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Underrated Cartoon Network Shows You Need To Watch

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Cartoon Network is one of the largest broadcasters of animated television in the United States. Since their debut in 1992, they've been responsible for some of the most popular animated franchises of the last 30 years, including "Dexter's Laboratory" and "The Powerpuff Girls." In the 2000s, their programming expanded to include hit shows like "Ben 10," "Courage the Cowardly Dog," and "Star Wars: Clone Wars." 

The 2010s, however, were a golden age for the network. Shows like "Adventure Time," "Regular Show," and "Steven Universe" found enthusiastic audiences outside of Cartoon Network's typical age demographic, even without getting weird or raunchy enough to qualify for the channel's Adult Swim section. But while some shows exploded in popularity throughout these decades, the network also had its fair share of underrated programs. These shows, while often acclaimed, never became pop cultural breakthroughs like the programs conventionally considered the best shows of Cartoon Network. Still, many of them made for memorable Saturday morning watching experiences for grade schoolers, middle schoolers, and maybe even a few of us who were working on post-graduate degrees at the time.  

Cow and Chicken

As is the case for a handful of other Cartoon Network favorites, the pilot of "Cow and Chicken" originally aired as part of an anthology series called "What a Cartoon!"  The subsequent popularity of the Hanna-Barbera-produced short led to the network greenlighting it to become a full series in 1997. However, the roots of "Cow and Chicken" are even more humble than that, as it began as a story creator David Feiss made up to amuse his 6-year-old daughter.

"Cow and Chicken" follows the show's two title characters and the hijinks they get involved in combating the devilish Red Guy. All three main characters are voiced by Charlie Adler, known for his work on "Tiny Toon Adventures" and "Rocko's Modern Life." It also features voicework from Dee Bradley Baker, Candi Milo, and Dan Castellaneta. Additionally, its writing staff happened to include Seth MacFarlane, who went on to create the hit animated series "Family Guy" not long after his era of working for Cartoon Network. 

Cartoon Network aired "Cow and Chicken" for four seasons until 1999, when it was cancelled. It's still available to buy online via multiple platforms, however one episode, "Buffalo Gals," may be difficult to find, having been banned for its startling homophobia and graphic sexual innuendo.

The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy

Few shows on Cartoon Network are as memorable as "The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy." Series creator Maxwell Atoms was a storyboard artist on "Cow and Chicken" prior to pitching his own idea. Influenced by his previous show's depiction of the Devil as well as his own experiences with Asperger's Syndrome, Atoms created Billy and Mandy and paired them with a comical representation of the Grim Reaper. The show that was eventually greenlit by Cartoon Network was "Grim & Evil," which consisted of two segments: "The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy," and "Evil Con Carne." 

While "Evil Con Carne" didn't stick around too long, "The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy" continued on for six seasons between 2001 and 2007. The show follows the dim-witted Billy and stoic Mandy who become best friends with the Grim Reaper. The show debuted to a little bit of backlash, with outlets like Common Sense Media deeming it inappropriate for kids under 8 years old, though it was nominated for a daytime Emmy in 2007. The series also spun off into multiple TV movies and video games

The "Grim Adventures" franchise has remained dormant at Cartoon Network since 2008. A spinoff series revolving around the recurring character Fred Fredburger was planned, and despite interest from the network, it never ended up happening. Hopefully there's a future where audiences can be reminded of the hilarity of Billy and Mandy's macabre hijinks. 

Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends

For obvious reasons, Craig McCracken had a lot of good will at Cartoon Network after creating "The Powerpuff Girls." However, it wasn't until he became a pet owner that he began to develop an idea for his next series: "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends." Inspired by "The Muppet Show" and the idea of childhood imaginary friends, the show centers on Mac, an 8-year-old who is forced to leave his imaginary friend Bloo at, as the title suggests, a foster home for abandoned imaginary friends. 

