The Best Superhero TV Cartoons Ever, Ranked


Comic book superheroes have been making the transition from the printed page to TV screens for decades. Saturday morning and weekday afternoon animated shows like 1967’s Fantastic Four were among the first, followed by dozens of others. Although many of those early superhero cartoons were hastily put together, often strictly written for kids, some transcended their limitations and became classics. In fact, these superhero TV cartoons later informed the comics and live-action adaptations. These are our picks for the best and most influential superhero TV cartoons of all time.

Marvel/Warner Bros. Animation

12. Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010-2012)

The main roster of the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated series from 2010-2012.

Once their ‘90s heyday of Spider-Man and X-Men ended, Marvel cartoons took a dip. Sadly, the rise of live-action Marvel movies, which happened because of these cartoons’ success, meant they often neglected the cartoons themselves. But there are a few exceptions to that rule. The biggest is Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. This series introduced Marvel’s premiere team and its all-star roster to a whole new generation of kids. Developed by Alan Fine for Disney XD, this was a few years before the team’s live-action MCU film debut.

The animation for this series was crisp and angular, inspired by the style of Clone Wars’ Genndy Tartakovsky. In addition, the storylines were faithful to the comics, but made more digestible to kids just discovering these characters. Clearly, this Marvel toon drew inspiration from the Bruce Timm DC shows. And while it’s not on the same level as those shows quality-wise, it’s still pretty darn good. Sadly, it only ran 52 episodes and two seasons, so fans were robbed of a third season which would have introduced the X-Men, Scarlet Witch, and many others. Hey, if X-Men ’97 happened, maybe one day we’ll get Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes 2012.

11. Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000)

The Man of Steel soars in promo art for 1996's Superman: The Animated Series.
Warner Bros. Animation

Warner Bros. Animation redefined the Dark Knight for a whole new generation with Batman: The Animated Series. Later on in the ’90s, Kids WB asked the same creative team of Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett to do it all again with the Man of Steel. As with Batman, this team took elements of decades of Superman mythology, distilling it down to its very essence. The designs were sleeker and a little more Art déco than Batman’s show. Yet they had a brighter tone, fitting for Superman’s bustling Metropolis.

Superman: TAS gave fans the best version of Lex Luthor to date, voiced by Clancy Brown. The series also transformed Brainiac from a semi-dated sci-fi alien villain into a character truly worthy of his “Big Bad” status, and tied him into Superman’s own Kryptonian origins. Dana Delany remains the best ever TV Lois Lane as well. The series lasted only 54 episodes, half of Batman: The Animated Series. But it left an impression, and might still be the best version of Kal-El to ever grace our television screens.

10. Batman Beyond (1999-2001)

Promo art for Batman Beyond, the futuristic teen Batman series from 1999.
Warner Bros. Animation

This was an idea, pitched by studio executives, that must have sounded terrible on paper. A teenage Batman in high school? Who’s not even Bruce Wayne? In the future? Luckily, the folks behind Batman: The Animated Series were behind it creatively, so the end product was amazing regardless. When Kids’ WB asked Bruce Timm and co. to make a “teen Batman show,” they created a new character named Terry McGinnis, a teenager who loses his dad and turns to an elderly Bruce Wayne for guidance. He soon becomes the Batman of the future.

In Batman Beyond, future Gotham City is now a Blade Runner-esque, mildly techno-dystopian world, but no less twisted or dangerous than before. Somehow, Batman Beyond takes the best elements of Batman, Spider-Man, and Iron Man, and mixes them all together. Coupled with superb animation and some great writing overall, Batman Beyond struck the right chord, despite the odds. It only lasted for three seasons, but left quite a mark. Batman Beyond was eventually incorporated into the DC comics universe as well, it was that well received.

9. The Powerpuff Girls (1998-2005)

Blosson, Buttercup, and Bubbles leap into action in promo art for Powerpuff Girls.
Hanna-Barbera/Warner Bros. Animation

Not all great superhero cartoons originate in comic books. Some of the best are created just for the small screen, like Space Ghost. But the greatest superheroes who didn’t originate in comics? They’re Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles, better known as the Powerpuff Girls. Little kindergarten girls who received their powers thanks to Professor Utonium’s Chemical X, they saved the City of Townsville from eccentric villains on a weekly basis. This series was the brainchild of Dexter’s Laboratory creator Craig McCracken, who saw a need for heroic figures for little girls.

Despite testing badly with young boys, who said “Girls can’t be superheroes,” Cartoon Network ordered The Powerpuff Girls to series in 1998. It was a ratings smash, and proved all those boys wrong. They aimed the show at a very young audience. Yet the writers were so clever, placing enough jokes meant to land for the kid’s parents as well, that everyone fell in love with it. After six seasons and 78 episodes, in addition to a big-screen film, the Powerpuff Girls ended in 2005. But they’ve revived it many times since, and we doubt the protectors of Townsville will ever disappear from pop culture for long.

