16 of the Best 80s Cartoons That Still Rule
Nostalgia is all the rage these days, from movies and TV shows to fashion and music. People love reminiscing about the good times and the things they enjoyed as children or while growing up. The same goes for people who love cartoons. While modern animation is a lot more adult-focused with shows like Ricky and Morty, Adventure Time, and BoJack Horseman capturing audiences and being critically acclaimed, the 8os is the decade when cartoons really took off, with some of the greatest shows being 80s cartoons.
While the first cartoon, Fantasmagorie, was created in 1908, it wasn’t until Mickey Mouse appeared in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie that cartoons really kicked off. Since then they have become a staple of networks around the world and are watched by children (and adults) on a daily basis. Who else remembers watching cartoons before heading off to school or catching an episode of your favorite show before dinner?
Even if you didn’t grow up in the 80s, there is no doubt you have watched cartoons from that era. This was the decade when cartoons became a little edgier and featured more adult-oriented jokes. The animation was also getting better, along with the voice acting. Some of the best cartoons of all time came about in the 80s, as you are about to discover below.
The shows we have selected are ones that had a long-lasting impact on cartoons and helped shape the genre. So even though shows like The Simpsons and The Looney Tunes did start at the tail end of the 80s, their cultural influence was more present in the 90s. Check out the list below and let us take you on a nostalgic ride through 80s cartoons.
16 of the Best 80s Cartoons That Still Rule
1. DuckTales (1987-1990)
Although coming at the end of the 80s, most cartoon fans agree DuckTales is one of the best shows from that decade. Running for four seasons between 1987-1990, DuckTales is based on the Uncle Scrooge comic and features Scrooge McDuck and his grandnephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. The three young ducks find themselves involved in adventures chasing down lost treasures or trying to keep their Uncle’s “Number One Dime” from falling into the wrong hands.
Full of fun hijinx and classic Disney animation, DuckTales was a massive hit. After the show finished airing, several spin-offs and a movie were released as well as a 2017 reboot, proving there is still life in this 80s cartoon.
2. Dungeons & Dragons (1983-1985)
Based on the tabletop role-playing game, six friends take a ride on a magical roller coaster and are transported to the world of Dungeons & Dragons. Met by the Dungeon Master who gives each child a magical item, they must try and find their way home while battling all sorts of evil creatures and spooky monsters and carrying out various missions for people they meet along the way.
What sets Dungeons & Dragons apart from similar 80s cartoons is the violence. While primitive compared to today, it was quite brutal for that time and frowned upon by many. Even the National Coalition on Television Violence demanded a warning before the start of each show stating real-life violent deaths had been caused by kids watching Dungeons & Dragons, even though this was nowhere near the truth. The controversy only helped the show win its timeslot and go on to become a ratings hit.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-1996)
Ok, we said we were going to concentrate on purely 80s shows but you can’t talk about the best 80s cartoons without including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The original is a five-part series that aired in 1987 and explained the backgrounds of the main characters (Splinter and the turtles; Donatello, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, and Raphael) while also introducing the main bad guys’ Shredder and Krang.
While it acts as its own enclosed show, it proved so popular a second season was commissioned. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles went on to be a massive success and revived interest in the comic and led to video games, two real-life movie adaptations, and this classic tune from Vanilla Ice.
4. G.I. Joe: Real American Hero (1983-1986)
If you grew up in the 80s you know all about G.I. Joe: Real American Hero. Based on the G.I. Joe action figures, the show focuses on the Joe’s – an American special forces unit – trying to stop the terrorist organization Cobra from carrying out world destruction. Although it only ran for two seasons, there are 95 action-packed episodes featuring all the major characters, such as Duke, General Hawk, Roadblock, Lady Jaye, Scarlett, Flint, and Storm Shadow.
G.I. Joe: Real American Hero might have been created as a way to sell more toys, but it turned out to be a decent cartoon that was revived in 1989 and lastest a further three years.
