Best 80’s cartoons

Our 80’s Childhoods

I often like to think back of the cartoons that I used to watch as a kid, and reminisce over the awesome, “larger then life” stories they told. These were cartoons that inspired me, influenced my perceptions of right and wrong, and filled my head with fantasies of far away places and times. 80’s cartoons were the equivalent of the campfire story tellers that I had to go without (just like most urban kids of my generation). Or perhaps they were better yet, as they were just one cornerstone of an 80’s kid’s magical childhood ecosystem (Cartoons, Video games, Toys).

But there’s also a sense of sadness there, because I know that my son will grow up never experiencing the rise of Turtles and Transformers, or discovering hidden gems like Bionic six and Kidd Video. I’ve tried today’s cartoons, video games and toys, and you know what… They feel soulless somehow. Fake. As if all sharp edges were removed, leaving a designed by comity lukewarm bland porridge. It’s so frustrating to marvel at the level of quality of today’s entertainment, and find that in the process of growing up, it has lost it’s imagination.

Compiling the ultimate list of the best 80’s cartoons

I loved 80’s cartoons. They bounced between being original and corny, epic and lame, beautiful and frighting. It was a hot mess of everything our little brains weren’t ready for. That’s why over the next couple of months I will be compiling a grand list of my favorite and most nostalgic 80’s cartoons. (The part that says “months” should be read as “years”). I hope to cover up to 50 cartoons, before possibly branching out to great 90’s cartoons.

It’s going to be a homage to the way these artworks have enriched my youth (and that of many others). It will not be a countdown, ending with a winning number 1. I couldn’t possibly choose a winner from all that 80’s goodness.

Score system

Just to give myself some point of focus, I will be judging the cartoons based on the following qualities:
1. Nostalgic value
2. Character design
3. Animation
4. Opening theme
5. Music
6. Storyline
7. Awesomeness

1. Nostalgic value
The most subjective of all criteria, this will be different for everyone. I will look back at why I remember the cartoon and what effect it’s had on me over the years. Putting a score on the cartoons based on nostalgic value will inescapably result in “lower quality” shows to rank higher then they technically should, but I feel that nostalgia must be considered. It’s an important part of the score, if not THE most important part. After all, I would not even be making this list if it weren’t for nostalgia.

2. Characters
This is basically a score for the personality of the characters in the series. It’s based on design creativity, voice acting, consistency of (inter)actions, believability, character development, etc. The most important thing for characters, is that their actions may never be in service of the story line. I want to see them act according to their knowledge of the situation, and their personal morals and beliefs. I do NOT want to see them be a string puppet that moves mindlessly on the screen in order for the story to keep going.

3. Animation
Even though animation has evolved over time, some of the older 80’s cartoons delivered pretty stunning visuals. (Remember the Dino Riders’ laser effects of the first episodes (before they were nerfed)? Or the shiny metallic Silver Hawks? Or the amazing water effects in the Bionic Six Opening?). Animation will include anything from character movements, to background stills.

4. Opening theme
The intro is an absolutely crucial part of the final score. A good intro will play in your head for days and days and you will remember it a decade after watching your last episode of the cartoon. If an intro lasts a half minute, and the cartoon has 60 episodes, then you are essentially watching more then an entire episode length of the same animation and tune repeating!

5. Music and Sounds
Many 80’s cartoons had barely a moment of silence in them. All throughout the episode a background music would play to emphasize the action, suspense, comedy, or drama that was going on. Some cartoons got this right to a point where the ambient music was as fun to listen to as the main theme, while other cartoons just begged to be muted instantly. Usually, the sounds were nothing special, while some iconic sound effects like the Transformer’s “Chhr Chhr Chhr” have taken on a life of their own.

6. Storyline
This is about the setting of the story, and the way it evolves from beginning to middle to end. How creative were the writers’ ideas and how much sense does the story make, and the situations that the characters get into in the cartoon.

7. Awesomeness
The awesomeness of the show depends on a lot of little things. The impact of the characters’ actions, the epicness and scale of the cartoon universe, the character of the show, etc. All these are still a little subjective, but I think that most people would agree that for instance the Transformers cartoon should score a lot higher on awesomeness then Gobots. Essentially, we want to see the heroes beat the odds and win. So the challenges and bad guys have to post a realistic threat. At the same time we want to know that in the end the bad guys can actually be defeated. The more the cartoon has you sitting on the edge of your chair, the higher the awesomeness score.

Selecting the best of the 80’s cartoons

While doing some preliminary, I found out that some of my favorite cartoons were surprisingly not made in the 80’s but a little bit later. Batman: The Animated Series aired first in 1992 for instance, but just doesn’t feel like most 90’s cartoons to me, so may still give it a spot on my 80’s list.

