30 Best Saturday Morning Cartoons, Ranked
Not too long ago, on a television screen not very far away, Saturday morning was a glorious time when cartoons reigned on the small screen for a good four to five hours of nonstop animated fun.
This was before the Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Disney+, wherein you could watch whatever cartoons you want at any hour of the day — any day of the week. Thus, the ritual of taking in hours of Saturday morning cartoons while chomping down on sugary cereal was a thing of the past by 2016, when the final block of Saturday animated fare came to an end.
Thus, discussions of Saturday morning cartoons are now largely relegated to nostalgia and pop culture anthropology. We have so many awesome memories of watching Saturday morning cartoons for hours (OK, years) on end, and here are our picks for the best 30 shows.
Seasons: 1 (Sept. 7, 1991 – Jan. 1992)
Bottom Line: Hammerman
MC Hammer had the whole world in his hand, especially in the fall of 1991. His album “Too Legit to Quit” was positively killing it on the music charts, with the single “Addams Groove” getting some serious airplay thanks to MTV.
There was even a cartoon in which a guy named Stanley Burrell (Hammer’s real name) uses magical shoes to ward off cartoon evil. But much like Hammer’s star itself, “Hammerman” didn’t last long, even if its opening was absolutely hilarious.
29. New Kids on the Block
Seasons: 1 (Sept. 8, 1990 – Dec. 14, 1990)
Bottom Line: New Kids on the Block
Speaking of musical acts that temporarily found new fans in animated form, look no further than New Kids on the Block, the original boy band. The group sold nearly 70 million records and were on top of the world, so why not a cartoon?
Unfortunately for NKOTB, this was right about the time the culture turned against them, and the show only lasted 15 episodes. However, thanks to nostalgia, the New Kids have been touring again. Can a cartoon revival be far off?
Seasons: 2 (Sept. 17, 1983 – Dec. 1, 1984)
Bottom Line: Saturday Supercade
Before Nintendo conquered video game culture, there were the twin juggernauts of arcade games and Atari. Naturally, several of those arcade heroes came to animated form thanks to the “Saturday Supercade,” which presented animated shorts starring the likes of Mario, Frogger, Q*bert, Pitfall Harry and Space Ace — all engaging in fun battles with their nemeses.
It was great for kids who weren’t able to get to the arcade on Saturday morning until their parents were up.
27. Jem and the Holograms
Seasons: 3 (Oct. 6, 1985 – May 2, 1988)
Bottom Line: Jem and the Holograms
“Jem in my name, no one else is the same,” sang the titular chanteuse in the opening to this rather creative, ahead-of-its-time cartoon about Jerrica Benton, a music club owner who moonlights as a singer called Jem with the help of a computer — sort of a precursor to those holograms of Micahel Jackson and other deceased singers that appear nowadays in Las Vegas.
“Jem” was notable for featuring primarily a female cast, showing off girl power in animated form.
26. Dungeons & Dragons
Seasons: 3 (Sept. 17, 1983 – Dec. 7, 1985)
Bottom Line: Dungeons & Dragons
Nerds (OK, fun-lovers) have been playing “D&D” for decades, so it was all but assured that a cartoon would follow sooner or later. In keeping with the notion of entering a magical world, the cartoon saw a group of humans enter into a fantasy realm in which they must help the Dungeon Master defeat the evil Venger.
Weapons, spells and other magic abounded, making this truly a fun time come the weekend.
25. Eek! The Cat
Seasons: 5 (Sept. 11, 1992 – Aug. 1, 1997)
Network: Fox Kids
Bottom Line: Eek! The Cat
Poor Eek and his mantra, “It never hurts to help,” but he was always getting wounded by being a good cat. Eek got himself into all manner of scrapes, typically screaming his way through whatever riotous situations he landed in.
This was also one of those cartoons that was self-reflexive about the cartoon form, and the show frequently winked at the audience. They also parodied “adult” films like “Apocalypse Now” and “A Clockwork Orange.”
24. Star Wars: Ewoks
Seasons: 2 Sept. 7, 1985 – Dec. 13, 1986
Bottom Line: Star Wars: Ewoks
“Return of the Jedi” had been out of theaters for nearly two years, and another “Star Wars” flick wouldn’t be out for another 15 years. Thankfully, the LucasFilm creatives started expanding old George’s fantasy sci-fi universe with the live-action “The Ewok Adventure” before animating those delightful little furballs for two seasons.
On the show, Wicket W. Warrick and his fellow cuddlies duked it out with the Empire in adventures taking place just before the events of “Jedi.”
23. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures
Seasons: 2 (Sept. 15, 1990 – Nov. 16, 1991)
Network: CBS, Fox Kids
Bottom Line: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures
Those two boneheaded metalheads got animated for two seasons, first on CBS and then Fox Kids. Live-action actors Alex Winters, Keanu Reeves and the late George Carlin all signed up to give voice to their cartoon avatars, who of course continued using the requisite phone booth to travel through time, hopefully “learning” a thing or two along the way.
