I did one for Disney Channel, I did one for Nickelodeon, and while a Cartoon Network countdown IS coming, a separate one HAS to be made for Toonami. Toonami is one of the most popular, most influential programming blocks of the late nineties to early 2000’s, and it is no exaggeration to call it the cornerstone of many a childhood. But which of its many, MANY shows deserves to be called the best? Here are MY Top Ten…
Also we’re only counting down shows that aired in Classic Toonami, NOT the revival. Just to be clear.
During the waning days of Toonami, the block had been reduced to Saturday evening fare. A crying shame, to be sure, particularly for those of us who grew up with the block airing daily. Though this show aired long after the heyday of Toonami, it did at least give the block one last hurrah in relevancy before being taken off the air. I personally consider it the last great show of classic Toonami.
You might be shocked to see this show so low on the list. This isn’t due to anything wrong with the show itself! It’s simply that the other nine are so important to the block’s history that they eclipse this FANTASTIC series!
Also the filler arcs after the Sasuke Retrieval saga really bogged it down…
9. The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest
When Toonami began to air in 1997, it was SUPER easy to dismiss it as just a collection of action cartoon reruns. You had SuperFriends, Voltron, Thundercats, and a roulette of old Hannah Barbera cartoons like Bird Man. Something NEW was needed, something FRESH! Enter this show.
Real Adventures wasn’t a BIG hit, but it DID provide the nascent block with an original action show that could help differentiate it from the Action Block that Toonami had replaced. And in all honesty, the show was good! I mean, yes, it must be acknowledged that the first season took some liberties with the source material, and was in fact VERY controversial with the Johnny Quest fandom because of the many changes to the show. But on its own? Great show!
8. Megas XLR
Now and then comes a show whose target demographic is…confused. Maybe the concept doesn’t mesh with the art style, or maybe it’s targeting the wrong audience. Megas XLR is one such show. It’s a giant love letter to Giant Robot shows…aimed at an audience that most likely wouldn’t know much about giant robots. Its sense of humor was too adult for the kids, but this show was made BEFORE “cartoons for adults” were an actual thing outside South Park, the Simpsons, and Family Guy.
But good God was this a great show! The action was fast paced and exciting, the characters lovable and hilarious, and the animation itself was pretty good! This was simply a show that debuted at a wrong time, in the wrong place; put this on the 2012 Toonami, and it’d be more at home!
7. Justice League Unlimited
The grand finale for an animated franchise that began in 1992 with Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League was nothing short of the PERFECT way to cap off a fourteen year old franchise. Featuring A-Listers like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, alongside more obscure superheroes like Martian Manhunter, The Question, and Green Arrow, this show was nothing short of a DC fan’s wet dream!
6. Dragon Ball
No, not Dragon Ball Z; this is the original series! DBZ’s popularity meant that there was a renewed interest in the series that started the franchise, and in 2001, Goku’s fans were FINALLY given what they wanted. But unlike the original Funimation dub of DBZ, the dub for Dragon Ball was (mostly) unaltered from the original, with only some reasonable censorship in place to make the series more suitable for children.
Although it’s fair to say Dragon Ball never reached the height of popularity the Z series got, this was STILL a show that didn’t deserve to be slept on!It started off fun, and it ended up being almost as exciting as Z!
5. G Gundam
Giant robots who fight martial arts battles with the equivalent of ki blasts and giant weapons. WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE!? Though I’m ashamed to say I slept on this show when it was on, my little brother certainly did not, and he LOVED it!
And honestly it was a very refreshing take on Gundam as a franchise, and I’d even dare call it the BEST deviation from the Gundam formula that has made said franchise so famous the world over! But all in all, I’d scarcely call it the BEST Gundam show ever; I hold that honor for ANOTHER show…
4. Rurouni Kenshin
In a block that had magical warriors, superheroes, and giant robots, Rurouni Kenshin stood out for its understated premise of a Ronin warrior who fought enemies in Meiji era Tokyo. No magic, no aliens, no robots; just swords. And honestly, that was more than enough.
The show would be NOTHING without its fantastic cast of characters, though; in that regard, RK excels. From the AWESOMENESS of Kenshin himself, to the coolness of Sanosuke the hired hand and Kaoru the Kendo master, Rurouni Kenshin was more than just another great show; it was one of the best shows on TV.
