The 40 Best Cartoon Characters of All Time

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The 40 Best Cartoon Characters of All Time

When I was young, there was nothing so exciting as a Saturday morning. I’d wake up before the marathon slate of cartoons started, irritated by whatever talking head was still yammering on at 7:30. But then came three hours with Mighty Mouse, Bugs Bunny and the Superfriends.

The DVR and endless channels have made Saturday mornings obsolete, but my kids seem to prefer retro cartoons anyway. We live in a golden age of animation, but with just a few exceptions, the most creative minds are aimed at adults. The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, Archer, Adult Swim, the return of Futurama—some of the funniest shows on TV are cartoons.

We thought it would be a good time to celebrate the TV cartoon characters, young and old, that we hold dear. We could have come up with 50 great ones just from The Simpsons and Looney Tunes, but we tried to diversify a little. Which ones—on this list or missing—do you love?

40. Pepe Le Pew (Looney Tunes)
Created: 1945
Creator: Chuck Jones
Voice: Mel Blanc

Who would have imagined that a randy skunk would be such a hit back in 1945? Mssr. Le Pew’s aggressive advances on poor Penelope Pussycat sprung from a place of confused confidence, but his lover-boy antics were always a treat to behold.

39. Charlie Brown (Peanuts)
Created: 1950
Creator: Charles Schultz
Voice: Peter Robbins

Hapless Charlie Brown is as sympathetic a character as we’ve ever had, real or animated. Unlucky in love, untalented and trusting to a fault—we pull for him, knowing it’s all for naught.

38. Sylvester J. Pussycat & Tweety
Created: 1945
Creator: Friz Freleng
Voice: Mel Blanc

Mel Blanc kept the different speech impediments straight while voicing both cat and bird for Looney Tunes.

37. Bender (Futurama)
Created: 1999
Creator: Matt Groening
Voice: John DiMaggio

Made in Mexico, Bender is a sociopath of steel (er, well, iron, titanium, lead, zinc, dolomite and nickel), who has kidnapped Jay Leno’s head and sent his own son to robot hell. But he really just wants to be a folk-singer.

36. Goofy
Created: 1932
Creator: Art Babbitt
Voice: Pinto Colvig

“Gawrsh!” Disney’s good-natured, bumpkin widower doesn’t have a lot going on upstairs, but a sunny disposition always sees him through.

35. Ned Flanders (The Simpsons)
Created: 1989
Creator: Matt Groenig
Voice: Harry Shearer

The writers on The Simpsons have always been equal-opportunity offenders, but they’ve also done so with great charity. Flanders, the Dudley-Do-Right evangelical neighbor, became the show’s fundamentalist with a heart of gold, and religion was treated with a depth and understanding lacking from most public discourse.

34. The Tick
Created: 1986 (1994 TV debut)
Creator: Ben Edlund
Voice: Townsend Coleman

Edlund’s send-up of the superhero genre had a short run, but it was a good one.

33. Phil Ken Sebben (Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law)
Created: 2000
Creators: Michael Ouweleen, Erik Richter
Voice: Stephen Colbert

So many great Hannah Barbera cartoon characters made cameos in Harvey Birdman, but it’s the new guy that stole the show. Stephen Colbert was Phil before he was skewering presidents and getting species and sports teams named after him.

32. Beavis & Butt-Head
Created: 1992
Creator: Mike Judge
Voices: Mike Judge, Tracy Grandstaff

Beavis and Butt-Head made MTV’s lack of music much more palatable. The show managed to both satirize and celebrate the lowest common denominator of the 1990s.

31. Brendon Small (Home Movies)
Created: 1999
Creator: Brendon Small
Voice: Brendon Small

The young, would-be auteur Brendon was never a huge ratings success, but for those who saw him on Adult Swim, he’s hard to forget. Created with plenty of improv, it’s a little bit Woody Allen and little bit mumblecore. Plus Paula Poundstone plays his mom.

30. Larry the Cucumber (Veggie Tales)
Created: 1993
Creator: Phil Vischer, Mike Nawrocki
Voice: Mike Nawrocki

After all the cultural good that Christianity gave us over the last two Millennia, the second half of the 20th century wasn’t exactly a high-water mark. But in the 1990s, Veggie Tales became the exceptional piece of genius pop culture in the typical Christian bookstore. And Larry the Cucumber was the biggest reason why. Don’t believe me? Watch the video below.

29. Marvin Martian (Looney Tunes)
Created: 1948
Creator: Chuck Jones
Voice: Mel Blanc

I didn’t realize until finding the video below that Marvin’s first collection from Earth was the Abominable Snowman, who likes to hug and squeeze and call you George. But Marvin’s superiority complex always provided Bugs with the perfect foil.

28. SpongeBob Squarepants
Created: 1999
Creator: Stephen Hillenburg
Voice: Tom Kenny

Sometimes a little naivety goes a long way. And the biggest celebrity from the phylus Porifera managed to get The Flaming Lips, Wilco, The Shins and Motorhead on his movie soundtrack.

