Wow, I haven’t done a Top 13 list since 2013! Well, it’s about time that I rectify that! Today, we’ll be looking at the top 13 animated television shows that I grew up with. Animated films have been a part of many of our childhoods, but animated television shows have also been there for us as well. That’s why I decided to make this list as I haven’t really talked much about animated TV shows on this blog yet.
FYI, my list may differ from many people’s list as I didn’t have cable growing up, so I didn’t grow up with many classic animated shows such as those from the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, or Nickelodeon. Before I continue, let me make a couple of points:
1) The phrase, “grew up with”, is one that can have different meanings to different people. I’m defining it to refer to “TV shows that I was watching by the time I turned 13 years old”. So animated TV shows that I watched, but debuted after I turned 13, will NOT appear on this list. Neither will animated shows that debuted before I turned 13, but I didn’t start watching them until after I turned 13. In essence, this means that this is not a list of my favorite animated TV shows of all time, rather just a list of the ones I grew up watching.
2) How are these ranked? Well, I’ve ranked them via an average of how often I used to watch the show, how much I liked the show, and how much it impacted me. So it’s not primarily just in order of my favorites, but it takes those 3 qualifiers into consideration.
3) One show that I grew up with and was one of my favorites was Thomas the Tank Engine. The reason that it’s not on this list is that I’m not sure whether it would fall under the definition of “animation” or not. I know that now the show has a lot of animation in it, but when I used to watch it, it was mostly just live model trains with some eye movements here and there. Because of that, I don’t know whether this would be considered some non-traditional form of animation or just be live-action. So to keep things simple, it’s not on my list.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at my list! Why top 13? Well, why not?
#13: YOGI BEAR
Like many people, I grew up watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons and one character whom I watched a lot of was Yogi Bear. Although not the first Hanna-Barbera character ever created, Yogi Bear became the first breakout character of theirs. He appeared in a number of TV shows including The Yogi Bear Show, Yogi Bear & Friends, and Yogi’s Gang. Sadly, I’m not able to tell you from which show the Yogi Bear episodes I saw most of came as I was quite young at the time to pay attention to different television reincarnations and whatnot.
All I know is that I would love to watch any cartoon featuring the good-hearted, but “pic-a-nic” basket-loving bear with a moniker similar to a New York Yankee. It was great to see him plot to steal a human picnicker’s basket from the Jellystone National Park much to the chagrin of the Ranger Smith. Yogi also had a smaller companion, Boo-Boo, who preferred to stay out of trouble, but was still Yogi’s friend.
A live-action adaptation of this popular cartoon came out in 2010 with a CGI Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo, voiced by Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake, respectively. While not entirely horrible, it’s glad to know that we have the original cartoons to go back to whenever we want to see that “smarter than the average” bear!
#12: PBS KIDS BOOKWORM BUNCH (2000-2004)
This one is a bit of a cop-out as this was a programming block composed of multiple shows. But seeing as I used to almost always watch the entire block, I feel it’s a totally acceptable choice. The block was composed of six different shows that were all based on children’s books (as the title suggests).
In Timothy Goes to School, we’d follow the kindergarten raccoon named Timothy at school and see what he and his other animal friends were up to.
In Marvin the Tap-Dancing Horse, we’d follow a carnival that had a grouchy tiger, an emotional elephant, and as the title suggests, a tap-dancing horse.
In Maurice Sendak’s Seven Little Monsters, we looked at a family of seven monsters, all with different personalities, along with their Polish “mother”, Mom.
Then there was George Shrinks, a show about your average ten-year-old and the adventures he has….while being about as tall as a LEGO figurine!
There was also Corduroy, a show about a teddy bear missing a button on his overalls. The teddy bear then comes to life and soon finds an owner to be best friends with.
Finally, there was Elliot Moose. Although some segments of this show were live-action (performers in costumes), others were animated and showcased the adventures that the titular moose had with his fellow animal friends.
Anyone else besides me remember these shows?
