I was born in 1982, and I spent my late childhood and teenage years in the 90s.
So when I was given the important task of compiling a list of the best 90s cartoons of the past, I knew without a doubt…
I WAS BORN FOR THIS.
No, but seriously… 90s cartoons is something I have a ton of personal experience with.
Starting elementary school around 1988… most mornings began with a quick TV session.
And anybody who grew up around the same time knows that weekends were all about those saturday morning cartoons.
But when collecting a pool of 90s cartoons to rank, I have to say… I had quite a difficult task at hand.
Not difficult because there was not a good selection to choose from or because I did not have enough experience in the topic…
It was a tough task due to the sheer amount of insanely good cartoons that were broadcast in the late 80s and 90s.
The list would really need to be a top 20 or top 30 to cover all of the classics.
But it’s our list, and we will have to make our choices and give these iconic cartoons the celebration they deserve.
So yes… we will do a top ten list. Yes, there will be a ton of cartoons that will have to be cut. And yes… it feels like a crime.
(Sorry Sonic the Hedgehog, Pinky and The Brain, The Mask: Animated Series, Talespin, Hey Arnold!, The Powerpuff Girls, Daria, Tiny Toon Adventures, Aeon Flux, Doug and Darkwing Duck. God, those hurt.)
We will include some vital 90s classics that technically had their start before the 1990 year marker (if they had a bulk of their content in the 90s… it should count).
So now that we are clear on the rules, let’s work on this controversial list of the best 90s cartoons of the past.
Table of Contents
10. South Park (1997-Present)
Admittedly, this was one I never really watched or had any attachment to. But when researching the best 90s cartoons, it felt impossible to skip on.
As one of the most popular television programs for Comedy Central, even to this day… and a slew of nominations and awards…
It would be tough to deny that South Park is one of the best cartoons of the 90s generation.
Known for its use of profanity, satire and dark humor, this series is perhaps a child of some of the classics to appear later on this list.
And at the time of its debut, South Park (and some of its peers to come at the tail end of the 90s, like SpongeBob SquarePants or Family Guy) would have been considered the future of cartoons.
South Park was certainly the most “adult” of all of em.
The first episode was titled “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe” for heavens sake.
This was clearly a cartoon aimed at adults and late teens nearing adulthood (so perhaps kids like me who were born in the early 80s, and were coming into adulthood towards the end of the 90s).
The show has been included in many lists of best cartoons and best television shows period. And it felt truly criminal not to include it on our list of the best 90s cartoons of the past.
The show even spawned some pretty incredible video games, one of which took a pretty high spot on our list of the best ps3 RPG games. Yup… it’s that good!
9. Animaniacs (1993-1998)
Animaniacs is an animated comedy television series making its debut on Fox Kids before eventually moving to The WB.
It was a follow up to the ultra popular Tiny Toon Adventures show, also produced by Warner Bros. and Amblin Entertainment.
Like many of the shows featured on this list, it was a show made for children, but featured many suggestive themes that parents would enjoy as well. Which seemed to be a trend in 90s cartoons.
The show featured a wide variety of characters, themes, and content presented in short mini-episode segments.
It was a hit, both with children and adults. Ratings were very high, and the show even won eight Emmy awards!
Animaniacs spawned a film, a comic book series, many video game titles, and even had a reboot for Hulu in 2020.
The effects of this hit series is still felt to this day. And we are happy to see it take a spot on our list of the best 90s cartoons!
8. Rugrats (1990-2006)
Rugrats was an animated television show that aired on Nickelodeon’s “Nicktoons”, making its premiere in 1991.
The show focused on a group of toddlers who were usually left with a babysitter while the parents were off doing who knows what.
The children typically escaped into their imagination, turning ordinary life into extraordinary adventures.
There was often a moral lesson in the story of each episode. (Maybe the most important lesson being… hang out with your kids more!)
The show was a hit, lasting nine seasons and spawning films, spinoff shows, video game titles, comic books, a live performance, and a ton of merchandise.
Rugrats was even honored with a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.