Well…up to the Kyoto Arc. After the Kyoto arc…yeah, consider THAT the series finale, and every episode produced after to be a fever dream you’re best left avoiding. Thank goodness they weren’t shown on Toonami!
3. Gundam Wing
Now we’re going into the pantheon of the shows that made Toonami GREAT. The first is Gundam Wing.
While Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokemon started off the anime boom of 1998–2008, I’d say Gundam Wing was the show that really solidified anime as more than just cartoons in the West. Gundam Wing offered a serialized story for the viewers; a rather deep meditation on the nature of war and how, instead of glorious, it’s rather ugly. The six protagonists are all under 18; too young to be involved in any war, yet thrust into a climate that denies them peace.
Gundam Wing was a show that dared to show viewers an undershown side of war: there aren’t any “good guys” or “bad guys,” just two sides with opposing views. Before anyone gives me any grief, I am more than well aware the Nazis are an exception. But in the show, the war is as nonsensical as any war in real life: you start off rooting for the Space Colonies that want to be freed from the tyranny of the Earth Sphere Alliance, but then the Colonies are the bad guys, but then it’s a group of terrorists called White Fang? Jesus!
This was also the first show to be shown on Toonami’s Midnight Run, UNCUT! That was actually the big selling point: to see the show with all the violence and death, all the swearing, UNCUT. It’s too bad I was too young to see it back then, but I’m sure it was a treat.
And that’s not even getting into Endless Waltz, one of Toonami’s most successful premiers EVER! Seriously, it was such a huge event that Cartoon Network STILL has trouble topping it!
The important thing to note is that this was all in the year 2000: kid’s TV wasn’t as sophisticated back then. These days it’s common (or not unheard of)to see things like interracial couples, kids raised by same sex couples, shows that deal with mental health, etc. In the year 2000, a show like Gundam Wing was REVOLUTIONARY!
Also it helped expand the Western Yaoi fandom, but that’s neither here nor there.
2. Sailor Moon
Sailor Moon is the show that pretty much kickstarted Toonami as THE anime hub in America! Whilst Real Adventures of Johnny Quest helped give Toonami a sort of identity when it started off, Sailor Moon is the one that cemented the block as the place for the BEST action shows!
And this is a show that really breaks the mold: it’s action packed, but it’s female lead. It’s female lead, but you can’t call it a “girl’s show.” Yes it’s a show for girls, but it’s also for boys. It’s got romance. It’s got action. The girls wear mini skirts, love to talk about cute guys, yet they still kick ass and take names.
The original DiC dub was pretty good for its time, but then came the Cloverway dub…it had issues. The biggest issue was the LGBT+ erasure of Sailors Uranus and Neptune, who were changed into “cousins” in the dub. Yeah, no; they were LOVERS in the original series! That’s not to say the DiC dub is guiltless; they also changed one of the male characters into a female so as to avoid depicting a male/male romance. We could, and should, dismiss these as products of a more ignorant time, and hope that we can move away from such narrow-mindedness and build a more inclusive future where LGBT+ characters aren’t shamefully erased.
Sailor Moon’s success was instrumental in turning Toonami into the GIANT it was back in the day! But there was another show that really, REALLY defined Toonami…
But before we get to that, we have some honorable mentions:
Duel Masters- Toonami’s answer to Yugioh, the first season’s dub was the Abridged Series before Abridging was a twinkle in LittleKuriboh’s eye.
The 8th MS Team- The very first show to be exclusively shown on Toonami’s Midnight run, which for all intents and purposes was the precursor to Adult Swim. A damn good Gundam show, and in fact one of the finest ever.
Yu Yu Hakusho- A fine show and one that ALMOST made it to the list!
1.Dragon Ball Z
You knew it was coming, don’t deny it.
Oh, WHY is this show number 1? Oh, I don’t know; maybe it has to do with the fact that THIS is the show that brought the highest ratings to Toonami? Or maybe it has to do with the fact that no other show in Toonami’s history has EVER been able to get away with showing TWENTY episodes in a week and NOT suffer a rating’s decline? Or maybe it’s the fact that THIS show is what pretty much kicked the Anime Boom into high gear in the West?
I’m at a loss for words; this was THE reason for me to watch Toonami back in the day! 5 PM, every afternoon; I’d often hurry with my homework just so I wouldn’t miss this show! This is my pre-teen and teen years, right here!