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Top 9 Cartoons from the 90s (You only remember if you didn’t have cable)

Cartoons from the 90s

It was a dark time for America. The cultural highs of the 1980s were coming to an end, taking with them the merchandise driven super cartoons. The internet was still in its infancy and only the nerdiest of us could use it to find pornography. And, worst of all cable television was only available in a handful of houses for premiums affordable only by the middle-class and higher.

The FCC destroyed Saturday morning cartoons with the 1990 decree all children’s shows must be “educational and informative.” Shows like He-Man and ThunderCats couldn’t make the list. Soon, we would be left in a wasteland of cheap, poorly made Bill Nye clones and whacky teen comedies even the Disney channel can make fun of.

The good shows fled to cable, mostly Nickelodeon—who could make the claim its entire Nick Jr. lineup was educational, fulfilling its daily quota of useless television.

Desperate for anything they could pretend was a cartoon, networks turned to a dark source of animation, the styleless, insubstantial vampires Hanna and Barbera.

How these demons continue putting out cartoons capable of draining your soul despite opposition from the Knights of the FCC, I will never know. But, I’m glad they did. If not for them and a handful of others, I would have endured a childhood made up of Sports Illustrated, Kids.

Top 9 Cartoons From the Early 90s
You Only Remember if You Didn’t Have Cable

9: Mighty Max (1993-1994)

I will not say the FCC ruling was intended to keep us from having shows like Mighty Max, but it seems likely. The fact we got Mighty Max is proof it didn’t work.

The “boy” version of Polly Pocket, Might Max was a toy with chocking hazard figure you could almost play with inside their plastic shell.

We liked things small and pocket-sized back then. Anyone remember Micro-machines?

Unlike its sister product, however, Mighty Max didn’t sell too well. Like all the great toys, it got a TV show (with a small “educational” segment at the end, FCC!) to pimp it out to children.

I don’t know if it worked. My parents never bought me a Mighty Max. But, I can tell you the Might Max cartoon is messed up.

Basic Plot

Bull Shannon and his buddy, Space Chicken, enslave a pre-teen boy and use him to fight their ancient nemesis with only the powers of his magical baseball cap.

They travel all over the world fighting monsters who regularly murder people until, in the last episode, SPOILER ALERT: the bad guy kills Bull Shannon and the Space Chicken, leaving Max to time travel back to the start of the series and do it all over again.

Yeah. This is a children’s cartoon has a higher body count for beloved main characters than Joss Whedon’s entire career.

Hidden Gems of Voice Acting

The big bad, Skullmaster, is voiced by Tim Curry.

Bonus Points

Rob Paulsen, Max’s voice actor, also voiced:

  • Raphael in the 1987 TMNT,
  • Donatello in the 2012 TMNT,
  • The Tick’s sidekick, Arthur
  • Yakko Warner, and…
  • Pinky, NAAAAARF!

8. Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993 – 1996)

There were two Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons on network television in the early 90s. One was an awesome show with awesome animation, great stories, and some dark themes about imperialism, slavery, and terrorism.

Then you had this one. A whacky cartoon about a bumbling scientist, his robot friends, and the juvenile delinquents who bully them.

I used to watch this cartoon every morning before school. No, not because it was great, but because it was there.

Basic Plot

Just about every episode involves Sonic and (his implied adopted son) Tails hanging out, doing nothing, and eating unhealthy amounts of chilli-dogs. Then, Doctor Robotnik would send his incompetent robot henchmen to capture them.

Hilarity ensues.

Here’s the thing, in this show, Robotnik is clearly stated to be the ruler of Mobius but, unlike other Sonic properties, they never mention he is a despot conqueror.

Sure, Sonic and his friends don’t seem to like him, but they are all teenagers or younger.

It is likely in this show, Robotnik is an elected official and he sends the robots to capture Sonic and friends because they are truant from school.

Hidden Gems of Voice Acting

Sonic is voiced by Urkel himself, Jaleel White. Jaleel White also voiced Sonic in the other series.

Bonus Points

While not the best Sonic cartoon, AoStH is far from the worst. It was also the longest running. So, maybe I’m not giving it enough credit.

7. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1990)

Okay, I don’t remember anything about this show other than the kick-ass theme song.

ATTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES!

The other thing I remember was seeing the movie it was based on, the 1988 Return of the Killer Tomatoes, on USA Up All Night. I still can’t believe this was a thing.

Basic Plot

Um… Tomatoes attack? Oh and eat the city. I remember that line from the theme song, too.

Also, one of the good guys is girl who is a tomato.

Hidden Gems of Voice Acting

John Astin, the original Gomez Addams, voices the bad guy. He shows up quite a bit on this list if you look at the IMDB.

Rob Paulsen shows up here again, voicing the “mummy” tomato named… *sighs* Mummato…

Bonus Points

This is the first, but not the last, children’s cartoon on this list based on a movie children should never be allowed to watch.

6. The Toxic Crusaders (1990-1991)

Yes, this existed.

If you’re not familiar with Troma Films, your life has more meaning than mine. Troma films are a genre all their own. They are all a mash-up of raunchy 70s sex comedy and grotesque body horror. They all feature nudity and take place in a version of New Jersey with lax toxic waste laws.

The best thing you can do with the mascot character from an indie film studio that specialized in murder/porn? Turn it into a children’s cartoon.

Basic Plot

Five teenagers combined their magic rings and summon the Swamp Thing… wait… no, that’s not right.

Toxie and his mutant buddies fight against aliens trying to pollute the city.

At no point does he punch the mayor in the stomach and literally “rip his guts out.”

