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: A boy experiences life's ups and downs among eccentric people.... [More]

Synopsis: Some dedicated superteens work together to fight the battles of Metropolis and the battles of growing up at the same... [More]
Directed By: Lauren Faust

Synopsis: In a world where ghouls live among humans, they are the same as regular people in virtually every way --... [More]

One Piece (1999)

Synopsis: Monkey D. Luffy wants to become the King of all pirates. Along his quest he meets: a skilled swordsman named... [More]
Directed By: Kônosuke Uda

Fairy Tail (2009)

Synopsis: Lucy Heartfilia joins the Fairy Tail wizards' guild and partners with Natsu Dragneel.... [More]



Synopsis: Marinette seems to be a normal teenage girl -- she dreams of becoming a fashion designer, is a bit awkward... [More]
Directed By: Thomas Astruc

Synopsis: This anime series features a virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game, which shares its name with the show's title... [More]
Directed By: Manabu Ono

Paradise PD (2018)

Synopsis: This animated series geared toward adults follows a police department that doesn't do a great job of protecting the backwater,... [More]
Directed By: Matt Garofalo, Roger Black

Synopsis: In a world where those with powers are known as "Quirks," Izuku Midoriya has aspirations to one day become a... [More]
Directed By: Kenji Nagasaki

Synopsis: Emmy winner Mike Judge has made a name for himself as an animator and producer ("King of the Hill," "Beavis... [More]
Starring: Mike Judge


Synopsis: ... [More]

Synopsis: Adapted from a comic by Masashi Kishimoto, this animated hit follows the adventures of Naruto Uzumaki, a boy who is... [More]

Gurren Lagann (2007)

Synopsis: This Japanese anime is set in a make-believe future in which humans have been forced to live in isolated underground... [More]
Directed By: Hiroyuki Imaishi



Synopsis: Young New Republic pilot Kazuda Xiono is recruited by Resistance Commander Poe Dameron for a secret mission on Colossus --... [More]

Synopsis: Four young pandas go on the adventure of a lifetime after they accidentally absorb the chi of ancient kung fu... [More]

One Punch Man (2015)

Synopsis: A bored superhero searches for meaning in a world riddled with monsters.... [More]
Directed By: Shingo Natsume

Synopsis: This collection of animated short stories spans several genres, including science fiction, fantasy, horror and comedy. World-class animation creators bring... [More]

Attack on Titan (2013)

Synopsis: When man-eating Titans first appeared 100 years ago, humans found safety behind massive walls that stopped the giants in their... [More]

Synopsis: This clever animated comedy revolves around the law firm of Sebben & Sebben and primarily the activities of Harvey T.... [More]

Astro Boy (1963)

Synopsis: Astro Boy battles evil.... [More]

Johnny Bravo (1997)

Synopsis: Johnny Bravo has no shortage of confidence, and he's certain that all women want him. With his big hair and... [More]

We Bare Bears (2015)

Synopsis: Three brother bears awkwardly attempt to find their place in civilized society, whether they're looking for food, trying to make... [More]

Synopsis: The animated adventures of a mysterious being who uses his dark powers against the forces of evil.... [More]

Synopsis: A divorced psychologist tries to help his patients, some of them famous, cope with their life traumas while sharing his... [More]

Danger Mouse (2015)

Synopsis: The great secret agent and his clumsy sidekick continue their fight against Baron Greenback.... [More]

Synopsis: The web-slinger teams up with Ice-Man and newcomer Firestar to battle both new and familiar enemies in this animated adaptation... [More]

Synopsis: The popular game is brought to life through animation.... [More]

TaleSpin (1990)

Synopsis: Baloo, King Louie and Shere Kahn operate businesses in Cape Suzette.... [More]

Synopsis: A trio of fast-food items works to solve mysteries in an edgy adult cartoon. The brains of the group is... [More]

Synopsis: A generation of American kids grew up singing the catchy tunes that were a integral part of "Schoolhouse Rock." These... [More]

Synopsis: The ghostbusters fight a bevy of other-worldly creatures.... [More]

The Maxx (2016)

Synopsis: Based on Sam Keith's popular comic book.... [More]

The Dragon Prince (2018)

Synopsis: In the magical land of Xadia, magic comes from six primal sources: the sun, moon, stars, sky, earth and ocean.... [More]
Directed By: Giancarlo Volpe

Synopsis: Like any boys trying to survive their adolescence, Ed, Edd and Eddy are as clueless about girls as everything else.... [More]
Directed By: Danny Antonucci

