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30 Best South Park Episodes Ranked

Approaching its 25th year on television, "South Park" stands as an utterly unique institution, even among the small crowd of animated comedies that have endured since the '90s. 

It didn't experience the perceived lapses in quality that has faded the legacy of "The Simpsons," and never got lost in the shuffle of too many Seth MacFarlane shows like "Family Guy." While "South Park" has produced its fair share of episodes that have not aged well, that can be largely attributed to creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's penchant for timely social commentary. 

"South Park" has served as a more comprehensive record of the cultural zeitgeist than pretty much any other fiction-based TV series over the last quarter century. So naturally, some episodes will feel dated. But if you look at it a different way, such episodes provide valuable insight into things pop culture once found important, and now are mostly asterisks and footnotes. In certain cases, these "South Park" parodies brought a 16th minute to their window of fame, and it is the aftertaste that still lingers.

For instance, there's an episode from 2004 called "Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset," mocking Paris Hilton. Today, hardly anyone under 30 has any idea who Paris Hilton is ... unless, perhaps, they've seen "Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset."

So, which "South Park" episodes have stood the test of time? Which are regarded as the true cream of the crop, some 300 episodes after the show's debut? With help from IMDb, let's take a closer look.

30: "Butters' Bottom Bitch"

The human and technical mechanisms behind "South Park" have always run like well-oiled, hilarious, irreverence-producing machines. It is perhaps the great anachronism of the series, that it could act like the class clown but have the work ethic of the teacher's pet.

Perhaps that explains how Trey Parker and company could take a basic idea like Butters working as a pimp, then use it to carry twenty-something minutes without prematurely running out of steam. 

As the show's moral compass, Butters didn't condone the business model sex workers were forced into. At the conclusion of the Season 13's 9th episode, Butters instead favored a world where sex workers could ply their trade safely, while enjoying the same job benefits other industries provide, without the "protection" of violent pimps. 

29. "Medicinal Fried Chicken"

Most of the Google Image results for this episode are far more inappropriate than what you see above. But let's just say "Medicinal Fried Chicken" delivered a good-natured ribbing to the legalization movement. Specifically, it depicted individuals who use dubious pretexts to obtain medical permits for marijuana, some carting grotesquely-overgrown testicles around in wheelbarrows. 

While 1983's "Scarface" rivals "Star Wars" in the number of times it has been parodied, at least the subplot of the Season 14's 3rd episode — surrounding Cartman's rise in the illegal fried chicken trade — goes beyond simply recreating the "Say hello to my little friend" scene. In fact, "Medicinal" gave a sense that Trey Parker and Matt Stone hold the Brian De Palma-directed staple in high regard, making the "Scarface" references scan more like homages than anything else. 

28. "200"

Following the 2010 airing of the 200th episode of "South Park" (aptly titled "200"), a fringe religious group posted what some interpreted as a threat against the lives of Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Later, that same group was eyed with suspicion by law enforcement following a bombing attempt that, for a time, appeared potentially targeted at the corporate headquarters of Viacom — Comedy Central's parent company — in Times Square. 

Although history hasn't definitively shown that "South Park" almost got murdered because of this cartoon, the fact that a scenario along those lines seemed completely plausible at the time gives you an idea of the intensity that surrounded "200." 

Today the episode (and its second half, "201") is not available for streaming or download due to safety concerns. But at least the 14th episode of Season 5 received some good reviews before being indefinitely yanked away from the viewing public. 

27. "Cartmanland"

Like contemporaries "The Simpsons" and "Rick and Morty," "South Park" takes a swing at philosophy now and again. It doesn't always hit the mark, but "Cartmanland" (Season 5, Episode 6) successfully managed an insightful, uncomplicated comment on the big picture. 

The show posited that because of the random nature of the universe, good things inevitably happen to awful people. But maybe that's okay, as long as we can depend on terrible folks like Cartman to be morons who, upon the delivery of good fortune, screw themselves right back down into the septic tank of misery and shame where they belong. 

