New episodes of The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park, and SpongeBob Squarepants are churned out like clockwork, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. In animation, traditional cable networks have produced new and exciting characters and worlds, while streaming platforms have encouraged many more creators to produce the animated shows they want to make.
Cartoons are no longer something just for kids to enjoy on Saturday mornings.
To reach those of any generation, many use wittier humour, more nuanced characters, and deeper tales, while still more target teenagers or adults as their primary audience, giving them the ability to tell relatable, strong, and funny stories in the sphere of animation. Never were Western cartoons as diverse as they are now.
Peppa Pig is directed at the youngest audience of any character on this list, but the cute British accent and gentle humour of the adorable piglet have melted adult hearts not just in the U.K. Yeah, but also across the pond.
Bender, made in Mexico, is a steel sociopath (er, yeah, iron, titanium, lead, zinc, dolomite, and nickel), who abducted the head of Jay Leno and sent his son to robot hell. He just wants to be a folk-singer, though.
Beavis and Butt-Head
MTV’s lack of music was made much more palatable by Beavis and Butt-Head. The show managed to both satirize the lowest common denominator of the 1990s and praise it. Since then, during the ’20s, we’ve had another season in 2011 and two more on their way, guaranteeing the impact of these two doofuses for four decades.
Larry the Cucumber
The second half of the 20th century, after all the cultural good that Christianity has brought us over the last two centuries, was not exactly a high-water mark. But in the 1990s, in the traditional Christian shop, Veggie Tales became an outstanding piece of brilliant pop culture. And Larry the Cucumber was the main reason why The VeggieTales Show was the most famous among both kids of the ’90s and today in the present iteration of the show, with his “Silly Songs with Larry” segments.
Angelica Pickles, the ultimate spoiled brat-alpha girl, ran the baby Rugrats like her own syndicate. The greatest legacy of Angelica, an off-key adversary who never saw something she couldn’t be jealous of or use for her motivations, makes viewers know that she doesn’t represent her “terrible” sister, but honestly herself.
Most likely, on his own, he wouldn’t recall Hanna Barber’s short creation Space Ghost. But the character was repurposed in the 1990s as the awkward, aggressive host of a surrealist talk show thanks to Mike Lazzo, which ended up launching careers and inspiring a variety of other great series (such as Sealab 2021 and Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law) that similarly repurposed old Warner IP for our modern amusement.
A show like Johnny Bravo is unlikely to be produced today. Created just before the world of adult cartoons took off, this show was still advertised for children, but under the radar of Cartoon Network let plenty of dangerous humour slip through. Although the actions of Johnny borders on the chauvinistic, the show makes it clear that he is supposed to be the opposite of a role model, enduring some horrible fate almost always because of his hubris. Even so, his ludicrous pick-up lines are ironically delightful.
Felix the cat
The transition to sound was not overcome by most stars of the silent period, but Felix, who once shared screen time with Charlie Chaplin, did just fine and remains an icon.
Cosmo and the cool
The wacky, impulsive Cosmo and the cool, rational Wanda may seem like a (fairly) odd couple, but they’re doing something right, considering that they’ve been together for 10,000 years. Timmy Turner, Cosmo, and Wanda, the fairy godparents of the 10-year-old, can grant his every wish, which often eventually goes wrong. In each of its 172 episodes, it was this idea that gave The Fairly Oddparents its fun, lighthearted style.
The Arthur TV series has been on the air since 1996 based on Marc Brown’s children’s books. “In that period, as the groovy theme song indicates, the aardvark, along with his friends and family, learned hundreds of lessons on how to “get along with each other. Arthur and his friends seem like real children, acting and speaking in ways that actual children their age do, getting into fights and misbehaving in ways that other shows would attempt to censor. The PBS show has also been consistently multicultural, in a way that is sensitive though not referring to children, with depictions of characters of various backgrounds, genders, disabilities, and even illnesses such as cancer.
A fine blend of humour and suspense, Dipper and the great-uncle of Mabel Pines, aka. “Grunkle” Stanford Pines is a swindler, operating a tourist trap called the Mystery Shack and only interested in robbing people of their money by goods and attractions that are poorly made and fraudulently marketed. As the series continues, however, we find another, more hidden side of the Grunkle, with viewers finding an unsettling cryptogram in the opening theme of Gravity Falls: “Stan is not what he appears.”
Among the earliest icons of American animation, due to his wacky antics and superhuman strength upon downing a can of spinach, Popeye the Sailor became immediately beloved.
Phineas and Ferb
“Hey Ferb, I know what we’re going to do today,” Phineas tells each episode, whether it’s constructing a giant treehouse that turns into a giant robot, shooting a movie, or making a time machine, before launching into their new ambitious plan to pass the summer days. And while the grand schemes of the stepbrothers escape their parents’ attention and drive Candace crazy, Phineas and Ferb remain entirely guileless. Difficult to believe that this was on the Disney Channel