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Top 10 Cartoons of the 1980s

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Ryan Barnett. Superheroes, robots and ghosts – the '80s were a weird time, and the TV cartoons of the era took full advantage. Whether they were expanding on already beloved franchises, like "The Real Ghostbusters," "Muppet Babies," and "Ewoks," following some cute and cuddly new characters like "Care Bears" or "The Smurfs," or created simply to sell toys like "G.I. Joe," kids ate it up – in fact, cartoons were like soap operas for children. To mark the anniversary of the premiere episode of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" on December 14th, 1987, counts down our picks for the top 10 TV cartoons of the 1980s.

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Top 10 TV Cartoons of the 1980s

Script written by Ryan Barnett.

Superheroes, robots and ghosts – the ‘80s were a weird time. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down our top 10 favorite cartoons from the 1980s.

#10 – “The Smurfs” (1981-1990)

A show starring a cast of nearly identical creatures, living in a workers’ cooperative, under the authority of a red leader: seems like an unlikely success story for Cold War-era America. Regardless, “The Smurfs” were a hit: it was on TV for nearly a decade, moved a smurf-load of blue merch, and managed to pick up awards along the way.

#9 – “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” (1981-1986)

Before “The Avengers” made superhero gangs cool, there was “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.” Spidey joins forces with ex-X-Men Bobby Drake, a.k.a. Iceman, and Firestar, who was a new character created for the show. And, you just didn’t know which character from the Marvel Universe would swoop in next. Captain America, Doctor Strange, the Sub-Mariner, even Wolverine made an appearance. Wait, was he Australian in this show?

#8 – “The Care Bears” (1985-1988)

First came the greeting cards, then the plush teddy bears, finally the cartoon series. With each bear carrying his own personality-specific belly badge, the Care Bears are a peaceful, loving—y’know what, we can’t do this.

#8 – “Ewoks” (1985-1987)

Our new number eight is the cartoon based on characters from “Return of the Jedi”: “Ewoks.” You know why? Stone axes and arrows beat Care Bear stares any day. Try to blast an Ewok with your feelings, and you’re getting an arrow through the gut.

#7 – “DuckTales” (1987-1990)

This adventure series is full of winks to everything from Shakespeare to Sherlock Holmes, horror films to James Bond. As one of the first syndicated cartoons to feature high-quality animation, “DuckTales” was a landmark ’toon on which Disney built a stable of quality programming. The exploits of Scrooge McDuck and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie stand alongside “Jonny Quest” and “The Adventures of Tintin” as some of the greatest animated adventure series of all time.

#6 – “The Real Ghostbusters” (1986-1991)

Based on one of the funniest films of all time, “The Real Ghostbusters” is about as perfect a transition from big to small screen as you get. Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston are redesigned to be toy-friendly, but their characters remain intact. For two years, this show deftly walked the line between funny and frightening. But that went to pot when it was retooled into the utterly infantile “Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters.”

#5 – “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” (1983-1985)

As we approach the top of our list, number five has to go to this swords and sandals ‘toon. “He-Man” is ultimately a cheapo production that shamelessly reuses animation as often as possible. Based on a pre-existing Mattel toy line, this series was designed to sell action figures and play sets. But at its best, “He-Man” is an emblematic exercise in ‘80s cynicism and greed.

#4 – “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (1987-1996)

A bunch of muscular, pizza-eating talking turtles: what’s not to like? After their darker comic book days, the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” became more child-friendly for TV; but, their fight against Shredder was so popular, it got them upgraded from a Saturday morning standard to daily status. Okay, it ran well into the ‘90s, but ‘80s babies were definitely buying the toys and the cereal too.

#3 – “G.I. Joe” (1985-1986)

If John Milius ever produced a children’s cartoon, it would be like “G.I. Joe.” This show is violent, jingoistic and a little racist... Okay, a lot racist. Basically, Joe was to the ‘80s what “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” was to the 1940s: hugely embarrassing. But few shows, and toy lines, were as popular in the ‘80s, so… Go Joe?

#2 – “Transformers” (1984-1987)

Who can forget these robots in disguise? The premise alone is gold: two factions of giant, shape-shifting alien robots are locked in a bitter civil war. What you may not remember is “Transformers” was like a soap opera for kids: the show featured expansive story arcs, and it got real for the Autobots—characters died in this universe.

#1 – “Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies” (1984-1991)

Smarter than transforming robots, more universal than patriotic cartoon warfare, “Muppet Babies” has earned its top spot. This show, built around the collective imagination of the wee Muppets, is a fast and loose pastiche of found footage and repurposed film and television clips. It was uniquely able to tap into the imaginations of a generation of kids raised by their TV sets. And, it kept the classic Muppet humor intact.

Do you agree with our list? Which ‘80s cartoon is your favorite? For more entertaining Top 10s, be sure to subscribe to

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