By the power of reinvention! For 40 years, the world of a loinclothed, magical muscled barbarian known as He-Man has captivated audiences five different times on television screens across the world. Along with his sword, colorful heroic friends, a giant green cat, a never-ending array of dastardly villains, and the words, “I have the power!” Masters of the Universe is the strongest and longest-running franchise that started as a toy line back in 1981 by Mattel. But what is the best He-Man show ever? There are oddly more than you might think.
Although each He-Man show is different, every animated adventure loosely follows life on Eternia, where Prince Adam, the son of King Randor, is the chosen hero to harness the power of Grayskull where he transforms to He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe where he defends against Skeletor and his evil warriors.
The animated series has spawned spin-offs (She-Ra and The Princess of Power), a live-action adaptation in 1987 with Dolph Lundgren in the starring role, and there’s even talk of a modern-day live-action film coming from Netflix. Despite MOTU permeating across multiple mediums and toy shelves around the world, it’s on the small screen where MOTU captured the most hearts.
But which is the most powerful? Which He-Man TV series sits atop of Castle Grayskull as King He-Man? The answer might surprise you. In fact, there’s a very real chance that the best He-Man show is one you’ve never seen. Onto the ranking!
5. The New Adventures of He-Man (1989)
It’s He-Man…in SPACE! Well, that’s not 100p precent accurate, but unfortunately, it’s not a joke. In 1989, New Adventures continued where the original series left off. Well, sort of. Adam/He-Man was summoned by Primus, a planet in the future, which needed a hero as it was being attacked by evil Mutants. So Adam traded in the furry shorts for future blue pants (but stayed shirtless) and packed up for the new planet. But Skeletor used sorcery to follow He-Man where the evil warrior, of course, became the leader of the Mutants.
With a new planet to defend and a new look, New Adventures He-Man and Skeletor was surrounded by all-new colorful characters that were unfortunately not on the same level as its predecessor. Gone were Man At Arms, Tri-Klops, and Battle Cat for Hydron, Flogg, Slush Head, and Flip Shot. Nearly everyone felt like an idea from the cutting room floor of the original series, but at least they weren’t some iteration of “Something-Man”.
Despite the half-baked roster and story–New Adventures’ animation was a substantial step up. But the series never quite felt like He-Man despite being a sequel. Every MOTU series or comic always maintained a balance of magic, fantasy, and a little bit of science-fiction. This series was strictly science-fiction. Worst yet, they somehow managed to fuck up Skeletor’s face, and that’s unforgivable.
4. He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe (1983-1985)
This is where the power began. And yes, we’re somehow ranking it next to last. For better or worse, the 1983 Filmation series became the linchpin of the MOTU franchise. Children around the world heard and saw the power transformation for the first time right here. The action figure line had already been on shelves for two years before this, but the series is arguably the most well-known incarnation of MOTU. It is to date the longest-running MOTU series, airing 130 episodes in just two years.
Unfortunately, the classic series hasn’t aged well. Animation scenes were frequently reused to save money. Parents attacked the show for its violence and commercialism, calling it a half-hour toy commercial, which made the series eliminate the use of weapons. You’d be hard-pressed to find He-Man using his sword beyond the transformation scene. This all created an interesting formula of kitschy, cheesy, episodes where He-Man would often toss around a bumbling, comical Skeletor out of the frame as a means to save the day.
Production issues aside, the series, the character designs, its incredible soundtrack, and even cheesy things like the PSA at the end of every episode hold a warm and fuzzy spot in the hearts of so many MOTU fans. It cannot be understated, He-Man was insanely huge in the 80s! Even with a debatably bad cartoon, MOTU, along with an incredibly popular toy line was able to etch a path in American culture that’s still going strong today.
3. He-Man And The Masters of The Universe (2021)
After Netflix announced Revelation, a new cartoon that promised to complete the classic 80s show, the streaming giant doubled down on MOTU and revealed plans to debut an entirely new cartoon for kids. Netflix ditched the loincloths for heavy futuristic (dare say cyberpunk) tech feel in a reimagined take on the franchise. Beautifully animated by House of Cool (Trollhunters) and CGCG (Star Wars The Bad Batch), the duel teams give the new MOTU an incredibly fresh, and beautiful look to every character and the world of Eternos (formerly Eternia).
