotions on its sleeve. Sure, it’s another “boy pilots a giant robot” anime, but where “Evangelion” is terse and quiet, “Gurren Lagann” is loud and brash. What starts out as a typical hero’s journey winds up encompassing not one, but two series-defining twists, defying expectations and keeping viewers on their toes. It’s a series-long cry of defiance against oppression, with a heart as big as the universe. – JS

41. “Freakazoid” (Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Steven Spielberg, 1995 – 1997)

A spoof of the superhero genre before superheroes took over pop culture, “Freakazoid” somehow pulled off teenage wish fulfillment while still poking fun at itself. Following Dexter Douglas, a 16-year-old kid who obtains enhanced strength, endurance, speed, and agility after being sucked into a computer and absorbing all the information on the internet, the short-lived series tapped into the inner crazy kids can feel needs to be hidden away as they get older. Dexter would appear to be normal until he uttered the words “Freak out!,” when Freakazoid would spring from the secluded corner in Dexter’s brain and lead him on madcap adventures. “Freakazoid” was also a comedy above all else, filled with unexpected messages to the audience and bizarre live-action cutaways, making it unique to the space then and a kid-friendly precursor to “Deadpool” now — except this red-suited crusader was truly nuts. – BT

40. “The Boondocks” (Aaron McGruber, 2005-2014)

Adapting Aaron McGruder’s syndicated comic strip for animation proved to be a controversial choice for Adult Swim, but the results were fascinating, bringing McGruder’s complex and funny take on race to the screen along with the comic’s inspired anime-influenced style. That, plus some great performance work by Wanda Sykes and Reginald Hudlin, ensured “The Boondocks” became a show worthy of discussion for its limited run, bringing a unique voice to the world of animation. – LSM

39. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, 2005-2008)

Avatar: The Last Airbender
“Avatar: The Last Airbender.”Nickolodeon

One of the enduring parts of the legacy of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is its lightning-quick ability to flesh out a fantasy world that’s also brimming with detail. Boiling a timeless battle for environmental control down to its elemental parts, the series breathed new life into an already crowded field of “emerging hero discovering their abilities” stories. With a lush visual style that fully harnessed the majesty of a world with its very fundamental components in flux, “Avatar” set a standard of storytelling excellence that continued through its follow-up series “The Legend of Korra.” Here’s hoping that same care and attention also translates to Netflix’s planned live-action adaptation. – SG

38. “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” (Craig McCracken, 2004-2009)

A majority of the shows in this collection are powered by a potent sense of momentum. But among a fleet of steam-engine trains, “Foster’s” seemed to be a nuclear implosion of twisted, manic energy fueling the imaginary exploits of a young boy and his group of 2-D mental creations. From the plunky, toy-keyboard strains of the theme song, “Foster’s” operated like a spirited youth on a sugar high, following an open search for adventure often with a shriek and a mischievous giggle. It’s the perfect show for a generation of kids whose attention spans were dwindling, but would sit still long enough to enjoy the hand-drawn craft of wherever Mac, Bloo, and the rest of the gang might have ended up. – SG

37. “FLCL” (Kazuya Tsurumaki and Yoji Enokido, 2000-2001)

FLCL
“FLCL.”FLCL Production Committee

Few coming-of-age stories are as out there as “FLCL,” the tale of a bored, small-town kid who gets run over by a mysterious woman on a Vespa, only to find that his brain has been replaced with a dimensional portal through which robots emerge and do battle. But honestly, the plot barely matters, as “FLCL” is mostly a series of show-stopping virtuosic animated sequences, ranging from manga comic panels to a direct parody of “South Park.” At only six episodes (ignore the atrocious Cartoon Network sequels), “FLCL” blasts along like a rocket, moving from scene to scene with the improvisational energy of a guitar solo. If only all series rocked this hard. – JS

36. “Spongebob Squarepants” (Stephen Hillenburg, 1999-present)

SpongeBob Squarepants
“SpongeBob Squarepants.”Nickelodeon

SpongeBob is an optimistic and innocent soul who lives in a pineapple under the sea, loves to eat Crabby Patties, and hangs out with his pals Patrick the starfish and Sandy the thrill-seeking squirrel. Somehow marine biology lover Stephen Hillenberg hit upon the absurdist underwater formula that appeals to children and adults alike with its colorful palette, cheerful demeanor, and clean sense of fun. Nickelodeon’s longest-running series and the second-longest-running kids’ animated series ever has even lured in the likes of David Bowie, Amy Poehler, J.K. Simmons, and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to guest star. The four-time Emmy-winning SpongeBob’s un-ironic charms have reached worldwide, inspiring comic books, theme park rides, films, and even a figure in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. – HN

