50 Best Cartoon Shows of All Time
Whether they're decades-old classics or contemporary cult favorites, these are some of the best cartoon shows of all time. Let's get watching!
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What is it about animated cartoons that makes so many of us go crazy for them? Whether they’re written for kids, adults, or a mix of both, cartoons capture our imagination in a way nothing else can. Plus there’s a cartoon show out there to fit any and all moods. That’s why we compiled this list of the best cartoon shows of all time. Many are critically acclaimed award winners, some are cult classics, and others are our own staff favorites. Just don’t blame us when you get sucked down the cartoon rabbit hole! For more fun viewing, check out our lists of the best comedy movies of the past 100 years and the best sitcoms of all time.
Rocky and Bullwinkle
On air: 1959–64
Memorable quote: “Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.”
This classic funny cartoon show is known under many names—The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, The Bullwinkle Show, and Rocky and His Friends, to name a few. But the premise remains the same: A moose and a flying squirrel team up for countless adventures in Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. It’s loved by both kids and former kids.
On air: 1960–66
Memorable quote: “Yabba dabba doo!”
The Flintstones follows two families: the Flintstones (who happen to be one of the best family Halloween costumes in the game) and their next-door neighbors, the Rubbles, as they deal with modern-day problems while living in the Stone Age. This classic TV show was the longest-running network animated television series until The Simpsons came along, and of all cartoon shows, it was the first to hold a prime-time television spot. Give it a watch to see why it’s a classic.
On air: 1962–63
Memorable quote: “There’s only one thing worse than war, and that is business, and Spacely has declared business on us.”
Think of The Jetsons as the Space Age counterpart to The Flintstones’ Stone Age. This cartoon follows a family living in the future and features some of the most beloved cartoon characters ever, including George Jetson, his wife, Jane, their teenage daughter, Judy, and their son, Elroy. Get ready to see some flying cars!
George of the Jungle
On air: 1967–70
Memorable quote: “Watch out for that tree!”
Jay Ward and Bill Scott—the creators of Rocky and Bullwinkle—offered an updated take on the story of Tarzan. George stars as an ape-man, who makes up for his lack of smarts with his big heart. The series follows George as he saves inhabitants of the Mbwembwe Province in Africa from jungle threats.
The Looney Tunes series
On air: 1930–69
Memorable quote: “What’s up, doc?”
Talk about a kooky cast of characters! This cartoon series, produced during the Golden Age of American animation, features favorites like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, Tweety Bird, and Pepé Le Pew. And that’s just the short list. A longtime Saturday morning TV staple, the adventures of the Looney Tunes crew are now available around the clock through streaming.
On air: 1989–present
Memorable quote: “It’s so simple to be wise… Just think of something stupid to say and then don’t say it.”
No cartoon has quite captured the hearts and minds of viewers everywhere like The Simpsons, the longest-running American animated series, American sitcom, and American scripted prime time television show of all time. The series follows the Simpson family, including husband Homer, wife Marge, and their children, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. Kids and adults alike can enjoy this cleverly written show.
The Peanuts specials
On air: 1965–present
Memorable quote: “Good grief!”
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the Peanuts gang on this list. What began as a popular newspaper comic strip by artist Charles M. Schulz became a perennial television favorite with its specials. The best include A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
On air: 1969–present
Memorable quote: “Scooby Dooby Doo, where are you?”
Another cartoon that is standing the test of time (with multiple spin-offs and a classic family movie), Scooby Doo follows teenagers Shaggy, Fred, Daphne, and Velma as they solve mysteries with the help of their smart canine friend, Scooby. To the Mystery Machine we go!
On air: 1999–present
Memorable quote: “Can I be excused for the rest of my life?”
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants, of course, along with the rest of his wacky gang on Bikini Bottom. Originally created for Nickelodeon by marine science educator and animator Stephen Hillenburg, the series follows underwater creatures SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Plankton, Sandy, and more as they go on hilarious adventures. It’s truly one of the best kids shows around.
