The 140 Essential Animated TV Shows

Updated June 24, 2019

For most people, animation is our first introduction to television.

But the medium is not just kid-friendly Saturday morning cartoons. It consists of classics like The Flintstones and The Pink Panther Show as well as more modern, parental-discretion-advised series like BoJack Horseman and South Park. And in addition to differences in tone and targeted audiences, rapid technological advances mean shows from 2009 look very different than ones from 2019 (not to mention ones from 1990 or 1960 — heck, even series airing currently can look very different than when they first started).

Ranking the best series, then, is no laughing matter — though culling research for this roundup uncovered memories of so many other favorite shows from our childhoods. In compiling our ranking of the 140 essential animated TV shows you need to watch, we considered our Tomatometer data culled from critics’ reviews, consulted some reputable “best of” lists, and exercised some editorial discretion, asking ourselves which classic animated shows still hold up (and which don’t), which have been the most influential on the work of those artists who came after them, which have had major cultural impact (i.e. who your nieces and nephews are dressing up as every Halloween), and which have created lasting and beloved characters.

Don’t see your choices on this list? Sound off in the comments — because that’s not all folks! We’ll add to and adjust this list with time, new animation premieres, and suggestions from fans like you.

Hey Arnold! (1996)

Synopsis: An animated look at city life through the eyes of 9-year-old Arnold, who has a football-shaped head and lives in... [More]

Synopsis: Teenage superheroes navigate the perils of high school together.... [More]
Directed By: Jennifer Coyle

Tokyo Ghoul (2014)

Synopsis: Anime series following the story of a young man who becomes part ghoul after being attacked by one.... [More]

One Piece (1999)

Synopsis: A young boy searches for the ultimate treasure in order to become the next Pirate King.... [More]

Fairy Tail (2009)

Synopsis: An anime series that follows the adventures of a young wizard named Lucy, who runs away from home to join... [More]
Directed By: Shinji Ishihira

Super Drags (2018)

Synopsis: The adventures of three fabulous Superhero Drag Queens recruited to protect the LGBTQ community and spread glitter throughout the world.... [More]

Synopsis: Two high-school students have secret alter egos as superheroes who save Paris from evil.... [More]

Synopsis: Players trapped in a role-playing game's virtual world face real-life death as they try to escape.... [More]

Paradise PD (2018)

Synopsis: They're bad cops. Not bad like no nonsense. Not bad like cool. Bad like shitty. Paradise PD: They're the worst... [More]

My Hero Academia (2016)

Synopsis: Izuku Midoriya is an ardent fan of superheroes. He does not have any superpowers, but that does not deter him... [More]

Synopsis: An animated series recounting the adventures of music's most eccentric characters.... [More]

Synopsis: Anime tales of a young warrior and his female sidekick in a magical land populated by monsters, warriors and villains.... [More]

Synopsis: A fearless teen trains to become a ninja while battling the demon who lives inside of him. Sequel to 'Naruto,'... [More]

Gurren Lagann (2008)

Synopsis: A villager discovers an amazing device as violence befalls his subterranean community in this anime series.... [More]

Synopsis: An animated continuation of the live-action NBC series starring Matt Ryan.... [More]

Synopsis: An animated prequel to "The Force Awakens," about young pilot Kazuda "Kaz" Xiono, who's recruited by the Resistance for a... [More]
Directed By: Justin Ridge

Synopsis: Po mentors a group of panda children who have absorbed unusual chi energy, which soon proves to be his toughest... [More]

One-Punch Man (2015)

Synopsis: A hero becomes bored with fighting after being able to defeat every opponent with a single punch and seeks out... [More]

Synopsis: Love, Death & Robots is a collection of animated short stories that span the science fiction, fantasy, horror and comedy... [More]

Attack on Titan (2013)

Synopsis: Humans found safety behind massive walls that kept away the man-eating Titans for hundreds of years. But then their safety... [More]

Synopsis: Risqué cartoon about a superhero lawyer who works cases involving (and spoofing) Hanna-Barbera characters like Fred Flintstone (suspected of mob... [More]

Astro Boy (1963)

Synopsis: Animated tales of a robotic boy in the 21st century.... [More]

Johnny Bravo (1997)

Synopsis: Absurdist animation about a muscle-bound narcissist who thinks he's God's gift to women, when in reality his distaff admirers consist... [More]

We Bare Bears (2015)

Synopsis: Three bears try to fit in and make friends with the residents surrounding their cave in this animated comedy.... [More]
Directed By: Tony Pulham

Synopsis: The comic-book hero comes to TV in a stylish, ultraviolent animated series. Todd McFarlane's creation set sales records when it... [More]

Synopsis: The animated adventures of a droll psychiatrist, his patients and his unemployed slacker son. Guest roles are voiced by comedians... [More]

Synopsis: Animated adventures of the rodent super hero.... [More]

Synopsis: The story revolves around Spiderman, Iceman and Firestar, who are college students from the Empire State Unversity. It shows how... [More]

Synopsis: The board game, brought to Saturday-morning TV life. Six youngsters take a roller-coaster ride into a fantasy world and must... [More]
Directed By: John Gibbs

TaleSpin (0)

Synopsis: Characters from `The Jungle Book' headlined this animated show. Baloo the Bear, now a cargo pilot in the tropical seaport... [More]

Synopsis: Animated comedy about the surreal adventures of a bag of fries, a milkshake and a wad of meat.... [More]
Directed By: Matt Maiellaro