#11: THE BUSY WORLD OF RICHARD SCARRY (1994-1997)
Do kids nowadays even know about this series? Richard Scarry was an author who wrote many children’s books for kids, many of them taking place in a town called Busytown, inhabited by anthropomorphic animals.
In the 1990s, these characters got their own TV series in The Busy World of Richard Scarry. There’s not all that much to say about the show except that it featured characters such as Huckle Cat, Lowly Worm, Mr. Fixit, Mr. Frumble, and Sgt. Murphy. Each episode was composed of three segments with many of them having titles such as The Best Birthday Present Ever, The Biggest Catch Ever, The Best Babysitter Ever, and The Best Mistake Ever.
The show was enjoyable, educational, and immersed you into their world. You should definitely check it out (or the original books) if you haven’t already!
#10: CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG (2000-2003)
When it comes to famous fictional dogs, Clifford is one who literally stands far above the rest! Based on a series of books by Norman Bridwell, Clifford the Big Red Dog featured….a big red dog named Clifford. And when we say big, we mean the guy’s as big as a house! His size actually forced his owners (eight-year-old Emily Elizabeth and her parents) to move from their city apartment to an island where he would have more space!
This wasn’t the first adaptation of the Bridwell books though. An educational direct-to-video series had been made in the 80s which I also watched. But, this 2000-2003 TV series would be the version that people would remember more. And why not? The animation was clean and inviting, the stories and characters were charming, and the show featured a voice cast that included the late John Ritter as Clifford himself! What more could you want?
#9: SAGWA, THE CHINESE SIAMESE CAT (2001-2002)
Based on a children’s novel by the author, Amy Tan, Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat was about a family of royal cats who lived in the Magistrate’s palace during the Qing Dynasty. Sagwa was the main character, but also had a brother, sister, and parents. They also had a clumsy-flying bat friend named Fu-Fu.
The human characters included the “Foolish Magistrate”, his status-conscious wife, their three daughters, a cook, and the official “Reader of the Rules”. Each episode taught your usual childhood morals, but what set this show apart from others was that each episode also taught a little bit about Chinese culture and customs.
If I had to pick a favorite cartoon series that has a continual lasting impact on me and whose multiple adaptations I still watch, it would have to be Scooby-Doo. Debuting in 1969, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! featured four teenagers (Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy) who would solve mysteries along with their Frank Sinatra-song-name-inspired Great Dane, Scooby-Doo. The show was a hit for Hanna-Barbera and prompted them to make more shows with similar formats.
I always loved seeing mysteries being solved and seeing this group tackle them was always interesting. I loved Fred as the leader (even though he got way stupider over the years), Daphne as the fashionable one (although people unfairly call her pointless), Velma as the smart one, and Shaggy as the funny, scaredy-cat, foodie one.
There have been 12 Scooby-Doo TV series as of 2017 including the darker, story-arc-filled Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and the currently running, lighter-toned, but oddly animated Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!. But, the Scooby-Doo shows that I grew up with were mostly Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show/The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries. Up to now, these characters continue to appear in direct-to-video animated films and whilst live-action theatrical films have been made of the franchise, the franchise will make its animated theatrical film debut on September 21, 2018 with the Warner Animation Group film, S.C.O.O.B. You may rest assured that I’ll do my best to be there opening night!
#7: DRAGON TALES (1999-2005)
Debuting in 1999, Dragon Tales was about two young siblings, Emmy and Max, who find a dragon scale in their new house with an inscription written on it. When they hold the dragon scale and recite the inscription, they get transported to Dragonland, a land inhabited by (mostly) friendly dragons.
I remember coming home from school to watch this show as it aired in the afternoon for me. What sort of wisdom would Quetzal teach us today? Would the two-headed dragons, Zak and Wheezie, fight or get along? Would Cassie get sad and shrink? Would Ord get hurt and turn invisible? What do dragonberries taste like? Do dragons exist in an alternate dimension? How come Emmy and Max’s parents never notice them missing? Am I looking too deeply into all of this? So many questions!