35. “The Powerpuff Girls” (Craig McCracken, 1998-2005)

The Powerpuff Girls
“The Powerpuff Girls”Warner Bros. Television Distribution

It all started when Professor Utonium accidentally spilled some “Chemical X” into his mix of “sugar, spice, and everything nice.” What he got were Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup, young superheroes who are there to stop evil in the city of Townsville, USA — particularly by the nefarious Mojo Jojo. Created by Craig McCracken, “The Powerpuff Girls” was an early success story for Cartoon Network, just as that channel began to experience success with originals like “Dexter’s Laboratory.” When it premiered in 1998, it was Cartoon Network’s highest-rated premiere ever, and soon the show would become a smash hit — and a merchandising juggernaut. A film, soundtracks, video games, and much more followed. “The Powerpuff Girls” also won two individual achievement Primetime Emmys before ending its initial run in 2005. A reboot was launched in 2016. – MS

34. “Over the Garden Wall” (Patrick McHale, 2014)

Over the Garden Wall
“Over the Garden Wall.”Cartoon Network

Patrick Hale (“Adventure Time”) is behind the 10-part miniseries, which won the Emmy Award in 2015 for Outstanding Animated Program. And it’s not hard to see why: “Over the Garden Wall” is beautiful — full of whimsy, mystery, melancholy, and delight. The show centers on two half-brothers, Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Greg (Collin Dean), who wind up lost, deep in the woods, on Halloween. Wirt is a worrywart while Greg is carefree, causing some tension between the two. But the half-brothers must work together as they travel through the Unknown forest and try to find their way back home. Along the way, they encounter various enchanting characters — including the sarcastic bluebird Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey), an angry woodsman (Christopher Lloyd), Greg’s singing frog (Jack Jones), and a Beast (Samuel Ramey). When it comes to fairy tales on TV, there’s really been nothing like “Over the Garden Wall.” – MS

"Primal"
“Primal”Adult Swim

33. “Primal” (Genndy Tartakovsky, 2019-2022)

Genndy Tartakovsky consistently pushes the boundaries of what is possible in animation, never content to rest on his laurels, and this dialogue-free chronicle of an unlikely human-dinosaur partnership proves to be a feat of elemental storytelling. Depicting the ruthlessness of nature, “Primal” is bloody, unsparing, and often quite terrifying. Spear and Fang are just trying to survive, but Tartakovsky’s tale makes time to build an authentic relationship between the odd couple, all while adhering to their wordless bond. The series marries its story to its craft; just as the people and creatures trying to stay alive in this world must make do with what’s available, Tartakovsky must utilize his vast understanding of animation to tell a clear, compulsive, and moving story through visual language and stirring sound. “Primal” may take place in prehistoric times, but it speaks with an instinctual urgency sure to resonate for years to come. —SG

32. “Home Movies” (Brendon Small and Loren Bouchard, 1999 – 2004)

A simple concept with distinct, childlike animation (Squigglevision, just like “Dr. Katz”), “Home Movies” followed an eight-year-old boy, Brendon (voiced by co-creator Brendon Small) who roped his friends into making movies. His films are fun and funny disasters, more often than not, but the real joy comes in the odd diversions each episode takes as the dialogue steers characters in unexpected directions. Kids call out adults, adults call out kids, Coach McGuirk is his absolute McGuirkiest, and the whole thing feels like a batch of talented comedians were put in a room together to churn out awkward, surprising scenarios. It’s no surprise so many “Home Movies” alumni went on to make more iconic series. – BT

31. “Frisky Dingo” (Adam Reed and Matt Thompson, 2006-2008)

frisky dingo
“Frisky Dingo.”Adult Swim

“Frisky Dingo” is probably Adam Reed and Matt Thompson’s least well-known series (behind “Archer” and “Sealab 2021”), which is a shame, because it just might be their funniest. Depicting the conflict between Killface — a put-upon alien seeking world domination – and his nemesis, the arrogant superhero Awesome X, “Frisky Dingo” took the tropes of superhero adventure and turned it into a raucous war of words. “Archer” fans, in particular, would do well to seek out “Frisky Dingo”‘s all-too-brief two-season run, because this is where the acerbic wordplay and high-quality running gags that would come to define “Archer” were born. (In fact, “Archer” has had a number of “Frisky Dingo” references sprinkled in over the years). Plus, it’s probably the only animated series to ever make a series of jokes about Mike Leigh’s abortion drama “Vera Drake.” – JS

