The 1980s were full of animated series made both for the young and old. From classics like Transformers, Jem and the Real Ghostbusters. To the less known series like the Gummi Bears. But do these shows still hold if you weren’t alive in the 80s?
I was born in 1993 so as such, I missed out on watching many of these shows when they originally aired. Instead, I got shows like Beast Wars, Batman the Animated Series and Pokémon. I have seen some of these shows through DVD, re-runs as well as the internet and it seems my opinions differ from those who grew up with these shows.
As such, over the past week, I watched over 150 episodes plus a number of movies and specials looking over the 20 most classic 80s cartoons, determining whether or not I personally liked them as well as seeing if they still hold up by today’s standards of programming.
Due these shows still hold up? Well let’s take a look shall we.
But first! A look at one show that doesn’t really fit with the others:
Odd One Out: Dragon Ball/Z (1986-1996)
Had I Watched It Before: Yes, never watched it on TV but watched both series online during the early to mid-00s.
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: All of it and didn’t do a refresher.
This is the real odd one out when it comes to 80s animation. Many of you didn’t see Dragon Ball until the 90s, but some of the series had been aired in the west in the 80s so it would be wrong to simply ignore it.
Animation wise, the series is typical for Toei animation for the time. Given it was weekly and lasted over 300 episodes, it is a surprise that it looks as good as it does. While watching the series all the way through, it’s interesting to see how the animation really did improve over time.
The voice casting in the Japanese version is excellent, all portraying their characters with enough believability to make it work. The dubs, all of them on the other hand have always struggled and I have in the past suggested better voice actors.
I have also spoke about some of my favourite storylines or sagas before which are the Trunks, Saiyan and King Piccolo sagas. They show off what made this show great the most and helped make it one of the anime classics.
With that over with, let us take a look at the 20 animated classics of the 80s.
Disney’s Gummi Bears (1985-1991)
Had I Watched It Before: No
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: 8 episodes
Something that really bothered me about a lot of 80s animation was that the animation itself was really, really poor for a lot of it. Characters would stay static while ex-positioning tons of dialogue and they would re-use animation constantly.
Gummi Bears, was not one of those shows and that has a lot to do with Disney who do a great job in making the series feel alive and vibrant, while also showing that many companies in the 80s were just being lazy.
This also goes for the characterization which again is excellent in this show, with everyone feeling different and no one feeling annoying.
The plotlines is where the show is kind of a let-down because they are nothing really special such as Sunni is kidnapped or the Gummi bears are turned in stone. The usual Fantasy tropes.
But other than that, it is a decent show and a lot better than a show about candy would be expected to be.
Had I Watched It Before: Only the film
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: The film and 7 episodes.
Yes, the theme song is pretty great and is probably the most remembered part of the series.
The animation is excellent like most Disney animation. The characters feel alive and are constantly moving. This also goes for the backgrounds, as well which also feel vibrant and lived in rather than then just static paintings as some other shows on our list do.
This also goes with the characters as well who never suffer from being blank or stiff. It’s not at the level as what the Gummi Bears did, but it is still a pretty good job.
Scrooge McDuck, though not as angry and evil as he is in the comics (and thankfully he never goes blackface), he is still enjoyably cranky and money grubbing. The only character I can say I didn’t like was Launchpad who was a bit to overly excited and stupid to begin with, but he seemed to out as the series progressed.
Overall, a good show that holds up well, even by today’s standards.
Garfield & Friends (1988-1994)
Had I Watched It Before: No
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: the three Holiday specials and 4 episodes.
I think the intro for this show did a real disservice as they gave way to much attention to the friends who are the worst aspect of this show.
The Garfield parts are really enjoyable. Lorenzo Music’s voice really helped make Garfield feel alive while at the same time, gave him the slothish behaviour needed to make him sound like the lazy and fat cat Garfield is.
The voice acting for the rest of the characters also works great to give the sense that this world is rather dull and drab, while never feeling boring. It’s a really hard combination to pull off but it does work so well.
The friends segments however are bad. They are not funny and they really feel like some executive wanted more characters in the show to sell so they came up with some of the most generic characters they could.
The animation is simplistic but affective, really getting the feeling of the comic strips and helped contribute to making the world of Garfield feel unique.
A good show, just skip over the Friends segments.
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1983-1986)
Had I Watched It Before: Only the Movie
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: 12 Episodes Plus the Movie.
First of all, shouldn’t it be “The Real American Heroes” given that it is an organization and not a singular person? Hell, the rest of the Intro uses they when describing G.I. Joe so it makes even less sense.
