Nickelodeon has dominated children’s entertainment ever since its launch in 1979. Several generations have enjoyed some of the best cartoons to ever hit the airwaves. Nickelodeon was the first channel that was fully marketed toward kids. While originally, the channel simply imported programming from Canada, the original cartoons are where it began to fully take shape. Nickelodeon Cartoons (golden nicktoons) changed the game in a huge way, and we are going to take a look at 10 of the best from over the years.
10. The Adventures Of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius (2002-2006)
Jimmy Neutron was first introduced to audiences in 2001 when a theatrical movie was released. A year later, his popularity skyrocketed when he received a television series spin-off on Nickelodeon. This is where many fans know the character and the reason he is on our list. The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, was ahead of its time in many ways. The series follows the titular boy genius as he gets into various mishaps with friends Carl Wheezer and Sheen Estevez. The humor is a driving force behind the show and is celebrated more so than many others Nickelodeon cartoons. The show finished its run in 2006, and fans have been eager for a revival ever since. There was a short-lived spin-off focusing on Sheen that aired in 2010, but it wasn’t nearly as well received.
9. Danny Phantom (2004-2006)
Butch Hartman has created several unique and creative shows for Nickelodeon, one of which being Danny Phantom. The show follows Danny Fenton, a teenage boy with ghost hunters as parents. When one of their machines malfunctions, Danny finds his DNA intertwined with ectoplasm, making him half-ghost. Danny uses his newfound powers to send ghosts back to the ghost zone and protect the human world. The show is still held in high regard and is known as one of the best cartoons Butch Hartman has ever created. While being harmless for kids, the show still deals with dark themes and has plenty of entertainment value for older audiences. The show has a slightly spooky edge at times, making it ideal for viewing around the Halloween season.
8. The Angry Beavers (1997-2001)
Many will agree that the ’90s is when Nickelodeon truly began to dominate. One way they did this is by putting out original, absolutely insane programming. These shows leaned into surreal humor in the best possible way. One cartoon that excelled in this is The Angry Beavers. The show follows Daggett and Norbert, two brothers who encounter mayhem as they try to make it on their own after moving away from their parents. The show’s creators constantly butted heads with the studio and censorship. This was one of the tamer shows of the era, however, and one that is still fondly remembered as one of the best Nickelodeon cartoons that went absolutely insane.
7. The Fairly Odd Parents (2001-2018)
The series that Butchhartman is best known for working on is The Fairly OddParents. The show originally ended in 2006 but was revived in 2008, where it ran until 2018. Fairly OddParents follows Timmy Turner, a young boy who is placed under the care of two fairy godparents to assist him in life. The show started out as a series of shorts on the variety show Oh yeah! Cartoons before spinning off into its own show. Fairly OddParents is still known as one of the best cartoons to ever come out of the early 2000s. As with any great Nick show, Fairly OddParents is filled with heart and humor. The show received a live-action spinoff in 2022but the reception wasn’t nearly as warm.
6. The Ren & Stimpy Show (1991-1995)
The Ren & Stimpy Show was one of the first original Nickelodeon cartoons and one of the most bizarre. This is the show that took the surreal humor style and dialed it up to 11. The show has frequent adult jokes as well as over-the-top violence. Ren is a chihuahua with some serious mental issues. Along with his friend Stimpy, a good-natured yet stupid cat, they navigate the insane landscape of life. The show has a massive cult following and even received a short-lived revival in 2003. This revival aired on Spike TV and fully leaned into the adult content ala family guy. The tone of Ren & Stimpy is a far cry from the overtly family-friendly content Nickelodeon has today, and that is what fans love about it.
5. Rugrats (1991-2004)
The first fully original Nicktoon is Rugrats. The show follows the day-to-day adventures of a group of toddlers. The show isn’t as zany or surreal as many of Nickelodeon’s early cartoons and is the second longest-running show on the channel. Rugrats ran for nine seasons and received three theatrical films. Today, it is still remembered as one of the best cartoons from the ’90s and has legions of fans and both young and old. A show showing mundane things through the eyes of a toddler is still a smart idea and adds to the show’s timeless nature. Rugrats received a revival in 2022 on Paramount+, using 3D animation as opposed to 2D.
4. Hey Arnold! (1996-2004)
Hey Arnold! is a show with a very basic premise but still shines thanks to a creative writing team. The show follows Arnold, a fourth-grader, as he navigates life with his friends. Also along for the ride is Helga, a tough-as-nails girl who harbors a secret crush on Arnold. The show earned raving reviews almost immediately. It earned a theatrical film in 2002, with a second one planned that would serve as a finale. Hey Arnold!: The Movie didn’t do as well as Nickelodeon had hoped, and so the second film was canceled. The movie, titled Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie was eventually released as a made-for-TV movie in 2017 and wrapped up the Nickelodeon cartoon in a satisfying way.
3. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999-)
The cartoon that everyone associates with Nickelodeon is SpongeBob SquarePants. After 13 seasons and 3 feature films, SpongeBob is still running strong. The show was created by the late Stephen Hillenburg, a marine biologist who wanted to create a show that takes place in the sea. His little idea created one of the most iconic and best cartoons to ever hit the airwaves. SpongeBob and his group of colorful friends have been enjoyed by at least two generations of fans, and it is likely his impact will still be felt long after he leaves the air. SpongeBob SquarePants is currently the longest-running show on Nickelodeon, having been running for 23 consecutive years.
2. Rocko’s Modern Life (1993-1996)
One show that was filled with controversial off-color humor but to a much lesser degree was Rocko’s Modern Life. The show follows Rocko, a wallaby that immigrates from Australia to America. While there is certainly adult humor present, it is much more subtle than other Nickelodeon cartoons of the time. Rocko is accompanied by a cast of bizarre characters such as his best friend Heffer, a turtle named Filbert, and his neighbors, the Big Heads. The show has a massive cult following and received a one-off special in 2019 on Netflix called Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling.
1. Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008)
Avatar: The Last Airbender is a show that little can be said about and do justice. It has well exceeded being simply a Nickelodeon cartoon and has become one of the most beloved animated shows of all time. Avatar follows Aang, a twelve-year-old who is the last survivor of his nation. Aang is the fabled Avatar, a master of all four elements and can control each one. The show is filled with humor but is better known for its heart and hard-hitting storylines. This is the kind of show most other shows strive to be. Avatar is more than a simple kid’s show; it is a full-blown experience.