Treva is a pop culture fan who has been writing about the entertainment world for over a decade.
Some of the best cartoons of the 2000s aimed at kids were also tons of fun for the young at heart to watch. They did a great job of being just mature enough to keep adults interested while making them feel like kids again with their imaginative and colorful worlds.
From a food-lover's fantasy world to aliens, imaginary friends, and fairies, the animated series listed below kicked off the new millennium by becoming instant classics. Viewers today might be pleasantly surprised to discover just how well they hold up for both kids and adults.
This is one of the best cartoons of the 2000s not just for its colorful culinary world, but for its use of multiple forms of animation, which include traditional, stop motion, and puppetry. I also love the show's unique use of patterns on character's clothing; instead of following the characters' movements, the patterns appear as a non-moving background. This is one of the visual elements that really sets this series apart from its contemporaries.
Chowder is set in the fictional Marzipan City, a colorful metropolis that looks like something Dr. Seuss would have come up with if he'd been obsessed with cooking instead of politics. Chowder is an apprentice to a master chef, and the eager young cook finds himself in many sticky situations (stickier than grubble gum, even), including getting captured by a board-game playing monster, becoming a monster, eating too much thrice cream, and deterring a girl who has a crush on him. He also has to learn how to cook difficult dishes, like beans that sing and burple nurples, which are purple treats that burp. Many of the foods in the show have human characteristics like the ability to walk, talk, and cry. Knowing that characters eat these foods makes Chowder darkly comedic for a kids' show.
Because it's so imaginative, kooky, and just a tad creepy, I think Chowder is a cartoon that's definitely worth revisiting today. Just don't watch it on an empty stomach; those meaches and meviled eggs might make your tummy growl like an angry bearnut.
2. 'Invader Zim'
This animated series earned itself a fiercely loyal cult following with just over two dozen episodes, and it's a shame that Zim's reign over the Nick Toon universe came to an end so soon. The show's titular character is a very short alien from a planet obsessed with height; the taller you are, the more power you have. Being horizontally challenged has seemingly given Zim a bit of a Napoleon complex, and he's determined to enslave all Earthlings.
Zim is extremely obnoxious and annoying, and he's also an incompetent invader. This is why the leaders of his home planet Irk sent him on a seeming suicide mission with secondhand equipment. Their goal was to get rid of him by shipping him off to conquer a non-existent planet, but instead he ended up on Earth. And so overzealous Zim comes up with various schemes to take over the planet, while annoying his leaders with updates on his success (or lack thereof). Disguised as a child and accompanied by a robot in a terrible dog costume, he tries to appear like a typical Earth child. One observant kid sees through his disguise and is determined to expose him for what he is. Luckily, he happens to be seen as eccentric and is ostracized by his peers, so Zim doesn't have to be too worried about the truth getting out there.
Zim's misadventures include having to rely on robotic parents to fool his teachers at school, becoming a germophobe after seeing War of the Worlds, and stealing his classmates' organs in order to pass for a human with the school nurse. Sure, Zim is an evil alien whose abrasiveness and obsession with world domination can get annoying, but you've got to appreciate his can-do attitude and creativity.
This show's dark and satirical humor made it stand out from other cartoons, and I believe that it could hold its own against current popular animated sci-fi series like Final Space and Rick and Morty if it were to make a comeback.
While no plans to revive the series have been announced, at least we can look forward to an Invader Zim movie. While reruns of the show are currently streaming on Hulu, the platform's rival Netflix is where Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus will premiere. You can watch it starting August 16.
3. 'Star Wars: Clone Wars'
This animated installment in the Star Wars franchise was a sleek CGI adventure full of epic intergalactic battles. It featured a few familiar faces from the prequel movies, but it also introduced viewers to a whole new cast of evil villains and heroic characters. These included the fan favorite female character Ahsoka Tano, whose arc became one of the big highlights of the series as she developed from an irritating teen into a wise warrior. However, what I enjoyed most about the series was getting to see more of the Star Wars universe's crazy creatures, like the monstrously big Zillo Beast and the Insectomorph, a domesticated bug-like being with odd anatomy that made it look like a real challenge to ride.
When it comes to sci-fi cartoons, as much as I hate George Lucas's obsession with his money-making machine, I've got to admit that this animated series is one of the best you'll ever see. It's the one good thing to come out of the terrible Star Wars prequels, and it was so popular that it stayed on TV for more than half a decade. It was even revived for a seventh season, which will be available on the new Disney Plus streaming service. The platform's official launch date is November 12, 2019.