The show is pretty dull sadly, with the plots being rather generic and predictable. It also suffers from what many 80s cartoons suffered from which was that the character models were terribly static, which didn’t help fight sequences at all, something that is really important in a show about war.
The biggest problem with the show is that the heroes are boring, with none really standing out as interesting. Except for maybe Sargent Slaughter and Snake Eyes, they all just fit into the generic good guy characterization that doesn’t make them compelling.
Cobra on the other hand starts out at least being interesting and it pretty obvious why they are the most loved and remembered characters of the series. However, for whatever reason they thought that they needed to get rid of you know, the interesting villains with... Serpentor. Who thought this joke of a villain was a good idea? He’s terrible and should have lasted only an episode before Cobra Commander shot him in the back of the head.
One thing that should be addressed is the shows unfortunate timing. It’s kind of insulting that at a time when the USA knowingly funded and armed terrorists and then mocked the victims, a show like G.I. Joe comes out saying, “Only America can stop Terrorism, everyone else can go f*** themselves!”. Not helped is that the American government simply won’t apologize for what they did and won’t acknowledge that what is happening now is partially their fault. Not the show’s fault, but it was something I felt deserved to be mentioned.
I would only recommend the series if you are an 80s completionist but other than that, there are other shows that do G.I. Joe far better, one of which appears later on this list.
Ow and for those who’ve never seen it:
He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe (1983-1985)
Had I Watched It Before: Yes, via the internet.
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: 4 episodes originally, 12 episodes for the refresher.
The animation is pretty infamous for being bad and I have to agree with that. The constant use of stock animation and the re-use of backgrounds really do hurt the show, but given that the animation is done by filmation, I can’t really be surprised.
As for the characters, the heroes really suffer from the generic problem G.I. Joe had, with the exceptions of He-Man and Orco though the latter of which is really annoying. Then same has to go to the villains as well in this case, besides from Skeletor, none of them have anything interesting to do and are really just muscle.
One thing that was not made clear is what exactly is the power that lies in Castle Grayskull? Neither the Sorceress nor the Spirit that lives in the Castle ever explains it and the only hint is that it will make you the master of the universe. So what lets you control the universe, who could give someone that power?
He-Man suffers a lot from a lot of technical problems and the plot aren’t that great. Still, I didn’t feel bored watching it and it was not terrible. Recommend it if you are curious about the show.
Inspector Gadget (1983-1986)
Had I Watched It Before: No
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: 10 episodes
Despite the show being called Inspector Gadget, from the episodes I’ve seen, he is really just the mindless bumbler who would normally be considered the comic relief sidekick. He is really not an interesting character in his own right and just a tool for the real main character Penny.
Penny is by far the main character of the series, as she is the one who would solve the crimes while all Gadget did was either be an annoyance or a sentient swiss army knife. Why she gets so little press is beyond me.
Animation is good and doesn’t suffer from stiffness and the plots were interesting enough. The show was not bad, but it wasn’t great either. I would recommend it if you want to watch a quality show.
Had I Watched It Before: Yes, via the internet.
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: 3 episodes originally, 10 episodes for refresher.
This is the one I feared talking about the most, given the backlash I got when I said I didn’t like Jem. I don’t want to hate Jem, I just didn’t like what I saw.
Part of that has to do with the music which though there were a few songs (the Misfits aren’t lying when they say their songs are better), most of them really weren’t my type of music and I didn’t enjoy them. Given this is a show set around music, you can figure that can be a massive problem.
Animation wise, it is superior to Transformers and G.I. Joe which really helps the show to make the dancing and action look good. The voice acting is pretty good to, even if the dialogue can be a bit iffy and weak.
Also and I may of missed this but why are they called the Holograms? Nothing about what they do makes me think Holograms.
I can’t recommend the show because the show isn’t for me.
Now Antipodes, please use natural fire, it’s easier to extinguish.
Had I Watched It Before: Yes, I had 2 episodes as a kid on VHS and I saw a few as a kid.
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: Have no idea originally, 10 episodes originally.
Remember I said there was going to be a better version of G.I. Joe in this list? This is it (I think I can hear Brawl2099 screams of rage). I am sorry but M.A.S.K. was the superior series in my opinion.
Part of it comes down to the characters. Because M.A.S.K. had a much smaller cast then G.I. Joe, it was able to give the heroes more on screen time and give them more personality. It still isn’t the best, but still a vast improvement.