"Cartmanland" is one of four Season 5 episodes to appear on IMDB's top 30 list, so if there's such a thing as a Golden Age of "South Park," it might be 2001. 

26. "Kenny Dies"

The stakes on "South Park" usually feel light and fluffy, even when the humor goes dark. However, in the second-to-last episode of Season 5, the boys had to contend with an incredible tragedy that not even Cartman could chuckle about and shrug away. 

Kenny McCormick — a regular character and the tentpole of Stan, Kyle, and Cartman's circle of friends — slowly passed away from muscular dystrophy. Cartman took it upon himself to protest federal restrictions on stem cell research, in hopes that medicine and science could save his pal. Meanwhile, Stan and Kyle coped with grief, anger, and unsettling existential ramifications.  

What kind of God would kill a sweet child like Kenny before he could experience the full spectrum of life's joy? That God would have to be like ... well, a dated insult for a boy with unwed parents. 

25. "The Simpsons Already Did It"

By surviving and thriving for more than 300 episodes (so far), the longevity of "South Park" marks a substantial achievement, especially in the genre of animated comedy where lasting more than a season or two is a tall order, even for widely-beloved series.  

But compared to "The Simpsons" — with more than 700 episodes and 32 seasons to its credit — the longevity of "South Park" is a blip.  

"South Park" articulated its own futility of existing in the face of Springfield's towering dominance in "The Simpsons Already Did It" (Season 6, Episode 7), with a self-referencing plotline that had Professor Chaos realizing all his ideas for world domination and destruction could already be found in reruns of "The Simpsons" — but maybe he shouldn't feel bad about that. 

24. "Cartman Sucks"

Since the beginning, lots of current events-inspired takes have fueled "South Park." With "Cartman Sucks" (Season 11, Episode 2), the show presented homophobia as an absurd tragedy, pulling no punches with its criticisms of conversion therapy. 

In the episode, religious organizations abused LGBT youths with "pray the gay away" programs, while a prank on Butters went awry and Cartman spiraled into gay panic. Butters' dad shipped him off to Camp New Grace, in an attempt to "cure" him of apparent bi-curiosity.

23. "A Song of Ass and Fire"

In 2014, all of pop culture was talking about "Game of Thrones." It was the perfect time for "A Song of Ass and Fire" (Season 17, Episode 8), part of a three-episode arc devoted to satirizing the most popular show on TV at the time. 

Featuring copious jokes about dragons, incest and bare genitalia overload, "Song" not only did a great job parodying "GoT" in its prime, but it may have also foretold many of the series' excesses that came to hamper it in the final season. Viewed today, "Song" is a reminder of just how popular the show was, as well as how ripe it was as a subject for parody.

22. "Titties and Dragons"

The "Game of Thrones" parody trilogy dashed towards its brutal conclusion with "Titties and Dragons" (Season 17, Episode 9). While the Red Robin wedding wasn't as traumatic as its inspiration from "The Rains of Castamere," the animated Black Friday commentary (mixed with real footage of shoppers rampaging like maniacs through malls on the Friday after Thanksgiving) was just as painful to watch. 

This episode got pretty ruthless with its not-really celebrity cameos. A crazed Black Friday shopper castrated George R.R. Martin, while Bill Gates was revealed as a brutal murderer with prison-style Microsoft tattoos. 

21. "Sponsored Content"

Some might argue "South Park" started showing its age when it lampooned overreaching political correctness. In retrospect, "Sponsored Content" (Season 19, Episode 8), feels more connected to 2021 than any other episode in the top 30. 

Making its debut in 2015, the episode took aim at clickbait, online advertising, AI technology and political correctness, all rolled into one plot that had PC Principal angered by an insensitive word being used in the school newspaper. Accusations of ableism follow, as does attempts at censorship, jabs at Hillary Clinton and Caitlyn Jenner, and GEICO sponsorship. 

