Animation has come a long way since its inception in the early 20th century. Decreasing production costs and new technology have allowed animation studios to imagine more vivid worlds than could be dreamed of in the realm of live-action. In particular, the 2000s television landscape included some of the best animated content ever created, and Gen Z is an incredibly lucky generation for having grown up with these series.
Even though huge parts of the audience for these television shows are children, all of them defy the unfortunately popular cultural assumption that animation is “for kids.” It is thanks to the work of these creators and animators abroad that studios like Netflix and Marvel are now investing in animated content for all age ranges. Here are the top ten animated TV shows of the 2000s.
Updated on September 21st, 2023, by Gargi Chatterjee: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.
A cryogenically frozen man wakes up in the 31st century and tries to find a new life. The premise of this science-fiction comedy TV show and simple animation style lends itself to some gut-busting laughs. Created by Matt Groening, Futurama shares a sense of humor with the creator’s other notable television work, The Simpsons.
The series often includes jokes sometimes considered esoteric, like humor for nerds, mathematicians, scientists, and pop culture enthusiasts. Many episodes are also satirical takes on movies, like the notable episode titled “Godfellas”. The series has been syndicated, canceled, and rebooted across different networks in the last decade, and now exists as reruns on its old home, Adult Swim.
14 Ed, Edd, n Eddy
The famous 2000s show Ed, Edd n Eddy revolves around three friends named Ed, Edd, and Eddy, known as The Eds, who live in a fictional town named Peach Creek. They have a few friends in their neighborhood who also make regular appearances on the show.
They also have a rivalry with three girls known as the Kanker sisters, Mary, Lee, and May. Their various plans to con other people out of money often fail and leave them in really painful, but hilarious situations. The show started back in 1999 and concluded with a movie named Ed, Edd, n Eddy’s Big Picture Show, which came out in 2009.
13 Codename: Kids Next Door
Every story that has brought the idea of child spies to life has been on to something, and Codename: Kids Next Door is perhaps the best at capturing that thrilling reality. The show follows five kids named Number 1, Number 2, Number 3, and so on.
They make up part of a global network of kids engaged in espionage, fighting adults and children alike who push for evil concepts like homework and flossing. To a child, the show is every bit as imaginative as young minds can be in the effort of bringing drama and romance to your own life. To older viewers, it’s a stylish and bold adventure with heart and wit at its back.
12 Teen Titans
Like most other entries on this list, Teen Titans became iconic upon its release. The show follows a group of young superheroes of the same name, which are all characters taken from DC material. Though it was intended for a younger audience, the show resonated with a wide variety of viewers and later seasons focused on darker and more complex storylines.
The vibrant setting and exciting stories ripe with intrigue and character development made Teen Titans stand out among its peers. The team of superheroes has been re-imagined in other DC material, most notably in several DC animated movies. Titans, a live-action adaptation of the team’s comic book origins, has been renewed for a fourth season.
11 Kim Possible
One of the most famous animated shows of the 2000s was Kim Possible which premiered in 2002. This show centered around a teenage girl named Kim Possible and her adventures as a crime fighter, while also focusing on her struggles as an adolescent girl in everyday situations.
The main villains that Kim had to fight in the show were Dr. Drakken and his far more powerful and intelligent sidekick Shego. The series also had a crossover with Lilo and Stitch the Series and finally ended in 2007. The show is still extremely popular as one of the few shows with a badass female protagonist who can juggle two parts of her life spectacularly.
10 Samurai Jack
From the mind of Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of Dexter’s Laboratory), Samurai Jack follows the mythical adventures of the titular samurai in his quest against the demon Aku, with a storyline that takes place across multiple settings and eras in history.
The animation was visually distinct for its time, and many consider it some of the best visual arrangements of any animated show. The series has been critically acclaimed and won numerous awards including an Emmy. During its run in the 2000s, the story spanned four seasons which did not conclude the story, and a fifth season was released in 2017.
9 Ben 10
An alien watch strapped to one’s wrist that transforms the wearer into different alien creatures with different powers? Ben 10’s premise struck gold, and the show stuck in the minds of its viewers through many sequel series’ and reboots.
The franchise now spans six animated series and five films, with more content planned for the future. The original series, grounded in the struggle of Ben’s family and enigmatic uncle as they race to stop different alien threats, resonated with kids and older audiences alike.
