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Best Animated Superheroes Ranked

The world of animation is home to an endless variety of superheroes. The smiling champions of "Super Friends" introduced '70s kids to DC Comics' best and brightest. "Teen Titans Go!" makes everything from long-term real estate investment to fortune cookies hilarious with the power of superhero silliness. Anime series like "Tiger and Bunny" explore entirely new horizons in masked vigilantism. Cartoons and capes go together like Superman and an unoccupied telephone booth.

Every fan of animated superhero media has their own favorite shows, movies, universes, and perhaps most importantly of all, heroes. A beloved character can lead a kid to virtues they will hold dear for the rest of their life, dazzle viewers with visions of fantastical power they wish they had, and manage to reflect real-world struggles. That's the point of superheroes, after all — though they possess amazing abilities and confront galactic threats, they're born from ordinary people's dreams of making the world a better place. We're here to rank the best animated superheroes ever created, one cartoon crusader at a time.

14. Hawkgirl (Justice League and Justice League Unlimited)

Hawkgirl — who eventually goes by her birth name, Shayera — is defined by her most unheroic act. A Thanagarian spy who joins the Justice League, she spends years sending intel on Earth and its heroes back home. Though she's loyal to Thanagar, as the years go by, she becomes fond of Earth, her teammates, and their mission as well. Most problematically, Shayera falls in love with John Stewart, the League's stalwart Green Lantern. 

Everything comes crashing down in "Starcrossed," the "Justice League" series finale, when the Thanagarians arrive on Earth and Shayera's deception is revealed. Things get even worse when it becomes clear that the Thanagarians aren't looking out for Earth's best interests, as Shayera has always believed — they want to build a wormhole that necessitates Earth's destruction.

Ultimately, Shayera turns on the Thanagarians for the sake of her adopted home. But her betrayal isn't easily forgotten. Shayera spends much of "Justice League Unlimited," the subsequent series, doing good without the relationships and public trust that previously held her up. This is what makes her an all-time great hero: Shayera reaches rock bottom and still fights to make the world a better place, out of both a desire to atone and sheer conviction. Shayera's journey is complex, thorny, and deeply felt, all of which makes her heroism shine all the more brightly. She might be infamous, but she's also inimitable.

13. Megamind

Megamind is the biggest, baddest, brainiest supervillain in Metro City. Metro Man is the lantern-jawed defender of justice who tirelessly works to stop him. Over and over again, they do battle, which inevitably ends with Megamind in jail and frequently kidnapped reporter Roxanne Ritchi returned to safety. But one day, to his surprise as much as everyone else's, Megamind's death ray reduces Metro Man to a smoking skeleton. He's won. The city is his. So why does it feel like losing?

Released in 2010, the delightful "Megamind" pokes fun at every comic book trope out there. But when it comes to Megamind's arc, it plays everything that makes superheroes so spectacular straight. Being a villain turns out to be his heroic origin story: Once the kid who was always picked last (in addition to being raised by hardened convicts in the local correctional facility), he simply accepts being bad as his destiny ... until a greater evil forces him to defend Metro City with every ray gun in his arsenal. Sure, he'll never have Metro Man's rippling muscles, witty one-liners, or normal-sized head. But none of that is really what makes a hero, as he discovers. A hero is just someone who does good. That description ends up fitting Megamind to a T — even when he's wearing his most intimidatingly villainous cape.

12. Wonder Woman (DC Super Hero Girls)

In the world of "DC Super Hero Girls," Wonder Woman fights crime alongside Bumblebee, Supergirl, Green Lantern, Zatanna, and Batgirl. When they're not kicking bad guy butt, they're classmates at Metropolis High School. Needless to say, this isn't exactly the DC Universe most fans are familiar with — and that's why Diana shines within it. The fact that "DC Super Hero Girls" spotlights a zany, all-female lineup and is 100% focused on appealing to 8-year-old girls frees Diana from the responsibility of being a flawless role model forced to represent half the population on her own. Here, she can be strange, hilarious, and even make mistakes — in short, have a distinct personality. 

This Diana is a staunch Amazon who insists upon calling herself a woman and not a girl. She excels in school, on the battlefield, and in the ice cream parlor, where she can house a Death by Chocolate sundae in the blink of an eye. But she's also a goofball teenager who nurses a dopey crush on Steve Trevor and seethes with jealousy when her visiting mother spends time with Supergirl in the mosh pit rather than with her. Wonder Woman is an inspiring symbol, but in "DC Super Hero Girls," she's also a character with specific likes, dislikes, failures, and triumphs. This results in one of the best-ever Wonder Woman incarnations in any medium — and definitely the one with the most science fair experience.

