The Most Memorable Shows From Cartoon Network’s Glory Days –

From the sugar-coated thrills of “Dexter’s Laboratory” to the emotional gut punches of “Adventure Time,” Cartoon Network has served up a smorgasbord of iconic animated shows for decades. These weren’t just Saturday morning cartoons; they were portals to fantastical worlds, laboratories filled with laughter, and coming-of-age stories that resonated with viewers of all ages. Buckle up for a nostalgic ride as we revisit some of the best Cartoon Network shows that continue to hold a special place in our hearts. Our list is compiled of the consensus top shows most recommended across 10 expert reviews.

The List: Best Cartoon Network Shows, According to Experts

1. “Adventure Time” (2010 – 2018)

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“Adventure Time” is a unique gem of American animation. The premise is simple, the adventures of a boy and his dog in a magical land. This popular series also got a revival in 2020 with the epilogue series “Distant Lands,” currently streaming on Max.

Let’s get mathematical for a second – how many other animated shows can boast nine seasons, eight Emmys, and a legion of devoted fans spanning generations? That’s the magic of “Adventure Time,” according to Looper. This epic series follows the adventures of Finn, a fearless 12-year-old, and his best friend, Jake, a wise-cracking dog with a serious case of the stretches. Together, they battle baddies, protect loved ones, and explore the wacky world of Ooo. Premiering in 2010, “Adventure Time” hooked viewers of all ages with its surprisingly deep storylines, stunning animation, and a killer soundtrack that adds a personal touch to every episode.

BuzzFeed dives into the show’s long-lasting legacy. They credit “Adventure Time” as a gateway drug (in the best way possible) for many viewers into the fantastical world of Cartoon Network. The show’s charm lies in its unique animation style, catchy tunes (some of which are experiencing a TikTok revival!), a cast of unforgettable weirdos, and timeless lessons wrapped up in fantastical adventures. “Adventure Time” also gets major props for its groundbreaking LGBTQ+ representation, featuring a romance between a rockstar vampire and a bubblegum princess – no big deal!

Episode Ninja breaks down the show’s core premise. We meet Finn, a courageous pre-teen, and Jake, his magically-gifted canine companion (who also happens to be pushing 30 in dog years). Their unlikely best friendship fuels their surreal adventures across the mystical Land of Ooo. This fantastical world is a playground overflowing with bizarre creatures to befriend and exciting landscapes to explore, making “Adventure Time” the perfect escape for anyone seeking a dose of pure cartoon magic.

2. “Dexter’s Laboratory” (1996 – 2003)

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Calling all science whizzes and lab safety scofflaws (we see you Dexter)! Buckle up for a trip down memory lane with Cartoon Network’s masterpiece, “Dexter’s Laboratory.” According to CBR, this show isn’t just about beakers and Bunsen burners; it’s about the unbridled imagination of a boy genius named Dexter. Dexter’s secret lab is his playground, where he invents everything from age-altering serums (for totally innocent reasons, of course) to giant robots to duke it out with his pesky sister Dee Dee. Whether he’s battling homework or giant monsters, Dexter’s Laboratory guarantees laughter and a touch of mad-scientist mayhem for viewers of all ages.

Created by Genndy Tartakovsky, this show is considered to be one of the best of CN’s “Golden Era” of original shows. TV Overmind echoes the sentiment, labeling “Dexter’s Laboratory” a true television gem. Dexter, the pint-sized protagonist, may be a genius, but his experiments often go hilariously haywire thanks to his overexcitement and, well, a certain disregard for safety protocols. A large part of the show’s charm comes from the chaotic dynamic between Dexter and his bubbly sister Dee Dee, whose knack for sniffing out his secret lab provides endless entertainment. Let’s not forget Dexter’s arch-nemesis, the equally brilliant but far more maniacal Mandark. And who could forget Dexter’s iconic (and slightly baffling) thick accent? It’s all part of the wacky package that makes “Dexter’s Laboratory” so darn memorable.

Ranker rounds out our trip to the lab with a closer look at what makes the show tick. They praise the series’ blend of humor, imaginative storylines, and surprisingly heartwarming messages. Dexter’s scientific pursuits may land him in hot water (literally, sometimes), but the show never loses sight of the importance of family and perseverance. Ranker also highlights the show’s endearing characters, from the ever-curious Dee Dee to the gloriously grumpy Dexter himself. So, prepare to be charmed by scientific shenanigans and reminded that even the most brilliant minds need a little help from their (annoying) family sometimes.

3. “Samurai Jack” (2001 – 2017)

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“Samurai Jack” is an episodic action show and the second cartoon on our list from animation great Genndy Tartakovsky. Its original run ended in 2004 without a proper ending to Jack’s story; and after a 12-year hiatus the series was revived for its melancholy conclusion.