On air: 1999–present
Memorable quote: “I’m the most noncompetitive. So, I win.”
Although “family” may be in the title, this cartoon show is certainly made for adults. Seth MacFarlane’s iconic sitcom centers around the Griffins, a family consisting of husband-and-wife duo Peter and Lois; their children, Meg, Chris, and Stewie; and their talking dog, Brian. Like The Simpsons, this satirical show parodies American life and culture and has amassed a cult following.
On air: 1997–present
Memorable quote: “Respect my authoritah!”
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone seemed to have had one goal in mind when they devised this satirical masterpiece: offend as many people as they could. And hey, rather than blowing up in their faces, that strategy seems to have worked, with episodes still being made 24 years later. This Comedy Central series follows boys Stan, Kyle, Eric, and Kenny as they wreak havoc in their Colorado town, using as much profanity, violence, and dark humor as possible. (Hence the TV-MA rating.)
Avatar: The Last Airbender
On air: 2005–08
Memorable quote: “Life happens wherever you are, whether you make it or not.”
In this fantasy series, the world is divided into four nations—the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads—and benders are special people able to control and manipulate the element native to their region. The Avatar is the only person able to bend all four elements, and that person happens to be 12-year-old Aang. The series follows Aang and his friends Katara, Sokka, and Toph as they go on adventures, fight evil, and learn lessons along the way. Fans often count it among the best TV shows of all time.
On air: 1997–2002
Memorable quote: “I don’t have low self-esteem. I have low esteem for everyone else.”
The original anti-cool girl, the title character of Daria perfectly encapsulated the 1990s MTV grunge era during which she originated. The show follows Daria Morgendorffer, an intelligent and jaded teen, as she weathers the ups and downs of high school along with her artist friend, Jane Lane, and Daria’s popular sister, Quinn. As a social commentary on American high school and suburbia, social classes, and popularity, Daria stands the test of time.
Dora the Explorer
On air: 2000–19
Memorable quote: “Come on, vámonos, everybody. Let’s go!”
Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo Dora! We know that catchy theme song is stuck in your head. One of the best cartoon shows for kids, the Nickelodeon series follows young Dora as she embarks on quests with her trusty sidekick monkey, Boots. Dora constantly breaks the fourth wall by asking viewers to help her decide on her next move, and she teaches basic Spanish phrases and words while she’s at it.
Beavis and Butt-Head
On air: 1993–97
Memorable quote: “Work sucks. Let’s go break something.”
This adult animated comedy series, created by Mike Judge, follows Beavis and Butt-Head, two slacker high school boys with low intelligence and even lower morals. The teens can usually be found watching TV, eating junk food, or generally wreaking havoc in their small town. Warning: Beavis and Butt-Head has been criticized for its extremely violent content.
On air: 2011–present
Memorable quote: “The real tragedy is that I don’t have time to get nachos before we start.”
Welcome to Bob’s Burgers, may we take your order? This Fox cartoon comedy centers around the Belcher family and their life in and out of their restaurant. It’s run by Bob and his wife, Linda, and their three kids, Tina, Gene, and Louise, occasionally lend a helping hand. This cartoon has more humor than satire, so if you’re looking for a few laughs with some good recurring cartoon characters, it’s a perfect pick. And for Bob’s Burgers lovers, a feature-length cartoon movie about the Belchers is set to come out in 2022!
On air: 2002–07
Memorable quote: “So what’s the sitch?”
Call her, beep her if you want to reach her! This child-friendly cartoon from Disney features Kim Possible, a regular high-school girl. A regular high school girl who fights super villains and saves the world, that is. Kim and her best friend (and slightly less competent sidekick) Ron Stoppable most often foil the evil (and hilarious) Dr. Drakken’s constant plots to take over the world along with his sidekick, Shego. And hey, we can’t forget Rufus, Ron’s pet naked mole rat, who rounds out this crew.
