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Ranking The Most Popular Animated Superhero Shows Worst To Best

Let's be real, superhero cartoons are some of the coolest shows in existence. In many cases, they're even better than their live-action counterparts. What cartoons lack in cuss words, bloody battle scenes, and sexual situations, they can more than make up for in quality storytelling. The best animated series can pack more plot twists and character development in 22 minutes than lesser programs manage in an hour and a half. 

Of course, some animated superhero shows are truly terrible. For instance, we're told audiences in 1979 were largely disappointed by "Fred and Barney meet the Thing." But we're not going to spend too much energy on bad shows. We're only going to focus on animations that comic book fans routinely cite as the best and the most popular in the genre. 

Because of our high standards and reliance on Internet Movie Database as our guide, we sadly had to cut some top-notch 'toons from the list. Which shows make the Hall of Justice, and which are relegated to The Raft? Grab yourself a big bowl of Fruity Pebbles and savor our ranking of the most popular animated superhero shows from worst to best.

12. The Tick


Sorry. We've just never started a list with the Tick's signature catchphrase. We promise we won't let it happen again.

It's a weird way to kick off a countdown, but it makes perfect sense for "The Tick," which is undoubtedly the strangest show mentioned in this article not counting "Fred and Barney meet the Thing." 

We're shocked "The Tick" — a parody of superhero tropes created by cartoonist Ben Edlund in the 1980s as a mascot for the New England Comics chain of stores — ever became a cartoon show for kids in the first place. We're even more shocked that "The Tick" lasted from 1994 to 1997, producing three seasons and 36 whole episodes. Maybe kids in the '90s were more sophisticated about spoofs and satire than we realize. Or maybe adults were watching "The Tick" too, and younger viewers were just happy to see a colorful superhero show. 

In any event, "The Tick" has become a cult classic, with a high enough ranking on IMDb to lock in a spot on our list. The show features the eponymous Tick — a musclebound, meat-headed, well-meaning superhero. Alongside his sidekick Arthur, a man in a moth costume frequently confused for a big rabbit, the Tick protects the City from a bevy of bad guys. These include a kid with an exposed brain and a man with a chair for a head. "The Tick" is wild, weird, wonderful, and well worth your time.

11. Wolverine and the X-Men

Wolverine is many things, but he's not typically the first guy you would trust to put together and lead a team. 

(We realize Wolverine leads multiple versions of the X-Men and X-Force in the comics, but leadership still isn't part of his whole deal the same way it is for somebody like Cyclops.) 

On its face, putting a lifelong loner and murder machine with a severe antisocial personality in charge of a team of mutants sounds like a recipe for disaster. And yet, 2009's "Wolverine and the X-Men" is awesome, as demonstrated by its high ranking on IMDb

A very loose follow-up to "X-Men: Evolution," this series finds Wolverine putting the band back together after the X-Men's mansion explodes, Professor X disappears, and the team go their separate ways. 

While the series might be called "Wolverine and the X-Men" due to a market-driven decision to shoehorn the most popular character's name in the title, the show works in part because of Wolverine's reluctance to assume the mantle of leadership. Add in a heaping helping of the X-Men's best heroes and baddies, and you've got a quality cartoon. 

Sadly, the series only lasted for a mere 26 episodes on Nicktoons before cancellation. What's worse, its final episode ends on a cliffhanger that cues up a second season set in the Age of Apocalypse timeline, leaving us forever feeling cheated out of what could've been.

10. Todd McFarlane's Spawn

Okay, so if you were a 7-year-old watching "Todd McFarlane's Spawn" in the late '90s, somebody should've called the Department of Health & Human Services on your parents.

Every show on this list should have some appeal for adults, but "Spawn" was meant exclusively for grown-ups, airing at night on HBO instead of Saturday mornings or weekday afternoons on a network channel. Regardless of how you might feel about R-rated animation, we couldn't disqualify "Spawn" as its rating on IMDb is one of the highest among all animated superhero shows. 

"Todd McFarlane's Spawn" is the brainchild of — you guessed it — Todd McFarlane, co-founder of Image Comics and co-creator of Spider-Man supervillain Venom. "Spawn" ran for 18 episodes and won two primetime Emmy Awards. While you shouldn't share "Spawn" with viewers under the age of 13, unless you want to give them nightmares, you should definitely check it out.

9. Superman: The Animated Series

Following Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's tremendous success with "Batman: The Animated Series," it only made sense to give the Man of Steel the same treatment as the Dark Knight. The result is one of the most popular animated superhero shows of all time — "Superman: The Animated Series." You know the story — mild-mannered, Krypton-born, Kansas-raised reporter Clark Kent dons the mantle of Superman to battle villains from across the galaxy. 

