Top 10 Cartoon TV Characters with the Saddest Backstories

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Top 10 Cartoon TV Characters with the Saddest Backstories

VOICE OVER: Kirsten Ria Squibb WRITTEN BY: Adriana Travisano
These cartoon characters have surprisingly sad backstories. For this list, we'll be looking at our favorite animated characters with tear-jerking pasts. Our countdown includes "SpongeBob SquarePants," "DuckTales," "Rugrats," and more!
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Top 10 Cartoon TV Characters with the Saddest Backstories


Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Cartoon TV Characters with the Saddest Backstories.

For this list, we’ll be looking at our favorite animated characters with tear-jerking pasts.

Before we get started, let us know which character’s backstory made you emotional--or, you know, just sweat from your eyes, if you don’t roll that way!

#10: Sheldon J. Plankton
“SpongeBob SquarePants” (1999-)


Although Plankton is presented as the antagonist of the show, the real story is a lot more nuanced. It turns out, there was a time when Plankton and Krabs were best friends and business partners. Their idea to open up a burger joint was a shared dream, but when Old Man Jenkins got poisoned by their burger, things went awry. The duo split, each with half a recipe. Whereas Krabs managed to create success for himself, Plankton wasn’t so lucky, which explains his unwavering motivation for stealing the Krabby Patty secret formula. In the end, they both lost their best friend over greed and glory, but it was Plankton who drew the shorter end of the stick. Oh, barnacles!

#9: Courage the Cowardly Dog
“Courage the Cowardly Dog” (1999-2002)


We’re not sure if it’s seeing Courage animated as a puppy or what–but this episode is on a whole other level of sad. Toward the series finale, we get to find out just how Courage ended up living with Muriel and Eustace. When he was just a pup, Courage witnessed a crazed veterinarian nab his parents and send them to space as subjects of his dog-breeding experiment. There was a little bit of tussling but Courage, unfortunately, didn’t manage to save them in time. He watched from a dark alley, alone and scared, as the rocket with his parents launched. Luckily, Muriel would come along and take him home to a new life, but we bet Courage always wondered what happened to his biological parents.

#8: Master Splinter
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise (1984-)


Any way you slice this one (yes, that was a ninja pun, thank you for noticing), Master Splinter’s past is pretty devastating. He has two main different backstories, depending on the iteration. The first is that he was once the pet rat of the honorable ninja Hamato Yoshi. Sadly, Yoshi would eventually be slain by Shredder. Splinter would end up in the sewers with our favorite turtle brothers and the radioactive mutagen leak would transform the five of them. The second account of things is arguably a little darker. In this version, Splinter was Hamato Yoshi and, the opposite of the way that the turtles were mutated into humanoids, Yoshi was mutated into a rat. All things considered, Splinter ended up an adoptive dad of four, so maybe things could have turned out worse!

#7: Meteora Butterfly/Miss Heinous
“Star vs. the Forces of Evil” (2015-19)


When we were first introduced to Miss Heinous, she was the headmistress of St. Olga's Reform School for Wayward Princesses, where she was brainwashing students to keep them in line and using them to restore her youth. Hurt people hurt people; that’s definitely the message here. In season three, we’d find out that Miss Heinous had a whole past that made her more than just a one-off villain. As it turned out, she was Eclipsa’s and Globgor’s daughter, which meant she was half-Mewman and half-monster–but more than that, it meant she was part of the Butterfly family. Both she and her parents were really put through the wringer, from Eclipsa being trapped in ice over her love for a monster to Meteora’s rightful place at the throne being stolen from her.

#6: Timmy Turner
“The Fairly Oddparents” (2001-17)


As long as Timmy is still ten years old, we’re considering this his backstory. Outside of getting his every wish granted, Timmy’s life was kind of… well, sad. His parents were neglectful, selfish–and dare we say–on the lower end of the intelligence spectrum, and he was constantly abused by his babysitter. His life at school wasn’t much better either. He was bullied quite a lot and also severely mistreated by Mr. Crocker. Plus, his wishes don’t usually work out for the better in the end, so let’s just pile that onto the list. Still, we’re glad he has Cosmo and Wanda to show him the ropes. Without them, we’re not sure how he would have made it through!

