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The 50 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

20. “Justice League” (Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, 2001-2004)

Justice League

“Justice League.”

Cartoon Network

This surprisingly mature take on superhero tales was impressive in how it loved reinvention, completely shifting the show’s format after Season 2 to incorporate even more of the great wide weirdness of the DC Comics universe. Currently, adaptations of the great superheroes of DC range wildly in tone, from the gritty cinematic adaptations to the more lighthearted Berlanti/CW series. But “Justice League” found a way to straddle a number of different lines, telling amazing tales while still also highlighting the humanity of the characters — even the ones from Krypton or Mars. – LSM

19. “Clone High” (Phil Lord and Chris Miller and Bill Lawrence, 2002-2003)

Clone High

“Clone High.”

Nelvana

The premise is ingenious: a high school populated solely by the clones of historical figures, who must navigate the usual teen drama while also dealing with the pressure of their historical antecedents. So that’s how you get a dorky Abe Lincoln pining for popular girl Cleopatra while his platonic best friend Joan of Arc secretly pines for him. And also how you get a teen party animal version of Gandhi screaming, “If there’s one thing Mahatma Gandhi stands for, it’s revenge!” It’s a recipe for comedic success, in other words.

It’s probably for the best that “Clone High” only lasted one season, as it freed up creators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to launch their wildly successful movie careers (including “21 Jump Street” and “The Lego Movie”), and a show this dense in jokes was bound to burn out sometime. Still, we’ll always have this one season to treasure. – JS

18. “King of the Hill” (Mike Judge and Greg Daniels, 1997-2010)

"King of the Hill."

“King of the Hill.”

Fox

Yep. Yep. Yup. Mmmhmm. While the networks have suddenly rediscovered middle America thanks to the success of last season’s “Roseanne” reboot and the return of “Last Man Standing,” there’s perhaps no show that chronicled small-town life better than “King of the Hill.” Mike Judge and Greg Daniels came up with an unconventional way to celebrate the conventional. The slice-of-life comedy, set in fictional Arlen, Texas, centered on conservative Texan Hank Hill (voice of Judge), the “propane and propane accessories” salesman who loves his family — even when his wife Peggy (Kathy Najimy) falls into another too-good-to-be-true scheme or he feels out of touch with his enthusiastic but often misunderstood son Bobby (Pamela Adlon). Through 259 episodes and 13 seasons, “King of the Hill’s” slice-of-life stories featured an expanded universe that included Hank’s niece Luann (and eventually her husband Lucky, voiced by Tom Petty); his pals Dale, Bill and Boomhauer; Bobby’s best friend Joseph; and the next-door immigrant family led by Kahn (Toby Huss) and Minh (Lauren Tom). “King of the Hill’s” stories were always funny, but had real heart. – MS

17. “Cowboy Bebop” (Shinichiro Watanabe, 1998-2000)

“I’m only watching a dream I never awakened from.” So says Spike Spiegel, the criminal turned bounty hunter who wanders outer space in order to escape his broken past of betrayal and heartache. All of the characters in “Cowboy Bebop” are running – grizzled ex-cop Jet, grifter knockout Faye Valentine, and oddball teen hacker Ed. Over 26 episodes, they come together and spin apart, taking out bad guys while looking effortlessly cool doing it. But viewers never forget that the freewheeling swagger of Shinichiro Wantanabe’s space epic hides a melancholy heart. Not to mention the greatest opening titles in the history of television. 3, 2, 1, let’s jam. – JS

16. “Neon Genesis Evangelion” (Hideaki Anno, 1995-1996)

Hidekai Anno’s “Neon Genesis Evangelion” is on the shortlist for “greatest anime of all time” for a reason. A meditation on grief, loneliness, and whether people can truly know one another, “Neon Genesis Evangelion” took the hoary sci-fi cliché of exploring what it means to be human and infused it with raw emotion alongside its harrowing giant robot fights. It’s the apocalypse through the prism of a broken family – protagonist Shinji Ikari and his terrible, terrible dad – plus there’s religion, sex, teen angst, and a penguin. There’s so much going on that the plotting can get a little vague, and the final episodes are more heavily metaphorical than you’d probably like (the show ran out of money), but “Evangelion” is an experience, not a bullet list. What good’s a masterpiece without a few flaws? – JS