The show, which unlike "Powerpuff Girls" was animated in Adobe Flash, became popular among kids for its unique characters, with voice talent including Cartoon Network staples Tom Kenny, Phil LaMarr, and Grey Griffin. Its hour-long pilot was acclaimed by critics, and "Foster's" was an Emmy darling during its run. It was also rated highly in publications like Entertainment Weekly and IGN.

Despite the show's popularity, merchandising, and critical success, the franchise has sadly been lost to the passage of time. Meanwhile, McCracken's other show, "The Powerpuff Girls," is still a source of spinoffs, reboots, and revivals well over 20 years after its premiere. Maybe it's not too late for "Foster's" to undergo a similar treatment. For the time being, it remains a brief but memorable part of Cartoon Network's programming history. 

Camp Lazlo!

Prior to working for Cartoon Network, Joe Murray created the animated hit "Rocko's Modern Life" for Nickelodeon. Following the end of "Rocko," Murray conjured up "Camp Lazlo!" out of what was originally an idea for a children's book based around his fond memories of summer camp. The show, which began in 2005, follows the summer camp endeavors of the titular spider monkey Lazlo, voiced by Rocko himself, Carlos Alazraqui. The chipper Lazlo leads a cast of anthropomorphic camp-goers, including the neurotic elephant Raj and the malicious platypus Edward. The show also put out a 2007 TV special titled "Where's Lazlo?" that follows the series' main trio meeting for the first time.

Critics were mostly positive about "Camp Lazlo" when it first premiered, though some parents' advisory-types criticized it for "questionable" storylines, despite it being a children's show. Nevertheless, "Lazlo!" was a worthy competitor to the network's other programs at the time, which included "Billy & Mandy" as well as "Codename: Kids Next Door." The show even received promotion via McDonald's Happy Meal toys, though Murray declined to participate directly as he did not want his creation to advertise unhealthy eating habits. Shortly after the Happy Meal debacle, "Camp Lazlo" ended in 2008 after five seasons.

My Gym Partner's a Monkey

Saerom Animation is an animation studio in South Korea who had gained notoriety for their work on shows like "CatDog" and "Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog" by the early 2000s. In 2005, they began a long journey of working with Cartoon Network on shows like "Adventure Time" and "Regular Show," but their first project together was "My Gym Partner's a Monkey," which began airing in 2005 and ran for four seasons until 2008.

The show created by Tim Cahill and Julie McNally Cahill centers on a human boy named Adam Lyon who is mistakenly placed in a school for zoo animals. There, he befriends Jake Spidermonkey and the two must navigate life at the Charles Darwin Middle School. In terms of ratings, "My Gym Partner's a Monkey" was a huge ratings success for Cartoon Network. The show also featured a lot of recurring talent from Cartoon Network and rival channel Nickelodeon. 

After the show ended in 2008, Cartoon Network aired it frequently in reruns. Beyond those reruns, however, "My Gym Partner's a Monkey" hasn't seen much of a life since its finale aired more than a decade ago. 

The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack

"The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack" had a long journey before it finally premiered on Cartoon Network in 2008. The show was pitched to the network in 2001 by creator Thurop Van Orman, inspired by his childhood growing up in Florida, as well as his artistic heroes like Jim Henson (via Animation Magazine). Though his pitch wasn't accepted at the time, Van Orman went on to work on many other Cartoon Network shows, including "Camp Lazlo!" and "The Powerpuff Girls." 

Cartoon Network finally moved forward with Van Orman's idea, which follows a young boy named Flapjack who becomes something of an apprentice to a pirate named Captain K'nuckles as they traverse the sea in search of candy. The show was incredibly influential to the world of children's animation, as a few animators and writers on the show went on to create their own series, including Pendleton Ward, who created "Adventure Time," and Alex Hirsch, who created "Gravity Falls." Thorup has also had plenty of success since, working on shows like "Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh" and making his directorial debut with "The Angry Birds Movie 2" in 2019.  