#5: Chuckie Finster
“Rugrats” franchise (1991-)


In the first few seasons of “Rugrats”, Chuckie’s mother is noticeably not around. It wouldn’t be until season four, in the episode “Mother’s Day”, that we’d finally find out what happened. Chuckie’s mom was present for at least a little bit of his infancy, before she ended up in the hospital. The consensus is that she had some sort of terminal illness, because she started keeping a journal while she was sick where the last thing she wrote was a poem for Chuckie. This is definitely one of the sadder episodes, and we can imagine it struck a chord in a lot of kids who’d lost parents of their own.

#4: Huey, Dewey, & Louie Duck
“DuckTales” (2017-21)


For a cartoon about anthropomorphic ducks, there's a lot of trauma in this family. It really all started when Della went missing. Not only did the triplets’ dad seem to be out of the picture (we’ve heard something about a firecracker under his chair?), but their mom wasn’t around either. Donald, meanwhile, lost his twin sister and now had her three kids to raise. To make matters worse, Donald blamed his Uncle Scrooge for her disappearance and Scrooge… Well, he blamed himself. He spent his fortunes trying to find his niece but of course, he’d come up empty every time. Donald and Scrooge wouldn’t speak to each other for ten whole years, and Huey, Dewey, and Louie wouldn’t find out about any of it until the show’s events. Aw, phooey, indeed!

#3: Stan Pines
“Gravity Falls” (2012-16)


Listen, we know Ford was trapped in other dimensions for thirty years and got made fun of for his six fingers and everything else, but Stan’s been put through it too! Not only was he responsible for the falling out with his brother, he was also disowned and kicked out. His desperate attempts to make a living would land him in jail in three different states and get him banned in thirty-two of them. It would take ten years, but Ford would eventually ask to see him again… only to insist that he get as far away as possible. We can’t imagine the amount of guilt he must’ve felt after causing his own brother’s disappearance. He’d carry this with him for the next thirty years, living under his brother’s name and trying to bring him back.

#2: Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz
“Phineas and Ferb” (2007-15)


Where do we even start with Doofenshmirtz’s phonebook-length list of tragic backstories? His parents didn’t show up to his own birth; he had to throw himself his own birthday party which no one attended; he was forced to wear dresses growing up and was then made fun of for it; he had to take up the position of the family lawn gnome; he lost his best friend (who was a balloon, by the way); his brother was always favored over him–[gasp for air]. Should we go on? No wonder this man became a villain! Talk about an origin story!

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

​​Uncle Iroh, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (2005-08)
We Can’t Imagine the Pain of Losing a Child

Harley Quinn, “Harley Quinn” (2019)
Giving Up Your Career For an Abusive Partner? Yeah, No.

Wilt, “Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends” (2004-09)
On Top of Losing His Arm, Wilt Lost Jordan Too

#1: Simon Petrikov/Ice King
“Adventure Time” (2010-18)


Although “Adventure Time” has quite a lot of heavier story arcs, Marceline and Simon’s has to be the saddest. Simon Petrikov was once a kind-hearted antiquarian with a beloved fiancée named Betty. Unfortunately, he’d come into possession of a magical crown that would eventually lead him to lose his sanity. After Betty left, and in the middle of the Mushroom War, he’d find a young Marceline, who he’d take under his wing. However, Simon would inevitably completely forget himself and abandon Marceline for her own safety. Marceline, who already believed she’d been abandoned by her mom, had to experience this yet a second time and Simon… Well, he became the Ice King. His backstory feels like an allusion to Alzeimer’s, which is just a little too real and way too heartbreaking.
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