Nostalgia is good for the soul. And for many, 90s cartoons bring about that restless desire for the past.
Unfortunately, time travel is still a sci-fi exclusive. But thanks to the limitless streaming options available you can easily transport yourself to a different time and place.
The 90s saw a wave of cartoons unlike any of the other shows airing on primetime television. From avant-garde creativity to a new era of adult cartoons TV shows, cartoons in the 90s were a force to be reckoned with.
And today this animated renaissance still holds up strong. Except, instead of a bowl of cereal on a Saturday morning, you might have a stiff drink and dinner via a delivery app to accompany your binge.
So, let’s embark on a journey back to dial-up tones, digital pets, and peace signs with 15 iconic 90s cartoons, and how to watch them today.
1. Doug (1991-1999)
If you spent your childhood watching 90s Nickelodeon cartoons, then you’re at least familiar with Doug Funnie. (And I’m willing to bet that many of you reading this still hear or sing the words to “Killer Tofu” whenever you see a package of tofu.)
Doug lacks much of the weirdness and gross-out common to later Nicktoons. Instead of wild antics, Doug is a more realistic, wholesome, and genuine slice of life. Even if the character design features a wild array of colors!
For fellow preteens, watching an 11 year old boy daydream in his room about superheroes and girls is comforting. It helps to see you’re not alone when you reach the precipice of your angsty years.
Eventually, Doug ends up at Disney. And with the move to Disney, Doug became a movie, videogame, and even a musical.
How to watch Doug:
2. Animaniacs (1993-Present)
By 1993 the entertainment industry was inundated with cartoons. In order to stand out from the crowd, Fox Broadcasting Network teams up with Steven Spielberg to create one of the most absurd 90s cartoons of all time, Animaniacs – Yakko, Wakko, and Dot.
Unlike other old cartoons, Animaniacs has its own orchestra with a major emphasis put on the musical score of the show. There’s also an impressive list of cameo appearances and pop culture references. Of course, there’s more than a bit of suggestive humor, innuendos, and questionable slapstick routines (“Finger Prince”, anyone?) All while remaining educational and heartwarming.
But what truly makes the show unique is how meta it is. Animaniacs is a 90s kids show about cartoon characters living in the real world. And these cartoon characters produce their own cartoons–some of which are about other cartoons! …But you get the idea, Animanicas did meta first. They even sing a song about it.
How to watch Animaniacs:
Thanks to the show’s popularity, Animaniacs is back on the air. Its more explicit adult humor lacks some of the subtlety of yore, but the old stuff is even funnier as an adult. You can watch it on Hulu, or buy it on Amazon.
3. Rugrats (1991-Present)
Is there a more quintessential example of 90s cartoons than Rugrats? Of course there are many shows that come to mind when you’re discussing a decade of content. But Rugrats is quite literally 90s childhood locked in perpetuity.
Originally airing from 1991-1993 Rugrats went off the air for three years. In that time, the show grew from a simple kids cartoon to a rating behemoth. Then after three years of reruns, Rugrats came back in 1996.
By the new millennium, Rugrats had films, crossovers, and its own spinoff, All Grown Up! But, those babies never made it past puberty before they were cast back into the limbo of eternal infancy. All the better, we say.
How to watch Rugrats:
4. Johnny Bravo (1997-2004)
When you look back on old shows or films, it’s not uncommon to notice that some of your favorite funny cartoon characters aged badly. Maybe the jokes are overly insensitive, or the once loveable quirks now make you cringe. But something about Johnny Bravo, the self-centered, wannabe playboy, remains lovable.
The show features Johnny frequently hitting and missing with women on the show, staring at his own reflection, and being an all around himbo.
The adult humor and frequent cameos make the show unique for its intended audience. Cartoon Network definitely knew parents would be lurking in the background and created a show suitable for both kids and adults.
How to watch Johnny Bravo:
Thanks in part to the pop-culture driven plots, Johnny Bravo is still a great show. So, if you’re wanting to catch up on Johnny’s antics you can find him on Amazon.
5. Rocko’s Modern Life (1993-1996)
There’s a widely held belief that a kids show should teach its viewers something. But Rocko’s Modern Life chooses to go against the current, and instead showcases a more irreverent side of 90s cartoons.
