I still firmly believe that the 1980s was the best time to grow up in. It was an era filled with amazing toys, TV shows, video games, memorable characters, bright colours and, of course, some of the best kids cartoons to ever grace a CRT television set. ’80s cartoons for the win!
I still have fond memories of watching Saturday morning cartoons such as BraveStarr, He-Man, ThunderCats, Transformers (with the epic voice of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime), and Voltron, Defender of the Universe as a young boy — I’m sure many 80s kids do. These shows have been ingrained into my consciousness to a point that I can still recall many of the individual episodes.
The ’80s was also an era of experimentation for the various television networks, as each fought to gain dominance of the highly-valued kids market. This meant that many of these networks would throw anything out there to see what sticks. The formula for these treasures was simple: hire some of the best voice actors and the best artists (or animation studios) and try anything and everything. Oh, and throw in public service announcements while you’re at it.
When it comes to iconic decades, hardly any of them are as culturally significant as the 80s. Many of the shows that came out during this period are still regarded as some of the best ever made, and some of them are still being aired or remade into new versions of themselves for modern audiences to enjoy.
To celebrate some of the most defining cartoons of the 80s era, we’ve put together this list with some of the best examples of cartoons that shaped a generation, in no particular order. Hop into your time machine and let’s travel back in time to a magical period in history.
10. Muppet Babies
In the 80s and 90s, there was an odd push to make “baby” versions of well-known characters in a nursery instead of on Sesame Street. One of the first franchises to go through this process was the Muppets with its 1984 animated show, Muppet Babies. The series featured infantilized versions of some of the most emblematic Muppet characters, including Nanny, Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Gonzo.
A very lighthearted show that usually delved into themes of friendship and basic pre-school learning, Muppet Babies became a massive commercial hit that made the baby characters even more popular among kids than their original adult counterparts. The show was brought back to life in 2018 with an updated version that aired on Disney Junior.
9. Inspector Gadget
The adventures of the clumsy Inspector Gadget and his loyal canine companion Brain made their debut in 1983. A cyborg detective that was not like what we usually expected when we hear the term “cyborg,” Gadget was a funny show with an incredibly catchy theme that inspired a popular series of shows and even two live-action movies.
Gadget’s iconic phrase “Go Go Gadget” has made several appearances in popular culture over the years. Did you know you can say it to your Android device after you’ve activated “Ok Google” to make it do things? Try saying “Ok Google, Go Go Gadget flashlight” to your phone.
8. Pound Puppies
Based on the toy line produced by Tonka, the original Pound Puppies acted as the predecessor to what the famous Beanie Babies would become. The show was not like some other cartoons of the era that didn’t even try to hide the fact that they were an advertisement for a toy company: Pound Puppies was a truly great show that even received a revival series in 2010.
Though three different animated versions of the Pound Puppies came out during the 80s, most people are familiar with the one starring Cooler the dog and a girl named Holly. Did you know that Cooler’s laugh was inspired by Eddie Murphy? Maybe his fashion sense might also have come from the comedian’s 80s wardrobe, seeing as Cooler’s jacket looks very similar to that of Axel Foley.
7. Lazer Tag Academy
Back in the 80s, arcades faced some stiff competition from the emerging entertainment behemoth that was the laser tag arenas. To promote the game even further, Ruby-Spears Production released a show called Lazer Tag Academy, injecting a sense of adventure into the popular video game.
In the show, Jamie Jaren, the Lazer Tag Champion of 3010, travels back in time to the year 1987 to help her ancestors.
Later renamed to Lazer Patrol, the show ran for just 13 episodes before it was cancelled (it didn’t get a second season). It competed with the similarly-themed Photon, but Lazer Tag Academy came out on top thanks to its appealing character designs and more enjoyable plot.
Never underestimate the popularity of a duck in the realm of animated comedy. Count Duckula is a companion series to another entry in our list: Danger Mouse. The show follows the zany adventures of a vegetarian vampire duck trying his best to steer clear of the typical vampire stereotypes.
Legendary horror icon Vincent Price was a fan of the show, and even went on record saying that he would have loved to provide the narration for the show.
5. Danger Mouse
A cult classic, Danger Mouse might be one of Britain’s most popular animated characters ever made. The show ran for ninety episodes in total: a surprising feat that it managed to accomplish over the course of eleven years. Danger Mouse is the world’s greatest secret agent, always foiling Baron Greenback’s evil plots.