8. Teen Titans (2003-2006)

The roster of the 2003-2006 Teen Titans animated series from Cartoon Network.
Warner Bros. Animation

Teen Titans is a weird amalgamation of Western superhero storytelling with overt anime influences, but it’s impossible to deny that the end product really clicked. Running on Cartoon Network, Teen Titans was quite different from the Bruce Timm DCAU series we’d known up to that point. Series creator Glen Murakami, who was Timm’s protégé, used the characters from the ‘80s New Teen Titans series, like Raven, Starfire, Cyborg, and Beast Boy, and fused them with the light-hearted and goofy sensibilities of the original ’60s comics.

Teen Titans, with its bright colors and super catchy theme song, resonated like wild with early 2000s kids. Aimed at younger audiences than its companion series Justice League, Teen Titans was the perfect blend of kid-centric comedy and superheroic drama, and rode the incoming wave of anime (and anime-influenced) shows of that time. Without it, there wouldn’t be any Teen Titans Go! either, which has proven itself to be perhaps an even bigger hit than the original.

7. Spectacular Spider-Man (2010-2012)

Promo art from the Spectacular Spider-Man series which ran from 2010-2012.
Sony Pictures Animation/Marvel

Spectacular Spider-Man was one of those animated shows that was just too good for this world. Coming out on the heels of the huge success of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, It only lasted two seasons, due to rights issues between Sony and Disney. It was intended to last 65 episodes and tackle all of Peter Parker’s high school years. Thankfully, what we did get was one of the best Spidey toons of all time, which really explored the angst and drama of the adolescent Peter’s earliest wall-crawling days.

What made Spectacular Spider-Man so, well, spectacular, was the series’ ability to really flesh out Spidey’s supporting cast and villains. The show was produced by Greg Weisman, of Gargoyles and Young Justice fame, and owes a lot to Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man comics of the early 2000s. It’s really a damn shame this show was cut so short. If it had run longer, it might have been a lot higher on this list. At least this version of Spidey turned up briefly in Across the Spider-Verse. Hopefully, not for the last time.

6. Young Justice (2010-2022)

The teen DC heroes of the animated Young Justice animated series.
Warner Bros. Animation

Young Justice, which aired on Cartoon Network, wasn’t really an adaptation of the ‘90s DC comics of the same name. Instead, series creators Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti mixed that series with Teen Titans and the ‘80s super team book The Outsiders. Focusing on adolescent heroes like Robin, Aqualad, Superboy, and Miss Martian, it’s really a celebration of the entire DC universe of characters. It also did something that almost every other series on this list never did. It allowed its characters to age up, and change over time.

Young Justice was about the Justice League’s covert squad made up of their sidekicks, and it lasted two years originally. It had season-long storylines, where our heroes were allowed to evolve during their adventures. Fans loved it for its endearing and relatable heroes and its deep-cut DC connections. Sadly, most of those fans were adults who didn’t buy toys. And since kids never bought Young Justice toys, the show was canned. But the fans wouldn’t let it die, and in 2019 it returned for two more excellent seasons on the DC Universe streaming service (and eventually Max). Will it continue for a fifth? Who knows. But the 98 episodes that did come out were superhero storytelling at its finest.

5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-1996)

The four main Turtles from the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series.

In the late ‘80s, X-Men and Batman couldn’t get a series going on Saturday mornings, which is hard to believe today. Yet an indie comic that parodied both Marvel and DC heroes somehow went from underground cult hit to national sensation in just three years. And it was all thanks to the 1987 animated series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which introduced a more kid-friendly version of “Heroes in a Half-Shell” Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Leonardo to children all over the world. It also made their creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, who licensed their characters to Fred Wolf Animation, extremely wealthy.

In the original animated show, they erased most of the darker tones of the comics. Yet somehow, it still captured enough of the vibes of the characters to become one of the biggest animated superhero shows of all time. It lasted nearly a decade and ran almost 200 episodes, an unheard-of amount for a show like this. The series wasn’t particularly sophisticated in its storytelling. Nevertheless, it delivered what kids wanted—big action, likable protagonists, catchphrases, and lots of characters that made for perfect action figures. It’s unlikely that many of the other series on this list would have seen the light of day if not for the turtles.

4. Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-2006)

The stacked roster of the Justice League Unlimited series.
Warner Bros. Animation

The first season of Justice League, which debuted in 2001 on Cartoon Network, was a perfectly fine series, but ultimately fell short of the greatness we’d known from executive producer Bruce Timm with shows like Batman and Superman. Even if much of the same voice cast from both shows returned. But Justice League course-corrected in season two, deepening the character relationships, and upping the stakes with better villains, better action, and just better storytelling overall. Eventually, it became a show worthy of its pedigree.

What makes this show so especially great is its last three seasons. That is when the series opened the doors to the entire DC universe, and it really started to sing. It was now rebranded as Justice League Unlimited. Almost every known DC hero was now a Leaguer in this expanded roster. Now, they were cooking with fire, and introduced incredibly fun season-long story arcs, mixed in with off-the-wall standalone episodes. Ultimately, the 91 episodes of Justice League just might remain the best example of the DC Universe as a whole, outside of comics themselves. What an incredible cap-off to 3 years of TV storytelling that began in Batman: The Animated Series.

