July 28, 2021

905 On the Bay

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10 Most Iconic Saturday Morning ’80s Cartoons, Ranked

7 min read

Those who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s (particularly the latter) know full-well just how important Saturday morning was. School was out, and it was time to wake up, pour a bowl of your favorite cereal, and spend the next 5-6 hours engrossed in the coolest cartoons ever to hit television. It was a magical time, and it spawned some of the most iconic franchises ever.

RELATED: 10 Original Powerpuff Girls Episodes Every Fan Should Revisit

These Saturday morning cartoons made the biggest impact, not just at that time, but right up to this very day. It’s the perfect excuse for someone to invent a time machine so that fans can all go back and experience those memorable cartoon shows, the way they were meant to be seen.

10 Alvin & The Chipmunks was innocent, fun & full of good-hearted laughs

Alvin & the Chipmunks, an iconic 1980s cartoon series

This cartoon was a love-or-hate affair, but small children seemed to gravitate heavily towards it. The premise was simple: three talking chipmunks named Alvin, Simon, and Theodore become world-renowned pop musicians while avoiding one misadventure after another.

The show enjoyed great success, running from 1983 all the way to 1990, before finally hanging up the hat. It was innocent, fun and full of good-hearted laughs, which is why it remains such an iconic property to this day. Several Hollywood movies have been made, but none capture the perfect scripting of the TV show.

9 Jem was equal parts soap opera, action-adventure, & a romance series

Jem, the leader of the Holograms, a pop band

Yes, Jem is her name. This cartoon series was one of the few besides Barbie and the Rockers that specifically targeted girls, and it’s memorable for bridging Saturday morning cartoons with popular electronic pop music burning up the 1980s charts at that time.

Jem and the Holograms was a team of girls who turned into larger-than-life pop superstars through the aid of Synergy, a highly complex computer capable of draping them in holographic getups to wow fans on stage. It was equal parts soap opera, action-adventure, and romance series, and it even sported a trio of antagonists known as The Misfits, who stood in direct opposition to Jem and her band.

8 The Care Bears had no ill will to spread around; only friendship & compassion for others

The Care Bears, a family-friendly 1980s cartoon series

This was one of the few ultra-cute Saturday morning cartoons to appeal to both girls and boys alike. This was a show that had no ill will to spread around; only friendship and compassion for others.

Its principal antagonists were just as charming as the Bears themselves, which is a testament to how they were written. It’s a dreamy, relaxing cartoon that even reminds adults the value of spreading a little love and cheer now and again. Plus, that theme song is timeless, and anyone who denies it is lying.

7 Voltron ran for 72 episodes & it was a huge hit in the U.S.

The iconic fully assembled robot from Voltron

Voltron is one of the few Saturday morning cartoons based on a Japanese anime property. Western fans know it best by its title, but the series was actually based on Beast King GoLion, a more violent and mature Japanese anime. The producers of the show had no way to translate the episodes for an English audience, so they decided to interpret as best they could, and create their own narratives.

RELATED: 10 Long Running Cartoons That Never Got To Finish Their Story

The main series ran for 72 episodes, and it was a huge hit in the U.S., thanks mostly to its incredible anime visuals, which were relatively foreign to domestic audiences. Gigantic robots based on wild animals wielding huge weapons was particularly attractive to starry-eyed children. Go figure.

6 G.I. Joe was designed to sell a plethora of action figures & military toy vehicles

The major villains of the G.I. Joe 1980s cartoon series

Pushing a G.I. Joe Saturday morning cartoon in the modern day would be a hard sell. It was unabashedly patriotic with its portrayal of American super-soldiers waging war against the fascist and dictatorial Cobra, a terrorist organization. The stories were truly over-the-top, which was on par with 1980s action cartoon shows.

A host of incredibly memorable characters helped make G.I. Joe a hit with kids looking for full-on weekend escapism. Like Transformers, another popular Hasbro property, G.I. Joe was designed to sell a plethora of action figures and military toy vehicles, and that was just fine for kids who were riveted to the storyline.

