By Phoenix Robertson
Everyone who has ever been a child knows that Saturday mornings aren’t just made of sugary cereal or cold pizza. Saturday mornings are made of the magic of the weekend and the wonderful world of children’s television. This October, one large player in the children’s cartoon game is turning thirty years old. This player is Cartoon Network.
This year marks Cartoon Network’s thirtieth anniversary. Founded in 1992 and owned by Warner Bros., Cartoon Network has been a crucial part of many people’s childhoods. Over their 30 years of existence, Cartoon Network has aired a multitude of iconic cartoons that have continued to shape childhoods many years after they were off the air.
My personal experience with Cartoon Network began in 2015, when I was nine years old. At that time, my favorite Cartoon Network shows were The Amazing World of Gumball, Adventure Time, and Steven Universe. I’ve continued to watch Cartoon Network since 2015 because of the extreme creativity demonstrated by their show production team in the cartoons that have been airing for decades. In the seven years that I have been watching Cartoon Network, I have seen a large number of their television shows. To commemorate the large hand that Cartoon Network played, and still does play, in many of my Saturday mornings, I have curated a countdown list of my top five favorite Cartoon Network shows.
5. Craig of the Creek
Created by Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, Craig of the Creek follows a young boy named Craig Williams and his best friends, Kelsey and J.P., on their numerous imaginative adventures in the creek. The creek is filled with groups of different kids that all have different interests. What I appreciate most about Craig of the Creek is the diversity shown in the different characters. This kind of representation includes different races, ethnicities, gender identities, family structures, and religions. By showing various children and their families on a mainstream television show, more children will be able to feel represented in media. Craig of the Creek’s amazing job with representing many different kinds of people, while not only highlighting their differences, but also their similarities, places it in my top-five list.
4. Over the Garden Wall
Over the Garden Wall is a Cartoon Network miniseries that aired in 2014. While the majority of Cartoon Network’s shows are happy and upbeat, Over the Garden Wall explores the slightly creepier side of children’s television. Created by Patrick McHale, Over the Garden Wall is the story of two brothers, Wirt and Greg, who find themselves trapped in an alternate universe of monsters and talking animals. The two brothers must find their way out of the never-ending woods, while also keeping their spirits high as the monster lurking in the woods preys on sad and hopeless creatures. Over the Garden Wall has an amazing soundtrack and a very different animation style that highlights its spooky nature, setting it even further apart from the usually brightly colored and happy heroes present in children’s cartoons. The alternative nature of Over the Garden Wall is what makes it one of my favorite Cartoon Network shows.
3. The Amazing World of Gumball
This comical series follows a blue cat named Gumball and his walking, talking orange fish-brother, Darwin, and their adventures in the town of Elmore. While The Amazing World of Gumball may seem like a mindless show about talking chins, ghosts, gummy bears, and dinosaurs, it actually contains interesting social commentary and important messages for its watchers. These messages can be seen in episodes like “The Dress”, where Gumball puts on a dress and sees how people are often treated unfairly because of their appearance. The Amazing World of Gumball sadly came to an end in 2019, after its six season run, beginning in 2011, but its long-lasting impact will be felt on fans for years to come.
2. Adventure Time
Adventure Time is one of Cartoon Network’s most popular series. This series follows Finn the Human and Jake the Dog as they adventure through the Land of Ooo on their numerous quests to save the honor of princesses, unlock the secrets of the heroes of old, and become the best bros the universe has ever known. Due to the show’s incredibly creative nature and the messages within the show, the creator, Pendelton Ward, was able to attract a variety of viewers. The characters in Adventure Time often face supernatural threats that are symbolic of real-world problems facing the show’s viewers. An example of this can be seen in the identity struggles of Marceline the Vampire Queen. While most people are not half-vampire, half-human creatures with connections to the most powerful demon lord in Ooo, struggling to find out who you are in a world that isn’t always the most accepting of people is a very common issue. Adventure Time’s inventive nature and interesting ways of tackling real-world issues by using symbols of the supernatural is what makes it my second favorite Cartoon Network show ever.
1. Steven Universe
At the top of my list of favorite Cartoon Network shows is Steven Universe. This series was created by Rebecca Sugar in 2013. Steven Universe documents the stories of a young boy named–you guessed it– Steven Universe, and his family of human-gem holograms from a far off planet, Homeworld. In this series, Steven must learn how to unlock his gem powers and understand what it really means to be an individual, even if that means a significant sacrifice. Another star quality of Steven Universe is the show’s music. This series uses music as a method of communication between the different characters and as a method of characterization. Each character in the show has their own music style that helps the viewer to better understand the character. The variety of ways in which the characters express themselves and their grief helps the viewers evaluate how they deal with their own emotions and to feel represented in their own feelings. I love Steven Universe.
Oftentimes, when people look back on their childhoods, they may see the things that they used to enjoy as silly, but I think that a part of growing up is learning to appreciate yourself at different stages in your life and learning to reflect on your own growth and development. In honor of Cartoon Network’s thirtieth anniversary, I hope that you all will take time to appreciate and reflect on who you have been in the past, as well as who you are right now. I hope that you all enjoyed this top five list and this brief history of Cartoon Network.