These days, there are so many great animated shows and movies aimed at all ages that plenty of folks still turn to cartoons as a respite from the real world. Animation is a modern art form: It can be a commentary on society and a way of understanding the world, giving viewers the opportunity to see themselves in those colorful characters. But unlike live-action shows, cartoon characters often live in worlds of boundless possibility, creating a fertile space for exploring complex ideas, dabbling in the absurd, and parodying subjects that might be too sensitive to cover elsewhere.
No matter how old viewers are or what generation they were born in, most have fond memories of cartoons that made an impression on them during their formative years. From early cartoons like Gertie the Dinosaur to iconic Disney villains like Ursula, everyone has their favorite. After considering everything from cult followings to cultural impact, we’re ranking the 60 best cartoon characters of all time.
60. Mickey Mouse
Personality-wise, Mickey Mouse is not the most interesting character in the animated world. More of a cartoon everyman and goody-goody, Mickey has nonetheless earned his place as one of the most iconic cartoons of all time by becoming a key component of the Disney image, encompassing family fun and pure, unadulterated consumerism.
First dreamed up in 1928 by Walt Disney, Mickey is a case study in branding, with his signature red shorts and yellow shoes as recognizable as the Disney font. Although he’s undergone a few facelifts over the years, this enduring mouse has stood the test of time through countless cartoons, books, and films, managing to connect with generation after generation.
59. Betty Boop
Jazz Age beauty Betty Boop has been around for almost a century and still looks great for her age. First appearing as a cabaret singer in the 1930 cartoon “Dizzy Dishes,” her canine features evolved until she was reimagined as a big-eyed flapper and modern young woman. With her feminine features and body-contouring attire, Betty was a character who embraced her sexuality on her own terms, which is part of why she’s still beloved today. Mental Floss called Betty a “feminist icon,” noting that the subject matter of Betty Boop cartoons often focused on her fight against powerful men attempting to harass her.
58. Bart Simpson
If there’s one cartoon character who always seems to have his act together in all the wrong ways, it’s Bart Simpson. With a catchphrase for every occasion from “Eat my shorts” to “¡Ay, caramba!” and advanced skills in orneriness, pranking, and tomfoolery, Bart is the cartoon embodiment of a troublemaking tween. Something of a Gen-X antihero, Bart is always sticking it to the man, fully at peace with his existence as the ultimate cool kid slacker.
From the chalkboard gag at the beginning of every episode of “The Simpsons” to his frequent nude scenes, Bart is always up to something. In the early ’90s, his popularity reached a fever pitch with the cultural phenomenon known as “Bartmania.” And he’s still clocking in today as “The Simpsons” holds its ground as the longest-running scripted show on television.
57. SpongeBob SquarePants
If nautical nonsense be something you wish, take a trip to Bikini Bottom and spend some time with SpongeBob SquarePants and his bestie Patrick Star. With his childlike ways and love of whimsical endeavors like jellyfishing, SpongeBob is a huge nuisance to his stick-in-the-mud neighbor Squidward Tentacles. A working-class hero, SpongeBob finds joy in his job flipping Krabby Patties at the Krusty Crab, even when his money-grubbing boss is the living worst. He’s also a pretty good influence on everyone around him, and his devotion to his dim but lovable pal Patrick is nothing if not a bromance for the ages. With his own TV series and a handful of films, it’s hard not to love this invertebrate.
56. Steven Universe
Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe is a multifaceted hero for Generation Z. Steven (voiced by Zach Callison) is an adolescent boy with some very unique abilities, thanks to his mom Rose Quartz, who just happened to be from an alien species known as the Gems. The series follows Steven’s coming-of-age story as he struggles with his identity as a half-Gem and gradually steps into his mother’s footsteps as a protector of the human race.
Steven’s exploration of his own feelings and relationships serves as a positive role model for younger viewers, but his story is complex enough for older fans to enjoy as well. His characterization has been praised for its defiance of compulsory gender performance, with Susana Polo of Polygon calling the show a “toxic masculinity antidote” that is “subversive in a positive way.”
55. Homer Simpson
Like his son Bart, Homer is one of the more flawed members of the Simpson family. In many ways, Homer Simpson embodies some of the worst stereotypes of Americans. He’s infamously lazy, inconsiderate, self-absorbed, demanding, and embarrassing. Over the years, he’s done countless awful things, from gaining 61 pounds and dressing in a muumuu to collect a disability check (“King-Sized Homer”) to framing his own wife for drunk driving (“Co-Dependents’ Day”). While Homer’s failings are numerous, the support of his wife and children somehow leads to his redemption again and again, and there’s something awfully comforting about the idea of America’s worst dad getting by with the help of his family.
Along with his best bud Shaggy, Hanna-Barbera’s beloved snack-loving doggo Scooby-Doo is the glue that holds the Mystery Machine gang together. With the help of his besties, the endearing and lovable Great Dane always manages to overcome his fears and help unmask the baddie behind the big mystery of the week. One of the great things about Scooby’s adventures is that they teach kids to be skeptical when faced with things that don’t make sense. In a world where faith in pseudoscience is on the rise, Scooby is there as a voice of reason, showing generation after generation that no matter how spooky a zombie or ghost seems, there’s a logical explanation for everything if you can just unmask it.