Years later, concerns over sponsored content, invasive AI and political correctness have only intensified. "Sponsored Content" feels very much like an episode viewers need to watch today, not only to give voice to concerns, but also to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

20. "All About Mormons"

To call Mormonism a frequent "target" of Matt Stone and Trey Parker's comedy might be half true, but their attitude toward the Church of Latter-day Saints resonates more like fascination than contempt. Before the kingpins of snark converted their fixation into the Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," there was "All About Mormons" (Season 7, Episode 12).

When a new family named the Harrisons moved into town, the "South Park" characters were thrown by how nice and perfect they seemed — and became determined to put a stop to it. Much like "Book of Mormon," the episode went out of its way to not just mock, but educate. As characters asked questions about Mormonism, it also pointed out all the things about its founding that make no sense. Of course, all this was also absurdly entertaining, making it essentially the blueprint for "Book of Mormon" some 5 years before that show opened on Broadway.

19. "Butters' Very Own Episode"

Butters first appeared in "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe" in 1997, but he was principally a background character — that is, until "Butter's Very Own Episode" (Season 5, Episode 14). 

After five years, Stan, Kyle, and Cartman had grown too cynical to resonate as fragile, wide-eyed children anymore. As a result, Butters' role was enhanced to reinstall a sense of sincerity into the show via his trusting nature and limited intellectual talents.

Butters' mom and dad encountered some martial problems in the episode, leading to the boy finding himself on an unforgettable road trip. By the end of the episode, Parker and Stone had made some jokes about famous, eventually-exonerated murder suspects that they admitted in 2011 may have been ill-considered.

18. "Cartman Joins NAMBLA"

Somehow, it took "South Park" four seasons before it got around to addressing pedophilia with "Cartman Joins NAMBLA" (Season 4, Episode 5).

Growing weary of Stan, Kyle, and Kenny's company, Cartman logged into a chat room, describing himself as a young boy on the hunt for a mature new social circle. Naturally, he ended up amongst the ranks of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, remaining bafflingly oblivious to its members' intentions. 

These shenanigans and others resulted in a pack of naked child molesters, their intended victims, a squad of police, the North American Marlon Brando Look-Alikes, and a French waiter all simultaneously scrambling throughout a hotel hallway. Also, Kenny chased his pregnant mother with a plunger. 

Looking back years later, this might just be one of the darkest "South Park" episodes — which is really saying something. 

17. "Imaginationland"

The world never got an official, theatrically-released sequel to 1999's "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut." But the "Imaginationland" three-parter from season 11 — episodes 10, 11, and 12 — might be as close as fans ever get.

The saga began on a dark note as numerous imaginary characters — including Ronald McDonald, Santa Claus, and a few Care Bears — were killed in an attack by an Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist cell, who also brutalize and kidnap Butters. Meanwhile, following a dispute regarding the existence of leprechauns, a court ordered Kyle to suck Cartman's testicles for 30 seconds — which seems only a little less plausible than Al-Qaeda executing a Care Bear. 

Once in Imaginationland, the terrorists destroyed the wall that separated the good and evil lands from one another. Butters was eventually urged by the Council of Nine (including Jesus, Gandalf, Popeye and Wonder Woman) to help take back the land from the evil characters, and Al Gore (kinda) saved the day. 

Rarely has an episode of a cartoon been allowed to get this epic, and never before had a show been so crossover-heavy while also mocking the absurdity of what was making it so cool. If you had to show a newbie one episode of "South Park" (and could cheat and show them three), you could do worse than the "Imaginationland" trilogy.

16. "Imaginationland: Episode II"

In the middle chapter of "Imaginationland," the evil make-believe characters overran the benevolent half of the technically non-existent plane of Imaginationland. The terrorists were annihilated during the onslaught conducted by somehow copyright-safe versions of Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhees, a xenomorph from the "Alien" franchise, Wario, and other monsters from the realm beyond reality. Though no longer a captive, Butters remained unable to return home. 