11. Saitama (One-Punch Man)

It's tempting to call "One-Punch Man" a superhero parody, but that isn't truly accurate. Saitama, the titular pugilist, is simply a superhero unlike any other. An everyday 20-something dude, he decides to fight evil for kicks. Unfortunately, he becomes way too good at it, to the point that he only ever needs one punch to take down the bad guys. What's a hobbyist hero to do? Shrug and keep going, it turns out.

Naturally, things get more complicated. But Saitama's casual approach to mayhem and monsters never fundamentally changes, which makes him one of the most uniquely entertaining superheroes around. His light-hearted vibe is flexibly hilarious: The image of Saitama flatly regarding his rubber ducky is just as funny as the sight of him calmly pinching his nose shut as he stands, sans spacesuit, on the moon. But as the story winds on, Saitama's laid-back nature ends up making him into a hero of real, durable honor. A simple motive for doing good starts to seem a whole lot more mature than overwrought oaths of justice once you've seen Saitama do his thing a few times. He brings heroism home, in addition to making it funny. It's just another thing he does in between grocery shopping and watching TV. Now, if he could only manage to be a little more chill with regards to his baldness ...

10. Elastigirl (The Incredibles)

The relief imperiled citizens feel when Elastigirl arrives to save the day must be immense. Seriously, what can't Helen Parr do? She's a seasoned pilot, an expert tactician, a mom of three, and a superhero who can stretch herself into virtually any shape. When bad guys need fighting, she can do so on pretty much every front. Then, when she's done, she'll make sure the kids are fed, bathed, and done with their homework.

Elastigirl isn't a stand-out superhero because of her multifaceted competence, however, but because of her humanity. While Helen can do it all, it takes an obvious toll on her. She and her husband, Bob, bicker mightily, her kids aren't perfect little angels, and it takes her many, many months to unpack the family's moving boxes. Like so many working mothers, she's someone who simultaneously loves her family and feels like she's fraying at the edges from what it takes to keep them going. The fact that she's allowed to be someone who saves the day and has the same fight with her husband about keeping the kids from using their powers over and over again doesn't just make her a great character — it makes her almost entirely unique among superheroes. 

Holly Hunter's charismatic performance is a key part of this. She brings Helen's humanity to the fore, even when she's doing something eye-poppingly superhuman. Elastigirl is a mom, a hero, a pilot, and a strategist. But above all, she's a person.

9. The Tick

While superhero media is best known for valorizing justice, bravery, and truth-telling through its caped stars, it has just as robust a tradition of absurdism. The idea of someone slapping on a pair of tights and fighting crime is, after all, pretty darn funny, as characters like Deadpool, Squirrel Girl, and Ambush Bug have proven over the years. One silly superhero stands above the rest, however – the Tick, as captured in his 1994 animated series.

The bulk of this cartoon's comedy comes from the gap between the profoundly uncool reality of the Tick's life and the non-stop adventure he sees it as. His blue onesie makes him look like a popsicle. His villains are sentient sunflowers and criminal masterminds who happen to have antique chairs where heads should be. The city he protects is named ... The City. And yet the Tick stands firm in his belief that he's a beacon of justice whose every day is packed with astonishing action. 

Crucially, "The Tick" is on the Tick's side — sure, you're meant to laugh as he irritates everyone else on the bus by narrating his own life, but by the end of the episode, he's triumphant once more. At his core, the Tick is the embodiment of superhero fandom: A little ridiculous, incredibly earnest, and eager to infuse the real world with some cape-and-cowl theatrics. It's impossible not to love him for it — and for making "SPOON!" work as a battle cry.

8. The Flash (Justice League and Justice League Unlimited)

The Flash is a guy with astonishing super speed, but he's still, well, just some guy — and that's exactly what makes him the heart of the Justice League. To understand his appeal, one need only examine a particularly memorable moment from "Flash and Substance," a Season 3 episode of "Justice League Unlimited." When Orion, Batman, and the Flash find the villainous Trickster in a bar, Orion and Batman leap to tough-guy intimidation tactics. Flash, exasperated, stops them, takes a seat beside the Trickster, and gently asks if he's "off [his] meds." The Trickster admits he is, and the Flash assures him that if he accepts the help he needs, he'll visit him in the hospital to play darts. 

