Cartoons and kids' shows have changed a lot in the past few decades. They used to be a haven for children who got up early to catch their favorite shows before their parents awoke.
With cable TV becoming a mainstream luxury in the 1990s, it shifted the entire genre by introducing dedicated children's programming. By the 2000s, households had multiple TVs and kids could watch whatever they wanted without fighting over the remote.
There were plenty of great cartoons and kids' shows during the 1990s, but some of the greatest shows came out in the 2000s. Creators sought to make content that could satisfy the steadily growing audience of those who wanted kids' television.
Here are our picks for the best cartoons and animated kids' shows from the 2000s that we fondly remembered to this day.
8. The Wild Thornberrys (1998–2004)
After the blazing success of The Rugrats in the 1990s, the same team came together to create a new show for a new decade. That show came to be known as The Wild Thornberrys.
Using a similar animation style, The Wild Thornberrys featured the adventures of a family who traveled around the world in tow by their zoologist father, Nigel Thornberry.
This show became a fast hit with young audiences, who loved the concept and the characters. Kids worldwide looked forward to watching the youngest daughter, Eliza, use her ability to speak to animals.
It was a solid watch for any afternoon after coming home from school. Not only that, it also featured an oddly strong vocal cast with Lacey Chabert, Tim Curry, and Flea all contributing to the family.
7. Fillmore! (2002–2004)
Fillmore! was the early 2000s entry for a kids' detective series. It had everything a kid could want after coming home from school: epic adventures, action-packed scenes, and a protagonist who often blurred the lines between black-and-white right and wrong.
Watching the titular child detective take on his cases with his trusted sidekick Ingrid Third made for a fantastic afternoon. Fillmore! had a compelling animation style and featured the kinds of fun antics that one wished they could have in their own lives.
An entire generation of children grew up with Fillmore!, so it's strange that Disney still hasn't put it up on Disney+ for streaming.
6. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008–2020)
Most adults sat in and watched this one with their kids. Star Wars: The Clone Wars told the tale of Obi-Wan and Anakin's struggle through the clone wars, as well as the state of the Jedi throughout the galaxy as they struggled to free it from oppression.
For fans of the Star Wars films, this show had everything they ever wanted and more. Children in particular were deeply entertained by the lightsaber battles and duels within this animated series.
Today, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is considered a masterpiece of animation for the era and one of the best kids' TV shows of all time. Not a bad feat for a spin-off from the worst Star Wars movie.
5. Kim Possible (2002–2007)
There was something special about Kim Possible and her sidekick, Ron Stoppable. They were the ultimate TV duo at times, with Ron providing endless streams of comedy while Kim dealt with some of the biggest villains in the world—all without missing school.
The strength of the show rested in the vocal talents of its performers and the fun characters that dominated the series.
For example, Dr. Drakken became an instant hit with children of the era as John DiMaggio (who also played Bender on Futurama) infused the character with his odd charm and oft-beleaguered attitude, resulting in one of the best kids' TV show villains ever.
The entire series diffused the afternoon gloom with sheer entertainment whenever it came on, which anybody could enjoy.
4. Duck Dodgers (2003–2005)
As a spin-off of a classic Looney Tunes premise, Duck Dodgers saw Daffy Duck reprise his role as the space hero in a whole series of his own.
For children, few things in life are as engrossing as The Looney Tunes. Seeing one of the most beloved characters head out with his eager young space cadet (Porky Pig) into fun-fueled adventures was everything they could've wanted.
Daffy remained as hilarious as ever with Porky by his side to aid him in his constant mishaps. To this day, adults who watched the series back then still remember how intensely brilliant it was.
3. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999–Present)
Who knew the life and times of an anthropomorphic sponge could become such a cultural phenomenon?
The adventures of SpongeBob SquarePants captured an oddly universal sense of humor that made it one of those rare shows that both children and parents could enjoy together in laughter.
SpongeBob SquarePants came across as innocent yet had the allure of subtle adult jokes built into it, making the series one that demanded the attention of all audiences at home.
More than 20 years after it first aired, the gang of SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Sandy, and the rest of their friends are still remembered as classic characters of animated television.
2. Futurama (1999–2013)
When Futurama first came out, it instantly drew parallels with its sister show The Simpsons. It was a bit of an unfair comparison, given that The Simpsons had dominated television for over a decade by then.
However, Futurama was a different beast. The style was more engaging for younger audiences, with characters that were more overtly mad. That aspect made it a must-watch for kids of the era.
While Fry, Leela, Amy, Zoidberg, Hermes, and The Professor were all instantly likable characters, it was the robot Bender who quickly became the standout of the show, stealing every scene with his dark humor and borderline evil antics.
These characters have endured, as the series is considered a modern classic and still on the air decades later.
1. Justice League (2001–2004)
After the roaring success of Batman: The Animated Series (and, to a lesser extent, Superman: The Animated Series), Warner Brothers decided to produce a show based around the ultimate hero team.
That team was known as The Justice League, and the resulting Justice League series remains the pinnacle of animated TV of the 2000s.
The depth of emotion captured in the weekly adventures of our favorite heroes won over the hearts of anybody who watched, including adults. At its core, it was a show about Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the whole team fighting evil on our screens.
Nothing was more entertaining than the most iconic heroes of all time lighting up the after-school routines of children, and Justice League delivered that in spades.