Phineas and Ferb
On air: 2007–15
Memorable quote: “Hey, Ferb, I know what we’re gonna do today!”
Phineas and his stepbrother, Ferb, have one major problem to solve: how to spend each day of summer vacation as epically as possible. And there you have the plot for Disney’s Phineas and Ferb, in which the brothers and their friends embark on a series of crazy shenanigans and annoy their older sister, Candace, to no end. Meanwhile, Perry, their pet platypus, sneaks off every episode to fight evil in the form of the silly Dr. Doofenshmirtz, a mad scientist. While this show was made for kids, adults can also get a kick out of the funny situations and crazy cartoon characters.
The Pink Panther Show
On air: 1969–78
Memorable quote: “Good thing I carry a shovel with me for these sorts of emergencies.”
This original cartoon show, starring the Pink Panther character, is a showcase of animated shorts produced by veteran animators David H. DePatie and Friz Freleng. While the episodes themselves aren’t interconnected, they often feature the Pink Panther getting into mischief. By the mid-1970s, many of these shorts were re-edited for television to be more family friendly, as the early episodes included quite a bit of violence. There’s no doubt that this is one of the best cartoon shows out there, however—it’s like holding a piece of animated history!
Popeye the Sailor
On air: 1933–57
Memorable quote: “I’m strong to the ‘finich ’cause I eats me spinach.”
The famous Popeye the Sailor cartoon character, originally introduced in 1929 in the newspaper comic strip Thimble Theatre, had his television debut in 1933 in a series of shorts that went on to be made for nearly 25 years and later syndicated for TV in the 1960s. The cartoon focuses on the adventures of Popeye and his band of friends, including Olive Oyl, Swee’Pea, and Wimpy.
The Powerpuff Girls
On air: 1998–2005
Memorable quote: “If you can’t take the heat, then stay out of the kitchen!”
Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup are three kindergarten-age girls with immense superpowers who often get called on by their city’s mayor to help fight monsters, vanquish villains, and generally ward off evil. At the same time, the fun-size superheroes deal with regular growing pains, like sibling rivalries, loose teeth, and having to go to school. The show’s colorful and distinct cartoon style make it a favorite among kids and adults to this day.
On air: 1991–2004
Memorable quote: “I’m telling you, Tommy, that Santa’s a bad guy. He’s always watching you, keeping track of everything you do, and then in the middle of the night, he breaks into your house with a big bag full of who-knows-what.”
Rugrats focuses on a group of toddlers—Tommy, Chuckie, Angelica, and twins Phil and Lil—and their fantastical adventures, most of which take place (or at least, are extremely heightened) in their heads. This is Nickelodeon’s third longest-running cartoon and one of the longest-running in the world. It’s also had funny family movie spin-offs, spoofs, and a 2021 reboot series made in its honor.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
On air: 1987–96
Memorable quote: “Cowabunga!”
Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo are four talking turtle brothers who fight evil in New York City. Originally a superhero comic book series, the brothers hit TV screens in 1987 in a slightly sillier and more lighthearted version of the tale. This ’80s and ’90s cartoon series is perfect for kids who love superheroes but may be too young to venture into the Marvel or DC universes quite yet. If you enjoyed this, then here’s a list of the best ’80s cartoons.
Tom and Jerry
On air: 1940–67
Memorable quote: “We have a mouse problem.”
This classic cartoon series follows house cat Tom and mouse Jerry in their never-ending battle to outsmart (and clobber) each other. While the two can get pretty violent at times, they also come together occasionally for the greater good and display a genuine friendship. Tom and Jerry’s cat-and-mouse relationship has been turned into a number of movie, comic book, and TV spin-offs and even parodied on The Simpsons.
The Yogi Bear Show
On air: 1961–62
Memorable quote: “I’m smarter than the average bear!”
