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25 Best Cartoon Network Shows Of All Time Ranked

Cartoon Network has been a dominant force in children's media for over three decades. Competing against heavyweights like Disney and Nickelodeon, the network has claimed many awards of its own, launched franchises, and blazed a unique programming path. Originally operating on the periphery of Hanna-Barbera creations, Cartoon Network Studios has since come into its own, creating over 60 animated series.

The channel has always stood for pushing the boundaries of children's programing, greenlighting the ideas of independent creators, and breaking new ground. Obviously, some shows have been stronger than others — but in retrospect, even many of the weaker ones are buoyed by nostalgia points. Which makes it all the harder to compile a "Best of" list in honor of their decades-long history. Some were instant classics, others have aged like fine wine, while still others might not be quite as good as your nostalgic recollections have colored. 

It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it. Here are the best Cartoon Network shows of all time.

25. Johnny Bravo

While "Johnny Bravo" may be one of the early Hanna-Barbera network efforts that worked, the series hasn't aged particularly well. It follows the life of a self-described ego-maniac with woman problems; girls won't leave him alone, despite him being a major creep — the sort of guy who would likely refer to himself as a himbo.

The show is a product of its time and is still fondly remembered after all these years, but that doesn't make it any more entertaining if you try to give the series a re-watch. While the show wants to make fun of Johnny's behavior (which is why he's maced so often), the series often can't seem to decide whether it wants to condone his behavior or condemn it. 

Nevertheless, the series is boosted by some vivid, fun animation. The show's aesthetically-pleasing manner of drawing humans is playful and inviting, and that's one of the reasons why, after all these years, "Johnny Bravo" is worth looking at.

24. Total Drama Island

Right around the time reality TV began dominating the airwaves, this animated spoof of the genre delighted those familiar with its cliches. "Total Drama Island" was a solid hit for the network, even if it wasn't really a Cartoon Network Studios show. The series originally aired in Canada in 2007, and didn't premier on CN until 2008. But since social media was still in its relative infancy, most viewers hadn't had the first season spoiled for them, so this animated series about a survival reality show and its 22 contestants brought an immediate increase in ratings.

The high-stakes, weekly episode format of "Drama" set the series apart immediately. Between the relationship drama, the eliminations, and the silly challenges, the show knew how to maintain viewership, and more than a decade since you could last share the "Drama" with your mama, the show continues to be fondly remembered.

23. The Looney Tunes Show

This ain't your parents "Looney Tunes," that's for sure. The iconic Warner Brothers characters are back, but this time they're millennials — or, at the very least, modernized. 

Roaring onto Cartoon Network in 2011, this series revisited Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, now out of the woods and living in a nice suburban rental unit. Just like the original cartoon classics, the series is self-contained and doesn't carry storylines from one installation to the next. It also put a satirical twist on the slapstick jokes we all remember fondly, this time preferring fully-aware, self-referential humor. As far as reboots go, it's a good one, especially when considering all the variations of Looney Tunes that have come along since.

The animation is solid and the characters are, of course, so inherently likable that it's hard to root against this reboot. While some viewers might be annoyed by its adherence to a "Space Jam" aesthetic, the show did make a splash within the animation world, even earning three Primetime Emmy nominations.

22. Sym-bionic Titan

It's time to shout out an underrated Cartoon Network program that was taken way too soon: "Sym-bionic Titan." Cartoon fans may not even recognize this one-season, 20-episode title, but they're certainly missing out. 

The show follows two humanoid aliens and a hyper-intelligent robot after they land on Earth while escaping an evil space dictator. The three can fuse together to form a giant, fighting robot when they need to protect themselves from their enemies — resulting in a series that mixes the highs and lows of a high school drama with, well, giant fighting robots.

Plotline aside, the short-lived show had dynamic writing and some great gags. If given a wider production window, it feels likely that the strong characters of the series would have blossomed via deeper storylines and more confident storytelling. Created in 2010, its influences and references to other high-stakes coming-of-age stories are obvious. The animation was also impressive, especially when it came to fight scenes and rich landscape shots.

21. Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends

With one of the coolest opening credit sequences in Cartoon Network history, "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" is one of those shows everyone enjoys. 

