If you are an 80’s baby you remember the holy sacrament of the Saturday Morning Cartoons. Yes, that day after TGIF that was more exciting than the idea of unlimited mimosas on a bomb ass brunch menu. You just got your dose of Family Matters, Full House, Step by Step and wake up to the raddest line up of X-Men, Spiderman, Thundercats, and Jem and the Holograms! It was the best time of the week and for some, the most formative element of our lives, making us the nerds we are today.
Kid’s today just don’t know what they are missing, before YouTube and making your own TikTok entertainment, we had to watch what was on. Yes, I am saying that like an elder also complaining about my knees and how I had to walk 10 miles in the snow to school (Growing up in New England that’s pretty much true). But I’m not here to talk about the differences between my childhood and kid’s today because, to be honest, this time is a dream for parents and their kids. Being an unofficial auntie I know I love sharing my childhood with my little niblings.
This all came to be when I would wake up with my husband on Saturdays and Sundays, make breakfast, and have this internal feeling to watch cartoons. It was like ingrained in my soul. We find a current cartoon we love and would watch a few episodes in the mornings (or afternoons). We really started this with Avatar: The Last Airbender because we could not get enough of it, but it grew and grew and is the highlight of my weekend. But since it is now in my muscle memory to do this, I thought “where does ‘Saturday Morning Cartoons’ come from?” I did some digging and I was fascinated by what I found.
We all know that some of the cartoons that came on those glorious mornings were definitely older than us. Conan the Adventurer, He-Man, The Jetsons, they all had a certain animation that looked like what we would imagine a sepia tone filter would be for a cartoon. That is because the Saturday Morning Cartoon lineup began as far back as the 50s but really came to fruition in the mid 1960s. Which is where we find our Hanna-Barbera cartoons. I am one who lives for drama. As I got deeper and deeper down this rabbit hole oh – the drama!! The politics! I could not stop reading.
It went way back starting with the baby boom era when there was, well, a boom of children. Homes were adopting new styles of parenting and… wait I’m sorry that’s just too far back. Fast forward the exposition – so apparently the Saturday mornings were statistically the best time slot to grab children’s attention and the line up was created to attract advertisers to the networks.
Now if you watch The Toys That Made Us, I’m pretty sure this was all working in tandem. Toy sales, commercials and Saturday morning cartoons, cuz as we have seen presently – capitalism owns our lives. As time went on, societal changes began affecting the line ups. Some PTA group was pissed about the content and got the FCC to make stronger regulations for cartoons in the morning. The parents had an issue with the violence in cartoons or something and demanded they be more educational. They mandated that networks have something like 3 hours of educational content for kids.
This started changing the timeline landscape. And, funny enough, the change in divorce laws allowed more couples to end their unhappy unions and now kids were being shuffled around on Saturday mornings for parent visitations. Networks like NBC started changing their mornings to cater to an older audience making TNBC – what?? Why did I never know it was called this?? Welp – that’s where we would find Saved by the Bell and such. Other networks started catching on and switching their content to compete, like Nickelodeon and the birth of Cartoon Network making the Saturday morning cartoon superfluous.
Today content is being born at astronomical rates with the choices at our finger clicks. At the same time, we’re in a unique position where we can enjoy television not on a pre-made time slot, but at our own leisure and pace. We get to make our own Saturday Morning Cartoon lineup and enjoy it even on a Wednesday or Sunday afternoon. Here’s a list I’ve put together that might be fun for you and the family to enjoy. Presented in no particular order, feel free to mix and match.
CRAIG OF THE CREEK
This show is one of the most fun loving and straight up genius shows since Recess and Ed, Edd, and Eddy. Craig is a young kid living in the suburbs with his Dad (voiced by Terry Crews) Mom, older brother and younger sister. All of them are exceptional and black! YES young, gifted, and black. Something I didn’t get too much of when I was young, cartoons about black and brown families just being a family. No shade to the shows I was into, but Proud Family definitely had a different tone. His sister’s basically a young business exec ready to have her own fortune 500 company, his brother’s an eager student a little obsessed with perfection and his educational future. Hey – I am all for this type of exaggeration.
