When it comes to cartoons it is hard to argue that the 90s was the decade for animated creations. It was during this time that cartons became popular with not only children but also adults. Many cartoons became part of pop culture, with shows such as The Simpsons, Beavis and Butt-Head, South Park, and King of the Hill giving us some of the best 90s cartoon characters of all time.
Along with music, movies, and fashion, these TV shows quickly became part of the cultural movement. Many of the shows that made it big in the 90s are still loved today. Lots of these shows are still available on streaming services and cable networks. Along with the extraordinary animation and funny dialogue, it’s the characters that make these shows so amazing. The Simpsons introduced us to Homer Simpson. Rugrats gave us Tommy Pickles. Then there is SpongeBob SquarePants. That’s a whole other level of crazy and popular 90s cartoon characters. At the end of the day, these cartoon characters have had a huge impact on animated shows and helped make these shows popular.
With so many shows and characters about, we thought we would take a closer look at the 22 best 90s cartoon characters. These are all household names who helped make the Gold Age of cartoons great.
1. Homer Simpson
A loveable idiot, Homer Simpson is the ultimate everyman. The head of the Simpson family, Homer is a cultural icon. A deeply flawed character, he continues to learn and grow with each season of The Simpsons. Even after 33 seasons on the air, he is still growing. While originally appearing in The Tracey Ullman Show’s short Good Night, it was during the 90s when Homer and his family became part of American life.
Working at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant as a safety inspector, Homer is your stereotypical male. He likes to drink beer, eat junk food, and watch TV. Despite all his drawback (he is also lazy, ignorant, selfish, stubborn, and opinionated among other things), deep down he is a good man who tries to do right by his family, often with hilarious results.
Homer Simpson is also the reason for the catchphrase ‘D’oh,’ and for that alone, he deserves a spot on this list.
2. Arnold Shortman
Arnold Shortman is a 9-year-old dreamer with a heart of gold. Left in the hands of his grandparents after his parents left him, the loveable Shortman navigates life as a young child in his local town of Hillwood. Each episode of Hey Arnold! usually revolves around Shortman helping someone in his neighborhood. He’s a bit of a problem solver. Running for five seasons, the series was a big hit during its eight-year run, consisting of 100 episodes and a full-length movie.
Dexter is a young genius who has somehow managed to create a secret laboratory behind a bookcase in his bedroom. Here he conducts all sorts of experiments that often go wrong. Joined by his sister Dee Dee (often the reasons for his experiments failing), he is often at odds with his rival Susan, another boy-genius who is Dexter’s nemesis.
Possessed with a strange accent and sporting orange hair, glasses, and a lab coat, Dexter is easily recognizable. He is an original creation, and like many 90s cartoon characters, stars in a show that is aimed at both children and adults. Dexter’s Laboratory has something for everyone.
4. The Powerpuff Girls
How do you pick a favorite? Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup are three young children with superpowers who fight crime. The Powerpuff Girls was another huge hit for the Cartoon Network in the 90s. Along with dealing with supervillains, the kindergarten kids are forced to deal with everyday life, such as bad hygiene and lost teeth. Each of the girls is extremely likable and possesses a raft of superpowers, such as flight, x-ray vision, superhuman strength, and many more.
Made during an experiment using ‘sugar, spice, and everything nice,’ Blossom (everything nice) is the self-assured leader, Bubbles (sugar) the softest and sweetest, and Buttercup (spice) an outdoorsy Tomboy. The Powerpuff Girls ran for six seasons and is recognized for its Japanese-style animation, empowering female leads, and use of adult humor.
5. Beavis and Butt-Head
These two knuckleheads defined the MTV generation. The dim-witted Beavis and Butt-Head are two high school slackers whose life revolves around rock music, sex, and junk food. Despite having few redeeming qualities, the duo quickly became heroes to the disenfranchised youth of the 90s. Neither is really that likable, but somehow they connected with audiences and went on to appear in eight seasons and a feature film.
Depending on your view, Beavis and Butt-Head are two of the worst characters ever created or a witty satire on 90s pop culture and society at that time. Whatever your thoughts, there is no doubting these two chortling buffoons had a massive impact on American culture.
6. Ickis, Oblina, and Krumm
If there is one thing you can’t complain about with 90s cartoon characters, it’s originality. Take for instance Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. This 25-minute episode cartoon is about three young monsters–Ickis, Oblina, and Krumm–who are learning how to scare humans. What a ridiculous premise for a TV series, but it works. The show is incredibly funny and all three of the monsters are outrageously entertaining. Each has a different personality that shines through in the show and makes for great viewing.
