The 2000s was a wonderful decade for cartoons as evidenced by the greatness of these shows! For this list, we’ll be looking at the best animated series that debuted between 2000 and 2009. Our countdown includes “Teen Titans” (2003-06), “The Proud Family” (2001-05), “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (2008-14; 2020), “Robot Chicken” (2005-), and more! Did we miss any of your favorite 2000s shows? Let us know in the comments!
#20: “Invader Zim” (2001-02; 2006)
This irksome alien may be angling to take over Earth, but thankfully, he isn’t quite a pro at his job just yet. It’s a relief for humanity, but also for anyone who gets to witness his hilariously ineffective adventures. The oddball humor, quirky characters and unique setup make this series a breezy delight from start to finish. But that doesn’t mean it won’t flirt with some genuinely weighty subject matter, too. Still, before things get too grim, it falls back on its impossibly charming yet comically incompetent anti-hero. At least Zim can take solace in the fact that his cult-hit hijinks took the world by storm, just not in the way he expected.
#19: “Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends” (2004-09)
When Mac becomes too old for his fictitious pal, there's only one place for Bloo to go - a home for those just like him, of course. It’s a brilliant premise that allows the show to go crazy with unique creature designs and fantastical storylines. But, beneath all the wacky misadventures Mac and Bloo get into lies an ooey-gooey heart that beats with themes about growing up and embracing your inner child. There’s a palpable sense of camaraderie between the imaginary friends that helps the show express that you can find a balance between maturing and staying young. After all, this monster dormitory is a pretty cool place to be, even if it means moving on.
#18: “The Proud Family” (2001-05)
The premise of this animated program is groundbreakingly simple: Penny is a Black teen going about her fun, relatable, and oftentimes hilarious life. But, instead of trying to conform, this show embraced what made its characters different without alienating them. Educational but not preachy, it’s about Penny and her family, their heritage, and the challenges that come with getting older. Its long-lasting impact prompted a revival series on Disney+ over fifteen years after the original’s ending, proving that this clan isn’t ready to quiet down just yet. The series still works to this day thanks to fantastic characters that make it funny, boisterous, and, of course, unapologetically proud.
#17: “Danny Phantom” (2004-07)
After going ghost, this teenaged hero gets white hair, a superpowered alter ego, and the knack for crime-fighting. But while Danny tracks down other phantoms, his parents are tracking him. The ironic setup and horror-tinged storylines helped the show stand out from the crowd, but what really sealed this thermos was its pitch-perfect tone. The spectral action and great supporting cast make episodes scary, exciting, and fun - usually all at once. Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention the title character, who keeps things light with an optimistic attitude and plenty of hilarious quips. He may struggle to meet curfew, but at least the Fentons won’t have to pay for an exorcist any time soon.
#16: “American Dad!” (2005-)
Family dinner at the Smith household includes a CIA agent, a stay-at-home mom, two kids, a talking fish, and an alien. And yet, it feels so right. The main course of this long-running sitcom is its farce-like storytelling that somehow finds a way to deliver captivating morals amid plenty of chaos. Plus, “American Dad” comes with a side of situational humor that takes you by surprise and always keeps you guessing. It’s a bizarre blending of ingredients that really shouldn’t work as well as it does, but somehow, the show’s intelligently dumb humor hasn’t gotten stale. We don’t think we’ll ever tire of seeing what this quirky bunch has cooked up for us.
#15: “The Spectacular Spider-Man” (2008-09)
With great Peter Parker stories, comes great responsibility to do them justice. And even though Spidey has made a massive web of animated appearances over the years, none displayed such a clear love for the mythos as this. Plot points and characters feel like walking comic book pages in the best way, and that faithful interpretation extends to everything from the tone to the dialogue. The show’s refreshingly mature approach helped it adapt some of the best Spidey stories out there, including one of the greatest retellings of Venom’s story. Even though it was canceled far too soon, only one word can describe this aptly titled show…
#14: “Kim Possible” (2002-07)
Call her, beep her, whatever, the real sitch is that this seminal cartoon was one for the history books. Putting aside the fact that its signature tune is downright iconic, “Kim Possible” is witty, fast-paced, and features a rare female lead headlining an action-oriented series. And while it has plenty of thrilling adventures, it’s also the story of an average girl with less than average responsibilities. Kim could be tough, vulnerable, or deliver a gut-busting one-liner all in the span of a single episode. And her exhilarating authenticity made the show impossible to resist. Plus, let’s face it, we all wanted to try the Naco when we were kids.