5. ThunderCats (1985-1989)
Only in the 80s could a cartoon about cat-like aliens become a smash hit. ThunderCats centers on a group of aliens who seek shelter on “Third Earth” where they must battle their mortal enemies known as The Mutants. The core group of ThunderCats finds themselves on all sorts of adventures as they battle The Mutants while also trying to stop the mystic Sword of Omens from falling into the hands of the resurrected sorcerer Mumm-Ra.
This show has plenty of action and is visually pleasing, with the animation and colors used really capturing your attention. The show was very successful and spawned several spin-offs, comics, video games, and movies.
6. He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe (1983-85)
He-Man is back in vogue after the Kevin Smith Netflix sequel Masters of the Universe: Revelations, but if you truly want to experience the power of Greyskull, look no further than the original 80s cartoon. He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe is based on the Mattel toy line that takes place in the magical fantasy world of Eternia.
The clumsy Prince Adam turns into the shredded He-Man when he holds the Sword of Power, spending the series fighting his enemy Skeletor while protecting the secrets of Castle Grayskull. He-Man has one of the most iconic looks, with his blond bob, six-pack, and short shorts making him instantly recognizable amongst a plethora of 80s cartoon heroes.
7. Inspector Gadget (1983-1986)
Not only does Inspector Gadget have one of the catchiest theme songs, but the show itself is hilarious. The titular character is a clumsy detective with numerous bionic attachments, such as go-go gadget arms, who fights crime, more often than not coming up against his arch-enemy Dr. Claw. Absolutely hopeless as a detective, Gadget’s niece Penny and their dog, Brain, secretly help the detective on his missions, making sure he stays out of harm’s way while thwarting Dr. Claw’s nefarious plans.
Inspector Gadget ran for two seasons consisting of 86 episodes across three years. Fun, silly, but above all funny, the show is full of slapstick humor and was even turned into a live-action movie starring Matthew Broderick as Gadget.
8. Care Bears (1985-1988)
Care Bears is another cartoon created to cash in on the success of the Care Bears toys that were much loved by 80s kids. These cute and cuddly bears live in a place called Care-a-Lot, which is far away in the clouds. With the help of their Buddies and Cousins, these magical bears travel around the world and help fix people’s problems, which is where the Care Bear name came from.
Each of the different bears has a special power that is shown as an image on their stomachs, with the Care Bears also having to try and stop the evil Professor Coldheart from fulfilling his plans of world domination. The series was a huge success and the toys became big hits with kids across the globe, with the Care Bears having been rebooted several times over the years.
9. The Real Ghostbusters (1986 -1991)
The mainstream success of Ghostbusters at the box office always meant a sequel was going to get the green light. But not many would have imagined an animated series. The Real Ghostbusters acts as both a sequel and spin-off and consists of seven seasons. Just like the movies, it revolves around paranormal investigators Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Egon Spengler, Dr. Ray Stantz, and Winston Zeddemore as they hunt down ghosts and other supernatural creatures throughout New York.
None of the original cast is involved, with the animated versions of the characters also looking slightly different. Another major change is Slimer has switched sides and is now a goodie, assisting the Ghostbusters on their ghost hunts.
10. Danger Mouse (1981-1992)
Imagine James Bond as a mouse and you’re halfway to understanding the premise of Danger Mouse. This British cartoon is basically a parody of Bond and other spy movies. Known as “the world’s greatest spy,” Danger Mouse is incredibly strong and sports an eyepatch, showing just how tough he is. Along with his trusty hamster sidekick, Ernest Penfold, Danger Mouse more often than not finds himself coming up against villain Baron Silas Greenback, an evil toad who is always plotting the end of the world.
While not as popular in America s Britain or Australia (where it was a cult favorite), Danger Mouse is a fantastic espionage thrill ride aimed at kids that can also be enjoyed by adults. The short and sweet episodes also mean you can smash through the ten seasons in no time.
