The 90s were a great decade for television shows, animated and live-action alike. While some people treasure memories of watching sitcoms, others fondly reminisce about Cartoon Network, Disney, and Nickelodeon’s best offerings. Here are some of the greatest cartoons the 1990s had to offer.
- Tiny Toon Adventures (1990-1992)
- Dragon Ball Z (1990-1996)
- Rugrats (1991-2004)
- Sailor Moon (1992-1997)
- Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (1994-1997)
- The Magic School Bus (1994-1997)
- Dexter’s Laboratory (1995-1999)
- Courage the Cowardly Dog (1996-2002)
- Recess (1997-2001)
- Pokemon (1997-Present)
Tiny Toon Adventures (1990-1992)
Creator: Tom Ruegger
Starring: John Kassir (Voice), Cree Summer (Voice)
Where to Watch: Hulu, Apple TV, Amazon Prime
Based on a younger, hipper version of the original Looney Toons, this show follows the adventures of the intrepid Babs and Buster Bunny (no relation). They and their young friends explore the world of comedy as a toon. Although the youngsters are instructed by the original Looney Toons like Bugs Bunny, none of them seem to be related to each other, despite the shared surname.
Dragon Ball Z (1990-1996)
Creator: Akira Toriyama
Starring: Sean Schemmel (Voice), Christopher Sabat (Voice)
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
The main character of Dragon Ball, Goku, is an adult in this sequel series—although his adventures are no less exciting. He still has trouble containing his Super Saiyan alien powers, but he is as committed as ever to defending the world from anyone who would abuse their powers to hurt others.
Creator: Arlene Klasky
Starring: Nancy Cartwright (Voice), Cree Summer (Voice)
Where to Watch: Hulu, Amazon Prime
Seeing the world from the point-of-view of a toddler was a novel idea, and Rugrats depicted it well with its friendly and curious characters, all of whom had bizarre ways of approaching situations. Topics like learning to walk, understanding adult conversations, or getting your hands on another cookie from the cookie jar were all given due course, with hilarious hijinks inevitably ensuing.
The show had touching moments, as well, like when Chuckie wished he had a mom so he could celebrate Mother’s Day with his friends. Educational specials taught 90s kids about Passover, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa, and subsequent films were a hit—especially The Rugrats Movie, which grossed over $141 million at the box office.
Sailor Moon (1992-1997)
Creator: Naoko Takeuchi
Starring: Stephanie Sheh (Voice), Kate Higgins (Voice)
Where to Watch: Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Prime
The first Sailor Moon show may not have had the best animation, but it sure nailed the goofy facial expressions of its characters. Instructed by a talking cat, a fourteen-year-old girl named Serena learns that she and her friends are actually magical space princesses. They must team up and use their powers to protect Earth from evil monsters.
Plenty of little girls in the 1990s were eager for action cartoons with female leads, and Sailor Moon definitely delivered. Serena and her friends learned to handily defeat the villains with various magical attacks, while still beset with typical teenage problems—such as figuring out what to wear on a date.
Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (1994-1997)
Creator: Klasky Csupo
Starring: Christine Cavanaugh (Voice), Charlie Adler (Voice)
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, Apple TV
This show follows three monster children as they attend Monster School and learn how to scare the nasty humans. Most of the episodes involve them setting elaborate traps or scares for the humans who live above them, but the monsters have family and friend problems as normal kids do. The show also got strangely emotional at times, not uncommon for Klasky Csupo ventures.
The Magic School Bus (1994-1997)
Creator: Joanna Cole, Bruce Degen
Starring: Lily Tomlin (Voice), Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Voice)
Where to Watch: Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Prime
Based on a series of kids’ books, The Magic School Bus was a beautifully animated show that incorporated education with fun experiments and field trips. Ms. Frizzle, the class’s teacher and school bus driver, frequently took her class on magical field trips—everywhere from other planets, to inside a student’s body.
Few shows can teach and entertain without feeling forced, and fewer still incorporated humor and solid characters like The Magic School Bus did. If the reboot isn’t your cup of tea, never fear: Netflix still has the original series up for streaming.
Dexter’s Laboratory (1995-1999)
Creator: Genndy Tartakovsky
Starring: Christine Cavanaugh (Voice), Kath Soucie (Voice)
Where to Watch: Hulu, HBO Max, Apple TV, Amazon Prime
The eponymous Dexter’s age is never given in the series, but he appears to be a child genius of about seven or eight. He hides an enormous laboratory in the small house he shares with his parents and older sister, conspiring to invent strange contraptions without ever revealing his above-average intelligence.
Unlike most cartoons of the 1990s, Dexter’s Laboratory focused some episodes not on the lead himself, but on his sister DeDe, their parents, and even tertiary characters—especially the Justice Friends, a group of Marvel-esque superheroes who rarely interacted with Dexter or his world at all.
Courage the Cowardly Dog (1996-2002)
Creator: John R. Dilworth
Starring: Marty Grabstein (Voice), Thea White (Voice)
Where to Watch: Boomerang, Hulu, HBO Max, Apple TV, Amazon Prime
Courage is a pink dog who lives with an older couple in the middle of Nowhere. Nowhere is depicted as a vast desert that is, apparently, populated with horrifying monsters. Courage is consistently called upon to protect his home and Muriel, the woman who adopted him, despite his inherent cowardice. He also protects Muriel’s crotchety, bumbling husband Eustace, even when he doesn’t deserve it.
Be warned: if you plan to share this series with your kids, you might want to rewatch it alone first, since some of the monsters are pretty gruesome. A disembodied live-action head, Muriel getting possessed, and a terrifying CGI-mummy are just a few of the moments Courage fans still call terrifying, even decades later.
Creator: Paul Germain
Starring: Ashley Johnson (Voice), Courtland Mead (Voice)
Where to Watch: Disney+
Recess followed six kids during their elementary school’s recess, as the children formed cliques and solved typical—and, sometimes, not so typical—childhood problems. T.J., Gus, Mikey, Vince, Spinelli, and Gretchen set out to make the schoolyard a safer place for nerds and geeks, who more popular kids usually bullied.
Like most cartoons in the 1990s, Recess wasn’t just for kids who matched the characters’ ages. It had a universal appeal for anyone who dreaded hearing that bell, dealing with mean teachers, or navigating the hierarchy of the schoolyard.
Creator: Satoshi Tajiri
Starring: Veronica Taylor (Voice), Rachael Lillis (Voice)
Where to Watch: Disney NOW, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling TV
As one of the longest-running cartoons in history, Pokemon far exceeded anyone’s expectations when it first aired in the late 1990s. Originally just a card game and Gameboy game, Pokemon soon transformed into a TV show, movies, more video games, endless merchandise, and an entire franchise that launched Nintendo as one of the leading competitors in the entertainment world.
The show follows Ash Ketchum as he travels in search of new Pokemon, animal- or plant-like creatures with distinct needs, powers, and personalities. Ash aspires to be the best Pokemon trainer who ever lived. In the Indigo League series, Ash teams up with gym leaders Brock and Misty to complete his training, help those in need, and learn all he can about these pocket monsters.
Cartoons from the 1990s have all the heart of 80s animation, but with even more kid-centric humor and storylines, with characters everyone could relate to. These shows are still embedded in millennial culture, in fact—a true testament to the creative plots and enduring casts so many grew to love during the decade.
While different, the cartoons from the 90s had set the foundation for toons in the 2000s. Some honorable mentions that didn’t make this particular list but are worthy is South Park and the Simpsons, even though the Simpsons got its start just prior to the 90s. Nonetheless, it still counts as one of the best from the 90s.