27. Ace and Gary (The Ambiguously Gay Duo on The Dana Carvey Show and SNL)
Created: 1996
Creators: Robert Smigel, J. J. Sedelmaier
Voice: Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell

In 1954, Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent, a crusade against the evils of comic books. One of his claims was of a special relationship between Batman and Robin (though Batman wouldn’t be the last cartoon character whose sexuality was questioned—see SpongeBob, above). Forty-two years later, a pair of superheroes would finally come out of the closet…sort of. Brilliantly voiced by Colbert and Carell, Ace and Gary save the day, leaving everyone with a single question on their minds.

26. Krusty the Clown (The Simpsons)
Created: 1989
Creator: Matt Groening
Voice: Dan Castellaneta

The pointy-haired, chain-smoking kids’ entertainer is The Simpson writers’ door into the world of show business, where they routinely and hilariously skewer self-aggrandizing celebrity excess.

25. Hong Kong Phooey & Spot
Created: 1974
Creator: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera
Voice: Scatman Crothers

The #1 super guy was a janitor dog named Penrod Pooch. He always saves the day with the help of his Hong Kong book of Kung Fu and his underappreciated cat, Spot.

24. Shaggy Rogers (Scooby-Doo)
Created: 1969
Creators: Joe Ruby, Ken Spears, Iwao Takamoto, Fred Silverman
Voice: Casey Kasem

Sometimes the sidekick is more interesting than the hero, and that’s the case with the slacker teenager on Scooby-Doo. For a guy with absolutely no courage, he sticks with mystery solving gang through the spookiest of places.

23. Felix the Cat
Created: 1919
Creator: Pat Sullivan, Otto Messmer
Voice: Mae Questel

Most stars of the silent era didn’t make survive the transition to sound, but Felix—who once shared screen-time with Charlie Chaplin—did just fine.

22. Daria Morgendorffer (Daria)
Created: 1997
Creator: Glenn Eichler, Susie Lewis Lynn
Voice: Tracy Grandstaff

Daria Morgendorffer weathered suburbia under an armor of sublime snark. The show was affecting and entertaining with absurd sidestories and clever social commentary made Daria so fun to watch. Julia Askense

21. Yogi Bear (The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Yogi Bear Show)
Created: 1958
Creator: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera
Voice: Daws Butler

He’s smarter than the average bear, but it’s not just cleverness that makes Yogi great. It’s his joyful love of harmless mischief that made every episode great.

20. Bart Simpson (The Simpsons)
Created: 1987
Creator: Matt Groening
Voice: Nancy Cartwright

Every principal’s nightmare, this merry prankster’s only two real talents are skateboarding and troublemaking.

19. Daffy Duck (Looney Tunes)
Created: 1937
Creators: Tex Avery, Bob Clampett
Voice: Mel Blanc

Daffy can himself be despicable, but he’s endearing all the same.

18. Stewie Griffin (Family Guy)
Created: 1999
Creator: Seth MacFarlane
Voice: Seth MacFarlane

Other evil geniuses aren’t hampered by their youth, but one-year-old baby Stewie doesn’t let that stop him.

17. Ren & Stimpy
Created: 1991
Creator: John Kricfalusi
Voice: John Kricfalusi & Billy West

Ren Hoek and Stimpson J. “Stimpy” Cat pushed the boundaries of ridiculous cartoon violence in ways that two decades later seem quaint.

16a. Phineas Flynn (Phineas and Ferb)
Created: 2007
Creators: Dan Povenmire, Jeff “Swampy” Marsh
Voice: Vincent Martella

“Hey Ferb, I know what we’re going to do today,” Phineas says each show before launching into his latest ambitious plan to pass the summer days, whether it’s building a giant tree house that transforms into a giant robot or filming a movie or creating a time machine. And even though the stepbrothers’ grand plans escape the attention of their parents and drive Candace nuts, Phineas remains completely guileless. Hard to believe this is on the Disney Channel.

16b. Mighty Mouse
Created: 1942
Creator: Izzy Klein
Voice: Roy Halee Sr.

He’ll swallow your bullets and spit them right back at you. He’s like a rodent Chuck Norris.

15. Bobby Hill (King of the Hill)
Created: 1997
Creator: Mike Judge
Voice: Pamela Adlon

Hank might think his boy ain’t right, but he’s just fine by us. We like his self-confidence that doesn’t depend on innate talent or beauty. He’s comfortable in his own skin, and that often makes his daddy uncomfortable.

14. Fat Albert (Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids)
Created: 1972
Creator: Bill Cosby
Voice: Bill Cosby

Hey, hey, hey… Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert could never be swayed from his natural good sense and good heart.

13. Pinky & The Brain (The Animaniacs)
Created: 1993
Creator: Tom Ruegger
Voice: Rob Paulsen

Plenty of cartoon characters have had ambitions for world domination, but no one else just wanted to be a benevolent dictator like The Brain.

12. Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons)
Created: 1987
Creator: Matt Groening
Voice: Yeardley Smith

OK, we partly love Lisa because we think of her as the Simpsons character most likely to read Paste… or at least listen to NPR. This eternally eight-year-old vegetarian feminist is out of place in the suburbs of Springfield, but her idealism and innocence make for great TV.

11. Wile E. Coyote (Looney Tunes)
Created: 1948
Creator: Chuck Jones
Voice: Mel Blanc

Charlie Brown will never kick his football, and Wile E. will never catch the Roadrunner. These are among the first truths learned by any kid in America, even as they’re exposed the beauties of the Western desert. His clever plans and box of oft-malfunctioning ACME tricks resulted in our favorite coyote falling off cliffs, getting crushed by stones, and at the center of crater-inducing explosions; no cartoon character suffered more for our entertainment.

10. Betty Boop
Created: 1930
Creator: Grim Natwick
Voice: Margie Hines

Though Betty seems like a product of the Roaring ‘20s, it’s important to remember that she was actually the Queen of the Depression Era, a sexy reminder of better times and an avatar for a younger generation.

9. Fred Flintstone (The Flintstones)
Created: 1960
Creators: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Voice: Alan Reed

The patriarch of his modern stone-age family, Fred proved that cartoons weren’t just for kids. That’s further evidenced by his misogynistic pitch for Winston cigarettes below:

8. Dr. Doofenshmirtz (Phineas and Ferb)
Created: 2007
Creators: Dan Povenmire, Jeff “Swampy” Marsh
Voice: Dan Povenmire

Dr. Doofenshmirtz may be one of the newest entries on this list, but the evil scientist from Phinneas and Ferb has quickly made a big impression with his attempts to wreak havoc upon the tri-state area. We love his back-story monologues about his childhood in Gimelschtump, Druselstien. We love his ridiculously named devices (the the Ugly-Inator, the Age-Acclerator-Inator) and that his nemesis is a platypus. The subtleties of the relationship are pitch-perfect. When Perry busts in on Doofenshmirtz when his blind date is about to arrive, Perry accomodates his rival by pretending to be his pet (“She doesn’t know I have a nemesis”). And most of all, we love his songs.

7. Rocky and Bullwinkle (Rocky and His Friends)
Created: 1959
Creators: Jay Ward, Alex Anderson
Voices: June Foray, Bill Scott

The animation might not have been fancy, but the scripts were funny as Rocky and Bullwinkle fended off threats from the very Eastern European-sounding Pottsylvania.

6. Mickey Mouse
Created: 1928
Creator: Walt Disney
Voice: Walt Disney

It’s easy to lose sight of the cartoon character Mickey in the shadow of the mascot for the Disney empire. But there might not be a Disney empire but for the charms of an enthusiastic, adventurous mouse.

5. Snoopy (Peanuts)
Created: 1950
Creator: Charles M. Schulz
Voice: Bill Meléndez

Not every character survived the move from print to the TV screen, but Snoopy absolutely came to life through a handful of TV specials, dancing his way into our hearts, beginning with a 1961 commercial for the Ford Falcon. His Red Baron dreams, his friendship with Woodstock and crush on Lucy. But mostly his boundless enthusiasm cements his place on this list.

eric_cartman.jpg 4. Eric Cartman (South Park)
Created: 1997
Creator: Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Voice: Trey Parker

Who else but Eric Cartman could inspire 10 parallels with Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary This selfish, foul-mouthed, hippie-hating, cartoon brat is the antithesis of political correctness; an Archie Bunker for a new generation. Over the last decade, he’s been the perfect vehicle for broaching taboos Americans are too terrified to engage in polite conversation.

3. Tom and Jerry
Created: 1940
Creators: William Hanna and Joseph Barbera

Silent film mostly went away with the advent of the talkies, but Hanna and Barbera’s Tom and Jerry didn’t need dialogue to enrapture generations of children. The 114 shorts were created between 1940 and 1958, but they feel like they belonged to my childhood in the late ‘70s, just like they’ll feel like a part of my kids’ childhood when they grow up.

2. Bugs Bunny (Looney Tunes)
Created: 1938
Creator: Tex Avery
Voice: Mel Blanc

The coolest cat in cartoon history is a rabbit. Or a hare. That slight taxonomic difference was never addressed during his many antics, but he held an enviable insouciance through them all, whether being hunted with Elmer Fudd’s shotgun, Yosemite Sam’s pistols or Marvin Martian’s ACME Disintegration Pistol. His only flaw: a poor sense of direction (especially when tunneling through New Mexico).

1. Homer J. Simpson (The Simpsons)
Created: 1987
Creator: Matt Groening
Voice: Dan Castellaneta

The first two seasons of The Simpsons were focused on Bart, but as it became Homer-centric, the show became something truly special. He’s the everyman at our laziest, hungriest, dumbest and drunkest. Yet thanks to good heart buried under all those doughnuts, he’s also the hero that repeatedly saves the day—or at least restores everything to a status quo which has endured for two decades and more than 450 episodes.

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