Top 10 Best 90s Superhero Cartoons
VOICE OVER: Callum Janes
WRITTEN BY: Callum Janes
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the top 10 90s Superhero cartoons. For this list, we'll be looking at the most popular and impactful animated shows in the genre that were released or aired on tv right before the turn of the century. We won't be counting anime because they definitely deserve a list of their own. Our countdown includes "Superman: The Animated Series" (1996-2000), "Freakazoid" (1995-97), "Captain Planet and the Paneteers" (1990-96), "Spider-Man" (1994-98), and more!
Script written by Callum Janes
#10: “Freakazoid” (1995-97)
In a time where action cartoons on the market tended to take themselves fairly seriously, Freakazoid broke the mold with its excellent slapstick comedy and surreal humor. The show followed a computer geek named Dexter who miraculously gets superpowers from the internet. Initially, it was supposed to follow a more traditional and grounded formula. But the show embraced a more comedic tone during development. Freakzoid often took shots at other superhero shows and didn’t mind breaking the fourth wall. Although the show didn’t last for long, it has endured as an underrated and hilarious series.
#9: “Darkwing Duck” (1991-92)
As soon as we heard the awesome “Darkwing Duck” theme song start playing, we were immediately drawn into the show. We ended up staying for the great cast and fun set up. This series focused on the fame-hungry Darkwing Duck fighting crime and a colorful rogues gallery. Pilot Launchpad McQuack, his adoptive daughter Gosalyn, Morgana Macawber and more are there to aid him throughout his adventures. While this series was definitely billed as a funny homage to other superhero media, it had enough character and personality to stand on its own. Darkwing Duck quickly became a hero we wanted to have around when things got dangerous.
#8: “Superman: The Animated Series” (1996-2000)
Superman’s ridiculous power set and innocent nature made some people believe the character was nothing more than an untouchable and one-dimensional hero. However, we got to see his personality get more fleshed out during “Superman: The Animated Series”. The titular hero was faced with problems that he couldn’t solve with his vast abilities alone. There were episodes that dealt with corruption, family issues and even civilian casualties. The series was also applauded for its amazing animation and writing. And along the way, it brought in iconic characters like Darkseid to face off against Superman. This cartoon soared well above our expectations by giving us an interesting version of the Kryptonian that we wanted to root for.
#7: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (1987-96)
Who could forget about these totally radical ninjas? From 1987 to 1996, these mutant crime fighters would make us laugh while kicking shells around New York City. Since each of these heroic ninja had distinct personalities, everyone had at least one turtle they identified with most. Not only is it the longest-running show on this list, but it also was consistently exciting and fun to watch throughout its long run. Watching the heroes fight Shredder and his endless league of henchmen before enjoying delicious looking pizza just never got old. Every time the theme song came out of our TVs, we were ready for another brilliant display of turtle power.
#6: “Phantom 2040” (1994-96)
Loosely based on the “The Phantom” comic strips, this series followed Kit Walker Jr. as he donned his mask to try and save humanity from environmental degradation. The action sequences were tense and exciting to watch. But the show really shined thanks to its subtle and smart storytelling. Its stories had themes of individuality, the volatility of humanity, and freedom. Not only did this superhero set the stage for many crusaders of justice to come, but the series has become more relevant with age. While it might not have been as famous as some of the other entries on this list, “Phantom 2040” deserves recognition.
#5: “Captain Planet and the Planeteers” (1990-96)
While a show about environmentalism might sound lame on paper, this series about five kids uniting to protect Earth was surprisingly awesome. They each had unique power rings that had incredible powers. And when they put their abilities together, they could summon Captain Planet. The environmental hero and the planeteers dealt with environmental and real-world issues head-on. They appeared in stories that showed us the horrors of everything from pollution to addictive behaviors. While the cartoon could be a tad cheesy sometimes, it still deserves credit for being so open and honest about its message. It wanted to empower and educate audiences to help save the Earth while entertaining them with plenty of elemental action.
#4: “The Powerpuff Girls” (1998-2005)
Cartoon Network used sugar, spice, everything nice and a little Chemical X to create their very own super heroines. We followed sisters Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup as they fought off monsters of the week in fantastic action sequences. What made this show stand out was its zany and incredibly varied humor. While some episodes made fun of traditional kaiju flicks, others could be packed with adult jokes that soared right over the heads of some viewers. And it wasn’t afraid to take the bubbly sisters to dark places either. The series also featured memorable villains like Mojo Jojo and the insanely mysterious “Him.” By focusing on heroines, crafting interesting characters and adding unpredictable jokes, this series became a must-see.
#3: “Spider-Man” (1994-98)
Since Spider-Man is consistently one of the most popular Marvel superheroes, an animated series was inevitable. We follow Peter Parker as he balances a life swinging around New York City with his civilian identity. While the series featured heavy plotlines, the wall-crawler's killer wit and quips kept the show light and fun. It was also fantastic to see famous Spidey rogues like Doc Ock, Mysterio, Venom and many more decorate its dignified run. The show was even popular enough to spawn a less celebrated but still intriguing “Spider-Man Unlimited” spin-off. (xref) While the show's time on air was unfortunately cut short, fans still got over 60 episodes of quality storytelling and web slinging action. The series definitely did the legendary Webhead proud.
#2: “X-Men” (1992-97)
The “X-Men” series sported a relatively mature tone with an extensive cast of characters and storylines throughout its long run. It also used subtle allegories to help teach kids about complicated issues with stand-out animated action sequences. And to top it all off, it had a legendary theme song that we still love today. The show did an exceptional job at making each one of its heroes and villains stand out. And although it already had a huge cast, it even crossed over with the likes of Spider-Man for even more fun! Even decades later, this animated series stands as one of the best and most definitive portrayals of the X-Men on television.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
“Fantastic Four” (1994-96)
Marvel's First Superhero Family Brought Powerful Villains to Saturday Mornings
“Silver Surfer” (1998)
This Chrome Defender Dealt with Complex Subject Matter
“The Maxx” (1995)
The Violence, Visuals & Themes Were Definitely Aimed at Older Audiences
#1: “Batman: The Animated Series” (1992-95)
This influential and classic series followed the Dark Knight as he pursued his never-ending quest to keep Gotham safe. The show put as much work into developing Batman and his allies as they did into creating sympathetic and truly terrifying villains. While the film-noir tone of the show could’ve flopped with audiences, its serious nature was praised by viewers. This series also featured iconic vocal performances like Kevin Conroy’s Batman and Mark Hamill’s perfect Joker. The successful cartoon also paved the way for great shows like “The New Batman Adventures'' and “Batman Beyond”. Watching the Dark Knight’s small screen adventures is just as captivating now as it was then. “Batman: The Animated Series” still sets the golden standard for what superhero shows should be like.