15. “Rick and Morty” (Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, 2013-present)

Rick and Morty

“Rick and Morty”

Adult Swim

There’s not much to say about this series that hasn’t already been dissected and merchandised into oblivion, pored over by diehard fans and detractors alike. But there’s still a winsome unpredictability to this juggernaut Adult Swim series that makes it worth tuning in whenever new episodes spring up. What may have started as a nightmare reworking of “Back to the Future” has now Cronenberg-ed itself into an inescapable part of a specific pop culture subset. Whether the title characters are traversing alternate dimensions or solving a series-best living room mystery surrounded by fanciful creations like Reverse Giraffe (you know, he has a short neck and legs), no show takes advantage of its boundless possibilities quite like this one. – SG

14. “The Tick” (Ben Edlund, 1994-1996)

"The Tick."

“The Tick.”

Fox

Spoon! Ben Edlund’s indie comic creation has been adapted twice as a live-action series, but most viewers were first introduced to the unconventional, blue superhero via the Fox Kids cartoon. The show initially aired from 1994 to 1996 but later developed an older following when it aired in repeats on Comedy Central. Fans were drawn to the absurd stories of the rather pompous Tick (Townsend Coleman), who would ultimately take credit as moth-like sidekick Arthur (Micky Dolenz, and later Rob Paulsen) — a former accountant who becomes the superhero’s right-hand man — ultimately saves the day. Joining with fellow heroes American Maid, Sewer Urchin, and Die Fledermaus, the Tick helped make The City safe — and teach a few off-beat morals along the way. – MS

13. “Adventure Time” (Pendleton Ward, 2010-2018)

adventure time

“Adventure Time”

Cartoon Network

It’s a pretty simple premise: human boy Finn and his adoptive brother Jake the dog wander the countryside, defending the fantastic Land of Ooo from ice wizards and other various ne’er-do-wells. But what began as an animated riff on Dungeons and Dragons eventually grew deeper and richer, as Ooo was revealed to be a post-apocalyptic Earth and enemies such as the Ice King were found to have hidden, tragic depths. The show’s 10-season run came to an end this year, with a fittingly sweeping and bittersweet finale (including a new song by “Steven Universe” creator Rebecca Sugar). But while the show may be gone, it will continue to live on. Because with “Adventure Time,” the fun never ends. – JS

12. “Gravity Falls” (Alex Hirsch, 2012-2016)

Gravity Falls

“Gravity Falls.”

Disney

Why you ackin’ so cray cray? Put “Twin Peaks,” “The X-Files,” “Northern Exposure,” “Scooby Doo,” and “Diff’rent Strokes” in a blender and you get “Gravity Falls,” a kids’ show so dense with mythology, pop culture jokes, Easter eggs, and mystery that grown-ups were often more invested. This is because, thanks to creator Alex Hirsch, the heart of “Gravity Falls” was also a heartbreaking tale of what it’s like to grow up, and how tough it is to hold on to your childhood sibling bonds. As twins Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel (Kristen Schaal) spend the summer in the mysterious town of Gravity Falls, they help their huckster great-uncle Stan (Hirsch) run his “Mystery Shack.” Soon they uncover the mystery of what happened to Stan’s brother, and battle a supernatural creature that threatens to destroy Gravity Falls — and the world. “Gravity Falls” only ran for 39 episodes — leaving fans wanting much more. – MS

11. “The Critic” (Al Jean and Mike Reiss, 1994-1995)

“The Critic” was emphatically not a show made for the masses, if only based on the Bergman jokes used liberally by the film-obsessed comedy. But for movie lovers, it was an instantly accessible cult favorite (and those who work in the industry might relate especially to critic Jay Sherman’s constant donning of swag). In a different era (oh, imagine “The Critic” being revived for Netflix!) this series might not have bounced from network to network to eventually the internet. But there are still 33 episodes of deeply nerdy comedy anchored by a great animation cast, especially Jon Lovitz as a man who just wanted to watch great movies, but more often than not had to declare, “It stinks!” – LSM

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