Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. The official topic this week was Favourite Places to Read, however, I’m going rogue once again and instead will continue my trend of looking at Comic Book adaptations. Recently I have been highlighting and examining some of the great multi-media features that are adapted from established comic book series. So far, I have looked at my favourite animated comic book films, ranked all the MCU films, and looked at some cool DC Comics films. These were very interesting subjects which really appealed to my likes and focuses, and I am having a blast writing about them. To keep this trend going, I thought that this week I would spend some time looking at some of the incredible animated series based on comic books.
I am sure that all of us can remember watching a comic book adaption on our morning cartoons when we were younger (I know I can, and several examples are featured in the list below). There is an intrinsic connection between comics and cartoons, and Hollywood’s attempts to turn great comics into fun animated entertainment have resulted in some of the best adaptions of the original content out there. I have long enjoyed watching animated series based on comics, and we are currently in a bright new age of animated adaptations, especially with the continued focus on all-things comic book and superhero. As a result, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to explore some of my absolute favourite animated comic book shows.
To produce this list, I pulled together all the best animated shows I have watched over the years that were originally based on some form of comic book. There are quite a few great shows out there that have some origins in the comic book world, and I had a big pool of potential entries to work with. I was eventually able to whittle it down to my absolute favourite 10 shows, with my typical generous Honourable Mentions section. The final list turned out to be pretty interesting, and I was quite happy with the range of shows featured. I have only included shows I have so far watched, so that means a couple of notable series are missing, such as Superman: The Animated Series. I have also tended to steer away from a few 90s classics, such as X-Men or Spider-Man. While I enjoyed these shows when I watched them and they successfully adapt some of the most iconic storylines, they really haven’t aged that well. I also excluded the most recent animated series, What If…?, mainly because there has only been one episode so far, and I want to see at least the whole first season before I make any decision about it, although I am sure it will appear on future iterations of this list. Despite these limitations, I ended up coming up with a pretty cool list, so let us check it out.
Men in Black
While strongly inspired by the films, this awesome show had a lot of connections to the original Men in Black comic, and it is an outstanding animated series with some incredible opening credits.
This was a really good modern take on Spider-Man that nicely tied into some of the other Marvel shows running at the same time. Featuring some unique and cool adventures, this was an excellent series.
Wolverine and the X-Men
A brilliant series that was cut off far too soon after only a single season (an unfortunate casualty of the Disney buy-out of Marvel). The first season was extremely strong, and if it had gone on for longer, it would have easily been in the Top Ten.
Based on an extremely short-lived comic, Generator Rex was an epic and entertaining animated show. Set in a world where everyone has been infected by nanites, it follows titular hero Rex, a teen who can control his nanites and turn them into weapons, as he fights monsters and great villains. A very cool show that had a great run, and which even featured a fantastic crossover with Ben 10.
Top Ten List (Unranked):
Let us start off with the recently released Invincible. Invincible is an exceptional and amazing adaption of the comic of the same name, which follows a young hero as he attempts to follow in his father’s footsteps. Featuring an awesome cast, this show really does the comic justice and is very dark and bloody. I loved the changes they made to the story, while also keeping all the best bits of the comic, including that incredible twist. I literally just finished the final episode a couple of hours ago and I am still reeling from how brutal it got. A deeply impressive show, if you have not checked out this first season yet, you are missing out.
From one of the darkest shows on this list to one of the funniest, Harley Quinn is another relatively recent animated show that is extremely cool. This hilarious show features an R-rated look at one of DC’s most popular characters as she strikes out on her own. Featuring the voice of Kaley Cuoco in the titular role, this witty and fun show contains a fantastic and moving story that dives into the heart of the protagonist, while also showing off some excellent supporting characters. I love the great combination of over-the-top humour, intense violence, clever parodies, and emotional storylines, and I am really looking forward to the third season.
I must admit that I was initially wary when Young Justice was announced, as surely no show about young heroes could ever top Teen Titans. However, the moment I watched the first episode I was an instant life-long mega fan. With a surprisingly deep and complex narrative about a group of sidekicks who become the covert-ops wing of the Justice League, Young Justice was an impressive and compelling series that quickly produced two fantastic and moving initial seasons. Featuring a strong group of core characters, this series adapted several great storylines from the comics, while also telling its own clever and unique overarching narrative. I loved all the twists and character development that occurred, and I was so very, very happy when DC eventually announced a third season. This third season was even more adult than its predecessors and it continued to expand on the series extremely well. There is another season on the horizon and despite knowing nothing about it, I am already immensely confident that I will love it.
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
As you can probably imagine, there have been several attempts to adapt the Avengers into an animated series, and in my opinion the best example of this is The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Taking most of its cues from the comics rather than the MCU, this outstanding series really captures the heart of the team and presents an exceptional take on each of the main characters. The first season is pretty perfect and comes together extremely well. The second season, while a tad rushed in places, is also incredibly cool, and features an amazing version of the Secret Invasion arc. Unfortunately, this series was cancelled well before its time, but while it was going, it was incredible.
