The moment we have been working towards is finally here! This is the end of our look at some of the greatest comic book cartoons from our childhood. But is it really the end? In my opinion that's always been the greatest thing about some of these great animated series is the pure rewatchability of the various series. For instance, I have watched the series that sits at the #1 spot about 8 times, from the first episode to the last, using various viewing orders and have enjoyed it each and every time.
And while some of the best series are obviously off the air (or are soon to be), with the availability of most series in DVD packs or online you can always take those series that were close to your heart, and keep them close to your entertainment center. That’s enough chit chat. let’s finish this list up and check out which series makes it to the top spot! You can check out the previous shows that made the list below:
05) Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
The Avengers never really had a lot of animated series, so saying this is the best Avengers animated series doesn’t necessarily amount to that much. Unless you consider the other series from the ’90s, which was so terrible I’m ashamed to mention it while talking about Avengers: EMH. This series structured a great team of core Avengers characters, featured a very slick animation and encompassed a huge amount of the Marvel Universe. Every member of the team was imbued with so much personality that was perfect for each respective character, and it was clear the creators really had a love for the characters. The series covered a number of events from the comics, such as Secret Invasion, the Kree/Skrull War, and Operation: Galactic Storm. This series brought so much heart into every episode it was hard not to fall in love with it, and the relationship between Hawkeye and Hulk is more than enough reason to watch this series. unfortunately it was recently cancelled to make way for a more Disney-centric series that also relates to the movie versions of the characters more, but I’m hoping it will retain some of what made this series so great.
The voice cast wasn’t full of Hollywood heavyweights but included some impressive voice talents that suited the characters perfectly. Eric Loomis as Iron Man, Brian Bloom as Captain America, Colleen O’ Shaughnnessy as Wasp, and Chris Cox as Hawkeye were standout characters. Of course, I can’t forget Rick Wasserman as Thor, James Mathis as Black Panther, Wally Wingert as Hank Pym, or Fred Tatasciore as the Hulk, either. Great cast.
04) Batman Beyond
The second best Batman cartoon on the list, I actually almost didn’t include it. To me, Batman Beyond was such an extension of the best Batman cartoon (which we will talk about soon), that I almost consider it as the second part of that series. But it’s such a different series in scope and story, that it deserves its own spot on the list. While maintaining the great mythology of the DCAU, the series took us to the future city Gotham, where a new hero for the time dons the mantle of the bat under the tutelage of the original, Bruce Wayne. The series still drew from Bruce Timm’s artwork, but took a new stylish edge with an awesome main theme animated by Darwyn Cooke. Terry McGinnis was anything but a younger Bruce Wayne, but he filled the cape and cowl perfectly and reflected the era of the series very well. It was a new Batman for a new audience that served as a beautiful chapter in the Batman mythology that has since been continued in the comics as well. Also worth mentioning are the awesome villains created for the series, and the few original rogues gallery members who made an appearance and just added to the overall greatness of the series.
Not only did it feature the always amazing Kevin Conroy as geriatric Bruce Wayne, but it reintroduced me to Eric Matthews Will Friedle who voices Terry. Some of the supporting cast featured Lauren Tom, Cree Summer, and Sherman Howard as one of my favorite villains of the series, Blight. A rotating cast of characters made thier way through the series, but as it was set in the future many of the voice cast from the previous series (which we will talk about soon, I promise) didn’t reprise their roles. Fans were rewarded with the return of Mark Hamill as the Joker in the Direct-to-DVD movie Return of the Joker. If you need another reason for it’s placement on the list, how about Henry Rollins as Mad Stan, a role he was born to play?
03) Young Justice
I’m still feeling a little sore about this series, as it was recently cancelled. But that doesn’t change the fact that Young Justice is/was one of the greatest original adaptations of the DC Universe. Staying away from the well established DC Animated Universe, YJ focuses on the younger characters of the Universe, most commonly refferred to as sidekicks. it doesn’t stop with only the sidekicks, as a lot of the adult heroes feature quite heavily on the show, along with the big baddies of the DC Universe. After a great first season with a stellar cast of characters, the series jumped ahead 5 years which allowed the series to really branch out on its own and feature a ton of characters that would never had a chance to show up on the small screen before. The story line of the series effortlessly introduced new characters, and challenged the common conception of just what a sidekick is, and the pressures of living up to their superhero mentors. The characters really headlined every part of the series, but the story that clearly had a lot of heart put into it carried the series into my top 5, even with less than two seasons under its belt.
The main cast embraced thier characters and delivered some great performances, along with some bigger names voicing the mentors. Jesse McCartney as Dick Grayson/Robin/Nightwing, Khary Payton as Aqualad, Nolan North as Superboy, Jason Spisak as Kid Flash, Danica McKellar as Miss Martian, and Stephanie Lemelin as Artemis rounded out the main team, along with one of my favorite characters on the show; Crispin Freeman as Speedy/Arsenal/Red Arrow. Some of the mentors were Bruce Greenwood as Batman, Kevin michael Richardson as Martian Manhunter, Phil LaMarr as Aquaman, and a whole lot more. Excellent cast for an excellent show, that was unfortunately cancelled before it’s time.
