There’s a lot to love about the ’90s. And one thing from the final decade of the Twentieth Century that people are especially nostalgic about is the cartoons. It was a golden age of animation, where cartoons were no longer seen as just a way to distract kids. It was a time where cartoons became a true art form, with so many classic shows debuting and becoming classics for both kids and adults. Here are 20 of the best cartoons of the ’90s that you can watch online right now.
The Powerpuff Girls
As the theme song so succinctly explains, Professor Utonium was trying to create the perfect little girl using a mixture of “sugar, spice, and everything nice” but after accidentally adding Chemical X, he ended up with three super-powered kindergarteners. Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup balance trying to save Townsville from the forces of evil with everyday trials and tribulations of five-year-olds, including losing teeth, security blankets, and, of course, bickering with your siblings.
The Powerpuff Girls is streaming on HBO Max.
SpongeBob SquarePants aired in the final year of the ’90s but it was such a massive hit right out of the gate, that it has to be on this list. Just as the ’90s animation boom was seemingly waning, this anthropomorphic sponge spurred its revival with a blend of sincerity and off-the-walls absurdity. The show proved to be such a massive hit that it is still running to this day but there’s a certain magic to the early episodes that can’t quite be replicated.
SpongeBob SquarePants is streaming on Paramount+.
The premise here is refreshingly simple: Dexter is a boy genius who creates elaborate experiments in a secret laboratory behind the bookshelf in his room. But his plans are almost always foiled by his sister Dee Dee, whose hyperactive enthusiasm sends everything off the rails. The show was a major force in the animation boom in the ’90s and remains extremely watchable over two decades later.
Dexter’s Laboratory is streaming on HBO Max.
There can’t be a list of ’90s cartoons without The Simpsons. While the series started in the late ’80s and is still running to this day, it’s golden era is unquestionably during the ’90s. The show was not just popular, it was a cultural phenomenon the likes of which we’ll likely never see again. You can put on pretty much any episode from this decade and find yourself laughing at the rapid-fire jokes and iconic characters.
The Simpsons is streaming on Disney+.
Recess really stands out is its elaborate world-building, as Third Street Elementary is shown to have created its own society that includes a class system and social norms that are respected by all of the students. Through our lead characters, we get to learn more and more about this intricate world and the pratfalls that we all experience living in a society, even one that only exists during school hours.
Recess is streaming on Disney+.
The Warner siblings, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, live in the Warner Bros. Water Tower and get into all sorts of wacky hi-jinks. That’s really all you need to know. The loose premise of the show was ultimately to its benefit, as it allowed for a variety of characters to be featured without needing to explain the logic. But the main reason The Animaniacs remains a cult classic is that it serves as a masterclass in comedy, as it manages to put satire, absurdism, slapstick, irreverence, innuendos, and every other form of humor you can imagine into every episode.
The Animaniacs is streaming on Hulu.
Batman: The Animated Series
When people discuss the best onscreen version of Batman, they often overlook The Animated Series. That’s a big mistake, as the cartoon show is every bit as good as any big screen adaptation of the dark knight. In fact, it could be argued that none of the movies do as good of a job exploring the character of Bruce Wayne as you see through the ambitious and thrilling storytelling you see in this series.
Batman: The Animated Series is streaming on HBO Max.
Daria got her start as a recurring character on Beavis & Butt-Head but this misanthropic, acerbic teen eventually became enough of a fan-favorite to land her own spin-off series. Her cynical worldview is juxtaposed perfectly with the idyllic facade of Lawndale, the suburban town that she is forced to exist in despite her open disdain for everything about it. It’s a show that was way ahead of its time and the titular character remains a beloved icon.
Daria is streaming on Paramount+.
What goes on inside the mind of a toddler? It’s a question we’ve all asked and according to Rugrats, the answer is expansive world-building and thrilling conquests. More than anything, Rugrats feels like a celebration of the power of imagination, as Tommy leads his friends on epic adventures without ever needing to leave their backyard. It’s that adventurous spirit that resonates so much with kids from every generation.
Rugrats is streaming on Paramount +.
It’s hard to imagine now but there was a time where superheroes weren’t the stars of the most popular movies and TV shows. But there were signs of the impending superhero cultural explosion, including this groundbreaking series focusing on Professor X and his team of super-powered mutants. The X-Men series is still considered a trail-blazing cartoon in terms of serialized storytelling and exploring more mature and complex issues.