4. 'The Fairly OddParents'
What's a boy with flaky parents and a truly evil babysitter to do? Luckily for Timmy, his bad situation turns into one of the best imaginable when his fairy godparents Cosmo and Wanda reveal themselves to him. The winged beings let poor Timmy know that they are there to make his life better with unlimited wishes -- as long as they don't break any of 'Da Rules.'
However, Timmy quickly learns that his wishes can backfire, and it's usually up to Wanda to use her wand to get him out of any sticky situations; if Cosmo ever helps, it's almost always by accident. Timmy also has to worry about his mean, fairy-obsessed teacher, Mr. Crocker, finding proof that he has fairy godparents. If this were to happen, he would lose them forever.
The premise of this show was a fun and imaginative one that allowed for pretty much anything to happen, including alien encounters and trips to the lost city of Atlantis. I also loved that Batman star Adam West played one of the show's most hilarious characters, the incompetent and slightly insane superhero Catman. His only superpower seemed to be acting exactly like a feline by shredding up couches with his claws and even hacking up the occasional hairball. One of his weapons was super absorbent kitty litter.
Even if it gave kids in tough situations false hope, this imaginative and magical animated series is still one of the best of the 2000s. It’ll make you wish that you were a kid with fairly odd parents.
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5. 'Camp Lazlo'
This silly Cartoon Network series might be a bit underrated. It follows a group of anthropomorphic animals at camp, and the funny furry characters remind me a bit of some of my favorite classic Nick Toons, like Rocko the wallaby and Hef the steer from Rocko's Modern Life. This is because Joe Murray created both Rocko and Lazlo. However, the latter isn't quite as twisted as the '90s Nickelodeon series.
Lazlo is a friendly, optimistic, and upbeat spider monkey who is attending Camp Kidney with his friends. They go on many of your typical camp adventures, including getting mistaken for aliens, dealing with flesh-eating wood gnomes, and faking yeti attacks. I love how Lazlo always makes the best of his ramshackle camp, and I think his silly animated series deserves a whole sash of special scout badges.
Here's a fun fact about Camp Lazlo: a character who looks a lot like Hef from Rocko's Modern Life appears in the final episode of the show. He accuses Scoutmaster Lumpus of locking him up in a closet and taking his place as the real Scoutmaster of Camp Kidney. It deserves a spot on this list for that twisted ending alone.
6. 'The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy'
This show begins with the Grim Reaper accepting a challenge from two brave kids, an extremely sardonic girl (who might remind you a bit of Wednesday Addams) and an incredibly stupid boy (who might remind you a bit of Ren from Ren and Stimpy). I absolutely love that Billy and Mandy references the incredible 1957 film The Seventh Seal by having the Grim Reaper play a game for a soul. However, he suggests a game of limbo instead of chess. And instead of fighting for the life of a human being, his young rivals are playing to win their pet hamster's soul.
Billy and Mandy trick the Grim Reaper into losing, so he's forced to become their BFF (emphasis on that final "F" for "Forever"). He and the kids then go on multiple misadventures together. They often encounter other dark and otherworldly characters, like lonely Nergal of the underworld, Velma Green the Spider Queen, a creepy parasitic tumor with a mind of its own, and a werewolf that they take to a dog show.
I really enjoyed this animated series' many movie spoofs, including a Harry Potter parody where the kids attend Toadblatt's School of Sorcery. There's also a musical Little Shop of Horrors tribute, and Mandy becomes the giant demon from the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence from the movie Fantasia in one episode.
The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy deserves a spot on this list for its clever pop culture parodies, its kooky cast of creepy characters, and its mega dose of dark humor; in one episode, Mandy even displayed cannibalistic behavior. I'm sure many kids who watched this cartoon grew up to be huge horror movie fans.
7. 'Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends'
This show gave kids who were fans of Pixar's Monsters, Inc. another fun look inside the lives of the creatures that their imaginative minds create. However, instead of closet creeps, this show focuses on imaginary friends.
Mac is a hyperactive kid with an even more hyperactive (and extremely selfish and obnoxious) imaginary friend named Bloo, a blue blob who looks a little like one of the ghost characters from the Pac-Man video game. When Mac thinks he has outgrown Bloo, he learns of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, which is essentially an orphanage for the many imaginary friends children have abandoned over the years. However, Mac doesn't want to completely give up Bloo, so he visits the house as often as he can. This means that he also gets to hang out with other discarded imaginary friends like Coco the kooky bird monster and Wilt, a one-armed, sports-loving guy who is as nice as he is tall.