It's not a complicated premise, nor does it present us with a complicated version of Superman, which is why the show works more effectively than many other forms of Superman media from the past 40 years. The creators didn't set out to reinvent Superman; they just understood how his abilities and his unflappable sense of right and wrong both set him apart from humanity. We wish the suits at Warner Bros. would learn the lessons of this show so we could see a Superman in the mold of "Superman: TAS" on the big screen. For now, we'll make due with this awesome series, which ran for four seasons and 54 episodes on Kids' WB from 1997 to 2000.

8. Batman Beyond

As you may already realize, Batman is really popular. Warner Bros. and DC Comics have milked the character across every kind of media imaginable for nearly a century, because their audience's Bat-appetite is insatiable. 

Within the last 35 years alone, Batman has been featured in five film series: the Burton-Schumacher movies of the '80s and '90s, Christopher Nolan's trilogy, Zack Snyder's "Justice League" series, the LEGO Batman movies, and Matt Reeves' very recent reboot. There are also eight Batman animated TV series, with six produced in the past three decades, and that doesn't even include spinoffs like "Harley Quinn." With so much hunger for Bat-related content, DC executives sometimes find themselves forced to go beyond Bruce Wayne for Batman stories. After all, some fans claim they can only see Bruce Wayne's Batman punch the Joker in the face so many times before they start to get bored.

Enter "Batman Beyond," which ran for three seasons from 1999 to 2001 and 52 episodes on Kids' WB. Taking place in the Bruce Timm-Paul Dini DC Animated Universe's version of 2019 — 2019 being the future in relation to 1999 – "Batman Beyond" features an elderly and delightfully cantankerous Bruce Wayne passing the mantle of Batman to teenager Terry McGinnis. "Batman Beyond" rules, and its ratings were second only to "Pokémon." Keep in mind, almost beating Pokémon was a big deal in the late '90s.

7. The Spectacular Spider-Man

What Batman is to DC Comics, Spider-Man is to Marvel — a keystone character who is critical to the company's success and became a perennial pop culture mainstay virtually upon his debut. As such, there have been a whole heck of a lot of animated Spider-Man shows

Spider-Man's animated legacy is not limited to the small screen, as 2018's "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" became one of the few animated movies not made by Disney or Pixar to take home gold at the Academy Awards. With so much cartoon history, it takes quite a bit for a Spider-Man show to truly stand out. To do that, you might say a show needs to be ... spectacular, which "The Spectacular Spider-Man" certainly is, based on its high rating on IMDb.

There's no secret to its success — "Spectacular Spider-Man" features just good old-fashioned quality storytelling that harkens back to the hero's Silver Age glory days. It's also got a Hong Kong-action style, and creative direction from some of the same minds behind the cult classic, "Gargoyles." Unfortunately, "The Spectacular Spider-Man" lasted only two seasons and 26 episodes from 2008 to 2009, following its move from the Kids' WB over to Disney XD after Disney's purchase of Marvel. Had it lasted longer, "The Spectacular Spider-Man" might have ranked even higher on our list.

6. The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes

"The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" may have only lasted for two seasons from 2010 to 2012, but its influence extends far beyond its 52 episodes. One cultural commentator from Den of Geek argues that it helped inspire the Marvel Cinematic Universe; Collider describes it as "the ultimate Marvel cartoon." We'll just say that this short-lived series is undoubtedly one of the best ever, with the IMDb rating to prove it

The shows' final episode aired on November 11, 2012, just a few months after "The Avengers" conquered the big screen box office. Since "Avengers: EMH" went into production years before the MCU truly took shape, the Marvel Universe of "EMH" differs significantly from the movies. In "EMH," Ant-Man and the Wasp are founding Avengers and Black Widow plays an antagonistic role, to cite two examples. 

We would argue "EMH" even adapts some storylines from the comics better than the live-action MCU, such as the "Age of Ultron" story arc. Since it appears the MCU is moving towards a galactic showdown between the Skrulls and the Kree, we suggest that Kevin Feige and company — who are definitely reading this article — watch how "EMH" handles that storyline and take notes.

5. Spider-Man: The Animated Series

There has been a Spider-Man cartoon series for every decade since the 1960s, so you'll find passionate defenders of their preferred Spider-Man across almost all age brackets. However, if you're a '90s kid, you can say "Okay, boomer" to superfans of 1967's "Spider-Man" and "Whatever, gen-xer" to advocates for 1981's "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends." "Spider-Man: The Animated Series" is the best Spider-Man cartoon ... at least according to IMDb

"Spider-Man: TAS" had big shoes to fill when it premiered in 1994, as it followed millennial milestones "X-Men: The Animated Series" and "Batman: TAS." "Spider-Man: TAS" is a blast from start to finish, with a catchy theme song performed by Aerosmith lead guitarist Joe Perry. In the annals of Spider-Man theme songs, it's second only to the quintessential bop from the 1960s series.  