8 The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy
The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy centers around an unintelligent and happy-go-lucky boy named Billy and a girl named Mandy who is pessimistic, cynical, and remorseless. One day, Mandy wins a game of limbo against a Grim Reaper named Grim to save Billy’s pet hamster and gains Grim as their friend.
Even though the reaper is not too happy to be serving two children, they slowly become true friends through various otherworldly adventures. The show is really fun to watch as there are a lot of supernatural events, locations, and creatures that appear in it. The show ran from 2001 to 2006 and was one of the most popular shows on Cartoon Network during that time.
7 What’s New Scooby Doo
This iteration of the Scooby Doo franchise was the modern update to the original series made in the 1970’s. It follows the adventures of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby, members of the mystery-investigating gang known as Mystery Inc.
The series does not have an overarching narrative, instead focusing on mystery-of-the-week style episodes. The camaraderie of the gang, all of whom ooze wit and comedic zeal, bring these already intriguing mysteries to life for viewers of all ages.
6 The Boondocks
The Boondocks remains one of the most controversial cartoon television shows for its boldness in approaching divisive subject matter. It follows the Freemans, a black family who move to a largely white suburb and navigate life in America with good humor and drama.
The show frequently discusses and offers opinions on controversial topics that, as a result, divide viewers with different opinions. It’s unflinchingly honest about the severity and place of those issues and manages to weave many entertaining narratives about them.
5 Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends
Set in a world where humans and their imaginary friends coexist together, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends is one of the most unique shows to have aired in the 2000s. It began with a made-for-TV film in 2004 and the series also began in the same year. The story follows a little boy named Mac, who is being forced by his mother to abandon his imaginary friend Bloo. Instead, they find Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends where Bloo can live.
Every day, Mac has to come to the home at exactly 3 p.m. to meet Bloo to stop him from getting adopted by anyone else. Together, with all the other imaginary friends living there, the pair gets up to all kinds of shenanigans. One of the fan-favorite shows of the era, it ended in 2009. It truly is one of the most enjoyable and bizarre shows that aired on Cartoon Network.
4 Phineas and Ferb
Summers between school semesters are when imaginations are at their most active and in need of stimulation, which is exactly what Phineas and Ferb capitalize on. The titular characters are step-siblings, living in a suburban home, and spend their summer vacation days building ridiculously advanced marvels of engineering to create their fun. Oh, and their pet platypus is a secret agent.
Adding to such a fun premise is the musical talents of the band Bowling for Soup who wrote the show’s intro sequence and some of the other music. Phineas and Ferb is a perfect characterization of what makes summers so fun, and the good-natured, off-beat sense of humor gave this show a huge following for the duration of its run. The series has also expanded into other media. Most recently, a film titled Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against The Universe was released on Disney+ in August of 2020.
3 Courage the Cowardly Dog
One of the most surreal horror animated shows to ever have aired has to be Courage the Cowardly Dog. It centers around a dog named Courage and his owners, an elderly couple who live in the middle of nowhere in a fictional town.
The show is known for its frequent horror elements which were disturbing and scary. The supernatural adventures of Courage were popular, however, and a lot of people still watch this show. The show began airing in 1999 and finished in 2002. However, it remains one of the most iconic horror comedy cartoons of all time.
2 Spongebob Squarepants
Hailed as the greatest American cartoon, Spongebob Squarepants deserves every bit of praise it gets. It’s the only show that captures the attention of the entire internet at all times – it’s still almost impossible to scroll through a feed without encountering a few Spongebob memes.
This absurdist television show takes place underwater, following the adventures of a humanized sea sponge, starfish, and squid, among other characters. The show balances narrative beats without any sound logic to them with other narrative beats that still have some rules and sense. The nonsensical and random comedy resonated so much with Gen Z audiences that many consider it to be a foundational TV show for their generation.
1 Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar: The Last Airbender borrows purposefully from several different world cultures to create a unique vision of a fantasy world. People in this universe can “bend” the elements of fire, water, earth, and air, which involves moving and manipulating their essential characteristics using physical movements. The main character, Aang, can wield all four elements and journeys with his best friends to bring peace to a world ravaged by imperialism and war.
The complex subject matter is presented through the levity of childhood idealism but contains plenty of drama and gravity to balance. These characters radiate warmth and humor as they navigate their way through life, and their journey offers valuable wisdom for viewers of all ages. The upcoming live-action adaptation of the show recently announced the main cast.