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Is there anything more validating than bonding with a friend over something obscure? Some of the best friendships began with phrases like “You watch that?!” or “You do that, too?!” Half the reason you love your favorite cousin or sibling so much is that grandma threw the same slipper at both of you; or you remember that time you both snuck into the baptism pool after Week of Prayer; or you both know that same Sisqo track by heart, because Dru Hill was the illest and Unleash the Dragon was so much more than the Thong Song. These are the things that make them your friends. They get you… in here.

Now everyone’s seen Animaniacs and Sailor Moon. Pepper Ann was known to most, and chances are you were saturated with Pokemon whether you liked it or not. Even your not-so-nerdy friends watched Tiny Toons or Tailspin, it just came with the territory of being a socially aware 5th-grader. But what about those lesser-known cartoons? That’s where the real bonding comes in.

If your mom came to wake you up for school only to find you already in front of the TV at 6am, this is for you. If you were yelled at for neglecting nutrition and homework between the hours of 3-5, this is for you. If you unrolled tin foil to attach to your antennae on a Sunday morning, this is a dedication. Come bond with me on this journey.

Macron 1 (1981)
AKA – Not Voltron

Actually older than Voltron, Macron 1 was one of the earlier mech-warrior animes to gain traction in the US. The US version of the show was highly edited from the original Japanese one to have a rather generic, easy-to-understand premise: a band of heroes were fighting an evil organization. But that didn’t matter because the visuals were stunning and we were just kids.

Go-Bots (1984)
AKA – Not Transformers

I HAD NO IDEA THIS WASN’T TRANSFORMERS. I was a child, how could I be expected to discern the two?! Just listen to the show’s description:

“A race of intelligent robots is hiding on Earth, disguising themselves as ordinary cars and motorcycles. There are two factions: the good Go-Bots and the evil Renegades. Each episode features new attempts by the Renegades to seize power from the Go-Bots.” –TV.com

There are bigger differences between McDonald’s and Burger King’s French fries than the premises of Go-Bots and Transformers. It’s all the better I thought they were one and the same – now I tell myself Go-Bots are the movies by Michael Bay.

The Snorks (1984-1989)
AKA – Not Smurfs

The longest-running show on this list, Snorks had only marginal success by being so overshadowed by the Smurfs. While the show seems rather shallow on the surface – smurfs that live underwater – the premise was actually rather complicated:

“In 1643, the captain of a ship under pirate attack discovered a tiny race of beings that lived underwater. After reaching the surface, the rescued captain shared his story of Snorks with a disbelieving world, while underneath the waves an excited Snork by the name of Uncle Galeo was spreading the word about the surface dwellers. Cut to modern day, where the Snorks have evolved much like humans, living in similar houses and eating similar foods.” –TV.com

Snorks rode out in the shadows of television cartoons for 5 long years.

Heathcliff (1984-1986, 1988)
AKA – Not Garfield

A clever street cat that loved getting into fights, Heathcliff would do anything for two things: food, and to impress the love of his life, Sonja. Heathcliff was to Garfield what the Snorks were to the Smurfs – simply too similar to coexist equally, one would have to fall back. That didn’t stop Heathcliff from being a fun show though, with one of the catchiest theme songs you’d ever hear.

Adventures of the Little Koala (1987)
AKA – All of the Feels (Part 1 of 2)

Adventures of Little Koala is a Japanese anime that was dubbed in several different languages and aired across North America, Europe, and the Middle East. The show takes place in a zoo in Australia and follows Roobear, Laura, and all their friends and they learn to play new games and enjoy their utopian village. Few shows cultivated a sense of adventure and the happiness of being a kid like Adventures of Little Koala.

This just took me back to another place, y’all.

The World of David the Gnome (1987)
AKA – All of the Feels (Part 2 of 2)

The World of David the Gnome is a Spanish cartoon that originated in 1985, but came to the US in 1987. The show inspired adventure and a sense of wonder as David revealed a hidden world of tiny gnomes that spoke with birds, rode on foxes, and feared trolls. I remember watching this show with my brother on weekends at our Dad’s house, and the memory is about to leave tears on my keyboard.

