When I was a child, Saturday morning cartoons were kinda my jam.
I went to kindergarten and the first grade in Puerto Rico, where my father, who was in the Navy, was stationed for a while. We came back to the States before I began second grade. We lived with my maternal grandparents for a while before my parents purchased our house in the Erwin Farm neighborhood of Lancaster, South Carolina.
My grandparents, in turn, would live with us for a short time as well. Turnabout’s fair play. Eventually, they would move to a trailer park on South 200 near my junior high school, and, from there, to their house on Lynwood Circle, where they would stay until well after I moved away from Lancaster. Eventually, they would move to Goose Creek, South Carolina, which is a part of the Charleston metro area.
Charleston is where I was born many, many moons ago, and is one of the candidates for my “hometown.” But, I digress—
I was about to talk about Saturday mornings and cartoons. I have vivid memories of going to my grandparents’ living room very early on Saturday mornings, still clad in my pajamas, to watch cartoons.
I have an adopted uncle who is between three and four years older than I am. He’s actually my grandfather’s nephew, and the man I’m referring to as my grandfather was really my mom’s stepdad, so I’m not related by blood to either my grandfather or my uncle: it’s complicated. My Uncle Richard was close enough to my age that we were more like brothers than uncle-and-nephew. While my parents and I stayed with my grandparents, Richard and I were often up together on Saturday mornings, watching cartoons on the only television that was in the house.
Breakfast was cold cereal, of course. My favorite was Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch. I haven’t had it in years, but just reminiscing about it now has made me crave a bowl. I wonder if they still make it.
I’m certain I watched cartoons in Puerto Rico as well, but I have no real memories of this. My earliest Saturday morning cartoon binges were in my grandparents’ house located a stone’s throw from WAGL AM-radio station. Richard and I watched shows such as Archie’s TV Funnies, Bugs Bunny, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, and Scooby-Doo. We didn’t realize that some of these cartoons were already older than we were. It didn’t matter because we were watching them for the first time.
As the years passed, I’d add shows like Super Friends and Star Trek: The Animated Series to the mix. And other series, probably too numerous to name. The advent of live-action shows such as Shazam!, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and Land of the Lost probably sounded the death knell for Saturday morning cartoons. Live-action shows were cheaper to make than traditional animation, and the cheaper animation was growing cheaper-looking by the year.
I’m not sure I ever really outgrew Saturday morning cartoons. I remember watching cartoons featuring different superheroes, such as Spider-Man and the Fanstastic Four (only the Human Torch was replaced with a robot—remember that one?). Thundarr the Barbarian also holds a special place in my heart. I believe, without fact-checking myself, that Jack “King” Kirby was somehow involved in the production of this cartoon. As I got older, however, it seemed that the cartoon selection thinned out, replaced by live-action scripted shows and children-oriented news/variety shows.
I never stopped watching the occasional cartoon, but Saturday morning binge-watching ceased to be a ritual. There were still cartoons after school. I remember a lot of The Flintstones and Jetsons. Battle of the Planets was my introduction to anime. Then, I grew up, moved away from my parents, and watched no cartoons for a while. In the 1990s, I watched Batman: the Animated Series and X-Men: the Animated Series. Plus, I watched many episodes of Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. I still quote Pinky & The Brain more than anyone should, ever.
While animation continued to prove itself to be a viable form of entertainment, it seemed like the cartoon heyday of my nostalgic Saturday mornings could now solidly be considered history. It’s not exactly true, I realize. I’m looking back on some shoddy animation (I’m looking at you, Hanna-Barbera) through rose-colored glasses. Better cartoons were created after that time.
This 10-List is going to highlight just ten animated series I’ve enjoyed in the twenty-first century. But, first, a little more housekeeping.
None of the shows on this list existed prior to the year 2000. To those of you who say this new century didn’t begin until the year 2001, since there was no Year Zero, I say, “A plague upon all of your houses.” I think Bill Shakespeare would agree with me. The point is moot, however, since the earliest show on this list is from 2004.
This self-imposed rule means I couldn’t include terrific animated series such as King of the Hill (1997), The Critic (1994), South Park (1997), Family Guy (1999), The Simpsons (1989), or Futurama (1999) on this list. I guess I could have changed the rules, but I liked the idea of listing only those animated series that debuted in this new century. The fact that South Park, Family Guy, and The Simpsons are still on the air says more about those shows than I could, at any rate.