When Craig isn’t working on homework for his advanced classes he’s taking on glorious adventures with his friends JP and Kelsey at the Creek. Now this is not just a creek, it is an international hub for children all over the neighborhood. This ish has its own economic system! They’re out here trading batteries for gummy worms and chaaaps! Each section of this natural paradise belongs to a different type of crew, and Craig’s job is cartographer, mapping out each part of the creek. As they explore, we learn more about each of his friends, their abilities and friendship. It reminds me of growing up. The woods were literally a magical place where we could pretend we had our own kid society – oh so exactly my childhood! It’s the most wholesome show I cannot stop watching. I get up on the weekend and find some way to stream this series starting at season one episode one. Each season has like 40 episodes, so you can binge it all or take your sweet time. The show originally comes on Cartoon Network, with a certain subscription to Hulu you can watch online, or with the right uhmm passwords.
From Disney XD now on Disney+
If you are confused that makes sense there are so many Spider-Man cartoons you most likely have never heard of this one, I know I didn’t. It’s like saying, “oh I love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and mad kids being like YEA! But they’re talking about those skinny weird looking ones.
Anyways, I came across this iteration of Spider-Man while on a plane. I know what you are thinking, planes are where everyone goes to watch those crappy shows and movies you never would have watched otherwise. And yes, that is why I selected it – if it’s not the 90s nostalgia, there would be no reason for me to watch a Spider-Man cartoon. This version makes it onto the new Saturday morning cartoons line up because it is a fresh take on the web slinging avenger. Although we’re not seeing him so much avenging but having his own extravagant adventures. In this story Peter Parker is in high school as per ush – but with some unexpected twist, like he goes to “horizon high” some sort of scientific genius school in New York and there’s other Geek high schools that rival Horizon high, including Norman Osborn’s private school Osborn Academy.
We have all the lovable characters Harry Osborn, Aunt May, but no Mary Jane. Instead, we have Miles, Gwen, Anya – yup if you are a spider man lover you know that means Peter may not be the only spider in this show! You would think I’ve already given loads away, but I have not. They pack so much story into this 11 minute episode show you’ll be doing double triple takes. Spider-Man was always your neighborhood spider man but his neighbors all seemed to have exploding pumpkins and rocket launching hover-boards.
This show brings each of the spider villains in a more clever way than the next. No spoilers but some of them are his teachers! Even if you are a Spider-Man aficionado you’ll give props to the creativity and pure delight of this show. If you are looking for a way to remake the Saturday Morning cartoons you once enjoyed but in today’s world, you can definitely share that with your kids or niblings, just make sure you put this one on the list.
Steven Universe is essential viewing for every human being on the planet – scratch that even off planet. If they decide to change that voyager golden record transmission it better have Steven Universe Vol 1 on repeat reverberating through the stars. I want it to be required in all classrooms or some part of standardized testing for all children. Just saying if we HAVE to test kid’s it should be on their comprehension of gender fluidity and friendship along with their ability to process their inner feelings and thoughts – and math I guess. For those who have not seen Steven Universe it follows Steven, a young kid learning what it means to be mixed. Okay it isn’t that simple, not that being mixed is super simple… Steven is half-gem half-human and lives with his gem, let’s say, – mothers who take care of him and also save the fate of the earth.
Gems are just what you think they are…rocks like amethyst, garnet – basically birthstones. The gems are a race of intergalactic beings who colonize planets for their own use. A number of gems who disagree with the establishment got together to fight for their own freedoms. I’ve already said too much. Besides the very deep Star Wars-esque long plot the story give a playful and yet layered story of a kid’s journey to self-knowledge, friendship and love. Because gems are or not what we would call gendered, their relationships expand the traditional ideas of love and caring. With the act of fusion, they break down these stereotypes even more. Your Saturday Morning cartoons would be nothing without this program. It is the perfect teachable moment not just for kids, but for the adults who watch too. It opens all minds that are open to it. I haven’t yet jumped into Steven Universe Future but you have that to look forward to as your binge through the many volumes available now.
AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER
This cartoon needs no introduction, the 2005 cartoon thrust into this world on an iceberg and everything changed when the fire nation attacked. It is by far the best cartoon to ever have existed, and that is a lot seeing as I just cried while writing about Steven Universe. Not only should this be on your Saturday Morning cartoons list it should be in constant rotation, even when you’ve finished it – watch it again. Please note, this is only the Nickelodeon cartoon, Avatar: The Last Airbender. It should go without saying because this is a list of cartoons – but we will never acknowledge the live-action Avatar, that should remain in the phantom zone.