From "Powerpuff Girls" masterminds Craig McCracken and Lauren Faust, the series details a foster home for imaginary friends, but instead of being imaginary, they're actual sentient creatures. Mac, an 8-year-old boy, will do anything to keep hanging out with his imaginary friend, Bloo, including visiting the home every day. The show follows their adventures alongside other imaginary friends and the staff of the residence.

The premise of the cartoon provides an ideal palette for a diverse group of characters, unbridled creativity and artistic variety. The brightly-colored show grabs your eyeballs and doesn't let go, and the results often feel downright cinematic. 

20. Cow & Chicken

"Cow and Chicken" was another Hanna-Barbera-produced project that paved the way for Cartoon Network's original programing, becoming something of a cult hit during its 1997 – 1999 run. 

Created by David Feiss, the series was an offbeat, endearing show that followed a pair of biological siblings (who happen to be an anthropomorphic cow and chicken) encountering offbeat adventures and many, many butt jokes. The duo's arch-enemy was "the Red Guy," a version of the devil who was always trying to make their lives difficult. Moving beyond the sweet, earnest animation of most Hanna-Barbera projects of the time, "Cow and Chicken" offered viewers a heavy focus on gross-out and slapstick humor.

Despite its frequent frivolity, "Cow and Chicken" earned fan and critical acclaim, even getting nominated for two Primetime Emmys. Measured against its peers, the series most often draws comparisons to "The Ren and Stimpy Show," one of the more iconic cartoon series of the '90s.

19. The Amazing World of Gumball

Although there are a number of Cartoon Network programs that have prioritized artistry and visuals, few have made it the focus of the show. Which is why, when "The Amazing World of Gumball" was first introduced in 2011, it stood out. 

So much effort and attention to detail goes into the production of every episode that the storyline nearly seems secondary, and with "Gumball," that's perfectly fine. This stylistic exercise gained acclaim across the animation world for its boundary-breaking disunity and embrace of mixed mediums. From standard 2D animation to CGI, puppetry and even occasional live action, the show always kept viewers on their toes.

Oh yeah, the plot. "Amazing World" followed Gumball Watterson (a blue cat) and his adopted brother Darwin (a goldfish) as they navigated middle school. Satirical and self aware, the series embraced pop culture references and often leaned into mature territory with some of its writing; but no matter what your age, the show's distinctive look and fun vibe made it work.

18. The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy

Created by Maxwell Atoms, "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy" embraced mindless entertainment for six seasons of unapologetic bliss; today, it still stands as the perfect hangover cure or background noise. 

The series follows two human children who somehow manage to trick the all-powerful Grim Reaper into being their best friend for the rest of eternity. While certain elements of the show are dark, it never goes so far down the rabbit hole that kids can't join in on the fun. Instead, it's a campy, Tim Burton-type ride worth taking.

The dynamic between the trio is as compelling as it is uninterested in typical limitations on the characters being likable or relatable. The writing is self-aware and proudly brimming with obscure references, many delegated to smarter characters like Mandy. With no real character arcs or plot through lines, the series is simply meant to be a smile-inducing, rib-tickling tale told in 11-minute nuggets of absurdity.

17. Chowder

Similar in spirit to "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack," there must have been something in the water at Cartoon Network Studios in the late 2000s. Whatever the cause, a movement was afoot that would forever set them apart from the other networks.  

"Chowder" is a silly example of fun, harmless animation. Taking place in Marzipan City, the series was about a food-loving, air-headed chef's apprentice and the mischief caused by his unending hunger. While it's technically a coming-of-age story, the story is primarily lighthearted, seemingly intent on how many food-related puns it can squeeze into any given episode.

The story tied itself up nicely with the "Chowder" finale, making solid points on the importance of self-growth and maturity. Still, it's hard to see past its witty cutscenes and the variety of characters that viewers got to meet with every new episode. "Chowder" is a good time, made only better by its fun animation style and self-aware humor.

16. Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated

It's hard to talk cartoons without talking "Scooby-Doo," and Cartoon Network did a fine job updating everybody's favorite case-breaking canine in 2010 with "Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated." This series upped the ante for the gang, bringing darker storylines, deeper context, and Matthew Lillard, carrying over as Shaggy from the live action movies. Funny, spooky and self-aware, the series enjoyed paying homage to famous horror movies and leaning into the "Scooby-Doo" mythology.