30. “Undone” (Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, 2019-2022)

Undone Season 2 Rosa Salazar
Rosa Salazar in “Undone”Courtesy of Amazon Studios

On the surface, a Prime Video show with the premise “a survivor of a car crash wakes up in a hospital where her dead father tells her she can travel through time” seems like it would be destined for puzzle box-style nonsense. But instead, this absolute gem of a series, created by “BoJack” vets Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, uses that hook to beautiful and existential ends. Told through a rotoscope-style kaleidoscope of practical performances and lush, fluid backgrounds, Alma’s (Rosa Salazar) journey through memory and loss and regret becomes one of those stories that could only exist in this medium. Having already established a world of infinite possibility in Season 1, the show’s breathtaking second season is one of the sharpest and most moving examples of a fictional family with a very real sense of generational weight and richness. It’s part parable, part fairy tale, and part detective story. To wrap all that up in one lush package is a true feat, one that hopefully still has space to continue somehow someday. —SG

29. “Sailor Moon” (Naoko Takeuchi, 1992-1997)

"Sailor Moon"
“Sailor Moon”Dic Enterprises/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Based on the popular manga of the same name, this anime series was a revelation to young girls who finally found a relatable female lead. The 14-year-old Usagi is a charming mess of middle-school mediocrity: She is a lousy student, klutzy, prone to emotional outbursts, and doesn’t know what moderation means when it comes to yummy food. But an act of compassion leads to her becoming Sailor Moon, who joins other galactic soldiers to defend Earth from evil villains who could and did cause real harm. Underlying the fantastical and warlike elements was a strong message of loyalty, kindness, and friendship, a device that has influenced numerous cartoons such as “Steven Universe.” Not since “She-Ra” in the ‘80s did a cartoon deliver such an aspirational cartoon role model. The series is still a phenomenon to this day and inspired a revival, “Sailor Moon Crystal.” – HN

28. “Aeon Flux” (Peter Chung, 1991-1995)

MTV may not get enough credit for its support of animated series for older audiences. Created by Peter Chung, “Aeon Flux” only produced 16 episodes, but they had untold impact on other shows, blending American and Japanese styles for a politically dense tale of the future, focusing on the titular secret agent trying to bring down a dystopian regime. Perhaps the best known series to come from the Liquid Television experiment of the early ’90s, the series made minimal use of dialogue to instead bring to life a visually dazzling sci-fi tale that managed to be thrilling, sexy, and engrossing. – LSM

27. “Rocky and Bullwinkle” (Jay Ward and Alex Anderson and Bill Scott, 1959-1964)

Rocky and Bullwinkle
“Rocky and Bullwinkle.”YouTube

And now for something completely different. Audiences watched Bullwinkle pull a rabbit outta his hat from 1961 to 1964, as the Jay Ward Prods. characters soon became a phenomenon. Although “Rocky and Bullwinkle” isn’t in the pop culture zeitgeist like it once was, the show’s wry sensibility, self-referential nature and wordplay have inspired plenty of series since then — including, of course, “The Simpsons.” Unusual in structure, “Rocky and Bullwinkle” featured the title characters on serialized adventures, frequently being chased by Russian spies Natasha Fatale and Boris Badenov, who had been charged to go after “moose and squirrel.” But the show also offered up other segments, featuring characters such as Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Dudley Do-Right, and more. Jumpin’ gee horsefat! – MS

26. “Ren & Stimpy” (John Kricfalusi, 1991-1995)