Most episodes focus on the messes that Bloo gets himself and the other imaginary friends into and Mac's attempts at helping them out, and Bloo can get everyone into some pretty crazy situations. However, it's the colorful cast of characters straight out of the minds of lonely but creative kids that make this one of the best cartoons of the 2000s.
8. 'Courage the Cowardly Dog'
If you liked The Grim Adventures of Bill and Mandy, chances are that you equally enjoyed this dark cartoon. Some of the episodes are so creepy that they still give me the chills when I think about them today.
Courage the purple-furred pooch might not look like much with his scrawny little legs and that freaky tooth with the hole in it, but he is the epitome of a very good boy. He goes to great lengths to keep the crotchety old couple that he lives with out of trouble, despite the utter terror that he feels when faced with all sorts of dangerous and devious characters.
Even though Courage and his owners live out in the middle of nowhere, the shivering scaredy-dog is constantly having to save his beloved Miriam from monsters and madmen. The kindhearted old woman clearly loves Courage, but she's usually oblivious to the danger she's in. Her husband Eustace is cruel to her pet pooch, so neither he nor his wife are much help when their desolate farmhouse is visited by red-eyed space chickens, weremoles, evil snowmen, mattress demons, and freaky foot monsters. Courage's only aid often comes in the form of the information that he gets from his sarcastic talking computer, so he always has to fight his fear and physically face off against these creatures alone.
I enjoyed this show's twisted dark humor, and it was always fun to see what kind of questionable character Courage would have to find the courage to face off against next. But what I really loved was how sweet and loyal the little doggie was; his undying affection for Muriel and his willingness to do anything to help her was what really made the show worth watching.
9. 'The Wild Thornberrys'
I appreciate this series for teaching kids to love wild animals by humanizing them. After an African shaman grants Eliza Thornberry the ability to talk to animals, she gets some incredible insight into her fellow creatures' lives and learns even more about them than her famous father, who stars in his own nature show.
Because of her dad's unusual profession, Eliza and her family are always on safari. They travel together in a large RV, and they rarely come in contact with other humans. Eliza's angst-ridden teenage sister absolutely abhors her boring life in the bush, and she doesn't get along very well with the rest of her family. However, she and Eliza occasionally have some sweet sisterly moments.
Most episodes involve Eliza coming to the aid of an animal that's in trouble, and this often results in the adventurous girl finding herself in an equal amount of trouble. Sometimes, she learns the hard way that meddling with Mother Nature isn't always the best idea.
This animated series deserves a spot on this list for its unique premise and for its educational aspect, which is something that many cartoons sorely lack. It definitely gets props for teaching kids about wildlife while being engaging and entertaining.
10. 'Spongebob Squarepants'
Let's end this list with the best of cartoon of the 2000s. How can you not smile when you hear the theme song for this animated series starring the cheerful, lovable yellow sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea?
Spongebob may not have what many would consider the ideal life, but he's always ready to slap a smile on his face and laugh the day away. He's perfectly content with being a fry cook (it's his dream job, actually), having a penny-pinching boss who occasionally finds excuses not to pay him at all, and living next to a perpetually-annoyed neighbor who does not appreciate his kindness and eternal optimism. However, you've got to admit that Squidward does have good taste; his Easter Island head home is pretty awesome (It certainly beats living under a rock like Patrick does).
Other highlights of this show include the hilarious retired superheros Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy, a science-obsessed squirrel from Texas named Sandy Cheeks, and Plankton's many ploys to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula.
Everyone's favorite yellow sponge is a ray of sunshine in his underwater world, blessing all the residents of Bikini Bottom with his bright outlook on life (whether they like it or not). From his meowing pet snail to his hilarious use of curse words like "Barnacles!" and "Tartar Sauce!," Spongebob's exciting undersea life makes this not just one of the best animated series of the 2000s, but one of my favorite cartoons of all time.
So from creepy critters to undersea antics and animated aliens, the best cartoons of the 2000s are a fun assortment of animated series that the kid in all of us can't help but love.
Treva Leigh (author) on July 30, 2019:
Me too! I think a lot of these shows could make a comeback.
Daisie Doodle from Maryland on July 29, 2019:
Aw man, this brings back so many memories! I loved watching 'The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy' and 'Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends' (´ヮ`)
Treva Leigh (author) on July 29, 2019:
It was always one of my favorites, for sure!
Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on July 29, 2019:
I like be Fairly Odd parents