To be clear, this isn't my ten favorite cartoons of all time per se.This is the ten best cartoons I watched this summer.And I watched a lot of cartoons this summer.A lot.Just... let me talk about them.
Batman Beyond - I remembered this show from my childhood, but I didn't remember if it was any good.It turns out, it was pretty good.The episodes are hit or miss, and the villains are overall a bit disappointing (I think because the Batman Beyond villains are all aspects of political corruption rather than psychological corruption, and that is less interesting to me).But the very first scene of the first episode, when you find out why Bruce Wayne stopped being Batman... it sticks with you.
Futurama - I never watched this growing up, so I always thought of it as Matt Groening's Other Cartoon.But its sci-fi focus actually makes it pretty unique; it's not often you find a mainstream show tailored to a sci-fi audience in a not obnoxious way (Big Bang Theory...).
Spongebob Squarepants - This was my favorite show for quite a while.When you think about how mainstream Spongebob has become, it's easy to forget how bizarre and creative this show really was.Those cuts of real-person hands doing things?That's brilliant.
Digimon - Digimon, digital monsters, Digimons are the champions.I was curious whether this show would hold up--I haven't seen it in a decade, probably.But it's actually really interesting.The episode arcs can be formulaic and the action is kind of disappointing, but there's something about the Myst-like sense of mystery that pervades the early episodes of this series--a line of phone booths attached to nothing, an empty streetcar on an island, unexplained ruins scattered throughout the jungle--that entrances you.Plus I always had a deep love for what I call the collect-a-thon cartoons: Digimon, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Jackie Chan Adventures (which would have made my list if I'd watched it this summer)...
The Justice League - Sometimes it's easy to forget this show.How?It was really good.The Part 1/Part 2 episode format allowed them to tell some really impressive stories.Some of the episodes were fairly blase, but some of them surprised me with their depth of theme or character development.Anyway, how cool is it that this show used the Batman and Superman ripped straight from their own respective cartoon series?
10. THE VENTURE BROS.
This show is a send-up of the Johnny Quest Scooby-Doo Indiana Jones-type pulp adventure stories that many of us remember from our childhood.All the characters have their specific stereotypes that they're trying to fit into--the genius scientist, the maniacal villain, the intrepid child prodigies, the helper robot, the femme fatale, the loyal sidekick, the faceless henchman... And all of them (except Brock, the bodyguard) are just so bad at it.The best moments of this show are when the characters ignore the pressing conflict to stand around and start talking about why they do what they do.And that's most of the show.
KEY EPISODE: Frankly, I've only seen one season of this show, and it probably gets better.But you can't go wrong with S1E5: EENEY, MEENEY, MINEY... MAGIC! in which Doctor Venture discovers that his neighbor is a dark sorcerer, and when they meet they have an extended... conversation about the respective merits of science and magic.
9. COURAGE THE COWARDLY DOG
One part Looney Tunes and one part Stephen King, Courage the Cowardly Dog is, in my opinion, the supreme expression of the horrors of childhood.The universal fear of childhood is being alone, right?Nobody listening to you.What then could be worse than living with a doddering old woman and a curmudgeony old man... who are continually assaulted by monstrous creatures, often without realizing it... and who live in the middle of Nowhere?
KEY EPISODE: S1E1: A NIGHT AT THE KATZ MOTEL.Some episodes are mostly scary and some episodes are mostly goofy.This is the former.Trapped at the Katz motel, a demure cat named Katz sends giant flesh-eating spiders after Courage and family.Shout-outs to FREAKY FRED and KING RAMSES' CURSE though.
8. DEATH NOTE
Does this count as a cartoon?I don't really know.I have watched very little anime in my life, but this summer I worked through most of Death Note with some friends.It's a great show.More than any other television show I have ever seen, I would call this show precise.This show is basically about superdetectives, and also a lot of killing.
KEY EPISODE: I honestly can't figure out what episode I'm thinking of, but the episodes are so interdependent that it's hard to single one out anyway.
7. AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER
An American anime that's actually pitch perfect, Avatar has everything you could want out of a cartoon.It's funny, it's well-written, it's great to look at.The action is some of the best I've seen, and the worldbuilding is impeccable.Plus it's just so fun to watch.
KEY EPISODE: Again, I'm going to have to beg off on this one.I've only seen this show here and there, out of order.Sometime soon I'll have to watch it through, but until then how can I pick a favorite?
6. BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD
Christopher Nolan's dark, brooding Batman has dominated the Batman iconography of the past decade.That's why this show is a breath of fresh air.Remember Adam West's Batman?Batman: The Brave and the Bold captures the same spirit of fun, but sprinkles on actually good action sequences.Batman will whip a lightsaber out of his utility belt from time to time, but that doesn't mean he'll look like a doofus doing it.