"The Ren and Stimpy Show"
“The Ren and Stimpy Show.”Mtv/Nickelodeon/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Series creator John Kricfalusi has been accused of sexual abuse by two women, and this reprehensible behavior — along with Nickelodeon firing him from “Ren & Stumpy” — has tainted the legacy of what at the time was a creatively innovative series, both in its unique voice and visuals. Emotionally unstable chihuahua Ren and the happy-go-lucky cat Stumpy are pals who filled various roles, from outer-space explorers to nature-show hosts, with a few retro-inspired fake sponsors thrown in for good measure. (“Log” is a classic.) No matter what the circumstances, the series delivered its signature absurdist, slapstick and off-color humor that didn’t just border on subversive but sparked controversy from parenting groups. It’s visual language was a complex combo that found inspiration from Bob Clampett’s elastic 1940s cartoons, used extreme and grotesque close-ups, and a richer color palette. “Ren & Stimpy” ushered in a new era of American cartoons made specifically for adults and has influenced series ranging from MTV’s “Beavis & Butthead” to “SpongeBob SquarePants.” – HN

TUCA & BERTIE, from left: Tuca (voice: Tiffany Haddish), Pastry Pete (back, voice: Reggie Watts), Bertie Songthrush (voice: Ali Wong), 'The Sugar Bowl', (Season 1, ep. 101, aired May 3, 2019). photo: ©Netflix / Courtesy: Everett Collection
“Tuca & Bertie”Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection

25. “Tuca & Bertie” (Lisa Hanawalt, 2019-2022)

Expectations were understandably high when Lisa Hanawalt — the artist, producer, and production designer you can thank for the world of “BoJack Horseman” — branched out and created her own show. The result, “Tuca & Bertie,” keeps much of the distinct look that made the animal world of “BoJack” so memorable but succeeds by pushing its boundaries into vivid new directions and finding a narrative voice uniquely its own. The show stars Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong as Tuca and Birdie, a toucan and a songbird who live in the same apartment building while they try to navigate challenges of adulthood together. While not as dark as “BoJack,” Hanawalt’s deft touch allows the Adult Swim series to bounce between zany B-plots (like Steven Yeun’s character, Speckle, sleepwalking his way to 10,000 steps) and moving revelations about each of the two best bird friends. The result is an unforgettable cartoon that has no problem stepping out of the shadows of its predecessor to tell a compelling story about adult friendships. —CZ

24. “Beavis & Butthead” (Mike Judge, 1993 – 1997)

Beavis and Butthead
“Beavis and Butthead.”MTV

The high school slackers you love to watch and hate to meet, Beavis and Butt-Head were absolutely savage rebels of society. They didn’t work (or worked without doing any work), they didn’t learn (or learned only what they wanted), and they didn’t give a hoot about anyone or anything, including each other. Instead, they set their limited to minds to immediate pleasures, be it food or TV or whatever happened to spark that iconic laughter. What made Mike Judge’s breakthrough comedy work so well was its innate ability to find the funny in our most obnoxious base instincts. From calling out the obvious to ruthlessly mocking polite society to simply rhyming clean words with dirty ones, the short episodes were an ideal delivery system for a show meant to disrupt the status quo. – BT

23. “South Park” (Trey Parker and Matt Stone, 1997 – present)

South Park Season 20 Episode 4 Heidi, Cartman, Kyle
South Park Season 20 Episode 4 Heidi, Cartman, Kyle

“South Park” doesn’t stop. Despite the purely promotional pleas of the Season 22 hashtag, Comedy Central isn’t looking to cancel their long-running, groundbreaking, and Emmy-winning animated comedy any more than those who’ve stuck with it are calling for an end already. Why should it wrap-up when episodes are still doggedly policing everything from America’s gun problems to “South Park’s” past faux pas? Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s unrelenting satire, which follows four young boys in a not-so-quiet Colorado town, skewers everything without fear of reproach. If there’s an onslaught of Kanye-isms too preposterous to ignore or an outbreak of politically correct culture that threatens to over-scrutinize everything, “South Park” is ready to poke a hole in predominant societal discourse. With a unique creative process that leads to quick turnarounds from concept to airing, “South Park” is well-positioned to reframe discussions for years to come, and it’s already proven there’s plenty left in the tank. – BT

22. “Mobile Suit Gundam” (Yoshiyuki Tomino, 1979-1980)

mobile suit gundam
“Mobile Suit Gundam.”YouTube

The granddaddy of the serious robot genre of anime, “Mobile Suit Gundam” may be nearly 40 years old, but it’s still depressingly relevant. Sure, it’s got giant robots, but “Mobile Suit Gundam” portrayed its mech suits not as wish fulfillment fantasies, but as weapons of mass destruction in an extremely bloody war. Considered a flop during its initial run, “Mobile Suit Gundam” saw its popularity surge after Bandai released models based on the show’s mech suits, cementing the show’s place in the canon and leading to the brand’s roughly 700,000 spin-off shows and movies. Not bad for a show about the toll war takes, especially on the young people we ask to fight it. – JS

