You could say the 90s feel like a long time ago, but you’d have to admit, the nostalgic 90s cartoons absolutely hold up.
90’s cartoons are more than animations for children. You don’t need to be from the 90s to appreciate these shows. It goes without saying, but as time goes on, we need to honour the shows that either kept us entertained in our youth or hit us with nostalgia whenever we watch an episode now.
If you were a little ratbag in the 90s we can just about guarantee that one of these nostalgic tv shows will trigger a memory. Whether it’s racing home from school to watch the newest episode, or completely and unashamedly watching it all day over the weekend alone, or with friends. Or even now, all grown-up watching episodes of your childhood faves to help you get through adulthood.
Whether you’re a Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network type of person, the following 90’s cartoons are guaranteed to get you right in the feels with a theme song, a particular episode or even just the grain of the visuals, the nostalgia felt is unavoidable.
Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (1994)
Just the theme song alone instantly brings us back to childhood. What separated Aaahh!! Real Monsters from the rest was that it didn’t seem like a children’s show but something darker and yet, surprisingly wholesome.
The show introduces viewers to a group of monsters-in-training at the Monster Academy, highlighting each of their individual talents. We follow Ickis, Oblina and Krumm who have to deal with their triumphs or failures at school just like we did… monsters or not!
Rocko’s Modern Life (1992)
Meet Rocko, a wallaby from Australia who moves to the States. Following his move, he then meets friends such as cow Heffer Wolfe and turtle Filburt who join him for his daily adventures. Rocko’s Modern Life felt super mature for a kid, to be honest, between weird episode plots and the off-the-cuff jokes.
Never one to isolate the parents who may watch an episode or two with their child, the humour wasn’t only for children. Peppering some adult humour that at points even risked the show being cancelled, has continued to give this nostalgic cartoon an immortal status.
The Powerpuff Girls (1996)
Ask most people: “What do you get when you mix sugar, spice and everything nice with a dash of Chemical X?” If they were under a rock or simply not born back then, I forgive you. But the majority will say… The Powerpuff Girls!
The show follows sisters Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup on their many adventures while protecting the world from mad scientists, bank robbers and aliens with the help of their special powers. Both the girls and their Professor/father keep the show in our memories.
Their use of colour, plot and character depth continues to be used as an inspiration to this day. The show also remains a huge symbol of girl power.
Hey Arnold! (1996)
Arnold is a grade-schooler who lives with his clueless grandparents in an inner-city tenement. The series follows him and his classmates as they navigate childhood, which is full of bullies and urban legends.
The show was an interesting depiction of young life in the New York streets and it also explored themes of love and loss. Arnold, who lost his parents in a tragic plane crash, explores his grief as the show progressed over its 5 seasons.
Love also came from his bully Helga. While bullying him endlessly to his face, she would then go home and worship a shrine she made of Arnold. It certainly taught me not everyone is who they show themselves to be. An important early lesson.
Arguably the “most 90’s” show, Daria follows the namesake’s experiences through high school and coping with a family seemingly opposite to her. No other show used both the new music of Grunge as an influence and also as a modern way of communicating adolescence for the new generation than Daria.
Without looking twice, the 90’s influence is everywhere. The humour is both poignant but apathetic. Daria isn’t someone out to show herself but instead she dictates, in her famous monotone way, the absurdity of daily life and her family. However, high school crushes and tumultuous friendships keeps the show truly grounded in teen viewing.
From the Beavis and Butt-Head (1993) family, the show has become an identity in its own right. With its feminist themes, dry humour and sharp commentary, this MTV series was way ahead of its time.
Spongebob Squarepants (1999)
Although it is barely in the decade, Spongebob was released just in time to make this list. Spongebob Squarepants used the 90’s influence to make a new show which then set the precedent for and influenced the shows then made in the early 2000’s.
Following protagonist Spongebob, with friends Patrick, Sandy, Mr Krabs and the forever memeable Squidward, the show continues to be aired and while not as pivotal as the first 3-4 seasons, it’s still as popular as ever.
Since it first aired, the popular Nickelodeon series has blossomed into a multimedia franchise that includes video games, comic books, merchandise and even theme parks. Interesting, as the idea of talking sponge underwater would normally seem ridiculous. While this 90s cartoon remains strong for the nostalgia of youth you can just chuck on a new episode today. Few can do that.
The Simpsons (1989)
This list thus far has mentioned some incredible classics that may or may not have raised a generation but one thing is for sure, this show definitely did. The Simpsons. Speaking of a show’s nostalgia juxtaposed with its newest episodes from today… This classic cartoon has literally changed the world and pop culture as we know it.
Before the title is even sung in the now classic theme, you know what show is on. Lists, debates and essays have been written about individual episodes and their ingenuousness in combining a childlike sensibility with adult references.
The children love the colours and the adults love the references. Writing in a few paragraphs about such a show’s impact is certainly not easy, but to put it simply, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie are so much more than yellow characters in a cartoon.
They’re now popular culture visualised. So much so that the endless list of cameos who’ve guested on the show see it as a career highlight because being in The Simpsons means more than being in a cartoon, it means career validation.
The family will always be there for us as new episodes are still being written and airing. Whether you like it or not. But for those magical seasons, argued to be the best seasons of The Simpsons (1-8), a masterclass in writing, character development and timeless jokes are awaiting you!
90’s cartoons aren’t just for kids anymore. Those kids are now grown up and showing them to their own kids. As they show them, their own childhood is given a new perspective and the kids can finally watch something of quality for a change!
The 90s will never die.