Greetings, first of all I have to shout out that over 5,000 views have occurred on this blog. This is amazing because I never expected for this blog to last this long or have this many views 3 years ago.
Anyways, I decided to make a separate Top 10 list for animated shows versus live-action shows. As such, two were removed from my live action shows list and moved over to this list.
1. Cowboy Bebop - Shocker! An anime?!?! I know some of you will question this choice, but Cowboy Bebop was one of my first forays into anime and one of the shows I respected more than any other. While it took me years to finally finish it, it was one of the first shows I marathoned on the internet. However, the true reason it deserves this high spot is that it does this oddly brilliant plot that has over aching thematic episodes interspersed with stand alone episodes that provide background or unique adventures for the Bebop crew. While this style has been done before and after, I think Cowboy Bebop perfected it.
Premise: A pair of bounty hunters that grows into a group tracks down dangerous bounties while learning about themselves in the process. The background to each character (though the dog could've gotten more) and even the ships are slowly revealed as the show goes on while pushing towards a specific climax. At the same time, some bounties offer more insight and thought on the future our characters inhabit. Plus with only one flawed episode, it is a more complete package than my next entries.
Characters: Spike, Jet, Ed, Faye and Ein are considered the coolest archetypes/characters in fictional existence. The rule of cool is largely in play here with all of them and while I'd love to tell more on each I'll just say the voice actors in Japanese and English are great as are the fully realized characters.
Artwork/Animation: While there is occasional CG in the show it is minimal compared to the highly detailed hand-drawn backgrounds that show how fluid a show could be in the late 90s. As such, it is the best looking 20th century animation many have ever seen and it goes hand in hand with noir-western style of the show. On another note, the music changes depending on the theme/title of the episode (symphonies, blues, heavy metal, jazz are all present here).
Overall, it is a highly emotional show that I encourage everyone to try regardless of your skepticism on anime or cartoons in general. While it is not the intellectual political thriller that is Ghost in the Shell, it is still intelligent & poignant while being a whole lot of fun.
2. Avatar: the Last Airbender - Just like Cowboy Bebop, Avatar is so much than you think at first glance. While it is not as "adult" as Cowboy Bebop, it is the show that I wish I paid attention to sooner and I wish I grew up with. It is show that makes you think more than you would at essentially a children's (I argue the proper age is like more like 8 and older) show. There's themes, well written ideas and symbols upon symbols that truly give this show a lot of strength.
Premise: Aang is the Last of the Airbender who is set to be the next Avatar in order to stop the Fire Lord and bring peace to the elemental nations. Along the way he will have progress and setbacks with companions as he masters the art of bending in air, water, earth and fire.
Characters: Every single main character, including several villains, gain fully realized backstories and also have a chance in the limelight - Aapu the flying bison even gets his own episode - which creates likable and relatable characters who have a lot more depth than one might expect. While the heroes are compelling, of particular interest are the villains who have a family out of Shakespearean tragedies giving them as much if not more dimensions than the main characters even have.
Artwork/Animation: Avatar: the Last Airbender, rarely uses CG, but uses well-rendered digital artwork cells that is often one of the best examples of classic animation still being alive and well. Thus, the show has constantly received accolades for its depictions of elemental-bending and the different looks & symbolic references of each nation (Indian, Chinese, Inuit and Japanese cultures are on display here).
Overall, Avatar: The Last Airbender will surprise nearly any avid TV watcher. While there are moments that you think are silly and it will take awhile to grow on you, the overall show is extremely consistent and once it picks it never falters again in entertainment.
3. Legend of Korra - I have to give Korra separate entry from Avatar because while it follows the same world and idea, it is extremely different for a variety of reasons.
Premise: I won't go until world-building because it is the same as ATLA, but the next avatar in the cycle is a young lady named Korra. The show follows her avatar journey, remnants from Aang's time and a great deal of feminism. Beyond that this shows ends up being just as if not at times better than ATLA.
Characters: Korra is a beacon of female power and a fully realized character who is developed as the show goes on. While I think Mako is a bet of a let down, Bolin and Varrick grow on you with their humor, Asami is a character on her own accord with no-bending but it doesn't hinder, and the children of the previous characters make for an abundance of character development. Furthermore, most of the villains are well written and follow a much more grey sense of morality versus ATLA black and white morality.
Artwork/Animation: A step-up from ATLA, the bending and fight choreography has improved and so have the ideas for what bending can do. The animation backgrounds, Republic City and its 1920s Dieselpunk style, and familiar locales have all been updated in design and the quality of artwork.
Overall, Legend of Korra shows all the emotions of ATLA while becoming more mature in its themes. As such, both shows remain entrenched in my mind based on the journey I took with both of them.
4. South Park - For me this show is hilarious. Even if not entirely at its peak of humor it is still politically savvy enough to hit the nail on the head with commentary that can anger, surprise or sadden you about the truths of our world.
Premise: Four boys and their friends get into outlandish situations every episode.