When it comes to overall quality, the show swings to the top of the heap, managing to incorporate classic Spidey characters like Green Goblin and Doc Ock with the truly bonkers storylines of '90s comics. "Spider-Man: TAS" lasted for five seasons, airing 65 episodes from 1994 to 1998. In our estimation, "Spider-Man: TAS" is spectacular, amazing, uncanny, mighty, incredible ... it's all of the exciting adjectives. 

4. X-Men: The Animated Series

For many a millennial, "X-Men: The Animated Series" was just as much a part their childhoods as Friday night trips to Blockbuster and collecting Pogs. If you think your memories of the show may be clouded by the lens of nostalgia, rest assured true believers — "X-Men: TAS" is just as good as you remember it. Its ranking on IMDb is the highest of any Marvel show on our list, which sounds like a 100 percent accurate assessment as far as we're concerned. 

The show succeeds by combining the characters' emotional journeys with wry social commentary on prejudice, and all without being too on the nose or preachy. Key to its quality is how deftly it translates writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne's definitive storylines — including "Dark Phoenix Saga" and "Days of Future Past" — from the comics page to the small screen. 

The show lasted for five seasons and 76 episodes from 1992 to 1997. Although the fifth season is hampered by a noticeable drop off in animation quality, we wanted to watch more anyway. Thanks to the upcoming Disney+ relaunch, it looks like we'll be getting our wish. 

3. Justice League Unlimited

While adding more characters can make a show more exciting, it doesn't always improve the overall quality. In fact, if handled poorly, more characters can make a show worse. After all, it's much more difficult to give adequate attention to all of your characters when you have a lot of them to deal with. This challenge is compounded when your characters are some of the most iconic in all of pop culture, such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. 

The fact that "Justice League" and "Justice League Unlimited" manage to do, well, justice to its well-known characters, as well as more obscure crimefighters like Vigilante and the Question, is a testament to its excellence. Its stellar juggling of numerous characters is part of the reason the two-for-one series takes a place near the top of our list. 

Set in the Bruce Timm-Paul Dini DCAU originally established in "Batman: TAS" and "Superman: TAS," the two "Justice League" shows take what works for the World's Finest duo in their solo series and applies it across just about the entire DC Universe. Here's hoping Warner Bros. executives will consider the successes of "Justice League Unlimited" as they get ready to launch the next phase of DC's cinematic universe.

2. Young Justice

If you think the best animated shows come from days gone by, or that IMDb users are just a bunch of millennials addicted to the sweet nectar of nostalgia, allow us to present "Young Justice." It's not just the most recent show on our list; it's one of the best

"Young Justice" follows the adventures of teenage superheroes including Superman's clone Conner Kent, aka Superboy, Batman's ward Dick Grayson, aka Robin, and the Flash's protégé Wally West, aka Kid Flash, among many others. 

While this setup could have led to gimmicky disaster, "Young Justice" delivers mature and complex storylines that younger viewers can relate to and older viewers can appreciate. "Young Justice" ran for two well-received seasons and 46 episodes on Cartoon Network from 2012 to 2013 before it was cancelled. However, perpetually hungry for content, Warner Bros. brought "Young Justice" back in 2019 for the DC Universe streaming service. As of 2021, "Young Justice" is on HBO Max. 

"Young Justice" — the only program listed here that's still producing new episodes — is a must-watch for any fan of animated superhero shows.

1. Batman: The Animated Series

"Batman: The Animated Series" isn't just the best animated superhero series of all time, it's one of the best animated shows ever. Besides kicking off the Bruce Timm-Paul Dini DCAU, it ushered in a new era of superhero storytelling on the small screen. While superhero cartoon shows have been around since the 1960s, partially thanks to "Batman: TAS," we've come a long way from "Fred and Barney Meet the Thing." 

The groundbreaking series eschews the traditional whiz-bang "bad guy of the week" format for complex, multi-layered storytelling in which villains are given compelling, sympathetic motivations. Episodes like "Heart of Ice" and the "Two-Face" two-parter are definitive representations of iconic villains. Timm and Dini didn't save all their ideas for the bad guys – "Robin's Reckoning" won an Emmy for its powerful portrayal of the Boy Wonder's origin story, bringing tragedy and pathos to a character that had descended into kitsch. 

Mark Hamill's take on the Joker stands in the same league as Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix's iterations. But the series' centerpiece is Kevin Conroy's Batman — for many, the quintessential version of the Dark Knight. Many excellent series have followed in the footsteps of "Batman: TAS," yet all of them remain in its shadow. That is the mark of a masterpiece.