That being said, the series did have the annoyance of Scott and T-Bob, who seem to really just be time filler and try to get some of the characters dead from time to time.
The animation was a vast improvement over G.I. Joe, looking less like still drawing with one or two movements and more like actual animated characters. It also helps that most action is with vehicles which really helps with making animation look better than it is.
I would recommend this series to most people. It was just a better series that seemed to benefit from learning from the mistakes of G.I. Joe.
One thing I find odd is that this series seems to be more remembered with kids of the 90s, even though the series came out in the 80s.
Muppet Babies (1984-1991)
Had I Watched It Before: Yes, via TV in the 90s.
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: Have no idea originally, 8 episodes for the refresher.
First of all, I didn’t realize that this show was from the 80s and could of sworn it was a 90s series.
I don’t have really that much to say about this one because it is what it is. The muppets done for a really young audience.
That being said, for a show aimed at younger audiences it does an okay job. It doesn’t really insult the target audience and the characters match their live-action puppet counterparts quite well. It makes sure that all the characters are involved and never feel misused while also keeping each episode fresh and exciting.
The animation is really good and it does a good job representing the characters. The dialogue can be a bit stiff at times, but nothing to really groan about.
Again, I don’t have really much to say but I would recommend it if you have small kids.
My Little Pony Generation 1 (1984-1987)
Had I Watched It Before: Yes, via the internet
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: the movie and the first special originally, the 2 specials & 8 episodes for the refresher.
Okay firstly, I was not expecting Applejack’s voice which sounds like she’s smoked one to many Cuban cigars. Besides from that though, the ponies themselves really don’t have that much personality to speak of besides from a few superficial traits.
The animation is very inconsistent from episode to episode, with the background looking better or worse. The character models themselves are alright and they don’t usually suffer from the static problem.
The music and songs is bad which given that there is so much of it, it becomes a real problem. The second special in particular was really painful to watch because of the constant singing.
This leads to my biggest problem with the series, it talks down. Personally, I never feel a show should talk down to its audience because it insults the viewer’s intelligence and if you disagree with the sentiment, the show because really unwatchable (the first two seasons of TNG really suffered from that).
Despite being a brony, I can’t say I liked this all that much. It isn’t terrible and there are far worse shows out there. But still, I can’t recommend it.
Had I Watched It Before: Yes via the internet 4 years ago.
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: 85 episodes originally, 10 episodes for the refresher.
Okay before I start, I’ve already said that I find the whole Macross vs. Robotech arguments with fans is silly and both series should be allowed to exist and the fact that Harmony Gold just won’t let the rights go is pathetic.
That being said, there is something I have to say about Robotech that does involve its adaptation which is the whitewashing. If you know me, you’ll know whitewashing is something that I take very seriously (one of the reasons I think Edge of Tomorrow is so bad). As such, I really can’t overlook it here. Some of you may say, “Well it was the 80s”, I consider that an excuse and it did hinder my experience.
As for the show Itself, It’s alright. I will admit that the way the used three different shows to show the passage of time and how this invasion last generations was pretty cool. I can see why many adults and kids at the time would be drawn into the show.
That being said, I do feel that the flow of the story could have been done better as it did feel jarring when they jumped from Macross to Century Orguss.
The voice acting in the show isn’t up to modern anime adaptation standards, but they do an acceptable job and they don’t do a complete butchering of the originals. I do feel though given the voice talent available at the time, the dubbing team could have done a much better job.
Overall, I could recommend it to someone nowadays. It isn’t bad in anyway, but at the same time, it isn’t the best and I would always recommend the original three animes before Robotech.
She-Ra: Princess Of Power (1985-1986)
Had I Watched It Before: Yes, via the internet
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: 3 episodes originally, 12 episodes for the refresher.
Am I the only one who noticed that She-Ra is the more important series out of the two? She-Ra has to fight an entire evil empire to reclaim an entire planet, while all He-Man has to do is make sure that some warlord doesn’t walk into a building. Horde Prime and Hordak are basically evil incarnate with millions under their commands, while all Skeletor has is a couple of henchmen who hate him.
The cast of She-Ra isn’t quite as bad as the He-Man cast as there is some characterization given to them that helps them from turning into mere genericness. The villains on the other hand do still suffer from that, though at least Hordak is more threatening than Skeletor.
One thing that bothered me is that despite being called the Great Rebellion, there is only about what... 12 people tops in the group. This is something He-Man also suffered from and it is that either Eternia or Ethenia really feel like living places and instead look like a lifeless, barren countryside.