53. Fred Flintstone
The patriarch of his modern stone-age family, Fred Flintstone is a double blast from the past. On the surface, he’s a prehistoric family man. But to modern viewers, Fred is a 20th-century relic offering a glimpse into another side of the “Mad Men” era. While Fred can be hotheaded and a bit backward at times, he’s a good friend to Barney Rubble, and he worships the ground his wife Wilma walks on. And in an era when many men were absent from their families as they worked to achieve the suburban dream, Fred understood the concept of work-life balance. He always seemed to have his priorities straight, working hard to spend time with his family and enjoy his favorite pastimes: Bowling and hanging out at the Lodge.
Charlie Brown might be the lovable loser in the “Peanuts” saga, but Snoopy has always been the movie star of the gang. Although he’s technically an ordinary beagle, Snoopy is an anthropomorphic canine of exceptional talents. With the help of his trusty typewriter, Snoopy enjoys working on the Great American Novel. He also uses his vivid imagination to engage in a little LARPing every now and then, often pretending he’s a World War I pilot going up against his nemesis, the Red Baron. Like his owner Charlie Brown, Snoopy’s popularity has lasted for generations, with his recognizable balloon a staple of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade for decades.
51. Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown is popular in part because he’s utterly relatable. He struggles with social anxiety and more than his fair share of bad luck, but he works hard to overcome his insecurities. Since his first appearance in a 1950 “Peanuts” comic, Charlie has become one of the most beloved cartoon characters of all time. His cultural impact is significant, with the Charlie Brown walk so recognizable it even became a running gag in “Arrested Development.”
He has always been a fine pal to his classmates, even the ones who give him a hard time, like Lucy. And Charlie Brown helped break boundaries in 1968 when he became friends with Franklin, a Black student whose dad was serving in Vietnam. Charlie Brown also understands the value of man’s best friend, becoming inconsolably heartbroken when Snoopy leaves home in “Snoopy Come Home.”
50. Bugs Bunny
One of the most instantly recognizable cartoon characters, Bugs Bunny is a sassy gray-and-white rabbit with a Brooklyn accent and a bit of an attitude. Like Porky Pig, he’s seen a few glow-ups over the decades. While Bugs has a tendency to mess with other characters, he doesn’t do so out of malice. In a 1998 Archive interview, Bugs animator Chuck Jones explains that Bugs prefers to talk through his problems and never causes trouble for others unless he’s provoked. Jones explained, “In order to establish the character, he had to take pleasure in defending himself.”
49. Felix the Cat
At 103 years old, Felix the Cat is one of the world’s oldest cartoon characters, dating back to the silent film era. The original silent shorts are a reminder that cartoons were once primarily made for an older audience, often featuring adult situations and settings. A prime example is “Woos Whoopee,” which was set in a nightclub and featured Felix dancing on a table with a foamy mug of beer before getting hammered on wine, despite the cartoon’s 1930 release falling squarely in the Prohibition era.
Felix is an early example of an impactful animation style known as “rubber hose animation,” with cartoons full of wonderfully surreal elements from dancing buildings to bizarre creatures. The style is still beloved today, with its lasting influence showing up most recently in the popular video games “Cuphead” and “Bendy and the Ink Machine.”
48. Jerry the Mouse
He may not have much to say, but Hanna-Barbera’s classic mouse is as clever and adorable as they come. While always under attack from his arch-nemesis Tom the Cat, Jerry is no victim. On the contrary, Jerry seems to delight in outfoxing his feline counterpart and turning the cat-and-mouse archetype on its head. Easily one of the most recognizable cartoon character duos of all time, “Tom and Jerry” hearken back to a time when cartoon violence was celebrated, a trope parodied in “The Simpsons” show-within-the-show, “Itchy and Scratchy.” But at the end of the day, these furry frenemies seem to genuinely care about each other.
After all the furry fisticuffs, Jerry’s always there for Tom, comforting him over a broken heart and stopping him from making bad decisions. The relationship bears a resemblance to a healthy sibling rivalry, as they constantly tangle with each other in a way that makes them both stronger.
If there’s anyone who understands how cats deserve to be lavished with affection, it’s “Garfield” creator Jim Davis. A fat, lasagna-loving orange tabby, according to Slate, Garfield was conceptualized with mass-marketing and merchandising in mind, and it worked. In the 1980s, as mass consumption and commercialism were targeting children like never before, it was the rare kid who didn’t have a Garfield plush, an “I hate Mondays” poster, or a coveted Garfield phone. But part of Garfield’s lasting appeal is that underneath all that cheesy consumerism, there’s something wildly relatable about Garfield’s sarcasm and slackerish ways. And with the new Chris Pratt “Garfield” film, it looks like he’ll be around for a while.
Although younger generations may be less familiar with Popeye, for a large part of the 20th century he was one of the most recognizable cartoon characters. First debuting in comic strip form in a 1929 issue of “Thimble Theatre,” Popeye is a spinach-loving, pipe-smoking sailor who has appeared in cartoons and even a Robin Williams film. Although Popeye is not always the best boyfriend to Olive Oyl, and he does nearly let Swee’Pea get eaten by an alligator, his heart is always in the right place, and it’s hard not to appreciate the work he puts into those bulgy, anchor-tattooed forearms.
