So, I decided, why not make one of the old fashioned Top 10 list celebrating the wonderment that made many of you true believers in the first place?
Now to be clear, like I always do (not that it perturbs weird, negative comments from trolls, but anyway) I will stress that this list is MY OPINION. NOT YOURS. Calm down. I’m sorry if it’s out of order to you. Feel free to KINDLY correct me, if you wish. Or bash me, if it makes you feel better...but keep in mind nobody will actually care.
And I stuck to the G-rated American TV shows, since those are the most popular. Animated films, Anime, and motion comic adaptations (like BET’s Black Panther) didn’t figure into my thought process to this. If I can’t eat Cap N’ Crunch on a Saturday morning while watching it...it didn’t make the list. Plain and simple. And I also know that the original Transformers, G.I. Joe, Robocop and Jem cartoons were all also produced by the old Marvel Animation Studios (it’s true, look it up), but those licensed properties also didn’t make the list.
Now, shall we?
10. Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends (1981-1983)
I just recently rediscovered this one, and it filled me with such nostalgia, you have no idea. The imagery of the show actually stuck with me in the recesses in my mind. I instantly remembered almost everything about it and what I loved about the show.
From Pete’s, Bobby’s and Angelica’s (it was kinda weird that these two teenage dudes actually shared a room with this smoking hot girl) room that transformed into their headquarters...and where they got the tech to make this room –we never found out. Their Hulk poster on the wall (that sometimes was mis-colored and he had flesh colored skin....and also, why would they have a fugitive destructive rage monster on a poster?!), Aunt May’s dog, Ms. Lion, and even how Iceman encompasses himself in a giant ice cube and burst out to transform into Iceman (I would pretend to do this when I was a kid).
What I didn’t realize back then however, was that Angelica Jones, Firestar’s alter ego, as clearly modelled after Mary Jane Watson! Clearly! It’s obvious. And now I’m beginning to wonder if Brian Michael Bendis loosely crafted Jessica Jones after this character as well (even though Firestar exists in comic book continuity...she WAS one of Peter’s high school classmates), or perhaps they are related?!
I will also give this show credit for introducing me to the original five X-Men in an episode, and making me realize that a superhero could have massive enlarged feet. Yeah, Beast’s original mutation changed a lot for me. I think I had an affinity for Dr. Hank McCoy ever since.
This show was not perfect and may not hold up for a lot of millennial viewers. It was silly, comical and didn’t make sense whatsoever. But it’s charm certainly holds up for old fart 80’s babies like myself. And that is why it makes the list.
9. Fantastic Four (1994-1996)
This one also holds near and dear to me. It was the second show after Iron Man during the syndicated Marvel Action Hour back in the mid-1990’s (when syndicated cartoons actually existed). Iron Man as cool too, but it followed a “formatted formula” that a lot of cartoons did at the time and still do today (at least in its first season), for some odd reason the hero needed “super friends” to operate, so he led Force Works (remember that weirdly named team?). I don’t know, when I watch a show called Iron Man, I expect a solo Iron Man cartoon. It more or less felt like a West Coast Avengers cartoon.
Fantastic Four however was a lot closer to the FF comic books. And while the first season was a bit hokey and as badly written as it was animated, it adapted such comic stories as when the FF first met Galactus and the Silver Surfer, Namor, Dr. Doom and Mole Man. It was fun! the second season changed everything (as did Iron Man, by the way). The animation improved, the tone got slightly more mature and it became almost a dead-on adaptation of Fantastic Four comics. We also got introduced remarkably to the Inhumans, Black Panther and even Daredevil during season 2. If season 2 of this cartoon never happened, NO WAY would it have made this list! Even the opening title sequence was totally improved.
Seriously, if you can at all find the DVDs for this amazing 2 season series (WHY WAS IT CANCELLED WHEN IT IMPROVED?!), buy it! The fluid animation in the Black Panther episode alone will blow your brains apart.
8. Ultimate Spider-Man (2012-present)
I must admit, I haven’t seen much of USM, but from what I have seen...it is likely the best written Spider-Man TV show we’ve ever had. And it SHOULD be, with some episodes written by Bendis, Paul Dini and others. Sadly, nostalgia really does influence me a lot in this list, which is why this placed so low.
What I do like about this show is they have season long arcs, much like comics, and that is always fun. Based on Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man comic series appeals to younger viewers too. And when you have Spidey teaming up so many famous Marvel heroes and tying into Avengers Assemble and EVEN having Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fan faves, Fitz-Simmons and Agent Coulson appear on the show (with the show’s actors lending their voice talents), you even get the MCU addicts on board. This show just does everything right, it seems.
I will get flack for not placing this higher, but as far as Spidey goes, there are a couple of other series’ from the past that resonate with me and generations of others quite a bit more. And I’m sorry, it does have some pretty corny Anime inspired cut scenes and I just don’t understand the why that is in a Spider-Man cartoon!! Nonetheless, USM is a MUST WATCH cartoon, so I’m told. And...I’ll get around to it.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2015-present)
Another Disney XD show I never get the chance to check out regularly, but that does not stop it from making waves within my inner circle. This show takes off right from the first film (but it’s connected to the Assemble/Ultimate universe), and it shares that same fun tone. How could a cartoon based on one of the most inspired science fiction movies of the decade so far NOT be amazing?