Offbeat is a great way to describe Rocko, the Australian wallaby living in the United States. While our titular protagonist typically plays the role of a good natured straight-man, the show often devolves into mania, madness, and surrealism around him–mixed with a dash of decidedly adult humor (Mrs. Bighead still eeks out out to this day).
Although Rocko’s Modern Life was only on the air from 1991-1996, it made a pretty big impact on viewers. In 2019, Rocko and the gang made their way onto a Netflix movie special, Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling.
How to watch Rocko’s Modern Life:
6. Daria (1997-2002)
As you’re reading through this list you may find yourself humming the theme songs for these iconic 90s cartoons. And if you’ve seen Daria then you’re bound to remember the distortion-heavy intro.
But the soundtrack isn’t the only memorable element of Daria. From the dry humor, to the bleak descriptions of high school adolescence, Daria is a one of a kind show. And the titular character, Daria, is also one of a kind: an amalgam of angst and ennui.
In fact the 90s couldn’t get enough of Daria–with an initial cameo appearance in Beavis and Butt-Head. Then her own spinoff. Well, the rest is history.
How to watch Daria:
7. The Ren & Stimpy Show (1991-1996)
When looking back on a show like The Ren & Stimpy Show, it’s sort of wild that it made its debut as a kids show on Nickelodeon. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine Ren and Stimpy making their television debut in 2021. But the impact it made on 90s cartoons is strong enough to have garnered a faithful cult following.
For a kids cartoon, The Ren & Stimpy Show relies heavily on shock, surrealism, and gross-out. Many of the jokes feature toilet humor, double entendre, and slapstick routines. But for many, the obscene humor is what makes the show so great. Ren having a psychotic meltdown can be delightfully terrifying, in particular.
Unsurprisingly, some parents would rather their kids not watch such a lewd show. And parts of the original series were censored altogether. Indeed, creator John K would intentionally bombard censors–they couldn’t catch everything and he knew it!
Editor’s note: Characters in Ren & Stimpy never make the same face twice over the course of an episode. Gross as it may be, there’s a lot of ground-breaking artistic merit as an animated show.
However, the creators of The Ren & Stimpy Show go on to create an adult version of the show titled, Ren & Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon–though something is lost when the restraints of censorship are no longer in place to defy. But hey, the whole series is set to get a reboot through Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.
How to watch Ren & Stimpy:
8. King of the Hill (1997-2010)
Did you know that propane is 270 times more compact in its liquid state than it is as a gas? That’s just one of the many facts you can learn about propane and propane accessories while watching King of the Hill. Yep. Mhmm.
Out of the many family-centric 90s cartoons, King of the Hill, is among the longest running with 13 seasons. The show takes you to the fictional town of Arlen, Texas, and into the home of Hank Hill.
Each character embodies stereotypical small town clichés in a very sincere manner. Even when the show covers more controversial topics, there’s an ingenuity to it that makes the residents of Arlen relatable for all their quirks.
How to watch King of the Hill:
9. Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1990-1996)
There’s nothing cool about climate change. And the thought of our planet slowly dying beneath our feet can elicit feelings of helplessness. If only someone could come save the day!
For 90s cartoons, that someone is Captain Planet and the Planeteers.
With magical rings gifted from Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, five young people from across the globe team up with Captain Planet to help fight the evils of pollution. And in six seasons, no villainous stone is left unturned.
From greed, corruption, disease, and even the HIV/AIDS crisis, the show covers much more than surface level environmentalism.
Who knows, it might just inspire you to develop more eco-friendly habits.
How to watch Captain Planet:
You can stream Captain Planet and the Planeteers on Amazon. The power is yours!
10. Æon Flux (1991-1995)
With Y2K looming in the distance, the late 90s became a period of radical expression and experimentation. And cartoon shows were no exception to this creative expression.
When Æon Flux first premiered on MTV as a series of silent short films, it was unlike anything seen on television outside of anime. What separates Æon Flux from other 90s cartoons is not just the presentation, or animation style itself. It’s the absurdity of it all.