The Secret Saturdays

"The Secret Saturdays" centers on the title family, the Saturdays — voiced by Sam Lerner, Nicole Sullivan, and Phil Morris – who are members of a secret organization devoted to protecting the anonymity of cryptids from the world. Inspired by creator Jay Stephens' fascination with undiscovered monsters, the show was picked up by Cartoon Network following the success of "Ben 10," another action show.

As it premiered in 2008, Cartoon Network backed "The Secret Saturdays" with a big promotional campaign, including a website called CryptidsAreReal.com. The show also received a line of action figures, which Cartoon Network hoped would fly off the toy store shelves as "The Secret Saturdays" became their next bigtime animated action series. Unfortunately, that did not come to pass, as the show only lasted for two seasons. The Saturdays eventually got another chance to shine in an episode of "Ben 10: Omniverse" where they team up with the title character to stop a cryptid-based threat.

Generator Rex

A few Cartoon Network shows of the early 2010s appear to chase the success of "Ben 10" with mixed results. The original "Ben 10" was created by Man of Action, a writing collective mostly known for animated shows focused on superheroes, action, and monsters. Their second project with Cartoon Network after "Ben 10" was "Generator Rex," which premiered in 2010, garnered a pair of art-related Emmys for its pilot episode, and aired a total of 60 episodes over three seasons. 

The show takes place on Earth after an explosion infects the entire population with mutating nanites. The show's titular character Rex is a teenager who discovers that he can control his mutations and uses them to cure those who lack control over their monstrous abilities. The voice talent includes voice acting legends like John DiMaggio, Grey Griffin, and J.K. Simmons. Like "The Secret Saturdays," "Generator Rex" received a lot of support from Cartoon Network, and got its own toy line, a comic book adaptation, and another crossover with the "Ben 10" universe. Sadly, the show's second and third seasons failed to reach an audience wide enough for Cartoon Network to produce a fourth season.

The Looney Tunes Show

Warner Bros. Animation has had a long history with Cartoon Network, since the original "Looney Tunes" cartoons started airing on the network in the early 1990s. Their collaborations continued well into the 2000s, with shows like "Justice League" and "Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated." In 2011, a new take on the world-famous "Looney Tunes" characters premiered on the channel. This new sitcom, "The Looney Tunes Show," mostly centered on Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck living together as roommates in a suburb filled with many familiar faces of the "Looney Tunes" franchise. 

The two leads were both voiced by Jeff Bergman, who succeeded Mel Blanc as the voice of many "Looney Tunes" characters when Blanc died in 1989. The show also features new voices taking on legacy "Looney Tunes" roles, including "Saturday Night Live" stars Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig as Speedy Gonzales and Lola Bunny, respectively. The show debuted to mixed reviews, was eventually cancelled in 2014, and was briefly revived in the form of a direct-to-video film in 2015. Generally considered a unique spin on the iconic "Looney Tunes" gang, this show includes an especially hilarious and insightful interpretation of Bugs and Daffy's dynamic

Over the Garden Wall

"Over the Garden Wall" aired in 2014 and follows two brothers traveling through a mysterious forest over the course of a 10-episode miniseries. It was developed by Patrick McHale, a former writer for "Adventure Time," and its roster of voice talent includes Elijah Wood, Melanie Lynskey, and Christopher Lloyd. 

The show debuted to critical acclaim from publications like The Guardian and The AV Club. Some critics praised the show's tone, which perfectly captures the eeriness of autumn and American folklore (via Vox). The success of "Over the Garden Wall" is certainly undeniable, as it later spawned a comics series by McHale that expands on the world of the TV series. The show even received an Emmy in 2015 for outstanding animated program, beating out mainstream shows like "South Park" and "Bob's Burgers." 

Thankfully, McHale has gone on to future projects following "Over the Garden Wall," including co-writing Guillermo Del Toro's upcoming "Pinocchio." However, "Over the Garden Wall" remains a cute if obscure example of Cartoon Network putting faith in a creator to deliver a series that's both short and sweet. 