X-Men is streaming on Disney+.
While the ’90s was a time where animation got increasingly detached from reality, Hey Arnold! was a show that remained pretty grounded compared to a lot of its counterparts. Arnold is a normal kid who faces normal problems that never seem to become too high-stakes, liking going to his first school dance or his pet running way from home. The show’s ability to reflect the life of a typical kid is part of its enduring charm, as every kid can relate to Arnold trying to figure out who he is with some lighthearted adventures.
Hey Arnold! is streaming on Paramount+.
Coming-of-age stories are a staple of kid’s entertainment but very few cartoons do them with the level of thoughtfulness and sensitivity you find in Doug. The titular Doug is shown to be a smart and kind preteen who is still trying to find his place in the world while dealing with romance, his own insecurities, and his own active imagination. The series also earns bonus points for its banger of a theme song, which is guaranteed to be stuck in your head for days after you watch an episode.
Doug is streaming on Disney+.
Pinky and the Brain
Every episode of Pinky and the Brain revolves around the two genetically-modified lab rats doing the same thing: trying to take over the world. Well, that’s not entirely true. Brain, the megalomaniacal leader, is the only trying to take over the world, while Pinky, his dim-witted sidekick, is just along for the ride. But no matter how ingenious of a plan Brain concocts, it inevitably backfires, leaving the two right back where they started.
Pinky and the Brain is streaming on Hulu.
The Magic School Bus
You know what would have made school a lot more fun? If every day you got to go on a field trip in a magical school bus that could time travel, change shape, or really do whatever you needed it to do in order to teach you a lesson. There have been reboots of The Magic School Bus but none have been able to match the chaotic and informative spirit of the original, as Miss Frizzle remains the greatest teacher in the history of television.
The Magic School Bus is streaming on Netflix.
Rocko’s Modern Life
While animation was mostly aimed at kids, the ’90s was the decade where that began to shift, with shows like Rocko’s Modern Life designed to entertain adults just as much as children. Rocko’s Modern Life mixed surrealism with the banality of day-to-day life in a hilarious fashion, leading to a show that still feels entirely its own more than 25 years after it left the air.
Rocko’s Modern Life is streaming of Paramount+.
Is there anything more ’90s than Pokémon? Everywhere you looked, kids were collecting the trading cards, playing the iconic GameBoy games, and, of course, watching the original series. Ash Ketchum wanted to be the very best, like no one ever was and it’s impossible not to root for him as he trains to become a true Pokémon master.
Pokémon: Indigo League is streaming on Netflix
Dragon Ball Z
After learning from his long-lost brother that he is actually a member of an alien warrior race called the Saiyans, Goku must protect earth from a never-ending collection of threats while also raising his son Gohan. Dragon Ball Z is a wildly ambitious show, as it is able to weave in multiple character arcs and stories into the larger storyline without feeling rushed or lazy.
Dragon Ball Z is streaming on Funimation.
After befriending a talking black cat named Luna, 14-year-old Usagi Tsukino is given the ability to transform to Sailor Moon, a magical being who must protect earth from the evil Dark Kingdom. The series was originally only supposed to run for six months but it became such a massive hit that it ended up lasting for five seasons. Sailor Moon balances out its action with strong character development and emotional resonance, which is why it is still beloved by millions of fans all around the world.
Sailor Moon is streaming on Hulu.
Beavis and Butthead
Beavis and Butt-Head are two lazy, unmotivated idiots who find pleasure in making obvious sex jokes and enacting some mild juvenile deliquancy. Critics of the show have pointed at its lewd, low brow sense of humor but that is what part of what makes Beavis & Butt-Head such a scathing satire of the society that created these two morons in the first place. That’s why so many comedy legends, including David Letterman and South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, have praised Beavis & Butt-Head.
Beavis & Butt-Head is streaming on Paramount+.
Courage the Cowardly Dog
Abandoned as a pup, Courage is taken in by Muriel, a kindly old women, and Eustace, a not-so-kind old man. While living out in the middle of Nowhere, Courage and his owners face frequent attacks from strange creatures, including zombies, aliens, and vampires. Despite his cowardice, it’s always up to Courage to save the day.
Courage the Cowardly Dog is streaming on HBO Max.
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