From the good old days of Looney Tunes to the modern-day cult hits like Rick and Morty, cartoons have been there as comfort from when we were children right through to adulthood.
Animation is a medium that drops the curtain of live-action reality and invites the audience into its own unique world with its own rules, own laws, and own kinds of fun.
Within the realm of animation, certain characters have managed to become so iconic and lovable that they’ve established themselves as cultural symbols all over the globe.
Indeed, some of the most popular fictional characters of all time are… cartoons! Here are the best cartoon TV characters ever created, and why they’re so important and remembered.
10. Mickey Mouse
Mickey Mouse is truly great: he’s funny, smart, and has a lovable sense of mischief. But the legacy of Mickey is more for his identity as the mascot of Disney than for him as a character.
As the grand creation of Walt Disney himself, Mickey Mouse’s face has long been at the center of Disney’s global marketing plans, and it’s been that way for over 90 years. No way that’s changing soon.
Mickey’s first appearance came in the acclaimed short film Steamboat Willie, and that kicked off his career as a beloved icon for children all over the world, evidenced by billions of dollars in sold merchandise.
9. Pinky & The Brain
Few shows have managed to pull off the same iconography that Pinky and the Brain did. While there’s only a certain generation out there who even remember being children when the show aired, these characters’ legacy has endured—they’re both still popular to this day.
From the catchy theme song to the catchy catchphrases (“Narrf!”), Pinky and the Brain’s adult jokes, biting satire, and fantastic animation meant that they could be enjoyed by grown-ups and children alike on Saturday mornings.
The pair was recently brought back by Hulu, returning triumphantly to try overtaking the world again. Not only do original fans of the show get to see their favorite lab experiments again, but now a whole new generation can fall in love with the pair.
8. Rick Sanchez
Rick Sanchez represents a new direction for animation. While there have been dark animated characters before, none have the same deep-rooted sense of nihilism as Rick does.
As a super-genius who travels the multiverse with his grandson, Rick has been responsible for countless deaths and numerous atrocities in his life—which has, in a lot of ways, damaged him profoundly.
He doesn’t have many likable traits. However, his attitude towards life is so fascinating that you can’t help but feel sorry for him.
7. SpongeBob SquarePants
Almost nothing about SpongeBob SquarePants makes any sense. The show is about an anthropomorphic sponge who lives under the sea and whose best friend is a starfish. At first airing, SpongeBob didn’t seem like a character who would endure.
Oh, how wrong we all would’ve been to write him off! The best thing about SpongeBob is that he’s an eternal optimist who never sees the bad side of things. That optimism leads him to amazing places.
His example is such a good message for children who love his show, in that you should always do the right thing and never let those who would bring you down make you feel small. In the end, nobody can hate SpongeBob—he’s just too nice and lovable.
6. Daffy Duck
How could anybody not love to hate Daffy Duck? He’s lazy, insulting, genuinely selfish, yet has a certain panache that can’t be ignored.
Daffy is often the butt of the joke, and he always finds himself in situations where he’s being undermined or hurt at the behest of Bugs Bunny. Looney Tunes was rebooted for the modern era in 2011, and Daffy became Bugs’ mooching housemate.
As a character, he’s always predictable in looking out for himself, which is what makes it so fun when he’s routinely hurt by the consequences of his actions. The fact is, Looney Tunes wouldn’t be anywhere near as good without Daffy, and he never fails to get a laugh.
5. Bart Simpson
The original focus of the earliest episodes of The Simpsons was on Bart and his antics. While the show moved more towards Homer in future seasons, Bart’s place in the show was never in question.
He is TV’s greatest underachiever, the leveler between Lisa’s morality and Homer’s idiocy, and Marge’s “special little guy.” Bart Simpson’s legacy is that we know he can do whatever he wants when he puts his mind to it, but he’s content to only do what he wants to do.
Yet for all of his misgivings, Bart is still a loyal brother to Lisa and Maggie, as well as a good son. That’s what makes him lovable.
4. Fred Flintstone
Fred Flintstone is TV’s original angry dad. Without him, there would be no Homer Simpson or Rick Sanchez. Fred showed the way when it came to being the animated patriarch in a working-class family, and he made that role ever so funny.
At his core, Fred is a sweet guy. He loves his daughter, his son, and his wife so much that he constantly tries to do the best he can for them. But Fred’s actions almost always lead him to trouble.
It’s his belief that he can be better that makes him a truly great character. It’s something we can all sympathize with on some level.
We all want one friend like Bender. Although he’s likely to steal from you and manipulate you into doing some stupid things, he’ll always be there when things get tough.
Bender is one of the best scene-stealers TV has ever known. Whenever Bender is on screen, you can’t help but be drawn to him. His obnoxious personality and huge ego make him stand out as one of the most complex characters in animation history.
He’s quick to anger, a terrible example to children, yet ultimately the finest companion you could ask for.
2. Homer Simpson
Where to start with Homer Simpson? He’s a character who fundamentally changed everything for animation and prime-time television forever. The legacy of his show aside, Homer is himself a man that’s so flawed that he rarely makes the right decision.
He’s a classic buffoon with a heart that’s as big as the world around him, and his biggest asset is how he stands right where he needs to be when the going gets rough. He could never fail at being a loving parent or husband because it isn’t in him to walk away.
Homer Simpson is ultimately what he was once told he was—”the greatest hero in American history”—if for no other reason than he’ll never give up trying to be a great husband and father.
1. Bugs Bunny
What puts the mighty Bugs Bunny at number one is simple: he’s seldom the aggressor in any conflict. He’s usually minding his own business when one of the other characters comes to try and capture him, and that’s when his intellect kicks in.
Bugs isn’t the biggest, the fastest, or the strongest—but he’s the smartest. Few of his adversaries have ever managed to beat him in a game of wits, and his ability to mess with someone until they are utterly bamboozled is legendary.
Bugs Bunny has been a shining beacon of hilarity since 1940, and while he has changed a bit since then, he’s still the character we all want to be: cool, smart, witty, and devilishly cunning.