Ranking the Sonic the Hedgehog Cartoon Series Before Sonic Prime

Most people think of his video game success when they hear the name Sonic the Hedgehog, as shown by the release of Sega’s Sonic Origins Collection. It isn’t hard to imagine someone growing up knowing the character more from his recent films and the handful of excellent cartoons Sonic has starred in since the early ’90s. Though it took the comics to finally tell us the blue streak’s real name (it’s Ogilvie Maurice Hedgehog), the cartoons were instrumental in helping to hammer out character traits, personality, and tone with the character, even if most of the games that followed them liked to throw world-building out the window.

It’s easy for casual observers to overlook one or more of these shows, or for new fans to have missed one of the originals that doesn’t receive much praise, but as Sonic Prime gears up to speed through Netflix, now’s the perfect time to go back and witness each of his previous animated adventures. All of them have their fans and particular endearing traits, however, not all of the shows were created equal. Here’s a ranking and some important points on what makes each show “way past cool.”

Sonic X (2003) – 78 Episodes

Way before the live-action movies did it, someone had the bright idea to throw Sonic off his home planet and strand him in the real world. Sadly, his human allies were a bunch of annoying kids this time around. It had to be doing something right though, as sonic x is the longest-running cartoon featuring the character. The theme song is trying really hard here, and it’s liked by most, but it is also all that many viewers will need to realize that sonic x was embracing the Japanese audience and might be a little too anime for some.

sonic x tried to include more characters from the games, modeling itself mostly off of the Sonic Adventure titles. Having a larger number of episodes unfortunately means that there was some filler and a few pacing issues, but overall the show tried to be more action-focused and does have some genuinely great moments. When it was brought over to North America, the program was heavily censored. In its original form, sonic x was deemed to have too much violence, sexual content, promotion of alcohol, and a few Japanese cultural references that were omitted, so in fairness, we may not have seen the best version of these episodes. Still, this one is worth watching for any Sonic fan who doesn’t mind seeing him slum it up in the real world.

Sonic Underground (1999) – 40 Episodes

This isn’t usually the first series anyone thinks of when bringing up the blue hedgehog, but it has a dedicated group of fans. Sonic Underground’s concept is quite original, taking the work of the previous shows and building upon them with more fantastical elements while leaning heavily into the family-friendly 90s vibe. The setup for Sonic Underground gives the titular hero two new siblings and a missing mother, while bringing their secret heritage as well as a prophecy into the mix to add an epic feel to the story. Each of the characters also wears a magical medallion that can turn into a musical instrument or be used in a fight.

This cartoon is more music-focused and the kids usually break out into a rock video once per episode. Some of the songs can be a bit enjoyable, but the band needs to work on their music videos. Jaleel White does a great job as Sonic, but it may take a bit to get used to him voicing all three main characters. None of the shows discussed here are bad, but Underground had an incredible amount of hype around it as the follow-up to one of Sonic’s greatest adventures. Not only did it fail to deliver on that, but it also changed the tone and attempted to go in a wildly different direction. The revolution had taken a backseat, and the conflict felt different, but there was still good work being done.

Sonic Boom (2014) – 52 Episodes

Almost all of these cartoons were strategically crafted to help boost console launches or as marketing for upcoming releases, but sonic boom is often touted for surpassing its video game counterpart by leaps and bounds. That negative association may have turned some people off from watching this entry, and the CGI art style sparked some detraction as well, however, many fans found Sonic’s new sitcom-like approach with the 11-minute episode format to be quite endearing. Boom also excelled at understanding its characters, pairing solid voice actors with each of them, and boasted the ability to not waste time within the shorter episodes.

This is a show that felt more like a series of small plays, where the humor was strong but there were still action sequences and moments that allowed the characters to dive into danger or build friendships. Most of the stories were restricted to a single setting, Bygone Island, with the occasional adventure going somewhere else, but the small scale was accented by a beautiful landscape. Those who stuck with the show and were able to accept this fresh take on the character responded positively, but it may be responsible for the trend of portraying Knuckles as an idiot, rather than just naïve, and many still question whether or not Sonic can pull off that neckerchief.

Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993) – 64 Episodes

This cartoon gets a lot of noses turned up at it for a couple of different reasons. It is by far the silliest of the Sonic shows, and the art often throws people off, but none of that means it is bad. For most, approach Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, where the hero mocks his inept foes and gets away with pulling off some incredibly dumb tricks to succeed, it’s fine. This version of the character is a bit goofy, while staying true to the core concepts. The humor does work with the tone most of the time, and it’s great to see his interaction with Tails in the limited main cast. The format sets everything back to the status quo at the end of each episode, meaning it is easy to jump on the ride at any point without fear of having missed something.

As there weren’t many games to take inspiration from at this point, it is neat to see that this show was able to do enemies and vehicle designs from the source material in their art style, as well as some of the messed up geography Mobius became known for. Some of these same designs were even used in later animations. Also, this cartoon had some truly wild PSAs with the “Sonic Says” segments at the end of each episode.

Sonic the Hedgehog (1993) – 26 Episodes

It’s no surprise that this one ranks so highly on almost everyone’s list. The show that would be commonly referred to as Sonic Sat AM was simply firing on all cylinders, and captured an essence of the blue hedgehog that fans wanted more of. Was it that stellar animation, exquisite voice acting, or the fan-favorite opening theme that was its own mini-adventure? There’s merit to all of these aspects, but for many viewers, this is the show that gave Sonic and his friends reason and purpose. Dr. Ivo Robotnik has taken over, friends and family roboticized, and this band of freedom fighters from Knothole may be the only thing that could stop him and save Mobius.

The premise and tone are exciting enough, but the show also adds a little bit of romance with Princess Sally Acorn. Plus, getting to know supporting characters like Tails and Bunny makes each episode feel full and important. It’s the shortest of the shows and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but it also seems to have left the greatest impression on those who watched when it originally aired. Jim Cummings’ portrayal of Robotnik is still potentially the best to date, with a voice that shakes the bones of any who would oppose him. It also made Sonic’s home planet feel more whole, not just like disjointed levels.

Overall, even with its abrupt ending, this may still be the best cartoon in the franchise. Sat AM took all of the solid elements from the source material and figured out how to make them run together. It captures one of the best versions of Sonic, even if it isn’t perfect, and holds up still as one of his greatest adventures.

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