This 10-List is a list of animated television series that I’ve enjoyed in the 21st Century. Maybe not the only ones, but here they are in order of release date.
The Venture Bros. (2004)
I was a latecomer to this cartoon. I was aware that it existed after I began seeing DVD box covers for the series on the racks at Target, where I worked for the last seventeen years or so of my retail management career. After I watched my first episode, which used a Jonny Quest aesthetic and a multitude of superhero parodies, I was hooked and knew I had to watch them all. I did.
The Venture Bros. is now off the air, but there’s still talk of a revival, perhaps on platforms other than Adult Swim.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)
I didn’t begin watching this series until recently. It’s 2022 as I type these words, so that’s a bit of a delay. I’m finishing up the fifth season now, with two final seasons left to watch. After watching the first two seasons of The Mandolorian and the first season of Star Wars: The Bad Batch, watching this series seemed to be the natural progression. It’s good Star Wars, overall.
BoJack Horseman (2014)
Oh, I’ve talked about BoJack Horseman a lot prior to this moment. You can read about it here, if you’d like. Quick summation: one of the best dramas ever on streaming or television, and it starred an animated horse voiced by Will Arnett.
F is for Family (2015)
Have you ever heard me say that the comedian Bill Burr is an underrated genius? Well, he is. And this animated series is just one of the pieces of evidence I offer as proof. It’s ’70s nostalgia, overbearing-dad sitcom, slice of life, with some surreal stuff thrown in for good measure, comedy-drama that’s a cartoon to boot type of stuff. I watched all of this one and still remember the characters more than I remember the various plots. That’s more proof of genius.
Big Mouth (2017)
I can’t say that I was ever a Nick Kroll fan prior to watching this series. On the other hand, I’ve never really watched an episode of Kroll Show or The League. I may be inclined to seek them out now, since this show is nothing short of amazing. One caveat: this is about children navigating the shoals of puberty, and it’s often inappropriate to watch at work or at home. John Mulaney is also in this one, and that’s a bonus. Also, the theme song was originally performed by Black Sabbath. It’s safe to say that this was a program I was destined to watch.
Paradise P.D. (2018)
I didn’t watch my first episode of this series until the spring of 2022. I’ve just begun to watch the second season as I write this. It’s irreverent, adult, and more than a little surreal. In other words, my kind of stuff. A vulgar cartoon cop show.
The best thing to spring from the mind of Matt Groening since Futurama. Whereas that series skewers every science-fiction trope out there, this one goes for the medieval fantasy jugular. Throw in a little steampunk for good measure.
Harley Quinn (2019)
I’ve watched both of the existing seasons of this show, with a third to debut on HBO MAX later this year. Of course, I was aware of Harley Quinn since Batman: The Animated Series. But, I can’t say I was truly a fan before this series. The show is kind of a skewed perspective on the superheroes and villains of DC Comics, with a comedic tone and wonderful voice acting work.
I’ve now read the first volume collecting the early issues of this Image Comics series. It was written by The Walking Dead‘s Robert Kirkman and featured the creation of yet another superhero universe. This adult animated series is an homage to superhero comic books. It’s also a bit of a satirical parody. Mark Grayson (voiced by Stephen Yeun) is the teenager who becomes the hero known as Invincible. His dad, Nolan Grayson (voiced by utility superhero actor J.K. Simmons) is Omni-Man, this Earth’s version of Superman. The show subverts expectations and has twists that make it unique and quite darker than expected.
What If…? (2021)
The way that the MCU has dominated the early part of this new century, you had to suspect that any animated series it produced would appear on this list. The entry is based loosely on the Marvel comic book series of the same name, in which Uatu the Watcher kept a close eye on all the Multiverse, telling the reader various alternate Marvel history stories. Along the way, the series’s episodic content began to serve as a precurser to the MCU features that were to follow, wherein the Multiverse itself factors heavily. Masterfully done with stylistic animation and a feel that is all MCU.
The animated shows seem to keep coming. Soon, I’m going to watch the Netflix shows Inside Job and Human Resources. It seems cartoons are still my jam.