List of the Best 80s Cartoons
With reboots of popular 80s cartoons such as Voltron and She-Ra, it’s no wonder that the internet has shown a recent craze for all things ’80s. While not every cartoon debuted in the 80’s has a reboot, in this article we pay homage to the cartoons that not only made our weekend mornings but also had a lasting legacy on all forms of animation today.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)
Regardless if you grew up watching this specific series as a child or watching later series of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has developed into a household name with fans from a variety of age ranges. The basic premise of the TMNT franchise, with few deviations in later series, starts with the 1987 release: four turtles bought from a pet store accidentally drop into the sewer, and encountering an unknown chemical, mutate into humanoid forms. They are then adopted by a humanoid rat named Splinter who teaches them traditional Japanese ninjutsu while combatting Shredder—the leader of the Foot Clan and bent on world domination.
Though the original source material of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise was grittier and had a darker atmosphere, the 1987 release of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles saw a total child-friendly makeover, including a trove of cheesy 80’s jokes and a catchy theme song. It was the 1987 series of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise that specifically propelled our favorite shell-kicking gang into pop culture stardom, and even today the show goes on with the 2018 release of Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
In the same lieu of anthropomorphic protagonists, instead of turtles, ThunderCats follows the adventures of aliens who are both human and cat-like. The beginning of ThunderCats starts with a retreat: the planet Thundera has just met its demise as its last residents, the ThunderCats, flee the encroaching army of the Mutants of Plun-Darr, who seek the ThunderCat’s ultimate sword: the mystic Sword of Omens which is believed to contain the source of the ThunderCat’s power. The surviving ThunderCats eventually land on a planet named Third Earth, and even with the Mutants of Plun-Darr on their trail, they encounter another foe: Mumm-Ra. With the support of Third Earth’s friendly citizens, the ThunderCats must not only rebuild a home base but also combat the combined forces of the Mutants of Plun-Darr and Mumm-Ra lest the legendary Sword of Omens falls into the wrong hands.
At a glance, the core structure of ThunderCat’s premise is one commonly seen in fantasy and sci-fi shows alike, but what makes the show special is its unique protagonist: the leader of the ThunderCats, Lion-O, who has a child’s mentality in a grown-up body thanks to the effects of space travel. Though the last official ThunderCats animation release was in 2011, a 2020 release is just beyond the horizon much to the anticipation of long-time fans and curious cartoon hobbyists.
The Smurfs (1981)
A darling of among French language comics, the Smurfs cartoon was first released in 1981. With over 250 episodes and syndication of eight years, though there hasn’t been an official Smurfs cartoon release in more than three decades, the image of our humble, blue protagonists is still prevalent and popular in pop culture today. The storyline of this franchise is relatively simple: The Smurfs are blue-skinned creatures who live as a colony in mushroom houses deep in the woods. Though the majority of the Smurfs look the same, wearing white trousers and a white pointed cap, the protagonist of the show, Papa Smurf, has a distinctive design due to his beard and his red clothes. Episodes of the cartoon not only depict the daily lives of the Smurfs but also the consistent foiling of Gargamel’s plans. Gargamel, an evil wizard whose reasons to kidnap or murder the Smurfs range between revenge and just simple pure evil, is the main antagonist of the show, and typically it is up to Papa Smurf and crew to bungle his nefarious schemes.
Even though there hasn’t been a recent cartoon release for the Smurfs franchise in past years, fans of the Smurfs and those looking into getting into the fandom are in for a treat: for those who aren’t satisfied with the film releases, a 3D cartoon release is set to come out in the year 2021 with new stories about our beloved Smurfs’ adventures.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983)
Popularized in younger generations by a variety of memes, whether it’s He-Man singing or Skeletor’s comical albeit slightly nefarious cackle, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a story set in the fantastical land of Eternia, where magic runs strong and the region’s mythical lore is a core part of the franchise’s plot. Prince Adam, son of Eternia’s rulers King Randor and Queen Marlena, must use the mystical Sword of Power to combat Skeletor. Skeletor is the series’ main protagonist whose ambition drives him to attempt to conquer Castle Grayskull and secure his rule of Eternia as well as the entire universe if possible. There is no scene more iconic in representing the He-Man franchise than Prince Adam holding up the Sword of Power, shouting “By the power of Grayskull!”, and transforming into the legendary He-Man.
Unsurprisingly, considering how She-Ra: Princess of Power just recently received a re-boot, the He-Man franchise as well will be having a new cartoon release. In 2019, Netflix announced at Comic-Con that it will be releasing the newest entry in the He-Man franchise. Fans both old and young alike have something to look forward to as Netflix begins its production of Masters of the Universe: Revelation in the next several years.