21. “Phineas and Ferb” (Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, 2007-2015)

"Phineas and Ferb"
“Phineas and Ferb”Disney

More than any other TV series of the last few decades, “Phineas and Ferb” took full advantage of a formula. Retooling a familiar rhythm with each successive episode, the show brought an electric spirit to its musical numbers, summer vacation plans, and showdowns with dastardly mustache-twirling evil geniuses that few other series could parallel. The Saturday morning feel, with its sharp color and unrepentant goofiness, formed the outer layer for a cartoon that had a genuine heart beating underneath. It’s the kind of show accessible and equally enjoyable to audiences of any age, without having to sacrifice anything to get to that point. – SG

20. “Justice League” (Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, 2001-2004)

Justice League
“Justice League.”Cartoon Network

This surprisingly mature take on superhero tales was impressive in how it loved reinvention, completely shifting the show’s format after Season 2 to incorporate even more of the great wide weirdness of the DC Comics universe. Currently, adaptations of the great superheroes of DC range wildly in tone, from the gritty cinematic adaptations to the more lighthearted Berlanti/CW series. But “Justice League” found a way to straddle a number of different lines, telling amazing tales while still also highlighting the humanity of the characters — even the ones from Krypton or Mars. – LSM

19. “Clone High” (Phil Lord and Chris Miller and Bill Lawrence, 2002-2003)

Clone High
“Clone High.”Nelvana

The premise is ingenious: a high school populated solely by the clones of historical figures, who must navigate the usual teen drama while also dealing with the pressure of their historical antecedents. So that’s how you get a dorky Abe Lincoln pining for popular girl Cleopatra while his platonic best friend Joan of Arc secretly pines for him. And also how you get a teen party animal version of Gandhi screaming, “If there’s one thing Mahatma Gandhi stands for, it’s revenge!” It’s a recipe for comedic success, in other words.

It’s probably for the best that “Clone High” only lasted one season, as it freed up creators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to launch their wildly successful movie careers (including “21 Jump Street” and “The Lego Movie”), and a show this dense in jokes was bound to burn out sometime. Still, we’ll always have this one season to treasure. – JS

18. “King of the Hill” (Mike Judge and Greg Daniels, 1997-2010)

"King of the Hill."
“King of the Hill.”Fox

Yep. Yep. Yup. Mmmhmm. While the networks have suddenly rediscovered middle America thanks to the success of last season’s “Roseanne” reboot and the return of “Last Man Standing,” there’s perhaps no show that chronicled small-town life better than “King of the Hill.” Mike Judge and Greg Daniels came up with an unconventional way to celebrate the conventional. The slice-of-life comedy, set in fictional Arlen, Texas, centered on conservative Texan Hank Hill (voice of Judge), the “propane and propane accessories” salesman who loves his family — even when his wife Peggy (Kathy Najimy) falls into another too-good-to-be-true scheme or he feels out of touch with his enthusiastic but often misunderstood son Bobby (Pamela Adlon). Through 259 episodes and 13 seasons, “King of the Hill’s” slice-of-life stories featured an expanded universe that included Hank’s niece Luann (and eventually her husband Lucky, voiced by Tom Petty); his pals Dale, Bill and Boomhauer; Bobby’s best friend Joseph; and the next-door immigrant family led by Kahn (Toby Huss) and Minh (Lauren Tom). “King of the Hill’s” stories were always funny, but had real heart. – MS

17. “Cowboy Bebop” (Shinichiro Watanabe, 1998-2000)

“I’m only watching a dream I never awakened from.” So says Spike Spiegel, the criminal turned bounty hunter who wanders outer space in order to escape his broken past of betrayal and heartache. All of the characters in “Cowboy Bebop” are running – grizzled ex-cop Jet, grifter knockout Faye Valentine, and oddball teen hacker Ed. Over 26 episodes, they come together and spin apart, taking out bad guys while looking effortlessly cool doing it. But viewers never forget that the freewheeling swagger of Shinichiro Wantanabe’s space epic hides a melancholy heart. Not to mention the greatest opening titles in the history of television. 3, 2, 1, let’s jam. – JS

16. “Neon Genesis Evangelion” (Hideaki Anno, 1995-1996)