Of course, She-Ra also suffers from the animation problems that He-Man also suffered from though it is Filmation animation so it can’t be helped.
Overall, She-Ra is actually better then He-Man, though still suffers from many of the same problems.
Super Mario Bros Super Show (1989)
Had I Watched It Before: No episodes
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: 12 episodes
This is a weird adaptation as I have different opinions on the two parts.
The live-action sections are really bad and they should of been gotten rid of. They aren’t really funny and they really just cut into the animated segments.
For the animated segments, it can be hit or miss with the writing, but it was never what I would call truly bad, just not what I call good. The show was better when the focused on its own plots and was at its worse when it was parodying pop-culture.
It also has a weird story as it seems to follow the plot of the games, but has characters like Birdo appearing despite Mario 2 being all a dream. I also find it odd that the star gives Mario fire power in the intro and sometimes in the show when in the games, it’s the fire flower that give him that ability.
Also, what is with Mario and Luigi’s fixation with pasta and spaghetti?
If you want a series to go, “... Huh” too, then it is alright if you’re bored and want something acceptable. I enjoyed what I saw of the animated sections though I feel they should have dropped the live-action sections.
Also, dear god that 80s white rap.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-1996)
Had I Watched It Before: Yes via internet two years ago.
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: 34 episodes originally, 10 episodes for the refresher.
Unlike many of the 80s none Disney shows, TMNT didn’t suffer from static animation, but instead the animation is usually very flowing and constantly moving. It isn’t perfect and there is the odd mess up (James Rolfe did an interesting video), but it is far better than most series at the time.
The dialogue is far superior as well, with the heroes being far more interesting than most of their competitors. Admittedly, Michelangelo hasn’t aged very well, with some of his dialogue making me have to say, “Wait what?” The villains are fun to watch as well and it is a shame that Shredder and Krang got less to do in the later series.
Some of the plot lines can get a bit out there and April constantly getting captured can get a bit tiring, especially when it happens multiple times in the same episode. It is also the equivalent to the 60s Batman series when compared to its original comic counterpart so whether or not that bothers you, it may hinder your enjoyment of the show.
My personal favourite episode was a season 3 episode called Cowabunga Shredhead, the episode where Shredder’s mind gets messed up and he thinks he is Michelangelo. I just found Shredder’s Mic rather amusing.
Though Personally I prefer the 2003 TV series, the 1987 turtle’s series is a lot of fun to watch. As long as you’re willing to accept a lot of camp and 80s lingo, you should have a good time.
Lastly, some of you may know that the series was called Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles in the UK. The reason for that was that the censors thought the word Ninja was considered too violent. They also removed most scenes with Mic using his Nunchaku for the same reason. You can see that in action in the intro where they edit all uses of his Nunchaku out:
The Legend Of Zelda (1989)
Had I Watched It Before: No
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: 13 episodes (aka the entire series)
I feel this show was hurt with its connection to the Super Mario Bros Super Show. It had its running time cut by 8 minutes and as such, it has less time to develop its plots. That being said, it is a far better show than its Mario counterpart in the writing department even if they chose one of the worst voices for Link.
It’s odd what type of personality they chose for Link because it really doesn’t work and is kind of annoying with his constant use of “Well excuse me princess!” Given the whole elf like appearance of him, I would have thought they would have gone with a lighter tone. Personally, I would have gone with a Welsh voice, but that is just me.
One interesting note is that many fans believe that the series is in canon with the rest of the games. How you may ask? Well it all involves split timelines (something already common in the Zelda universe). In the game, Link arrives too late and Zelda is captured and the Triforce of Wisdom is split. But in the cartoon, Link arrives early and Zelda is not captured.
I don’t really have more to say about this show as I don’t have an opinion of it either way. I would recommend it if had absolutely nothing better to do.
The Real Ghostbusters (1986-1991)
Had I Watched It Before: Yes via TV 12 years ago.
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: 3 (I think) originally, 20 episodes for the refresher.
The 80s had a weird fixation with trying to give every Movie a TV animated adaptation. From Rambo, Canon, Back to the Future and even the Toxic Avenger. However, I feel confident in saying that the Real Ghostbusters was the best of all of them.
The voice acting is excellent, with all the voice actors giving the characters a lot of life and match the characters they are trying to represent brilliantly. The animation, though can be stiff at places, really does the job of keeping the movements and action looking good.