Sure, when you're dealing with "Scooby-Doo," a certain amount of any show will fall into the same predictable routine; there's only so many cranky old men you can rip a mask from, after all. Thankfully, "Incorporated" advanced the franchise by exploring relationship drama between Shaggy and Velma or Daphne and Fred, but it was the mysteries that kept viewers coming back for more.

15. The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack

Gross-out humor made a major comeback in kid's shows in the '00s, and Cartoon Network Studios was at the epicenter of the movement. 

"The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack" took visual gags to a new level, incorporating grotesque, stop-motion cut scenes and different media integration to contrast its smooth animation. The program followed Flapjack (an aspiring sailor) and Captain Knuckles (his disgraced pirate mentor) as they went on adventures in search of Candied Island. Alongside Bubby, Flapjack's (literal) whale of a mother, the pair lived with the good folks residing on Stormalong Harbor.

Just like "Courage the Cowardly Dog," the animation could come across as bold, even sometimes disturbing. But that didn't mark the series as immature, with adult themes including alcoholism and drinking enough saltwater to hallucinate. The series won a Primetime Emmy, another indication that there was a lot of brains behind this goofy kids' show.

14. Infinity Train

"Infinity Train" managed to somehow go under the radar, despite receiving critical acclaim before it was moved over to HBO Max. The 2019 series made strides for the network in regards to original programming and unique storytelling. The series is an anthology set on a huge, magical train that seems to go on forever, each car carrying a new, potentially dangerous environment for passengers to move through. 

Almost like "The Polar Express," the train appears to passengers in times of emotional crisis, and in turn helps them process their psychological trauma and personal problems. The show tackles complex themes like family issues, self discovery, and personal responsibility.

Like other recent Cartoon Network Studios productions, "Infinity Train" is visually breathtaking. The constant environment changes are fascinating and the animation style is never less than captivating. There are even slight stylistic changes between train cars, enhancing the viewer's immersion in the show.

13. Codename: Kids Next Door

If there's one thing Cartoon Network executives seem to love, it's greenlighting shows about eccentric children running organizations — which brings us to "Codename: Kids Next Door." This 2002 – 2008 show was a wild ride from start to finish, fueled by memorable characters and fun plotlines. 

Within the logic of this series, the Kids Next Door is a globally-spanning underground organization run by kids to fight crimes committed against kids. The show follows Sector V, specifically five crime-fighting 10-year-olds. Each character was distinctly flushed out and given their own personality, giving fans a chance to latch onto whomever they most closely related. But the series never took itself too seriously, as the kids battled against such "crimes" as flossing and aging. 

The animation can be a bit jarring at times, with bulbous heads and limited character design, but it is no less visually captivating. 

12. Craig of the Creek

"Craig of the Creek" is newer to Cartoon Network's lineup, but it still warrants inclusion among the network's best. Launched in 2018, it is a buddy-adventure series that follows a boy named Craig and his crew of creek-dwelling companions. Not only does the series score with its representation for Black families, but it is all infused with an innocence for the entire storyline of the series. "Craig" doesn't require magic or the threat of danger to keep the viewer interested; instead, it relies on imagination and a childlike desire to explore.

Boasting smooth animation, richly-detailed backgrounds, and a willingness to tackle themes like LGBTQ representation, put "Craig of the Creek" on your list of cartoon shows to watch. You won't regret it.

11. Justice League

For the sake of clarity, "Justice League" is not a Cartoon Network Studios production, but was one of the most popular series for the network. Introduced to Cartoon Network two years before "Teen Titans," the story follows DC's most famous heroes: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Hawkgirl and Martian Manhunter. But the show was never content to simply coast on big names; as a result, in 2009 it made #20 on an IGN list of the greatest animated television series of all time.

Similar to "Teen Titans," the animation targeted realism over artifice. Serving up a darker, grittier aesthetic, a more serious tone was adapted as well. There was the occasional joke to lighten the mood (typically emanating from Flash), but the series triumphed because it presented these extraordinary characters through the prism of human beings, with quirks and faults and extremely-earthbound personal lives, who just happened to fight crime from a floating superhero headquarters on the periphery of space.