This cartoon comedy centers around Yogi Bear and his adventures and misadventures in Jellystone Park. His main sources of entertainment? Stealing picnic baskets while trying not to get caught by Ranger Smith and hanging out with his girlfriend, Cindy Bear, and little pal, Boo-Boo Bear.
On air: 1997–present
Memorable quote: “Don’t you know that love is the most important thing in the whole world?”
Gotta catch them all! The original Pokémon anime series aired in Japan in 1997 and has been an international hit ever since. The series follows Ash Ketchum as he trains a group of creatures known as Pokémon in order to become a Pokémon Master. Ash gets help from his Pokémon sidekick, Pikachu, and a rotating cast of human friends. This series is credited with making anime popular in the United States and is a treat for all to enjoy.
Alvin and the Chipmunks
On air: 1983–90
Memorable Quote: “Alviiiiin!”
This fun animated series, spun off from a 1961 TV hit, The Alvin Show, features the Chipmunks and the Chipettes as its singing, talking, and dancing rodent stars. Alvin, Simon, and Theodore Seville are chipmunk brothers with their own distinct personalities: rascally Alvin, intelligent Simon, and lovable Theodore. Meanwhile, Brittany, Jeanette, and Eleanor make up the Chipettes and are the perfect yin to the Chipmunks’ yang.
Teen Titans Go!
On air: 2013–present
Memorable quote: “When there’s trouble, you know who to call.”
This Cartoon Network series is based on the DC Comics superhero team and follows the adventures of young Titans Beast Boy, Robin, Cyborg, Raven, and Starfire as they save the world and handle the almost more difficult task of being teenagers. The series is particular fun for DC fans, with many references to the DC universe as a whole.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
On air: 2010–19
Memorable quote: “A friend is someone who believes in you when you have ceased to believe in yourself.”
This children’s show teaches that friendship is just as magical as unicorns. The animated series follows a unicorn pony named Twilight Sparkle and her friends Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, along with dragon assistant Spike. They go on adventures to solve problems in the friendships of others as well as their own.
On air: 2001–04, 2017
Memorable quote: “Gotta get back, back to the past, Samurai Jack!”
A Japanese samurai prince must travel back in time to save the world after being shunted into the future by a shapeshifting demon named Aku. Will Jack be able to return in time? For the longest while, viewers didn’t know: After a 13-year hiatus, Samurai Jack returned to the air in 2017 with a darker fifth season to wrap up the story line.
On air: 1992–97
Memorable quote: “You are my first love, my only love … even if we’re reborn in another life, we’ll find each other, and then we’ll fall in love again.”
Sailor Moon follows the story of middle schooler Usagi Tsukino as she transforms into soldier Sailor Moon, who is destined to save the world from evil. Along the way, Sailor Moon unites with other girls who have been transformed into soldiers, including Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Jupiter, and Sailor Venus. Together, they collectively battle forces of evil. This popular anime series was originally a Japanese manga that was then animated for movies and TV.
The Ren & Stimpy Show
On air: 1991–96
Memorable quote: “You eediot!”
Ren & Stimpy follows the adventures of sociopathic Chihuahua Ren and dimwitted cat Stimpy as they travel through time and space. This was one of Nickelodeon’s first animated shows and sparked some controversy with its adult humor and themes, especially in comparison to the network’s present-day, child-friendly cartoons. Nevertheless, Ren and Stimpy collected a cult following of fans who still love them to this day.
On air: 2001–04
Memorable quote: “What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose and show you just how powerful I really am.”
Superhero lovers, unite! You’ll become absolutely invested in Justice League, a Cartoon Network series that features a wide array of superheroes from the DC Comics universe. The shows serves as a prequel to Batman Beyond and as a sequel to Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and The New Batman Adventure. Get your fix of all of them to see the before, during, and after!
King of the Hill
On air: 1997–2010
Memorable quote: “Bwaaaahh!”