Hidekai Anno’s “Neon Genesis Evangelion” is on the shortlist for “greatest anime of all time” for a reason. A meditation on grief, loneliness, and whether people can truly know one another, “Neon Genesis Evangelion” took the hoary sci-fi cliché of exploring what it means to be human and infused it with raw emotion alongside its harrowing giant robot fights. It’s the apocalypse through the prism of a broken family – protagonist Shinji Ikari and his terrible, terrible dad – plus there’s religion, sex, teen angst, and a penguin. There’s so much going on that the plotting can get a little vague, and the final episodes are more heavily metaphorical than you’d probably like (the show ran out of money), but “Evangelion” is an experience, not a bullet list. What good’s a masterpiece without a few flaws? – JS

15. “Rick and Morty” (Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, 2013-present)

Rick and Morty
“Rick and Morty”Adult Swim

There’s not much to say about this series that hasn’t already been dissected and merchandised into oblivion, pored over by diehard fans and detractors alike. But there’s still a winsome unpredictability to this juggernaut Adult Swim series that makes it worth tuning in whenever new episodes spring up. What may have started as a nightmare reworking of “Back to the Future” has now Cronenberg-ed itself into an inescapable part of a specific pop culture subset. Whether the title characters are traversing alternate dimensions or solving a series-best living room mystery surrounded by fanciful creations like Reverse Giraffe (you know, he has a short neck and legs), no show takes advantage of its boundless possibilities quite like this one. – SG

14. “The Tick” (Ben Edlund, 1994-1996)

"The Tick."
“The Tick.”Fox

Spoon! Ben Edlund’s indie comic creation has been adapted twice as a live-action series, but most viewers were first introduced to the unconventional, blue superhero via the Fox Kids cartoon. The show initially aired from 1994 to 1996 but later developed an older following when it aired in repeats on Comedy Central. Fans were drawn to the absurd stories of the rather pompous Tick (Townsend Coleman), who would ultimately take credit as moth-like sidekick Arthur (Micky Dolenz, and later Rob Paulsen) — a former accountant who becomes the superhero’s right-hand man — ultimately saves the day. Joining with fellow heroes American Maid, Sewer Urchin, and Die Fledermaus, the Tick helped make The City safe — and teach a few off-beat morals along the way. – MS

13. “Adventure Time” (Pendleton Ward, 2010-2018)

adventure time
“Adventure Time”Cartoon Network

It’s a pretty simple premise: human boy Finn and his adoptive brother Jake the dog wander the countryside, defending the fantastic Land of Ooo from ice wizards and other various ne’er-do-wells. But what began as an animated riff on Dungeons and Dragons eventually grew deeper and richer, as Ooo was revealed to be a post-apocalyptic Earth and enemies such as the Ice King were found to have hidden, tragic depths. The show’s 10-season run came to an end this year, with a fittingly sweeping and bittersweet finale (including a new song by “Steven Universe” creator Rebecca Sugar). But while the show may be gone, it will continue to live on. Because with “Adventure Time,” the fun never ends. – JS

12. “Gravity Falls” (Alex Hirsch, 2012-2016)

Gravity Falls
“Gravity Falls.”Disney

Why you ackin’ so cray cray? Put “Twin Peaks,” “The X-Files,” “Northern Exposure,” “Scooby Doo,” and “Diff’rent Strokes” in a blender and you get “Gravity Falls,” a kids’ show so dense with mythology, pop culture jokes, Easter eggs, and mystery that grown-ups were often more invested. This is because, thanks to creator Alex Hirsch, the heart of “Gravity Falls” was also a heartbreaking tale of what it’s like to grow up, and how tough it is to hold on to your childhood sibling bonds. As twins Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel (Kristen Schaal) spend the summer in the mysterious town of Gravity Falls, they help their huckster great-uncle Stan (Hirsch) run his “Mystery Shack.” Soon they uncover the mystery of what happened to Stan’s brother, and battle a supernatural creature that threatens to destroy Gravity Falls — and the world. “Gravity Falls” only ran for 39 episodes — leaving fans wanting much more. – MS

11. “The Critic” (Al Jean and Mike Reiss, 1994-1995)

