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15 Super Rad ’80s Cartoons You Definitely Forgot Existed

15 Super Rad ’80s Cartoons You Definitely Forgot Existed

The word Forgotten is truly subjective when it comes to something like 1980s cartoons. This was, for many kids, the birth of pop culture and nerddom, and memories for those of us who were tuning in at the time can be bright and vivid. For most people though, these animated series are lost to time in a way that even much older stuff like the Flintstones never will be. Who remembers Inhumanoids? What about Turbo Teen?

The truth is that while these cartoons were fun to watch as kids, they were little more than advertisements meant to sell toys, and YouTube has the worn-out VHS transfers to prove it. Creators did what they could to make the shows resonate and to find fun in them, but at the end of the day, they were still commercial products. Did you know that Transformers is made up of two disparate toy lines and that most of the now-iconic names were brewed up over a single weekend? Because toys.

Even if they were toy commercials, though, we had a blast watching them. Some, though, we’re not so sure we need to revisit–and there’s a bit of both on this list. Get ready for R-rated movies turned into kids’ shows, acronyms, human-animal hybrids, and some truly bizarre story conceits.

1. Turbo Teen

Start Date: September 15, 1984

Total Episodes: 13

Studio: Ruby-Spears

What if a boy could turn into a mid-level American sports car? When Brett Matthews crashes his car into a secret government facility, he finds out. Turbo Teen was a short-lived cartoon meant to capitalize on the popularity of Knight Rider, airing during the same period and with a similar style of car. Fun fact: Legendary comic artist Jack Kirby, creator of superheroes like the Fantastic Four and Black Panther, was on the production crew for the show. The concept for this show is pretty silly, and has been parodied a number of times. Electronic music act Kavinsky pulls from a similar concept for his 2013 album OutRun, and the HBO Max series Harley Quinn has a particularly grotesque scene when elderly human-machine hybrid Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander) transforms from his wheelchair-bound human form into a station wagon.

2. Denver, The Last Dinosaur

Start Date: September 12, 1988

Total Episodes: 50

Studio: World Events Productions

I can still hear the theme song in my head, and I’m not sure I ever saw more than the single episode I had on VHS back in the day. I can even remember the jingle for the Dinosaur Diner cereal that preceded the episode. Denver is the quintessential 80s cartoon that feigns at being educational and having a moral without really ever getting there. A bunch of California kids find a dinosaur egg at a construction site and it hatches, revealing what is supposed to be a Corythosaurus, and the kids go through all kinds of wacky hijinks trying to hide him from their parents while occasionally taking a break to put their hands on his magical shell fragment that shows them the past. In one episode, Denver, who is literally a dinosaur, is forced to perform a rock and roll show by an unscrupulous rock promoter. Also, I’m pretty sure they skateboard off of his tail at some point.

3. Bravestarr

Start Date: September 14, 1987

Total Episodes: 65

Studio: Filmation

Bravestarr is probably quite problematic nowadays, but back when it hit the airwaves in 1988 the Native American lead was definitely a break from the norm. This sci-fi western series followed Marshall Bravestarr, sheriff of the planet of New Texas, a planet 1,957 light years from Earth. Bravestarr protected New Texas from Stampede and the Carrion Bunch with the help of his Equestroid horse, Thirty/Thirty, who could also stand up bipedal and wield an energy shotgun. Bravestarr could call upon a variety of spirit animals, giving him “Eyes of the Hawk” “Speed of the Puma” “Strength of the Bear” and “Ears of the Wolf.” Yeah, it was definitely problematic.

4. RoboCop

Start Date: October 1, 1988

Total Episodes: 12

Studio: Marvel Productions

Remember RoboCop, the subversive 1987 science fiction film about a cybernetic cop in a crime-ridden Detroit under control of a megacorporation? The main character’s hands get blown away by a shotgun early in the film. Well, Marvel Productions and Orion Pictures thought that film, in which a guy is melted by toxic waste before being splattered across a car windshield, would be a great starting point for a kids’ show and toy line. While the show doesn’t feature someone’s carotid artery being pierced by a data spike, it did work hard to incorporate the themes of the film into the series. It toned down many elements, of course, giving our beloved robot cop a laser gun instead of a bullet-thrower, but it followed RoboCop’s ongoing fight against OCP as he tried to reclaim his humanity. The show also dealt with themes of racism, pollution, and all of the other social elements that ’80s and ’90s cartoons tried to deal with.