Herein lies the core of the Flash: He wants to help more than he wants to fight. There's no ire in his heroism, no deep-rooted desire for vengeance, no high-concept duty to a distant code. He's just a guy who's delighted to have superpowers because they mean he can make the world a better place on an even grander scale. Every member of the Justice League fights for good, but only the Flash will give you a wave and a wink as he speeds past on your morning commute. He's not just a hero, he's a friend — even to those pointing a "snotgun" in his face.

7. The Powerpuff Girls

The Powerpuff Girls are a bubbly trio of superpowered kindergarteners who are as tough as they are adorable. And man, are they adorable. With their cuddly character designs, alliterative names, and pastel aesthetic, the Powerpuff Girls are as likely to give the bad guys a cavity as a concussion. But as anyone who's watched their cartoon knows, the Powerpuff Girls' sweetness is counterbalanced by a heaping helping of wacky, uproarious, and flat-out bizarre personalities. Professor Utonium's darling daughters aren't cherubs, they're actual kids, and kids are weird. They get wrapped up in playground squabbles, become obsessed with the tooth fairy, and pretend they're their favorite superheroes. 

This makes "The Powerpuff Girls" a classic cartoon — what other kiddie show was creating elaborate Beatles parodies in 2001? — and renders its titular girls three of the most unique superheroes ever put to paper. They're goofy, petty, endearing children, living in a universe where the bad guys have names like Fuzzy Lumpkins and little girls can literally be created with sugar, spice, and everything nice (and the occasional dash of Chemical X). They're also capable of knocking villains' teeth out with a bloody sock to the jaw, as they memorably demonstrate during the cartoon's theme song. Can Captain America pull off a big red bow? Can Strawberry Shortcake exceed the speed of light? No — only the Powerpuff Girls command that level of, well, power and puff, and that's why they're one of the best supergroups around.

6. Static (Static Shock)

Virgil Hawkins' life is one of the DC Animated Universe's most multifaceted. As a typical teenager, he nurses crushes, hangs out with his friends, and butts heads with his older sister. As the son of a social worker, he's uniquely aware of societal inequality. As a superhero, he devotes himself to protecting the people of Dakota from a burgeoning variety of threats. None of these overlapping aspects of his life become any less complex over the course of "Static Shock" — in fact, they grow in ways he never could have imagined.

No matter what new challenges darken his doorstep, however, Virgil rises to meet them. Like the best teen heroes, there's a tremendous, well-earned optimism to him. His youth makes him eager to take on all comers and buoys him when things turn out to be tougher than they first appeared. His sense of humor is especially well-captured — what teenager wouldn't take giggling pride in christening their hang-out spot "The Abandoned Gas Station of Solitude?" That bright spirit gains wonderful depth as he's forced to confront the costs of heroism, the complicated motives of his enemies (one of whom ends up dating his sister), and his own mistakes. Virgil's journey sees him battle crime, cruelty, and corruption of every type. Like the best superheroes, he's shaped by these crises — and like the best teenagers, he's tempered into a even braver, bolder, and more compassionate person as a result.

5. Izuku Midoriya (My Hero Academia)

Izuku Midoriya is a giant superhero fanboy. Lucky for him, he lives in a world where most people are born with a superpower — known as a Quirk — of their own. Unfortunately, as the years go by and he fails to manifest even the most paltry power, it becomes clear that Izuku is one of a minority of people born Quirkless. His dreams of superhero-dom are dashed forever ... until All Might, his idol, bequeaths his own massively powerful Quirk, One For All, to Izuku. Inheriting One For All launches Izuku into the life he's always dreamed of, but its vast power requires constant training. Even then, Izuku still racks up injuries while wielding it. Few superheroes are more visibly put through the wringer, yet he never, ever gives up.

As an anime take on Western superhero tropes, "My Hero Academia" combines two potent genres into one irresistible saga. In Izuku, that blend is at its best. Buoyed by his friends like so many shonen heroes before him, he delivers the sort of masked justice Superman would be proud of. This multifaceted storytelling also ensures it's as fun to watch him come into his own among his friends as it is to watch him take down the bad guys. "My Hero Academia" offers a lovably ludicrous mash-up of colorful costumes, school hijinks, and thrilling throwdowns. Only a character as starry-eyed and steadfast as Izuku could possibly do it justice.

4. Raven (Teen Titans)

Raven's entire life is permeated by her greatest shame: Her father is a demonic entity named Trigon who plans to use her to destroy the Earth. Her superhero career is, she admits in "Teen Titans" Season 4's "The End Part 1," an attempt "to do good things" to make up for the apocalypse she will one day induce. But, of course, Trigon cannot be stopped. Shortly after she makes this confession, he arrives on Earth and razes it to the ground.