As mentioned before, Count Duckula was first seen in this show – not as a friend of Danger Mouse, but as a villain. The show ended up getting the revival treatment in 2015.
4. The Transformers
When Hasbro bought the rights of a bunch of transformable robot toys in 1984, they knew they could market those awesome machines to a wide audience. That very same year, The Transformers made its TV debut, introducing kids everywhere to the epic battle between the Autobots (the good guys) and the Decepticons (the bad guys) — most of them voiced by Frank Welker.
The franchise went on to become one of the biggest blockbusters in film history starting with 2007 Transformers. Of course, die-hard fans might be more acquainted with the classic animated film from 1986 and its absolutely amazing soundtrack. Optimus Prime is still cool today!
3. Adventures of the Gummi Bears
Along with DuckTales, the Adventures of the Gummi Bearswas one of the most culturally significant Disney shows of the 80s. The cartoon was partially inspired by the gummy bear candies, although an entirely original mythos was created for the show.
The show holds the distinction of being the first animated production made by Walt Disney Television, setting the bar pretty high for the many successes the company experienced during the next two decades.
Compared to the rest of the animated shows of its time, Adventures of the Gummi Bears knocks it out of the park in terms of animation quality and overall production value. This is mainly the reason why so many young audiences gravitated towards the show, looking for an escape from Hanna-Barbera’s stale animation style.
When it comes to massive 80s multimedia fads, only a few can match the impact that the Care Bears had on the children of that decade. Colourful, cheery, and undeniably charming, The Care Bears (basically cute teddy bears with magic powers) cartoon series was pretty much guaranteed to be an immediate success from the get-go.
The Bears originated as illustrations on greeting cards until they were turned into plushies in 1983. The success of the stuffed toys led to the creation of an animated show in 1985, which elevated the Care Bears to international stardom. The show’s popularity allowed the studio to produce three animated movies in the 80s, all of them proving a hit among young audiences.
1. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
He-Man and the rest of the citizens of Eternia are pretty much a product of their time. Inspired by the hypermuscular barbarian characters that were popular in the 80s, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was basically an ad for the toy line of the same name – and it was absolutely epic.
The show’s popularity was something that no one could have seen coming. It was the first cartoon to air on weekday afternoons, rather than the usual Saturday mornings other animated shows used. As far as thinly-veiled product placement goes, He-Manmanaged to create compelling mythology for its characters (Prince Adam, Skeletor, Teela, Hordak and Keldor) and their world, which might be the reason why the show is so popular even today.
The show sparked an ill-fated live-action film in the late 80s, along with a sister show in the form of She-Ra: Princess of Power (which followed the adventures of Princess Adora). Several remakes and revivals of the show have emerged over the years, including two very recent Netflix adaptations. Still, long-time fans swear by the original’s quality, with many pop culture enthusiasts naming it one of the – if not the – most influential animated franchise of the 80s.
Many fans believe that the Netflix reboots failed to capture the heart of the original show. The streaming service currently has two different He-Man shows and is currently working on live-action films.
Catillac Cats, The Smurfs, SuperTed, Mysterious Cities of Gold, DuckTaleswith the iconic trio Dewey, Louie and Huey, Jem and the Holograms with the lovely Jerrica Benton, Bananaman, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Chip n Dale’s Rescue Rangers, Babar, Garfield and Friends, Volton, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, Denver: The Last Dinosaur,My Little Pony, The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Show, Centurions, Snorks and Dungeons & Dragons.
Recently my rapidly failing memory started to recall more obscure cartoon shows that I completely forgot existed. This got me thinking, what other ’80s cartoons have I forgotten over the years and were they really actually good?
1. Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa
Being an ’80s cartoons list, you knew it wouldn’t be long before we entered ‘mutated animals’ territory. There was a time when every studio tried to create its own mutated money-making machine. This had almost everything to do with the fact that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Michaelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, and Donatello) had become so popular, with most kids scooping up the hordes of TMNT-branded merchandise.
While numerous studios tried to replicate the formula, many failed (I’m looking at you, Street Sharks). One of the more popular shows which incorporated mutated animals was called Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa. Underneath this terrible name beats the heart of a true ’80s gem.