5 In Thundercats, Elements of science fiction, fantasy, comedy, horror, & the supernatural came together in one big package

A collage of the Thundercats heroes and villains

The 1980s was one gigantic melting pot of unique creative decisions, some of which paid off in a huge way. Thundercats ended up being one of the bigger successes of that decade, turning Saturday morning cartoons into an iconic event. The idea to make a show around intergalactic feline/human hybrids battling ancient demonic mummies on another planet was a stroke of genius.

Thundercats had a lot of silliness, but it also had action to spare. Elements of science fiction, fantasy, comedy, horror, and the supernatural came together in one big package, instantly one-upping dogs as the coolest animal around. Many parents groups were alarmed at the show’s dark and violent tone, but kids ate it up in droves.

4 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles eventually paved the way for a Hollywood feature film

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, April O'Neil and Casey Jones

Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was adapted from its comic book source material, but the decision to go kid-friendly was a necessary one. As such, many of the dark and violent elements of the comic book series were tossed out in favor of bright color palettes, non-threatening stories, and a recurring pizza theme.

It wasn’t a bad decision. TMNT was always better as a tongue-in-cheek property, and the cartoon series had enough of that to go around for years. The stories were fun, witty, and original, and the action, though nowhere near as violent as the title suggests, was inventive. It eventually paved the way for a Hollywood feature film, which mixed the best elements of the cartoon with the darkness of the comics.

3 Inspector Gadget is one of the most beloved family cartoon shows of all time

Inspector Gadget, a bumbling cyborg, plus his niece Penny and dog Brain

Get Smart‘s Don Adams lent his voice to another bumbling lawman in Inspector Gadget, an instant classic. The show centered around a policeman with a host of cybernetic body replacements including palm telephones, extra-long limbs, and binocular vision. Gadget used these technological add-ons to evade certain doom, often with comedic results.

Inspector Gadget worked primarily because it mixed Get Smart‘s clueless lead character with the physical comedy of the Pink Panther‘s Inspector Clouseau, played by Peter Sellers. Adams nailed the character, providing one hilarious and inept one-liner after another, making it one of the most beloved family cartoon shows of all time.

2 Decades later, The Transformers is still going strong as a major sci-fi franchise that continues to pay dividends in Hollywood

Bumblebee and Spike from the 1980s Transformers series

The Transformers took Saturday morning cartoons by storm, thanks to an amazing blend of imagination, spectacle, and character designs. The show focused on two groups of Cybertronian robots capable of transforming into alternate forms, each with a specific function. Their war eventually spills over into 1980s’ Earth, which is where most of the action takes place.

RELATED: 10 Disney Cartoons That Were Way Ahead Of Their Time

Transformers knew what it was doing. It was a show designed to sell children’s toys like hotcakes, and that’s exactly how it went down. Behind the blatant marketing scheme was a great show with memorable, iconic characters. Decades later, it’s still going strong as a major sci-fi franchise that continues to pay dividends in Hollywood, and most recently on Netflix with a three-part mini-series based on the 1980s “Generation 1” characters.

1 He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe was a campy & lighthearted take on the Conan the Barbarian-style fantasy genre

He-Man and friends, plus the evil villain Skeletor

Kids who grew up in the 1980s had a new hero to root for in the form of the mighty He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. The show centered around He-Man and his friends battling the villainous Skeletor and his evil henchmen who were in pursuit of the power of Castle Grayskull, a fountain of magical knowledge.

While some parents’ groups thought the show was too crude and violent, it was actually a campy and lighthearted take on the Conan the Barbarian-style fantasy genre, blending elements of technology and science fiction into the mix. The show was renowned for teaching children proper values and timeless morals by referencing parts of the story at the end of each episode. It’s a cult classic that hasn’t aged the best, but there’s no denying the wonder and positive vibes that the show still demonstrates so many years later.

NEXT: 10 Nostalgic Cartoons We Wish Were On HBO Max


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