The 90s Cartoons That Defined Millennial Childhoods

Can’t you see it now: you wake up to the sound of an alarm or a parent’s tap on the shoulder, yawn, tumble out of bed (crust at the corners of your eyes), and head to the living room to turn on your morning cartoons? Those were the days, and for a majority of millennials, those days were the 90s.

‘Rugrats’ Balloons | Photo by Spencer Platt/Newsmakers

When it comes to cartoons – whether those on Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network – the 90s were a golden era. Whether you’re a fan of Arthur or a die-hard Hey Arnold! enthusiast, this list will inspire a little reflection, and make you feel a little nostalgic. So, if you have some free time on your hands, prepare to start hunting down your favorite episodes from the best 90s cartoons.

‘Pinky and the Brain’ (1995 – 1998)

Take a genius mouse and a stupid sidekick, and you’ve got hours of hilarity as you watch the two attempt to conquer the world. While only running for four seasons, Pinky and the Brain made an everlasting impact on the kids who watched the show.

With a 73% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, Pinky and the Brain is infused with silliness and sarcasm, making this one of the cartoons that your parents were likely able to withstand. Certain allusions and jokes were meant to soar just slightly above the heads of young viewers, which is why this show was a solid family cartoon. While the plot gets a little short-changed, kids don’t mind a little mediocre comedy in their Sunday viewing sessions.

‘Rugrats’ (1991 – 2004)

One of the most successful cartoons to ever hit TV screens, Rugrats needs no introduction; however, let’s just take the time to praise Nickelodeon’s genius invention. First off, how many cartoons can be re-worked into a successful 6-season spin-off (All Grown Up)?

Revealing the world from a baby’s point of view, the dynamics between the various characters were well-developed, and the way the show depicted the mystery associated with viewing the world from the most innocent perspective was awe-inspiring. Cute, clever, as addicting as sugar, and filled with clueless adults, Rugrats offered the perfect mix of ingredients for young millennials, which brings us to our next great cartoon.

‘The Powerpuff Girls’ (1998 – 2005)

While The Powerpuff Girls premiered at the tail end of the 90s, there was no way we could exclude this gem from the list on that technicality alone. With sugar and spice and everything nice, this show dished out a needed dose of action and heart.

While Mojo Jojo was a living joke, HIM, to this day, remains one of the scariest characters millennial children will ever know. Creepy and unsettling, this character has left some of us scarred for life! The Powerpuff Girls also placed female superheroes at the forefront way before the likes of Disney and Marvel began to do the same.

‘Animaniacs’ (1993 – 1998)

With a ton of pop culture references and an inherently sharp wit – often beyond the comprehension of a childhood mind – Animaniacs is an enjoyable cartoon no matter your age.

The show features a very large cast of characters yet focuses on Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, as they attempt to wreak havoc in the lives of all those who pass their way. The show, often featuring educational segments in musical form, is one that fans of the series often cite as the most important cartoon on the air during the 90s.

‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ (on and off from 1995 – 2003)

Whipping up inventions to save the world, Dexter was the genius mastermind we all know and love. Forced to deal with an older sister who frequently destroyed his experiments and body of work, Dexter’s work was often delayed. And, in perfect cartoon fashion, his parents were completely oblivious! The oblivious parent trope often went a long way.

Other significant 90s cartoons

Spongebob SquarePants (premiered in 1999 and is truly a 2000s cartoon)

The Simpsons (premiered in 1989, and is often considered more of an adult cartoon)

Rocko’s Modern Life (1993-1996)

Arthur (premiered in 1996)

Tiny Toon Adventures (1990-1992)

Hey Arnold! (1996-2004)