The 1980s was a great time for cartoons. The decade saw the rise of many new animation houses as well as the emergence of cable channels dedicated to giving kids constant access to awesome cartoons. The 1980s also gave birth to some of the most memorable and iconic characters in cartoon history such as He-Man, She-Ra, Optimus Prime, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The 1980s also saw a boom in animation studios using limited animation techniques to cut costs (and infamously some of them even made it look better than it did before). With this new style of cut-cost animation came a new wave of popular cartoon shows. In the coming months I will be sharing my top ten favorite cartoons from my favorite decade. I will also make sure to include a honorable mentions list.
Most Popular Cartoons of the 1980s:
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
He-Man was one of the biggest cartoons of the 1980s. It made its debut in 1983 and ran until 1985. The show was based on a toyline from Mattel, which I personally owned hundreds of figures (I still have them). The shows plot revolved around Prince Adam and his alter ego He-Man who fought against Skeletor to defend Eternia and protect Castle Greyskull which was a mythical power place where heroes get their powers from. The show is also notable for being one of the first shows to introduce cross-promotion with other popular franchises such as She-Ra: Princess of Power, The New Adventures of He-Man, the Thundercats, and the Transformers. There was even a live action movie that was released in 1987.
G.I. Joe was another huge hit during the 80s. The show aired from 1985 to 1986 and debuted during the height of the popularity of the G.I Joe toyline (which I also owned many figures of). The show is based on a team of special forces agents who fight against Cobra and other terrorist organizations on missions across the globe to protect America from harm as well as keep peace between nations. Unlike He-Man which had a cast of characters pulled from another universe, G.I Joe pulled its cast from real world special forces units such as Delta Force, Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Green Beret’s and others as well as fictional units like The Chameleon Menace unit (which was an elite force that could cloak themselves). There were multiple spin-offs including Action Force which featured members of G.I Joe with international counterparts such as Action Man (UK), Action Team (Netherlands), Action Force Team (UK) and others and also included a Dutch robotic version called “Xamot”.
The Transformers was another huge hit during the 80s. It first aired in 1984 and ran until 1987. The show followed the adventures of a group of robotic alien lifeforms who crash landed on planet Earth and were forced to fight against their former friend Megatron and his Decepticons who wanted to destroy both Earth and Cybertron (their home planet). The show made it’s debut on October 17, 1984 and had a total of 130 episodes (including 3 that were released in 1986 that were shown in syndication).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or “TMNT” as most people refer to it by was one of the biggest cartoons of the 1980s. It first aired in 1987 and ran until 1996. The show followed Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello as they fight against the forces of evil led by the evil Shredder who was once a member of the Foot Clan but betrayed his own master to form his own clan known as the “Foot”. Many folks today remember this cartoon for its edgy humor and its often over-the-top plots but it was an incredibly popular show at the time.
The Smurfs was another big hit during the 80s. It first aired in 1981 and ran until 1990 (its last episode aired in 1990). The show followed a group of little blue humans called Smurfs who lived in a mystical mushroom kingdom called Smurfland. They were the main characters of this show along with their nemesis Gargamel who was an evil wizard who had an obsession with finding and capturing them. This show is still very popular today and many folks are still trying their best to get it back on air (such as Netflix).
Thundercats was another big hit during the 80s. It first aired in 1985 and ran until 1989. The show followed the adventures of a group of alien humanoid creatures known as “Thundercats” who crash landed on planet Earth and were forced to fight against their former friend Mumm-ra who wanted to destroy both Thundera (their home planet) and Earth. The show was loosely based on the characters from the 1980s animated movie “Thundercats: The Movie” which itself is based on a Japanese series that was released in the early 1980s in Japan called “Jungle Taitei”.
The Real Ghostbusters
The Real Ghostbusters was one of the biggest cartoons of the 1980s. It made its debut in 1986 and ran until 1991. The show followed a group of paranormal investigators (known as “Ghostbusters”) who fought against ghosts throughout New York City led by their leader Dr. Egon Spengler. This show was also originally based on an older cartoon from the 1970s called “Ghostbusters” but it was reworked to be more kid friendly for this new cartoon series. This series was made up of seven seasons with a total of 145 episodes (including two movies released in 1989 and 1990). This show not only produced two spin-off properties (Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters and Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters) but also a few animated comics based on it as well.