Denver, the Last Dinosaur (1988)
AKA – Not The Land Before Time

What kid wouldn’t want an awesome dinosaur? Denver, the Last Dinosaur capitalized on the dinosaur craze propelled by The Land Before Time, and introduced a loveable character who made friends with a group of young California teens. When Denver hatched, he just happened to speak English, love skateboarding, and enjoys jamming out on an ax.

Widget the World Watcher (1990-1991)
AKA – Mr. Bogus Meets Captain Planet

Widget was a shape-shifting alien that came from another planet to protect ours. Also created by Peter Keefe, Widget was like a purple Mr. Bogus who fought against environmental degradation instead of stealing your ice cream. The show ran for 2 seasons, undoubtedly kept on air due to support from the National Education Association and contentious adults everywhere due to its positive themes for children. This is the show your parents would turn on when your parents walked in the room.

Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars (1991)
AKA – Darkwing Duck in Space

Captain Bucky O’Hare was from another dimension where each planet was home to a different species of anthropomorphic animals. The planet Aldebaren had Cats, Rigel 5 had Koalas, Betelgeusia had Berserker Baboons, and someone was high on meth when they thought of all this. The bad guys were the Toads who took over the Rabbit planet of Warren, causing Bucky to lead a group of space rebels in their crusade to take back their home.

Somehow, someway, Captain Bucky O’Hare was actually pretty awesome – it was essentially Biker Mice from Mars before that show even existed. The comic had a cult following and the toy line was pretty successful, making this one of the most popular cartoons that just never caught traction. It’s the Tech N9ne of 90s cartoons. The intro is downright amazing too, down to the catchphrase “Let’s croak some toad”.

James Bond, Jr. (1991)
AKA – Not James Bond

Despite the name, the series followed the adventures of James Bond’s nephew, James Bond, Jr. The show was created in 1991, taking place between movies License to Kill (1989) and Goldeneye (1995). Bond, Jr. fought against an international criminal organization, aptly named S.C.U.M. so we children would know they’re evil. And it was all done in style, “while he rescues a girl!” Ah yes, early 90s, you had such a long ways to go.

Mr. Bogus (1991-1993)
AKA –Bald Treasure-Troll Steals Your Food

Made by Voltron creator Peter Keefe, Mr. Bogus is a yellow gremlin from another dimension. He lives in your house, can walk through mirrors, and his confusion with our world causes him to get into all sorts of trouble. Mr. Bogus had the makings of a horror movie and I feel we should have all been terrified.

King Arthur and the Knights of Justice (1992-1993)
AKA – The Green Bay Packers Meet Chivalry

Picture this: The Pack are down 6, but Aaron Rodgers runs it in for a touchdown. After the discount double-check, he and the team fall through a portal set by Merlin, and they become the Knights of the Roundtable.

That’s basically the premise behind the most amazing obscure cartoon of the previous century. It lasted 2 seasons – someone must’ve believed in its awesomeness – and after years of waiting, both seasons are now available on DVD, Netflix, and YouTube.

Conan the Adventurer (1992-1993)
AKA – Not He-Man

A fairly straightforward cartoon, Conan sets out on adventures to rescue his family that had been turned to stone. He had a phoenix, Needle, as a sidekick, and a faithful steed named Thunder. The show was better than you might’ve expected, being surprisingly and consistently entertaining. Instead of the rough brutish Conan, the animated character had a sense of morality and honor. Conan the Adventurer had no business being as good as it was.

Mighty Max (1993-1994)
AKA – George R. R. Martin for Kids

I hope it’s a mistake adding this to the list, because Mighty Max should in no way be considered obscure. Yet, when I asked around, people looked at me like I hallucinated the whole thing.

“You know – Mighty Max. He had a baseball cap that opened portals, and Norman was his bodyguard, and they would call Virgil a chicken but he insisted on being called a fowl? You know… Mighty Max!”

Granted it came on at 6 in the morning, but this cartoon was worth setting the alarm early. The 2-season series was most often light-hearted, but it was one of the earliest shows I remember to have some rather sinister violence where characters actually died. Not realizing it at the time, the cartoon actually received its share of criticism from adults over some of the descriptions of violence. Not to mention it had a fairly haunting ending. Invoking the statute of limitations on spoilers: practically everyone dies at the end.