Characters: Butters may be my favorite especially in the middle of the show, he's by far the funniest. Randy for awhile was also extremely funny, but he's become a bit overplayed. The entire cast of the show and their situations as a whole is what makes it so funny as well. If I had a favorite it would have to be Stan because I'm the most similar to him. Props to Mysterion as well.
Artwork/Animation: Not the shows strong suit on purpose. The first episode was made with paper cut-outs. However, the show will often adapt itself in specific styles (anime, Tron) in order to show a specific mindset for the show which becomes entertaining.
Overall, this show is as offensive as Mortal Kombat, but its brilliance has only waned occasionally. For sheer humor and humor you can return to, South Park takes the cake.
5. Batman: The Animated Series - I really thought about putting this show over Avatar because of its brilliant Art Deco artwork and black outlines. Along with that it basically revised and retconned several ideas in the Batman universe to critical acclaim.
Premise: A more realistic animated series on Batman. Plot lines and characters were modernized to many fans delight. Many of the video games use ideas and voice actors brought up from this series.
Characters: Batman is of course amazing with the voice of Kevin Conroy. However, many of the characters found new life as Batman's villains are some of the best ever in the history of comics. Joker by Mark Hamil is forever brilliant, but Mr. Freeze, Harley, Riddler, Clock King, Clayface, Talia al Ghul, Poison Ivy and Two Face all take on new relevance with the show. Furthermore, Detective Grayson, Batgirl and even the Question have a chance to develop.
Artwork/Animation: Phenomenal work with shadows and Art Deco buildings. I'm reminded of the show Big O (which was influenced by Batman) in that it has a dark city with buildings, but shadows are everywhere and give a more sinister look to several characters.
Overall, the show is strikingly mature and has aged well as a show to appeal to both kids, teens and adults which continues the strength of the animated shows I have previously mentioned.
6. X-Men: Animated Series - If Batman is the best DC cartoon, for me, X-Men is the best Marvel cartoon. While, X-Men Evolution updates the show well, this show did a great job of diving into plots that were featured in the comics (Morlocks, Mr. Sinister, relationships with the characters, making Wolverine legendary and costume designs that lasted throughout the 90s).
Premise: The X-Men fight off Sentinels, Magneto and a whole lot more.
Characters: This may be the strongest part of the show because unexpectedly develops its characters over time as with what happens in the evolution of Jubilee, Storm or Morph. This aspect was not big for a Saturday morning cartoon, but worked to keep the show running for five seasons with some bonus films as well.
Artwork/Animation: X-Men has a standard 90s renaissance animation, but it is also does a great job highlighting the powers of the X-Men. There is a look brought over from the Uncanny X-Men comic book run of the 80s that is present throughout the show. And while it is nothing flashy, it fits the show well.
Overall, this is another great comic book put into cartoon. The show does a great job at staying faithful to the comics while being entertaining as well.
7. Samurai Champloo - Shinchiro Watanbe second venture of blending American and Japanese culture. While Samurai Champloo is not on the same level as Cowboy Bebop, it is quite similar and has several great moments.
Premise: Two samurai and a girl go on adventure to find a samurai who smells like sunflowers. They get involved in a variety of situations along the way with occasional dips into their backstory (less than Bebop). Most of these situations put specific aspects of American hip-hop culture into a Feudal Japan setting.
Characters: The three main characters have different personality traits that work for them. People will most likely debate forever if Jin or Mugen is cooler based on personality types. While Fu works as a character avatar she doesn't have a lot of depth outside of that. Many of the characters who appear for an episode will stick with you from beatboxing samurai and Shaolin monks to kunoichis and Dutch traders.
Artwork/Animation: The animation occasionally remixes itself like a DJ scratching a record along with other hip-hop techniques. More importantly the animation stays lush with color and rapid-paced action throughout (note there is a random moment in one of the later episodes where the animation takes a dive for some reason).
Overall, the show is entertaining and similar to Cowboy Bebop. Where it stands out is that is a great hip-hop soundtrack by the late Nujabes and several of Japanese history take place throughout the story (Commodore Perry's trade, Okinawan and Ainu culture) while mixing in hiphop elements (Yakuza gangsters and graffiti ninjas).
8. Samurai Jack - *Updated - the show did end and it's still a great season/ending" While I have yet to finish this marvel of a show (I don't think the show had an end either), I have never forgotten its brilliance. The show is like most shows on this list, a blend of American and Japanese animation and culture. Samurai Jack does this essentially before Avatar and hits on a variety of themes and standout episodes throughout.
Premise: An evil spirit named Aku (voiced by the late great Mako) terrorizes Jack's land. He goes on a mission as a samurai to vanquish Aku from the land. However, Aku pulls a time warp for Jack to go into the future where Aku has made his future. From there, Jack tries to go back to his time and defeat Aku but he gets into a variety of situations.
Characters: There are occasional characters who stand out in an episode, but most of the focus is on Jack. Aku gets some brilliance here and there, but this is Jack's story of pathos through all of his battles internal and external.