5. Rambo: The Force of Freedom

Start Date: September 15, 1986

Total Episodes: 65

Studio: Ruby-Spears

1982’s First Blood was an indictment of America’s mistreatment of soldiers and of police overreach and toxic masculinity. 1986’s Rambo: The Force of Freedom was an animated series about John Rambo and his ethnically diverse team of heroes–which included a ninja named White Dragon and a Native American ally named Chief–as they fought against General Warhawk and S.A.V.A.G.E., or Specialist-Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy and Global Extortion. The 1980s was an unprecedented time of backing into acronyms. The themes of the films were significantly toned down or abandoned completely to make the show kid-friendly. Everyone involved with the movies was reportedly embarrassed that this existed.

6. Centurions

Start Date: April 7, 1986

Total Episodes: 65

Studio: Ruby-Spears

Centurions was a cross-Pacific production that featured Japanese character designs and, once again, contributions from the legendary Jack Kirby. This was one of those shows about cool action scientists doing science and shooting lasers. The three main characters Max, Ace, and Jake, fought against the cybernetic Doc Terror in their Centurion exosuits, which became powerful weapons platforms after the wearer shouts “PowerXtreme” (Nothing can just have an on-button in cartoons, otherwise there are no catchphrases for kids to repeat). Doc Terror–that probably wasn’t his birth name–sought to control the world by turning people into cybernetic slaves, and the Centurions would teleport down from their space station to fight him.

7. Inhumanoids

Start Date: June 29, 1986

Total Episodes: 13

Studio: Marvel/Sunbow Productions

Inhumanoids started as a series of shorts that aired between episodes of other cartoons, but would eventually go on to become a one-season animated series of its own. The Earth Corps worked to protect the planet from industrialist Blackthorne Shore and his monsters Tendril and D’Compose. Inhumanoids was somewhat of an outlier among cartoons of this era; the monsters landed somewhere between Lovecraftian Old Gods and Godzilla-style Kaiju, and the show had a stronger narrative throughline that involved story beats like a senator cutting the Earth Corps’ funding, and the heroes allying with one of the monsters after convincing it that it would otherwise be killed by its master’s plan.

8. M.A.S.K.: Mobile Armored Strike Kommand

Start Date: September 30, 1985

Total Episodes: 75

Studio: DIC/ICC

Led by Matt Trakker, M.A.S.K. was a high-tech law-enforcement task force that fought against V.E.N.O.M., or Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem. That’s two acronyms the show backed into. This show was like a proto-Fast and Furious, with each character having a dedicated vehicle and mask. Each vehicle housed a hidden ability; Trakker’s Camaro-style sports car could fly when its gull-wing doors opened, for example. The team was based out of secret mountain headquarters under a gas station attached to a volcano, which I mostly remember because I had the playset.

9. Silverhawks

Start Date: September 8, 1986

Total Episodes: 65

Studio: Rankin-Bass

Wings of silver, nerves of steel. In the tradition of Thundercats, which was about people who were also cats, Silverhawks was about people who were also birds, and also cybernetic. This was meant to be a space-themed follow-up to Thundercats, exploiting the same elements that appealed to kids. Where that was an adventure show, Silverhawks was one of the many police-themed cartoons from this era. A police officer named Commander Stargazer assembles the Silverhawks, a team of bionic heroes battling the evil, giant-squid riding Mon*Star–the asterisk is canonical. The team featured a guitar-playing hero named Bluegrass and a small boy named The Copper Kidd, who was from “the planet of the mimes.” He was, unsurprisingly, mute.

10. Captain N: The Game Master

Start Date: September 9, 1989

Total Episodes: 34

Studio: DIC/Saban

Teenager Kevin Keene and his dog Duke get transported from their home in Los Angeles, California, into the world of Videoland. There, Keene has to use his gaming skills–as well as a Nintendo Zapper and D-Pad belt buckle–to defeat Mother Brain. The show featured heroes and villains from across Nintendo, including games like Metroid, Castlevania, and Punch-Out!!, making it the kind of licensing miracle that we generally associate with Super Smash Bros. The Captain N character was initially developed for the Nintendo Power magazine by Nintendo staffer Randy Studdard, though Nintendo and the animation companies involved chose not to credit or compensate him for his contribution.