We Bare Bears

Daniel Chong's career in children's animation is expansive, having cut his teeth providing storyboards and artwork for films like "The Lorax" and "Inside Out." However, his first big break came when Cartoon Network hired him to adapt his webcomic "The Three Bare Bears," into a show titled "We Bare Bears." With out-of-the-box inspirations including "Seinfeld" and Wes Anderson films, Chong developed the pilot using digitally altered watercolors in order to give the show a more vintage feel, though this method was not reused after the show was picked up. 

"We Bare Bears" centers on three anthropomorphic bear brothers — a grizzly bear, a panda bear, and a polar bear — who live in San Francisco. Since its premiere in 2015, the show became a considerable success, spawning a series of children's books, a movie, and even a prequel series called "We Baby Bears." The show also received acclaim from critics for its diversity and writing. "We Bare Bears" might be too popular to call underrated, but we're betting there's a group who grew up on 2000s Cartoon Network who could still use an advisement to catch up on "We Bare Bears."

Mighty Magiswords

"Mighty Magiswords" was another example of new territory for Cartoon Network, as the series originally began as a series of web shorts and turned into the network's first online series. After premiering in 2015 on the internet, the series created by Kyle Carrozza was picked up as a TV series premiering in 2016. The show follows two warriors for hire voiced by Carrozza and Grey Griffin who go on adventures with the goal of collecting magiswords containing special magical abilities. These magiswords can resemble a giant cheese wedge, a giant carrot, a muscley arm, a fish, or anything else that happens to be amusing in the moment.   

However, the show's origins predate its production by more than a decade. Carrozza originally designed the characters in 1996, posting them on DeviantArt before pitching the series to Cartoon Network in 2005 before finally being picked up in 2013. Over the course of two seasons, the show aired more than 90 episodes until it was eventually cancelled in 2019 with the unaired episodes banished to the Boomerang network.

Infinity Train

Former "Regular Show" writer Owen Dennis developed the idea for a show about an endless train in 2010, inspired by his love for video games like "Myst" and science fiction franchises like "Doctor Who" and "The Matrix." The first season of "Infinity Train" follows a girl named Tulip who is a passenger on the unending rail-based vehicle. The second season follows, among others, a mirrored reflection of Tulip, while the third and fourth seasons focus on different characters entirely. 

The voice cast throughout the series includes Ashley Johnson as Tulip, plus appearances from famous names like Ernie Hudson and Lena Headey. "Infinity Train" premiered in 2019, and despite Dennis' intentions to continue the show up to eight seasons, Cartoon Network announced in 2021 it would end after its fourth, citing its lack of appeal to children (via Collider). Since its cancellation, fan outcry has been considerable, and Dennis has discussed his plans for the future of "Infinity Train" on social media

"Infinity Train" was critically acclaimed throughout its four seasons. The first season was named one of Cartoon Network's best programs, while future seasons, especially Season 3, were called "genre-defying" by publications like The Vanderbilt Hustler

Victor & Valentino

Throughout their programming history, Cartoon Network has had many iconic shows, as well as underrated ones. Each iteration of its lineup has included a series or two that is worth the attention of not only children, but adult fans of animation as well. Currently, that attention is deserved by "Victor & Valentino," which premiered in 2019, and has at least three seasons as of this writing. Compared to Cartoon Network's past programming, "Victor & Valentino" is one of the most diverse and representative shows in Cartoon Network history. 

The series follows the two titular half-brothers who spend every episode investigating supernatural mysteries relating to Mesoamerican and Hispanic folklore. Creator Diego Molano developed the series as a thesis project in college before the further-developed pilot premiered on Cartoon Network. The show has been favorably compared to "Gravity Falls" and "Rick & Morty," and the voice cast of features some prominent Latin-American talent.