Batman: The Animated Series
There are many, many Batman series out there, but none have captured the titular hero, the outrageous villains, and the grim setting of Gotham City as perfectly as Batman: The Animated Series. With some deep and adult storylines, this series never pulled any punches, despite being a kids show, and for many, it was the best introduction to Batman and the world of comics that you can ask for. Serving as the definitive animated version of Batman out there, this incredible series features all the classic Batman characters, and even introduced a few new iconic faces, such as Harley Quinn. You also have to love the voice cast, especially with Kevin Conroy providing the quintessential Batman voice, while Mark Hamill is the ultimate animated Joker. I am lumping in The New Batman Adventures into this entry as well, mainly as it served as a continuation of the original show. I also must call out Batman Beyond here, which serves as a great end note to this series, especially with that dark and epic connected film, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.
Justice League/Justice League Unlimited
For this next entry I am combining the crowning jewels of the DC Animated Universe, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, as they are honestly just the same show. Continuing some of the great storylines from Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, this cool series brought together seven heroes who formed the Justice League to fight some of the DC Universe’s best and most dangerous villains. This series contains some incredible storylines, which are easily appealing to both a younger audience and veteran fans of the comics. I have a lot of love for both the original Justice League, which focused exclusively on the seven founding members, and Justice League Unlimited, which massively expanded the roster with a great cast of supporting characters. Despite how epic and captivating the other seasons are, my favourite storyline is the one surrounding the Justice League facing off against Project Cadmus, as it contains some of the best writing and some deep examinations of the nature of power and the potential threat that a group of heroes could pose. A must watch series for all fans of the Justice League and DC comics in general, you will love this show.
The Spectacular Spider-Man
As Marvel’s most iconic and popular comic character, Spider-Man has had an insane number of animated shows over the years, but to my mind, the best is The Spectacular Spider-Man. Featuring a perfect take on the character without needlessly rehashing his origin tales, this series serves as a great adaption while also providing its own unique story. Every episode of this show is deeply entertaining, while also diving into the mindset of the teenage hero, his friends, and his menagerie of villains. Out of all the shows, I think this one captures the teenage years of Peter Parker the best, while also adding in some more modern twists to ensure it still holds up after all these years. I can honestly watch this entire series in one extended series, it is that damn good. Unfortunately, as with many of the best Marvel television shows, The Spectacular Spider-Man ended way too soon, although its final episode did wrap things up nicely. An excellent and compelling series.
When there’s trouble you know who to call, Teen Titans!!! Yeah, that theme song says it all when it comes to Teen Titans. This was a wonderful and spectacular show that had just the right mixture of silliness and darkness. Following the adventures of the titular superhero team, for four seasons, Robin, Starfire, Raven, Cyborg and Beast Boy fought a series of outrageous villains, with a combination of skill and humour. With some very distinctive characters, a Japanese inspired art style and two versions of the same theme song, this was one of the most unique shows out there with a style all its own. While there was a definite focus on humour and friendship, many of the storylines have a deeper, more emotional edge to them that will appeal to watchers of all ages, and there is constant and compelling character development. This series also contains several outstanding antagonists, with the highlight being Ron Pearlman’s Slade (Deathstroke). I cannot express how much I love this fantastic animated series, and I have watched it many, many times.
I have mentioned a couple of X-Men shows so far, but the one that I think is the best, by dint of being still watchable and having a decent run, is X-Men: Evolution. Evolution features an impressive X-Men narrative that focuses on teenage versions of most of the main characters. Featuring all your favourite X-Men, this was a really cool and compelling take on the iconic team, and it contains so many great story arcs, many of which dealt with the comic’s overarching themes of discrimination and prejudice. While there are a lot of great impacts of this series, easily the best thing this show ever did was introduce the character of X-23, Wolverine’s murderous female clone, who is one of my favourite X-Men characters. An impressive and important series that is well worth a watch.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003 and 2012 series)
For the final entry on this list, I am going to combine two separate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shows, with both the 2003 and 2012 series. Based on the comics of the same name, I have a lot of love for both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adaptations, and I honestly enjoy both equally (hence the shared spot on this list). While both follow the same characters with similar adventures, these are very different series that go in some unique directions. The 2003 series was the one I grew up with, and I still really love its drawing style and darker storylines. The 2012 series on the other hand works its CGI animation and anime inspirations extremely well, resulting in more humour and homages to popular culture. Despite this apparent divide, the 2003 series did have some extremely funny moments and episodes, while the 2012 series got extremely dark in places. I also deeply appreciate that both shows feature appearances from my favourite comic character, Usagi, with the rabbit ronin teaming up with the ninjas in multiple fun episodes. As a result, I would strongly recommend both these series as they serve as excellent introductions to this fantastic franchise.
Well, that’s the end of this list. As you can see, there are some truly awesome animated comic shows out there, and I am really passionate about which ones I watch. I am pretty happy with how this list turned out, and I think the unique spread of shows really reflects my tastes and preferences. Each of the above shows is extremely good, and I would highly recommend all of them. This is probably a list I will revisit in the future, especially as there are more and more comic-inspired animated series coming out all the time. With shows like Invincible and What If…? bringing in a whole new generation of fans to animated adaptions, it is only a matter of time before the other companies start adapting all manner of comics into something cool. I am already excited about a couple on the horizon (they are apparently working on an Usagi Yojimbo animated series 😊 😊 😊), and I look forward to watching them in the future. In the meantime, let me know which of the above shows you enjoyed, and if you have any recommendations for other cool animated comic book series, I will be interested in seeing what else is out there.