#13: “Ben 10” (2005-08)
Entrusting an all-powerful alien wristwatch to a preteen doesn’t sound like a great idea, but Ben proved no one fights intergalactic threats like a Tennyson. His access to a bunch of different aliens, each with intriguing aesthetics and attributes, lends a truly unique flavor to the series. And the revolving door of new forms he takes ensures the show never gets old, not that it’d be an issue when the villains and mysteries are this engaging. Though this original series ended in 2008, the franchise has continued on without losing sight of what makes it special. It just goes to show that Ben really is the baddest kid to ever save the day.
#12: “Archer” (2009-)
Just squeaking into the 2000s, this adult cartoon is different from anything else in the medium, and it’s all the better for it. The series brims with creative wit thanks to some International Secret Intelligence Service agents’ unpredictable antics. Somehow, the distinct ambiguity of the universe’s setting pairs incredibly well with the brilliant writing and eclectic visuals. Indeed, the self-referential comedy finds a way to complement the innate zaniness of spy stories, without compromising on smart dialogue or genuine character arcs. Topped off with standout vocal performances and an unrestrained willingness to change things up every few years, it's safe to say that “Archer” hits the bullseye.
#11: “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (2008-14; 2020)
The Force is strong with this one. It had a big lightsaber to fill following the similarly titled “Clone Wars”. But this new-and-improved “The Clone Wars” shot for the stars, and landed in a universe of greatness. With its deep understanding of the franchise’s history, the show combined excellent multi-episode storylines and complex content, paving the way to massive ratings and justified praise. Though, above all that, it deserves all the credit in the cosmos for skyrocketing Ahsoka Tano into one of the brand’s greatest characters. Fervid fan support led to a revived final season and a legendary legacy, demonstrating that audiences weren’t quite finished with this corner of the galaxy far, far away.
#10: “The Fairly OddParents” (2001-17)
Despite its name, there’s nothing strange about this show’s persistent success. Throughout the seasons, it found endless ways to make the classic “wish gone wrong” setup engaging with new characters, fresh ideas, and plenty of wacky humor. The standout supporting cast and hatefully memorable bad guys, like Denzel Crocker and Vicky, anchor episodic plots that draw from a wand of near-endless possibilities. The series’ formulaic nature anchors reliable character writing and heartwarming comedy, especially as the wishes become more and more creative. Misadventures abound, infusing the story with plenty of charm as Timmy, Cosmo, and Wanda make each snafu magically entertaining to witness.
#9: “The Boondocks” (2005-14)
There’s no greater hook or dramatic twist here; this is just about real people doing real things - with the occasional sardonic quip, of course. The sharply written yet effortlessly comical story about the Freeman family moving to a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood initially proved controversial. Of course, that’s exactly why its commentary was necessary. It explores the authentic experience of a Black family, with all the heartbreak and laughs that entails. The fact it’s sometimes uncomfortable is the whole point. However, the show is far from grim, and skillfully balances out its messaging with equally biting humor. There’s little that was off the table, and we were all the better for it.
#8: “Clone High” (2002-03)
This underrated gem has recently gone from forgotten relic to full-blown cult-classic, and for good reason. It isn’t your average teen comedy - for one thing, it stars Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, and Gandhi. Or, at least clones of them. As dubious as the premise sounds, the outstanding soundtrack, thoroughly-defined characters, and off-the-wall storytelling still hold up today. In just a mere thirteen episodes, the show’s unhinged approach to history delivers some of the most amusing scenes in all of animation. Unfortunately, its highly fictionalized take on certain individuals led to intense controversy and an unceremonious cancellation. It’s a shame, to say the least, as it was one of the most clever programs of the early aughts.