After the irradiated meteorite slams into the desert, the surrounding animals find themselves mutated into walking talking creatures (except for the horses, for some obscure reason). The impact of the meteorite created a mile-high mesa that protected its inhabitants from prying eyes. For some unexplained reason, the animals created a civilisation inspired by the 19th century wild west.
Que the country music.
As with most wild west stories, there is always a group of nefarious criminals that need stopping. Luckily, Moo Mesa (as the town was now called) is protected by Marshall Moo Montana and his group of C.O.W-Boys, the soft-spoken brute The Dakota Dude and the impulsive Cowlorado Kid. Together they fought against the corrupt mayor Oscar Bulloney and the despicable Sheriff Terrorbul, to name a few.
Once you get past the terrible (oh, so, terrible) names of the cartoon characters, you’ll find a fun and light-hearted show. While the animation work itself was great, it was the unique character designs that had little ol’ me enthralled as a kid. It was only years later that I discovered that Ryan Brown, who had created numerous side characters for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, was responsible for the show’s creation.
Unfortunately, the show didn’t last very long and only ran for two seasons before it was cancelled by Disney when they acquired ABC.
The best part of the show remains its catchy theme song which I still clearly remember, even though I don’t remember much of the show itself. If you like westerns and loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then you owe it to yourself to get hold of this cartoon.
2. Bionic Six
I grew up hoping to one day discover my latent mutant powers or, should that fail, be turned into a cyborg with amazing abilities. To my dismay, I am still waiting for one of these to happen (although I’ll never lose hope).
Bionic Six was a show that tapped into the idea of becoming part human, part machine. Although it had the potential to be a big hit, the show ended up mostly forgotten. Heck, if it wasn’t for the catchy theme song, I might have totally forgotten about it.
The show is centred around an everyday family who, after a tragic accident, is turned into superpower bionic heroes by their father (what an awesome dad!).
Bionic Six was a mixture of the best and the worst ’80s cartoons had to offer. It was basically a super-powered version of Growing Pains, filled with its fair share of family drama. The animation was top-notch, particularly during the show’s intro which not only oozed ’80s-ness but also had one amazing theme song. I still recall every word of it.
Each member of the family had their own unique bionic power.
Jack Bennet, the father of the group, had a handy-dandy set of bionic eyes which allowed him to not only cycle through various vision modes but also afforded him the ability to shoot energy blasts. Basically, he’s what you would get if you combined Cyclops and a pair of x-ray specs.
The matriarch of the group was Helen Bennet who, thanks to her bionic implant, had various ESP-based powers that could give her glimpses of the future.
The jock of the family was Eric Bennet, a hot-headed, loud-mouthed sports fan whose electromagnetic powers allow him to retract and repel objects with great force.
Meg Bennet was a young teenager with the power to emit sonic beams from her shoulder-mounted blasters.
The brains in the family was J.D Bennet, one of the family’s two adopted children. J.D had both superhuman I.Q and strength, making him quite a formidable opponent.
Lastly, there was Bunji Bennet, the second adopted kid in the Bennet family. Of course, being of Asian descent, the writers figured that he had to have increased agility and enhanced martial arts skills.
The group also had a giant robotic gorilla called F.L.U.F.F.I., but the less said about him the better.
The main villain of the show was the evil Dr Scarab (it seems that most doctors in the ’80s were either mad or evil), who yearned to learn the secret of eternal life (at least he’s not trying to take over the world). What would an ’80s villain be without his blubbering henchmen to back him up? Fortunately, Dr Scarab had quite a few of these to help him on his quest for eternal life. With names such as Chopper and Klunk, most of these henchmen leaned more towards being ridiculous rather than scary.
While the show boasted some great animation, the writing tended to be more on the silly and awkward side. Strangely, I preferred it that way. It became part of the show’s charm.
I have to mention that the Bionic Six toys were also some of the sturdiest toys the ’80s had to offer. The 13-inch figures were made out of a combination of plastic and die-cast metal. This meant that they could take a lot more punishment from kids than the plastic-only figures.
So we’ve covered cows turning into cowboys, but what about space cowboys (and no, I’m not talking about the amazing BraveStarr)? Don’t fret. The ’80s were known for taking themes that just shouldn’t work together and forcefully squishing them into one single money-making machine.
