Generation Z and the later-born Millenials had a plethora of great TV to watch growing up, spread through several channels. The 2000s served to have a wide host of good quality shows, as cartoons got more experimental and bizarre, and likewise, many adopted long-form storytelling and were more serious. It’s time to take a look at some of the classics.
This list will include some entries that technically started in the late ’90s, but the majority of their run was in the 2000s. It won’t include anything that started in the late 2000s and ran for the majority of the 2010s.
Updated on November 22nd, 2020 by Zach Gass: While the 90s might be the golden era of animated TV shows for a multitude of fans, there’s still something to be said for the generation that came after. With legions of new shows, themes, realms, and characters from the likes of Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and others, many of these hits from the 2000s have become animated icons in their own time. From superheroes to resurrected retro hits, there are more than a few shining stars surfing through the decade.
15 Dave the Barbarian (7.1)
One of Disney Channel’s forgotten favorites, Dave the Barbarian was one of the best parodies of the fantasy genre ever put to animation. With satire on works like Conan the Barbarian, Lord of the Rings, Norse mythology, and even Disney’s own animated masterpieces, the series is perfect for any fantasy fan looking for a quick laugh.
Think of it as Disney’s animated attempt at Monty Python and the Holy Grail, only with a more family-friendly twist. While it may not be the best and brightest, Dave and the rest of Udrogoth have more than a few fun adventures to go around.
14 The Fairly OddParents (7.2)
Fairly OddParents had a great run until the show began to suffer from exhaustive attempts to reinvent itself and stay fresh by adding in new characters (including a talking dog). In its classic era, the show was one of Nickelodeon’s strongest programs in its roster. Timmy Turner was a pretty wholesome and, at times, overly ambitious child, but he never came across as obnoxious.
Nearly the exact description could go to Cosmo, who was a man-child, but ever loveable, and who was a good balance to the more strict and intelligent Wanda. The show had a solid supporting cast, great comedy, and surprisingly good-hearted messages in its long run.
13 Kim Possible (7.2)
Most cartoons (and media) overwhelmingly feature male protagonists and are more male-friendly, but Kim Possible made it a focal point to play with that idea, helping usher in more female-led shows. Kim was a realistic teenage girl with a double life as a (sort of) secret agent, alongside her bumbling sidekick, Ron.
Constantly countering them were several villains, but the most common encounters were with Dr. Drakken and Shego. It was always made clear that Shego was the real threat, something Drakken rarely noticed. The show had long-form storytelling and built up Ron and Kim’s friendship very gradually over time before opening the idea of a romantic relationship.
12 Code Lyoko (7.3)
Code Lyoko is an interesting sci-fi epic concerning a group of boarding school students, a friendly elf-like AI, and an evil supercomputer program that seeks to destroy the human race. It’s like if Tron met Chrono Trigger. This French-made anime series made its way over the Atlantic and was introduced to American audiences through Cartoon Network’s Miguzi run.
With four seasons containing 97 episodes and even a recent live-action sequel series, audiences still haven’t gotten their fill of watching Jeremy, Aelita, Odd, Ulrich, and Yumi take on the corrupted technological forces of X.A.N.A.
11 The Batman (7.3)
To be fair, any Batman series trying to follow on the leather heels of Batman: The Animated Series is going to have its work cut out for it. That being said, The Batman did at least try something completely original with its version of Gotham’s Caped Crusader. It even reinvented near-forgotten villains like Calendar Man, Ragdoll, and Firefly into a more modern Rogues Gallery for Batman to bash over and over again.
Was it as good as the ’90s series that came before? Debatable. But no one could ever deny that this series wasn’t creative in its design, delivery, and depth.
10 Ed, Edd N Eddy (7.4)
Ed, Edd N Eddy mastered the art of “stupid” humor better than any other cartoon. The show was brilliant in its, frankly, insane approach to entertainment and slapstick comedy, which was over the top, even for a cartoon.
Thus far, it remains Cartoon Network’s longest-running original series, clocking in nearly 11 years of laughter. The show’s constant scams and bizarre cast of characters almost function like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia for kids…with no limitations of human actors.
9 House of Mouse (7.5)
Before Captain America: Civil War became known as the biggest crossover event in Disney’s history, there was House of Mouse. Hosted by Mickey Mouse and staffed by Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy, the House of Mouse itself is a nightclub where all the famous faces of Disney come out to play. Everyone from Snow White to Simba makes an appearance in the show, making it a regular who’s who of Disney royalty.
With so many new faces to the Disney name in recent years, there has never been a better time to bring this show back for modern audiences. Who wouldn’t want to see the cast of Big Hero 6 mingle with the Zootopia crew or some of Arendelle’s royalty?
8 The Grim Adventures Of Billy And Mandy (7.7)
Billy And Mandy is such a weird premise that somehow managed to spiral out of control and get even weirder. Two kids manage to get the Grim Reaper bound to them as their best friend forever, and well…hijinks ensure. For an era that was filled with goth and emo kids, Billy And Mandy made that phase look cool, while also playing with the ridiculousness of it.