#6: THE WOODY WOODPECKER SHOW (1957-1958, 1970-1972)
In terms of what you’d consider “classic cartoons”, the cartoon I grew up watching the most was Woody Woodpecker! Created by Walter Lantz, the character started out as a sort of screwball character in the 40s and later evolved into a more clever-ish character a la Bugs Bunny.
Woody would often be too smart for the “baddies” trying to get him such as Buzz Buzzard or Gabby Gator. He’d often annoy other characters such as Wally Walrus. The show also featured cartoons starring other characters such as Andy Panda and Chilly Willy. But it was Woody Woodpecker (and his famous laugh) that people would remember most!
#5: BLUE’S CLUES (1996-2006)
I think one of the things that made me love mysteries so much was the iconic show, Blue’s Clues. The show featured a real person, Steve, played by Steve Burns, but set against an animated background filled with animated characters. One of the animated characters was a pet puppy that he owned named Blue.
In each episode there would be some mystery like “What would Blue want for her birthday?”. Since Blue couldn’t talk, she would leave her paw print on 3 clues throughout the show that Steve (along with us, the viewers) would try to find in order to solve the mystery. Meanwhile, we would be treated with meeting other wonderful characters, hearing some catchy tunes, and more. Heck, up to this day I often sing the Mailtime song whenever I pick up the mail!
And at the end of each episode, Steve, who wrote down each clue in his “handy dandy notebook” would sit in his “thinking chair” and try to use the clues to solve the mystery…with our help, of course! I’ve never seen another interactive children’s show like that with an objective like solving a mystery. I got a bit old for the show when Steve left and was replaced by another guy named Joe, so I can’t comment on him, but I feel everyone should watch Blue’s Clues at least once in their lives!
#4: LIBERTY’S KIDS (2002-2003)
Ever since I was young, I’ve always been fascinated by history; it’s one of my favorite academic subjects to study. And being an American, I’ve always had a special interest in American history. So when Liberty’s Kids, a show depicting the American Revolution and what led up to it, debuted, I was ready for it!
It’s one of the best made children’s history-based shows that I’ve ever seen. It showcases multiple events during the American Revolution (the Boston Tea Party, the Intolerable Acts, Paul Revere’s ride, Lexington and Concord, the Shot Heard ‘Round the World, various battles, Declaration of Independence, etc.) as well as multiple historical figures during this time (George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, Benedict Arnold, Nathan Hale, Alexander Hamilton, Ethan Allen, Colonel Cornwallis, Marquis de Lafayette, Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Freeman, etc.). The way we saw these events were through the eyes of three kids: teenage American reporter James Hiller, teenage British reporter Sarah Phillips, and young French printing press worker, Henri.
There were two factors about the show that I really loved, in particular. The first was that it had many celebrities voicing the historical figures AND their vocal performances were actually quite good! You had Walter Cronkite, Charles Shaughnessy, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Liam Neeson, Aaron Carter, Michael York, Ralph Fiennes, Annette Bening, Maria Shriver, Billy Crystal, Michael Douglas, Ben Stiller, Warren Buffet, Yolanda King, etc. Having the celebrities voice these characters further cemented the fact that we’re all American and/or share part of its history!
The other factor of the show that I really loved was that they didn’t paint everything as black-and-white and showed things as they were. They mentioned how the so-called “Boston Massacre” was just a couple of drunks causing trouble, rather than the misconception that it was a villainous attack from the British onto Americans. Sarah, in the beginning of the show, was a staunch supporter of the British crown before joining the Americans’ side. Thomas Jefferson is shown to have slaves even though he writes about freedom for all. Benedict Arnold’s decision to leave the American side for the British’s side is shown to be something that required a lot of thought on his part, rather than just being a backstabbing villain. If you haven’t already checked out the show, go ahead and do so!