Galaxy Ranger takes place in a universe where man has figured out how to use hyperdrives, thanks to the help of a few peace-loving aliens. As Earth begins to interact with other alien worlds and colonise distant planets, it becomes necessary to establish an organisation to protect mankind and its colonies (you know, from the scary aliens). Enter the Galaxy Rangers, who are tasked with protecting mankind from the space-conquering Crown Empire. Each Ranger is not only given a sweet robotic horse (who wouldn’t want a robotic horse?) but are also afforded a special brain implant which, as you’ve probably guessed, gives them unique powers.
The group consisted of a cyborg named Zachary Foxx, a shapeshifter name Shane Gooseman, Niko (the only female in the group) who had various psychic abilities and, lastly, there was Walter “Doc” Hartford who was basically a techno-wizard and could hack into just about anything.
Together they rode (and flew) across the galaxy, finding trouble wherever it would rear its ugly head. What made the show so unique was how it blended the futuristic with wild west themes and it did it, dare I say, even better BraveStarr. There’s no doubt that the show owes some of its “lived-in” and “dirty-tech” aesthetics to the Star Wars franchise.
Another aspect that made the show stand out from the other cartoons from the ’80s was that it didn’t shy away from taking on more adult issues. The Rangers spent just as much time discussing space politics as they did shooting at the bad guys. And while, as a kid, my tiny brain didn’t always grasp concepts the show introduced such as placing the needs of the many above the individual, I still have to commend them for doing this.
Galaxy Rangers looked good, sounded good and took us on an action-packed journey through space.
4. Dungeons & Dragons
In a time when many associated Dungeons & Dragons with the evilest of evils, some studio execs decided to approach the franchise in a more kid-friendly way.
Produced by Marvel Productions (Yes, that Marvel) the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon followed six friends who, after riding on a creepy-ass fairground ride (why would someone do that?), find themselves transported to a land filled with myths and legends (oh… and dragons). Thanks to the Dungeon Master (who strangely looks similar to Yoda), the six friends are soon roped into a quest to kill the evil multi-headed dragon Taimat and his demonic son Venger.
Firstly, who sends a bunch of kids on a mission to kill a ferocious dragon? Secondly, it’s not just any dragon, it’s a MULTI-headed dragon. Luckily, the Dungeon Master doesn’t just send the six friends into battle unprepared.
Each is given the abilities and weapons of different Dungeons & Dragons classes. Hank becomes a ranger, Bobby becomes a barbarian (even if he is the youngest of the group), Presto becomes a magician and is given control of the magical arts (and somehow still ends up being mostly useless), Sheligha becomes a thief, and Diana an acrobat. Finally, there’s the most irritating person in the group, Eric who becomes a cavalier. Having such a diverse group of characters meant that most kids could find at least one character could relate to.
Although the show took place in a fantasy world, which in itself had loads of potential, Dungeons & Dragons were marred by recycled music, corner-cutting, and even the occasional unfinished animation. Even with all of its shortcomings, it remained a show that I kept coming back to. I mean, it’s a show filled to the brim with orcs, goblins and, once again, dragons. It’s important to remember that by this time most shows focused on the “all-American hero” or “transforming robots”. There was almost no fantasy centred shows.
While most of the episodes suffered from bad animations and ham-fisted writing, Dungeons & Dragons still gained quite a following. Do you remember this ’80s cartoon?
5. Filmation’s Ghostbusters
If I shout, “Who you gonna call?” into a crowd of random people, I’d bet a whole lot of money (not that I have any) that someone would shout back “Ghostbusters”. This is a testament to the everlasting popularity of the Ghostbusters franchise. And while many might be familiar with the franchise, chances are quite good that not many of them know that before Egon, Venkman and Ray were busting ghosts there was another group of busters out there fighting the good fight.
Back in 1975, there was a live-action television show called The Ghost Busters. The show consisted of a team of bumbling detectives who would investigate ghostly occurrences. Oh, and they had a gorilla called Tracy accompanying them. In the ’80s, Filmation, who no doubt wanted to cash in on the success of the Ghostbusters movies, created a cartoon based on the 1975 Ghost Busters.