02) Spectacular Spider-Man
Spectacular Spider-Man was the greatest Spider-Man cartoon ever made. Yes, it’s a bold statement. One I firmly believe in and will continue to believe in until something better comes along. It recieved two great seasons that really focused on the Peter Parker aspect like none of the previous series had. While the ’90s series did a decent job, it was focused on a time of Spider-Man’s career where he was more in touch with his role as Spidey, and he was in college. Spectacular was set within the first year of Peter’s time as Spidey, while he was still in High School. It drew heavily from the early years of Spidey comics and featured Gwen Stacy as the main love interest, though Mary jane did show up later on. The story was airtight and woven in such a way that everything just made sense. The various villains origins were laid out so that they fit in line with the story that was being told, and the characterizations of the various villains was perfect. The designs on each character were based off of art from Sean ‘Cheeks’ Galloway, and offered some great character designs all around.This series was a bunch of love notes to fans of Spider-Man,and the animation really took it up a notch with how Spidey can work as a cartoon. Over two series it told better stories than years of previous Spider-Man cartoons had been able to accomplish, and it did so with a fun and truthful trip down Spidey memory lane, touching on everything that made the character great and showed us why he was the premier hero of the Marvel Universe. Than it was cancelled for the less than awesome Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, which I am still upset over.
Josh Keaton delivered a great performance as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and was joined by an impressive cast of supporting characters that really increased the appeal of the show. Lacey Chabert played Gwen Stacy, and Clancy Brown played her father, Captain George Stacy. James Arnold Taylor as Harry Osborn and Vanessa Marshall as Mary jane rounded out peter’s friends, but it was the villains who really shone out. Peter MacNicol as Dr. Octopus was brilliant, and Alan Rachins delivered a perfect Norman Osborn, with Steve Blum delivering an eerie Green Goblin voice. Some other well known actors came out too, like Tricia Helfer as Black Cat, Robert Englund as the Vulture, Xander Berkeley as Mysterio, and Kevin Michael Richardson as Tombstone. There were so many more great voice talents on the show, which only further proves how great of a series it really was.
01) Batman: TAS
Don’t act like you didn’t know this was coming. In fact, I’m pretty sure I may have been fired if Batman; The Animated Series landed anywhere but the #1 spot. This is the series most fans will immediately reference when the mention of childhood animated series comes up. Based off of the art of Bruce Timm, and heavily influenced by the more recent darker stance on the titular hero, Batman: TAS presented a take on Batman that was a perfect mix of beautiful 1940′s stylized imagery, complex themes and stories, a perfect voice cast, and a real love of the character. Many comic story lines were adapted into the series, but B:TAS branched off into its own mythology, eventually laying the groundwork for the DC Animated Universe and the many series that followed. The series also wasn’t afraid to take risks, starting with the new approach to the art of the show (eventually dubbed ‘Dark Deco’), the dedication to realism (First series in years to feature animated violence and real weapons, as opposed to lasers instead of guns), and the revamped use of some of the characters.
Some examples of the character’s benefiting from the series development are some of the villains who saw a renewed popularity due to their revised stories in the animated series. The refreshed origin story for Mr. Freeze, who had been nothing but a b-villain in the comics, fleshed out the character and added some real pathos to an otherwise flat character. Likewise with Poison Ivy, who was always more of a joke villain until her time on the series. And one of the biggest characters whose popularity has yet to stop growing is Harley Quinn, created exclusively for the show and then across mediums to thrive in the comics. Harvey Dent/Two-Face is another character who was handled so well that an air of excitement flares every time the noir-like title card pops up and you realize it’s a Two-Face episode. The series became so popular it even had a big budget theatrical release with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
What can I say about the cast? Kevin Conroy IS Bruce Wayne/ Batman, and Mark Hamill is his Joker. There probably isn’t a fan alive that wouldn’t cite Conroy as the definitive voice of Batman, despite a solid list of actors who have voiced him. The cast was full of memorable voices, like Efram Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred, Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman, Ron Perlman As Clayface, Roddy McDowall as Mad Hatter, Ed Asner as Roland Daggett, and of course Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn. Plus a whole lot more, as the series continued for 3 years and then experienced a slight change in animation as it became The New Batman Adventures. This series deserves to be at the top of the list, and I recommend you rewatch it immediately if you haven’t for a while.
I could keep praising B:TAS, but I’d rather you just go watch it again. Which means I should stop and let you get to it. We are at the end of the list, and I hope you can join a fellow fan in appreciation of some great animated series, whether you agreed with my picks or the placement of those picks on this list. What’s really important is that we share our love for these great series with others, because let’s face it, cartoons these days aren’t really getting better.
I had previously stated I would include some honorary mentions, so here are a few series that didn’t quite make the list:
Freakazoid - Originally based off Mike Allred’s Madman, Freakazoid evolved past that to become more of a kids structured show in the vein of Animaniacs. So while I used to love the series, it was excluded mainly due to not having a comic book counterpart, despite the Madman connection.
Darkwing Duck – I love Darkwing Duck. Again, the only reason it wasn’t included on the list was the fact that it was an original cartoon series as opposed to being based off of a comic book, despite being heavily influenced by the superhero theme.
Max Fleischer’s Superman - These shorts are a beloved part of my childhood, and many others, but they were never really an animated series. A masterpiece of early animation and some of the best visual depictions of Superman ever? Yes. But it didn’t quite fit the limits of this list.
Static Shock – This DC Animated Universe series based off of the Milestone character was great, and if this list featured 21 of the best animated series, Static Shock would have been there. A fun series that delved into real world topics and themes, and brought a central character in Virgil Hawkins that was a cool kid and a great role model.
Feel free to comment below if there are any series you feel should have made the list or share some of your favorite episodes from the series mentioned!