#3: CYBERCHASE (2002-2015 or possibly 2002-present)
You may ask yourself, who would wanna watch a show about math? Well, this nerd right here would…and did! Cyberchase was an animated show that was about three kids (Matt, Jackie, and Inez) who were often transported to Cyberspace, another dimension (like a digital universe) ruled by a computer called Motherboard. But, Motherboard has been infected with a virus by her now-evil former assistant known as The Hacker! And it’s up to the kids to find an “Encryptor Chip” to cure Motherboard of her virus whilst preventing The Hacker from finding it first and taking over Cyberspace.
Each episode dealt with some mathematical concept be it capacity, estimation, measurement, geometry, tessellations, fractions, area, bar graphs, probability, etc. And you never felt like it was school, because the characters and the environment you were in were colorful and interesting enough to make you feel like you were just watching a regular animated entertainment show.
Did I mention that Christopher Lloyd was the voice of The Hacker? And that Gilbert Gottfried voices a digital “cybird” named Digit? If those aren’t reasons enough for liking the show, I don’t know what are!
#2: ARTHUR (1996-present)
There’s not a single American kid who grew up in the 90s who did NOT grow up on this show! I challenge you to find me one!
Based on a series of books written by a guy whose name I kinda stole for my online pen name/pseudonym, Arthur was about a bunch of anthropomorphic animals, in particular, those (perpetually) in 3rd Grade. Arthur was the main character, an aardvark who had many friends including Buster, the good-natured one oft to make jokes and believe in aliens, Brain, the smart one in the group, Binky, the one who started out as a bully but became friendly with the gang as time went on, Muffy, the rich girl who’s a bit spoiled but still likable, and Francine, the athletic tomboy Jewish girl among others.
The show’s so popular that it’s still going on to this day! It’s the 2nd longest-running animated show ever after The Simpsons! What can I say except, what a wonderful time of day!
AND MY #1 ANIMATED TV SHOW I GREW UP WITH IS
THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS (1994-1997)
Yes, this was my show growing up! Based on the book series of the same name by Joanna Cole, the show was about the best elementary school class ever! What made it awesome? Well, the kids were great characters: Carlos (the one making puns all the time), Arnold (the worrisome one who always knows “he should have stayed home today”), Ralphie (the chubby-ish athletic one), Wanda (the tomboyish one known for calling her hesitant friends “weasly wimps”), Phoebe (the demure, good-natured one who constantly compares her class to that of her old school), Dorothy Ann (the smart bookworm who reads nonfiction books for some reason and often quotes “according to her research”), and Keesha and Tim (the….African-Americans who….um…..I guess were the most “matter-of-fact” ones, I guess?).
But even better than them was their teacher, Ms. Frizzle! I mean, where can I get my own Ms. Frizzle? Voiced by Lily Tomlin, she was super energetic and always encouraging her class to “take chances, get messy, and make mistakes”. She was always ready to answer any question or solve any problem.
How exactly did she solve problems? Enter the magic school bus! Ms. Frizzle owned her own school bus that had “magical” qualities: it was able to transform into anything, shrink, grow in size, etc. Throughout the series’ run, Ms. Frizzle took her class on field trips inside the human body, into outer space, inside a volcano, inside a chicken, inside a computer, and even back to the era of the dinosaurs.
The show also had a number of celebrity voice appearances throughout its run including Tyne Daly, Sherman Helmsley, Dan Marino, Ed Asner, Dabney Coleman, Dolly Parton, Wynonna Judd, Malcolm McDowell, Eartha Kitt, Robby Benson, Rita Moreno, Carol Channing, Alex Trebek, and Tony Randall among others.
Thankfully, newer generations will get to relive the experience of this show (or at least similar) as a reboot of the show is supposed to be airing later this year. The show will feature Ms. Frizzle’s younger sister, Fiona Frizzle, voiced by Kate McKinnon, and focus on more modern scientific things that didn’t exist back then like robotics, wearable technologies, camera technologies, etc. I hope this keeps the charm and interest of the original show and if so, I’d love to watch it!
Thank you all for reading my list and hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you think of these 13 shows as well as the theme songs/intros of each that I posted? Also what animated TV shows did you grow up watching? Let me know in the comments below!