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The Best Cartoon Characters From the ’90s, Ranked

They range from side-splittingly funny to all-out awesome.

Batman standing atop a building in the opening sequence for Batman: The Animated Series.

Oh, the ’90s: the age of grunge, homemade AOL websites, goth haute couture…and cartoon shows that only appeared on your TV at certain times of day, instead of streaming on Roku whenever you felt like watching them. The ’90s had a lot of great animated shows, and here are ten of the very best characters that appeared on them.

Like a lot of other media from the ’90s (and, who are we kidding, a lot of media today), cartoons often relied pretty heavily on fatphobia, racism, and sexism for gags, but despite that, there were a lot of characters who were funny, relatable, and memorable. For the purposes of this list, we’re including American TV cartoons that aired for at least a couple of years during the 1990s. If we tried to include movies or international cartoons, this list would spiral off into infinity, and we’d be old and grey before we ever finished it.

Here are the best ’90s cartoon characters, ranked!

10. Earthworm Jim from Earthworm Jim

Earthworm Jim in the Earthworm Jim '90s cartoon.
(Warner Bros.)

Earthworm Jim, based on the video game of the same name, aired for two seasons on The WB in 1995 and 1996. Jim is a giant earthworm who wears a robotic suit with arms and legs, but his real superpower was his delightfully ridiculous sense of humor. In one episode, he sets up a decoy of himself to fool the villain of the day, and then throws his voice to make it sound like the decoy is talking. What made me spit out my Mountain Dew when I first watched it, though, was that Jim says, “It’s me, Earthworm Jim!” in a goofy falsetto that sounds nothing like him—when it’s supposed to be his own voice! I’m laughing as I type this.

Good ol’ Jim. He was voiced by Dan Castellaneta, by the way—the same guy who voices Homer Simpson. Apparently, there’s a new animated series on the way, but nothing will replace the original in my heart.

9. Dee Dee from Dexter’s Lab

Sure, Dexter is the titular character, but in terms of absolute destructive power, you have to go with Dee Dee. Like all too many cartoons, Dexter’s Laboratory really leaned into the ditzy girl stereotype with Dee Dee, wanting so badly to make us believe that she was an empty-headed foil to Dexter’s genius. But you know what? I think there was a pretty strong internal logic at work with Dee Dee. She knew exactly how to bait Dexter and push his buttons. That girl knew what she was doing all along. Absolute criminal mastermind.

8. Sailor Mars (Rei/Raven Hino) from Sailor Moon

Okay, I’m breaking the international rule a tiny bit by including one anime character, but Sailor Moon sort of counts, since the first two seasons of the show did make it over to the States. Granted, the version that aired on this side of the Pacific was a mutilated specter of its former self, with all the weirdest, queerest, and best parts chopped out and discarded to appease the puritanical hellscape that is mainstream American culture, but some of the magic still made it through.

I’d never before seen a “kids’ show” in which the main characters received messages from their reincarnated selves thousands of years in the future. Even though each episode focused on a localized battle with a minor villain, the vast, cosmic scope of the series overall was thrilling.

Since most American kids in the ’90s weren’t treated to the world-destroying Sailor Saturn, who was truly the best character in all of Sailor Moon, I’m going to go with Sailor Mars. A priestess at a Shinto shrine, a master of the element of fire, and the owner of the sharpest tongue in all of Tokyo? That’s some world-building right there. You either crushed on Rei, wanted to be her, or both.

7. Stimpy from Ren and Stimpy

Ren and Stimpy in Ren and Stimpy.
(Nickelodeon)

Ren and Stimpy was one of those shows that you were never 100% positive you were actually allowed to watch. It was so gross, so incredibly inappropriate, that you always wondered if there had been some mix-up in the cable networks somewhere and a contraband TV show had somehow found its way onto Nickelodeon.

Ren could be a pretty great character, but so many of his gags relied on hurtful jokes like his racist accent that he doesn’t quite make the cut. Although Stimpy’s character leaned on some tired stereotypes of his own, he drew more of his humor from gross-outs involving kitty litter and copious amounts of boogers. Remember Stimpy’s collection of magic nose goblins? Of course you do, because they’re impossible to scrub out of your brain. You’ll still be thinking about them decades from now, on your death bed.