45. Yogi Bear
Smarter than the average bear and always getting in the ranger’s hair, Yogi Bear has been featured in several TV series and comics over the years. In his home of Jellystone Park, Yogi Bear has a love for “pic-a-nic” baskets and a girlfriend he just can’t seem to commit to. After getting his start on “The Huckleberry Hound Show,” Yogi became a big enough star to get his own series.
Yogi’s many attempts to outsmart the park ranger are often the focus of the show, and for a bear like Yogi, being stuck in the wilderness is torture. After all, with his green skinny tie and pork pie hat, Yogi would fit right in at a 1960s office party. But Yogi’s efforts to leave are much more than a city bear trying to escape his hometown for better things. As the main attraction of Jellystone Park, Yogi resents the way the park’s bears are exploited. But despite his frustration, Yogi always manages to find comfort in the little things, like his friendship with Boo-Boo Bear and sneaking snacks from park guests. And thanks to his new “Jellystone!” series on HBO Max, it looks like Yogi might finally make it out of the park after all.
Voiced by beloved voice actor John DiMaggio, Bender of “Futurama” is the quintessential cartoon robot. Like Marvin the Paranoid Android from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Bender is deeply flawed, but he’s also a reminder of the healing power of friendship. After the Tijuana-built robot learns that the girders he was created to bend are used in suicide booths, he becomes profoundly depressed and decides to kill himself. When the anachronistic Fry mistakes the same suicide booth for a phone booth, Bender offers to go sharesies on the quarter admission price, and the two become fast friends, eventually becoming soulmates.
A somewhat sociopathic antihero, Bender runs on booze, frequently waxes on about killing all humans, and pathologically lies, cheats, and steals. But despite his many flaws, Bender truly cares for Fry and often shows remorse when his actions harm the few people he actually likes. As for everyone else? As Bender would be happy to tell them, they can all bite his shiny metal ass.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
43. Stewie Griffin
The ultimate baby genius, “Family Guy” prodigy Stewie Griffin (voiced by creator Seth McFarlane) is a child constantly underestimated by everyone around him. While the rugby ball-headed Stewie plots to kill his mother Lois or take over the world, his efforts are often met with a dismissive “Oh, you are just so cute!” or “Mommy loves you!” As McFarlane told Fast Company’s Josh Dean, Stewie’s inexplicably pretentious British accent is based on Rex Harrison’s Professor Higgins from “My Fair Lady,” a voice that Stewie eventually reveals to be an affectation in a therapy session (“Send in Stewie, Please”).
While his friendship with Brian the Dog is fairly toxic and often features verbal and physical abuse and neglect, their adventures together are nonetheless a highlight of the show. Although Stewie often struggles to understand what the deuce is going on in the Griffin home, he’s still usually the smartest guy in the room.
42. Rosie the Robot
The subject of the first-ever “The Jetsons” episode, Rosie the Robot (originally spelled “Rosey”) is the Jetson family’s robotic maid. First hired by the Jetsons from U-Rent A Maid, Rosie is much more than a sentient vacuum cleaner (despite being a piece of obsolete technology). Rosie’s service to the retrofuturist Atomic Age family is a bit troubling at first, with Jane Jetson picking her up because she just doesn’t like doing housework. But Rosie seems to be incredibly grateful to be living with a family and doing what she loves, initially asking George how much the family would charge her to work for them. She even becomes close to the kids, affectionately calling Elroy “Roy Boy” in her robotic Brooklyn accent. With her subtle snark, frilly maid attire, cylindrical features, and whirring gears, Rosie is still rolling into hearts today.
41. Arthur Read
Xennials and Millenials who grew up with Arthur Timothy Read may cringe to hear it, but the bespectacled aardvark is well into his 40s these days. As Bustle’s Sabienna Bowman observed, Arthur is “a quintessential ’90s kid” with his love of pop culture and creative imagination. One of the things that makes Arthur such a great character is that he normalizes personal growth, often having to course-correct after he’s realized he’s made a bad decision. A fairly normal eight-year-old kid with a best friend and a slightly awkward persona, one of Arthur’s best qualities is his love of books. While PBS KIDS reported that the show’s 25-year run would end in 2022, the network simultaneously announced plans for new streaming content and a podcast to continue teaching a new generation all about the magic of friendship, books, and pop culture.
40. Rick Sanchez
The Cartoon Network
Wubba lubba dub-dub! The eponymous Rick of “Rick and Morty” is one of the most abrasive and dysfunctional characters on the list, but his cultural impact has nonetheless earned him a place. If there was any question that Rick is an alter-ego version of Doctor Emmett Brown from “Back to the Future,” co-creator Justin Roiland’s original parody “Doc and Mharti” swiftly puts it to rest. While Rick is hardly likable, he is nonetheless interesting and hilarious. Rick is many things: a chaotic neutral mad scientist with sociopathic tendencies, filthy-mouthed supergenius, pansexual lover, drunk septuagenarian, and interdimensional party boy. But most of all, he’s a friend to his grandson, Morty … at least when he’s not imperiling the boy across the fabric of spacetime.
39. Eric Cartman
The bane of South Park Elementary, Eric Cartman is probably the least likable kid in the town of South Park, Colorado, constantly abusing everyone around him. Nonetheless, he is one of the most memorable characters in the series, with Cartman catchphrases like “Respect ma authoritah!” and “Screw you guys, I’m going home,” becoming ubiquitous in the late 1990s.