An avant-garde take on an apocryphal earth is a harsh theme for an animated cartoon to carry out. Especially considering that until the premiere of Æon Flux, adult cartoons were typically sitcoms, or comedies.
But the silent short films turned into a full blown franchise with comics, video games, and a feature film. Clearly, a chord was struck.
How to watch Æon Flux:
11. The Simpsons (1989-Present)
So, technically The Simpsons didn’t premiere in the 90s. But it still rightfully deserves a place on our list–because the 90s would have been very different without The Simpsons.
Before The Simpsons got its big break, the quirky family was a feature on the Tracey Ullman Show. However, the skit was so popular it soon became the cartoon sitcom viewers know and love.
After years of popularity on television, the show expanded into a video game franchise, and has a feature length film.
The Simpsons sparked an era of adult oriented sitcom style cartoons. And it really nailed the formula; because Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie are still on the air today.
How to watch The Simpsons:
12. Gargoyles (1994-1997)
When Disney needed to fill an afterschool block of cartoons, they chose to stray from the heartwarming, cheerfuls stories. Instead they create Gargoyles, one of the most intricately dark 90s cartoons.
Unlike other 1990s cartoons of the time, Gargoyles is a plot heavy, action packed epic. The show follows a group of gargoyles from Scotland that end up atop a skyscraper in New York City.
Along with the thrilling saga of how these creatures end up in NYC, we get to experience all of their epic adventures featuring a horde of mythical creatures, and cunning villains.
Even though Gargoyles only has three seasons, the fanbase has remained loyal. And although there has been talk of a live-action Gargoyles movie, nothing has been set in stone.
How to watch Gargoyles:
13. Hey Arnold! (1996-2004)
This most beloved of 90s Nickelodeon cartoons showcases the life of a cool, calm, and… jaded city kid named Arnold. Originally, Arnold got his start as series of Claymation shorts where an imaginative boy would go off on adventures while never leaving his seat.
However, the humble Arnold became a sensation among 1990s cartoons. Hey Arnold! covers themes such as unrequited love, parental loss, child poverty, and even obsessive stalking.
But the show isn’t always so weighty, it’s often lighthearted, and whimsical. Plus Arnold is a good role model, as he’s often finding himself in situations that test his morality but ultimately see him taking the high ground.
How to watch Hey Arnold!:
14. CatDog (1998-2005)
In the world of classic cartoons, anthropomorphic creatures were all the rage. But even with all of the other talking animals in 90s cartoons, nothing could prepare the world for CatDog.
With CatDog, the creators of the show chose to splice together a cat and a dog. However, the resulting abomination of polar opposites have to endure life stuck together. And in the strangest, most uncomfortable way possible: Two heads on either end of a torso.
But, one of the biggest pulls of the show is just how bizarre it is. While you watch, you can’t help but to wonder why and how these characters are supposed to live like this.
How to watch CatDog:
15. Beavis and Butt-Head (1993-Present)
Back in the 90s, there were few networks as experimental as MTV. And one of the most outlandish ideas from the network is now one of the most notable shows, Beavis and Butt-Head.
In the show’s short run, Beavis and Butt-Head never held back. First off, both titular characters are unapologetically blundersome buffoons. Then, tie in the duo being unabashedly vulgar, self-centered, and not much to look at yet always looking to score.
But hey; it works, and it was weirdly relatable. Mike Judge has a way of doing that, writing some of the best cartoon characters of all time despite themselves.
Needless to say, the pair set the stage for more irreverent comedy within old cartoons and 90s TV in general. The pair even introduces us to our favorite angsty teen, Daria Morgendorffer. There’s even a Hank Hill prototype to torture!
How to watch Beavis and Butt-Head:
Unfortunately, there are only a few seasons of the show. But thanks to the popularity, more Beavis and Butt-Head is on the way. In the meantime, you can watch old episodes of the show on Paramount+, and Amazon.
Our Favorite 90s Cartoons: That’s All Folks!
Even though there are endless shows to choose from, it’s difficult to decide on what to watch. So make it easy for yourself and tune into one of these iconic 90s cartoons.
Whether you’ve never seen them before or want to relive your yesteryears, hopefully this list guides you in the right direction.