For more than 50 years, we’ve been treated with superhero animated shows featuring our favorite characters. While each series has something different to offer in its adaptation, here are 21 animated superhero shows that were entertaining, well produced and did justice to their source material.
This is final part of the countdown. If you missed part one or two, follow the links on the bottom of the list!
21. Legion of Super Heroes
20. The Batman
19. The Incredible Hulk
18. Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends
17. Green Lantern: The Animated Series
16. Super Friends
15. Superman: The Animated Series
14. Spider- Man: The Animated Series
13. Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
12. Teen Titans
11. Static Shock
10. X-Men: Evolution
9. Justice League
8. Batman: The Brave and the Bold
7. Batman Beyond
It wasn’t supposed to be a success. A futuristic steampunk teen Batman who wasn’t Bruce Wayne wouldn’t last long on the air. “Batman Beyond” would go on to transcend a television show and become a cult favorite superhero. With its dark tone, complicated character relationships and psychological dilemmas, this future Dark Knight evolved into an icon for many comic fans.
With a young hero virtually engrossed in the same tragic background as the original Batman, Terry McGinnis handled the cowl and made it his own. Not only did he have to deal with a whole array of new rouges, Terry would have to save New Gotham with cranky mentor Bruce Wayne in his ear while also juggling relationships between his girlfriend, mother and friends. But Terry’s troubles were a viewer’s paradise as “Batman Beyond” certainly was well written and animated during its run.
6. Wolverine and the X-Men
Lots of fans disliked this X-Men adaptation due to the portrayal of Wolverine as a calm leader instead of a hot-head loner. That was never a valid debate as Wolverine was always a leader for young mutants and would go on to demonstrate this by leading the Jean Grey School for the Gifted in a comic of the same name years later.
This X-Men show featured characters in their current modern models and brought classic storylines into play in a whole new light. It also gave fan favorite Emma Frost a prominent role for the first time in any X-Men media. Unfortunately the show was cancelled after only two seasons and 26 episodes. As far as mutants shows go, it doesn’t get much better than this series. “Wolverine and the X-Men” was without a doubt, one of the best comic book adapted television shows ever created.
5. X-Men: The Animated Series
One of the most popular Saturday morning shows of all time, “X-Men: The Animated Series” comes in at number five. After a failed attempt at an X-Men series in 1989, Marvel finally succeeded in bringing their iconic mutant team to Fox Kids in 1992. The show took off from there as it capitalized on a 90’s pop era craze with big fluffy hairstyles, skateboards, catchy theme songs and of course hipster Jubilee. This X-Men show was the very embodiment of 90’s X-Men comics.
With story arcs like the Dark Phoenix saga and Age of Apocalypse during its 76 episode run, “X-Men: The Animated Series” covered a lot of comic lore. The greatest thing shows can do for fans is to bring in the most obscure comic characters and that’s exactly what “X-Men: The Animated Series” did. B-level mutants such as Shatterstar, Forge, Mimic and plenty of others made their animated debuts in this series. Even today, the show is still much beloved among comic fans.
4. Young Justice
Although the show ran for 46 episodes, when the series concluded it felt very premature. It only feels that way for quality shows. “Young Justice” was essentially “Justice League” for sidekicks. With “Justice League Unlimited” concluded “Young Justice” filled the void for a DC superhero team on the television medium. It could have very well surpassed its predecessor had it continued its run.
With deep character developments, and heavy emotional storylines, “Young Justice” hit the hearts of many comic fans. It also knew how to please audiences by introducing fan favorites Batgirl, Tim Drake, Wondergirl and even Impulse into the team in the second season. There are few superhero shows with as much fan service as “Young Justice.”
3. Justice League Unlimited
And this was one of those shows with more fan service than “Young Justice.”
If “Justice League Unlimited” wasn’t enough to unlock the geek inside you, then nothing will ever bring it out. “Justice League Unlimited” was a comic fan’s dream come true, expanding the previous show’s roster of heroes from seven to nearly a hundred. Heroes that had never seen the television light of day now had an avenue to appear in.
This also marked the final series in the Bruce Timm universe which began with 1992’s “Batman: The Animated Series.” There really wasn’t much to complain about as week in and week out, fans were treated with cameos and stories that not only entertained you, but brought pride to the source material. Each of the show’s 39 episodes left you desiring more, and at the end of the day, that’s what makes a good television show memorable.
2. Batman: The Animated Series
The Bruce Timm series that revolutionized superhero animated shows, “Batman: The Animated Series” and “The New Batman Adventures” top almost every list of greatest cartoon shows of all-time. The show distinguished itself from prior superhero cartoons with its gritty film noir artistic setting of Gotham. There was a darker sense of morality watching this Batman show even though it was still marketed towards children. The tone fit right in with the Dark Knight.
There is no doubt about the significance “Batman: The Animated Series” had on the industry of animation shows and superheroes. Harley Quinn, Joker’s assistant, who is one of the most popular modern characters in comics came from this show. Running for 89 episodes and winning four Emmy awards during its run, “Batman: The Animated Series” has held its position as one of the most beloved animated television shows of all-time for more than a decade.
1. Spectacular Spider-Man
The top animated superhero show of all-time belongs to Sony’s “Spectacular Spider-Man” which was many more adjectives than just spectacular. There has never been a comic book adapted show that respected and gave tribute to the source material the way “Spectacular Spider-Man” did while still maintaining its identity. An example of this is when easter eggs of classic silver-age comic covers would appear in scenes during the show.
“Spectacular Spider-Man” also marked the first time Gwen Stacy was featured as a prominent main character in a Spider-Man material outside comic books. We finally got to see a Gwen Stacy/Mary Jane friendship that silver-age fans have salivated to see for many years.
The show was spearheaded by cult-classic “Gargoyles” creator Greg Weisman and the quality of every single one of the 26 episodes was consistently amazing. Sadly the series ended due to Marvel re-acquiring the rights to Spider-Man from Sony and ultimately deciding to create a successor series from scratch in the form of “Ultimate Spider-Man.”
If you’re looking for a superhero animated show that was entertaining and respects its source material, you can go no wrong with this list of shows.
Do you agree with my list of top 21 animated superhero shows of all-time? If not, let me know what your list is in the comments or on Twitter!
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