It is safe to say that Rugrats was a smash for Nickelodeon, and really helped put “Nicktoons” on the map.
And our list of the best 90s cartoons would not be complete without Rugrats… one of our personal favorites from our childhood.
And with talks about reboots of the television series, it had us hoping for a possible new Rugrats game for the PS5.
7. The Ren & Stimpy Show (1991-1995)
Ren… a frail, psycho, sociopathic chihuahua.
Stimpy… a fat, happy-go-lucky, dimwitted cat.
Sounds like the perfect pair to stick in a home together and see what happens.
And what usually happened was something insane, disgusting, shocking, and truly hilarious.
As one of the three original “Nicktoons” television shows for Nickelodeon (along with Rugrats and Doug), the show was not without its controversy.
The show featured a very “gross” and adult style of humor, and felt out of place for a children’s television channel.
You have to remember that these kind of cartoons for adults didn’t really have a firm place in the world of television yet, so they had to fit in where they could.
However, the shows creator John Kricfalusi eventually was fired by Nickelodeon, and production continued without him for several years before the show eventually came to its end in 1995.
Luckily for the shows cult following, this was a time before the internet and much media coverage of these kinds of behind the scenes dramas.
For us kids living in the 90s, we were able to simply enjoy the outlandish nature of this one of a kind television show that was truly influential on future cartoons for adults.
6. Pokémon (1997-2002)
Pokémon has been notorious for taking number one spots on a lot of RetroDodo lists.
But unfortunately for this list bully, there were just a handful of incredible cartoons that made an earlier appearance and had a pretty solid hold on those top spots.
But let’s not get it twisted.. the original animated series, which made its debut in 1997 was a classic in its own right.
The show originally aired in Japan, and eventually made its United States premiere in 1999.
Much like the first generation of the popular video game franchise, the original anime series follows Ash Ketchum on his adventures with his trusted Pokémon: Pikachu.
And the show spawned a series of additional.. well… series’ (serieses?) and films that continue to this day!
I have said it before and I will say it again… Pokémon is undeniable. A force to be reckoned with. And they don’t seem to be slowing down or going anywhere anytime soon.
And for fans of the franchise, that seems to be exactly what is requisitioned.
5. Beavis and Butt-Head (1993-1997)
If we are talking adult comedy in a cartoon series, there would be no doubt that Beavis and Butt-Head was where everything changed in the 90s.
A show like Ren & Stimpy might have had your parents saying “well that is weird”… but Beavis and Butt-Head was a show that could get you in some pretty serious trouble.
The show was created by Mike Judge, who eventually went on to give us the television classic King of the Hill and he also wrote the films Office Space, Idiocracy, and Extract.
The show was about two metal-head teenagers who spent their time watching music videos, utterly failing at their part time jobs, harassing locals, and causing eachother some pretty serious physical harm.
And by the way… WHERE ARE THE PARENTS?!
Who can forget those annoying laughs, which opens every episode, and seemingly never ends throughout the 5-10 minute sequences.
The show caused quite a media frenzy, and also happened to be MTV’s highest rated show at that time.
There was a successful film featuring the anarchist teenagers in 1996 (and a follow up due to come out in 2022!), as well as a hand full of okay video games in the 90s.
But the real legacy left behind by this truly one of a kind television show was establishing a lane for adult humor in a cartoon series.
4. Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
Ah, Batman. A character we all love. I love him. You love him. Production studios love him.
It might be fair to say he has been a bit overdone. With over ten feature film appearances, countless television shows, a ton of video games… we might have more Batman than we need.
But it would also be fair to say that if fans of the caped-crusader were asked to choose the absolute best appearances of the character… one popular animated television series would appear on EVERY one of those lists.
That’s right… Batman: The Animated Series. The absolute best animated appearance of the Batman.
Making its debut on Fox Kids in 1992, it was the first DC Comics animated series produced by Warner Bros. Animation.
The show established the fan favorite duo of voice actors: Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne / Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker.
This original cast of voice actors even contributed their performances to the Warner Bros. video games Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009), Batman: Arkham City (2011), and Batman: Arkham Knight (2015).