With a title font style that looks strikingly close to the Indiana Jones franchise, DuckTales combines the elements of thrilling adventure and treasure hunting all into one family-fun cartoon. The cartoon mostly follows the exploits of Scrooge McDuck and his nephews: Huey, Dewey, and Louie. While Scrooge McDuck is at first hesitant to take care of his nephews, seeing their resourcefulness and brains makes him warm up to the ducklings. Between searching for treasure and increasing Scrooge McDuck’s wealth, our four protagonists must also face off against a variety of antagonists who either want to steal Scrooge McDuck’s wealth or supersede it altogether.
This cartoon release would not only inspire a video game release on the NES, but also a 1990 film that many folks from Generation X and Y could fondly recall. Currently, since 2017, DuckTales has an ongoing cartoon reboot and can be watched on the Disney Channel.
Inspector Gadget (1982)
An American-Canadian-French collaboration, Inspector Gadget is a franchise focused on the adventures and crime-fighting endeavors of a police inspector named Gadget who also happens to be a cyborg with a wide range of powerful technology installed in his android body. However, the only catch to this seemingly awesome advantage is his gullible and dimwitted nature. The majority of the actual detective work is done by his niece Penny and her dog Brain as Gadget attempts to investigate evil organization MAD and its leader Dr. Claw. While Inspector Gadget may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, he is a character who is especially protective and loving of his family, and in a majority of the episodes, he somehow inadvertently thwarts Dr. Claw and his evil schemes without really planning on it.
Besides a live-action film from 1999, the most cartoon release for the Inspector Gadget franchise was in 2015, featuring CGI animation and a few storyline changes—the 2015 release shows Penny as Gadget’s assistant and a new character, Talon, who is Dr. Claw’s nephew and Penny’s crush.
Alvin and the Chipmunks (1983)
Following the prevalent theme found in cartoons of anthropomorphic protagonists, Alvin and the Chipmunks is about the three chipmunk brothers Alvin, Simon, and Theodore who are adopted by songwriter David “Dave” Seville and their various everyday adventures. Each chipmunk brother has their distinctive personality—Alvin is the leader of the group and a musician, Simon is the more responsible chipmunk as well as the brains of the trio, and Theodore is the clumsy but lovable brother. The cartoon series also had a trio of sister chipmunks to complement the brothers—Brittany, Jeanette, and Eleanor. While the cartoon had moderately long syndication, running from 1983 to 1990, the episodes of its eighth and final season were spoofs of well-known films such as King Kong.
Besides its seven-year long syndication and eight seasons, the popularity of this series spawned not only a film during the cartoon’s lifespan but also several television specials. Though the 1980’s version of Alvin and the Chipmunks has ended, the franchise still had multiple films released in the next following years as well as a new cartoon release from 2015 that is still ongoing today.
The Real Ghostbusters (1986)
Who’re you gonna call? Ghostbusters!
One of the rare cartoons created as a spin-off of a film, the Real Ghostbusters continues the ghost-fighting endeavors of paranormal investigators Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Egon Spengler, Dr. Ray Stantz, and Winston Zeddemore from the 1986 American comedy film. We also see appearances from characters such as Janine Melnitz, the secretary, as well as new characters like Slimer, who is now the mascot of the Ghostbusters crew.
The cartoon was also the source of a legal dispute as Filmation released a cartoon titled Ghostbusters, and thus the cartoon adaptation of one of our most favorite films was named Real Ghostbusters albeit in a slightly snarky comeback-like style.
While the last cartoon release of the Ghostbusters franchise was in 1997, Extreme Ghostbusters, the popularity of the cartoon would lead to video game releases on the Sega Genesis and the NES as well as an arcade game. For the die-hard fans, regardless if you got into the franchise from the movies or the cartoon, there is currently a new movie in the works slated for release in 2020.
The Simpsons (1989)
With over 667 episodes as of the writing of this article and counting, the Simpsons are not only one of the most iconic cartoon franchises in television history but also currently the longest-running television franchise as well. Though the episodes first revolved around the antics of the Simpsons family, consisting of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, the Simpsons franchise would go on to spoof multiple franchises as well as develop a reputation for predicting the future with frightening accuracy. (For example, the election of Donald Trump as president, the U.S. win against Sweden in curling during the 2018 Olympics, and the invention of the smartwatch.)
Though the Simpsons were released near the end of the 80’s, it’s a franchise that has aged well beyond the sliver of the decade it was born in. Despite slight adjustments to its animation style, the cartoon has become both a mainstay staple in households worldwide as well as a spring well of source material for memes and internet shenanigans galore.