“The Critic” was emphatically not a show made for the masses, if only based on the Bergman jokes used liberally by the film-obsessed comedy. But for movie lovers, it was an instantly accessible cult favorite (and those who work in the industry might relate especially to critic Jay Sherman’s constant donning of swag). In a different era (oh, imagine “The Critic” being revived for Netflix!) this series might not have bounced from network to network to eventually the internet. But there are still 33 episodes of deeply nerdy comedy anchored by a great animation cast, especially Jon Lovitz as a man who just wanted to watch great movies, but more often than not had to declare, “It stinks!” – LSM

10. “Animaniacs” (Tom Ruegger, 1993-1998)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFXOUi-3YRg
“Animaniacs”Warner Bros./Amblin

While “Tiny Toon Adventures” was the first beloved animated series coming from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Animation, that series still played off of the legacy of the classic Loony Tunes shorts. “Animaniacs” became a wholly new beast: a sly animated variety show with short skits featuring completely original and imaginative characters. Strange siblings Yakko, Wakko, and Dot led the way with their manic hijinks and catchy songs and catchphrases, but enhanced lab rats Pinky & the Brain became the breakouts with their constant foiled attempts to take over the world. From a giant chicken masquerading as a man to a curmudgeonly squirrel whose cartoon stardom has long since dimmed, these bizarre and addictive creations captured the imaginations of an adult audience. The series was so popular that Hulu has given a reboot a two-season, straight-to-series order that will land in 2020. – HN

9. “Big Mouth” (Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett, 2017-present)

Big Mouth
“Big Mouth.”courtesy of Netflix

Matching the vague uneasiness and unpredictability of puberty made animation the perfect venue to tackle all the swirling ideas within this Netflix gem. Shocking as much in its honesty as its willingness to show preteens in their most vulnerable time of “chayyyyyyyyyyynges,” there’s always a wink and a nod to the idea that those who lived through that transition are more than maturing adults — they’re survivors. However crazy the monstrous hormones (and Hormone Monsters) driving these kids get, “Big Mouth” always returns to common ground: the embarrassing urges that show we all have precious little control over where our romantic whims take us. Toss in some sharp observations about family and the benefits of a more progressive worldview, and there’s some real substance underneath a monster-fueled exterior. – SG

8. “Bob’s Burgers” (Loren Bouchard, 2011-present)

BOB'S BURGERS: The Belchers cater their first wedding. When things donÕt go as planned, Linda tries to save the day in ÒSomething Old, Something New, Something Bob Caters for You,Ó Part Two of the season finale of BOBÕS BURGERS airing Sunday, May 20 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. BOB'S BURGERSª and © 2018 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. CR: FOX
“Bob’s Burgers.”Fox

The Belchers are just trying to figure things out, but at least they have each other — aside from the food- and pest removal-based puns, that’s the foundation of what’s made this a long-running delight. Even when events beyond their control threaten the restaurant or place any number of unforeseen obstacles in their way, there’s a spirit of family togetherness that might be more laid-back than TV shows usually have, but heartwarming all the same. With such clearly defined characters — timid, blunt, and eccentric all — it’s no wonder the show’s managed to sustain its appeal for the better part of a decade. – SG

7. “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” (Mike Lazzo, 1994-2008)

There are very few shows on this list as influential as “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” the fount from which all of Adult Swim’s “random” stoner humor springs. Premiering all the way back in 1994, the series set the tone that would define Adult Swim at its launch in 2000 and continues to resonate in the animation block’s programming today. Repurposing animation from the little-remembered 60’s Hanna-Barbera space opera, “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” saw the titular superhero retired from adventuring and hosting a talk show alongside his conquered foes Zorak and Moltar. Improvised interviews with real-life celebrities were integrated into the show, turning episodes into a hilarious mish-mash of awkward pauses and cringe comedy, and creating a show that was ground-breaking and completely ahead of its time. – JS

6. “Steven Universe” (Rebecca Sugar, 2013 – 2020)

"Steven Universe"
“Steven Universe”Cartoon Network

In this coming-of-age story, Steven Universe (based on Rebecca Sugar’s own brother and an animator on the series) is a young boy who lives with the magical humanoid aliens known as Crystal Gems. As a half-Gem himself, he’s learning to tap into his own powers as he and his friends go on adventures. This heartwarming series has received acclaim for its design, music, and voice acting, while its LGBTQ-friendly and body-positive themes and narratives are what really set it apart. Cartoon Network’s groundbreaking series is its first solely created by a woman, who later revealed herself to be non-binary. With that creative pedigree, it’s no wonder that Emmy-nominated “Steven Universe” is one of the most inclusive shows ever. – HN