10. Ed, Edd n Eddy

An original program that shaped a generation of kids (albeit, not necessarily in a good way), this series about the three titular boys and their get-rich-quick schemes to buy jawbreakers debuted in 1999. These plans ranged from hypnosis scams to providing magic-marker tattoos, and most failed miserably by the end of any given episode.

"Ed, Edd n Eddy" followed in a similar animation style to others on the network, but it was not a Cartoon Network Studios production. In many ways it felt like a rougher, more fluid version of a Hanna-Barbera production — which makes sense, because series creator Danny Antonucci began his career as an animator on various HB shorts aimed at kids. 

Although it may have been overshadowed at times by the likes of "Courage the Cowardly Dog" or "The Powerpuff Girls," there is little doubt that "Ed, Edd n Eddy" continues its second life more than a decade later as a beloved cult-classic animated series.

9. Regular Show

There have been a lot of self-aware animated series over the years, but perhaps one of the best was "Regular Show," which ran on Cartoon Network from 2009 – 2017. Just as the name suggests, "Regular Show" is a show about two regular guys that like to hang out. Except instead of being two normal humans, it's about a sentient raccoon and blue jay that get into bizarre, often magical shenanigans.

The series won a Primetime Emmy, recognized for meaty story arcs and adult humor targeting a more mature audience than one might expect from how silly and inviting the animation style appears to the eye. Coupled with an abstract sense of humor and reliance around mundane, blue collar jobs, "Regular Show" was one of a kind.

8. Ben 10

If you grew up in the early 2000's, "Ben 10" probably dominated much of your time. From reruns to merch to McDonald's toys, it sometimes seemed like everywhere you looked was telling the coming-of-age story of Ben Tennyson, a 10-year old boy who discovers a wristwatch with alien technology. Allowing him to transform into different alien creatures, Ben uses this power to protect his family from intergalactic enemies that threaten their safety.

While many of Cartoon Network's programs have featured young, male leads, "Ben 10" seemed to put extra care into its depiction of a young boy's hopes, fears, dreams and desire for adventure. Ben's growth through the series was refreshing, and this rarity in animation made viewers feel like he was a friend. Both Ben and his cousin Gwen dealt with the stresses of increased responsibility – as well as all sorts of threats, extra-terrestrial and otherwise. The program would go on to become one of Cartoon Network Studios most successful series, with the franchise going on to span 15 years and winning three Emmys.

7. Dexter's Laboratory

When it comes to nostalgia, for a certain generation "Dexter's Laboratory" takes the cake — the pineapple upside down cake, to be exact. 

The series details Dexter, a boy genius with an indeterminate accent who uses his secret laboratory to create inconceivable inventions, which are frequently destroyed by his ditzy sister Dee-Dee. In typical cartoon-parent style, Dexter's mom and dad have no idea what's going on behind his closed door, which gives him free range to do whatever he wants — whether it is building robo-suits or cloning himself. He rivals another, less competent scientist, Susan 'Mandark' Astronomonov, but their relationship doesn't really go beyond schoolyard competition.

The series was another Hanna-Barbera production, following in the same animation style with simple movements and flat backgrounds. Just like "The Powerpuff Girls" and "Johnny Bravo," the series employed bright colors across most scenes, choosing to avoid any dark contrasts or shadows. While the premise was fun, it never really displayed a desire to build much of an actual plot into the episodes. Still, it's a fan favorite, and one of the key original programs from Cartoon Network's early years.

6. Teen Titans

Circling back to another DC Comics program, "Teen Titans" was also not technically a Cartoon Network Studios production, but no less valuable to the network or worthy of ranking among its best shows. 

Originally airing on Cartoon Network in 2003, it went on to build a huge fanbase of young viewers. Based on the DC character group featuring Beast Boy, Robin, Cyborg and the rest, the show gave an edge to the world of superheroes long before Zack Snyder stepped into the picture. Focused squarely on a group of teenage heroes dealing with the woes of adolescence, they would also find time on occasion to save their city from evil.

A beautifully animated, thoughtfully-written exploration into growth, the series would eventually give way to something that couldn't be more different: the popular "Teen Titans Go!" series that launched in 2013.

5. Steven Universe

It should come as no surprise that the groundbreaking "Steven Universe" ranks so high on any list of the best Cartoon Network shows. Thanks to its rabid fanbase, the series became something of a phenomenon following its 2013 debut, and seemed to grow in popularity and influence every year until signing off in 2019. 

