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AFA's Top 20 Cartoons Of The 1980s

The 1980s were a bit of a mixed bag culturally speaking. There were plenty of films that have stood the test of time, but the music was a bit iffy (although of course your mileage may vary). However it also spawned tons of animated series that often have a special place in the heart of not only 80s kids, but often also those who came after. So even if you weren't born when these shows came out, there's a good chance you will have seen a fair number of them.

Before we start: the rules for inclusion are pretty straightforward- all these series aired for the first time in the 80s, either in the US or the UK. We also stuck to kid's shows (so that excludes The Simpsons). If your favourite 80s show is missing, feel free to let us know in the comments!

20. Jayce and The Wheeled Warriors (1985)

Toy tie-ins were all the rage in the 80s, but this one featured heroes who drove some pretty bad-ass vehicles. Jayce and his friends were part of The Lightning League who struggled against the villainous plants (yep, you read that right) The Monster Minds. Although fondly remembered by many, neither series or toys were a big hit at the time, and the story (featuring Jayce's quest to find his father) was never resolved.


19. Gummi Bears (1985-1991)

As far as inspiration for series go, basing one on a popular US brand of sweets seems to be pretty out there. But in Disney's hands this was a lovable story of a group of colourful bears living in a medieval Europe style setting. The Bears were given the power to "bounce here and there and everywhere" by drinking 'Gummiberry juice".


18. Transformers (1984-87)

The transforming toyline has had many incarnations, but arguably the original series remains the most iconic.  Kicking off with a 3 part pilot series called "More Than Meets The Eye", the original series eventually ran for 4 full seasons, with Transformers The Movie arriving in 1986 (between seasons 3 and 4).


17. The Raccoons (1985-1992)

Teaching kids about the environment and conservation started to be a big thing in the 80s. The Canadian-made series The Raccoons was one of the first shows to really use this as a jumping-off point. On the face of it, this was a simple story of the adventures of the titular characters (Bert,  Ralph and Melissa),  but it also helped teach children about the importance of protecting the environment.The chief villain was Cyril Sneer, a money-grabbing tycoon who cared only about money, and nothing about the Evergreen Forest where our heroes lived.


16 . Inspector Gadget (1983-86)

Go Go Gadget Legs! The bumbling Gadget may have been a cross between RoboCop and Inspector Clouseau, but with the help of his Niece Penny and her super-smart canine companion Brain, he always prevailed against the dastardly Dr Claw. The character has remained enduringly popular to this day and has never really gone away- most recently returning with a 2015 Netflix CG reboot.


15. Robotech (1985)

The late Carl Macek took three unrelated Japanese sci-fi anime (Macross, Southern Cross and Mospaeda) and rewrote, re-edited and dubbed them to make them appear to form a single story. Although this Frankenstein-style behaviour later made him retrospectively unpopular with some hard-core anime fans, it's relatively grown-up sci-fi and serialised story-telling seemed revolutionary to audiences at the time.


14. Thunder Cats (1985-89)

Our heroes Lion-O, Cheetara, Panthro and Tygra flee the destruction of their home-world for the relative safety of Third Earth.  It's got a memorable theme-tune, an iconic villain in Mumm-Ra and a (supposedly) lovable mascot in Snarf. It's also true that Cheetara was responsible for a fair few first cartoon crushes among its impressionable audience. Not that we'd know anything about that.


13. The Real Ghostbusters (1986-1991)

The TV spin-off of the movie favourite came pretty close to living up to its illustrious predecessor, thanks to a good sense of humour and being surprisingly effective at bringing the spooky feel, too. Adapting popular movies into cartoons was a real trend at the time- but this was easily one of the best.


12. Muppet Babies (1984-1991)

What's the point in The Muppets without y'know... actual Muppets puppets you might ask? Yet against all the odds, this animated imagining of the Muppet's early years worked brilliantly. Baby Kermit, Piggy Gonzo, Animal et al never really left their nursery but still went on fantastic adventures in their imaginations. Sadly, the frequent use of clips from Star Wars, Indiana Jones and others has kept this off DVD to this day. But now Disney own The Muppets, LucasFilm and Marvel (who's animation arm made this) could it finally happen one day? We can only close our eyes and make believe!