Despite his constant rudeness, selfishness, and all-around abusive behavior, Cartman is essential to his group of four best friends, with the two-part story in “South Park: Post Covid” and “South Park: Post Covid: The Return of Covid” concluding that Kyle, Kenny, Cartman, and Stan remaining friends leads to the best timeline. And despite Cartman’s many failings, it’s hard not to admire his no-filter approach to life, even if it finds him saying some decidedly horrible things.
38. Dora the Explorer
“Hola! Soy Dora!” The importance of that phrase in Latinx representation cannot be overstated. According to series co-creator Chris Gifford in an NPR interview with Antonia Cereijido, Dora was originally conceptualized as an adventuring bunny. After Nickelodeon’s President of Animation and Preschool Entertainment Brown Johnson learned that there was a Latinx vacuum in youth programming, she committed to making Dora a young Latina girl.
Thanks to that decision, an entire generation of kids grew up watching a friendly Latinx hero become one of the most popular children’s characters of all time. Dora is also brilliant at teaching kids the value of bilingualism. And along with her trusty backpack, map, and purple monkey Boots, she helps kids learn self-confidence and problem-solving.
37. Space Ghost
Despite his status as a legitimate superhero for many years after his Hanna-Barbera creation in the 1960s, it’s Space Ghost’s second career in the ’90s that lands him on this list. Kicking off in 1994 on Cartoon Network and then later moving to Adult Swim, “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” placed Space Ghost behind a talk show desk interviewing celebrity guests. His persona on the show is strange, awkward, and fairly inept, leading to some bizarre and hilarious interviews.
According to Animation World Magazine’s Heather Kenyon, guests would answer somewhere between 20 to 25 questions given through an earpiece and asked to imagine they were coming from a superhero. After the interview, writers would piece together Space Ghost’s dialogue, sometimes changing the questions. Space Ghost managed to interview the likes of Jim Carrey, David Byrne, Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, and William Shatner, to name just a few.
36. Roger Rabbit
The star of Disney and Amblin’s 1988 film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” Roger Rabbit is a Toon with very real problems. A throwback to the golden age of animation, Roger is everything a Toon should be with his wacky mannerisms, over-the-top personality, and classic cartoon appearance. Roger lives in Toontown, the animated version of Hollywood, where he’s something of a star. But after Roger is confronted with images of his sultry wife Jessica playing patty cake with Toontown owner Marvin Acme, he becomes implicated in the man’s murder. The carrot cake-loving Toon was an instant hit when the film came out, with his popularity earning him his very own dance move.
The most recognizable Pokémon, Pikachu is a yellow electric type creature from the species of the same name. With his lightning bolt-shaped tail and adorable anime style, Pikachu is one of the cutest cartoon characters on the list. Despite Pikachu’s small stature, he constantly shows strength and bravery, eagerly stepping into any battle his Pokémon trainer Ash puts him into.
In an interview with Time, creator Satoshi Tajiri explained that Pikachu is “like an electric mouse,” with his name translating to an onomatopoeia in Japanese that combines “pika” for an electric sound and “chu” for a mouse sound. Pikachu’s popularity blew up so much in the ’90s that Time named him second on their “Best People of 1999” list, coming in just under Ricky Martin.
First appearing in Filmation’s “She-Ra: The Princess of Power,” She-Ra aka Princess Adora is the twin sister of He-Man. Adora has the extraordinary ability to transform into the mighty She-Ra. But despite her incredible strength and superhuman abilities as She-Ra, she only uses violence when she can’t avoid it, a reminder that sometimes the greatest strength is exercising restraint. The Atlantic’s Maria Teresa Hart praised the series for featuring a female cast with “formidable powers” and “a range of female personalities to identify with.”
In 2018, Netflix released the reboot “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power,” which was widely acclaimed for its LGBT representation, with Tor’s Emmet Asher-Perrin commenting that many characters “read fluidly on the gender and sexuality spectrum.” Owl and Fox Fisher also praised the series in The Guardian, noting that “She-Ra” has several transgender characters with trans voice actors.
33. Foghorn Leghorn
With his unusually large size and thick Southern drawl, Foghorn Leghorn has some of the best shade in the biz. Although his origin has become largely forgotten today, Foghorn is a parody of a comedy radio show character meant to lampoon Southern-fried politicians, according to The Atlantic. Appearing on “The Fred Allen Show” in the mid-1940s, Senator Beauregard Claghorn was a loudmouthed southern who loathed the North above all.
Like Claghorn, Foghorn relishes his role as an expert, frequently addressing others as “boy” or “son” and interjecting his lessons with “I say, I say, I say.” Watching a few episodes featuring the boisterous rooster is a bit like having a crash course in insult comedy, with zingers like “That boy’s like a tattoo. He gets under your skin,” “You look like two miles of bad road,” and “Nice girl, but ’bout as sharp as a sack ‘o wet mice.”
32. Chicken Boo
The cartoon world is full of overconfident chickens, chief among them Chicken Boo of “Animaniacs” fame (voiced by Frank Welker). Like Foghorn Leghorn, Chicken Boo is an unusually large chicken. But not content to hang out on the farm and mentor barnyard animals, Chicken Boo prefers to wear a disguise to look human. Despite his obvious featheriness, inability to speak outside of squawking sounds, tendency to peck at the ground looking for feed, and the fact that he’s literally just a chicken in clothing or in one case, only a mustache, Chicken Boo constantly fools people everywhere he goes.