KEY EPISODE: S1E2: TERROR ON DINOSAUR ISLAND!Again, I've only really seen like half of season one of this show, but this was the standout episode so far.Batman teams up with Plastic Man to fight... giant talking gorillas!I bet you thought it would be dinosaurs.The gags were top notch and I particularly liked Gorilla Grodd's dialogue.
5. SAMURAI JACK
Some children shows aren't for children.Samurai Jack is a Japanese warrior voiced by a black actor in an American-made anime helmed by the Russian-born Genndy Tartakovsky (also creator of Dexter's Lab).That's almost as multicultural as the first episode, in which Jack travels the world to train in countless different cultures.The show is about a warrior who is about to defeat the ultimate evil, Aku, only to be thrown through a vortex into the future.And I don't mean our time.I mean flying cars and stuff.The concept is genius, but the really great thing about this show is that it's patient.It takes time.It sets up beautiful long establishing shots.It really gives you a sense of scale and ramps up the tension before it allows combat to begin.And damn is it stylish.
KEY EPISODE: S1E7: JACK AND THE THREE BLIND ARCHERS.Awesome.
4. ADVENTURE TIME
If you're living, like, today, you've probably heard hype about this show.The hype is justified.The reason I picked the above eyesore of an image to represent the show was to demonstrate something: Those are all characters, and they are all unique, and they are all creative, and they are all hilarious.Look at all of them!This show just oozes with... personality?Imagination?Fun?Whatever it is, Adventure Time has the monopoly.
KEY EPISODE: S4E18: KING WORM is the best representation of dream narrative I have ever seen.
3. THE SIMPSONS
And I picked this image to represent The Simpsons because they are mocking The Beatles, one of the most iconic forces to ever impact our pop culture.I would argue that The Simpsons is another one of those forces, and the impact has been quite destructive.If you can think of a cultural norm or major event from the last 20+ years, The Simpsons has probably made fun of it, whether you noticed or not.Sure, the show may have lost a bit of its mojo after the first 12 (!) seasons, but it's about to begin its 25th (!!!) season, and it's still pretty darn funny.
KEY EPISODE: This is like picking a favorite child, if you had over 500 children.So I'll just say a really excellent episode I watched recently: S6E1: BART OF DARKNESS.It's basically summer vacation meets Rear Window.I wish there was a way to measure jokes-per-second, because this episode's count would be awfully high.
2. SPIDER-MAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
This show is one of the things I'm most nostalgic about in the world.I mean, just look at that picture.Spider-Man and War Machine are facing off against Venom and Carnage.Or so it would seem.But if I remember correctly, War Machine wasn't exactly working with Spider-Man--he was more of an interested fourth party.And Venom and Carnage weren't actually teamed up.Venom was pissed at Carnage, so they were fighting.And because they shared a mutual enemy, Spider-Man and Venom actually had to team up for a while.That's because Carnage was teamed up with Dormammu and... Madame Web told Spider-Man to keep his friends close but his enemies closer and... and...
This show was basically soap opera crack for ten-year-old me.
KEY EPISODE: The one I was just talking about was S3E11: CARNAGE.But the SECRET WARS arc of episodes stand out as particularly good ones.Also, in S5E13: FAREWELL, SPIDER-MAN, Spider-Man meets Stan Lee, so that's pretty amazing.
1. INVADER ZIM
This may be one of the best television shows of all time... and it was cancelled far before its time.After producing one season and change, Nickelodeon pulled the plug (rumored to be because it was too gruesome and the creator refused to move it to a later time slot).People are still really... really upset about it.
That's because it's brilliant.Some people didn't like it because it scared them, and some people didn't like it because "they scream a lot", but its merit is undeniable.There's something frankly insane about the whole thing (as are most works created by geniuses), yet somehow still accessible.I could talk about the ridiculously entertaining supporting cast... or the visceral and ingenious fight choreography... or the dark, twisted art and animation style... or the honest, off-kilter social commentary... I could talk about the show for ages, but let me just say that in the series finale, Zim and Dib team up to fight Santa Claus.
KEY EPISODE: S2E4: ZIM EATS WAFFLES.This entire episode consists of Dib watching Zim eat waffles via a secret camera pointed at his dining room table in an attempt to record incriminating evidence.Yet somehow, the episode squeezes dramatic tension and comedic gold out of the banality of it all.
Writing this has really made me want to sit around and watch cartoons all day.Too bad I have to go achieve a higher education.