5 of the Most Popular Cartoons in the 1980s

Updated on February 4, 2019
Jan Michael Ong profile image

I like writing about sports, personal finance, reality tv, cartoons, comics, collectible card games and video games.

Transformers

The transformers were a great deal for any kid in the 80's. They were essentially two toys in one . You can have a robot and a plane or a robot an a car. If you were able to get triple changers you got an even better deal with three toys in one. Now you can get a tank, a plane and a robot. There was even a special robot named Six Shot who had six overall forms - robot, tank, beast, armored car, jet and gun.

The initial idea with the Transformers is to be "robots in disguise." Their alternate modes were intended to make them indistinguishable among other vehicles. This however no longer made any sense when their alternate modes became too distinguishable.

Take for instance the Constructicons. Sure, they are just like any construction vehicle. However, they are neon and purple colored. This makes them stand out too much.The Dinobots and Insecticons are also given alternate modes that stand out too much. People would surely notice metallic versions of extinct animals or insects the size of cars.

The catchphrase of "more than meets the eye" seems more proper as the Transformers have alternate modes as well as combine to form larger Transformers.

The story of the Transformers is that they were initially robots created by the Quintessons for economic purposes. The Autobots were factory workers. The Decepticons were military robots.

The Quintessons were harsh masters and soon the robots gained sentience and rebelled. For a while, the two factions were at peace.

A civil war later arose between the Autobots and Decepticons and they brought the war to Earth when they crash landed here.

Megatron would normally come up with schemes of stealing Earth's energy in order to fuel his ambitions of conquest. The Autobots then try to stop him from accomplishing that. This simple plot was mostly what the show revolved around.

The Transformers came from the Microman and Diaclone toys that were imported from Japan. A lot of them underwent color changes and were given names and personalities in order to sell better in the American market. Hasbro collaborated with Marvel in order to do this.

The collaboration was an astounding success and has created a cartoon with a backstory and a canon. Generic transforming robots gained character and personality. Optimus Prime became the selfless and compassionate Autobot leader. Megatron became the tyrant hellbent on conquest. Starscream became the treacherous second in command of the Decepticon army.

Though the show was created primarily to sell toys, the show has gained a following that spanned three decades.

Why is it Memorable?

Giant robots were a big thing in the 1980's as shows like Challenge of the GoBots, Voltron and Robotech proliferated the airwaves. What made the Transformers stand out is that aside from the robots having sentience, each robot has a unique and memorable personality.

The Transformers were given human-like qualities and were in no way perfect. The robots were as fallible as any normal person.

The transformations were also very diverse. Robots could transform from anything from a truck to a city to a dinosaur to a car.

G.I. Joe

G.I.Joe is comprised of the most elite soldiers in the world. They are a specially trained force created to combat the terroristic threat of COBRA.

G.I. Joe is comprised of a very diverse group of characters. You have a sailor in Shipwreck, a ninja in Snake Eyes and a mountain climber in Alpine. This is but a small sample of the character diversity.

COBRA is intent in world domination. It uses the latest in military technology in order to achieve its goals. It has a front company Extensive Enterprises that helps fund its terroristic activities.

COBRA is headed by Cobra Commander. He is a ruthless leader with despotic tendencies. Cobra Commander comes up with the most brilliant of schemes but just is awful at executing them.


The closest he came to absolute victory was during the miniseries "The Pyramid of Darkness." His goal was to sabotage the world's economies and defenses by wiping out the world's electrical power. Cobra Commander basically won but could not savor his victory as holding the entire world as an empire is difficult logistically. The Egyptians, Mongolians and Romans tried but failed at world conquest.

There will always be rebellions in different sectors of an empire and when these rebellions are simultaneous, it simply takes too much in terms of resources and manpower to quell them.

Cobra Commander was so close to achieving his dream of world domination only to be foiled by G.I. Joe once again.

G.I. Joe was the army counterpart of the Transformers and was also intended to sell toys to impressionable children.

Why is it Memorable?