As with other cartoons of the era, the theme song was totally awesome.
22. Bobby’s World
Seasons: 7 (Sept. 8, 1990 – Feb. 23, 1998)
Bottom Line: Bobby’s World
Howie Mandel — yep, the same guy who later hosted “Let’s Make a Deal” — was known for his standup comedy and funny voices, and he brought those talents to small-screen form with “Bobby’s World,” a more innocent version of “The Simpsons” that was appropriate for Saturday morning.
Bobby (voiced by Mandel) was known for his flights of fancy, allowing the animators to creatively draw his fantasies. This show was fun, funny and charming all in one.
21. Captain N: The Game Master
Seasons: 3 (Sept. 9, 1989 – Oct. 26, 1991)
Bottom Line: Captain N: The Game Master
By the late-’80s, Nintendo was the unquestioned king of the home console market, and thus, such familiar characters as Simon Belmont, Mega Man and Kid Icarus adventured through cartoon-land doing battle with Mother Brain, the main villain from “Metroid.”
Other Nintendo baddies showed up, including King Hippo (“Punch Out”), the Count (“Castlevania”) and Dr. Wily (“Mega Man”). Was there anything better than watching “Captain N” followed by hours of Nintendo gameplay on Saturday?
20. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
Seasons: 8 (Sept. 9, 1972 – Aug. 10, 1985)
Network: CBS, syndication
Awards: 1 Daytime Emmy
Bottom Line: Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
Let’s get the fact that Bill Cosby is a convicted sex offender out of the way upfront. Now, we can all concentrate on what a truly delightful cartoon “Fat Albert” was and the fact that it ran for eight seasons on both network and syndication runs.
Fat Albert and his coterie of mates — including Dumb Donald, Bucky, Mushmouth and Rudy — not only made us laugh and smile with their musical band, but they also caused us to think about real issues that included drug use, gang violence and even racism. Whatever Cosby’s sins, “Fat Albert” was a positive force for many kids.
Seasons: 4 (Sept. 9, 1985 – Sept. 29, 1989)
Bottom Line: ThunderCats
Feel the magic and hear the roar; the ThunderCats are loose! What a theme song! And what amazing adventures Lion-O, Panthro, Cheetara, Snarf and the rest of the cats and kittens got up to when facing the forces of evil, personified in Mumm-Ra, who transformed from bandaged mummy to muscle-bound warrior — yet for some reason was afraid of his own reflection.
The animation was great and the adventures were crazy fun. “ThunderCats, hoooooo!!!”
Seasons: 4 (Sept. 9, 1989 – Dec. 6, 1991)
Network: ABC, Fox
Awards: Outstanding Children’s Animated Program Daytime Emmy (1990)
Bottom Line: Beetlejuice
The ghost with the most got even better when he transitioned from film (Michael Keaton was great in the movie) to Saturday morning animation, where he got up to his typical mischief-making. Unlike the movie, which had Beetlejuice helping out a recently dead couple, the Juice himself took center stage as he experienced misadventures all over the Netherworld with living pal Lydia Deets.
It was endlessly creative and always funny. “Beetlejuice” has even become a Broadway musical!
17. Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats
Seasons: 2 (Sept. 3, 1984 – Sept. 30, 1985)
Bottom Line: Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats
Why were cartoon cats always up to no good? Probably because the shows were made by dog lovers! Anyway, Heathcliff was yet another feline out for a good time, and he was certainly never above a prank or five — especially when his pals Hector, Muggsy and Wordsworth were along for the ride.
Mel Blanc, known for voicing Bugs Bunny and many of the other “Looney Tunes” characters, provided Heathcliff’s voice before failing health forced him to stop.
16. Star Wars: Droids
Seasons: 1 (Sept. 7, 1985 – June 7, 1986)
Bottom Line: Star Wars: Droids
As discussed, the Ewoks got into their own animated fun, but so did C-3PO and R2-D2, who outran the evil galactic Empire for one season on ABC. Anthony Daniels, who played the golden-plated protocol droid in the movies, was back to lend his voice to the neurotic metallic translator, with faithful sidekick R2 beep-beep-booping at his side.
“Droids” introduced a host of new characters — including Vlix, whose toy is super rare — and also featured fan favorites like Boba Fett.
15. Garfield and Friends
Seasons: 7 (Sept. 17, 1988 – Dec. 10, 1994)
Awards: Young Artist Award for Best Animation Series (1989)
Bottom Line: Garfield and Friends
Garfield, Odie and friends made the jump from comic strip to comic show in the late-’80s, with the exquisitely talented Lorenzo Music voicing the grumpy tabby cat who just couldn’t help himself when it came time for lasagna.
