Have you ever looked at the state of kids’ cartoons/shows and thought, “What the heck happened to them?” I swear, cartoons back when we were kids were so much better than whatever is out today. Don’t get me wrong, there are some bangers out today, but I feel like the overall consistent quality of cartoons when we (23 and up) were younger was just better. Maybe it’s just blind nostalgia and bias leading me to that conclusion, but I stand by it nonetheless. Nickelodeon shows from our childhood were the best.
I already ranked Cartoon Network’s best early 2000’s shows, which, if I’m honest, was easier to put together than Nickelodeon’s list. There was a clear number one for Cartoon Network but not so much for everyone’s favorite slime company. But I’ll get to that later, as you’ll see. So without further ado…
Ranking Nickelodeon Shows from our Childhood
#8 – Danny Phantom
Putting Danny Phantom at the bottom was a hard pill to swallow. I loved this show as a kid. I mean, who didn’t? But it just doesn’t hold up. The story is kind of boring, but as a kid, I never realized how bland the plot was because the idea of being a ghost with powers was so freaking cool. I will say this; Sam helped normalize the “alt girl look” for our generation, and for that, I will forever be grateful.
Dexter’s Laboratory is too early for 90’s kids as Jimmy Neutron is too late for 90’s kids. If I had to give a blanket reason why Millennials are as weird as we are, I would blame this show. Every character is an exaggerated caricature of what we, Millennials, would turn out to be: that one guy who thinks they know it all, the one with ADHD lost in their world and hyper-focused on something, the one that needs anxiety meds, the mean girl, you get the point. But the show and the movie feel like some fever dream.
Egg-shaped aliens called Yolkians kidnap adults to sacrifice them to their three-eyed chicken god, Poultry, and it’s up to Jimmy and his friends to save them. There’s a chicken dance involved at some point too. I refuse to go back and watch any of it because I think my brain forgot it on purpose, but I do remember enjoying the show a lot as a kid.
Ned’s an absolute gem of a show. I’ve never related to the main character more than in this show. So a relatively intelligent kid who is just lazy and easily distracted makes a survival guide on how to make it through the awkwardness that is middle school? That’s a million-dollar idea if I’ve ever heard one. Now, if only they could do an early to mid 20’s version, I would be eternally grateful.
But what makes this show so enjoyable, besides the life tips and character arcs, is the never-ending gags and bits that it introduces throughout its run. Jimmy Toot-Toot, Coconut Head, an overly strict Vice-Principal named Crubbs who dresses like a Miami Vice character, and the prey vs. predator feeling dodgeball elicited back in the day all still make me laugh to this day.
#5 – iCarly
Every Nickelodeon show has a thing or two that is iconic to that show. iCarly has two of them that come to mind immediately; the pear phone and spaghetti tacos. If you didn’t want a pear phone as a kid, then you are lying to yourself. They were so cool. And if you haven’t tried spaghetti tacos as an adult, then your inner child is lost, and you need to find them. And it’s thanks to iCarly that my generation now dreams of being a streamer, YouTuber, or influencer, which isn’t a bad thing, just relatively new in the grand scheme of humanity. Who wouldn’t want to create weird, funny content with friends as a job?
#4 – Fairly OddParents
How old were you when you learned it was Fairly and not Fairy OddParents? I won’t embarrass myself by telling you guys, but it was older than it should have been. So why is Fairly OddParents so high on my list? It’s simple. The older I get, the more of the jokes in the show land for me. There are so many funny haha moments in that show that went right over my head as a kid, but as I’ve gotten older and seen clips from episodes, I find myself surprised that those jokes are even there. Plus, who among us wouldn’t want fairy godparents who grant us wishes as long as they follow “Da Rules.”
Side note: The older I get, the more I relate to Timmy’s Dad and his absolute hatred of Dinkleberg. We all have a Dinkleberg in our lives that drives us crazy.
#3 – Drake & Josh
Boy Meets World, Fresh Prince, and Full House were all 90’s sitcoms that were all feel-good shows while tackling real-world topics. And I know at first glance that it seems like a crazy idea to have those shows lumped together but what’s even more nuts is that, in my head, Drake & Josh also belong on that list. Of course, Drake & Josh’s serious moments were more spread out than the others, but they were still there. But it showed us that at the end of the day, family is all you got. And it was up to you how you defined family. You didn’t need to share blood with someone to be their ride or die. Also, there was nothing quite like watching a younger sister torture and torment her older brothers.
Remember earlier when I mentioned how much easier the Cartoon Network list was? It’s because of this stupid show. Spongebob, in any other reality, is the obvious number one pick. Not because of its profound and almost perfect storytelling (IYKYK). You can even argue that it still deserves to be the number one pick, but why? Because Spongebob is eternal. Everyone, regardless of age, knows who that yellow square is. We all know what a Krabby Patty is. And how we would love to try one. Spongebob is like Nintendo’s Mario. There is no need to explain what or who he is. He is. Spongebob not only rests in the Mount Rushmore of Nickelodeon cartoons but for all cartoons in general.
There are very few stories that are as perfectly written as Avatar: The Last Airbender. (Code Geass is one of the other few.) I endlessly write about how amazing this show is and how everyone needs to watch it. The world-building, the character development, the themes, and the humor all blend seamlessly to give us one of the best narratives ever told. I don’t want to hype it up too much that it sets the bar too high, although it’s probably too late. If you haven’t seen it, then do yourself the biggest favor and watch it. It’s on Netflix. Just stop reading this and start watching the show.
Sidenote: Name a better character arc in all of fiction than Zuko. You can’t.
The Golden Era of Cartoons
Our generation was blessed to live in the most significant era of cartoons. We had WB Kids in its prime and Cartoon Network and Disney Channel, all releasing absolute banger shows. Has the overall cost of production for the shows we love now as adults gone up compared to what we used to watch? Yes, but that’s because it is hard to beat the storytelling. We were so blessed to have had kids. Whether we wanted to laugh at SpongeBob or learn about standing by your morals in Avatar, there was always something to learn, and Nickelodeon, with all of its animated shows and all its infamous green slime, really killed it when we were kids.
Which Nickelodeon show was your favorite?