May 25, 2022

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The 10 Most Heroic Characters From 1980s Cartoons

6 min read

The 1980s were all about high-energy cartoons jam-packed with fun, optimism, and a sense of adventure. Along with them came some truly likable heroes that continue to stand the test of time for the quality of their character, and their unshakeable dedication to heroism. Kids who grew up in that decade were gifted some of the most memorable heroes of all time.

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These same heroes come in all shapes, sizes, and makeups. Some are robots from other planets, while others are gifted young kids with a penchant for crime-fighting. Whatever the case, 1980s cartoon heroes continue to epitomize the best in all of their viewers, regardless of who the viewers are, or where they’re from.

10 Penny Was A Little Girl Who Single-Handedly Thwarted Doctor Claw

Penny uses her computer book to solve a mystery

While many fans of Inspector Gadget view the titular character as the main hero of the story, nothing could be further from the truth. While Gadget did at times bumble his way to victory, he spent every episode completely turned around, not realizing who the bad guys were.

Behind the scenes, it was Penny working the magic with her trusty computer book, and a little help from her dog Brain. She orchestrated plans on the fly to root out Doctor Claw’s evil henchmen, and thwart his plans time and time again, all while making Gadget out to be the hero. If only they knew.

9 Splinter Taught The Turtles To Protect Those Who Feared Them

A portrait of Master Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It’s safe to say that New York City didn’t anticipate seeing four bipedal humanoid mutant turtles running around, taking on ninja clans and extraterrestrial invaders. It would have been too much for the average citizen to handle, yet the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t seem to have a problem with it.

Sure, they lived in a sewer and had to hide their identities whenever they went out, but it was their sensei Splinter who taught them why. In a world that would discriminate against them based purely on their looks, Splinter taught his students to protect them, no matter what, in the hopes that someday they’d be able to reveal themselves. That’s a pretty heroic take.

8 Papa Smurf Was A Father Figure To Everyone

Papa Smurf alongside members of his village

The wise old Papa Smurf was the de facto patriarch of the Smurfs, and for good reason. At 500+ years old, he’d seen a thing or two, and with that much age comes a lot of experience. In contrast to the original Peyo comic books, Papa Smurf of the 1980s cartoon series was far more laid back and easygoing.

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Not only did Papa Smurf protect his people, but he also gave sage advice to humans and anyone else who needed help. He saw no distinctions between different species, only the quality of their character. He even made sure that every Smurf in the village had leadership experience, to prepare them for the day when he departed. In short, Papa Smurf was one of pop culture’s best dads, period.

7 BraveStarr Was A Futuristic Sheriff With All The Best Qualities

A shot of Marshall BraveStarr

Filmation began expanding on their hugely successful He-Man and She-Ra animated series by introducing another property entitled BraveStarr, in 1987. It failed to go the distance, but it was a great series that blended futuristic sci-fi with traditional western motifs, all centered around one very cool hero.

Marshall BraveStarr was a Native American lawman capable of calling upon the spiritual powers of the Hawk, Wolf, Bear, and Puma to grant him special abilities. Though tough on crime, the character sought peace above all else, making him one of Saturday morning’s most heroic characters. The series is best remembered for a controversial episode featuring a young boy addicted to a dangerous drug who is found dead from an overdose.

6 Bulletproof Was A Tough Cop Fighting Crime In A Future Time

C.O.P.S. was one of the cooler animated action series that came out in the latter half of the 1980s, and it took the concept of cops and robbers to an entirely different level. This sci-fi take on a futuristic city overrun with a bevy of eccentric criminals was both fun to watch and continued to deliver the goods despite its short run.

Baldwin P. “Bulletproof” Vess ran the show as the Chief of Police in Empire City. One of the most heroic characters in cartoons at the time, Bulletproof was tough on crime, but not without a heart. That’s incredible, given the fact that he was almost killed in a car accident while fighting his arch-nemesis. At every turn, he retained his sense of justice, honor, and duty.

5 Lion-O Grew Up Fast In Order To Become A Childhood Hero

A portrait of Lion-O from Thundercats

The leader of the famed Thundercats was a powerful warrior, a smart leader, and a courageous and charismatic individual who inspired others to do the right thing, at all times. He was also fallible, which made him much more “human” in comparison to some of his Saturday morning peers.

Part of this was due to Lion-O having to literally grow up fast during the Thundercats’ trip to Third Earth. A suspension capsule caused his body to age, while his mind remained that of a 12-year-old boy. Lion-O is essentially a child trapped in an adult’s body, making his rise to heroism much more difficult.

4 Duke Led The Joes To Victory On Countless Occasions

A shot of Duke, leader of the G.I. Joe team

The venerable Duke was the de facto leader of the G.I. Joe team, at least at the beginning. Though he was technically second in command by the time the second season rolled around (Hawk would officially lead the team beyond that point), he proved his valor and ability to command over and over again.

Duke was very much a traditional war hero, tough as nails, but with a strong heart and a deep sense of morality. He was the figurehead for “be all you can be,” and although he was a bit stern when it came to command style, it was for the benefit and care of the soldiers under him.

3 She-Ra Was More Than Just A He-Man Clone

Adora transforms into She-Ra, Princess of Power

When He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe began taking off and selling toys like hotcakes, both Mattel and Filmation decided to up the ante. A second series was green-lit which featured He-Man’s lost sister, Adora, who wielded the same type of magic sword, and could transform into the heroine known as She-Ra.

At first glance, She-Ra was essentially a female version of He-Man, but that quickly changed. She may have been able to throw gigantic boulders as easily as a softball, but She-Ra blended her sense of duty and heroism with kindness towards those she loved. She was also one of the first female characters of 1980s children’s cartoons to punch above her weight, making her a crossroads fan favorite.

2 Optimus Prime Was A Robot That Kids Looked Up To

A shot of Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots

Hasbro may have had dollar signs in its eyes when it debuted the Transformers cartoon in the 1980s, but it failed to anticipate just how iconic its core characters would become. One in particular, Optimus Prime, stood head and shoulders above the rest as one of the most heroic characters of any children’s series.

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In fact, the death of Prime in the full-length animated 1986 Transformers film was so traumatic that parents wrote hate mail to Hasbro, damning them for making their children cry. Indeed, Prime is a hero without equal —a robot who stood up for the freedom and rights of all sentient beings throughout the galaxy.

1 He-Man Was A Conan-Inspired Hero With Unshakeable Morals

Prince Adam transforms into the mighty He-Man

Many parent groups were outraged by Mattel’s He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe toy line, especially given the rising onset of Satanic Panic that permeated much of the 1980s. He-Man was a character designed to capitalize on the roaring success of Conan the Barbarian while taming its own content to sell action figures and accessories.

The TV version of the character was more than just a muscle-bound warrior, however. He-Man was a hero that every kid looked up to. His morals were unshakeable, and he tempered his immense power with compassion and a sense of restraint. Many ’80s kids grew up to become better adults because of the character’s integrity and heroism.

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