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The Best Animated Series of All Time

From "The Flintstones" to "BoJack Horseman," animation serves up an incredible array of excellent, wide-ranging stories.

bojack cowboy bebop daria

Netflix/YouTube/MTV

30. “Home Movies” (Brendon Small and Loren Bouchard, 1999 – 2004)

A simple concept with distinct, childlike animation (Squigglevision, just like “Dr. Katz”), “Home Movies” followed an eight-year-old boy, Brendon (voiced by co-creator Brendon Small) who roped his friends into making movies. His films are fun and funny disasters, more often than not, but the real joy comes in the odd diversions each episode takes as the dialogue steers characters in unexpected directions. Kids call out adults, adults call out kids, Coach McGuirk is his absolute McGuirkiest, and the whole thing feels like a batch of talented comedians were put in a room together to churn out awkward, surprising scenarios. It’s no surprise so many “Home Movies” alumni went on to make more iconic series. – BT
Stream on Sling TV; buy on Amazon.

29. “Frisky Dingo” (Adam Reed and Matt Thompson, 2006-2008)

frisky dingo

“Frisky Dingo.”

Adult Swim

“Frisky Dingo” is probably Adam Reed and Matt Thompson’s least well-known series (behind “Archer” and “Sealab 2021”), which is a shame, because it just might be their funniest. Depicting the conflict between Killface — a put-upon alien seeking world domination – and his nemesis, the arrogant superhero Awesome X, “Frisky Dingo” took the tropes of superhero adventure and turned it into a raucous war of words. “Archer” fans, in particular, would do well to seek out “Frisky Dingo”‘s all-too-brief two-season run, because this is where the acerbic wordplay and high-quality running gags that would come to define “Archer” were born. (In fact, “Archer” has had a number of “Frisky Dingo” references sprinkled in over the years). Plus, it’s probably the only animated series to ever make a series of jokes about Mike Leigh’s abortion drama “Vera Drake.” – JS
Buy on Amazon.

28. “Sailor Moon” (Naoko Takeuchi, 1992-1997)

"Sailor Moon"

“Sailor Moon”

Dic Enterprises/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Based on the popular manga of the same name, this anime series was a revelation to young girls who finally found a relatable female lead. The 14-year-old Usagi is a charming mess of middle-school mediocrity: She is a lousy student, klutzy, prone to emotional outbursts, and doesn’t know what moderation means when it comes to yummy food. But an act of compassion leads to her becoming Sailor Moon, who joins other galactic soldiers to defend Earth from evil villains who could and did cause real harm. Underlying the fantastical and warlike elements was a strong message of loyalty, kindness, and friendship, a device that has influenced numerous cartoons such as “Steven Universe.” Not since “She-Ra” in the ‘80s did a cartoon deliver such an aspirational cartoon role model. The series is still a phenomenon to this day and inspired a revival, “Sailor Moon Crystal.” – HN
Stream on Hulu; buy on Amazon.

27. “Aeon Flux” (Peter Chung, 1991-1995)

MTV may not get enough credit for its support of animated series for older audiences. Created by Peter Chung, “Aeon Flux” only produced 16 episodes, but they had untold impact on other shows, blending American and Japanese styles for a politically dense tale of the future, focusing on the titular secret agent trying to bring down a dystopian regime. Perhaps the best known series to come from the Liquid Television experiment of the early ’90s, the series made minimal use of dialogue to instead bring to life a visually dazzling sci-fi tale that managed to be thrilling, sexy, and engrossing. – LSM
Stream on CBS All Access; stream on Amazon via CBS All Access.

26. “Rocky and Bullwinkle” (Jay Ward and Alex Anderson and Bill Scott, 1959-1964)

Rocky and Bullwinkle

“Rocky and Bullwinkle.”

YouTube

And now for something completely different. Audiences watched Bullwinkle pull a rabbit outta his hat from 1961 to 1964, as the Jay Ward Prods. characters soon became a phenomenon. Although “Rocky and Bullwinkle” isn’t in the pop culture zeitgeist like it once was, the show’s wry sensibility, self-referential nature and wordplay have inspired plenty of series since then — including, of course, “The Simpsons.” Unusual in structure, “Rocky and Bullwinkle” featured the title characters on serialized adventures, frequently being chased by Russian spies Natasha Fatale and Boris Badenov, who had been charged to go after “moose and squirrel.” But the show also offered up other segments, featuring characters such as Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Dudley Do-Right, and more. Jumpin’ gee horsefat! – MS
Buy on Amazon.