Mighty Max was a funny cartoon that also managed to be surprisingly dark at times. Come to think of it, it might be time for an adult re-watch.

Exosquad (1993-1994)
AKA – Not Robotech

Exosquad was created in response to the popularity of mech-warrior type cartoons and video games inspired by Japanese anime.

Set over 100 years into the future, humans created an artificial non-human race called Neosapiens to serve as slaves as they expanded to colonize Mars and Venus. They engineered them to be bigger and stronger than humans to endure working in hostile environments, but then, due to their maltreatment, the Neosapiens stage a revolt and began a war. The show follows Able Squad as they turn the tides of the war on behalf of the humans and oh my god how was I not offended.

Street Sharks (1994-1997)
AKA – Not Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

This was so awful, who could look away? In a transparent attempt to capitalize on the success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DIC Entertainment created sharks-turned-heroes, the Street Sharks. You can almost imagine their boardroom meeting when someone suggests that if turtles can be so popular, imagine how much people will love crime-fighting sharks. The only problem – okay, correction, let’s say the main problem – was that none of the sharks had a distinctive personality, so there was no way to tell their personas apart. They were all frat boys who talked the same, dressed the same, and would make the same decisions. Street Sharks were the earliest iteration of dudebros, right there, under our noses.

Mummies, Alive! (1997)
AKA – Black Nerd Problems circa 1997

Of all the short-lived one-year cartoons, this is one of the most underrated. The show begins with an explorer from the west traveling to Egypt and standing at a sacred tomb:

Egyptian Local: I beg you, sir… perhaps it is best we do not—
Western Explorer: —open it!

The tomb has an inscription though, so the explorer reads it aloud: “Woe to him who breaks the seal, for he shall – aw eff it…” and he breaks the seal. Evil is unleashed and so the adventure begins.


Sabrina: The Animated Series (1999-2000)
AKA – Not the Live Action Series

Instead of playing Sabrina herself, Melissa Joan Hart’s younger sister Emily actually voiced the role of Sabrina while Melissa voiced both Aunt Hilda and Zelda. The series ran for 2 seasons as it coasted on the popularity of the 90s sitcom, although the cartoon was worth watching in itself for 12-year old Sabrina and her best friend Chloe, voiced by Cree Summer.

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  • Jordan Calhoun is a writer in New York City. His forthcoming debut book "Piccolo Is Black" is a celebration of the common adaptations we made while non-diverse pop culture helped us form identities. He holds a B.A. in Sociology and Criminal Justice, B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Japanese, and an M.P.A. in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy. He might solve a mystery, or rewrite history. Find him on Instagram and Twitter @JordanMCalhoun

  • Show Comments

  • alex

    I was actually very unsure Mighty Max was a thing I experienced in real life until just this moment. Also, you did not need to put the Denver the Last Dinosaur intro in this article, as it is the tune my heart beats to thus I know it deeply.

    I feel like you’re opening a can of worms, though, Mr. Calhoun. Next I have to expect an article of obscure movies that need internet validation, including but not limited to:
    – Rock A Doodle aka Elvis as a Rooster
    – Little Nemo aka Alice in Wonderland for boys (as if boys have no one to relate to in cartoons)
    – The Wizard aka “HE TOUCHED MY BREASTS!” and
    – The Peanut Butter Solution

    I know the last two are live-action, but cut a guy a break here…

  • James Sunderland

    Blue, The Earth Child. It existed, but it’s like all record of it was wiped out or something. It was on Nickelodeon in the UK during the 90s and that’s all the information I have. It’s more obscure than everything on this list combined.

    • Phil Nixon

      Yessss!!! He was like the silver surfer but blue… i like thought i just imagined this… nobody has ever heard of it!!!

      • Jazz

        How come no on remembers Mutant League? It came on like 530 am right be for Mighty Max….