While all this is going on, the U.S. government coerced Stan and Kyle into helping them undo the damage Al-Qaeda had inflicted on America's imagination. Also, Cartman appeared fully nude for unrelated (and completely unnecessary) reasons. As mentioned before, the episode is the turning point in what is essentially a second "South Park" movie.

15. "Imaginationland: Episode III"

In the thrilling finale of "Imaginationland," Morpheus from "The Matrix" series battled Freddy Kreuger, while Popeye fought Darth Maul amidst an epic, Tolkien-style battle between the armies of good and evil. 

The bad dudes seemed on the verge of victory, until Butters turned the tide by imagining Santa back to life. Jolly Ol' Saint Nick horribly burned to death in the inaugural section of "Imaginationland," but immunity to physical death is all part of the fun of existence as an abstract concept. Al Gore returned to warn America about Manbearpig — a metaphor for climate change that "South Park" itself later had to admit was a very legitimate concern. Lastly, the wish Cartman wanted to fulfill throughout the arc finally came true ... well, sort of.  

14. "Le Petit Tourette"

Some may say that pop culture is spinning its wheels, but conditions have improved in one significant regard — here in 2021, there are have multiple, widely-available television programs in which cartoon characters curse like sailors whose upbringings did not include lessons in social decorum.

Thanks to "South Park" on HBO Max, cuss words once masked with bleeps now flow undisguised and freely heard by all. But in "Le Petit Tourette" (Season 11, Episode 8), because normal standards and practices would ruin the gag of Cartman faking Tourette's syndrome as an excuse to swear constantly, the episode allowed us a rare opportunity to hear un-bleeped naughty words on TV in 2007. 

The f-word was the line "South Park" was not permitted to cross by Comedy Central — which is wild, because apparently they didn't have as much of an issue with Cartman screeching a way more offensive and potentially upsetting anti-Semitic slur at Kyle. 

13. "Black Friday"

Here we have the start of the aforementioned arc that also included "A Song of Ass and Fire" and "Titties and Dragon." Combine the trio, and you've got arguably one of the more trenchant pop culture parodies ever produced by "South Park." 

In "Black Friday" (Season 17, Episode 7), unhinged, violent consumerism befell the town as the holidays approached. Multiple characters reminded us that "winter is coming," and it was up to the social castoffs that comprised the mall security staff to keep the onslaught of Black Friday discount shoppers contained. 

"South Park" and "Game of Thrones" don't have a ton in common, but both programs sure do love to kill off characters — especially benevolent male authority figures. The parody trilogy does not disappoint in that regard. 

12. "Christian Rock Hard"

In "Christian Rock Hard" (Season 7, Episode 9), Cartman started a Christian rock band whose songs were loaded with accidental sexual innuendo. Stan and Kyle joined caricatures of several famous musicians to protest free song downloading off Napster — which in 2003 was a hot-button issue for the music and tech industries. 

As topics for satire go, multi-millionaire rock stars panicking about file sharing and the provisional popularity of the band Creed both feel hyper-specific to the early '00s and not much more than a footnote today. But "Christian" nailed the absurdity of the era with such precision that it played out more like a prescient historical account rather than a collection of dated pop culture references.  

11. "Woodland Critter Christmas"

When the words "South Park" and "Christmas" appear in the same neighborhood, it's hard to imagine anything other than the image of Mr. Hankey, the Christmas poo. But somehow, none of the talking excrement's holiday-centric adventures appear in IMDb's version of the "South Park" top 30. 

Some have argued that Mr. Hankey was a one-note gross-out gag that got way more attention than he deserved. The list appearance of "Woodland Critter Christmas" (Season 8, Episode 14) lends some credibility to that idea. 