While others fawn over him, there’s always one solitary detractor wondering what is wrong with everyone else that they don’t recognize Chicken Boo as an actual chicken. At some point during his adventures, Chicken Boo’s disguise always comes off, and everyone suddenly realizes he is indeed a chicken, much to their horror. The absurd humor is a prime example of what makes “Animaniacs” comedy gold, and somewhere under all those feathers, a commentary on groupthink is waiting to be pecked at.
31. Curious George
Ever since the Man in the Yellow Hat took him in, Curious George has been loved by generations of parents and kids. The adorable little monkey lives up to his name, constantly getting into messes and keeping his best buddy Ted on his toes. The star of many books, films, and even his own television series, George is one of the most charming and wholesome children’s characters of all time. He exudes childlike wonder at everything he encounters, which can get him into a pickle or two every now and then. In many ways, Curious George resembles a toddler or preschooler with his insatiable curiosity and his pure love of life. And like a toddler, George needs the help and protection of his surrogate dad, reminding little ones that it’s okay to explore the world as long as they stay close to their families.
With her high-pitched voice and stereotypically girlish appearance, Smurfette is the lone female character on “The Smurfs.” Originally made by the greedy Gargamel to menace the Smurfs in “The Smurfette,” Smurfette introduces herself to the Smurfs by playing the damsel in distress, then basically throwing herself at them. The Smurfs swiftly build her a house, painting it pink and covering it in hearts and flowers, a favor she returns by flooding the Smurf Village. At her trial, she cries her way out of consequences, which Papa Smurf rewards by granting her Smurf amnesty and a blonde dye job.
Katha Politt’s 1991 New York Times article would coin the term “The Smurfette Principle,” referring to the common trope of creating a female character surrounded by males, with the female character’s entire role frequently defined by stereotypically feminine traits. The concept became a jumping-off point for countless important conversations about the representation of women and girls in television.
These days, anime is wildly popular not just in Japan, but around the world. But there was a time when anime in the U.S. was more of a niche, and “Sailor Moon” was a huge part of changing that. Vice emphasizes the important cultural contributions of “Sailor Moon,” particularly through the character of Haruka. The masculine-presenting schoolgirl Haruka was a revelation for many nonbinary and trans youth.
In the original Japanese series, Michiru (Sailor Neptune) and Haruka (Sailor Uranus) were a lesbian couple. Unfortunately, this was changed for the original English dub, which changed the pair from lovers to cousins, and did so poorly. As The Daily Athenaeum noted, the slapdash fix did not hide the romantic feelings between the pair and instead implied an incestuous relationship.
Still, many American kids gleaned enough from the subtext to infer the original relationship. For countless queer youth, “Sailor Moon” offered rare representation and visibility. In their 2014 re-release of the series, VIZ Media would redub the series to remove the original censorship, restoring the couple to the status they deserve.
28. Brad Boimler
With all of the countless memorable “Star Trek” characters in the world, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But of all the Federation’s engineers, captains, and various ensigns, Ensign Bradward Boimler (Jack Quaid) of the USS Cerritos (“Star Trek: Lower Decks”) is arguably the most lovable. Boimler is the rule-obsessed coworker everyone has known at one point or another, with his desperation to get noticed by commanding officers landing him in some tricky predicaments. But one of the best things about Boimler is his relationship with his lower-deck friends, especially his counterpart, Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome). Together, their opposite personalities are a perfect example of Starfleet cooperation.
27. Retsuko (Aggretsuko)
Working in a corporate office is hard, especially when the job means spending the day surrounded by toxic co-workers and unhealthy office culture. Fortunately, Retsuko has a handful of good friends and karaoke death metal to help take the edge off. Unlike her fellow Sanrio characters, this adorable twentysomething red panda slogs away at a dreary job for just enough money to live on, like many adults today.
Despite her best efforts to improve her situation, Retsuko’s life never really changes, making her heartbreakingly relatable. At the end of the day, “Aggretsuko” is about looking for ways to make the daily grind more bearable and learning that sometimes happiness depends on making peace with a situation that’s inescapable. While the message is bleak, there’s also something refreshing about the show’s honesty.
26. Rainbow Dash
During the 1980s, Hasbro’s My Little Pony toy line was wildly popular. In response to the toys’ success, Hasbro produced a handful of animations. When animator Lauren Faust was tasked with bringing back the world of My Little Pony for a new generation in “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” she set out to change the very nature of what it meant to be a show written for girls. As she wrote in Ms. Magazine, Faust’s previous efforts to pitch original shows aimed at girls to various networks had been met with the feedback that cartoons were for boys. Faust saw that the problem was not that girls didn’t like cartoons, but that there was a poor understanding of what would appeal to girls in cartoons.
Faust populated Equestria with all types of female characters, and one of the best is Rainbow Dash. An antidote to the requisite girly girl stereotype, Rainbow Dash is athletic and self-confident. With her blue coat, rainbow mane and tail, dark sunglasses, and tomboy personality, Rainbow Dash exudes casual coolness and avoids traditional gender stereotypes, making her accessible to kids of all genders.
25. Ms. Frizzle
Any kid would be lucky to have Ms. Frizzle of “The Magic School Bus” (voiced by Lily Tomlin) as a teacher, with her snappy attire and her experiential approach to learning. Ms. Frizzle’s dresses each feature a whimsical print related to the lesson of the week including animals, plants, planets, and even cityscapes.