That game trilogy was a huge success, selling 30+ million copies worldwide and winning many awards.
But it was the success of the original animated television series that made all of that possible.
Praised for its complex storylines, dark tone, and obviously.. its incredible voice acting… Batman: The Animated Series is truly one of the best comic book themed television series to ever be created.
And as far as 90s cartoons go, it is a clear top ten contender.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-1996)
I would say this was probably the number one cartoon that I watched in the late 80s and early 90s.
I distinctly remember waking up for school every weekday and turning the TV on and hearing that glorious intro music…
Which, interestingly enough, was co-written by Chuck Lorre, the “King of Sitcoms”. Who is known for sitcoms like Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, and Roseanne… to name a few.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got its start in the late 80s, but continued its reign as one of the absolute best cartoons throughout most of the 90s.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise got its start as a comic book in 1984, but I think it is safe to say that it was the original cartoon series of the 80s and 90s that established the brand and made it a household name.
I think most boys in the early 90s, including me, were turtle crazy.
There were a ton of awesome action figures, merchandise and food products for us to beg our parents for.
Heck, we even made a list of the best TMNT toys of all time. They are still producing turtle products to this day!
With films and additional iterations of animated television series’, the lasting power of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is undeniable.
It was the popularity of the original animated series that gave the turtles a permanent position in our hearts, and an easy slot on our list of the best 90s cartoons.
2. X-Men: The Animated Series (1992-1997)
Take the success of popular animated television shows like G.I. Joe (1983-1986) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-1996) and put it in a blender with one of the most beloved comic book franchises in history.. and what do you get?
A hit show, that’s what.
It’s freakin’ X-Men… do I really need to explain it much?
Some of the shows incredible characters include Wolverine, Cyclops, Rogue, Storm, Beast, Gambit, Professor X, Magneto.. just to name a few. I mean come on…
Ordered by Fox Kids Network (Batman: The Animated Series, Animaniacs, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) …
Produced by Saban Entertainment (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Digimon) …
And co-produced by Graz Entertainment (G.I. Joe Extreme, Street Fighter, The Tick).
And of course, working with Marvel and Stan Lee.
That’s a winning team.
The show was a massive commercial and critical success. Comic book fans (who are notoriously protective of the source material) were also happy with the adaptation.
And cartoon fans watched in record numbers.
Comic books are perhaps the best source of content to create a successful animated television series.. and with a franchise like X-Men, there was a wealth of content to pull from.
Everybody came out a winner: Marvel, Fox, and us… the kids… who absolutely and totally were obsessed with this classic 90s cartoon.
I had this show in my number one spot for a while… but when you see what took its place, you will surely agree…
1. The Simpsons (1989-Present)
If we are talking about the king of cartoons of the 90s, the undeniable crown holder would have to be The Simpsons.
Making its official television debut on December 17, 1989… The Simpsons was likely the most watched cartoon by both children and adults in the 90s.
To date, the series has 725 episodes and the thirty-third season (yes, 33) premiered in September of 2021 making it the longest running cartoon series in television history.
The list of accolades is absolutely insane, and honestly.. just way too much to cover.
But let’s just say it has amassed an huge amount of honors in its 33+ year history.
The show has managed to remain relevant and current throughout that long history, but it was those golden age episodes in the 90s that really solidified The Simpsons’ place as one of (if not the) greatest cartoon of all time.
The show is a unique mix of adult humor, satire, social and political commentary, and can even produce some pretty heartfelt moments.
The worlds favorite xanthous (it means “yellow colored”) family easily gets our pick for the number one best 90s cartoon of the past.
Are you a Simpsons fan? Maybe take a look at our list of the best Simpsons games of all time.
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Anthony has been a video game lover ever since he can remember. He became a fulltime nomad in 2018, living throughout most of Asia. He focused his passion in retro gaming and began creating a game for the Game Boy Color while living in Nara, Japan during the 2020 pandemic. He is now in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he spends most of his time gaming, going on long walks and meeting as many stray dogs as possible.