As we await the 2023 release of the “My Adventures With Superman” animated series, I thought I’d take a look back at the wealth of serialized Superman animation that has been produced over the years.
When you look at it, Superman really was an instant success. With Superman’s debut in 1938’s “Action Comics #1,” it was only a few years later that Superman made the leap into animation with the animated shorts commonly referred to as the Fleischer Superman cartoons. While they were created for the movie screen, Superman went on to be the focus of many different television cartoon series across multiple generations.
From 1966’s “The New Adventures of Superman” through to “Young Justice,” Superman and his family of characters have been thrilling fans with their animated adventures on TV for nearly 60 years. But which is the best? Let’s take a look at the Top 10 Superman cartoons/animated series of all time…
No. 10 – “Krypto: The Superdog”
“Krypto the Superdog” animated series aired on Cartoon Network premiering in the USA on April 4, 2005. Running for two seasons, each season consisted of 26 thirty minute episodes. Each half-hour episode features two 11-minute segments. Prior to Kal-El being sent from the Planet Krypton before its destruction, Jor-El sent the boy’s beloved dog, Krypto, as the passenger of a test rocket. However, an accident sent the dog into suspended animation until his rocket arrived on Earth years after Kal-El’s arrival. Gaining the standard Kryptonian powers in the planet’s yellow sun environment, Krypto is adopted by a lonely boy, Kevin Whitney with the personal permission of Superman. Now together with new found allies, Ace The Bathound and Streaky the Supercat, Krypto fights the forces of evil which include the animal companions of Lex Luthor and Catwoman.
No. 9 – “Legion of Super Heroes”
Premiering on Cartoon Network in the USA in September 2006, the “Legion of Super Heroes” animated series ran for two seasons, with 13 episodes each. One thousand years from now the legendary Man of Steel inspires a group of emerging young heroes from the 31st century to band together and defend the newly formed United Planets. That is, if they don’t kill each other first. In Season One, Legionnaires Bouncing Boy, Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad travel back in time to convince an awkward teen named Clark Kent to join their Legion of Super Heroes and battle their archnemeses, the Fatal Five. Catching up two years later, Season Two presented Superman and the Legion with an even greater challenge: Kell-El, the Superman of the 41st century!
No. 8 – “Justice League Action”
“Justice League Action” debuted on Cartoon Network UK on November 26, 2016, then in the USA on Cartoon Network on December 16, 2016. The final episode aired on June 3, 2018, marking a complete run of 52 episodes. Witness the Justice League like never before in this animated series where the pace is quick, the action is relentless and the fun is non-stop! The “Trinity” of DC’s Justice League – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – are joined by a galaxy of rotating allies and enemies like John Constantine, Zatanna, Booster Gold, Plastic Man, Lobo, Mr. Freeze, Black Adam and Swamp Thing. The Super Heroes must battle enemies that include space invaders and bizarre forces of magic as they try to defend Earth from Super-Villains intent on destroying the planet. No matter the threat, the Justice League is ready for the challenge.
No. 7 – “Young Justice”
This half-hour animated series introduced its audience to a new generation of superheroes starring Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Superboy, Miss Martian and Artemis. The series debuted with an hour-long special on November 26, 2010. The series was canceled in early 2013 at the end of its second season, but after fans demanded its return, a third and fourth season were later created. In the series the six raw teenage heroes take on under-the-radar missions that would be impossible for the League proper (with its incandescent star-power) to handle covertly. In addition, these kids are in constant training to take their place alongside the great heroes.
No. 6 – “Super Friends” cartoons
Since the 1960s superhero cartoons had received good ratings despite interest groups protesting alleged violent content, interest in the 1970s in creating new series existed. Hanna Barbera produced a new series based on the DC Comics concept of the Justice League of America called Super Friends. Debuting on ABC on September 8, 1973, the Super Friends concept would go through various incarnations providing DC Comics fans adventures through 1986 on ABC. The series was sucessful enough to merit a Super Friends comicbook series that ran from 1976 to 1981.
No. 5 – “The New Adventures of Superman” cartoons
In the 1960’s the new animation company Filmation Associates persuaded DC Comics to allow Filmation to do a Superman cartoon series. “The New Adventures of Superman” debuted on the American network CBS on September 10, 1966. In the second season, the show was renamed “The Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure” adding adventures with other DC Comics heroes. In 1968, the show format again changed becoming “The Batman-Superman Hour” which ran until September 6, 1969 when the show was cancelled partly from protests by Action For Children’s Television because of violent content.
No. 4 – Ruby Spears “Superman” cartoons
Coinciding with Superman’s 50th anniversary, Ruby-Spears Enterprises produced a Superman cartoon show which debuted on September 17, 1988. It ran on the American network CBS on Saturday mornings. “Superman” was a half-hour show with each show having one 18 minute Superman adventure, and one 4 minute segment – a continuing series called “Superman Family Album” that chronicled Clark Kent’s life between his actual adoption by Ma and Pa Kent and his public debut as Superman. Although well made, this series lasted only one season, in part due to poor scheduling and the high licensing fee being charged.
No. 3 – “Justice League”/”Justice League Unlimited”
“Justice League” premiered on November 17, 2001 on the Cartoon Network action block called Toonami, and concluded 5 seasons later on May 13, 2006 as “Justice League Unlimited”. The series incorporated an all-star roster of popular DC Comics superheroes, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Hawkgirl and Martian Manhunter. Following the premise and storyline of the comic books, members of the Justice League were called upon to battle against allied villains, supernatural creatures and other powerful forces of evil determined to usurp authority over the world and to destroy the Justice League.
No. 2 – Fleischer Superman Animated Shorts
Commonly known as the Fleischer Superman animated shorts, these cartoons were originally released in movie theaters from 1941-1943. Consisting of 17 animated shorts and produced by Paramount Pictures and Fleischer Studios (with the final 8 episodes created by Famous Studios), with members of the radio series cast voicing the characters, including Bud Collyer as Superman/Clark Kent. Legendary animation innovators Max & Dave Fleischer brought Superman to theater screens, only four years after the comic book hero’s debut. Capturing the comic book spirit better than any live action film with the stunning early art-deco look of the original Superman/Action Comics era and a film noir feel, these stylish adventures proved so powerful that they’ve influenced every Superman production thereafter.
No. 1 – “Superman: The Animated Series”
Warner Brothers television network premiered “Superman: The Animated Series” with a 90-minute primetime movie special on September 6, 1996 showing the first 3 episodes. Running for 3 seasons, the series saw Tim Daly voice the role of Clark Kent/Superman. Dana Delany was the voice of Lois Lane. Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor. Malcolm McDowell as Metallo. Michael Ironside played Darkseid, with Gilbert Gottfried as Mr. Mxyzptlk. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini (from “Batman: The Animated Series”) worked on character designs and stories. Timm acted as Animator, while Dini and Alan Burnett joined Timm as Producers. The series followed the adventures of Superman as he defended the entire Earth from evil. For many fans, “Superman: The Animated Series” came to be the definitive take on the character, his supporting cast, and overall world.
There you have it. Those are the Top 10 best Superman cartoons/animated series of all time.