The show featured memorable characters on both the G.I.Joe and Cobra factions. G.I. Joe featured Duke, Flint, Scarlet, Lady Jaye, Roadblock, Snake Eyes and Shipwreck. Cobra had Cobra Commander, Destro, Zartan, Baroness, Storm Shadow, Tomx and Xamot. It was this vast legion of characters on both sides that helped make the show memorable.

The show also featured a vast slew of vehicles. Some were more contemporary to what the army actually used and some were more fictional or advanced in nature. The most memorable of the vehicles were the USS Flagg, the Skystriker, the Cobra Rattler and the Cobra Flight Pod.

With the public's respect and admiration for the military, a show glorifying the military would be received positively.

He-Man

There are many people who compare He-Man to Conan the Barbarian. Both have superhuman strength and are basically one-man armies. It is heavily speculated that Conan was the inspiration for He-Man

Price Adam of Eternia was the son of King Randor and Queen Marlena. Adam is half human and half Eternian as his mother was a NASA astronaut who crash landed on Eternia.

The Sorceress chooses Adam as her champion and gives him the power sword. The sword not only transforms Adam into He-Man but also his cat Cringer into Battlecat.

Adam seems very lazy and irresponsible and at time his parents seem frustrated at the fact. He is in contrast to his later ego - the more responsible He-Man.

Using his newfound power, He-Man defends the realm against the forces of Skeletor. Skeletor is actually Keldor, the long lost brother of King Randor. Though not much emphasis is given on this relationship in the cartoon.

He-Man is invulnerable and has been shown to be able to do amazing feats such as breathing in outer space when he hurled a missile towards a magnetic meteor, turning sand to glass using his bare hands, cancelling out a tornado using his sword and pushing a moon.

With He-Man's immense power it is quite surprising Skeletor has been able to subdue and capture him as many times as he did through the series. If he really wanted to, He-Man could have easily decimated Skeletor's entire army with ease.

As much as He-Man was a powerhouse in the cartoon, he was also a powerhouse in the toy aisles. From 1982-1986, He-Man action figures flew off the shelves and was the Golden Age for the show.

Why is it Memorable?

He-Man was very similar to Conan the Barbarian but was imbued with magical powers and was given a very special sword.He had incredible strength and was virtually indestructible. He-Man would regularly lift and toss vehicles weighing several tons as if they were nothing and would demolish structures with his bare hands. He also pushed a moon off its orbit.

Each He-Man episode was tied to a moral lesson. This involved stuff such as courage, persistence, avoiding drugs and exercising regularly. The public service announcements at the end of each episode taught kids to be better citizens.

The show was very lighthearted in nature but has plenty of action and drama elements as well.

Thundercats

Thunder!Thunder!Thunder! ThunderCats! Ho! Is among the most iconic phrases and battlecries of the 80's.

The aesthetic of beautifully designed cat people from an alien world fascinated many kids back in the day.A lot of care and effort went into character design and this resulted in larger than life characters. This is in contrast to the newer shows which look like the doodles of an eight year old.

The planet Thundera was dying so the inhabitants evacuated to find a new planet to live in. The leader of the Thunderian refugees was Jaga. He was however too old to survive the trip and perished before the Thundercats reached Third Earth. The refugees included Lion-O, the son of Claudius and the prince of Thundera and some nobles.

The enemy of the Thunderians - the mutants followed them to Third Earth and formed an alliance with the ruler of Third Earth - Mumm-Ra. Though they are a largely incompetent army, they are led by the cunning in Slight and a mad scientist type in Vultureman.

Likewise, the Thundercats formed alliances with the Berbils and the Warrior Maidens.The Berbils ensured that the Thunderians had an ample supply of food and the Warrior Maidens were a formidable fighting force who the Thundercats could use to supplement their ranks.

The Thundercats built Cat's Lair in order to serve as their base of operations. They also have an assault vehicle called the Thundertank. This has given the Thundercats a tactical advantage against Mumm-Ra and the mutants.

One of the most popular elements of the show is an ancient Thunderian artifact called the Sword of Omens that houses the Eye of Thundera. The sword is a formidable weapon that can shoot blasts of energy, can retract and extend on command, can cut through virtually any material and can deflect energy.