Synopsis: Musical shorts teach kids history, grammar, and math.... [More]

Synopsis: Characters from the 1984 blockbuster continued to answer calls for help against all manner of paranormal nuisances. The show expanded... [More]

The Maxx (0)

Synopsis: A hulking homeless man in a purple superhero getup protects a beautiful social worker named Julie. The 13-episode series is... [More]

The Dragon Prince (2018)

Synopsis: Two human princes forge an unlikely bond with the elven assassin sent to kill them, embarking on an epic quest... [More]

Synopsis: They share the same name and pull up humour and tricks hanging around together.... [More]
Directed By: Rick Marshall

Synopsis: The adventures of Drake Mallard, who becomes a web-footed wonder when things turn foul in the town of St. Canard.... [More]

Synopsis: The tune-filled adventures of Alvin, Simon and Theodore, an animated trio of charming chipmunks with high-pitched but adorable voices, are... [More]

Synopsis: Animated favorite about the fun-loving resident of Jellystone Park and his sidekick, Boo Boo, who try to steal picnic baskets... [More]

Kim Possible (2002)

Synopsis: Growing up is more complicated than fighting crime for this high-flying teen action heroine, whose steely confidence when facing the... [More]

Synopsis: From Warner Bros. Animation, these teen titans are on the go! Right after they make a sandwich or play some... [More]

Synopsis: Female teenyboppers play pop music in feline costumes when they're not busy solving mysteries à la 'Scooby-Doo.' Two years into... [More]

Synopsis: Adventures of an 8-year-old boy named Mac and his imaginary friend Bloo.... [More]
Directed By: Craig McCracken

Synopsis: Earth's G-Force Squad, made up of five orphaned teens, fight enemy alien invaders from the dying planet Spectra, who are... [More]

The Venture Bros. (2004)

Synopsis: Animation about a renowned scientist and his two sons being pursued by various villains.... [More]

Synopsis: Disney's resourceful cartoon chipmunks solve crimes and mysteries.... [More]
Directed By: John Kimball

Synopsis: Hey! Hey! Hey! This award-winning cartoon was based on Bill Cosby's boyhood adventures in Philadelphia, much like his stand-up comedy.... [More]
Directed By: Arthur H. Nadel

Synopsis: The Earth Federation and its space colonies engage in apocalyptic battle against the rebellious Principality of Seon.... [More]

Synopsis: Five teens from Earth pilot robotic lions in an intergalactic battle against evil.... [More]

Synopsis: Cartoon antics from Seth MacFarlane ('The Family Guy') about a gung-ho CIA agent (voice of MacFarlane), and his suburban... [More]

Synopsis: Outfitted with high-tech gizmos, a bumbling gumshoe clashes with the fiendish Dr. Claw. Although his zeal for justice never wavered,... [More]

Synopsis: The animated adventures of the legendary mouse who became a superhero.... [More]
Starring: Tom Morrison

Freakazoid! (1995)

Synopsis: Animated mayhem about an easygoing teen who's transformed into a high-strung superhero. The cartoon, executive produced by Steven Spielberg, included... [More]
Directed By: Dan Riba, Rich Arons

Synopsis: Younger versions of the famous Looney Tunes characters study at Acme Looniversity, under professors who are cartoon legends.... [More]

Naruto (2002)

Synopsis: Naruto trains to be a ninja while battling the demon within him.... [More]
Directed By: Hayato Date

Ben 10 (2005)

Synopsis: Reboot of the classic Ben 10 series featuring a reimagined Ben and friends as they travel the country during the... [More]

Synopsis: Animation about battling armies of intergalactic robots (Autobots vs. Decepticons).... [More]

G.I. Joe (0)

Synopsis: Animated action about military-squad members battling the nefarious COBRA organization. Based on the popular toy figure, this has also aired... [More]

Synopsis: An adventurous young girl uses her knowledge of Spanish and English as she solves mysteries and explores new sites with... [More]

The Critic (1994)

Synopsis: The animated `reel' life of a sardonic, nebbishy film reviewer irked by a popular culture that panders to a complacent... [More]

The Boondocks (2005)

Synopsis: Animated adaptation of the satirical comic-strip series.... [More]

Synopsis: ... [More]

Invader ZIM (2001)

Synopsis: An inept alien spy poses as a grammar-school student to scout Earth for an invasion by planet Irk. ZIM's feckless... [More]

Synopsis: An Australian wallaby finds it difficult to adjust to life in America in this animated series. He does have help... [More]

Synopsis: Adventures of the web-slinger.... [More]
Starring: Paul Soles, Peg Dixon

Spider-Man (1994)

Synopsis: Adventures of the web-slinger.... [More]

Tuca & Bertie (2019)

Synopsis: Free-spirited toucan Tuca and self-doubting song thrush Bertie are best friends -- and birds -- who guide each other through... [More]

Castlevania (2017)

Synopsis: Inspired by the video game, this medieval fantasy follows the last surviving member of the Belmont clan and his attempt... [More]
Directed By: Sam Deats

Synopsis: The zany, fast-paced adventures of a 10-year-old boy and his fairy godparents, who inadvertently create havoc as they grant wishes... [More]

Synopsis: A teen prodigy can manipulate and transform objects, but he lost his arm acquiring the abilities and seeks the Philosopher's... [More]
Directed By: Seiji Mizushima, Kent Tsai

Jonny Quest (1964)

Synopsis: An adventurous boy travels the world with his scientist father in this popular animated series, which first ran in prime... [More]

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