Always respectful of students’ questions and individual learning needs, Ms. Frizzle is a patient and kind educator. She understands that learning is hands-on, and she’s more than willing to let kids experience the action firsthand on their adventures. And thanks to her magic yellow school bus, Ms. Frizzle takes kids on an exciting new field trip each week, teaching them with each new outing.
24. Inspector Gadget
Go, Go, Gadget, Go! The star of the ultimate spy show for kids, cyborg detective Inspector Gadget is a reminder that imperfect can still be heroic. With his long, khaki trenchcoat and matching trilby hat, Gadget’s classic detective outfit does double duty to keep all of his many gadgets hidden out of sight. One of the best things about this 1980s staple is the rabbit hole of Inspector Gadget fan theories. One of the darker theories is that Inspector Gadget is actually a robot copy of the original, who was so badly disfigured and damaged that he went on to become Dr. Claw and has vowed to take revenge on his robotic duplicate. Could this be a long-lost “Battlestar Galactica” prequel?
23. Jake the Dog
Finn’s best friend and adopted brother Jake the Dog on “Adventure Time” is arguably the best of the best when it comes to canine companions. Ever ready for a grand adventure in the land of Ooo, Jake exudes chillness most of the time, and he’s always there for Finn. Thanks to his unique parentage, Jake is a relatively bean-shaped yellow dog with the awesome ability to stretch and morph into just about any shape or size imaginable. A loving husband and father to his wife and their five children, Jake understands the value of family more than most.
22. Strong Bad
There’s something reassuring about simple rituals and routines, and few people understand this more than Strong Bad (Matt Chapman) of the web-based “Homestar Runner” animated series. If there’s one simple routine that keeps Strong Bad going, it’s taking time out of his day to sit down and check his e-mails. With the face of a luchador and a penchant for “burnination,” Strong Bad is a skilled writer, artist, and techno musician, even if his music compels The Cheat to start light switch raves. And when it comes to drawing consummate “v”s, there’s really no one better.
21. Donald Duck
In a world of cheery Disney characters, Donald Duck is refreshingly real. Frustrated, frowny, and fundamentally flawed, Donald is the anti-Mickey, here to save the world from the annoying optimism of the Disney mouse. But far from being a Negative Nancy, Donald often has a positive outlook. It’s just that his hotheaded temper tends to take over when he gets all caught up in his feelings. A bit of prankster, Donald is actually really loving and tries hard to keep his emotions under control (even if he typically isn’t successful). And it’s hard not to love the characteristic Donald Duck voice, originally performed by Clarence Nash, which is a classic example of the alaryngeal vocal style known as buccal speech, per /Film.
20. Darkwing Duck
Darkwing Duck didn’t spend long on the small screen, but he made a lasting impact on fans. He is the terror that flaps in the night, the neurosis that requires a five-hundred-dollar-an-hour shrink, and the superhero alter-ego of Drake Mallard. Despite the story having several characters in common with “Ducktales,” show creator Tad Stones told The Hollywood Reporter that the two series take place in parallel universes with “Darkwing Duck” set in “the alternate Duckiverse.”
Black Nerd Problems praised Darkwing Duck’s character for his complexity and development over the course of the series — he weathers many personal and professional challenges, learning and growing through the process.
The Powerpuff Girls may look adorable, but they’re fierce little balls of energy with superheroic abilities and big, round eyes. Working together with the help of their dad (Professor Utonium), Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup are always able to save the city of Townsville from crime before bedtime.
Refinery 29’s Sesali Bowen observed that the trio “unintentionally introduced the idea of feminism and women’s empowerment” with the girls’ strength, bravery, and unique personalities. Each Powerpuff girl is special in her own way, but what makes Bubbles great is how she overcomes her sweet, demure persona to go full-on HAM whenever she needs. Bubbles even has her own special powers including a thunder shockwave, sonic scream, and the ability to speak with animals.
18. Star Butterfly
Disney’s dazzling “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” features another adorable girl with super abilities, Star. Hailing from the parallel but magical dimension of Mewni, Star is sent to Earth when it’s clear she’s out of control, disobedient, and can’t handle her own powers. Star’s appearance is whimsical with her devil horn headband, pink heart-stamped cheeks, and striped tights, but she is part of a strong matriarchal lineage and destined to take power. Star defies the princess stereotype at almost every turn with her headstrong ways and refusal to accept the role others choose for her. Many critics have praised the series for depicting a character who is both feminine and powerful at the same time, with Decider praising Star for being “unapologetically herself.”
17. Porky Pig
Of all the “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies” characters, Porky has changed more than any other. Despite his characteristic stuttering, Porky always manages to get his point across. He’s often the smartest guy in the room or at the very least, the best at being an adult, understanding the value of a good night’s sleep and a hard day’s work. While he might have his hands full with various Toons getting underfoot at times, Porky can be obscenely competent at almost everything he does. He’s a skilled equestrian, railroad conductor, and restaurant owner, to name just a few of his talents. With his adorable face and serious work ethic, Porky would be a great support system for Retsuko.
16. Strawberry Shortcake
Created by Muriel Fahrion and Barbi Sargent for American Greetings, Strawberry Shortcake is a decades-old character who still gets plenty of love today. But with a handful of television specials and almost limitless merchandising potential, Strawberry Shortcake products were everywhere during the ’80s.
