Everyone knows that ’90s kids had the best childhoods — it’s not even a real competition. As we trundle through the 2000s, the quality of daytime television has plummeted. Honestly, modern-day cartoons are merely a shell of their former selves, especially on the likes of Cartoon Network and Disney Channel, who have historically produced some of the most memorable Saturday morning cartoons of all time.
Admittedly, some cartoons are better than others. There have been some massive hits and some clear misses, but overall, the ’90s truly delivered. Even more so, within those cartoons, there have been some unforgettable faces. Any self-respecting cartoon series would be nothing without its array of original characters and actors supplying their iconic vocals.
Here’s our ranking of the best cartoon characters spanning from 1991 to 1999, some of whom you might be expecting and others of whom may surprise you. Either way, one thing is certain: they’ll all make you nostalgic for the best decade in cartoon character history.
10. Dexter (Dexter’s Laboratory)
Ah, Dexter’s Laboratory. Before the geniuses from The Big Bang Theory graced our screens, we had Dexter, a boy-genius and self-proclaimed inventor extraordinaire with a hidden laboratory in his bedroom. Dexter and his older sister, Dee-Dee, are always feuding. Somehow, Dee-Dee always manages to sneak into Dexter’s lab and foil his experiments.
Just like the internet finding out that Timmy Turner was voiced by none other than Tara Strong, many people are unaware that Dexter was also voiced by a female. Christine Cavanaugh provided the personality behind Dexter, who audiences knew from her role as Chuckie in Rugrats (we’ll get to that one soon).
Dexter is extremely intellectual and gifted, but often makes careless choices and becomes easily enraged, especially by Dee-Dee’s antics. However, we fell in love with him for the bizarre combination of his brilliance and buffoonery.
9. Johnny Bravo (Johnny Bravo)
For many, Johnny Bravo paved the way for adult humor in children’s television, a technique still used by successful studios like Disney to target all demographics; the term “family-friendly” takes itself very literally. Johnny Bravo follows Johnny, a narcissist and self-proclaimed womanizer with a killer Elvis Presley complex. Episodes typically revolve around Johnny looking to seduce women, hence the opportunity for adult-themed jokes.
Johnny Bravo is voiced by Jeff Bennett, who also provides the voices for Dexter’s Dad in Dexter’s Laboratory, Petrie in The Land Before Time films, and The Man With the Yellow Hat in Curious George. Although boorish and overpowering in nature, Johnny Bravo captured the hearts of ’90s kids everywhere for his absurdity and reliable pop culture references.
8. T.J. Detweiler (Recess)
Quite frankly, no valid excuse comes to mind for skipping out on Recess, especially with its outlandish cast of adolescent characters. The show focuses on six elementary school students and their daily shenanigans as they interact with other students and faculty.
During recess, the period between scheduled classes when students get to go outside and play in the schoolyard, the students form something of a society amongst themselves against the backdrop of a regular school environment. Theodore Jasper “T.J.” Detweiler portrays himself as a mischief-making rogue and natural-born leader. T.J. was originally voiced by Ross Malinger but was later replaced by Andrew Lawrence after the initial season. Lawrence also starred in Brotherly Love ⏤ one of the greatest Disney Channel shows of all time ⏤ alongside his real-life brothers, Matt and Joey Lawrence.
For his fun-loving attitude, wicked sense of humor, and commitment to all things fair and just, T.J. became a fan-favorite ever since the very first episode. Supposedly, many viewers could relate to his recklessness and creativity at such an impressionable age.
7. Scrooge McDuck (DuckTales)
After the Donald Duck family heritage started to expand, Disney took a deep dive into Donald’s history, including some colorful characters from his ancestry. DuckTales follows Scrooge McDuck, a greedy billionaire and businessman always on the hunt for treasure. Donald Duck is Scrooge’s nephew and Huey, Dewey and Louie ⏤ the other main protagonists ⏤ are his grandnephews.
The events of DuckTales revolve around Scrooge, aided by Huey, Dewey and Louie as they seek out riches or thwart the villains who attempt to steal Scrooge’s fortune. The original series ran from 1987 to 1990 (only just qualifying for this list) with Alan Young providing the voice for Scrooge, a gig that lasted over 30 years. In 2017, a remake was made that stars David Tennant as Scrooge McDuck.
Originally intended to be used only once, Scrooge became one of the most popular characters in Disney comics. He is prideful, greedy and an avaricious tightwad, which only makes him all the more entertaining. He’ll also be forever iconic for diving into his vault of gold coins and swimming around in it, something all ’90s kids totally wanted to do.
6. Bugs Bunny (Looney Tunes)
From 1993 to 2017, Cartoon Network showed a rebooted version of the Looney Tunes series. As many already know, Looney Tunes is one of the most recognizable animated franchises ever made and from its original material, it spawned a whole universe of spin-off shows. It existed primarily during the Golden Age of American animation.
Looney Tunes features Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road Runner, Tweety, Sylvester, Granny and more memorable characters. Episodes are normally comprised of various characters interacting with each other and causing trouble or feuding with one another in humorous ways.