Artwork/Animation: This is where Samurai Jack truly shines. Many of the episodes are experimentation in animation whether by color schemes, dialogue without sound, light and shadow, and figures with no outlines (which was revolutionary at the time). Lastly, the cyberpunk atmosphere that Jack is thrown into makes for a lot of fun situations.
Overall, Samurai Jack is glorious show that took elements of the previous shows and provided influences for other shows on this list. However, due to it never ending and me not seeing enough of it, it falls a bit short.
9. Proud Family -Proud Family is basically a Black sitcom as an animated show. While this is not necessarily the first Black animated sitcom (you could argue Fat Albert is), it really puts the notion of a Black family on the animated screen.
Premise: The Proud Family is a subruban Black family in LA and it is brilliant. Think Blackish a decade before or the Cosby Show a decade after without the limitations of real life actprs. This show works on many levels.
Characters: I think Sugar Mama is one of the funniest characters ever created. The rest of the Proud Family is also a blast from Oscar's nonsense and Trudy's mannerisms. Most of the story deals with Oscar or Penny's experiences; Oscar's being humorous while Penny's are coming of age (as most of Kyla Pratt's characters are).
Animation/artwork: Nothing fancy, but keeping in tune with much of the animation of Disney in the 1990s it uses pastels, mismatched angles and a good deal of expanded imagination in the framework. What is distinct is the variety of skin tones used for the artwork and differences in Black characters.
Overall, Proud Family is more important than many people realize and as such needs to be recognized as such. Beyond that there is a lot of humor that many people in Black culture will instantaneously understand.
10. Johnny Quest (all versions) - I'm realizing now that it was this show not Carmen San Diego that got me to travel around the world. I was always curious as to what the Quest family and Hadji were up to. While this show got rebooted about three times, it is always intriguing even if it doesn't occasionally play up racial stereotypes while at the same time expanding them.
Premise: Widower Dr. Benton Quest and his son Johnny explore science and other strange phenomena throughout the world. They are joined by their caretaker/bodyguard Race Bannon, Johnny's life friend Hadji and their dog Bandit. It's forever engaging and yes quite a few people die in this so-called kids show. Later reboots add a rock friend and Race's daughter Jesse, on and off villain Dr. Zin (yellow peril until the 90s) and the cyberspace of QuestWorld.
Characters: So what becomes fascinating here is how each iteration of the show expands their characters. A show in the 90s, is going to have a different writing staff than a show in the 60s. Race goes from all-around amazing guy to awful father and lover. Johnny matures, Hadji gets limelight time, Johnny's mom becomes a serious factor in the later versions, and Dr. Zin even gets children. My all time favorite is Hadji, because while he is Sikh, if we're being honest I can't think of many Sikh people in mainstream media whatsoever. In the 60s, he plays into some stereotypes, in the 80s and 90s show (they never removed him from the cast) he simply is and his culture is not made into a sideshow.
Artwork/Animation: From 60s action with distinct ways of showing and not showing intense moments Johnny Quest had some new ideas 60s, standard fare in the 80s, and breakthroughs with CGI in the 90s. It is with the 90s series where the show gets remarks for its idea to create entire episodes dedicated to cyberspace, where a paraplegic can become a threat due to his mind.
Overall, this show means a lot to me and my dad (not exactly my brother) because we always enjoyed the sense of blending science with adventure. In an odd way, it helps create and support many of my ideas in how to explore. While the 60s and 80s versions are dated, the 90s version is still fresh and enjoyable.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: This show could easily be in my top 10 except for the fact that it is a little too much psychobabble to be grounded in emotion, but maybe that is the point of the show. Based on the movies and the manga, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (GITS SAC) attempts to dive more into the world of GITS SAC and offers up a distinct look at a alternate future, rise of cybernetics, and a lot of concepts around a ghost in the machine (do robots have souls?).
Premise: Major Kusanagi and her team (Section 9) must deal with corrupt officials, cyberterrorism, hackers, and political coups in this political thriller. The material here is adult, but not in terms of content so much as dialogue and themes. There is Russian philosophy, political ideology and allegory, and stream of consciousness in cybernetics that makes for a mature show completely removed from kids because they most likely won't understand it.
Characters: I don't have a favorite, though Batou is great throughout both seasons due to being the only cybernetic character with real humor; however, the whole team minus maybe the big bomb squad guy (I don't even remember his name) are a lot of fun to learn about and get developed in the second season. The Chief also deserves a shoutout because they develop him due to his past contacts and political motives. The villains are also well done and grey in the morality as to their motives.
Animation/Artwork: Beyond the music, the animation of this show is top notch. There is a sheen throughout the entire production that blends CG with hand-drawn animation well and makes use of its moments of cybernetics without detracting from the rest of the show. While it is not groundbreaking, it is so expertly polished that it can be argued that it has some of the best animation and artwork ever made.
Overall, this show is well done, filled with action, characters are developed, and the music fits the show well. However, it is not necessarily evocative of emotions and you won't long to return to these characters as others. Emotion matters in any medium, especially in animation in which drawings can make you cry. And while GITS SAC has plenty to marvel at and think upon, it won't pull your heartstrings which is why it is placed in the HMs instead of the Top 10.