The downright nasty nature of the show and contrast between the brilliant and savage Mandy and idiotic and heartful Billy with the laidback and pragmatic Grim made for a show that really sealed Cartoon Network’s reputation for willing to get darker with its art.
7 Teen Titans (7.8)
Cartoon Network was always a bit more daring with its programming than many of its rivals, and Teen Titans was a great example of crafting tales for a younger audience that will still be mature and structured. Like most of the entries on this list, the long-form storytelling was a great boon to the show, which tended to focus on a different member of the DC superhero team each season. It blended American style humor with Japanese style animation and was quite unique in that it focused on mature teenage characters and wasn’t a complete drag at all times, even with Raven involved.
The series would get a spinoff in the form of Teen Titans Go!, featuring the original voice cast. It isn’t bad, in fact, it’s quite funny, but it has earned the ire of some fans of the original because the first series never got a proper sendoff.
6 Phineas And Ferb (7.9)
Phineas and Ferb was a show that mastered the art of formula and running gags, and the more often repetition and self-awareness were present, the funnier it would get…to an extent. The show’s formula would be Phineas and Ferb creating grand adventures while their sister Candance tried to bust them and get them in trouble (and prove she wasn’t insane).
Meanwhile, their pet platypus, Perry, would face off against the somewhat sinister and utterly charming Dr. Doofenshmirtz. And yes, each episode featured music, and great music at that, which must have been a very hard task to accomplish. While the main story was always decent, the Perry side segments always stole the show. While the show was starting to get stretched out, it became aware of the fact and ended on a solid note.
5 Spectacular Spider-Man (8.1)
While Teen Titans didn’t get a complete sendoff, it at least wrapped up some of its storylines with a film. Tragically, the even better superhero show Spectacular Spider-Man never made it past two seasons after Disney bought Marvel. Spectacular Spider-Man might well be the best adaptation of Spider-Man put to screen, and that’s in a world that now includes the near-perfect Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse.
The series knew exactly how to tackle the character (who has been adapted an exhausting amount of times) and balanced classic and new ideas masterfully.
4 Spongebob Squarepants (8.1)
There’s no current cartoon on Earth quite as impactful as Spongebob Squarepants has been. It has sealed itself into pop culture in every way possible, with seemingly monthly memes, and has even gotten a successful Broadway musical. Created by the late Stephen Hillenburg, the show was a modern Pee Wee’s Playhouse style extravaganza that loved to blend absurdity and surrealism in its episodes and carried manic energy. It has been enjoyed by both adults and children of all ages and enjoyed being one of the longest-running American animated series, one of the most popular (and profitable) of all time, and is still going.
Unfortunately, following a few seasons after the odyssey that was The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, the series never returned to its golden era and has overstayed its welcome. It also was announced that several spinoffs were in development following the passing of Hillenburg, who specifically did not want any spinoffs. Still, the good years of Hillenburg’s creation were a blessing, and even a few episodes following the movie were pretty decent.
3 Samurai Jack (8.5)
Long ago in a distant land, there was a show that pushed the boundaries as to what a kids’ animated series could do. Samurai Jack blended together movie-quality action sequences with some of the most incredible animation ever seen on Cartoon Network. The saga of the titular samurai’s battle with the insidious demon, Aku, as he travels through time to reach his home in the past is as exciting and action-packed as it sounds, and that’s putting it briefly.
Taking more than a few cues from anime, superhero cartoons, and gobs of different mythologies, Samurai Jack is more than impressively deep in its presentation and storytelling.
2 Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (8.7)
As part of the DC Animated Universe, Justice League expanded the roster of characters and pretty much puts the live-action DC universe to shame.
Even though the “Big Three” (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) were fantastic, the supporting cast was so present and focused upon that the “Big Three” didn’t feel like the only members worth caring about, which was great. Obscure villains and heroes also appeared, becoming more familiar with general audiences, and the show’s refusal to talk down to its audience made for an incredible saga.
1 Avatar: The Last Airbender (9.2)
Avatar is a show that’s beyond impressive in its execution. The series wasn’t perfect, but the results and storytelling are so good that the occasional imperfections are irrelevant. The imaginative and unique world that was created, wherein people could “bend” elements, was an engaging setting, and one that was used to its full advantage in every episode. The show featured a cast of extremely iconic and well-rounded characters, and each episode would build off of the last to further their own growth along with the overarching story.
Avatar‘s showcase of Aang and his friends over time makes for one of the most heartwarming tales imaginable; the side story of Prince Zuko and his Uncle Iroh is also very immersive and complex. The show also hosted Azula, one of the most truly threatening and competent characters to feature on-screen. Avatar suffered one of the worst TV to film adaptations in human history, and now it’s slated for another live-action adaptation, this time as a Netflix series. The long-form storytelling should work better on that platform, but even if it’s bad, it won’t matter, because the original is already present and raised the bar for animated storytelling. Who needs live-action?
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