Shortly after Looney Tunes aired, Bugs Bunny became a rising star. Ever since, he has appeared in crossover films like Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Throughout the ’90s, Bugs was voiced by several actors, including Jeff Bergman, Greg Burson, Billy West, and Joe Alaskey. He became famous for his flippant, insouciant personality and has since been widely known as an American icon.
5. Scooby-Doo (A Pup Named Scooby-Doo)
Scooby-Doo first debuted in 1969 and has been remade multiple times between then and present day. Hanna-Barbera reincarnated the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! to produce A Pup Named Scooby-Doo in 1988, which aired until 1991 (another entry that very nearly didn’t make this list).
This series followed the “babyfication” of the older cartoon characters, presumably to appeal to younger audiences. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo featured a whackier, more comical version of Scooby-Doo than previously seen, and ’90s kids didn’t think of it as a babied-down version. If anything, seeing old characters in a new light made the show more accessible and fun.
Scooby-Doo, the lovable mascot for Mystery Incorporated, bonded with young audiences over a mutual love for food and adventure while also expressing his clumsy and dimwitted side. Furthermore, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo is the final television series in the franchise in which Don Messick portrayed Scooby-Doo before his death in 1997.
4. Ash Ketchum (Pokémon)
Perhaps one of the most instantly distinguishable brands of all time, Pokémon reeled in millions of followers when it aired in 1997. In I Choose You!, the initial episode of the first season, Pokémon fans met (then) 10-year-old Ash Ketchum for the first time. Audience also met Pikachu, the official Pokémon mascot and the most universally popular Pokémon ever created.
Veronica Taylor is known for voicing Ash Ketchum throughout its first eight seasons. Besides voicing one of the biggest names in Japanese animation, Taylor has also provided the vocals for Sailor Pluto from Sailor Moon and April O’Neil in the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series.
Ash is extremely determined and courageous when battling and shows a lot of sympathy towards Pokémon, usually helping them and befriending them throughout his long journey. The Pokémon franchise still stands strong even 25 years later, with Ash still maintaining the spotlight as the central protagonist. For his kind, brave, enthusiastic, passionate, and adventurous personality, Ash has gained a reputation among Pokémon fans as a relatable hero character and even a quarter of a century later, audiences are still rooting for him.
3. Arnold Shortman (Hey Arnold!)
Ask anyone to name an underrated ’90s cartoon and without a doubt, they will instantly think about Hey Arnold! and its eight-year run. Originally airing on Nickelodeon, Hey Arnold! centers on a fourth grader named Arnold Shortman who lives with his grandparents in Hillwood, Washington. Typically, episodes center on his experiences navigating urban life while dealing with the problems that he and his friends encounter.
Arnold Shortman was voiced by Toran Caudell, Phillip Van Dyke, Spencer Klein, and Alex D. Linz of Home Alone 3 fame at all different points in time. As a nine-year-old dreamer and an idealist, Arnold is wise beyond his years, and always tries to see the best in people and do the right thing. For that, many viewers find him respectable, relatable, and likable.
Many ’90s kids may have gravitated towards Arnold because everyone wanted to be Arnold. In an ideal world, everyone would be just as kind, supportive, and wise as he was. As for the football head, he can hold onto that.
2. Chuckie Finster (Rugrats)
Talk about a blast from the past. Rugrats premiered on Nickelodeon in 1991 and became instantly popular. The oddball series focuses on a group of toddlers ⏤ most prominently Tommy, Chuckie, Angelica, and twins Phil and Lil — and the goings-on in their day-to-day lives. These happenings are usually life experiences that become much greater adventures in the imaginations of the tiny characters.
Anyone who knows Rugrats knows that Tommy Pickles, an adventurous one-year-old, is the “main” character, but Chuckie Finster made his presence well and truly known within the franchise. Chuckie is pessimistic and easily frightened by the prospect of overwhelming journeys. Despite this, he is loyal and often brave, facing his fears to defend his friends. Moreover, Chuckie is the shoulder many of his friends can cry on, a trait that makes him all the more lovable.
1. Batman (Batman: The Animated Series)
Batman: The Animated Series began in 1992 and can be credited with spawning the several other superhero-themed shows. Conveying the dark tone of the original Batman comic books, unlike its predecessor in the 1960s, The Animated Series tackles more mature themes and delves into the brooding nature of the Caped Crusader.
Not only that, but The Animated Series birthed memorable characters like Harley Quinn, who later became a DC Comics regular and more immediately famous than Batman himself. Taking influence from the Tim Burton feature films, Batman: The Animated Series follows Bruce Wayne as Batman, fighting foes like The Joker, The Riddler, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Two-Face. Batman was voiced by Kevin Conroy, who went on to provide the voice for the Batman Arkham video game series as well as Injustice: Gods Among Us and Injustice 2.
One of the most iconic characters in popular culture, Batman represents all things righteous and saves lives as a regular human by inventing gadgets and training in combat. For the ability to fight crime without the need for superpowers or physical enhancements, Batman has been notably popularized as a believable and realistic interpretation of superheroes. From his creation, many other characters were born, along with other forms of media such as feature films, graphic novels, video games and more.