  • Quicksilver

    The Dream Stone. For a show with a villain who wanted everyone to have nightmares forever, the lengths he would go made the show quite dark. It opens with a commander of his forces being thrown into the “pit of no return.”

    • Kate

      I used
      To love the dream stone! Had it on vhs

  • virbz

    Excellent list here, and insightful comments as well. I’d add “Project G.e.e.K.e.R”. to the collection as well.

    • Matt

      OMG YES

  • Joe

    What about Pirates of Dark Water?

  • Mario Salvatore

    Hello, i been looking for a cartoon about a dude, whit orange or red hair i think, that went around looking for certain people whit special abilities. This people could transfer their abilities whit some sort of magic. The setting was at an post apocalyptic world . The last datail i remember was one of the villains minions, he served as a human key for a strong case of sorts of the main villain.

    • Cartoon watcher

      It’s highlander the animated series.

  • Derek Halliday

    Do yourself and favor and look up CAPTAIN SIMIAN AND THE SPACE MONKIES. It was this almost entirely ignored little sci-fi show on USA Network on Sunday’s, and it was incredibly sharp. The writing was both incredibly funny and incredibly intelligent science fiction. It was story of a parody of Star Trek mixed with Marvel cosmic stuff (the main villain, voiced by Micheal Dorn, was a living Galaxy that desired to become a Black Hole so that it could devour the universe!). At only 1 24 episode season, it’s one of the best shows to have come out in the 90’s.

    Also almost forgotten and equally as sharp, but better animated…Hanna-Barbara’s S.W.A.T. KATS: THE RADICAL SQUADREN, which was basically Batman in fighter jets…it was great!

  • Draper

    Pirates of Dark Water should definitely be included. Other honorable mentions are: Captain N: The Game Master, Double Dragons, and the Karate Kid

    • Draper

      Oh, and Silver Hawks

  • E-dawg

    No spiral zone

  • David

    You forgot one that made me think I was going crazy and was the only one who saw it but its called turbo teen where the kid turns into a car! I spent yrs asking around about that cartoon and everyone looked at me like I was nuts till I found it online one day validating I wasn’t so crazy haha

  • Monique H-H (@SimplyRobotix)

    I loved The Snorks and Heathclif!! And I cant believe the Sabrina animated series only had two seasons! I used to watch that and Braceface all the time

  • Johnathan S.

    I was looking for a cartoon where the main character was either a ched or an article of food. If I remember correctly he was both. And a wrestler i think as well. They’d whip up a dish and it turned into some finishing move?

  • Kai

    Sabre Rider and the Star Sheriffs
    Bionic Six
    The Mighty Orbots
    Tiger Sharks
    Danger Mouse
    All Star Blazers

  • Kai

    Forgot to mention Defenders of the Earth…

  • J

    These were all boy shows. How about Jem? Rainbow Brite? Add in some ones for the girls too.

  • Jasen G. Wilson

    Mad catz???

  • Jasen G. Wilson

    Woops its called Swat Kats sorry

  • Jasen G. Wilson

    I’ve been searching and can’t find this one I can’t remember the name of seems like somthing that would have been listed as AKA not the x-men. It was a team of super hero type people 90s cartoon with a more serious animation style short lived but I remember toys :/

  • Jasen G. Wilson

    Wild c.a.t.s covert action teams, that’s what made me think of Swat Kats. Both really cool obscure 90s cartoons

  • Dmitriy

    Who knows anithing about the cartoon called The Fox and the Hare?? I saw it in 80-s on VHS. I belive it was spanish or maybe french…. I am not sure/ Who can tell me please just anithing about it???

  • Max

    Anyone remember an animated series in the 90’s that had an archvillain who’s base of operations seemed to be in a giant room with a pendulum swinging? It was a really dark show – post-apocalyptic. For some reason in my memory, the villains or arch villain may have also had something to do with chess pieces? Could be that the room with the pendulum was on a giant chess board. Never been able to find out anything about it. Closest thing to it seemed to be from an artistic sense would have been maybe Highlander:The Animated Serious or Phantom 2040 but neither of these seemed to have such a villain or make mention of the pendulum.

  • abc4pepper

    I was scrolling and eagerly awaiting the title Ronin Warriors. .

