When it comes to animation, superheroes are usually a safe bet. Action? Check! Comedy? Check? A little bit of romance? For the most part check! And while it may be challenging to build a whole world from the ground up it’s quite fun and simpler to take an established hero and run with him/her/them. I for one love Superhero’s.
There have been many superhero cartoons over the years but I’m confining this to the ones from DC and Marvel that aired on primetime kids networks (sorry Spawn and Marvel Anime…not like the latter was making any lists anytime soon).
Let’s start with some honorable mentions.
Static Shock, The Batman, Hulk: TAS, Green Lantern: TAS
10. Spider-Man 1967-1970
Let’s give credit where credit is due. The original Spiderman series is one of the best. It’s corny to be sure, oh boy is it corny, Spiderman deflects a pumpkin bomb by making a baseball bat with his web fluid. Much like the 60’s Batman it embraces the cheesiness, then runs with it. It has all the classic makings of a cartoon, the characters are likable and while their is a lot of stock animation I can forgive that all just for the simple theme song.
9. Young Justice 2010-2013
Though it’s the youngest show on the list, only having ended earlier this year, Young Justice has become a cartoon giant. Focusing on a team that acted as Batman’s clandestine special recon team, Young Justice pole vaulted clear over the set bar from things like animation, story telling and character development and is one of the only western animated shows to have a (well executed) time skip. It could be funny, dramatic, sad or scary. It created it’s own little world and history while showing us new characters we’d never have given a plugged nickel for a couple years ago. (Lookin at you Sportsmaster) Oh did we mention it won an Emmy?
8. Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes 2010-2012
Another very young show on this list, but if I added these shows simply for the action scenes you can bet this would easily jump into the top 3. The show follows the Avengers from there individual origins straight into their formation as a team, through several crisis’ and roster switches to the final showdown with Galactus. All while staying true and faithful to the comic book origins and spirit of the characters. Though some have criticized the animation and though the stories got weaker in the second season it stayed strong to the end and cemented itself as the best animated incarnation of the Avengers.
7. Spiderman the Animated Series 1994-1998
Riding high off of another superhero animated series’ success was Spiderman the Animated Series. If Batman was the dark gritty avenger, Spiderman was the polar opposite, full of life and energy, not to say that he didn’t have some dark moments but Spiderman’s adventures were pretty much that. He went to other planets, dimensions, encountered genetic freaks and kept up with a single love interest. Add that to a fun slew of guest appearances from the X-Men, Captain America and even the Punisher and you have a classical cartoon.
6. Batman the Brave and the Bold 2008-2011
After it came out the series was immediately accused of not being like the previous Batman cartoons. People didn’t like the new lighter tone of the Batman series, but BTBATB proved that, in the words of Bat-Mite in episode 18 (Legends of the Dark Mite) that “Batman’s rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways, to be sure this is a lighter incarnation of the character but it is no less true and valid to the characters roots than the tortured avenger crying our for mommy and daddy…and besides those easter bunnies look really scary right?!” Snarky as all hell, incredibly fun and constantly changing up the formats to keep things interesting, BTBATB is truly a classical series.
5. Teen Titans 2003-2006
If I had to pick a superhero cartoon that defined a generation for kids who were growing up in the early 2000’s, it would be Teen Titans. This was the show all the cool kids watched, you tuned in every week just to see the next new plot twist. It was a teenage superhero story at it’s best. Five friends (who happened to be superheroes) living in a tower in the middle of a bay, fighting crime and encountering a wacky cast of villains. Like the others, it could be dark and had messages as well, then on the other extreme no show on this list got quite so insane, maybe not even Brave and Bold. The show’s characters were constantly being explored, dynamics were constantly being shifted or added and their was clearly a lot of passion and creativity put into the whole design. It may have come off as childish or just plain weird in the beginning and it kind of was, but it morphed into the show that would get a whole new generation into the comic book scene.
Join me next time for the final four.