King of the Hill follows protagonist and everyman Hank Hill as he cares for his family, works as an assistant manager at Strickland Propane, and hangs out with the neighborhood buddies he’s known since grade school. The show has been applauded for finding humor in realistic everyday situations as well as for portraying its characters with humanity. No wonder it has won two Emmy Awards and been nominated for seven. Next, check out these work cartoons to get you through the week.
Rick and Morty
On air: 2013–present
Memorable quote: “Wubba Lubba Dub Dub!”
Be forewarned: Rick and Morty isn’t your kid’s Cartoon Network show. Instead, it has found its home on Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s late-night cartoon programming. Rick is a mad scientist—who just so happens to be Morty’s grandfather—and lives with Morty, his parents, and his sister, Summer. The series follows Rick as he takes Morty on intergalactic adventures across time, space, and place.
On air: 2010–18
Memorable quote: “Sometimes life is scary and dark. That is why we must find the light.”
If you love all things fantasy and adventure, Adventure Time is one of the top cartoon shows for you. A boy named Finn and his magical dog, Jake, take on a series of quests in the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo, where they interact with Princess Bubblegum, the Ice King, and other magical characters. Although the show was originally developed for children, it has garnered a strong network of adult and teenage fans, making it the perfect family-friendly cartoon.
On air: 2012–16
Memorable quote: “Nothing to see here.”
This Disney Channel original series follows the adventures of Dipper Pines and his twin sister, Mabel, after they’ve been sent to live with their great-uncle Stan in Gravity Falls, Oregon. But Gravity Falls isn’t the quiet little town that they assumed it would be. Instead, it brims with paranormal incidents, supernatural creatures, and mysteries galore. Dipper and Mabel are on the case! For more crime-solving tune in to the best crime shows for amateur detectives.
On air: 1993–98
Memorable quote: “Goodnight, everybody!”
Animaniacs is a cartoon-style variety show, usually featuring multiple short skits with a large cast of characters, including Warner siblings Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, a trio of 1930s cartoon stars who were locked in the Warner Bros. Tower until they escaped into the ’90s; Ralph the Security Guard, a studio worker; Dr. Otto Scratchansniff, the studio psychiatrist; and his assistant, Hello Nurse. The show is a mix of both slapstick and adult humor and will keep multiple generations entertained.
On air: 2017–present
Memorable quote: “Let’s rub fronts.”
While Big Mouth may be a coming-of-age cartoon, it’s certainly not for those still coming of age. This adults-only cartoon show plays off of the upbringing of comedian Nick Kroll and his childhood best friend, Andrew Goldberg. A gang of middle school kids are visited by a variety of goblins, ghouls, and monsters to help with the growing pains of puberty, including their Hormone Monsters (or Monstresses), the Shame Wizard, the Depression Kitty, the Love Bug, and more.
On air: 2013–19
Memorable quote: “Love at first sight doesn’t exist. Love takes time, and love takes work.”
Steven Universe tells the coming-of-age story of a young boy named Steven, who is half-human and half-Gem (a magical type of alien) and lives with other Crystal Gems in the fictional town of Beach City. The show was created by Rebecca Sugar and is Cartoon Network’s first animated series to be created solely by a woman. Steven Universe focuses on the themes of love, family, and healthy relationships and won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Kids and Family Program in 2019. While the show has a deep message, it also features some of the funniest jokes ever.
Batman: The Animated Series
On air: 1992–95
Memorable quote: “I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!”
This is the ultimate must-watch for any and all Batman fans. Batman: The Animated Series has been critically acclaimed for its complexity, film noir aesthetics, and artistic presentation—it won four Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Animated Program. This updated version of the Batman comic series follows Batman and Robin as they fight crime in a gothic Gotham City. While the show is considered kid friendly, it’s more adult oriented.
On air: 2009–present
Memorable quote: “I’m not slurring my words. I’m talking in cursive.”