Now, I have to be honest, as a kid, I didn’t understand why the Ghostbusters suddenly had different names and were accompanied by a gorilla, but hey they were busting ghosts which meant it must have been somehow tied to the film (which it wasn’t). I only realised my mistake when The Real Ghostbusters cartoon was released.
That said, irrespective of the fact that it wasn’t the real Ghostbusters, I still thoroughly enjoyed the show. Something about its slapstick humour and silly premise made the show endearing to me. That and the fact that they had a fricking gorilla hunting ghost alongside them. I will admit that the show’s villain, aptly (and ridiculously) named Prime Evil, was a bit too much and was one of my least favourite parts of the show.
At least the show had a catchy intro song. “Go-go Ghostbusters, go-go. Let’s go!” This was definitely one of the best cartoons the ’80s had to offer.
Like most kids in the ’80s, I was obsessed with everything to do with dinosaurs, including dinosaur cartoons. I mean what kid wouldn’t be? They’re big, they have sharp teeth and they would make the perfect weapons of war, or at least that’s what the studio must have thought when coming up with the concept for Dino Riders.
Possibly my all-time favourite ’80s cartoon, the show was only surpassed by the amazing range of toys that followed. It’s important to note that the show not only included dinosaurs, which already was enough of a reason to watch it, but it also had spaceships, aliens and laser weapons. It was basically an amalgamation of everything a kid could dream of.
The show followed the Valorians who, up until the arrival of the evil Rulons, lived in peace. During a space battle, the Valorians attempted to escape the Rulons by using their S.T.E.P. (Space-Time Energy Protector). Unfortunately, something went wrong (as things in these cartoons tend to do) and the Valorians ended up on Earth in the time when dinosaurs roamed its hills and valleys. Unbeknownst to the Valorians, the Rulons also ended up on Earth during the same time.
The leader of the Valorians, Questar, decided that they should use their AMP necklaces to communicate telepathically with the dinosaurs and in the process befriend them. On the other hand, the Rulons, led by a reptilian creature called Krulos, used devices known as Brainboxes to brainwash the dinosaurs into serving them. In an attempt to destroy the Valorians, the Rulons outfitted their brainwashed dinosaurs with weapons. Needing to defend themselves from the Rulons, the Valorians followed suit.
Enter large-scale laser-wielding dinosaur battles.
The best part of each episode was seeing the various dinosaurs facing off against each other. Few things were as exhilarating to the younger me than seeing a T-Rex covered in armour battling a laser-wielding Diplodocus (those things with the long necks). And in the process of watching the show, I even managed to learn some of the dinosaurs’ names without realising it. Sure, the show was criticised for having dinosaurs from different periods walking side by side, but who cared? It’s not like the half-man, half-hammerhead dude was historically accurate either.
In the end, even if the series were created mainly to sell those really awesome toys, it remains one of my favourite ’80s cartoons.
Looking for free 80s cartoons on Youtube? You’ve come to the right place.
There might be an abundance of subscription streaming services out there, but not all of them have a decent selection of ’80s cartoons. In fact, YouTube is the place to visit if you’re looking for high-quality and free episodes of your favourite animated series. Best part? They’re completely legal!
1. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
Kids in the ’80s were crazy over G.I. Joe action figures. With such a wide range of characters and vehicles, it was one of the most expansive toy ranges around. Of course, the franchise made its way onto the small screen in the form of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, which ran from 1983 to 1986. If you were obsessed about Duke, Roadblock and Cobra Commander before, this show took your hype to new levels.
Let’s be honest here, Skeletor was the unsung hero of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The poor guy was all skin and bones, yet he wanted to rule Eternia and save us from He-Man’s horrendous hairstyle. While ol’ skull-head never succeeded, the adventures of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was a terrific companion to the toyline that attracted all the eyeballs in the ’80s.
It’s a travesty that no one has tried to revive BraveStarr. It’s a rich franchise that could be adapted into a live-action film or an even better animated series today. With a powerful lore, colourful characters and memorable storylines, BraveStarr remains a highlight of the ’80s. Do you still remember the theme song?
Oh, boy! This was a strange one. While not the Ghostbusters you’re familiar with, Filmation’s Ghostbusters was a different interpretation that was made because of a licensing dispute. Even so, the show was entertaining and created its own following, while never really feeling like the other franchise. If anything, watch it for Tracy the Gorilla.