  • E

    There was a cartoon a vaguely remember that I am hoping someone here might recall as well. There were two kids (a boy and a girl, I think siblings) a man who had a mouth-harp, and a woman who had a white cape that attached to her wrists and who sang. It took place underground and I think the two kids were trying to find a way home.


  • Chaz

    Ok. I’ve got one. Cartoon set on the Ocean about some kind of environmental rescue people. There was one guy on it who, when he jumped into the water, his skin changed to a black and white colour and became a bit like an orca.

    • JCamara

      You may be looking for TigerSharks

  • Zootsutra Sutra

    the man with the mouth harp is from a French cartoon called “Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea.” it was on Nickelodeon in the 80s.

    • E

      Thank you! It looks like I can only get a few episodes from youtube (unless I learn french and get a European DVD player) but it is nice to know I didn’t imagine the show. 🙂

  • Tiffany Hockings

    I’ve been searching for a cartoon I used to watch in the early 90s. It was about a girl and her pet (I think it was a meerkat) and they would try and catch poachers. I think it took place either in Africa or Australia. I was so young I don’t remember a lot but I do remember I loved it. If anyone has suggestions I would appreciate it.

    • Andrea

      OMG I thought I imaged that show. I also thought it was a chinchilla. I was sure it was Australia.

    • E

      I think that was Noozles. There was a girl and a couple koala bears. Ayers Rock was an important part of the show.

  • Fart

    A cartoon, that may have been set in pyramids or something, where the main hero had this golden arm band that could shoot arrows??

  • Matt

    Skeleton Warriors too.

  • liz

    I am trying to track down the title of a cartoon i use to watch it had to martians that laughed at each others misfortune.

  • auzzydee
  • Sara

    What about early 80’s nickelodeon to on about 3 kids looking for the mysterious city of gold (may be the name) while flying around in a golden mechanical condor.

  • Marco Medurga

    Hi I am looking for a cartoon that aired in the mid 90’s, it was about a guy who was possibly an astronaut that had been given some power that can transform him into a powerful creature The final episode, he becomes more powerful and destroys the alien invader. I think his brother was captured by the alien force

  • kuraikarasu

    Please help, Im desperate to find a cartoon from this era, it was a very childish cartoon, probably japanese about acat that ran away from home. It was released in VHS and it probably contained that and 2 more tales of the cat & friends. He got a bid head, the main cat is white with black and brownish spots.
    Its not doraemon, aristocats, chi’s sweet(s?) home nor felix the cat.


    Ps: I confirmed with my mom that I aint allucinating, she remenbers it as well!

  • David craig

    I’m also desperate to find a cartoon, we used to watch it on an old VHS. Manga in style about a girl trying to defeat a dragon, the only way she could defeat the dragon was to kill herself (cutting her throat with sword) she then came back as a spirit and defeated the dragon. In the end she had a deer as a friend i think too. Dont think my parents realised the content of the cartoon but I would love to try and find it. CHEERS!

  • Lauryn Tillman

    3 words: The Bots Master. Greatest 90’s cartoon theme song with the blackest robots. Seriously, the robots rapped.

    • Najah

      Yes Lauryn! I read the entire article in utter disbelief Bots Master wasn’t mentioned! Then I started sweating reading the comments because I was starting to think I imagined the series. I was definitely up at 6am to watch this one….the theme song was hot fire! Lazer time boyzzz!!!

      • Blaquestarr

        *puts on 3-D shades* I’m ready!
        P.S.: Kisscartoon.com has most of these shows for streaming purposes. Started rewatching Bots Masters the other day.

  • Zalika

    The world of David the Gnome, my heart just yearn for those days again. I cant get them back so i enjoy passing shows and cartoons like this on to my teenage boys who value the simple things in life my generation grew up on.

    • Rob

      Episodes on YouTube

  • BruhFRiamSaltybutIforgiveu

    Where ? the? hell ? is ? Samurai ? Pizza ? Cats!!!?

  • Rob

    Wonder if count duckula tales from the cryptkeeper dinosaucers creepy crawlers and Ronin warriors fit here

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