“Garfield” had an impressive run over the course of seven rib-tickling seasons (that’s a lot of lasagna) before finally calling it a day during the holiday season of 1994.
14. The Smurfs
Seasons: 9 (Sept. 12 1981 – Dec. 2, 1989)
Awards: 2 Daytime Emmy Awards; 1 Humanitas Prize; 1 Kids’ Choice Award
Bottom Line: The Smurfs
Theories abound when it comes to the insanely weird world of the Smurfs, what with one girl, Smurfette, and all of those boy Smurfs — and those gender dynamics led to many “competitions” for Smurfette’s affections.
Classic-era Hollywood actors Paul Winchell and Jonathan Winters were among the voice cast, as was René Auberjonois, who would later portray Odo on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”
Whatever was really going on in Smurfland, it sure was fun to watch.
13. Voltron: Defender of the Universe
Seasons: 3 (Dec. 14, 1984 – Feb. 18, 1985)
Bottom Line: Voltron: Defender of the Universe
Long before the word “anime” was common in Western popular culture, the Japanese-American co-produced “Voltron” foisted upon the world some truly trippy visuals come Saturday morning.
The show followed a group of heroes riding souped-up machines — and who, when things got really dicey, would combine their machines to create the super-robot Voltron, who did battle with all manner of outer space monsters called Robeasts. Yes, it was way ahead of its time.
Seasons: 5 (Sept. 13, 1993 – Nov. 14, 1998)
Network: Fox, The WB
Awards: 5 Daytime Emmy Awards; 1 Peabody Award; 1 Young Artist Award Best Family Animation Production award; Online Film & Television Association OFTA TV Hall of Fame inductee (2019)
Bottom Line: Animaniacs
“Animaniacs” was super creative, which isn’t surprising considering the show had the might of Steven Spielberg’s muscle behind it. Much like other cartoons in the Warner Bros. universe, the 30-minute “Animaniacs” episodes featured three mini-segments, with Yakko, Wakko, Dot and their friends getting up to all manner of misbehavior over the series’ five seasons.
High-wattage cast members included Bernadette Peters and “Simpsons” regulars Nancy Cartwright and Tress MacNeille.
11. Muppet Babies
Seasons: 4 (Sept. 15, 1984 – Nov. 2, 1991)
Awards: CINE Golden Eagle (1988); Daytime Emmy Outstanding Film Sound Editing (1989); Daytime Emmy Outstanding Animated Program (1985, 1986, 1987, 1988); Humanitas Prize Children's Animation Category (1985); Young Artist Award Exceptional Family Animation Series or Specials (1987)
Bottom Line: Muppet Babies
We all loved Jim Henson’s puppet creations so much on their primetime series that Henson and crew went back to the beginning with “Muppet Babies,” showing how Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Rowlf, Bunson, Beaker and the rest of the happy-go-lucky little ones spent their time in a nursery in their younger, fluffier days.
One of the best episodes had them so excited to be going to the amusement park that they stayed up all night going there “in their minds” — and thus were too tired to go for real in the morning.
10. The Tick
Seasons: 3 (Sept. 10, 1994 – Nov. 24, 1996)
Awards: 2 Annie Awards
Bottom Line: The Tick
Most superheroes at least try to sound cool, and then there’s the Tick, named after the insectoid bloodsucker for no apparent reason. While the Tick and pal Arthur (voiced by no less than Mickey Dolenz, now the last living member of The Monkees) were out to do good, they frequently did so by accident — and often as not made things worse.
One of the funniest episodes had Arthur teaching a class of wannabe superheroes, including the Flying Squirrel, Babyboomerangutan and Sacrcasto, who had both a wry sense of humor as well as the beard of a certain Cuban dictator.
Seasons: 4 (Sept. 18, 1987 – Nov. 28, 1990)
Awards: Daytime Emmy Outstanding Film Sound Editing (1990); Online Film & Television Association OFTA TV Hall of Fame (2019)
Bottom Line: DuckTales
Scrooge McDuck had so much money he had to have a giant vault — his “Money Bin” — built on his estate because, apparently, banks are for “little” ducks. Scrooge was rather fond of taking swims through his gold (ouch!), but the old miser loved nothing more than hunting for even more treasure, typically with Huey, Dewey and Louie in tow.
Donald Duck, for some reason now in the Navy, frequently showed up, too, as did new friends like Gizmo Duck and the world’s worst pilot Launchpad McQuack.
8. X-Men: The Animated Series
Seasons: 5 (Oct. 31, 1992 – Sept. 20, 1997)
Network: Fox Kids
Bottom Line: X-Men: The Animated Series
Sure, the live-action movies with Hugh Jackman are pretty cool, but do yourself a favor and seek out the old “X-Men” animated series, which really explored the extended universe of Stan Lee’s mutant warriors. Wolverine, Professor X, Cyclops and the good guys faced off against Magneto, Apocalypse and the Juggernaut for five seasons.