And here’s the thing: the series is great! As a lifelong He-Man fan, I watched the series with my kids, and it felt nothing like MOTUs of the past in the best way possible. Without being a reboot, spiritual sequel, or direct sequel, the series is stripped away from its rich and well-known ancestors and creates something unique, fun, and feels like a series that was made specifically for kids just like the original.
The action-packed 10-episode season follows an orphaned Adam, who stumbles across the power sword and throughout the series, discovers his true origin, his purpose, and assembles a small team of Masters (Duncan, Teela, and a female Ram-Man) who all share the power of Grayskull.
2. Masters of The Universe: Revelation (2021)
After the success of the very awesome She-Ra and the Princess of Power animated series, fans wondered if Netflix would go deeper into the MOTU franchise. It did, but no one expected how big they would go. Stacked with an incredible cast to voice the iconic characters (Mark Hamill as Skeletor, Lena Headey as Evil-Lyn, Liam Cunningham as Man At Arms, just to name a few), fantastic animation from Powerhouse Animation (Castlevania), and Kevin Smith as showrunner to boot, Netflix kicked off Revelation as a spiritual successor to the original series earlier this year.
The series quickly puts you back into a mood that’s reminiscent of the original series, but without all of the hokey bits. But just as quickly as the series reintroduces nostalgia, it flips the MOTU universe on its sword with an incredible battle of good versus evil in just the first episode. There are incredibly shocking moments that happen throughout the series, and earnest moments between so many characters, and in just 5 episodes, explore very human and adult themes of friendship, trust, and death.
After the debut, the series was incredibly divisive for some—leading to hate-bombing the series on review sites. However, the series is only halfway through. Netflix released Part 1 of the series in July, with the second part returning soon. Hopefully, when part 2 is released there will be peace not only on Eternia but also for all MOTU fans on Earth.
1. He-Man And The Masters of The Universe (2002-2004)
A-ha! Probably forgot about this one, eh? Nearly 20 years since the classic series, a remake of MOTU returned to TV as part of Cartoon Network’s afternoon Toonami block in 2002. The series had to complete an impossible task—recreate the similar success of the 1980s show, establish itself with an entirely new young audience, please long-time fans who were yearning for MOTU, and stand toe-to-toe with a new landscape of animation at the time (Justice League, The Clone Wars). That’s a task that not even the powerful He-Man could take on, but the series certainly did try.
Often overlooked or just forgotten, the 2002 series was in the same vein as Revelation’s attempt to fully round out the world of MOTU. The animation from Mike Young Productions went with a heavy anime influence. The series was action-packed and filled with dramatic close-ups mid-battle, with the heroes having all-out epic brawls with the villains (a character being punched through boulders was pretty standard). Characters were given beautiful and practical redesigns (Man At Arms’ armor could transform like Tony Stark’s Iron suit), all while staying faithful to either the original toy line or series. Plus, there was a size differential—Beast Man loomed like a mini-Hulk instead of being the same height as He-Man. The best example of this would be Prince Adam, a scrawny, slacker teen, who looked physically different when he transformed into He-Man.
Episodes explored primary and secondary characters—even someone like Mekaneck got an episode devoted to his debatably awful power of neck extension. And stories dived deep into MOTU’s lore: this series was the debut of King Grayskull (who also shows up in Revelation), and there was an episode focused on the origins of Keldor, the man Skeletor was before the skull face transformation.
The series was so devoted to the original series it ended every episode with a PSA message that was not only a wink to older fans but an earnest attempt at providing a lesson to young viewers. Even the opening sequence of the series is a verbatim retake of He-Man’s original transformation speech. The series even went as far as casting Garry Chalk, the voice of He-Man in New Adventures to play Man At Arms—and no one ever talks about New Adventures.
After 39 episodes and even an Emmy award, the series was canceled about halfway through its second season. Cartoon Network repeatedly changed airtimes, so the ratings dived. Fans never received any sort of conclusion beyond producers telling fans what would have happened next. Unfortunately, the series today is not on any streaming service (but you can find many episodes uploaded by fans on YouTube). If fans were so upset with Revelation being a deviation from the original, then MOTU 2002 should be lauded for being a faithful and superior remake. It’s wedged in between the universally loved 80s cartoon and the second arrival of MOTU in 2021 but it is worth checking out if you passed on it before because it’s more He-Man than He-Man.