Avatar takes us on three seasons of…yes you guessed it, saving the fate of the earth. In this world there are those who can bend single earthly elements at will, earth, air, fire, and water. Then there is one who can bend all forms, this is called the Avatar who brings balance to the force – excuse me to the world.
It is a brilliant cartoon that seamlessly blends lore with history and heroic growth. There is a code to live by, a history to be reclaimed, and nations of people to be saved. All of this, with a childlike spirit and the best damn group of friends, frenemies, legit enemies and allies. There has not been a more intergenerational cartoon to continue watching for years to come. Even if you finished the series years ago, re-watching it with your kid’s or just with yourself is just as good as the day it aired. Not to mention the phenomenal spin-off Legend of Korra to look forward to. The best part is the duo Bryke (creators Bryan Joseph Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino) are working on the REAL live-action Avatar set to stream on Netflix in the next few years. The live-action we deserve after all these years and the film that shall not be named. For now, we can continue to enjoy the animated series with the announcement that Nickelodeon will be signing an exclusive deal with Netflix to stream all their content! Let’s go!!!
If you didn’t watch this right when it came out on Netflix, now is the time to add it to your Saturday morning roster. Sometimes it is refreshing to watch an episode one or two at a time and not binge a whole season. Remember those days? When we had to wait a week to see the next one. Well this is one of those shows you can stretch over a period of time and enjoy every moment. Hilda is a young girl living in an enchanted forest with her mother and all sorts of nature friends. She is an adventurer, an explorer, brave and kind – I feel like I’m explaining Dora the Explorer… But it is much more than a kid’s program; it deals with all the same life lessons of compassion, making new friends and moral judgement but the elements of magic and the characteristics of Hilda make you fall in love with her and her journey.
As I mentioned Hilda lives in the magical wilderness and constantly finds herself in the middle of other beings’ circumstances and needing to help. This, as you may imagine, creates a lot of problems for Hilda’s life and her mother. At some point her mother decides the forest is not the best place for them and wants Hilda to be around more humans and make human friends, so they are moving to the city where her mother grew up so she can have new adventures. This is the perfect premise for any child growing up and going through changes in their life, or any kid having trouble making friends and learning how to grow in new surroundings. A wholesome and exciting story that I hope you all will enjoy as well.
This show is short-lived, well it is to me. To be very honest, it had the tightest open and shut stories to a perfect series finale, but my selfish butt always wants more. Gravity Falls brings us to well… Gravity Falls, Oregon (not a real place) where twins Dipper and Mabel Pines are meant to spend the summer with their great uncle Stan. Grunkle Stan – yup Grunkle – has one of the best nicknames ever. Grunkle Stan owns a tourist attraction called the Mystery Shack, where he tricks people into buying weird conspiracy theory knickknacks. While being forced to spend the summer in what at first feels like a boring small town Dipper is set out to uncover why something feels so off in this town. We find out throughout the show that Gravity Falls is indeed an epicenter for the supernatural and with each episode a new element is revealed. I won’t say much more because spoiling it would ruin the lovely line up we’re making here.
It is a perfectly proportioned show. With only two seasons, it’s hard to imagine how that can be true, but I must admit there is no better way to end a series. The show takes you to places you could not have imagined from the beginning and the through lines at first seemingly invisible are so apparent in just a second viewing. And Alex Hirsch, the creator, was adamant that Gravity Falls has a real end and didn’t want it to be one of those shows that goes on forever.
It is admirable and understandable, apparently, it was a harrowing experience for the creators to sustain. Plus, tying it all up at the end is truly the best thing for these characters and the extraordinary storyline they teleported us through.
What do all of these cartoons have in common, they begin with what is seems like is a kids-only program, but they all truly expand and grow with you and your family. The kid-friendly characters go through some real ish! Allowing you to unhinge teachable moments with little ones, rethink your experiences in life. Best of all you get that nostalgic feeling of waking up in the morning and letting the Saturday morning be ruled by cartoons!
This is just one way to bring the best weekend cartooning back into your home. There are some amazing cartoons left off this list like Voltron, Adventure Time, She-Ra, even the actually kid popular Teen Titans Go, but that’s beauty of the new stream age – there’s so many cartoons to choose from. Let us know your new age Saturday morning cartoon lineup!