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Animation has come a long way, from hand-drawn to stop-motion, claymation and 3D designs, and that’s especially evident in the progression of animated series over the years. While falling in love with an animated series may have more to do with beloved character arcs, illustrations and animation style can say a lot about when the series was created, or the cartoon category that it falls in (anime shows, for example, tend to follow the same art style). And with popular interest in streaming platforms surging amid the pandemic, it’s easier than ever to revisit your favorite animated shows.
If you’re unsure where to start, there’s no need to stress. Besides having plenty of different options to choose from, the subscriptions are pretty affordable, plus you can sign up for free trials to test-drive platforms before settling on a subscription plan. For example, Hulu’s subscriptions start at $5.99 a month, or $11.99 for the ad-free package, and offer a 30-free trial period.
With over 100 million subscribers, Disney+ has become one of the most fast-growing streaming services ever. As of March 27, the monthly subscription costs $7.99 a month, or $79.99 a year. Meanwhile, for $12.99 a month, you can subscribe to Amazon Prime, which gives you access to Prime Video, and an array of TV shows, films, and exclusive releases. HBO Max is another great streaming option at $14.99 a month. Also attracting viewers is the newly launched Paramount+, which is home to a mountain of programming to binge (including a robust roster of reality shows). A monthly subscription to Paramount+ will cost you $5.99 a month, but you can sign up for a 30-day trial until March 31.
One of the great things about streaming is that it puts all of your favorite shows in one place. Below, see our picks for the best animated shows that you can stream right now.
If it’s possible to be ahead of your time in the cartoon universe, “Sailor Moon” deserves the crown. The Japanese series about a teenage anime heroine and her squad of planetary guardians protecting Earth from evil forces aired for five seasons, and remains a cult favorite. The character made its debut as a comic strip created by Naoko Takeuchi that expanded to Japanese television in 1992, three years before making its way to American audiences. The plot centers around a teenager, Usagi Tsukino, who taps into her alter ego, with help from a magical talking cat. “Sailor Moon” spawned several spinoffs and films. Watch episodes of “Sailor Moon” on Hulu.
The adventures of the wealthy Scrooge McDuck and his mischievous grandnephews Huey, Duey, and Louie come to life in “Duck Tales.” In case you’re wondering, the duck trio end up living with their moneyed relative after their uncle Donald Duck (Scrooge McDuck’s nephew) asked Scrooge to take care of them while he enlisted in the Navy. Like Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck is a grumpy, albeit more materially obsessed, character.
Developed by Brad Landreth and Jymn Magon, “Duck Tales” was a groundbreaking animated series for Disney as it became the network’s first cartoon produced as a weekly outing. After four seasons, “Duck Tales” called it a wrap in 1990. But thanks to syndication, episodes of the show never really left television. In 2017, Disney XD announced a revival series, which is currently streaming on Disney+. You can stream season one of the original “Duck Tales” series on Amazon Prime.
If you’ve ever trolled the internet, then you know how popular “Hey Arnold” memes are, which basically proves just how much a show about a group of fourth graders still resonates with fans. The animated series centers around Arnold, his best friend, Gerald, and Helga, the next-door neighbor who bullies him. Arnold lives in a fictional city with his grandparents, and while there’s always a solid life lesson to be learned from each episode, the show also delivers enough hi-jinks and laughs to make you feel like a kid again. Animator Craig Bartlett, who worked as a story editor on “Rugrats” for three seasons, created “Hey Arnold” in between gigs. He pitched the series as a ‘90s version of “Charlie Brown” — an ensemble cast about smart kids with big feelings. “Hey Arnold” aired on Nickelodeon from 1996-2004. The series is currently streaming on Hulu, and Paramount+.
“Gargoyles” is the kind of show that will make you put on your thinking cap. The animated fantasy series, which aired from 1994 to 1997, follows a group of gargoyles who appear as stone figures in the daylight, and protect New York City by night. As the story goes, gargoyles were awakened after from a 1,000-year curse that turned them to stone. The nocturnal fantasy creatures were inhabiting a medieval Scottish castle, until a millionaire buys the massive structure and moves it to a rooftop in New York City. Apart from the complex plot lines, “Gargoyles” stands out because of its sharp illustrations, and shadowy vignettes. You can stream the series on Disney+.
Currently streaming on Paramount+, this edgy animated series started out as a “Beavis and Butthead” spinoff that amassed a cult following. “Daria” first debuted in 1997, and was created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis Lynn. The series protagonist, Daria Morgendorffer (Tracy Grandstaff), is a deeply introverted, expertly sardonic teenager transplanted to a new school where she can’t quite make friends as easily as her younger sister, Quinn (Wendy Hoopes), nor does she want to. Quinn may be the popular one, but the brainier Daria manages to find a best friend in fellow Lawndale High student Jane Lane (Hoopes), who shares her dark sense of humor and distrust of the status quo. And like any good high school series, “Daria” finds its footing in an ensemble of supporting characters including Trent Lane (Alvaro J. Gonzalez), Jodie Abigail (Jessica Cydnee Jackson), Brittany Taylor (Janie Mertz), and Stacy Rowe (Sarah Drew). Fun fact: A new “Daria” spinoff series featuring the voice of Tracee Ellis Ross as Jodie is in the works at Comedy Central.
“The Proud Family” only aired for two seasons, but it left a lasting impression. Created by Bruce W. Smith, the Disney Channel series is about 14-year-old Penny Proud (Kyle Pratt), a talented, straight-A student, navigating through her teen years alongside her best friend Dijonay (Karen Malina White), and the mishaps that ensue. Besides Penny, the Proud family consists of Oscar Proud (Tommy Davidson), Trudy (Paula Jai Parker), Suga Mama (Jo Marie Payton) and twins Bebe and Cece (Tara Strong). Disney+ announced a revival of “The Proud Family,” though a release date has yet to be confirmed. In the meantime, you can stream original episodes of “The Proud Family” on Disney+.
Produced by Nickelodeon Animation Studios, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” takes place in a mythical world split into four nations, which are based off the four elements: water, fire, air, and earth. The series centers around Aang, a 12-year-old boy who is the last survivor in a long line of Avatars. Aang’s ability to bend all four elements aids in his quest to stop the Fire Nation, and maintain balance between the four worlds. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was created by Michael Dante DiMartino, and Bryan Konietzko. You can stream all three seasons on Netflix, or Amazon Prime.
Before it became an Adult Swim series, Aaron McGruder created “The Boondocks” as a ’90s comic strip. The animated show is about two brothers, Huey and Riley Freeman (Regina King), who move from Chicago’s Southside to suburbia where they live with their grandfather in a predominately white neighborhood. In its four seasons, “The Boondocks” covered timely concepts of class, culture, and race. The series premiered in 2005, and ended in 2014, after airing 55 episodes. You can steam all four seasons of “The Boondocks” on HBO Max.