The 20 Best ’90s Cartoons for When You’re Feeling Nostalgic
Relive your childhood with these awesome '90s cartoons that have stood the test of time
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The best cartoons from the ’90s
Kids nowadays are lucky to have a bevy of streaming services and channels chock-full of cartoons to watch at any given moment. It wasn’t always this way. In the ’90s, you had to make sure to check the listings to find out when exactly your favorite cartoons would air on television. Sure, there might be some funny kids movies or plain ol’ good movies on, but cartoons weren’t on 24/7. Sometimes they were part of the Disney Afternoon lineup. Saturday mornings were also a great time for watching ’90s cartoons. And channels like Disney and Nickelodeon also offered plenty of toons to watch. (A lot of the best ’80s cartoons have stayed lovable too.) With so many ’90s cartoons to look back on, though, which ones have stood the test of time?
Luckily, we’re living at a time where you can easily revisit all your old favorites and funny movies with the push of a button. But don’t look to this list for the best animated movies, or even the best ’90s movies—here, you’ll only find the best ’90s cartoons to watch whenever you’re feeling nostalgic for those pre-streaming, dial-up internet, VHS-playing days of yore.
Does everyone else remember the adventures of Tommy, Chucky, Phil and Lil (and Susie and Angelica) that taught us “a baby’s gotta do what a baby’s gotta do”? This Nickelodeon classic first aired in 1991 and ran all the way till 2004—and it spawned a number of funny kids movies as well. But Rugrats remains so popular that a reboot of the cartoon was created in 2021 on Paramount+, so an entirely new generation of kiddos can fall in love with these crack-us-up characters. And if you’re in the mood for other hilarious cartoons, we’ve got you covered.
Beavis and Butt-Head
Beavis and Butt-Head was an edgy favorite among Gen X and their younger millennial siblings. The raunchy, now-classic cartoon starring two apathetic teens as they binge-watched music videos on their couch (before that was even a thing) became a cultural phenomenon not long after it first aired. It was a huge hit for creator Mike Judge, who went on to create King of the Hill and Silicon Valley (and several of the best ’90s movies too, including Beavis and Butt-Head Do America) and is now at the helm of a Beavis and Butt-Head reboot on Paramount+ that began just last year.
This late-’90s cartoon about a diverse group of elementary-school friends and their interactions during school playtime was a favorite for many. Not only did Recess center around a hilarious band of misfit kids, it also starred a voice that’s become well recognized today. That’s right, Better Things star Pamela Adlon voiced our favorite rebel, Spinelli, through all 129 episodes! And speaking of school days, here are some hilarious classroom stories that will make you chuckle.
Rocko’s Modern Life
Millennials have long known that adulthood would be full of difficult situations, not only from watching all the funniest sitcoms of the ’90s, but also thanks to our many rewatches of Rocko’s Modern Life. One of the most popular ’90s Nickelodeon cartoons, it followed the lives of Rocko, an Australian wallaby learning to navigate life in the U.S., and his best pals Heffer and Filburt. While it only ran for three years, from 1993 through 1996, it was so beloved it was revived for a movie special in 2016 to show us how our old friends were faring through even more modern times.
This sweet and funny show about a young boy named Bobby featured a live-action component at the start of every episode that made it truly stand out. Moreover, the Bobby’s World intro was always a segment where Bobby got to chat with his father—voiced by none other than America’s Got Talent‘s Howie Mandel, also the star of several popular ’80s movies such as Walk Like a Man and Little Monsters. The hardworking comedian also masterminded the creation of this fave ’90s cartoon that ran for seven seasons.
X-Men: The Animated Series
Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Disney movies became an inescapable pop-culture phenomenon, millennials were glued to their TV sets watching X-Men: The Animated Series. Starring all our favorite X-Men, from Magneto and Professor X to Storm, Jubilee, Gambit and Rogue—and of course, Wolverine—the show gave us a new battle for the mutants to engage in each week from 1992 until 1996. Plus, that theme song was absolutely killer!
Fighting evil by moonlight was the mantra of many millennials who hoped to someday become Sailor Scouts themselves. This anime was released in Japan in 1992, but the English-dubbed version didn’t come to American audiences until 1995. Those who recorded episodes onto VHS tapes have since grown up and are now raising a new generation of Moonies themselves, as seen by the popularity of Sailor Moon merchandise, memes and more all over the internet. P.S. Sailor Moon was ahead of the game when it came to matters of acceptance and representation, as it featured a number of queer characters, some of whom can be seen in the Sailor Moon LGBTQ movies.
For kids who grew up in the ’90s watching tough-guy action movies and not relating one bit, there was at least one animated boy who offered a gentler depiction of masculinity. This ’90s Nickelodeon cartoon followed Doug Funny, a kind-hearted, noble teen boy and his dog, Porkchop, as they adjusted to living in a new town, making friends along the way. While Doug was canceled in 1994 after a three-year run, it was revived by Disney from 1996 through 1999, culminating in a theatrical film.
While Beavis and Butt-Head brought crass humor to the forefront, they also introduced a character who would eventually gain notoriety in her own spinoff. Daria Morgendorffer became the spokesperson for deadpan girls in the late 1990s, thanks to the popular show Daria, which also aired on MTV, though it was not run by Mike Judge. The show ran for five seasons, following Daria, her best friend Jane Lane, her cheerleading sister Brittney and a slew of other memorable characters, including Stacy (voiced by Grey’s Anatomy‘s Sarah Drew) and Upchuck (voiced by Geoffrey Arend, who has starred in romantic comedies like 500 Days of Summer).