The sword is most frequently used by Lion-O to summon the Thundercats to battle. It also has numerous powers that help its bearer fight the forces of evil.

Why is it Memorable?

Thundercats had amazing aesthetics for the time and amazing production value as the producers hired Toei - a top Japanese animation firm. Toei is the creative force behind such popular franchises such as Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon and Dragon Quest.

The music is also iconic with its energy and lyrics. It perfectly encapsulates what the show is about.

The show had a lot of memorable characters from the wise Jaga to the heroic Lion-O to the speedy Cheetara to the intelligent Tigra. The show was about cat people with advanced technology up against mutants, mummies, pirates and intergalactic threats.

Voltron


There were actually two versions of Voltron in the 1980's - "Lion Force Voltron" and "Vehicle Team Voltron." Lion Force Voltron was adapted from Beast King GoLion and Vehicle Team Voltron was adapted from Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. The two shows are in no way related to each other originally. The lore that connects the two shows was a mere creation by World Events Productions.

The difference between the two versions of Voltron can be summed up with the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. Lion Voltron was heavy into magical elements. You could see Hagar use magic a lot in order to create and enhance ro-beasts. In the same way, the deceased King Alfor appears as a spectral being much like Obi Wan or Yoda for Star Wars.

The Castle of Aris as well as Voltron himself are both imbued with magical properties.Vehicle Voltron was heavy into technology and space exploration very much like Star Trek. They even have a flagship that is comparable to the Enterprise.

Lion Voltron usually begins with King Zarkon coming up with some contrived scheme to either conquer Aris or enslave some random planet. The space explorers then try to thwart the plan. Zarkon would then send a ro-beast to wreak havoc. The Voltron Force then get to their lions. After failed attempts to beat the ro-beast using the separated lions, the team would form Voltron and the formation sequence ensues and is one of the most iconic scenes of the 80's.

Vehicle Voltron usually starts with either the explorers or Drules finding a new planet. A fight over the planet usually ensues. The Drules would then summon a ro-beast to try to get one on the explorers and they send 15 vehicles to try to stop the enemy ro-beast. When the battle proves too tough, the Vehicle Team form Voltron and vanquish the ro-beast.The episode usually ends with the explorers freeing a planet or the planet getting blown up.

While Lion Voltron became a hit and was extremely popular back in the day, vehicle Voltron flopped and is mostly forgotten. The Vehicle Team simply had too many pilots and too many vehicles for people to care.

Why is it Memorable?

Voltron is memorable due to the mystical nature of the story. Think of Star Wars. King Alfor was basically your force ghost like what Yoda and Obi-Wan were. You had a mystical power which was like the force powering the lions and the castle. You also had a band of heroes fighting an evil empire.

Just as the intention of the cartoon was to sell toys, the story was much deeper than a mere toy commercial. The Voltron story had many conflicts. Prince Lotor loved Princess Allura but she was more into Keith. Lotor hated his father Zarkon and wanted to be the ruler of the planet Doom.Galaxy Garrison and the rulers of Planet Doom were also not in the best of terms.

What was iconic in the show were the opening credits and the combination sequence to form Voltron. Anyone who saw it surely remembered it.

Favorite 1980's Cartoon

Which was your favorite 1980's cartoon?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Jan Michael Ong

    Comments

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      • aziza786 profile image

        Zia Uddin 

        5 weeks ago from Birmingham

        Glad to help.

      • Jan Michael Ong profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan Michael Ong 

        5 weeks ago from Metro Manila, Philippines

        Hi Zia. I will make a Ghostbusters review in the future.

      • aziza786 profile image

        Zia Uddin 

        5 weeks ago from Birmingham

        I would vote for He-Man, this was always the cartoon I'd remember as a child. Ghostbusters is another very good one too for your consideration.

      • Jan Michael Ong profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan Michael Ong 

        2 months ago from Metro Manila, Philippines

        Hi Mary. We used to rent Betamax tapes of the Transformers as well as watch it on tv.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        2 months ago from Ontario, Canada

        I used to buy these transformers for our grandson. That's how I knew of it. It was the rage then.

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