3. Spider-Man (1994-1997)

Promo art for Spider-Man: The Animated Series, which ran of Fox Kids from 1994-1997.

There had been several cartoons about your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man before this one hit Fox Kids in 1994. The original 1967 series had the world’s catchiest theme song. And Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends introduced multiple Marvel heroes to kids in the ‘80s. But no animated series really captured the teen melodrama of Peter Parker’s life more than the 1994-1997 Spider-Man series. This show gave us the soap opera of Peter’s personal life, balanced with big superhero action fighting almost all of his biggest villains. Well, except Sandman, whose rights were tied up in a James Cameron Spider-Man movie that never happened.

The voice casting for everyone was spot on, especially Ed Esner as J. Jonah Jameson. Christopher Daniel Barnes was a perfect college Peter Parker too. The animation quality was somewhere between Batman: TAS and X-Men: TAS. To be honest, it leaned a bit more towards the cheap. (There are lots of early CGI cityscapes that look pretty bad today.) But it was the first animated Spidey to capture what made Stan Lee’s original comics work so well for decades. So we forgive it for its technical flaws. It also crossed over with other Marvel cartoons of the time like X-Men and Iron Man, creating the first “outside of comics” Marvel universe. Its Spider-Verse saga introduced the concept before the comics did, and decades before the current animated films.

2. X-Men (1992-1997)

The main mutant heroes of Marvel's iconic X-Men: The Animated Series.

X-Men comics ruled the ‘80s, yet it took until 1992 for an animated series based on it to finally hit TV screens. But when it did, it went off like a seismic charge, turning Marvel’s mutants into instant household names. Sure, some of the animation for X-Men was shoddy. Especially early on. But unlike most superhero TV animated shows before then, it was extremely faithful to the tone of the comics. Nothing was too dumbed down for kids, or at least not severely. X-Men finally felt like a Marvel team made it to the screen, any screen, fully intact.

The series leaned into the heavy serialization of the comics, as well as the themes of bigotry and prejudice from Chris Claremont’s legendary 16-year run. This was all while dumping a metric ton of cool mutants (who would all get toys) upon a generation of eager kids. There’s a reason there’s so much fondness for this series, which is why it received a continuation in the form of X-Men ’97, some 25 years later. Without X-Men: TAS, there are no X-Men movies, and possibly no MCU. To think it all started on a Halloween morning in 1992, when Wolverine clawed some Sentinel robots. Superhero cartoons were never the same after that.

Honorable Mention: Super Friends

Various title cards for the original Super Friends cartoon, which ran from 1973-1986.
Hanna-Barbera/Warner Bros. Animation

This one gets a special mention, because while it’s not great (or often even good), most later superhero TV cartoons (some of which are on this best list) probably wouldn’t exist without it. Super Friends was Hanna Barbera’s attempt at creating a superhero series, but more in the vein of Scooby-Doo. The Justice Leaguers of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman were the “adults,” while their sidekicks Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog were essentially Shaggy, Daphne, and Scooby. The first season, debuting in 1973, was barely a superhero show, as it was far more concerned with solving mundane mysteries than superhero action.

Luckily, the show was a hit, and better versions came later on. The alien Wonder Twins replaced the previous sidekicks, and at least they had powers. Over 13 years, the Super Friends fought the Legion of Doom, went to Middle-earth, and eventually fought Darkseid in the show’s final seasons. Super Friends was hokey, the animation looked cheap, and it was a much tamer version of the comics. However, it introduced superheroes to a whole generation of kids watching Saturday morning cartoons, and most of the shows on this list wouldn’t have ever been green-lit without its success. So hats off to you, Super Friends.

1. Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1999)

The end credits card for Batman: The Animated Series, which ran from 1992-1999.
Warner Bros. Animation

Over thirty years since it premiered on Fox Kids Network, Batman: The Animated Series remains the gold standard for superhero television cartoons. Thanks to the huge success of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, Warner Bros. animation felt empowered to do a new cartoon version of the Caped Crusader. This was a new version that was more faithful to the comics, and darker, than any previous versions. Thanks to a dream team of creators like Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Eric Radomski, and Alan Burnett, B:TAS took elements from fifty years of lore, and distilled them down to their very core essence.

The animation was fluid, especially compared to most children’s programming back then. The stories were never diluted, even if they had to pull their punches with some of the violence. And the voice casting? Kevin Conroy is still THE Batman, and Mark Hamill remains the greatest Joker of all time. Not to mention, this show introduced Harley Quinn to Batman lore, and took Mr. Freeze from D-lister to all-time great villain.

Unlike some entries on this list, even ones that are high up, nothing about B:TAS seems dated and cringe today. Other Batman cartoons have come and gone since the last B:TAS episode aired in 1999. And some, like Brave and the Bold, were great in their own way. However, none have come close to its influence, which is why it is at the top of our best superhero TV cartoons list. We’ll still be talking about it decades from now.


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