25. “Ren & Stimpy” (John Kricfalusi, 1991-1995)

"The Ren and Stimpy Show"

“The Ren and Stimpy Show.”

Mtv/Nickelodeon/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Series creator John Kricfalusi has been accused of sexual abuse by two women, and this reprehensible behavior — along with Nickelodeon firing him from “Ren & Stumpy” — has tainted the legacy of what at the time was a creatively innovative series, both in its unique voice and visuals. Emotionally unstable chihuahua Ren and the happy-go-lucky cat Stumpy are pals who filled various roles, from outer-space explorers to nature-show hosts, with a few retro-inspired fake sponsors thrown in for good measure. (“Log” is a classic.) No matter what the circumstances, the series delivered its signature absurdist, slapstick and off-color humor that didn’t just border on subversive but sparked controversy from parenting groups. It’s visual language was a complex combo that found inspiration from Bob Clampett’s elastic 1940s cartoons, used extreme and grotesque close-ups, and a richer color palette. “Ren & Stimpy” ushered in a new era of American cartoons made specifically for adults and has influenced series ranging from MTV’s “Beavis & Butthead” to “SpongeBob SquarePants.” – HN
Stream on CBS All Access; stream on Amazon via CBS All Access.

24. “Beavis & Butthead” (Mike Judge, 1993 – 1997)

Beavis and Butthead

“Beavis and Butthead.”

MTV

The high school slackers you love to watch and hate to meet, Beavis and Butt-Head were absolutely savage rebels of society. They didn’t work (or worked without doing any work), they didn’t learn (or learned only what they wanted), and they didn’t give a hoot about anyone or anything, including each other. Instead, they set their limited to minds to immediate pleasures, be it food or TV or whatever happened to spark that iconic laughter. What made Mike Judge’s breakthrough comedy work so well was its innate ability to find the funny in our most obnoxious base instincts. From calling out the obvious to ruthlessly mocking polite society to simply rhyming clean words with dirty ones, the short episodes were an ideal delivery system for a show meant to disrupt the status quo. – BT
Stream on CBS All Access; stream on Amazon via MTV Hits.

23. “South Park” (Trey Parker and Matt Stone, 1997 – present)

South Park Season 20 Episode 4 Heidi, Cartman, Kyle

“South Park” doesn’t stop. Despite the purely promotional pleas of the Season 22 hashtag, Comedy Central isn’t looking to cancel their long-running, groundbreaking, and Emmy-winning animated comedy any more than those who’ve stuck with it are calling for an end already. Why should it wrap-up when episodes are still doggedly policing everything from America’s gun problems to “South Park’s” past faux pas? Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s unrelenting satire, which follows four young boys in a not-so-quiet Colorado town, skewers everything without fear of reproach. If there’s an onslaught of Kanye-isms too preposterous to ignore or an outbreak of politically correct culture that threatens to over-scrutinize everything, “South Park” is ready to poke a hole in predominant societal discourse. With a unique creative process that leads to quick turnarounds from concept to airing, “South Park” is well-positioned to reframe discussions for years to come, and it’s already proven there’s plenty left in the tank. – BT
Buy on Amazon.

22. “Mobile Suit Gundam” (Yoshiyuki Tomino, 1979-1980)

mobile suit gundam

“Mobile Suit Gundam.”

YouTube

The granddaddy of the serious robot genre of anime, “Mobile Suit Gundam” may be nearly 40 years old, but it’s still depressingly relevant. Sure, it’s got giant robots, but “Mobile Suit Gundam” portrayed its mech suits not as wish fulfillment fantasies, but as weapons of mass destruction in an extremely bloody war. Considered a flop during its initial run, “Mobile Suit Gundam” saw its popularity surge after Bandai released models based on the show’s mech suits, cementing the show’s place in the canon and leading to the brand’s roughly 700,000 spin-off shows and movies. Not bad for a show about the toll war takes, especially on the young people we ask to fight it. – JS
Buy on Amazon.

21. “Phineas and Ferb” (Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, 2007-2015)

"Phineas and Ferb"

“Phineas and Ferb”

Disney

More than any other TV series of the last few decades, “Phineas and Ferb” took full advantage of a formula. Retooling a familiar rhythm with each successive episode, the show brought an electric spirit to its musical numbers, summer vacation plans, and showdowns with dastardly mustache-twirling evil geniuses that few other series could parallel. The Saturday morning feel, with its sharp color and unrepentant goofiness, formed the outer layer for a cartoon that had a genuine heart beating underneath. It’s the kind of show accessible and equally enjoyable to audiences of any age, without having to sacrifice anything to get to that point. – SG
Stream on Disney+; buy on Amazon.

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