This dark and mysterious Disney afternoon cartoon is best known for its lead voice actor, Emmy-award winner Keith David. But before we’d go on to watch David in horror movies like The Thing or dramas like Requiem for a Dream, we knew him as Goliath, the leader of a crew of gargoyles who were cast to stone for centuries until they awoke in 1990s New York City. Gargoyles also featured the voices of Ed Asner and Star Trek‘s Jonathan Frakes.
Blossom! Bubbles! Buttercup! As far as Cartoon Network shows from the ’90s go, the Powerpuff Girls, an adorable standout cartoon about three pint-size super heroines keeping their home of Townsville safe, is certainly among the most memorable. It originally aired from 1998 through 2004, got rebooted in 2016 for four years and is about to see even more episodes made this year. There are even rumors about a live-action version in the works, but while we anxiously await that, we can stream these old ’90s Cartoon Network shows and transport ourselves back in time.
Not too unlike Doug, Pepper Ann followed the antics of a 12-year-old girl and her closest friends, Milo and Nicky. It’s been lauded in later years as a delightfully feminist kids cartoon, with progressive depictions of gender (see Pepper Ann’s kid sister Moose, voiced again by none other than Pamela Adlon). While Pepper Ann was a Disney cartoon, the show also included another popular ’90s Nickelodeon alum: Danny Cooksey, who played Budnick on Salute Your Shorts. Can’t get enough Disney? Here’s a comprehensive list of all your favorite Disney characters.
’90s cartoons were changed forever when South Park hit the scene in 1997. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s long-running show began as an envelope-pushing stop-motion cartoon starring a bunch of foul-mouthed grade-school kids living in a fictional Colorado town—and was something most of our parents definitely would not have let us watch had they known how raunchy it was. It opened the door for numerous adult-audience cartoons and paved the way for Parker and Stone’s later successes, including the Broadway hit The Book of Mormon. It’s hard to argue that this isn’t one of the best cartoon shows of all time.
The Ren & Stimpy Show
Speaking of envelope-pushing cartoons, another one that comes to mind is the overly grotesque but absolutely hilarious Ren & Stimpy, starring a Chihuahua with an overinflated ego and anger issues and Stimpson J. Cat, a not-terribly-bright but always adorable cat, as an unlikely duo who go on all kinds of bizarre adventures. But beyond that, what many of us remember most are the small details of the show, like the extremely catchy and unforgettable Log commercial and jingle and the infectious “Happy Happy Joy Joy” song.
AAAHH!!! Real Monsters
This quirky Nickelodeon cartoon might’ve scared some kiddos, but it mostly made everyone laugh. You might even call it a precursor to the Monsters Inc. films—after all, it was about a group of monsters attending Monster School to learn how to best scare humans. AAAHH!!! Real Monsters ran for three seasons and starred the ever-talented Christine Cavanaugh as Oblina (whom you probably heard voicing a number of other ’90s characters, including Chuckie Finster of Rugrats and Dexter of Dexter’s Laboratory). And if feeling frightened is still your thing as an adult, here are some of the scariest movies to watch.
While some ’90s cartoons were starting to focus on adults as the main audience, one show had enough silliness to keep kiddos engaged while also throwing in plenty of grown-up jokes and euphemisms for the adults. That show was Animaniacs, starring the Warner Brothers, Yakko and Wakko, and their sister Dot. Full of cultural commentary and falling anvils, the show even enjoyed the revival treatment in 2020, with a final season airing this year.
Another quality cartoon series from the ’90s was Hey Arnold! which was centered around a young boy living in the fictional city of Hillwood, Washington (not New York City, as many thought). The show explores themes of friendship, family, bullying, crushes and more, and we especially love Arnold’s close relationship with his thoughtful, quirky grandparents, something that wasn’t common in cartoons of the time. Like many Nicktoons of the decade, it also got its own film version (two actually, one in 2002 and another in 2017).
Steven Spielberg Presents Freakazoid!
Millennials with a taste for weird facts will remember this bizarre superhero of the Saturday-morning cartoon time slot. Premiering in 1995, this cartoon about an awkward teen named Dexter becoming a wacky crime fighter had us all feeling seen. Despite airing for just two seasons, Freakazoid still elicits plenty of nostalgia.
The Wild Thornberrys
What young millennial didn’t dream of traveling the world with their own parents after watching The Wild Thornberrys? This show starred a young girl named Eliza (voiced by Party of Five‘s Lacey Chabert), her adventurous documentary-making parents Nigel and Marianne, and her younger brother (voiced by another ’90s icon: Flea). Ahead of its time, the show ran from 1998 to 2004 and inspired a number of movies as well.
The Magic School Bus
What better way to learn about science than by riding aboard the Magic School Bus with Miss Frizzle? What began as a series of books eventually became a hit cartoon show of the ’90s on PBS, where youngsters of the time got to learn about everything from molecules and stars to computers and the human body. And for those who want more, The Magic School Bus was rebooted by Netflix in 2017 as The Magic School Bus Rides Again.