Other shows that started in the 80’s kept on going way into the 90’s, like the Turtles that kept on going from 1987 to 1996. And after that, the show kept getting remakes of which the newest one in 2012. What I’d like to do, is add a buffer zone to my list, and just include every show that had a strong enough 80’s vibe, even if it did come out in 1990 / 1991. I won’t include The Tick (1994) for instance because it completely lacks the 80’s vibe due to its grungy atmosphere. So even though it’s a great cartoon to watch, I want to keep it on hold for now, and see if I do a 90’s Cartoons list one day. Same goes for the Thunder Lizards (1993) e.a.

You won’t find much anime there, simply because I don’t know enough about 80’s anime series. I watched only a few, like Sailor moon (I was like, 10 years old, OK), but skipped most episodes. But more importantly, those older anime series tend to freak me out. They are way abstract, usually more then a little bit terrifying, and half of the time gave me bad dreams. So, not re-watching any of those. The exceptions are Teknoman, because it was too awesome, and the Pizza cats, because they were too funny.

There will also be very little Marvell/DC comics cartoons there because they were all kind of similar and a bit too cheesy in my opinion. Fun to watch, but not very creative or memorable in the long run. How things have changes for the better these days, with shows like Young Justice.

The grand list of the best 80’s cartoons

(more or less sorted on good to bad cartoons in descending order)

Transformers Generation 1 (1985 – 1992)
Bionic Six (1987 – 1989)
Dungeons and Dragons (1983 – 1985)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 – 1996
SilverHawks 1986
The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin 1987
Adventures of the Gummi Bears 1985 – 1991
Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors 1985
Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers 1989 – 1990’n_Dale_Rescue_Rangers
Denver the last dinosaur 1988 – 1989,_the_Last_Dinosaur
Dino Riders 1988
Duck Tales 1987 – 1990
Jem and the holograms 1985 – 1988
Captain N: The Game Master1989 – 1991
Kidd Video 1984 – 1985
M.A.S.K. 1985 – 1986
C.O.P.S. 1988 – 1989
The World of David the Gnome 1985
Pole Position 1984
Starcom: The U.S. Space Force 1987
The real Ghostbusters 1986 – 1991
Alfred J. Kwak1989 – 1991
Camp Candy1989 – 1992
The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh 1988 – 1991
Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light 1987

Barely / never watched:
G.I. Joe 1985 – 1986
Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers 1986 – 1989
Gobots 1983 – 1987
Dinosaucers 1987
Mighty Orbots 1984
Lazer Tag Academy 1986 – 1987
Thundercats 1985 – 1989 –
Ulysses 31 1981 – 1982
Voltron 1984 – 1985
BraveStarr1987 – 1988
Ring raiders 1989
The Legend of Zelda 1989 – 1989
Inhumanoids 1986 –
Defenders of the Earth 1986 – 1987
Spiral Zone 1987
Centurions 1985 – 1987
Robotech 1985
Pryde of the X-Men 1989
Saber rider 1987 – 1988
She-Ra1985 – 1987

# Best of 90’s cartoons
I did watch:
Gargoyles 1994 – 1997
X-Men 1992 – 1997
Teknoman 1992 – 1993
Batman: The Animated Series 1992 – 1995
Samurai Pizza Cats 1990 – 1991
Spiderman: The Animated Series 1994 – 1998
The Tick 1994 – 1996
Bucky o’Hare 1991
Darkwing Duck 1991 – 1992
Captain planet 1990 – 1993
King Arthur and the Knights of Justice 1992 – 1993
Where on earth is Carmen SanDiego 1994 – 1999
Savage Dragon 1995 – 1996
Talespin 1990 – 1991
Animaniacs1993 – 1998
BattleTech 1994
Biker Mice from Mars1993 – 1996
James Bond Junior1991 – 1992
Tom & Jerry Kids Show 1990 – 1994
Iron Man 1994 – 1996
Action man 1995 – 1996
Fantastic Four 1994 – 1996
Mad Jack the pirate 1998 – 1999
Terrible Thunder Lizards 1993 – 1997
Tiny Toon Adventures 1990 – 1995
Earthworm Jim 1995 – 1996
The Incredible Hulk 1996 – 1997
Dexter’s Labratory 1996 – 1999
Johnny Bravo 1997 – 2004

Barely / never watched:
Mutant league 1994 – 1996
Spawn 1997 – 1999
Sonic SatAM 1993 – 1994
Mega Man 1994 – 1995
Space Ghost Coast to Coast1994
The Power Team 1990 – 1992
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog 1993 – 1996
Swat Kats 1993 – 1994
Bots Master1993 – 1994
Wild c.a.t.s 1994 – 1995
CyberSix 1999
Diabolik 1999 – 2001