Darkwing Duck (1991)

Synopsis: Drake Mallard dons a mask to fight crime.... [More]
Directed By: Alan Zaslove, Tad Stones

Synopsis: Alvin, Simon and Theodore drive their manager crazy.... [More]

Synopsis: You'd better keep an eye on your pic-a-nic basket because everyone's favorite resident of Jellystone Park is on the prowl.... [More]

Kim Possible (2002)

Synopsis: Kim Possible looks like an average high-school cheerleader, but in her spare time, she saves the world from supervillains. Her... [More]

Synopsis: This follow-up to the popular "Teen Titans" series takes a more comedic look at the superheroes, showing what life is... [More]

Synopsis: The members of an all-girl rock band seem to have a knack for crossing paths with power-mad lunatics and assorted... [More]

Synopsis: Sometimes imaginary friends get lost or kids outgrow them and that's why Madame Foster started Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends.... [More]
Directed By: Craig McCracken

Synopsis: G-Force, a five-member superhero team, fights to defend Earth and its space colonies from the threat of the planet Spectra.... [More]

The Venture Bros. (2003)

Synopsis: "Jonny Quest" gets an irreverent but affectionate spoofing in this animated series chronicling the sometimes hair-raising adventures of Hank and... [More]



Synopsis: Hey, hey, hey! A group of urban adolescents learns a series of valuable life lessons while hanging out in their... [More]

Synopsis: ... [More]
Directed By: Yoshiyuki Tomino

Synopsis: Teenagers transported from Earth become pilots for robotic lions during an intergalactic war.... [More]

American Dad! (2005)

Synopsis: Stan Smith is a CIA agent painfully dedicated to homeland security. His home life includes doting wife Francine, a ditzy... [More]

Synopsis: Inspector Gadget, a bumbling detective, needs lots of help and luck to solve cases assigned by short-tempered Chief Quimby. That... [More]
Starring: Don Adams



Freakazoid (1995)

Synopsis: Dexter Douglas is a superhero overloaded with useless information.... [More]

Synopsis: A new generation of young cartoon characters attends Acme Acres Looniversity, where they embark on a series of off-the-wall adventures... [More]

Naruto (2002)

Synopsis: Adapted from a comic by Masashi Kishimoto, this animated hit follows the adventures of Naruto Uzumaki, a boy who is... [More]

Ben 10 (2005)

Synopsis: Ben Tennyson, a 10-year-old boy, discovers a magical device that can turn him into 10 different alien heroes, each with... [More]

Transformers (1984)

Synopsis: Giant alien Autobots and evil Decepticons wage war with Earth's fate at stake.... [More]

Synopsis: This popular animated series from the mid-1980s tells the saga of a fearless, globe-trotting special missions force -- called G.I.... [More]

Synopsis: "Dora the Explorer" features the adventures of young Dora, her monkey Boots, Backpack and other animated friends. In each episode,... [More]

The Critic (1994)

Synopsis: Balding movie critic Jay Sherman hosts "Coming Attractions."... [More]

The Boondocks (2005)

Synopsis: Cantankerous Robert "Granddad" Freeman is the legal guardian of his grandsons, 10-year-old revolutionary Huey and 8-year-old Riley, a product of... [More]

The Legend of Korra (2012)

Synopsis: This follow-up series to "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is set 70 years after the events of "Avatar" and follows Korra,... [More]

Invader Zim (2000)

Synopsis: Zim dreams of greatness. Unfortunately, though, he's hopelessly inept as a space invader. Desperate to be rid of the annoying... [More]

Rocko (1993)

Synopsis: Rocko is a wallaby who has moved from his native Australia to the United States. But life in the United... [More]

Spider-Man (1981)

Synopsis: ... [More]
Directed By: Don Jurwich

Spider-Man (1994)

Synopsis: A superhero with spider-like skills fights villains.... [More]

Tuca & Bertie (2019)

Synopsis: This animated comedy series explores the friendship between two 30-year-old bird women who live in the same apartment building. The... [More]

Castlevania (2017)

Synopsis: Inspired by the popular video game series, this anime series is a dark medieval fantasy. It follows the last surviving... [More]

Synopsis: Timmy Turner, a 10-year-old boy, has had it with his babysitter! He summons his fairy godparents who have the power... [More]

Synopsis: In the fictitious country of Amestris, two young brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, are bestowed with the gift of alchemy... [More]
Directed By: Seiji Mizushima

Jonny Quest (1964)

Synopsis: The adventures of the 10-year-old son of a government scientist.... [More]

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