This adult animated sitcom follows a dysfunctional intelligence agency, where spy Sterling Archer and seven of his colleagues work. Archer takes place in a Cold War-esque world and often parodies espionage and pop culture. The show has won four Primetime Emmy Awards and four Critics Choice Awards and continues to be a hit more than a decade since its debut.
On air: 2014–20
Memorable quote: “It gets easier.”
This Netflix original follows the story of talking horse BoJack Horseman, a washed-up sitcom star from the 1990s, as he navigates his depression, addiction, and hopefully triumphant return to Hollywood royalty with the release of an autobiography. Along the way, BoJack deals with his ghostwriter, Diane; his agent, Princess Carolyn; his good-for-nothing roommate, Todd; and his former rival, Mr. Peanutbutter. The series has received numerous awards and been praised for its honest, tragicomic outlook on life.
On air: 1991–99
Memorable quote: “Dear Journal, hi, it’s me, Doug.”
Doug, an 11-year-old boy who just moved to a new town, wants to blend in with the crowd; however, because of his overactive imagination and great sense of morality, he’s more likely to stand out than fit in. The series follows Doug’s life, narrated through his diary, as he copes with class bullies, mean rumors, and trying to impress his crush, Patti Mayonnaise.
On air: 1996–2004
Memorable quote: “It’s real life. And in real life, you can’t always win.”
This Nickelodeon cartoon follows fourth grader Arnold Shortman and his adventures with friends Gerald and Helga. Arnold lives in an inner-city tenement with his grandparents, and in each episode, he often helps a schoolmate, tenant, or even himself deal with a real-life problem. Two spin-off movies also feature Arnold and the gang.
Rocko’s Modern Life
On air: 1993–96
Memorable quote: “Spunky!”
What happens when an anthropomorphic Australian wallaby moves to the fictional American O-Town? You’ll find out in Rocko’s Modern Life. This Nickeoldeon series follows Rocko and his other talking animal friends as they get into mischief. The show has been controversial because of its use of adult humor and satirical social commentary, but it has amassed a legion of fans and continues to be regarded as an animation classic.
On air: 1999–2013
Memorable quote: “My story is a lot like yours, only more interesting ’cause it involves robots.”
This animated science fiction series centers around Phillip J. Fry, who was cryogenically preserved for 1,000 years and is revived in the 31st century, where he attempts to learn how to live in the future. Fry works at Planet Express, an interplanetary delivery company, and much of the show’s action and humor features Fry’s colleagues Leela and Bender.
On air: 1996–present
Memorable quote: “I don’t care about the president. I care about ponies.”
This is one of the best cartoon shows out there for a young audience. Arthur, based on the books written and illustrated by Marc Brown, follows the life of aardvark Arthur Read and his daily interactions with his friends and family. Arthur teaches children about the importance of establishing healthy relationships, being kind, reading, and learning. It’s the longest-running children’s animated series and the second longest-running animated series after The Simpsons.
The Fairly OddParents
On air: 2001–16
Memorable quote: “What could possibly go wrong!?”
Talk about a crazy cast of cartoon characters! This Nickelodeon series follows the life of 10-year-old Timmy Turner, his fairy godparents, Cosmo and Wanda, his evil babysitter, Vicky, and his nutty teacher, Denzel Crocker. While Cosmo and Wanda grant any wish that Timmy asks, the wishes often backfire, forcing Timmy to clean up the mess. Get ready for some wacky adventures!
Dragon Ball Z
On air: 2009–11
Memorable quote: “Yo, I’m Goku.”
This Japanese anime show was brought over to the United States by Cartoon Network and has enjoyed an international audience ever since. Dragon Ball Z follows the adventures of Son Goku as he and his companions fight off evil in the form of aliens, androids, and magical creatures. The show has remained a cultural icon and bred spin-offs, including other television programs, movies, manga, and video games.