There was something about Strawberry Shortcake that really resonated with young girls at the time, and she was a work of marketing mastery, gracing lunch boxes, bedroom sets, and even drinking glasses. With her ragdoll hair, oversized strawberry bonnet, red dress, white apron, and pink custard kitty, Strawberry Shortcake is downright adorable, a reminder that sometimes it’s okay to love something just because it’s cute.
15. Bobby Hill
The most interesting boy in all of Arlen, Texas, Bobby Hill is arguably the true star of Mike Judge’s “King of the Hill.” In a world where pre-pubescent kids are often depicted one-dimensionally or at the very least, woefully underestimated, Bobby is like a round little onion with layer upon layer of charm, smarts, and personality. Daniel Kurland of CBR marveled that the pre-growth-spurt adolescent is “arguably the most well-adjusted and positive character in the series,” often meeting criticism and challenges with faith in himself and a commitment to try harder. He’s precocious and fiercely individualistic, unafraid to pursue his various interests, which include comedy, rodeo clowning, cooking, and ventriloquism, just to name a few.
14. Squidward Tentacles
Sometimes, people who seem uptight are really just awkward or misunderstood, and Squidward Tentacles of “SpongeBob SquarePants” is a perfect example. He’s depicted as constantly put-upon, but a closer look reveals that he may actually be the best character in the series. Although he’s always giving SpongeBob and Patrick a hard time, to be fair, they are genuinely terrible neighbors, often behaving with little regard for those around them.
Squidward is a reminder that introverts can get overlooked or disregarded by their extrovert counterparts. Often left out of SpongeBob and Patrick’s antics, Squidward also endures the pain of watching the cool kids from the sidelines. But even after all the late-night wakeup calls and unexpected home demolitions his neighbors cause, Squidward still cares about the pair and seems to consider them friends, even if it’s not the deep and abiding bromance they’re looking for.
Before there was Hannah Montana, there was Jem. With her pink hair, pop star style, and holographic earrings, she showed an entire generation of kids that it’s possible to be more than one thing at a time. Gifted a holographic computer named Synergy by her late dad, Jerrica Benton leads a double life as a businesswoman by day and rock star Jem by night. The series retains a cult following to this day, with fans flocking to an annual convention called Jemcon. Latonya Pennington of Into argued that the series is ripe for rebooting thanks to its queer subtext, racial diversity, and depiction of women balancing professional careers and personal lives while still making time to help others. With so many great reboots coming out all the time, let’s hope someone listens.
12. Simon Seville
Being a gifted kid can be tough, but it can be even harder when your brothers undervalue your intellect, and you also happen to be an anthropomorphic chipmunk. Alvin, Simon, and Theodore are triplets who were left in a basket on struggling musician Dave Seville’s porch by their mother (“The Chipmunks Story”). It’s never really made clear why the chipmunks talk, but Dave quickly bonds with the trio, adopting them as his own sons and going on to record plenty of bestselling music with their help.
While each chipmunk is adorable in his own way, Simon is the best of the three. He can be a bit rude at times and is often far too bossy to his brothers, but Simon can also be a caring and sensitive chipmunk. With his super-high IQ, Simon is a skilled inventor and tech geek. A born leader, he’s far more responsible than his brothers, but he can still totally get down when it’s time to rock.
Pinky and the Brain. While the theme song may claim that one of these Animaniacs is a genius and the other’s insane, a closer look calls the assertion into question. The pair of genetically-modified lab mice are always getting caught up in complicated scenarios of Brain’s devising. And no matter what Brain has on his outsized mind, Pinky (played by Rob Paulsen) is always ready to back him up.
Unlike Brain, who constantly obsesses and frets over his latest machinations, Pinky is much more zen about life. As self-aware, highly intelligent mice, both are exceptional. But Pinky is much more grounded, even taking time out from plotting for TV and other interests. He’s also far more sensible and sensitive than his brainiac counterpart, often showing unconventional wisdom and plenty of heart.
Stitch, the adorable blue alien otherwise known as Experiment 626, is easily one of the most chaotic Disney characters. But don’t mistake this “Lilo and Stitch” character for Lilo’s pet, because he’s much more like family.
With all of his amazing skills, Stitch would fit right in at a Pokémon battle arena. His incredible brain processes information faster than any supercomputer. He has night vision, super strength, and awesome driving skills. He’s also practically invincible and impervious to both fire and bullets. But despite all of his superheroic abilities, Stitch is a loving, cuddly little friend. While he can fly off the handle at times, his personality and Lilo’s complement each other perfectly, and they’ve always got each other’s backs.
9. Bill Cipher
With his Illuminati triangle body and cyclopean eyeball, the villainous Bill Cipher from “Gravity Falls” is one of the greatest animated antagonists. Trillions of years old, the dream demon Bill Cipher has been menacing the residents of Gravity Falls since it was first populated, possessing the power to move in and out of dreams. As a demon, he’s always going around making demon deals, and because they’re demon deals, they generally only work out well for him. As the ultimate Big Bad, it takes an epic boss fight and a stunningly clever plan to defeat him. With all of his riddles, ciphers, puzzles, and enigmas, he’s one of the most unique and interesting cartoon characters on television.
