For this list I'm considering traditional-style cartoons—not dramatic animated series. Here's what I mean: traditional cartoons are an animated series that don't take themselves too seriously, usually feature caricature art, and use independent stories for each episode. Dramatic animated series are, you guessed it, animated series that do take themselves seriously and usually utilize an overarching story that passes throughout episodes (examples are Avatar: The Last Airbender, Gargoyles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.). Those shows, I feel, are so different, they deserve a list of their own. Also, animé series are excluded for the same reasons.
So, without further ado, here are my picks for the top 10 best cartoons of all time.
Part of what makes the show special is its place in a genre that few other pieces of media can claim to be a part of: sci-fi comedy without being a parody. In fact, the only other true member to this category is Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book series. But beyond that, Futurama is a unique, hilarious cartoon that deserves a spot on this list.
Not to mention, the show has given us some pretty hilarious memes as well!
9. The Jetsons
There truly is nothing quite like The Jetsons: a cartoon that seriously depicts what life might be like in the future with a charming flare. Sure, Futurama takes place in the future as well (heck, it's in the title), but even it doesn't have the same forward-facing mood as The Jetsons.
The best part about this show is its production design: that retro-futuristic "Tomorrowland" vibe. That wonderment was common in the late 50's and early 60's, and was part of the reason the show was even made. But despite it's possibly dated stylishness, it's lovable more than anything else.
8. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?
This groovy Hannah/Barbera show has entertained kids from the 60's to today. With an interesting cast of fun-loving teens and their dog, Scooby-Doo has become one of America's most beloved cartoon.
Part of what makes the show so great is its ability to do so much with practically the same plot in every episode. In fact, the plot of each installment can basically be boiled down to . . .
- Mystery gang inadvertently (or sometimes intentionally) comes upon spooky place with monster infestation.
- There is investigation, and clues are found.
- The gang hatches a plan to catch the "monster."
- The plan works (or doesn't) and the "monster" is unmasked and revealed to be a suspicious character met earlier in the episode.
- "And I would've gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids!
See what I mean? But even with the repetitiveness, Scooby-Doo is still fun to watch. Besides, you know a show is good when it gets 2 reboot series, countless animated movies, and most of Boomerang's daytime lineup, right?
7. Spongebob Squarepants
Spongebob Squarepants was an immediate smash hit for Nickelodeon, and has become the network's most successful cartoon. And for good reason: it's witty, smart, and sports a cast of characters that can entertain anyone.
In fact, it's notable that each primary character on the show is a personification of each of the 7 Deadly Sins. That being said, the show is balanced with a nice representation of all the things viewers find wrong with themselves.
But despite all that, Spongebob is just downright hilarious. It even has a nice movie counterpart, which most TV shows can't say they have. It probably could've earned a higher spot on the list too, but after the movie, the quality of the episodes unfortunately dropped sub-par.
However, Popeye is neither, but rather a purely fun cartoon. With memorable characters such as the titular sailor, Olive Oyle, Bluto, and Wimpy, Popeye is just as interesting as it is charming. Plus, it's one of the few cartoons on this list to have appeared legitimately in black and white.
5. The Flintstones
The Flintstones tells the stories of the lives of Fred Flintstone, his wife Wilma, their friends Barney and Betty, and their kids. The stories that unfolded were believable, endearing, funny, sweet, and real, despite the prehistoric setting.
What makes The Flintstones so great is its ability to know when and when not to be animated. Meaning, it does a good job of switching between being a believable sitcom to an exaggerated cartoon. The show was such a success, that it was given a primetime seat on Saturday night: something most other cartoons can't brag about.
The Flintstones doesn't need much explaining, and it would've earned a higher spot if it weren't for the pesky
alien . . .
4. The Simpsons
The Simpsons revolves around the lives of the members of its title family (Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa) and their friends. The outrageous happenings are enough to keep anyone engaged, and have led to these yellow caricatures to become one of America's favorite TV families.
It's hard to say exactly where the series began, but The Simpsons was a trendsetter, nonetheless. First of all, it was the first animated television cartoon to target adults, rather than children, which has since opened up a whole new category of cartoons. And while it wasn't quite the after-dinner sitcom that The Flintstones strived to be, it was memorable for its witty writing, funny art-style, and impressive characters.
In fact, the best part about the show is its characters. Each member of the zany cast feels incredibly developed, and that detail keeps audiences wanting more. And it looks like that's what they'll always have, considering The Simpsons is one of the longest-running TV shows in history!
3. Tom & Jerry
William Hannah and Joseph Barbera had to start somewhere, and this masterpiece cartoon series was what did it for them. Most Tom & Jerry cartoons revolve around a simple setup of cat Tom chasing mouse Jerry, with some outrageous other factors added in. Originally animated by Hannah & Barbera themselves and later passed on to Chuck Jones, the cat and mouse duo hardly ever saw a cartoon that wasn't entertaining.
What's impressive about Tom & Jerry is not only its ability to keep a simple plot entertaining despite reuse, but also its utilization of slapstick, which will help it age like a fine wine, and its ability to communicate a story with little dialogue, which makes it entertaining for all ages across language barriers.
Many have criticized the cartoon, saying that it's "too violent," but what we love about Tom & Jerry is that no matter how beaten-up the cat or mouse gets, they'll always get right back up and keep fighting!
2. Silly Symphony and the Classic Disney Cartoons
But it wasn't just legendary, it was also a spectacle! Walt Disney didn't just give us impressive animation, but also the most iconic cast of characters who will live forever: Mickey & Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, and more!
Each tale that this cartoon told was hand-crafted beautifully by such incredible animators as Ub Iwerks and the Nine Old Men. From Goofy's "How to Play Football" to Mickey's rendition of Gulliver's Travels, Silly Symphony is the definition of "charming" and deserves its spot here at number 2.
- Adventure Time
- Family Guy
- Betty Boop
- The Pink Panther
- Peabody's Improbable History
1. Looney Tunes
Originally conceived as a direct answer to Disney's Silly Symphony (thus named Merry Melodies), it eventually shifted from a shallow, bouncy serial to an upbeat, wacky fun fest, thanks to Tex Avery.
Looney Tunes has it all: iconic characters, simple yet attractive stories, and jokes and instances that will have you laughing your head off. And with so much variety, it's almost guaranteed that the toons will appeal to anyone. Plus, it's got the perfect balance of being purely entertaining and critically impressive since it had the pleasure of being directed by some of animation's finest such as Chuck Jones.
That being said, I'll close just as Looney Tunes would have: