Best Cartoon Network Shows: Top 5 Classics, According To Fans

Cartoon Network (CN) is a well-loved broadcast channel and media brand that was launched by Ted Turner in October of 1992. Since that time there have been many so-called “eras” of CN, with each one being defined by the original series runs of several now-iconic animated programs. In the 30+ year history of CN there have been many great shows, so we turned to our sources to discover the top five best Cartoon Network shows of all time.

Cartoons are not merely entertainment, for many they are a nostalgic window back to a more carefree time in their lives. A recent survey of 2,000 parents of children in the U.S. between five and 18 asked them to reflect on their own childhoods. What brings these parents back to their childhoods? The top three activities for respondents included watching favorite childhood movies and TV shows (65%), getting together for the holidays (51%), and hearing certain sounds, such as ice cream truck jingles (48%).

Many parents want to share their nostalgic childhood favorites with their own kids. This is particularly understandable because according to researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, feeling nostalgic helps people overcome low levels of pain by reducing brain activity. While these feelings have been found to reduce people’s perception of pain, biological mechanisms at work have remained a mystery — until now. Their study reveals that yearning for a “simpler time” reduces brain activity and could help people overcome low levels of pain like headaches.

Examining the full Cartoon Network catalogue reminded us of many beloved series like “Steven Universe” or “The Amazing World of Gumball,” and all of the shows on our list of the top five best Cartoon Network programs are classics. Let us know your favorite cartoon classics in the comments below!

Family watching TV
Family watching TV (© Monkey Business – stock.adobe.com)

The List: Best Cartoon Network Shows, According to Experts

1. “Adventure Time” (2010 – 2018)

“Adventure Time” is a unique gem of American animation. The premise is simple, the adventures of a boy and his dog in a magical land. This popular series also got a revival in 2020 with the epilogue series “Distant Lands,” currently streaming on Max. “…few animated series can compete with ‘Adventure Time.’ Spanning nine seasons and winning eight Primetime Emmys, the show follows 12-year old Finn and Jake, his magical talking dog. The two spend their time fighting evil, protecting the people they love, and going on adventures. Premiering in 2010, the series has earned a loyal following from young fans and adults alike for its profound, slow-burning story and gorgeous animation. Boosted by an incredible original score, there’s an intimately personal element to each episode,” raves Looper.

Cartoon Network: Adventure Time: The Complete Series [DVD]
“Adventure Time”: The Complete Series [DVD] 
Over the course of its 283-episode run, the richly detailed world of “Adventure Time” slowly revealed its deeply layered worldbuilding. “Depending on how old you are, it may surprise you to learn that ‘Adventure Time’ was a lot of people’s entryway into the world of Cartoon Network… [‘Adventure Time’] is beloved for its animation style, original music (some songs are even having a second life as TikTok songs!), bizarre characters, timeless life lessons, and groundbreaking queer rep (between a rock-music-playing vampire and bubblegum princess, no less!),” exclaims BuzzFeed.

“Adventure Time follows two best friends: Finn (a 12-year old boy) and Jake (a wise 28-year-old dog with magical powers), and the surreal adventures undertaken by the duo as they traverse the mystical Land of Ooo. A world built for adventure, Ooo is filled to the brim with various landscapes for the two buddies to explore and bizarre characters to assist,” explains Episode Ninja.

2. “Dexter’s Laboratory” (1996 – 2003)

“Dexter’s Laboratory” by Genndy Tartakovsky is considered to be one of the best of CN’s “Golden Era” of original shows. “’Dexter’s Laboratory’ is Cartoon Network’s masterpiece. The series follows boy genius, Dexter, who never fails to come up with fantastical inventions. Whether it’s dosing himself with an aging serum to be the appropriate age to hit on his babysitter, or a lab experiment resulting in a planet-wide brother-sister kaiju battle, Dexter’s Laboratory has something for everyone,” writes CBR.

Dexter's Laboratory: Season 1 dvd on Amazon
Dexter’s Laboratory: Season 1 dvd on Amazon

“‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ is a true classic, featuring the adorable boy genius Dexter and his secret laboratory. The show’s humor often stems from Dexter’s relationship with his annoying sister Dee Dee and his rivalry with fellow genius Mandark. Despite his intelligence, Dexter’s carelessness and overexcitement often lead to hilarious failures. And who could forget Dexter’s inexplicably thick accent?,” reflects TV Overmind.

“Step into the secret laboratory of a boy-genius as he concocts wild inventions and conducts scientific experiments, all while trying to keep his meddling older sister at bay. This humorous and imaginative series has captivated audiences with its endearing characters, clever storylines, and heartwarming messages about the importance of family and perseverance,” adds Ranker.