Like the movies, the cartoon dealt with alternative timelines as well as that love triangle between Wolverine, Cyclops and Jean Grey.
7. SpongeBob SquarePants
Seasons: 13 (May 1, 1999 – present)
Awards: 6Annie Awards; 8 Golden Reel Awards, 4 Emmy Awards, 18 Kids’ Choice Awards, 2 BAFTA Children’s Awards; many others
Bottom Line: SpongeBob SquarePants
Oooooooooooooh, who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants! While ostensibly for kids, the humor of “SpongeBob” appeals to the young-at-heart across the board, and the writers are fond of tossing in references that only parents and more seasoned nerds would get.
In addition to 13 seasons on Nick, Stephen Hillenburg’s undersea creation and his friends have been featured in three movies, a Broadway musical and even amusement park rides. Hillenburg, who died of ALS in 2018, would be proud.
6. Slimer! And The Real Ghostbusters
Seasons: 7 (Sept. 13, 1986 – Oct. 5, 1991)
Bottom Line: Slimer! And The Real Ghostbusters
What made this show so “real,” you ask? Well, there already existed another toon called “Ghostbusters” that had absolutely nothing to do with the movies. Accordingly, when it came time for Pete, Egon, Ray and Winston to get animated, the producers labeled them “The Real Ghostbusters,” because, you know, marketing.
Slimer, but a small presence in the movies, became a main character who palled around with the ‘busters at their firehouse. Oh, and even EPA jerk Walter Peck showed up again!
5. Super Friends
Seasons: 9 (Sept. 8, 1973 – Sept. 6, 1986)
Bottom Line: Super Friends
Long before the current DC cinematic universe got Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman together to tangle with evil, the cartoon “Super Friends” had them join forces with even more superheroes. There was also Aquaman, the Wonder Twins and the Green Lantern.
And the rogue’s gallery of baddies included Lex Luthor, Toy Man, Brainiac, Mirror Master, Mr. Mxyzptlk and Darkseid. That’s a lot of characters, so it's no wonder the series ran for over a decade to give them all something to do.
4. Scooby Doo, Where Are You!
Seasons: 3 (Sept. 13, 1969 – Dec. 23, 1978)
Network: CBS, ABC
Awards: Online Film & Television Association OFTA TV Hall of Fame (2015)
Bottom Line: Scooby Doo, Where Are You!
Why were Scooby and Shaggy (voiced by Casey Kasem, of all people) seeing ghosts and ghouls everywhere they went? Some say it’s because of drugs (“Scooby Snacks” being a euphemism and all), while others poo-poo that notion and claim it was just a fun show for kids.
Wherever they went, Scooby, Shaggy and the rest of the “meddling kids” of the Mystery Machine crew busted do-badders fond of dressing up as monsters. And was there ever a funnier gag than when Shag and Scoob lured the monster into an impromptu restaurant?
3. Batman: The Animated Series
Seasons: 2 (Sept. 5, 1992 – Sept. 15, 1995)
Network: Fox Kids
Awards: 4 Emmy Awards
Bottom Line: Batman: The Animated Series
There have been many adaptations of Gotham’s Caped Crusader over the years, but arguably none has come as close to the spirit of the original comics as “Batman: The Animated Series.”
In addition to the Dark Knight socking and kicking the Joker, Two-Face and the rest of the rogue’s gallery, on the cartoon, Batman also had to solve cases in line with his original envisioning by creator Bob Kane (Ra’s al Ghul even calls him “Detective” in the show). It wasn’t all dark, and the series often found humor, including that one time Alfred tried to fly the Batwing!
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Seasons: 10 (Dec. 14, 1987 – Nov. 2, 1996)
Network: Syndication, CBS
Awards: 2 Annie Awards, 2 Kids’ Choice Awards
Bottom Line: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Never have four words combined in such a way as the title of this long-running franchise, but Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello have continually proved all the haters wrong, having starred in live-action and animated movies and several different cartoon series.
However, the original cartoon remains the standard-bearer, what with its awesome action and self-referential humor throughout. And as a bonus, the show also introduced kids to the names of a few Renaissance artists, so it’s “educational” to boot!
1. The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour
Seasons: 27 (Oct. 11, 1960 – Sept. 2, 2000)
Network: ABC, CBS
Bottom Line: The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour
Bugs and company have been spreading their cartoonish joy since the 1940s, but they really hit their stride when “The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour” debuted in 1960. For 60 glorious minutes every Saturday, the Warner Bros. coterie made us laugh week after week, whether it was Sylvester trying, and constantly failing, to catch Tweety or Daffy being, well, daffy.
Often imitated but never, ever equaled, “The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour” remains the greatest Saturday morning cartoon of all time.