8. Courage the Cowardly Dog
If Scooby-Doo taught us anything, it’s that it’s okay to be a cowardly dog … as long as you’re still willing to face your fears. But unlike Scooby-Doo, the paranormal creeps Courage encounters are real. “Courage the Cowardly Dog” is an animated show that defies conventions, integrating elements of the absurd and surreal into a clever and bizarre comedy-horror series. As Sean Malin observed in Vulture, the series spins horrifying imagery out of elements taken from Salvador Dali and slapstick, blending “body horror and Chaplinesque comedy.” And in the face of it all, the paranoid Courage always manages to overcome his terror, never leaving his people hanging.
“Teen Titans Go!” is a superhero show for people who don’t like superhero shows, and Raven is without doubt the best character. The show finds adolescent Teen Titan superheroes Cyborg, Beast Boy, Robin, Starfire, and Raven living as housemates. But unlike most superhero fare, “Teen Titans Go!” is meant to be a comedy that uses the superhero genre as fodder for laughs.
Like many other great multidimensional female characters, Raven is voiced by Tara Strong. The ultimate goth chick, Raven is easily the most badass resident of Titans Tower. She’s half-demon but all awesome, dropping sardonic commentary wherever she goes and always ready to fight to protect those in need.
6. Dot Warner
The sister of the “Animaniacs” brothers, Dot is hardly a damsel trapped in a tower. Along with her siblings, Dot spends her days wreaking havoc on the Warner Brothers studio lot, proving to be the smartest and boldest among the Warner trio. She’s also an outspoken feminist and rightfully enjoys calling out offenders for mansplaining and misogyny.
Dot is over-the-top in every way, from her deceptively cutesy appearance to her excessively long name, Princess Angelina Contessa Louisa Francesca Banana Fanna Bo Besca III (but please don’t call her “Dottie”). Even her pet, which she carries around with her in a small box, turns out to be a shape-shifting monster, showing up with a different but equally horrific appearance each time, from a cyclops to a xenomorph.
5. Louise Belcher
With her signature pink bunny ears, Louise Belcher (Kristen Schaal) is the most beloved member of the Belcher family on “Bob’s Burgers.” The nine-year-old sibling to Gene and Tina, Louise is smart, sneaky, and always ready with snappy commentary. She’s also kind of intense and just a little bit terrifying, prepared to throw down at a moment’s notice.
As to why she always wears bunny ears, numerous fan theories abound. In an interview with AV Club, animator Loren Bouchard explained of her ears, “You get a little cognitive dissonance where you experience [Louise] both as a little girl and Bugs Bunny at the same time.” And of course, as anyone who has seen “Where the Wild Things Are” can attest, little kids just look cute with animal ears on their heads.
The star of the comedy sci-fi show “Dexter’s Laboratory,” Dexter leads a double life right under his parents’ noses with the secret science lab in his basement. With big, round glasses, purple gloves, a white lab coat, and ginger curls, Dexter spends his time getting up to some serious shenanigans. A super-genius, he speaks with an inexplicable Russian accent, despite living in suburban America. The series is credited with innovating the complex and cinematic modern animation style that would later inspire series like “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Fairly OddParents,” according to SYFY WIRE’s Rafael Motamayor.
3. Perry the Platypus
He may not be the star of “Phineas and Ferb,” but he’s a fan favorite nonetheless. A teal platypus with a brown fedora, Perry appears to be just a regular, silly pet to Phineas and Ferb. But he’s also a brilliant multitasker with a double life as a secret agent for the O.W.C.A. (Organization Without a Cool Acronym), and he’s forever sneaking off to the countless secret tunnels that lead to the top-secret lair under his home.
He may play dumb to his family, but Perry the Platypus is incredibly smart, and like any good spy, he’s got access to a plethora of neat gadgets. But despite all of his skills and secrets, at the end of the day, he’s totally chilling with his family, and it’s hard not to love him for that.
2. Speed Racer
Originally airing in the 1960s, “Speed Racer” is an anime adapted from Tatsuo Yoshida’s Japanese manga by Tatsunoko Productions. It premiered on ABC in the United States and would become one of the earliest animes to become popular stateside. While the dubbing is a bit of a mess, with its hilariously fast dialogue, the series is a pretty straightforward adventure.
The protagonist of the series, Speed Racer, is something of a stock character, defined by his drive to be the best racer. Although he’s hardly the best boyfriend to Trixie, Speed has plenty of other heroic attributes and skills. He is a decent fighter, for example, easily besting his opponents in hand-to-hand combat. But what makes Speed such a great character is his willingness to risk his own safety for others, modeling what it means to be a hero.
1. The Pink Panther
For generations of cartoon lovers, the phrase “Pink Panther” instantly calls to mind the iconic Henry Mancini theme music. With its simple animation style and trippy stories, the series is a visual odyssey. One of the simpler cartoon characters on the list, Pink Panther (voiced by Rich Little) is a pink cat with yellow eyes, a British accent, and occasionally, a tiny robe. The series would be rebooted in the 1990s starring Matt Frewer (“Max Headroom”) and featuring a more intense version of the Mancini theme.
The Pink Panther is often curious, but exudes a laid-back attitude, making him the ultimate cool cat. This combination of traits lands him in some pretty dodgy scenarios, from haunted houses to a Wonderland-esque psychedelic bookstore. One of the things that makes the Pink Panther great is his reliance on pantomime, which gives him plenty of opportunities for hilarious cartoon physics and surrealism.