I don’t think any other era has been so saturated with iconic television shows as the ’80s. The entertainment industry was booming; there were dozens of channels on TV, children everywhere had never been so entertained by such a wide variety of programming, and brands noticed that they were sitting on an advertising gold mine. This advertising boom created some of the most memorable cartoon characters ever conceived; it seems like almost every kid in the world grew up knowing at least one character from popular cartoons during this decade. Of course, everyone has their own list of favourites and reasons for why these figures are memorable to them, but here’s what I think are 10 of the very best ’80s cartoon characters.
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10. Duckula (Count Duckula)
Even though America was certainly leading the charge in terms of pop culture in the ’80s, the British took it upon themselves to produce many amazing cartoons as well. Among these shows is the hilarious Count Duckula, which ran from 1988 until 1993. While it was clearly based on a certain famous vampire franchise, Duckula was nothing like its source material.
This vegetarian vampire without fangs differs a lot from his predecessor in the Danger Mouse show, but fans have grown to love the version of him from Count Duckula.
9. Snake Eyes (G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero)
It’s hard to pick a single character from the impressive cast of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero to represent the entire series, but I think Snake Eyes fits the bill pretty well. This ninja warrior was an excellent fighter who stood out from the rest of the team due to his outstanding combat abilities and awesome design.
Unlike some other Joes, Snake Eyes wasn’t a pilot or a tank driver, but he made up for it by being the coolest thing in the 80s: a ninja. Considering that they’re still making movies about the character today is proof that Snake Eyes is one of the best 80s cartoon characters of all time.
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8. Lion-O (Thundercats)
When it comes to cartoons from the eighties, only a handful are as culturally significant as the ThunderCats. The show first aired in 1985, during the “sword and planet” genre revival ushered by the likes of Masters of the Universe. In contrast to Mattel’s toy line, the series managed to stand apart from the rest of the pack, with its blend of adventure, humor, and plenty of epic battles between good and evil.
Of all the characters, Lion-O takes center stage as the leader of the ThunderCats. His heroic deeds against the forces of darkness make him a beloved figure among his people, and the audience loved seeing him triumph over various villains as well. To this day, Lion-O remains a powerful symbol of hope for many viewers – yes, even after ThunderCats Roar.
Ask any 80s kid what the best classic cartoon is or was and the ThunderCats (and one of its characters) would definitely come up in the conversation.
7. Scrooge McDuck (DuckTales)
DuckTales is easily one of the best Disney animated series ever made. Its focus on episodic adventures was perfect for the ’80s, with each episode following Scrooge as he used his fortune to travel the world looking for even more treasures with his three nephews.
What makes Scrooge McDuck one of my favourite and one of the best cartoon characters from the ’80s? I think it’s nothing short of amazing how the show’s writers took a bunch of negative traits, put them into a single character, and still had Scrooge be one of the most entertaining characters on television. It’s easy to see why this series remains so popular today too, given its mix of comedy and adventure.
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6. Hello Kitty (Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater)
While Hello Kitty herself has been a mainstay of Japanese culture since 1974, the adorable character received her first animated show in 1987 with Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater.
Every episode of the show dealt with Kitty and her friends as they reenact classic fairy tales or movies. The cartoon was a moderate success in the USA and UK, elevating Hello Kitty to a global phenomenon. Even to this day, it’s almost impossible to escape Kitty’s adorable looks wherever you go.
5. Inspector Gadget (Inspector Gadget)
The scatterbrained Inspector Gadget might be one of my favorite cartoon characters of the decade. It was hard not to pick Penny over Gadget for this one, but anyone who has ever seen the show will tell you that the clumsy inspector steals the spotlight whenever he appears.
Inspector Gadget has received numerous adaptations over the years, including a couple of live-action films and some CGI shows in the 2000s. Although these didn’t do much for the character’s overall popularity, the original 1980s show remains a fan favourite to this day.
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4. Jem (Jem)
Glam metal was essentially a religion in the 80s. From Poison to Ratt and everything in between, the ludicrous hairdos were an unmistakable part of the decade – and shows like Jem capitalized on that glamorous fashion.
From the same team that brought us G.I. Joe and Transformers comes this dazzling show about a girl’s journey to becoming the ultimate musical sensation using state-of-the-art holograms. Jem and the Holograms, as it is sometimes called, is the perfect 80s time capsule, and Jem herself is one of the coolest female animated characters I’ve ever seen.
3. Michelangelo (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Who doesn’t love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The show was a landmark of 80s animation, and its popularity continued well into the 90s – with dozens of different toy lines and live-action films to boost the Turtlemania.
Picking just one of the TMNTs to represent the whole series is no easy task, but I’ll have to go with Michelangelo. He might not be the leader of the bunch, but his personality captures precisely what the decade was about. His whole “surfer dude” persona perfectly encapsulates the laid-back style of the ’80s, and I’m sure plenty of kids around the globe dreamed of moving to California to become a surfer just because of Mikey.
Michaelangelo is definitely one of the best 80s cartoon characters ever!
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2. Optimus Prime (Transformers)
The ’80s had no shortage of awesome robots on TV. Characters like Voltron, Mazinger Z, and the RX-78 2 from Mobile Suit Gundam – these mechanical behemoths all come from around the same decade. However, they all pale in comparison to the cultural titan that was the Transformers.
Among the Autobots, none were as popular with the kids as the charismatic Optimus Prime. Voiced by Peter Cullen, the leader of the Autobot forces has been a fixture of entertainment for decades – and he will no doubt continue to inspire generations of mecha fans to come.
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1. He-Man (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe)
When I think of ’80s cartoons, I instinctively picture He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and its characters. I believe no other show better captured the way of making advertising business of the time like this one: it was an unapologetically commercial show, made mostly to sell toys – and it was amazing.
He-Man is certainly a product of his time: a hypermuscular blonde man that would give Conan the Barbarian a run for his money. On the other side of the coin, there was Prince Adam of Eternia: a resourceful hero that led his kingdom into battle against the evil Skeletor. He, along with the other Masters of the Universe, became cultural icons for the ’80s generation — selling millions of toys and figurines in the process.
Is there a more popular 80s cartoon character than He-Man?
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Tell us, who do you think are the best 80s cartoon characters?