Top 10 Best Comic-Inspired Cartoons
Comics are great, clearly, but you know what I think an under-rated medium is? Cartoons. Animated cartoons can be as charming as they are cheesy, and there's something about the short episode, long season format that makes it possible to tell complex stories that adults enjoy in a way that children can understand too. Thinking on this topic, I felt compelled to rank a top 10 of the best cartoons based on comics.
10. Batman: Brave & The Bold
This is admittedly aimed more at young kids than adults, but hear me out. With the finest selection of ridiculous D-list villains you could ask for, a Bruce Wayne with an actual sense of humor, and the perfect casting of Wil Wheaton to voice Blue Beetle, this show is my secret pleasure. Oh, and did I mention that it has a musical episode guest-starring Neil Patrick Harris as the Music Meister? Yeah, that happened, and it was glorious.
9. Green Lantern: The Animated Series
The CGI visual style of this cartoon gets knocked a lot, but I think it's kind of cute and the bright colors and bold shapes suit the lanterns. The wacky space-dwelling diversity of the Corps is on display with weird and nifty alien designs and lots of strange planets to explore. With a bunch of fun new characters including a sassy AI and a red-lantern-turned-good, this is by far the best adaptation of GL we've ever seen on screen. (Don't talk to me about Ryan Reynolds. That's still a sensitive subject.)
8. Avengers Assemble
Marvel fans tend to turn up their noses at this show and cite it as a prime example of the "MCU-ification" of the wider Marvel universe, focusing as it does on the main six heroes of the MCU Avengers plus Sam Wilson. And while the overreach of MCU influence is a valid problem which is making Marvel content increasingly homogeneous, this series is actually extremely endearing. Its greatest strength is in portraying the Avengers as a found family who genuinely like and respect each other, who joke around sometimes, and who don't constantly fight with or snip at their teammates. The MCU could take a few cues from AA, to be honest.
7. Transformers Prime
Another cartoon which hardcore fans often dislike because of its "Bayformers" connotations. But aside from a very vague nod to the movie styling with the robot designs, this joyful, goodhearted, robot-loving cartoon couldn't be further away from the Bay movies thematically. The stories are condensed or updated versions of lots of classic Transformers arcs, and this series is notable for having what is generally agreed to be the best iteration of Starscream of all time.
6. Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes
If you ever wanted to get into Marvel comics but didn't have the time or the patience to read through decades of back issues, then you should try watching EMH. It covers a bunch key stories of the recent Marvel universe like the Skrull invasion, villains breaking out from The Raft, and the machinations of Kang the Conqueror - all in an accessible format which doesn't require an encyclopedic knowledge of continuity to enjoy. Also, it has what is undoubtedly the best theme song ever, just sayin'.
5. X-Men: The Animated Series
I imagine some readers would insist that X-Men: Evolution belongs near the top of this list, but I have to disagree and say that the 1990s cartoon was better. This version introduced a ton of classic X-Men and got all of their characterizations pretty close to their comics counterparts, even if it was in a more kid-friendly version. With five full seasons, they covered a lot of ground and really captured the social justice messages of the comics. This one gets a mention for having a great theme song too.
4. Young Justice
It's rare that a new generation of superheroes outstrips the original, but the Young Justice team of Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Miss Martin and others is a true delight which absolutely lives up to its Justice League inspiration. Long-time fans of DC got to have fun seeing under-used characters like Zatanna and Beast Boy in action, and the occasional drop-ins from the big-name characters like Batman, Green Arrow, and Wonder Woman just make watching the young team more fun. The show was sadly canceled after three seasons in 2014, but last year it was resurrected and it will be coming back to your TV in 2018. Hurrah!
3. Transformers G1
I would suspect that it's mostly just nostalgia which makes me so fond of this bizarre, inconsistent, frequently ridiculous toy commercial. But in fact, I already wrote a whole justification for why this series rocks, so I feel vindicated in my choice. Gorgeously designed visual elements, a fun concept, genuinely sound Humanistic principles, and memorable if archetypal characters make this surprisingly fun to watch even 30 years later. Plus there's that bit in the movie where Optimus Prime kicks everyone's ass to the dulcet sounds of The Touch which frankly deserves to go down in history as a pinnacle of artistic achievement.
2. Justice League / Justice League Unlimited
This show, perhaps more than any other on this list, managed to capture the scope of the DC universe in all its diverse, glorious weirdness. It has the feeling of classic Justice League runs like Morrison's JLA, but leaning more towards the light and fun and away from the dark and gritty. Which isn't to say that the cartoon never delves into darker territory - the episodes where Flash dies and the team goes dark side in their mourning is still quite something to watch - but it centers itself on the characters and the positive bonds which form between them. It's like the anti-Synder.
1. Batman: The Animated Series
Considered one of the finest animated shows of all time for good reason, Batman: TAS nailed the themes and styles of the Batman comics while still delivering a fresh spin on the character. Bruce Timm's distinctive visual style has defined a whole generation of DC animated shows, and Mark Hamill's voice acting remains to my mind the finest version of The Joker ever to grace the screen. TAS is also responsible for introducing the character Harley Quinn and her remarkable character arc from abused girlfriend of the Joker to a complex but possibly redeemable villain determined to take life into her own hands with her love interest/BFF Poison Ivy. In fact, TAS was so crucial to the development of the Batman universe that even if you've never watched an episode, you've surely seen its influence in every Batman adaptation since.
I should also give a shoutout to some other shows which came close to inclusion on this list, like Batman Beyond, which took an original approach to the Batman mythos by setting the action years in the future, and playing with the concept of what Batman would be in a world that's even more high-tech than our own. It also features one of the very few non-Bruce Wayne iterations of Batman which audiences actually liked.
And how could I forget Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Sewer-dwelling pizza-fixated turtles named after Renaissance artists are a cultural touchstone, obviously, but I figured that the Turtles comics weren't that popular so they didn't quite fit on this list.
Finally, I couldn't fail to mention The Lego Batman Movie. It's not exactly a cartoon, but you should watch it anyway because it's both hilarious and a far better movie than anything that the DCEU has to offer.