Many who grew up in the 1990s remember waking up on a Saturday morning, grabbing that bowl of cereal, and getting comfy on the couch to watch cartoons. It was the same tradition as kids in the 80s had done, but by the ’90s, cartoons weren’t just restricted to Saturday mornings.
Even coming home after school, cartoons were part of life for kids who grew up in the era. Not only were they great for younger audiences, but they had enough jokes to keep older viewers entertained. If you’re bit by the nostalgia bug, these cartoons from the ’90s are great to comb over and pick up on all the things that went over your head.
10) ‘The Ren & Stimpy Show’
To this day, it is still a mystery how The Ren & Stimpy Show got the green light from Nickelodeon execs. That’s because the cartoon could easily be an early precursor to the more adult-oriented cartoons that would come toward the end of the ’90s.
For what it’s worth, The Ren & Stimpy Show was revolutionary for sneaking in adult humor and mashing it up in a package aimed at pre-teens. The humor of the show was surreal and, at times, pretty dark, but that humor gleaned off many iconic moments from one of television’s most notorious “kid” cartoons.
9) ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’
By the mid-’90s, The Cartoon Network was making a name for itself with its in-house produced cartoons, with one standing out from the rest: Dexter’s Laboratory. The show centered around Dexter (Christine Cavanaugh in Seasons 1–3; Candi Milo in Seasons 3–4), a kid genius with a secret laboratory that only his older sister, the somewhat dimwitted Dee Dee (Allison Moore in Seasons 1 and 3; Kat Cressida Seasons in 2 and 4), knew about.
The ease at which Dee Dee could access his “secret” laboratory and foil his plans raised some questions to the intellect of Dexter, which made the cartoon all the more enjoyable to watch.
8) ‘South Park’
If one thought The Ren & Stimpy Show was a cartoon more geared toward adults than kids, South Park took that concept and went all-in on its adult humor. You know the premise by now: the show that revolves around four friends growing up in the small Colorado town of South Park and all the hilarity that ensues.
From the start, South Park strove to be a cartoon that was made for adults, with humor that definitely isn’t kid-friendly. That didn’t stop kids from watching it; and to this day, South Parkremains a cultural icon for both adults and kids alike.
By the early ’90s, Nickelodeon was looking to make cartoons that would resonate with its audience. The cartoon that would change everything for the network was Rugratsa show that revolved around talking babies and their misadventures.
While the premise was simple, it was a cartoon that kids could get into as well, with many relating to the problems the babies get themselves into, and the ups-and-downs of growing up. Rugrats was the flagship cartoon of Nicktoons until a certain sponge took over. Thought SpongeBob Squarepants has supplanted Rugrats as the network’s premiere cartoon, this series still shows how relevant it is, with a reboot on Paramount+ currently ongoing.
One can imagine that, sometime in the early ’90s, a Warner Bros. studio exec thought of a cartoon that revolved around cartoons living in their iconic water tower. The show that would come to fruition was Animaniacs, which revolved around the Warner siblings; Yakko (Rob Paulsen), Wakko (Jess Harnell), and Dot (Tress MacNeille).
While Tiny Toons Adventures was more geared toward kids, the creators behind Animaniacs set out to make a cartoon in which the humor was geared more toward older viewers. The wacky, adult-centric humor is what won over fans, and the series ran for 99 episodes in the mid-90s. It would later become one of the lucky ’90s cartoons to get a revival in 2020.
5) ‘Spongebob Squarepants’
Nickelodeon didn’t know what was coming when SpongeBob Squarepants premiered on the network right after the Kid’s Choice Awards in 1999. What would follow after the series’ pilot would be the longest-running series in Nickelodeon’s history.
While many may argue that, like The Simpsons and family guy, SpongeBob Squarepants has long outlived its shelf-life, the series remains just as popular today as it did back in 1999, and with good reason. While maintaining its appeal towards kids, the series also dips its toes into humor that can make older viewers laugh as well.
4) ‘Pinky and the Brain’
One has to feel for Brain (Maurice LaMarche), as he could never fulfill his dream of taking over the world. That was the main premise behind Pinky and the Braina cartoon series running on The WB in the mid-90s.
Beginning its life as a skit on Animaniacs, Warner Bros. execs saw enough potential in the skit for it to be a series in its own right, and they were right. along with Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain were essentially must-see cartoons once kids got home from school, enjoying watching his idiot partner in crime, Pinky (Paulsen), routinely ruin Brain’s plans for world domination.
3) ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’
At the tail end of the ’90s, the Cartoon Network was hitting its stride with its originally produced cartoons, with Courage the Cowardly Dog becoming one of its most iconic. This series follows Courage (Marty Grabstein), a sweet but easily frightened dog who was abandoned as a puppy and was taken by the Bagges, which consists of the kind-hearted Muriel (Thea White), and her cruel husband, Eustace (Lionel Wilson and Arthur Anderson).
Even though they lived in the middle of nowhere, strange things would happen around the home, which would cause Courage to find the “courage” to protect his family. While funny in a lot of ways, Courage the Cowardly Dog would be famous for its horror and sci-fi elements and is a remarkably fresh cartoon that has aged quite well.
along with Rugrats, Doug would go on to define Nickelodeon’s early-’90s golden era in animation. In some ways, Doug was a ’90s version of Charlie Brown, with the title character (Billy West and Tom McHugh) portraying characteristics of the Charles Schulz comic classic, though he did end up with the girl of his dreams, Patti Mayonnaise (Constance Shulman).
Doug was a slice-of-life cartoon that was related to kids who watched the show, dealing with being the new kid in a new town and new school, and dealing with such topics as bullying and self-esteem.
1) ‘The Powerpuff Girls’
The city of Townsville wouldn’t have been safe if it wasn’t for the Powerpuff Girls. It’s an understatement to describe just how much of a phenomenon these kick-butt superheroes were in the ’90s.
The Powerpuff Girls turned Cartoon Network into a household name and kicked off its first “golden age” or original programming; not to mention, they were a promotional powerhouse. The Powerpuff Girls were merchandised into everything, from backpacks to stickers. Though a subsequent reboot of the series was met with harsh criticism, the original Powerpuff Girls will forever stand out as not only one of the best cartoons of the ’90s, but for all time.