In the classic episode, a gang of doe-eyed talking forest animals recruited Stan to help with tasks pertaining to the birth of their savior, while withholding important details that might cause him to reconsider. Later, we learned that "Woodland Critter Christmas" itself was not quite what it seemed — and "South Park" stuck the landing on one of its most disturbing moments.

10. "Trapped in the Closet"

Absolute chucklefest though it may be, "Trapped in the Closet" (Season 9, Episode 12) became buzz-worthy for reasons beyond its humor. 

For starters, the merciless sendup of Scientology delivered via "Closet" led to Isaac Hayes (the longtime voice of Chef) departing the show. But "Trapped" also garnered wide praise for giving the L. Ron Hubbard-founded organization the business, so maybe it was worth it, even if it meant having to kill off Chef the next season.

"Trapped In the Closet" also reportedly annoyed noted Scientologist Tom Cruise so much that he threatened to no-show his promotional appearances for "Mission: Impossible III" unless Viacom — parent company of both Comedy Central and the "MI III" studio Paramount Pictures at the time — stopped airing the episode. 

If there was anything to the alleged attempt to censor "South Park," it clearly failed. The episode remains in rotation to this day.

9. "Tsst"

Season 10's 7th episode is quite a bit like one of the rapid-fire exchanges of dialogue between Lorelai and Rory on "Gilmore Girls" — nobody in the audience is supposed to get 100 percent of the pop culture references, but most people should understand and appreciate at least 20 percent.

If you happen to be a fan of quasi-instructional reality television programs from the mid-'00s, this is the "South Park" episode for you. If you didn't have cable throughout much of that period, but you watch a lot of cult sci-fi/horror movies, then the jokes on "Tsst" will soar several feet over your head ... until a scene that parodies the ending of 1980's "Altered States" makes your face and organs mutate with jubilation.     

8. "Good Times with Weapons"

Every time a celebrity, institution, genre of entertainment or anything else from the real world makes its way into the "South Park" universe, it's usually subjected to some degree of parody ... except, that is, for the anime episode. 

"Good Times With Weapons," never really seemed to be making fun of anime. Instead, it was just incorporating the aesthetic of Japanese action/sci-fi animation into "South Park." It was basically the inverse of what happened that one time on "FLCL." 

The Season 8 premiere also provided a cautionary tale against emulating what we see in escapist fantasy media. Ironically, after "Good Times With Weapons," you might never touch a throwing star ever again.

7. "Casa Bonita"

Thanks to factors too numerous to list here, even though its primary characters are all children, "South Park" can let them indulge in levels of depravity that its contemporaries cannot approach. Bart Simpson's a troublemaker; but as far as how much harm he can inflict, "The Simpsons" draws a line at shoplifting. Beavis and Butthead are too dumb to pose much of a threat to anyone but themselves. 

Meanwhile, in "Casa Bonita" (Season 7, Episode 11), Cartman manipulated Butters into allowing the whole town to consider him a potential murder victim. It was all part of an elaborate plan so Cartman could take Butters' place at Kyle's birthday party, which Cartman only cared about attending because it was at a Mexican restaurant he liked. 

Cartman, of course, is a monster — and it seems likely he'd be in prison now if he existed in the real world and/or aged in real time.   

6. "AWESOM-O"

"South Park" gets a lot of mileage out of Cartman tricking Butters into placing himself in various absurd and/or perilous circumstances, so it's nice to see the repugnant little psycho finally eat a bucket of Kentucky-fried comeuppance in the "AWESOME-O" (Season 8, Episode 5).

But why would Cartman dress up like Britney Spears and sing and dance around a Justin Timberlake cutout? Spears and Timberlake ended their storied relationship in 2002. By the time "AWESOM-O" hit the airwaves in April of 2004, Britney and Justin were yesterday's news, and Spears would announce her engagement to backup dancer Kevin Federline within a few months.  