Raven is born to do evil, condemned to isolation, and given every reason to give up hope. Yet she pursues justice, explores the world, and dares to believe in the future so passionately, she's ultimately able to destroy Trigon with a dazzling display of power. Perhaps even more impressively, she makes true-blue friends. Raven's not the kind of person who's terribly disposed towards optimism and sociability. A prickly malcontent more reminiscent of Daria Morgendorffer than Wonder Woman, no one would blink if she ended up a recluse (as she does in a tragic alternate future in Season 2's "How Long is Forever?"). Yet still, however hesitantly, Raven finds a family in the Titans. No matter what her father does, what others say, or what she believes about herself on her worst days, Raven is a good person who loves others and is loved in return. She doesn't just save the world from her father's wrath — she saves herself as well.

3. Miles Morales (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)

Miles Morales isn't sure who he wants to be at the start of 2018's "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse." By the end, however, he knows precisely who he is: Spider-Man. Few characters could definitively claim such a storied superhero legacy for themselves in under two hours, but, well, Miles is not most characters. 

Some might be a bit skeptical of that charge, as Miles' journey hits all the classic origin story beats. He gains great powers, learns they come with great responsibility, and puts on the mask. But Miles' story is uniquely huge in scope. In meeting an interdimensional coalition of Spider-People, he knows how enormous the personal consequences of his heroism are. He could end up beaten down by life, like friendless Gwen and lonely Peter. He could doom Brooklyn to disintegration. He could end up dead, like his universe's first Spidey or his Uncle Aaron. Most cape-and-cowl types get to ease into things — Miles gets thrown into superhero storytelling at its most convoluted. Yet he hurls himself into the fight regardless and realizes he's far more capable than he ever realized. 

Miles is, like all the best superheroes, an ordinary person who becomes extraordinary. His superpowers are certainly part of that transformation, but they're not its true catalyst — that would be his decision to take his immortal "leap of faith" off the side of a skyscraper and into the Marvel Universe hall of fame.

2. Superman (1940s Fleischer cartoons)

When Superman is at his best, he's hope incarnate. In Fleischer Studios' (and later Famous Studios') 1940s animated shorts, Superman is always at his best. These lush visions of the Man of Steel remain some of the most genuinely stirring superhero media ever created. Clark Kent, clad in a big blue skyscraper of a suit, glows with human warmth. Superman, his fabulous alter ego, is a glorious bolt of primary-colored lightning, striking down bad guys with an awe-inspiring array of powers and no small amount of charm. By his side is Lois Lane at her most thrillingly daring, shooting Tommy guns out train windows and piloting her own private plane. In loving her, Fleischer's Superman becomes even more impressive — he's a man who longs for a true equal instead of just a pretty sidekick.

Superman was still a brand-new character when these cartoons were made. Many, if not most of the character's best-known foes, storylines, love interests, and attributes are missing from these 17 shorts. Lex Luthor never makes an appearance. General Zod, Krypto, and Supergirl are years away from being created. The last son of Krypton couldn't even fly before Fleischer Studios set that particular ability in stone. Yet this depiction of Superman — luminous with optimism, derring-do, and wonder — feels utterly complete. In winnowing the character down to his most potent essence, these cartoons set a standard that every portrayal of Superman still hopes to meet.

1. Batman (DC Animated Universe)

A stoic crusader, surprisingly decent team player, and deeply moving father figure, Batman unites the entire DC Animated Universe, from the immortal "Batman: The Animated Series" to little-known properties like "Gotham Girls." This outsize influence mirrors his stature in our own world. Though superhero fans agree on little, many would concur that the DCAU's Batman is the Batman.

That's a pretty enormous compliment, given the avalanche of Batman-related media out there. But Kevin Conroy's take on the Dark Knight demands that sort of respect. Within "Batman: The Animated Series," widely considered one of the best cartoons ever made, he's a complex figure, as defined by tragedy as he is by his love for Alfred, Robin, and Gotham City. Within "Justice League," he's an unshakable friend whose cutting wit shines like never before. "Batman Beyond" takes him into a sleek future where his heroism is as necessary as it is endangered. 

The DCAU's Batman feels like the ur-superhero, appealing to that tender part of the human heart that wants to believe in the existence of incorruptible good. Batman has seen the worst of humanity, yet he pauses to comfort a single dying girl. Batman's own heroes fall from grace, yet he helps them get back up. Batman never manages to stop the bad guys for good, yet he's there on the rooftop, night after night, because someone has to be.