6. Rocko From Rocko’s Modern Life

There’s this old Yiddish joke about the difference between a schmuck and a schlamiel: a schmuck is the guy who spills soup all over someone, and a schlamiel is the one who gets it spilled on him. Rocko came to this earth to remind us that we are all, deep down, both at the same time. Poor Rocko is just trying to live a quiet suburban life with his quirky friends and coworkers, but it seems that every day is a mile-long parade of fights and calamities. Rocko tries to cook some burgers, and a fly sues him for trying to swat him away. Rocko sits in his boss’s chair for five minutes and becomes drunk on power. Rocko tries to find a new job and ends up working a phone sex line. This was a show for children!

5. Demona from Gargoyles

Demona, a gargoyle wearing a crown and a gold arm band, looks down and smiles.
(Disney)

Demona was one of the best villains on children’s TV in the ’90s, and it’s because she exemplified what can make a villain so good. Her origin story was completely relatable: sick of being mistreated and mistrusted by the humans who live around her, she decides to throw her lot in with Viking raiders, but her plan blows up in her face and leads to the spell that puts her lover and the rest of her clan into a thousand-year sleep. When everyone wakes up in modern-day New York City, Demona has had a millennium to stew. Her character design was great (those wings!), and she was voiced by Marina Sirtis, who played Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

4. Storm from X-Men

Growing up, I didn’t know a single geek girl who didn’t want to be Storm. Of all the X-Men, she was the most powerful, the most beautiful, the most eloquent, and the writer of the best battle cries. I can still picture her floating 50 feet in the air, her arms raised, hair whipping around, shouting, “I summon the cold of the Arctic winds!” while icy blasts shoot from her hands. Storm is the superhero you get when you slam your self-doubt into the garbage can and go full throttle on totally awesome.

By the way, Storm and the rest of the X-Men are coming back in X-Men ’97!

3. Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls

It can be a little challenging to separate out the Powerpuff Girls since they work as a team, but of the three of them, Bubbles is by far the most fun. Voiced by the legendary Tara Strong, who more recently played Miss Minutes in Loki, Bubbles hits every spot on the emotional spectrum: silly, joyful, sweet, cute, and absolutely terrifying. Who can forget “Bubblevicious,” the episode in which the Professor, Blossom, and Buttercup are so condescending and overprotective of Bubbles that it drives her over the edge? Determined to prove how hardcore she actually is, Bubbles lays waste to Townsville and terrorizes the population. She’s my hero.

2. Homer Simpson from The Simpsons

Homer Simpson has always been known as a caricature of the buffoonish husband, but that trope (which the show has always leaned pretty hard into, unfortunately) has never been what made Homer so funny in the ’90s. Voiced by Dan Castellaneta, Homer is at his best when his personality gets intergalactically weird. To prove my point, watch the video above for the famous sugar pile speech, in which Homer plans out his entire life, public persona, and station in society based on a pile of sugar he shoveled out of a wrecked truck.

1. Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series

Harley Quinn was initially written as a bit part for one episode of Batman in 1992. The writer, Paul Dini, thought giving the Joker a female henchperson might bring out some of his funnier character traits. But as her character came together into a charismatic, wisecracking Jewish clown with a Yiddish accent, Harley quickly outgrew her initial role and blossomed into a beloved character in her own right. Her gags and sparkling personality, the tension of her on-again off-again relationship with the Joker, and her later romance with Poison Ivy, made her the best cartoon character of the ’90s. If you need any more evidence that she was the best, just look at how, 30 years after her first appearance, Harley is still going strong in multiple DC properties, despite that she didn’t get her start in comics.

Who’s your favorite cartoon character from the ’90s? Is there anyone you think should have been on this list? Sound off in the comments!

(featured image: Warner Brothers)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) lives in Los Angeles, where she reads tarot and watches Marvel movies. You can check out more of her writing at linktr.ee/juliaglassman, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.