Following on the heels of "Adventure Time," this like-minded series follows a pre-teen protagonist named Steven, who is half-human, half-Crystal Gem. Not to be confused with actual rocks, the Crystal Gems are a group of magical, extraterrestrial creatures that harness the power of their individual gem to have powers. This coming-of-age story follows the unlikely heroes as they battle otherworldly enemies and protect the humans around them.

Making tremendous strides for children's media, "Universe" was the first series created entirely by women, and also depicts a gay marriage. Another part of its legacy is that the show made significant strides in depicting mental health, including PTSD and neurodivergence. Coupled with stunning animation and an infectious original score, the series captivated viewers  — and forever changed the way cartoons address mature issues.

4. Courage the Cowardly Dog

Speaking of content that leans towards the mature, "Courage the Cowardly Dog" is another animated series that never felt like it was made for kids — even if many kids were watching.

Today, many adults credit the 1999-2002 show as their gateway into horror, thankful that it scared them young. The series followed Courage (a skittish pink dog) and his owners Muriel and Eustace. Living on their farm in the middle of Nowhere, the family was a lightning rod for monsters, villains, and generally crazy people, and it's up to Courage to protect them. The series was unnaturally scary for a cartoon — one episode even referenced "The Exorcist." 

But the show was always more than just a "Goosebumps" clone, forging a unique path that made it occasionally profound and moving in its own strange way. Although it may not always have seemed like it on the surface, "Courage" subtly depicted an important balance between being brave and being afraid. Sure, he may be scared of every little creak in the night, but it never stopped him from protecting those he loved.

3. Samurai Jack

Often ranked among the best cartoon series of all time, "Samurai Jack" was the sort of beautifully animated, intensely deep melodrama that could only come from the visionary Genndy Tartakovsky. 

The occasionally interrupted 2001 – 2017 series set out to tell the story of Jack, a samurai prince, and the time-traveling journey he took to free his kingdom from Aku, a shapeshifting demon. 

The series always felt unabashedly mature, as if its aim was squarely focused on an older audience. Unlike other action series, it never offset the tone with comedic sidekicks or lighthearted plotlines. But what really set it apart was the animation style — to this day, nothing else has ever looked like it. 

As one of the earliest Cartoon Network Studios productions, it would make sense if it looked similar to peers like "The Powerpuff Girls" or "Dexter's Laboratory." But "Jack" was fiercely one-of-a-kind, even breaking ground as being one of the first animated projects to utilize lineless characters. This emphasized the artistry needed to separate figures from the background, resulting in contrasting, vivid imagery for each episode.

2. The Powerpuff Girls

"The Powerpuff Girls" broke ground, in the process becoming an animation touchstone. Made with sugar, spice, and everything nice — as well as bright, vivid animation, an infectious style and three little girls at the center who you can't help but root for, this McCracken masterpiece became a cultural phenomenon.

The series follows Blossom (the pink one), Bubbles (the blue one) and Buttercup (the green one), three superhero sisters created in a lab by their father. The girls dedicate their time to playing, going to school, and saving the world.

But "The Powerpuff Girls" was more than just your average cartoon; it fundamentally changed animation, as well as children's programming. When it premiered in 1998, kid-targeted shows depicting little girls as heroes were few and far between. Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup told these little kids that they could do anything, no matter their age or size.

1. Adventure Time

Saving the best for last, few animated series can compete with "Adventure Time." Spanning nine seasons and winning eight Primetime Emmys, the show follows 12-year old Finn and Jake, his magical talking dog. The two spend their time fighting evil, protecting the people they love, and going on adventures. Premiering in 2010, the series has earned a loyal following from young fans and adults alike for its profound, slow-burning story and gorgeous animation. Boosted by an incredible original score, there's an intimately personal element to each episode.

While cartoons can be lighthearted and fun, young audiences shouldn't be deprived of stories with depth and important messages. "Adventure Time" balances heavy-handed life lessons with subtle themes about change and growth. Although each seemingly disparate component of the show blends well together, it's the writing that truly stands out. Featuring a strong LGBTQ storyline detailing a relationship between Marceline (the Vampire Queen) and Princess Bubblegum, it's one of so many reasons to recommend this show as Cartoon Network's finest.