Remember that feeling of wanting to change the channel but being glued to the screen anyway? That’s the magic of “Samurai Jack,” according to ScreenRant. This show throws a samurai warrior named Jack into a dystopian future ruled by the evil Aku, all because Jack almost defeated him in the past. “Samurai Jack” blends humor, epic storytelling, and plots that bend genres like taffy, making it a turning point for Cartoon Network animation. ScreenRant argues that without “Samurai Jack,” cartoons with mature themes might not be as prevalent today.

Animated Times dives into the show’s mythology, revealing that Jack’s sacred katana boasts an impressive pedigree – forged by gods themselves with the sole purpose of vanquishing Aku. The action is intense, the story sensational, and Jack, well, he’s a samurai you just can’t help but root for.

CBR reminds us that a single villain can sometimes lead to a snoozefest. But “Samurai Jack” takes the classic hero-versus-villain trope and spins it into storytelling gold. Stunning animation complements the action sequences, but the show also isn’t afraid to take a moment for quiet reflection. CBR hails the show’s long-awaited fifth season as the emotional culmination of everything that made “Samurai Jack” special. By stripping things down to the core, the creators delivered what they call the most emotionally rich kids’ show ever – and we wouldn’t argue with them.

4. “Courage The Cowardly Dog” (1999 – 2002)

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A common element amongst all the entries on our list is that these cartoons are more than what they seem at first glance, and often offer deeper meaning and interesting details. Imagine this: a pink, trembling dog named Courage, sent to live with Muriel and Eustace, two sweet but eccentric elderly folks. Sounds wholesome, right? Wrong. Buckle up for “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” a show that blends horror and humor like nobody’s business, according to Bored Panda. This one-of-a-kind series throws Courage into a whirlwind of bizarre, nightmarish adventures. From outer space mishaps to encounters with monsters lurking in the shadows, there’s never a dull moment for this courageous (or maybe just terrified) canine. Bored Panda praises the show’s surreal humor, eerie atmosphere, and endlessly original plots, making “Courage the Cowardly Dog” a must-watch for anyone who appreciates a good scare (with a side of laughs).

Get ready for a cartoon that might leave you checking under the bed – CBR describes “Courage the Cowardly Dog” as a fever dream come to life. The basic premise is simple: Courage, Muriel, and Eustace live a seemingly ordinary life on a farm in Nowhere. But ordinary takes a backseat when unsettling events become the new normal. Giant feet leading criminal organizations? Disturbed barbers with a gleam in their eyes? Just another Tuesday for Courage, who must overcome his fear to protect his beloved family.

Let’s talk chills! Looper points out that “Courage the Cowardly Dog” never felt like a typical kids’ cartoon, even though it had a loyal young audience. Many adults credit the show for being their gateway into the horror genre, leaving them appropriately scared but strangely captivated. With animation that could veer into the unsettling and plots that wouldn’t be out of place in a nightmare, “Courage the Cowardly Dog” is a cartoon that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

5. “Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends” (2004 – 2009)

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Many of our sources praise this show for its wild originality. One37pm declares “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” the holy grail of Cartoon Network cartoons. This show takes viewers inside a whimsical mansion that serves as a sanctuary for imaginary friends – those cherished companions dreamed up by children. From Bloo, the sassy blue fellow, to Wilt, the gentle giant, each imaginary friend is unique and full of personality. Madame Foster, the kindhearted soul who runs the home, keeps things running smoothly with the help of her staff, including Mr. Herriman, a rabbit with a talent for organization, and Frankie, a human who keeps the chaos (somewhat) under control. One37pm isn’t wrong – “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” is a delightful celebration of imagination and the power of friendship.

TV Overmind dives into the story, introducing us to Mac, an eight-year-old whose imaginary friend, Bloo, is as real as any classmate. When Mac’s mom lays down the law (imaginary friends or not!), Mac and Bloo stumble upon Foster’s Home, a haven for imaginary friends who might otherwise be forgotten or abandoned. The show follows Bloo’s hilarious misadventures as he interacts with the other residents of this magical house. From the ever-optimistic Coco to the unpredictable Eduardo, there’s never a dull moment at Foster’s Home.

Bored Panda sheds some light on the show’s origins. Creator Craig McCracken was inspired by adopting two dogs from a shelter, and that sentiment of offering a safe space carries over to the show. Instead of dogs, though, we get a whole house full of fantastical creatures! Bored Panda also spotlights the show’s central duo: Mac, the loyal kid, and Bloo, his imaginary friend who faces eviction (from Mac’s life, that is). Undeterred, Mac whisks Bloo away to Foster’s Home, where they embark on new adventures and forge lasting friendships with the other residents. So, if you’re looking for a show that celebrates imagination, loyalty, and the importance of found families, then “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” is a must-watch.


Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.

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