Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Best '80s Animated Heroes

Every once in a while, there arises a golden age — a time when our culture is blessed by the good deeds and hard work of a few brave ones, the best of the best, who show us the light. We're talking about an era when heroes walk among us. The animation craze of the 1980s was one such time.

This may sound lofty, but culturally speaking, this was a time of formative television, when Saturday morning cartoons would pave the way for entire channels of nothing but animated content. It was a time when many kids with shining eyes would form their ideals for a better world based off of the candy-colored heroes they saw on their television screens. And oh, what heroes they were.

While some of these brave and beautiful cartoons would fall into relative obscurity in the years to follow, others would launch full-blown media empires, with franchises stretching into every part of the cultural zeitgeist. Regardless of whether they're still famous today, each and every one of these heroes taught thousands of people, children and adults alike, how to make the world a little bit better, a little bit kinder, and a little bit more caring. From mighty warriors to adorable animals, these are the best '80s animated heroes of all time.

She-Ra did so much more than just sell toys

Sometimes capitalism can be a boon. Now that's a spicy take for some, but in the case of She-Ra, it proved true. Originally, this series was conceived as a spin-off of the He-Man series, a collaboration between Mattel and Filmation to draw in a target audience of young girls and sell toys. This shrewd business deal birthed a franchise that solidified She-Ra as one of the greatest heroes of the '80s.

Princess Adora — He-Man's twin sister, kidnapped as a babe by the evil Hordak — was raised in the realm of Etheria, mind-controlled and made to do as her evil overlords bid for her entire life. Nevertheless, a heart of pure goodness still beat strong within her, and when she realized her true history, she helped to free He-Man from the clutches of the Evil Horde. The owner of the Sword of Protection, she then led the rebellion that hoped to bring peace and justice to Etheria.

Despite being in many cases a one-to-one mapping onto the characters and concepts of He-Man, She-Ra, along with her noble steed Spirit, fought their way into the hearts and minds of audiences the world over and proved that she was a mighty hero in her own right.

G.I. Joe had an animated hero for everyone

Despite the fact that many cartoons in the 1980s were originally launched to sell toys to impressionable youths clamoring for action and adventure, that doesn't mean that the heroes they promoted weren't totally, utterly awesome.

On G.I. Joe, much like any army, there wasn't just one hero but a collection of heroes. Whatever kind of butt-kicking, bad guy-fighting American patriot you fancy, G.I. Joe had a hero for you. Whether it's the agile and deadly Scarlett, the hard-hitting gunner Duke, or the man in charge, General Flagg, G.I. Joe was full of tough, strong heroes ready to do whatever they must to complete the mission and block Cobra Commander from carrying out his nefarious deeds.

This series pitted classic villain antics (wanting to control the whole world) against Special Forces from the armed services to great effect. If you need more proof of the sheer awesomeness of these heroes, what other show's intro has a character flying through the sky on a jet pack, tossing some TNT into the air, and blasting it away?

Optimus Prime saved the world countless times in the '80s

Heroes sometimes rise from the most unexpected places ... even somewhere as innocuous as the cars we drive every day. Yes, we're talking about the Transformers, some of the coolest, most mind-boggling heroes to grace the upper echelons of animated '80s media. And every team of heroes needs a leader, and there are few cartoon leaders more revered, or with more horsepower, than Optimus Prime.

Besides the absolutely epic concept of cars turning into giant, ancient, sentient, fighting robots, Optimus Prime and the Autobots were beacons of mortality and goodness in a sometimes cruel and unjust universe. And as far as leaders go, Optimus Prime was a brilliant tactician, friend to the oppressed, and a compassionate commander to his team. As a result, the series became one of the biggest action hero franchises of the 1980s and beyond. It's spawned many television shows, a ton of toy sales, and a blockbuster movie franchise.

The universe seemingly will always have a need for Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots, whether on Earth or any of the other places they've traveled to. And if there's one thing you can count on, it's that anywhere the nefarious Decepticons work their evil, Optimus Prime won't be far behind.

Everybody's gonna call the animated Ghostbusters

We have one question for you, dear reader ... who you gonna call? If you're a fan of 1980s heroes, there's only one answer — the Ghostbusters. Inspired by the acclaimed and beloved 1984 movie starring the likes of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, the television show The Real Ghostbusters followed the ongoing adventures of Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, Ray Stantz and Winston Zeddemore, along with their loyal secretary Janine Melnitz.