5. “Batman: The Animated Series” (Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, 1992 – 1995)

"Batman: The Animated Series"
“Batman: The Animated Series.”Warner Bros. Animation

The makers of this landmark WB series didn’t set out to make a cool kids show. They tried to tell the best damn Batman stories to date, and damn if they didn’t do just that. 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. “Batman: The Animated Series” spawned a generation of similar stories, from “Superman” to “Justice League” and beyond, but its influences are still being felt today. After all, no one would hold up “Batman vs. Superman” to “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.” No matter the intended audience, “BTAS” holds its own. – BT

4. “Daria” (Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis Lynn, 1997-2002)

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mtv/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5874779d)Daria (1997)Daria - 1997MtvUSAAnimation
“Daria”Mtv/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

It’s hard to think of a portrait of teenage ennui more sensitively drawn than the MTV animated series, even when compared to the live-action world. From the perspective of Daria Morgendorffer, the world is a garbage fire, and she’s screwed because she’s the only one smart enough to know it. Life isn’t made easier by her eclectic friends, clueless but well-meaning teachers, and a family that loves her but doesn’t understand her — but fortunately, firm principles and a razor-sharp wit make her an unforgettable protagonist who was life-altering for an entire generation. Daria’s dry droll was unique, but her angst made her universally relatable. – LSM

3. “Archer” (Adam Reed, 2009-present)

ARCHER -- "Auflösung" -- Season 8, Episode 8 (Airs May 24, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured (l-r): Cyril Figgis (voice of Chris Parnell), Sterling Archer (voice of H. Jon Benjamin), Len Trexler (voice of Jeffrey Tambor). CR: FXX
“Archer”FXX

Spy spoofs are nothing new, but Adam Reed’s particular brand of referential boundary-pushing has made this far more than a workplace comedy about intelligence agency misfits. Even as the team behind the series has dreamed up ways to pull Archer, Lana, Mallory, Pam, Krieger, Ray, and Cyril through disparate realities — 1940s LA noir, tropical biplane adventure, “Smokey and the Bandit”-themed coke ring operation, just to name a few — the show’s steady stream of callbacks keeps it tied to a whip-smart comedic DNA that never fails to surprise. Plus, it’s anchored by one of the most dependable voice casts of any show on this list. (Give them all the awards they, for some reason, have never won yet.) – SG

2. “The Simpsons” (Matt Groening, 1989-present)

THE SIMPSONS: After getting struck by lightning, Bart receives visits from ghosts, who want closure only he can provide in the all-new ÒFlandersÕ LadderÓ season finale episode of THE SIMPSONS airing Sunday, May 20 (8:00-8:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. THE SIMPSONS ª and © 2018 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
“The Simpsons.”Fox

When you’ve been on the air as long as “The Simpsons,” every year brings another milestone. The show has already surpassed “Gunsmoke” by producing the most episodes of a primetime scripted series in history, has hit its landmark 30th season, and even managed to match up its 30th “Treehouse of Horror” installment to run as the show’s 666th episode. Everything’s coming up Milhouse for “The Simpsons,” which continues to rake in the D’oh for all involved. The citizens of Springfield will soon fall under Disney ownership, which could mean a whole new chapter for what is easily one of the most influential TV series of all time. Purists may argue when the show “peaked,” and what season remains the best. But “The Simpsons” still delivers reliable laughs, sharp satire, and self-deprecating parody. Without “The Simpsons,” the majority of the shows on this list wouldn’t even exist — and comedy wouldn’t look the same. After all, no TV and no beer make Homer something something. – MS

1. “BoJack Horseman” (Raphael Bob-Waksberg, 2014-2020)

BoJack Horseman Season 4
“BoJack Horseman”Netflix

Perhaps it’s too soon to call “BoJack Horseman” the best animated TV series of all time. Perhaps five stellar seasons of 12 episodes each, arguably improving with each subsequent entry, aren’t enough of a sample to hold against series that either ran for decades or withheld scrutiny for just as long. Perhaps a serialized existential drama about a washed-up Hollywood horse looking to salvage his career along with his life shouldn’t be compared to kids’ shows and episodic satires. No matter. “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. We may never catch up with every astounding facet of this young series, which means it’s not too soon to list it at No. 1. If anything, we’re already late. – BT

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