7. Tommy Pickles
The main character of the classic 90s series Rugrats, Tommy Pickles is a one-year-old troublemaking baby. Possessed with a vest for life and a need to explore, Tommy gets up to all sorts of mischief with his infant friends. Dressed in a nappy and blue t-shirt, Tommy is an adventure baby who converses with his baby friends when adults aren’t present and often finds himself in all sorts of trouble that he manages to survive thanks to his quick wit and intelligence.
While Rugrats focuses on a baby Tommy, the spin-off series All Grown Up! finds Tommy, now 11, attending middle school and attempting to navigate his early teenage years.
8. Johnny Bravo
A Cartoon Network favorite, Johnny Bravo is a super weird cartoon about the titular character. Bravo is meant to be a cross between Elvis Pressley and James Dean. He’s a smooth-talking lothario who still lives at home. The basic premises of Johnny Bravo centers on the heartthrob trying to get women to date him, often resulting in bodily harm to the self-proclaimed stud. The show also features lots of famous guest stars and pop culture nods.
Johnny Bravo is chock full of adult humor too, yet despite many of the jokes going above the young audience, the show still managed to be a massive success with the kids.
9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
It’s hard to single out just one of these ass-kicking turtles, so we have included all four. Named after the Italian Renaissance artists Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are crime fighters who live in the sewers of New York City. Trained by their Sensai Splinter, the foursome does their best to keep the streets of NY safe, often battling their arch-nemesis Shredder.
Each turtle has their own personality and wears a different color bandana to help identify them. There have been many iterations of the Turtles over the years, but it is hard to go past the original series that ran from 1987-1996. Along with the cartoon, the Turtles feature in comic books, video games, and several live-action movies.
10. Daria Morgendorffer
Another creation from the warped mind of Mike Judge, Daria Morgendorffer first appeared in Beavis and Butt-Head. The success of her character led to her own spin-off, with Daria finding the 90s cartoon character struggling to fit in at a new school. A brilliant yet sarcastic student, Daria is easily identifiable to many growing up in the MTV generation.
Although characterized by her cynical view of life and nerdy appearance, Daria is not as much of an outcast as she might seem. The majority of the show’s five seasons focus on her interactions with her parents and sister, along with her best friend Jane and her boyfriend Tom, with the three forming a love triangle that caused much drama during the final few seasons.
11. Captain Planet
No 90s cartoon character on this list has a better theme song than Captain Planet. A blue-skinned alien with a stylish green mullet, Captain Planet contains the combined powers of the five Planeteers, eco-warriors fighting the good fight. He is usually summoned when the Planeteers are struggling to overcome their enemies and need the assistance of the superbeing.
While the series itself, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, is a fun cartoon that made lots of money through merchandising, the message behind it is strong. Captain Planet was advocating for climate change before climate change was a thing. He remains an icon of the 90s and one of the few characters who really tried to make a difference.
12. SpongeBob SquarePants
Here is another ridiculous creation that somehow caught kids’ attention during the 90s. As his name suggests, SpongeBob SquarePants is a sponge that lives at the bottom of the ocean in the city of Bikini Bottom, Here, along with his good friend Patrick Star, he gets himself into all sorts of trouble as he interacts with his neighbors. While not that smart, SpongeBob has an infectious optimism about him and a joyous personality.
Unlike many of the shows on this list stuffed with adult and ironic jokes, SpongeBob SquarePants gets its laughs from the comical adventures of SpongeBob and the character’s naive yet charming demeanor. The long-running joke of SpongeBob wanting his boat license but never passing the test also adds to his legend
A personal favorite, Rocko is an anthropomorphic Australian wallaby who is the lead character in the hilarious Rocko’s Modern Life. The animated series is like the step-brother of The Ren & Stimpy Show. It is much more adult orientated than many 90s cartoons. The jokes are often aimed at adults, despite the show being for kids, with the show having numerous censorship moments during its four-season run.
Rocko surrounds himself with other anthropomorphic animals, such as his best friend Heffer Wolfe (an obese steer) and his other mate Filburt the turtle. Each episode is based on the real-life experiences of the writers and often finds Rocko and his friends in all manner of weird and wacky situations.
Here is another collection of characters we are putting together at the same spot on this list. The X-Men is a group of mutants who fight the good fight as they try and adjust to living in a world where they are shunned by regular folks. Based on the hit comic books series, there have been multiple iterations of the X-Men in animated form, although it’s hard to go past the 90s adaptations.
The show takes some of the biggest storylines from the comics (The Pheonix Saga, Rise of Apocolypse) and gives them a fresh edge. All the main players feature, with the initial line-up of the team including Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Rogue, Gambit, and Jubilee. This five-season take on the X-Men is much better than the films and the best non-comic adaptation of the property. The theme song is also memorable.
15. Hank Hill
The lead character of Mike Judge’s middle America suburban comedy is a hard-working Texan who loves a beer. Hank Hill is an All-American, a regular dad who loves his country and his family and enjoys drinking beers with his neighbors in the alley behind his backyard. He sells propane for a living, drives a red pick-up, and is emotionally stunned. This is where much of the humor in King of the Hill comes from, as Hank tries to express his feelings to his family.