This series showcased some of the more non-conventional heroes on this list, as they were men of science first and action heroes out of necessity. Who knew New York City had so many rogue poltergeists roaming around? Well, the Ghostbusters knew, and they were just the heroes for the job. And how many teams can boast a friendly mascot that's a member of the group they're trying to eradicate? Yup, the Ghostbusters certainly set themselves apart by touting Slimer, their resident friendly ghost, as a helper and comic relief. As a result, the show met with great success, helped along by some excellent voice acting, including the work of Arsenio Hall and the famed Lorenzo Music, who also voiced the original animated Garfield the cat.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were pretty radical

We've got two words for you: turtle power. If those ring a bell, you'll already be familiar with this team of pizza-loving ninjas, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Few teams are more synonymous with sheer '80s awesomeness than this group of cowabunga crimefighters.

In the late 1980s, these green martial artists took the world by storm, and Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo rose through the ranks to become some of the most beloved heroes of all time. Of course, pitching this show must've been absolutely wild, as the premise is so creative that it almost sounds laughable. A group of baby turtles are exposed to toxic substances in the mean sewers of New York City, and they're subsequently raised by a wise ninja master who happens to be a rat named Splinter. Oh, and they're crazy about pizza and a yellow jumpsuit-wearing reporter named April.

As wacky as that must've sounded to studio executives, the idea totally worked, and audiences worldwide began rooting for the radical foursome who helped to fight off criminal masterminds like Krang, the inexplicably designed baddy who was a brain floating in the womb-like belly of a robotic humanoid construct, as well their main nemesis, Shredder, the master of the Foot Clan. Though they couldn't have been a stranger group, there was something about these mutants — who were also ninjas, who were also turtles, who were also teens — that made us all fall in love.

Jem is one of the greatest heroes of the '80s

Being a rockstar is a full-time job. So is managing a band. So is running a home for troubled girls. But a modern '80s woman? She can do it all. Anyways, Jerrica Benton could.

Jerrica Benton, also known as Jem, was a less conventional hero but a hero nonetheless. It was a time when hair was big and eyeshadow bordered on face paint. But nevertheless, it was a dangerous world for Jem, not because of extra-terrestrial threats, sewer mutants, or evil masterminds plotting to control all of humanity but because of a much more grounded, realistic threat — corporate takeover.

The plot of Jem kicked off when Jerrica's father passed away, and his unscrupulous business partner, Eric Raymond, sought to cut Jerrica out of the business her father had left to them both, Starlight Music. But little did he know that Jerrica's father's greatest invention — a sentient, sophisticated hologram system named Synergy — found her way to Jerrica and enabled her to transform into Jem, a pop star with a purpose. Plus, battle of the bands took on new meaning in this series as Jem and her musical group were constantly, sometimes violently, threatened by their rival band, the Misfits. 

Jem was a modern hero for modern times, dealing not with world-ending threats but with the trials and tribulations of running a business, a home, and maintaining relationships with those you love. Doing it all with the help of high-tech magical earrings makes this '80s girl one of the all-time greatest animated heroes.

The Care Bears helped us learn to get along

Maybe the real heroism was the friends we made along the way. That's what the Care Bears would have you believe anyways, and honestly, we're sold. Arguably the greatest heroes on this list, the Care Bears didn't have to save the world from an evil nemesis, and they didn't have to wade through a hail of bullets or a sea of disposable bad guys. They just had to show us how to be a good friend.

The absolutely adorable animation, the soothing voice acting, the candy-colored world of Care-a-Lot, way up in the clouds, made this an entrancing show for kids and adults to learn from and enjoy. The nuance and true heart of this show is exemplified by one of their nemeses, Professor Coldheart, who embodied not evil in the form of violence but a more insidious maliciousness he wished to infect the world with — lack of empathy.

Sure, the Care Bears seemed to be having a blast sliding around on rainbows and dancing and singing, but their true calling was to help the children of Earth learn the most important lessons of all, how to get along with others. From mending broken friendships and teaching kids that diversity is a strength to encouraging teamwork and simply offering to cheer each other up, the Care Bears never ceased in their mission to make the world a better, more caring place.