3. “Samurai Jack” (2001 – 2017)

“Samurai Jack” is an episodic action show and the second cartoon on our list from animation great Genndy Tartakovsky. Its original run ended in 2004 without a proper ending to Jack’s story; and after a 12-year hiatus the series was revived for its melancholy conclusion. “‘Samurai Jack’ is a Japanese samurai and prince who almost manages to defeat an evil demon named Aku with his magical katana – and is instead sent to a dystopian future where Aku has taken over the world as a tyrannical leader. The humor, epic storytelling, and genre-bending plots of ‘Samurai Jack’ represent the evolution between the network’s ’90s cartoons and the best Cartoon Network shows from the 2000s… Without Samurai Jack, cartoons with adult stories and themes may not be where they are today in the West,” opines ScreenRant.

Samurai Jack The Complete Series (Includes Seasons 1-5) [DVD] on Amazon
“Samurai Jack” The Complete Series
Infused with deep meta-references to a mash-up of pop mythology Jack is, “‘Equipped with his sacred Katana, that was produced by Odin, Ra, and Rama for the sole motivation of defeating Aku… The action is extreme, the storyline is sensational, and Jack is a baffling samurai that you can’t resist the urge to cheer form,” according to Animated Times.

“Stories revolving around only one primary antagonist risk monotony, but Samurai Jack takes the timeless battle between Jack and Aku, and spins it into gold. With stellar, ground-breaking animation, the series provides plenty of action, but also never shies away from moments of deep reflection. The series’ fifth and final season, which aired in 2017, took everything that made the series work, pared it down to its bare essentials, and provided the most emotionally rich kids’ show of all time,” adds CBR.

4. “Courage The Cowardly Dog” (1999 – 2002)

A common element amongst all the entries on our list is that these cartoons are more than what they seem at first glance, and often offer deeper meaning and interesting details. “‘Courage The Cowardly Dog,’ an animated horror/comedy series, follows Courage – a kindhearted yet easily scared orphaned dog whose parents were sent into outer space by a crazed veterinarian. Now Courage lives with an elderly couple, Muriel and Eustace, in the middle of Nowhere. Somehow it seems that the trio always gets into some bizarre, nightmarish misadventures with various entities, monsters, and occurrences haunting everything they do. Courage The Cowardly Dog is truly one-of-a-kind series filled with surreal humor, an eerie atmosphere, and always original happenings,” posits Bored Panda.

"Courage The Cowardly Dog"
“Courage The Cowardly Dog” Complete Series

“‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ is, for many, like a fever dream. The series takes a simple premise: Courage lives with his owners, Eustace and Muriel Bagge, on a farm in the middle of nowhere. There, disturbing occurrences are the norm – like a disturbed barber coming to the farm, and a giant foot leading a criminal organization – and it falls to Courage to save the day,” adds CBR.

“Speaking of content that leans towards the mature, ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ is another animated series that never felt like it was made for kids — even if many kids were watching. Today, many adults credit the 1999-2002 show as their gateway into horror, thankful that it scared them young… The series was unnaturally scary for a cartoon,” opines Looper.

5. “Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends” (2004 – 2009)

Many of our sources praise this show for its wild originality. “‘Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends’ is an amalgamation of everything that is good and holy—the crown jewel of Cartoon Network. In the series, we’re thrown into a towering mansion that houses the imaginary friends that children come up with in their heads and the scraggly staff that supports them, including a bunny named Mr. Herriman, Frankie (a human), and the icon that is Madame Foster, an older woman who created the home. The main residents include Bloo (along with his best friend, Mac), Wilt, Coco, and Eduardo, with the occasional sighting of the icon that is Duchess,” praises One37pm.

Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: The Complete Series [DVD] on Amazon
“Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends”: The Complete Series 
“In the whimsical world of ‘Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends,’ eight-year-old Mac’s imaginary friend Bloo is as real as any human. When Mac’s mom wants him to get rid of Bloo, the duo discovers an abandoned home that serves as a haven for unwanted imaginary friends. The show follows Bloo’s misadventures and the other fascinating characters that inhabit this magical house,” explains TV Overmind.

“The inspiration for this story came to writer Craig McCracken when he adopted two dogs from an animal shelter, substituting the dogs with various imaginary friends, so it’s no wonder why it is so heartwarming. The main duo of the story is a kid named Mac and his imaginary friend Bloo who’s forced to relocate to a foster home when Mac’s mom orders him to end their friendship. This, of course, prevails with Mac, and Bloo befriends other creatures and embarks on various adventures together,” offers Bored Panda.

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Sources

Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

Comments

  1. My son and I ” grew up ” watching Samurai Jack & Courage The Cowardly Dog.
    Great times we had together. 🙂

  2. Fosters’s doesn’t belong here, it’s a good show but not great as Ed, Edd n Eddy or the original Powerpuff Girls or Johnny Bravo

  3. This list is crap. Scooby is better than any of these and adventure time is good, not great. Dexter, powepuff girls, johnny bravo, the grim adventures of billy and mandy, the orginal teen titans, ed, edd n eddy, and even 2 stupid dogs are better shows than adventure time.

  4. And where is the original Teem Titans cartoon on this list? Certainly better than any of the ones you mentioned. and the oft forgotten Swat Kats, which they tried to bury but some of us still remember? Again, far better than this list. seriously…

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