The monsters for the most part, look creative and do a good job making good adversaries for the Ghostbusters. I say for the most part because sometimes, it seems like the animators were lazy and used what appears to be generic cartoon characters.
The best episodes for me were from the first two seasons such as Take Two and Citizen Ghost. The later episodes were alright, but nowhere near the quality of the old ones.
Would I recommend it? Not only would I recommend the series, but I would argue that the series is far better than the two movies.
The Smurfs (1981-1989)
Had I Watched It Before: Yes, via TV in the 90s
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: How am I supposed to know! I was like what, 3 when I watched it. How the hell am I know supposed to know when I watched it originally? 8 episodes for the refresher.
Remember when I said that I don’t think shows should talk down? Well this one talks down, badly. Compared to Muppet Babies that was also for younger children but made sure should they were entertained and were getting something out of it. The Smurfs is just garbage.
The animation is really shoddy, with very little animation ever happening. The characters, if you can call them that are just poor and the writing is just crap.
Even the lessons are bad. Hey guess what nerds, if you ever express your love for science or talk about something scientific or factual, you should be shamed and abandoned by all your peers. Hey if you are brunette and don’t conform to what we arbitrarily define as lady like, you are evil and deserve to be shamed. Classy Smurfs.
Just avoid the Smurfs, it’s a part of 80s nostalgia that should have been forgotten.
Had I Watched It Before: Yes, via the TV and the internet.
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: Have no idea originally, 12 episodes for the refresher.
This is a animated series I know a lot about because my father was a big fan of the show. Given I live in the UK, this is hardly surprising because Thundercats was massive in the British Isles. Even beating shows like TMNT, Jem and Transformers in ratings and toy sales. Want proof of that, look up most Thundercats fan-sites and look for were they are based from.
Now onto the show itself and it is okay.
The animation again suffers much of the same issues of many 80s animation and character models are very stiff. I get the feeling that if the animation companies had made them more cartoony and less realistic and detailed, this would have been less of a problem.
The plot is interesting and it has one of the unique settings for an 80s show, with a great mix of fantasy and sci-fi. Thanks to the series small cast (at least at first), the characters are more developed and stand out dar more the shows like G.I. Joes. Out of the characters, my favourites have to be Cheetara and Panthro.
Overall, a good show and would hold well today if you can overlook the animation.
Transformers Generation 1 (1984-1987)
Had I Watched It Before: Yes, via the Metrodome DVD collections.
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: All of the episodes, the movie and all the Japanese series originally, 15 episodes for the refresher.
Generation 1 is weird with its characters. Some of them have very distinct character traits like Optimus, Grimlock, Dead End, Soundwave and Warpath that were interesting to watch. Others like Prowl, Sideswipe and Skywarp are very generic and seem to blend into the background.
The animation can be very much hit and miss. It has the problem of being very static like other shows, but because they are robots, it doesn’t look as bad. Of course, I don’t really want to complain about the animation to much as the series had an unfortunate problem with the DVDs because they used earlier versions, gave some of the episodes (the earlier ones especially) more errors then they actually had.
One thing that I liked most of the time was the transformers symbol transition flip. It was a cute way of doing it and was usually not annoying. The exception was in a few episodes like in City of Steel, which used the thing way too much.
The writing is where the series struggles as there is a lot of stiff writing and some of the plots don’t make a whole lot of sense and many episodes contradict themselves (look up the whole Constructicon’s origins mess).
Overall, a decent series and I would recommend it to those who want to see where Transformers came from.
Had I Watched It Before: No, only the original GoLion
How Many Episodes Did I Watch: 10 episodes.
Like with Robotech, I feel like I should compare it to its original and I’m sorry to say that it does a poor job capturing the original and feels like it more dumbing it down. Probably the worst example of this is with the character of Sven which in the original version (where he is known as Quiet), he died in episode 6. However, in the Voltron version, he is merely injured.
This I feel is a prime example of what was wrong with a lot of animation aimed at younger viewers. Kids are fully capable with understanding death as many of them have lived through it, Hell Disney and Don Bluth are great examples of this. It’s also not like the 1986 Transformers Movie which botched it, Quiet’s death was respectful and done with great care and the fact it was changed shows how little they cared about the audience.
Like with Macross, GoLion’s animation is pretty standard for 80s anime though it has far less shadows. Voltron’s edits and dialogue was pretty bad and the way they try to cut a lot of the more violent scenes was laughable.
My recommendation, go watch the original GoLion instead. It is by far a superior show.