Voltron is the ultimate animated robo-show

What is it that's so appealing about giant mechs? Watching these big guys battle is just plain awesome, but when we're talking about larger-than-life animated '80s heroes, there's one that truly stands out, and that's Voltron. 

With a similar start to another classic hero's journey, Voltron the series begins by telling of a galaxy far away and in another time. When a dire threat arises, a special space force team is assembled — highly trained, highly skilled — to bring back the titular Super Robot. And yeah, this has everything you could want from an ultimate hero story. We've got a beautiful princess in need of aid, a scrappy band of heroes who happen to be the planet's last hope, aliens, robots, and giant lion mechs that turn into an even bigger robot with a huge honkin' sword.

Every great hero needs teamwork to truly get the job done, and few animated heroes exemplify that better than the team assembled to make Voltron. While a lion ship is cool enough on its own, there's just something so satisfying about watching five different machines come together to make one, gigantic, more humanoid fighter.

Spider-Man was a hero who swung into our hearts

The show that launched a thousand memes, the hero that launched a franchise in its own right, Spider-Man is an amazing hero who's resonated with audiences for decades. And it's no secret why Spider-Man holds an evergreen appeal for fans young and old. He's a nerd, dunked on by the world, living an unassuming life, but secret powers are available with the flick of a sticky finger.

While the smart, handsome, very fit Peter Parker might not read like your typical outcast, the show still billed him that way, and everyone went along for the ride. Featuring in not one but two animated series during the 1980s — Spider-Man and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends — the web-slinging savior of Manhattan crawled into our hearts and never let go.

Of course, every great hero needs a great villain, and some of the most classic baddies of all time plotted constantly to see Spider-Man taken down. Uniquely Spider-centric villains like the Green Goblin, Kraven, and Kingpin faced off against Peter Parker's quipping alter ego, while some of the worst of the worst from the larger Marvel universe also showed up to cause havoc. Doctor Doom, Loki, and even the Red Skull made appearances and were all summarily beaten by Spider-Man.

He's strong, he's slick, he's a genius inventor and photographer, and he's trying to have a life all at the same time. Classic hero stuff indeed.

He-Man was an animated '80s hero we all admired

He-Man, also known as Prince Adam, is about as heroic as they come. Secret identity? Check. Cool sword with hidden powers? Check. Rippling muscles? Check. Bowl cut? Check.

The head of the Masters of the Universe franchise, He-Man was conceived by marketing and toy-crafting wizards at Mattel as a brawny and brave warrior able to take on all comers. By the time his tale made it to the small screen, he had a very cool backstory to go along with his, ahem, totally cool outfit.

It's not every hero that can rock a straight-up bob with bangs, but He-Man did it with such awesomeness that fans flocked to catch every episode of his adventures fighting to defend the kingdom of Eternia. And that's when the seemingly oafish Prince Adam would transform into He-Man, and he also found he could transform his meek tiger, Cringer, into the mighty Battle Cat. Then they could battle one of the greatest villains ever to grace the screen, the ultra extra Skeletor.

He-Man fulfills a fantasy we all have, being able to summon the power to transform into the very best versions of ourselves, and this is why He-Man's spot among the great animated '80s heroes is as solid as Castle Grayskull itself.

Inspector Gadget and Penny used all sorts of gadgets to face all sorts of threats

A cyborg equipped with hundreds, if not thousands, of highly advanced gadgets? Awesome. Oh, he dresses like a film noir character on par with Humphrey Bogart's best? Check. And what's this? He's got an amazingly powerful dog sidekick? Fantastic. 

But while Inspector Gadget sounds like the coolest, sleekest, sexiest hero around, he's actually an affable oaf who can barely keep his feet on the ground thanks to his infamous helicopter hat. And while he ostensibly was the man with the plan, it was actually his niece, Penny, who does most of the problem-solving.

And there's a lot of problem-solving to be done when you're facing down a supremely evil, kitty-stroking baddie like the awesomely named Dr. Claw. Though Inspector Gadget is a humble member of the police force, he's tasked with fighting off larger-than-life threats that Claw throws his way. Good thing he's got Penny and his loyal, sentient pup, Brain, to save the day. Any hero that's a walking Swiss Army knife has got to make any "best of" list, and Inspector Gadget truly lives up to his name.