Hidden Gems of Voice Acting

If you’re a geek, you might recognize Paul Eiding’s voice coming from the giant nose.

Bonus Points

As far as I know, the Toxic Crusaders was the only cartoon ever based on a movie where people get points for murdering children with their car.

But they should make a Death Race cartoon.

5. The Pirates of Dark Water (1991-1992)

There is a hidden genre in action cartoons: An orphaned prince learns his father left him a magic doohikie he can use to save humanity/the kingdom/the Earth.

Most of these shows are awesome. Pirates of Dark Water is no exception. This show was awesome.

Basic Plot

Ren and crew roll up to a new island, do swash some buckles against the evil pirates, maybe get another piece of magic anti-evil treasure.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The only downside to Dark Water? It had a cool plot revolving around the 13 treasures.

Too bad we’re left to assume they didn’t get them all in time. When the show got canceled (probably because it was on at 6:00 AM on Sundays), they had only gathered 8.

Hidden Gems of Voice Acting

What’s this? Another Tim Curry appearance? Why, yes it is.

Also, Jodi Beson is the voice of Tula. If you’re nerdy enough, you might have heard her voice. She’s done a few video games.

Oh, and I guess she was the lead in some movie about a mermaid.

Bonus Points

Pirates of Dark Water is so cool, people have built a pretty fleshed-out Pirates of Dark Water (inspired) Dungeons and Dragons setting.

I kinda want to play it.

4. ReBoot (1994-2001)

ReBoot was the first half-hour CGI television show, created by Mainframe Entertainment—the people Pixar stole all of their technology from.

It started out as a cool little show full of video game and computer jokes and evolved into one of the best cartoons every made.

It takes a dark turn at the end of the second season. Suddenly it’s not so much a fun, dorky little show as a dramatic and epic story.

If you haven’t watched it, I suggest you do so right now.

Basic Plot

In season 1 and most of season 2, the basic plot involves Megabyte trying to break into the command structure until a game shows up, then they all play and win.

Toward the end of season 2, things change. An actual story arch runs through the second half of seasons 2 and keeps going all the way through season 4.

Hidden Gems of Voice Acting

Most of the voice acting in ReBoot is pretty hit-or-miss. There are some great actors here, but most of them have careers so prolific, it’d be crazy to consider them hidden gems.

I guess we can point out Mel Gibson’s little brother, Donal Gibson voices Ray Tracer, the web surfer.

Bonus Point

A new series, ReBoot: The Guardian Code, went into production this month.

3. Samurai Pizza Cats (1996)

Samurai Pizza Cats was a show that made no sense but was still fun to watch. Until I researched this article, I had no ideas the original anime was semi-serious. I kinda want to watch a subtitled version to see just how different it is.

Considering it was brought to the US by Saban Entertainment, we’re probably lucky it didn’t just get tossed in a blender with five or six other shows and come out as “Power Rangers: Animated.”

Fun fact I found on Wikipedia: Apparently, they did. In the unaired pilot for Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, there is a TV showing footage from Samurai Pizza Cats…

Basic Plot

Big Cheese and his ninja crows overthrow Emperor Fred. The Pizza Cats stop him with pop culture references and violence.

Hidden Gems of Voice Acting

No one knows. Haim Saban eats all the voice actors within arms reach.

Bonus Points

SPC feels very much like the cartoon version of Ninja Burger.

2. Conan: The Adventurer (1992-1993)

It is crazy how good this cartoon was. It took little adapting to create a faithful sword-and-sorcery adventure for kids, either.

Sure, you have “turned to stone” instead of “brutally murdered,” but we can live with it. Especially back when I was nine. Just a good, fun adventure.

One thing that did always bother me: If they had a magic “always return” potion, why didn’t they all use it on their star metal weapons.

Also, if star metal is so rare and magical, why does everyone and their mother have a weapon made of it?

Basic Plot

Conan and his friends travel around, fighting snake monsters.

Hidden Gems of Voice Acting

Look, if you’re watching anything with “Conan” in the title because you think you will see great acting of any kind, you’re in for a serious world of disappointment.

Bonus Points

To this day I watch the sky, looking for meteorites I can use to make magic swords.

1. Darkwing Duck (1991-1992)

Darkwing Duck was probably the greatest cartoon of the 90s and yet, I keep finding people who have no idea what I’m talking about when I bring it up.

Sometimes I wonder if these same people would be like, “Mighty What-ing Power Rangers?”

There are a handful of 90s cartoons that shaped an entire generation. Darkwing Duck is a feathered parody of one of them.

But there are some pretty unique concepts here, too. Philosophies most children don’t encounter in the real world.

And if you can wat “Darkly Dawns the Duck” without getting a little weepy when DW adopts Gosalyn, you’re a soulless monster.

Basic Plot

Villain-of-the-week gets his butt kicked by DW while Gosalyn continues to act like a criminal and Launchpad is awesome.

Hidden Gems of Voice Acting

I will have to give Jim Cummings a shout-out here. He’s been in the background of almost all the cartoons on this list.

Bonus Points

I am the terror that flaps in the night. I am the sticky spot on the kitchen floor you missed with your mop. I am the typo in the heart of your manuscript…

I am Darkwing Duck!

Published by M.A. Brotherton

M.A. Brotherton is a writer, blogger, artist, and fat-kid from the suburbs of Kansas City, Missouri. He’s tasted a little bit of everything the Midwest has to offer, ranging from meth-tweaking rednecks in massive underground cave complexes to those legendary amber waves of grain. When he’s not writing, he spends most of his time screwing around on the internet.