11. The Transformers (1985-1987)
Not content with making a mint off the company’s G.I. Joes figures and accompanying cartoon, Hasbro set its sights on turning another of the brand’s favorite toys into a successful animated series. The Transformers is based on mechanical alien toys that have the ability to transform into different vehicles.
Known as “Generation One” by fans, the cartoon highlights the ongoing war between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons, who are playing out their fight on planet Earth. This cartoon still holds up today, and let’s be honest, there’s nothing better than watching robots who can transform into everything from big wheels to sports cars fighting it out with high-tech weaponry.
The show helped sell more Transformers toys than ever before and has resulted in over a dozen Transfomer-related cartoons, comic books, video games, and a highly successful movie franchise.
12. My Little Pony (1986-1987)
Some of you might not consider this one of the great animated shows of the 80s, but considering its legacy, it’s hard to look past. My Little Pony is another Hasbro cash cow. After the success of the toy line, the company decided to create a cartoon revolving around the Little Ponies who occupy Ponyland. These colorful ponies spend most of their time messing about and playing games, but occasionally they are confronted by the evil that also occupies Ponyland – including witches and goblins – that want to enslave the ponies.
While nowhere near as popular as the reboot series that first aired in 2010, My Little Pony walked so My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic could run. It will probably only appeal to young girls but is a great way to keep your daughter or niece busy when you need some downtime.
13. The Smurfs (1981-1989)
Created by Belgian cartoonist Peyo, The Smurfs was originally a comic strip before it was turned into an animated cartoon by Hanna-Barbera Productions in 1981. The Smurfs are a race of blue humanoids who live a normally peaceful existence in a fantasy world. Each episode of the show follows the Smurfs as they find themselves in funny situations and going on wild and crazy adventures.
There are over 100 different Smurfs so it’s no surprise there are 258 episodes, with many different characters given the chance to shine. Some fan favorites include Brainy Smurf, Jokey Smurf, Handy Smurf, Papa Smurf, and Smurfette. As well as episodes revolving around everyday Smurf life, many also feature the evil sorcerer Gargamel, his apprentice Scruple, and his mean cat Azrael, who are doing their best to shatter the peace of the Smurfs.
14. Adventures Of The Gummi Bears (1985-1991)
Would you be surprised to learn Adventures Of The Gummi Bears is based on gummy bears candy? Disney, in their infinite wisdom, decided people needed a cartoon about gummi bears. As it turns out, the show became a massive success and helped shape the style of animation Disney went with in the coming decades.
The series is about a mythical race of creatures known as Gummi Bears. Once sharing the planet with humans, the majority of the species left after humans revealed their evil side. Those that remained befriend a young boy who possesses an ancient Gummi medallion. Seeing the good side of humanity in the boy, they decide to help him and other humans they come across. The Gummi Bears go on many adventures while also trying to keep their secrets safe from the evil Duke Igthorn, who wants the power they possess for himself.
15. Alvin & the Chipmunks (1983-1990)
Although there had been a TV series in the 60s, it was the 80s version of Alvin & the Chipmunks that was the most successful. The cartoon features the Chipmunks, Alvin Seville, Simon Seville, and Theodore Seville, three brothers who find themselves constantly getting up to mischief. They also sing, with each of the episodes soundtracked by a famous song, including Blonde’s “One Way or Another,” Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.”
This new interpretation of the classic characters was a big hit and also introduced fans to the Chipettes, three female chipmunks who became friends and love interests for the Seville brothers. Across eight seasons Alvin and his brothers entertained 80s kids before being resurrected in the 00s in three live-action movies.
16. Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers (1989-1990)
Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers might have been short-lived but it left fans wanting more after its third and final season. Airing directly after DuckTales certainly helped the popularity of Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, with the series about chipmonk detecritves Chip and Dale as they deal with crimes considered “too small” for the police to solve.
Most episodes are similar, with the duo finding clues before solving the case at the climax of the episode, often followed by a funny interaction between the Rescue Rangers and their animal buddies who help out on many of the cases. Fun for all the family.
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