#7: “Phineas and Ferb” (2007-15)
With only 104 days of summer vacation, these brothers want to do it all - and they pretty much succeed. Roller coasters, concerts, discovering what the tip of a shoelace is called; you name it, they do it. Each episode is filled to the brim with inventive storylines, heartwarming lessons, and yes, even some nice educational moments. Of course, it’s impossible to discuss this show without praising the hilariously iconic rivalry between Dr. Doofenshmirtz and Perry the Platypus. Agent P thwarting one of the doctor’s Inators never gets old! Plus, we can always rely on seeing the boys make a fun invention, and watching as Candace fails to expose her brothers. We wouldn’t want it any other way.
#6: “Robot Chicken” (2005-)
This one is like a box of chocolates, you never quite know what you’re going to get. Of course, part of the fun is flicking it on to watch a spy-thriller one episode, a meta-comedy the next, and a psychological drama after that. And they’re all executed in a way that subverts and pokes fun at what we’d traditionally see. Its format - or lack thereof - has kept it feeling fresh, with no sign of it losing its peck any time soon. The sketch comedy aims its sharp satire at anything under the sun, and a glimpse at even one sketch is enough to see why it has withstood the test of time.
#5: “Justice League” (2001-04) & “Justice League: Unlimited” (2004-06)
Following several acclaimed solo ventures, DC brought their classic heroes together for one of their first animated team-ups, and an iconic series was born. It’s hard to overstate the impact of seeing Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman fighting alongside each other, but they weren’t the only thing “super” about this show. Characters like Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl were finally given well-deserved time in the spotlight, and immediately showed why they were worthy of DC’s varsity team. Later, “Unlimited” doubled down on what worked and brought in more characters, deeper stories, and a ton of fun. This pair of shows were walking proof that these heroes could shoulder more ambitious stories, and that working alone was totally overrated.
#4: “The Venture Bros.” (2004-18)
With a title like this, you know you’re in for a thrilling adventure. But this show isn’t content being ordinary, and goes on its expedition through classic action-plots with plenty of new ideas. It’s a loving deconstruction of geek culture, featuring all the excitement of the genre with an added layer of knowing wit. It isn’t as gleefully weird as some other Adult Swim programs like “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”. Yet it rides the perfect line of loving homage and prodding ridicule. In all of animation, it’s hard to find a family better suited for a good, old-fashioned quest than these guys.
#3: “Teen Titans” (2003-06)
Get ready, because there’s a new team protecting earth. Instead of going big, “Teen Titans” opted for more intimate and emotional stories. This emphasis on character development led to some of the most stirring plot points in any DC show, animation or not. But, rest assured, it still had its fun. The anime-inspired visuals and exaggerated comedy didn’t just provide some high-energy action sequences, they also gave this teen-hero show a unique identity separate from anything that had come before. Even compared to DC’s iconic animation catalog, few shows have ever received this kind of enduring support. With that kind of staying power, it’s clear that when there’s trouble, you know who to call.
#2: “Samurai Jack” (2001-04; 2017)
Picture this: a time-lost warrior navigates a futuristic world, seeking revenge against the villainous Aku. Refreshingly, the story largely remains that simple to the end, but the show’s straightforward narrative doesn’t mean it lacks ambition. On the contrary, the way it innovatively conveys story and character primarily through action instead of dialogue is nothing short of masterful. Of course, that only works because the fight choreography, storyboarding, and color-work is some of the best the medium has ever seen. Luckily, fans got a final wrap-up season over a decade after its original ending, confirming that Jack wouldn’t be forgotten, even if he did skip a good chunk of history.
#1: “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (2005-08)
Even if we weren’t constrained to just 2000s shows, it’s hard to think of any animated program that can compete with Aang’s generation-defining adventures. The tale of the last airbender is one of redemption, forgiveness, and personal growth, all pulled together by fully-realized characters and amazingly cool elemental action. It’s a marvel of animation, with everything from its writing to its voice acting and beyond hitting all the right notes. And that’s somehow still not doing its impact justice. The story was handled with a maturity and heart that pushed the limits of what a so-called children’s show could be. It paid off, cementing its uncontested legacy as one of the absolute greats.