Your faves are all there, Star Lord, Groot, Rocket, Drax and Gamora. But they are, of course, joined by their allies from the comics like Thor, Angela, Mantis, The Inhumans and more. And villains like Thanos and the Black Order, Loki and the like.
Another high point for the show is that they were able to licence epic late 70’s songs just like the movie did. This is something that’s unprecedented in morning/afternoon kids cartoons. NEVER before has a cartoon series used actual licensed music. That fact alone makes GOTG a groundbreaking animated series. Check it out, if you can.
6. Silver Surfer (1998-....uh, 1998)
Okay, hear me out here. This show I didn’t think much of when I was 17 years old. But I’ve grown and matured, and can appreciate different things. And this cartoon I recently revisited and HOLY CRAP! It was actually good stuff.
Once you get passed the pretty horrible CG effects they used to create Galactus (it’s like early cel-shading mixed with bad N64 graphics), the writing and the fact that they use Jack Kirby’s beautiful art style (something most people from my generation actually need to mature into liking) makes this one season long show VERY cool. It was too mature for Fox Kids Saturday morning block, that’s for sure. Not that there’s adult content, but the story of Norrin Radd and his metamorphosis into a cosmic spaceways hippy philosopher is not one that a child under the age of 13 (or even 20, in my case) will even understand or watch for more than 5 seconds. This should have been on MTV at nights alongside The Maxx and Aeon Flux, to be honest. And maybe it was too high end for THAT audience. This little 13 episode cartoon dealt with very adult issues such as racial intolerance, slavery and yes, even true love (which is something many people never figure out in their entire lives).
THIS WAS GOOD S%^T! And you know what? It didn’t even get cancelled (or even some episodes were never even made) because of bad ratings, it was some B.S. legal dispute between Marvel and Saban Entertainment. This actually makes me pretty angry.
But alas, we can always go back and read some of the early Surfer comics and let those change our lives for the better. Seriously, the way the world feels like these days...a little Surfer would do EVERYONE a whole lot of good.
5. Spider-Man (1967-1970)
Is there a show that changed cartoons more than this one? I don’t think so. I know that most of my readers probably are more familiar with the internet memes the imagery from this show has given us. But it’s a whole lot more.
It was poorly animated (by today’s standards..or like, Disney standards in that period), the writing is not very good if not confusing and frustrating at times. Yet, holy crap...it makes me smile EVERY TIME I watch an episode on Youtube. It’s just special. I remember coming home from KINDERGARTEN in the afternoon to watch it (or sometimes it would alternate with Go-Bots for some reason...which would make Little Dave soooo pissed. Nobody likes Go-Bots. That’s why it’s called GO-BOTS. It was not Transformers and needed to GO AWAY!!).
What was the true star of the show (besides J. Jonah Jameson wanting pictures of Spider-Man EVERY EPISODE, the guy he supposedly hated with a passion...today he would totally be a social media stalker) was the music. From that iconic opening theme to the soft jazz background music, this show was worth it just for the cool tunes and the often trippy colors that went along with it. I often wonder how many “inebriated” adults have watched this show mesmerised by its beauty over the decades. I would bet it is in the millions.
This show, with all of its cheesyness, breaks the Top 5 for the simple reason that NONE of these cartoons would exist if it never existed. It represented the 1960’s and the early days of Marvel and the wall-crawler. And if you need any more convincing, here is one of the coolest videos I have found recently:
4. Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010-2013)
Why fix something that was never broken? This ages old question is asked more and more in this day and age. But when Marvel created this series (that undoubtedly would gain young viewers simply because of the major film franchise no matter what), they initially set out to give it’s audience a chance to enjoy something we never ever really got: a perfect Avengers cartoon. X-Men had 2 in my opinion, Spider-Man has had many. But when we got an Avengers cartoon during the fleeting golden age of Marvel Saturday Morning cartoons (the late 1990’s), it was a hot mess. It didn’t feature the Big 3 (Thor, Cap and Iron Man), and every character had weird armor they needed to activate in order to go into battle, clearly to sell some horrible toy line. The animation was very generic and likely because of the same dispute with Saban, only lasted one season. In this case, that was a good thing.
So anyway, with the movies being the best superhero movie franchise ever, we got this really great Avengers cartoon with a kick-ass theme song (seriously I LOVE THIS SHOW’S THEME SONG), a great voice cast and a great sense of blending the comics with the films...and then all of the sudden, it wasn’t good enough. Disney/Marvel wanted a cartoon with the main characters looking more like the films (basically Hawkeye doesn’t wear a mask anymore and Captain America doesn’t have wings on his head). And the most frustrating...IT NEEDED TO BE CHEESIER.