As a conservative male torn between the beliefs he grew up with and the ever-changing world, Hank has never been more relevant. He reflects many middle-aged men in society today and for that reason alone deserve a spot on this list.
16. Ren Höek and Stimpson J. ‘Stimpy’ Cat
The Ren and Stimpy Show is a wild watch. It’s a surreal nightmare about an aggressive chihuahua, Ren Höek, and his feline friend Stimpson J. ‘Stimpy’ Cat. No episode of the show is the same as the two embark on crazy adventures that include going into space and living in the Wild West.
Both characters are deserving of a mention on this list. Ren and Stimpy often find themselves at odds as they encounter a wide range of characters and situations. This show is violent, funny, non-sensical, but above all entertaining, with both Ren and Stimpy two of the most memorable 90s cartoon characters of all time.
17. Douglas Yancey
The main character of the animated comedy Doug is a teenager who has just started at a new school. Dealing with the trials and tribulations of high school life, Douglas Yancey does his best to try and fit in while remaining true to himself. Each episode of the series is like a journal entry. Douglas’ narration adds to the authenticity of his story. A creative with a love for writing, drawing, and music, Doug is also shy and struggling to make the best decision as a young boy in a new town.
The series has many themes that relate to real life, as Doug deals with self-esteem issues, bullying, falling in love, and many other things young kids are subjected to.
The Adventures of Tintin is one of the most popular comics in Europe. It should come as no surprise it was turned into an animated series. The show revolves around Tintin, a Belgium reporter who always seems to get himself mixed up in crazy adventures. Instantly recognizable thanks to his spikey orange quiff and his ever-present dog Snowy, Tintin travels the globe breaking stories. Eventually, he gives up that career to become a full-time explorer. A young man of high morals who is brave and chivalrous, Tintin is one of the few virtuous 90s cartoon characters. He manages to remain a decent human being no matter the circumstances.
The Adventures of Tintin TV series ran for three seasons and adapted the famous graphic novels for the small screen. A number of changes were made though, with the violence toned down and his good friend Captain Haddock’s love of a stiff drink put on the back burner.
19. Eric Cartman
A loud-mouthed teen who cares only for himself, Eric Cartman is the standout of the four main protagonists in South Park. The long-running animation (it is currently up to season 25) focuses on four elementary students in the fictional town of South Park. Cartman is an overweight, arrogant, conniving child devoid of morals with an aggressive personality. Prone to outbursts of anger, he has been described by creator Matt Parker as that “annoying fat kid” everyone remembers from their youth.
Usually dressed in a red shirt with brown trousers and a blue beanie, Cartman is a horrible person who has had a big impact on pop culture. Cartman is known for his classic catchphrases (“Respect my authoritah!” and “Screw you guys… I’m going home!”) and his argumentative personality. Through the character, Parker and fellow creator Matt Stone have the ability to discuss everyday issues. They use Cartman’s words and actions to get their points across.
20. Scrooge McDuck
Just scraping into the 90s, Scrooge McDuck is one of the main characters in Disney’s DuckTales. The rich Scottish aristocrat is left to look after his three nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie Duck. At first, he finds them tiresome and disruptive to his quest for more wealth. But as he begins to spend more time with them, he starts to enjoy himself. He eventually starts taking the trio on adventures with him.
Together the four confront various villains who are trying to steal Scrooge McDuck’s fortune while also attempting to find more treasures. The show features lots of pop culture references and plenty of laughs for both children and adults.
21. Ash Ketchum
Ash Ketchum is the hero of Pokemon who has “Gotta catch ém all!” A teenager with a dream to be a Pokemon Master, Ketchum features in all the major Pokemon properties. While some might point to Pikachu as being more popular, Ash is the real star of the TV series. He travels all across the globe learning new skills on his quest to become a Pokemon Master. He is seen by many as a great role model for children, as he continues to give it his all and puts a focus on being the best he can be.
There have been many different versions of the series since it first debut in 1997. The latest is Pokemon Journeys: The Series, focusing on a young Ash and his initial relationship with Pikachu.
There have been countless Batman animated series since the character first came to prominence. None matter as much as Batman: The Animated Series. Influenced by Tim Burton’s Batman films, the series has a much darker tone. It is widely praised as the best Batman cartoon of all time.
Unlike most other Batman properties where Bruce Wayne is portrayed as an idiotic playboy, in this series he is a smart businessman who is an integral part of Wayne Industries. This adds an element of seriousness to the character gives us a different version of the character. The two seasons find Batman up against the usual Rogue Gallery of villains. Batman: The Animated Series also helped open up the DC universe to more cartoon adaptations.