I’ve been sitting on this Top 10 for awhile now, but I finally got inspired after the news that CW ended its Saturday morning cartoon block on Oct. 4, marking the first time since the 1960s there won’t be any Saturday morning cartoons.
Granted, it’s no big deal to hop onto Netflix or pull something from YouTube and the DVD collection, but for “seasoned” (thanks Fred) folks like myself, Saturday mornings were the only day you wanted to get up to watch a wide range of awesome cartoons. Heck, even in college, I’d set my alarm for 6 a.m. to watch one of the few essential shows in the early 1990s. More on that particular show later.
Creating a Top 10 cartoon list seemed a bit daunting — not exactly fair to have “Looney Tunes” go up against “Robotech,” right? So in the interest of fairness, I decided to “limit” myself to just the Top 10 comic book based cartoons. But then, that started getting tricky as well. Turns out, there’s a lot of good options out there as well so I decided to get some help from two folks whose comic book acumen I respect — Third Eye Comics’ fearless leader Steve Anderson and my fellow longtime comic book reader Mike Richardson who will be sharing their thoughts on the selections as well. Let’s get started!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – For most people familiar with TMNT, this cartoon is what immediately comes to mind as it’s largely been responsible for shaping folks’ opinion of the franchise. But there’s that nagging sense that it could have been even better if it was more in line with its comic book source material…
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Classic Series Collection
Legion of Super-Heroes — Don’t let the exaggerated character designs throw you off. This was a fun show that covered one of the underrated teams in DC and thankfully didn’t just waste most of the episodes focusing on Superboy. Annoyingly, just as the show was really starting to pick up momentum, it was cancelled. Hardly a new issue for fans of DC cartoon series, but it stung considering how many more great Legion stories were left to be told. Legion of Superheroes: Volumes 1-3
The Batman — Like LOSH, this had some weird takes on Batman’s rogue gallery, but this was a very underrated show with perfect interaction with Batman, Robin and Batgirl and it only got better with the addition of the Justice League. Given another season with the JL, this very well could have been on the list.
The Batman: Season 5 (DC Comics Kids Collection)
Now on to the full list:
10. Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (1981-1983)
This was pretty much my introduction to Marvel Comics’ characters. Compared to some of the other shows on the list, this early 80s product doesn’t quite hold up by today’s standards, but for its time, this was pretty cutting edge. Featuring Marvel’s most recognizable hero and narration from Marvel co-creator Stan Lee, this offered a glimpse of the potential that was to come from Marvel cartoons. And as a bonus, it featured tons of cameos from other Marvel super heroes and villains from Captain America, Sunfire, Dr. Strange, Iron Man, Daredevil, Thor and these guys
Mike: Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends were my introduction to comics. The shows were written in traditional cheesy comic style which was appropriate as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were in the twilight of their careers.
- Spider-Man (1994-1998)
Hoping to further establish the 1990s Marvel cartoon dominance, this updated version of Spider-Man ditched Firestar and Iceman and loosely followed comic book storylines like “Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 1,” “Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage” and “Secret Wars.” The “Secret Wars” arc was especially impressive as it featured voice actors from other Marvel shows. It’s not higher on the list due to some herky-jerky animation that didn’t match the standards of some of the better 1980s cartoons and the silly rule that Spider-Man couldn’t punch anyone, but it definitely warrants inclusion.
Mike: I was familiar with the friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man and his constant battles with Doctor Octopus and the Sandman. This cartoon leveraged the comic cache of the X-Men and the seemingly limitless supply of source material to bring real villains to the front. The Lizard. Venom. Carnage. Scary sorts that, at any moment, could equal or best Spider-Man. I loved this show! It wasn’t until the show had ended and someone pointed it out to me that I realized Spider-Man never used his hands to fight thanks to the ol’ FCC. The X-Men show had the same restriction but apparently, Wolverine slashing with his adamantium claws is less violent using his fists.
Spider-Man: The Venom Saga
- Challenge of The Super Friends (1978)
For comic fans in their late 30s, comic book shows didn’t get any better than this. Free of hangers-on The Wonder Twins and the annoying trio of Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog, this show remains the closest we’ve come to a vintage Justice League of America lineup facing off against some of DC’s biggest villains. Every episode was a colossal showdown and we were rarely disappointed.
Steve: I love the cheese of it. Still iconic after all these years.
Challenge of the Super Friends: Season 1
- X-Men (1992-1997)
As entertaining as it was with the intricate fight scenes and random cameos, the limited use of longtime popular members (like Nightcrawler, Colossus and Archangel) as well as the pick and choose aspects from decades of X-Men stories would make for a frequently frustrating viewing experience for comic book sticklers (like me). But when it wasn’t poorly adapting comic stories, this was rightfully the crown jewel of Fox’s Saturday morning block thanks to its ability to juggle numerous characters and season-long story arcs. The Phoenix Saga remains one of the high points of Marvel comic cartoons.
Steve: This is probably responsible for more kids reading Marvel in the ’90s than anything else. I grew up with this.
Mike: By this time, I had begun casually reading comics. Mainly large story arcs like Enter: The Phoenix. For me, and many others, the X-Men gave us our first lesson in Charles Xavier’s mutants and the world that hated and feared them. X-Men was not only a cartoon about superheroes, it utilized the brilliant technique Marvel had learned of casting mutants against the backdrop of racism and social injustice. The mutants were not simply lucky humans blessed with abilities to make them super. They struggled. They saved the lives of people who held signs calling them “Mutie.” I identified with this as it showed me that comics and cartoons based on comics, were serious literature.
X-Men: Volume One (Marvel DVD Comic Book Collection)
- Fantastic Four (1994-1996)
In its first season, this mid-90s adaptation of Marvel’s First Family was awful with terrible animation and embarrassing dialogue, but in its second season, the show evolved into one of the most faithful comic book adaptations ever. It didn’t hurt that the writers decided there was no way to improve upon the classic stories from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (and a few John Byrne stories as well) and made them the basis for the second season. If the two live-action movies didn’t do much for you, give this second season a viewing as it’s one of the more impressive runs of a comic book cartoon and shows the FF at their best.
Fantastic Four: The Complete 1994-95 Animated Television Series