This little historical misstep aside, it still remains one of the funniest episodes of "South Park" ever made. Cartman devoured a tube full of toothpaste, ran screaming from the sexual advances of a Hollywood executive, and got kidnapped and experimented upon by the U.S. military. 

Did these seemingly divine punishments teach Cartman the error of his ways? Looking back years later, viewers can say with absolute certainty: They did not.

5. "The Death of Eric Cartman"

Does Cartman deserve a chance to redeem himself? Probably not, but Stan and Kyle accidentally trick him into trying in episode 6 of season 9

Following an unfathomable KFC-related transgression, Stan and Kyle decided the best way to deal with Cartman going forward was to pretend he didn't exist. Cartman decided if no one could hear him, he must have been a ghost. Consequently, he spent most of the subsequent 22 minutes of screen-time apologizing and behaving altruistically, in a laughable attempt to secure a pleasant afterlife for himself. Amid all this do-goodery, Cartman managed to get Butters sent to the insane asylum. Apparently, mere proximity to Cartman can have ruinous implications for your health, prosperity, and personal freedom. 

4. "Grounded Vindaloop"

In the 7th episode of season 18, "South Park" parodies 1990's "Total Recall" 1999's "The Matrix," 2010's "Inception," and maybe even 1992's "The Lawnmower Man," while presenting us with an important existential question: If we could exit the computer simulation in which we all possibly reside, and find out what the non-simulated world looks and feels like, would we want to? What if we left the simulated world, waking up to learn our "authentic" meat-based selves were five-dimensional, puffy and cumbersome? 

Mostly, the episode is significant because Butters punched his dad as hard as possible directly in the junk. A memorable moment in "South Park" history, to be sure.

3. "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers"

A more-or-less reverent satire of a film the writers know their target audience has largely seen and enjoyed doesn't sound like a potentially all-time great episode of "South Park" in a vacuum. In fact, it sounds a little obvious and lazy. But there's much more to effective comedy than a unique premise.  

The boys' quest to the video store — this is the 13th episode of season 6, which aired in 2002, back when Blockbuster was still a thing — ended with their parents explaining wondrously-depraved sex acts in graphic detail, with zero prompting as far as their wee ones were aware. The moment is uncomfortable to the point of sublime hilarity, and makes the whole episode triple-worth the watch, even if you have no idea and don't care what happened in "The Lord of the Rings."    

2. "Make Love, Not Warcraft"

The 8th episode of season 10, kind of like "Good Times With Weapons" before it, melded the totally simplistic and absolutely distinctive animation of "South Park" with a style from an action genre that, to say the least, never could've originated with cardboard cutouts. 

A decent-sized portion of the episode took place in the "Warcraft" MMO universe, depicted with video game-style graphics. In the usual "South Park" reality, the boys utterly let themselves go into a physical downward spiral of snacking, caffeinated drinks, and abysmal personal hygiene while their minds become soaked in what a non-gamer might confuse with digital "Dungeons & Dragons."   

To devote the maximum amount of time and attention to defeating a high-level player who preys on lower-levelers for cheap thrills, Cartman stops leaving his computer to go to the bathroom. This forces his long-suffering mother to provide on-command bucket service — one of the most simultaneously amusing and disgusting moments in all of "South Park."

1. "Scott Tenorman Must Die"

The idea of adorable children at the center of an animated program loaded with black humor and graphic violence was the original selling point for "South Park."

That tension between innocence and nihilism hit its zenith during the final three minutes of "Scott Tenorman Must Die," (Season 5, Episode 4). The result is what many consider to be the greatest achievement in "South Park" history, according to IMDB.

In "Scott Tenorman," Cartman found himself in a pubes-based feud with higher schooler Scott Tenorman. Feigning incompetency, naivete, and delusional self-importance throughout the episode, Cartman finally revealed a masterplan that — well, if you haven't seen it yet, you need to go track down the episode. Suffice it to say the little guy made a sucker out of the audience right along with poor, poor Scott.