11. The Super Mario Bros. Super Show and The Legend of Zelda

Start Date: September 4, 1989

Total Episodes: Mario: 52 / Zelda: 13

Studio: DIC/Saban

In live-action sequences, wrestler Captain Lou Albano played the part of Mario Mario, and sang the television block’s theme song, which encouraged you to “swing your arms from side to side” and to “do the Mario,” set to the game’s catchy theme song. These shows only barely resembled their game counterparts due to the lightweight nature of video game narratives at the time. The shows frequently brought in enemies and characters from the games, but little else from the games actually mattered. Perhaps the most memorable element was that The Legend of Zelda was reimagined as a sort of romantic comedy, and Link’s catchphrase was “Well excuse me, Princess!” In The Legend of Zelda’s defense, the show upgraded Zelda herself from Sleeping Beauty knock-off to primary protagonist alongside Link himself. So in that way, the show really was the Legend of Zelda.

12. C.O.P.S. (Central Organization of Police Specialists)

Start Date: September 19, 1988

Total Episodes: 65

Studio: DIC

Fighting crime in a future time. That was the slogan for this quintessentially ’80s cartoon, which was 1) about police, 2) featured cybernetics, and 3) made heavy use of an acronym they backed into. Incredibly, it preceded the debut of the Cops reality show by just six months, and when this cartoon showed up in reruns some years later it was called Cyber COPS to get around rights questions for the name. Not only would this show play very differently today, it hasn’t aged particularly well in other aspects either. It’s a pretty ugly show even by the standards of many shows on this list, and it did little to develop its characters over the course of its syndicated run. But you just can’t not enjoy that acronym.

Mister T

Start Date: September 17, 1983

Total Episodes: 30

Studio: Ruby-Spears

I pity the fool that never watched Mister T. This animated series stars the personality himself as the coach of a gymnastics team. Following in the footsteps of Scooby-Doo, the team ends up solving a bunch of mysteries throughout the show’s 30-episode run. Mr. T voiced himself on the show, and he would bookend each episode with a quick description of each episode before and a moral lesson afterward. Mr. T himself was at the height of his popularity thanks to Rocky III and the A-Team, and has made helping children a major part of his public image since these early days.

14. Dino-Riders

Start Date: October 1, 1988

Total Episodes: 14

Studio: Marvel Productions

We were deep in a golden age of toys when Dino Riders hit. Toy makers like Tyco would come up with a toy line based on some market research about what kids like. Dinosaurs, riding things, laser guns–put’em in the pot and mix it all together. Once they had some character designs and were getting the toy line together, then they would recruit someone to build fiction to incorporate all of those characters. In this case, they recruited Gerry Conway–creator of Marvel’s Punisher and writing the death of Gwen Stacy at the hands of the Green Goblin–and then-wife Carla Conway. The name of the show is pretty self-explanatory, but the actual fiction of this relatively short show is pretty complex considering. The Valorians battled the Rulons, two races from the future that were transported back in time to the age of Dinosaurs. The cool and good heroes used their technology to communicate with the dinosaurs telepathically, while the Rulons enslaved them. But both sides put saddles and lasers on them regardless. Like Denver the Last Dinosaur, the educational value of this show is pretty negligible beyond the names of the dinosaurs; the show featured dinosaurs from vastly different periods all living together in the “Which Dinosaurs Look Coolest” era of prehistory. If you want to know what the dinosaurs from the show are up to today, you only have to look as far as Toy Story, where Rex explains that he’s from Mattel or, rather, “a smaller company that was purchased in a leveraged buyout.”

15. Challenge of the Go-Bots

Start Date: September 8, 1984

Total Episodes: 65

Studio: Hanna-Barbera

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Good robots face off against evil robots in a planetary civil war, transforming between robot and vehicle forms in battle. Of course, I’m talking about the Go-Bots, from GoBotron, not the Transformers from Cybertron. The Go-Bot toys were smaller, had less interesting transformations, as well as less variety among the different toys. The show wasn’t much different. Where the Transformers have left an indelible impact on western pop culture, the Go-Bots are all but forgotten by time. The real challenge of the Go-Bots was justifying why we should bother watching the show.

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