Since Paste first published this list ten years ago. New episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and South Park are released like clockwork every year. But they only represent the very top of the iceberg, though. Traditional cable networks have developed new and fascinating animated characters and worlds. On the other hand, streaming services have enabled even more creators to produce the animated shows they want to.
Today, adults also enjoy watching cartoons on Saturday mornings. Even more target teens or adults as their primary audience, allowing them to tell relatable, impactful, and hilarious stories within the context of animation. Many use wittier humor, more complex characters, and more profound stories to engage those of any age. Western animation has never been as diverse as it is today, and I think it has the potential to achieve the same cultural status as anime did in Japan decades ago.
Creators: Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks
Voices: Walt Disney, Bret Iwan, various others
In the shadow of the Disney empire’s mascot, it’s easy to lose sight of Mickey’s cartoon character. But without the charms of an enthusiastic, adventurous mouse, there might not be a Disney empire. The mouse is expected to enter the public domain in 2024, nearly a century after Disney’s iconic “Steamboat Willie” short. But, after launching an unfathomably wealthy $173 billion empire, that seems more than reasonable.
Tom and Jerry
Creators: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera
Voices: William Hanna, various others
With the advent of talkies, silent film largely died out. Nonetheless, Hanna and Barbera’s Tom and Jerry didn’t require dialogue to captivate generations of children. Between 1940 and 1958, 114 short films were produced. They still feel like they belong to my late-’70s childhood. When they watch the 2014 adaptation of the classic cat-and-mouse antics, they’ll feel like they’re a part of my kids’ childhoods.
Bugs Bunny (Looney Tunes)
Creators: Ben Hardaway, Tex Avery
Voices: Mel Blanc, Jeff Bergman, various others
A rabbit is the coolest cat in cartoon history. Or even a hare. During his many antics, that minor taxonomic difference was never addressed. Despite this, he maintained an enviable calm under fire. Elmer Fudd’s shotgun, Yosemite Sam’s pistols, and Marvin Martian’s ACME Disintegration Pistol were all popular weapons. Warner Bros.’s well-known face had only one flaw: a poor sense of direction (especially when tunneling through New Mexico).
Homer J. Simpson (The Simpsons)
Creator: Matt Groening
Voice: Dan Castellaneta
The first two seasons of The Simpsons focused on Bart. Still, the show evolved into something truly unique when it became Homer-centric. He is the everyman at his most lazy, hungry, dumbest, and drunkest. But, thanks to a good heart buried beneath all those doughnuts, he’s also the hero who saves the day—or, at the very least, restores everything to a status quo that has lasted three and a half decades and over thirty Halloween “Treehouse of Horror” specials, the 30th of which aired as the series 666th episode.
Scooby-Doo and Shaggy Rogers
Creators: Joe Ruby, Ken Spears
Voices: Casey Kasem, Don Messick, various others
They never say it directly, but we’re pretty sure those “Scooby Snacks” contain something… hallucinogenic. Compared to the rest of the Scooby Gang, Shaggy and Scoob appear completely useless, eating and lounging most of the time and screaming in terror when confronted with anything spooky. Despite this, they are the easiest to love. This man and dog duo has remained timeless throughout Scooby-many Doo’s adaptations.
Winnie the Pooh
Creators: A. A. Milne, E. H. Shepard
Voice: Sterling Holloway, Hal Smith, Jim Cummings
For many, Winnie-the-Disney Pooh’s adventures are the best-remembered repeats of this Silly Ol’ Bear, as beloved as he was in book form. Winnie the Pooh measured having an insatiable sweet tooth and his big heart and inherent sweetness.
Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles (The Powerpuff Girls)
Creator: Craig McCracken
Voices: Cathay Cavadini, Tara Strong, E. G. Daily, and Many others
The Powerpuff Girls arrived on the 90s cartoon scene ready to inspire and delight a generation. Regardless of who you identified with, the ultimate lesson was that working together is the most powerful play.
Rick and Morty
Creators: Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon
Voice: Justin Roiland
Based on a crude animation of Marty and Doc from Back to the Future, Kayla Cobb best described Rick and Morty as a “never-ending fart joke wrapped around a studied look into nihilism.” Morty, in his adolescence, travels through dimensions with his alcoholic, jaded grandfather Rick. Despite his insecurities, the latter sees himself as an unstoppable force. Unfortunately, too many fans learn the wrong lessons from Rick, idolizing his toxic behavior.
Creator: E. C. Segar
Voices: William Costello (1933-1935), Jack Mercer (1935-1984), and many others
Popeye the Sailor, one of the earliest icons of American animation, became instantly special thanks to his wacky antics and superhuman strength after downing a can of spinach.
Daffy Duck (Looney Tunes)
Creators: Tex Avery, Bob Clampett
Voices: Mel Blanc, Jeff Bergman, various others
Yes, Daffy can be “despicable!” but as his enduring popularity shows, he’s endearing all the same.