So, we get Avengers Assembled, a cartoon that feels much more corporate marketed and watered down version of Earth’s Mightiest. It feels corny (seriously, there’s an episode centered around Falcon’s mom visiting them) and it really will grind the gears of anyone who has seen the previous cartoon.
Look, Assemble isn’t at all a “bad cartoon”, it’s just not as good and non-patronizing as Earth’s Mightiest was...and that’s sad.
They didn’t even keep the AWESOME theme song. Rats!
3. Spider-Man (1994-1998)
You knew this one was gonna show up. While it had its problems (do you know how often I have to explain to people the real Black Cat was not created by the Super Soldier Serum?!), Spider-Man’s 90’s animated show is still considered to be the pinnacle of Spidey cartoons. It seems like this show was an integral part of everyone’s 1990’s Saturday morning.
It just covered all the bases. Norman Osborn, the Sinister Six, the black suit/Venom saga, Secret Wars, Spidey’s famous Marvel team-ups...you name it. It had it all. If it didn’t deviate from the comic book mythos so much in so many places, it may have made #1 on this list!
The animation in some of the first episodes in season 1 is some of the best animation I’ve ever seen in an American cartoon. And while you can see they cut corners from then on (the animation actually became pretty bad in the later seasons, sorry to say), it never really hurt kids’ love for the show.
The biggest issue for me was the fifth and final season, where they do their own version of the “clone saga”. It was a mistake on so many levels, and was a horrible way to end a show that had such a remarkable run. And to top it all off...the show was never actually finished. The series finale ends in a cliffhanger with Spidey not reunited with Mary Jane and in literal “limbo”. This was again, because of a dispute between producers. Way to ruin an otherwise phenomenal series, guys!
2. X-Men Evolution (2000-2003)
Well, I may get chastised for putting this series so high, but I actually think it was quite an achievement. This show showed so many aspects of the X-Men that makes it an excellent TV vehicle, mainly the “Xavier’s School” thing. Starting with the core X-Men team as teenagers in high school was in fact, genius.
This show’s interpretations of Nightcrawler, Rogue, Jean Grey and more are still loved and cosplayed to this day. In fact, I would say the Nightcrawler in the most recent film, X-Men: Apocalypse, reminds me of Evolutions’ Kurt quite a bit! The show also gave us an excellent cartoon adaptations of characters we’ve never seen in the 90’s show, like Kitty Pryde and the New Mutants. And we got a brand-new character on the team created just for the show, Spike. I think they were hoping he was gonna be eventually adapted into the comics like Harley Quinn was...but it never happened. Likely because he shared similar powers as Marrow.
The show captured all that I loved about the 80’s X-Men comics in so many ways and broke many conventional “rules of kids’ cartoons” that it deserves it’s respect. But with all that Evolution achieved...it STILL doesn’t hold a candle to what could be the best Saturday morning cartoon of all time and the show that helped saved Marvel Comics from shutting down forever....
1. X-Men (1992-1997)
I mean, this show changed everything. Without it, the 2000 live action movie never would have been made, and Marvel Entertainment would have succumbed to bankruptcy.
I remember early one Saturday morning my brother gave me a VHS videotape saying he taped something that was on late the night before. It was an X-MEN CARTOON! It seems (before the Fox channel was available in Canada), an Ottawa TV station decided to air the episodes at 1 am. THEY knew that adults that were up at that hour would watch an X-Men cartoon. There was clearly a very cool comic book fan working for that station at that time.
My first episode of this show (it was the first season’s finale, actually) that I saw made me so excited...I couldn’t believe that a show based on my favorite comic book ever was being made, and it WAS SO WELL DONE too. It looked like a comic, the characters sounded like I always imagined...AND WOLVERINE WAS CANADIAN (see, the only other time we saw Wolverine in a cartoon previously was the single episode pilot, Pryde of the X-Men, where he was actually an Australian! Are there even WOLVERINES in Australia!? And do you understand how paranoid this made me when I heard an Australian by the name of Hugh Jackman was going to play Logan in a movie!? Good thing that turned out okay)!!
The show captured the comics’ message of racial unity as well, a subject that was dearly missing in the kids TV show genre. Did it make a whole generation of children a bit more tolerant of those that are different than them? Well, I’d like to think it helped a great deal.
It did so many things right, like the comic book easter eggs and the love triangle between Scott and Jean, the SEASON LONG super comic faithful adaptation of the Phoenix Saga, the AMAZING opening theme...and so much more...that the few things it DIDN’T get right...it doesn’t even matter. AND it was one of the few cartoon series’ that actually HAD a proper series finale! Yeah, it did seem like it was thrown together at the last minute, but at least it ENDED properly.
That cartoon changed my life and the lives of so many others. That’s why it’s #1 in my books.
So there you have it. It’s MY Top 10 Marvel cartoons ever. Sorry if it’s not yours! Was this fun? Should I do a DC list as well? It will be much more difficult because DC properties have ruled Saturdays for much longer and with a much higher standard for quality. But I think I will give it a go, so look out for that!
Until then, Bleed out!