11.The Wind In The Willows (1984-1990)

Cosgrove Hall made this wonderfully charming (and incredibly British ) series based on the beloved characters created by Kenneth Grahame. It followed a 1983 TV film made for ITV, which adapted the original novel. The series , however, features mostly original stories focusing on the further adventures of Mole, Ratty, Badger and of course- the irrepressible Mr Toad.


10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-1996)

In retrospect, it's kind of bizarre than an underground satirical comic by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird became the massive mainstream franchise that it did. Maybe the animated version lost the true spirit of the original, but to those who grew up on it, it will always hold a place in their hearts none-the-less.  Ninjas were apparently too strong for sensitive British children's sensibilities, so for a time it was known as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles in the UK. The iconic theme-tune was co-written by future Two And A Half Men and Big Bang Theory creator Chuck Lorre- so he has been involved with something decent after all!


9. Dungeons and Dragons (1983-85)

The 80s D&D craze inevitably lead to this TV series, which saw a group of normal kids magically transported to a fantasy land.  Each child was given a magical item by the Dungeon Master to help them survive the magical realm. The series boasted one of the best villains of the decade in the sinister form of Venger.


8. Around The World With Willy Fogg (1981)

This anthropomorphic retelling of Jules Verne's classic Around the World In 80 Days not only made the entire cast talking animals, but also renamed the central hero Willy. As in the original yarn, Fogg (now an extremely dapper Lion) tries to travel around the globe within the allotted timepsan to win a bet. Fogg returned sometime later in a belated sequel series that retold 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Journey To The Centre Of The Earth


7. Chip 'N' Dale : Rescue Rangers (1989-90)

Another one of Disney's 80s and 90s updates of classic characters, this saw the chipmunk brothers go into business as Rescue Rangers. Their makeover saw Chip gain a fedora and leather jacket and Dale a Hawaiian shirt and new friends in the form of Montgomery Jack and Gadget.


6. Ulysses 31 (1981)

This classic Japan/France co-production relocated the world of Greek mythology and Homer's Odyssey to a sci-fi setting (the 31st Century of the title). Ulysses is the pilot of the spaceship The Odyssey who brought the wrath of The Gods upon him by defeating the Cyclops. As with Cities Of Gold, this series is particularly loved in the UK, where it has aired on an impressive 7 different channels- despite only running for a single season.


5. Dogtanian and The Three Muskahounds (1981-82)

All for One, and One for All! Another Japan/European co-production, but this time with Spain, this series retold the Alexandre Dumas classic with talking dogs. In the UK however, it's perhaps best remembered for its catchy theme-tune which would go on to top a poll for best cartoon theme song of all time held by Channel 4 many years later.


4.  Count Duckula (1988-1993)

He started life with an appearance in Danger Mouse, but the eventual star of this sort-of-spin-off turned out to be very different indeed. Like DM, Duckula (now a vegetarian vampire duck) was voiced by British TV-stalwart David Jason. It proved almost as popular as it's parent series, with Cosgrove Hall producing 65 episodes in total.


3. DuckTales (1987-1990)

Inspired by the classic Uncle Scrooge comics, this is probably the most beloved of Disney's TV series of the 80s and 90s. And not only because of that theme tune (woo-woo). The show's lovable cast, sense of adventure and fun storylines have meant that the appeal of this series has endured. And the NES game was amazing, too.


2. The Mysterious Cities Of Gold (1982-83)

Japanese-French co-production MCOG followed the adventures of young orphans Esteban and Zia in the New World of the 1500s as they search for the titular cities of legend. The series didn't make it into English until 1986. The series is particularly fondly remembered by UK audiences, where it became a staple thanks to its screenings on Children's BBC.

1. Danger Mouse (1981-1992)

This UK series featuring the world's greatest (mouse) secret agent and his hapless sidekick Penfold was produced by the much missed studio Cosgrove Hall. Its pythonesque sense of humour made it appeal to adults and kids alike, the best part of a decade before The Simpsons hit the scene. At its peak it attracted an audience of 21 million viewers, an astonishing figure that beat out even broadcaster ITV's soap opera Coronation Street. 2015 sees DM returning to screens in a new series- but this time on the BBC.