Science fiction TV shows have been around almost as long as television itself. Today, sci-fi shows are ubiquitous; the winter television season had at least two shows about time travel and more than a few superhero shows with science fiction elements. It’s no wonder when you consider how lots of television viewers have grown up watching shows concerned with scientific concepts. The following list has the top fifteen science fiction shows for kids, ranked by quality, legacy, and use of scientific concepts and scientific inquiry. These shows had to have a distinct science element and be set in our world. Most importantly, if it was a kid’s show with a professor in it, it’s probably here. Here are 15 Classic Kids’ Sci-Fi Shows You Almost Forgot.
If you grew up in the ’90s, you know the Animorphs book series. You may not know that it had a short-lived TV series in the end of the ’90s on Nickelodeon. The show starred Shawn Ashmore, pre-X-Men and had special effects that looked ripped directly from the books’ covers. Like the books, the show had five teens, Jake, Rachel, Marco, Cassie, and Tobias, acquiring alien technology that allows them to transform into animals in order to help a benevolent alien race fight an evil alien race called the Yeerks.
Animorphs had a short run, 26 episodes ending with a whimper, and the reception was at best mixed. Still, it was decent enough, and brought a major children’s book franchise to the small screen. While you can easily name a book adaptation that was more successful (Goosebumps, A Series of Unfortunate Events), Animorphs deserves some recognition; it may be forgotten now, but it wasn’t worse than a lot of other kids’ shows that had a longer run.
14. Phil of the Future
Premiering at a time when Disney Channel’s live-action fare was otherwise entirely single camera, laugh track sitcoms, Phil of the Future stared Raviv Ullman (then Ricky Ullman) as Phil Diffy, a young man form the year 2121 who gets stuck in our time with his mom, dad, and sister, after their time machine breaks down. Every episode Phil would try to adapt to life in the 2000s by using the technology of his time.
Running for two seasons, viewers didn’t care about him returning to the 21st century as much as they cared about him becoming more than friends with his best friend Keely Teslow, but the culture shock of being a man removed from his own time was paramount to the show. Such memorable gadgets include the shrink ray that allowed Phil to swim in the sink, Robby the Robot, Cinespecs, the New Ager, and, of course, the Skyak.
13.The Secret World of Alex Mack
Another live-action show, Alex Mack starred Larisa Oleynik as Alex Mack, a teenage girl with a normal life until she is doused with a chemical that gives her abilities including but not limited to shooting electicity from her fingers and liquifying into a mobile puddle.
The near-accident that involved a chemical plant’s truck spilling on could have easily made her into a Marvel character, and the show did have the sense of wavering between being a superhero show. Alex’s biggest issue for most of the series was hiding her abilities from her parents and the rest of town, in order to not have her powers discovered by the local chemical plants CEO, Danielle Atron, while also going through the follies of adolescence.
The show lasted four seasons, usual for a successful live-action kid’s show, and is remembered fondly nearly 20 years later. If it weren’t for Oleynik’s charm on-screen, it may have not had the fanbase it had.
12. Spider-Man the Animated Series
Of all the Spider-Man cartoon series we’ve seen throughout the years. The 1994-1998 cartoon series had a distinct scientific element in ways that were very memorable. The series started off with “Night of the Lizard” and is remembered for its graphic reimagining of the “Six Arms Saga” where Peter Parker becomes Man-Spider.
Spider-Man ran for five seasons on Fox. The style of the show had a classic comic book look that was similar to the 1992-1997 X-Men series, making it easy to do crossover episodes.
The Peter of the series maintains the comic books Peter’s interest in science as a student at Empire State University and frequenter of the ESU Science Center. Peter even gives a mini tutorial on his homemade web shooters. Fox’s censorship requirements rendered the show incappable to have as the amount of action one would expect of superhero show. Additionally, a requirement imposed by Fox was that there had to be an educational aspect to the show, explaining why the show concentrated on sociological issues and the scientific aspects of Spider-Man and his villains.
11. Ben 10
For the sake of integrity, Ben 10 could not be put at the 10th spot on the list.
Ben 10 is about Ben Tennyson, a ten-year-old boy who discovers a special piece of alien technology, the Omnitrix, that gives him the ability to transform into ten types of aliens. The series was created by Man of Action, a team consisting of comic book writers Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, and Steven T. Seagle. It explains why the art style looks reminiscent of DC’s animated series. The show had the likes of Adam Beechen and Marty Isenberg writing episodes, men who have worked heavily within comics and animation, and so were able to create a show that could juggle the fun of having the powers of the Omnitrix and its perils.
The original series lasted four seasons consisting of 52 episodes. It won the Emmy for “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation” in 2007.
Ben 10 is one of the few modern-day Cartoon Network shows to reach a Hanna-Barbara Era type of legacy. The show became an entire franchise that has two live-action TV movies, toys, and four spin-offs. A reboot of the series premiered a preview episode back in October and starts its official run April 10th.
10. My Life as a Teenage Robot
My Life as a Teenage Robot originally ran from 2003-2005 before its first cancellation. It was then picked up by Nicktoons 2008, before being cancelled again after is return season ended in 2009.
The show revolves around XJ-9 “Jenny” who is the titular teenage robot. Another fish-out-of-water story, Jenny seeking to live a life beyond protecting the planet Earth. Joined by her friends Brad and Tuck, Jenny faces a group of robotic aliens, alien bikers, and acne in the form of nuts on her face, to name a few of the memorable aspect of the show.
The show was created by Rob Renzetti, who is also known for directing Dexter’s Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls, and working on Gravity Falls as a supervising producer. Renzetti modeled the artstyle after 1930’s cartoons, 1920’s art deco, and 1930’s poster designs, giving the show a retro look.
9. So Weird
So Weird is a bit different from the other shows on the list by being about paranormal investigation. Airing on Disney Channel for 3 seasons, 1999-2001, the show initially followed teenage Fi Phillips, a girl with a rock star mom Molly Phillips (played by Mackenzie Phillips) and an interest ghosts, UFOs, and other oddities.
This could be put on a list of supernatural shows, but the inclusion of science fiction elements, and Fi’s interests in computers, at one point she puts an alien on a floppy disk, justify the show being on the list.
As with every show on the list, So Weird was about the difficulties of growing up and finding while trying to navigate a strange world. Fi didn’t have the most stable homelife without the occult. She spent two seasons with her mom she on tour being homeschooled by the tour bus driver. What helps So Weird stand out on this list and with kid shows in general is that it is distinctively dark in tone, even in the third season where it tried to lighten the mood.
So Weird holds a special place in Disney Channel’s history by being one of the few shows on the channel to deal with dark subject matter, and it has Brink! stars Eric von Detten, one of the first instances of DCOM stars becoming part of a Disney Channel original series.
8. Gravity Falls
Gravity Falls was about twins Dipper and Mabel Pines (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal) who were visiting their great uncle “Grunkle” Stan in Gravity Falls, Oregon for the summer. Like So Weird, Gravity Falls had an emphasis on the paranormal, but the reasoning for it being on the list is simple: aliens, sea monsters, time travel, and a portal that may be connected to the Rick and Morty universe. Gravity Falls was never as dark as So Weird, but irrefutably had a darker sense of humor than Disney Channel’s other cartoons. Deer teeth. If you didn’t watch the show, you don’t understand the significance, but if you did, you know.
The show aired from 2012-2016 on Disney Channel and lasted two seasons as a choice of the creator Alex Hirsch, not cancellation. Gravity Falls achieved critical acclaim and a massive following from a fanbase much more broad than the typical Disney Channel demographic, thanks in no small part to the intelligent humor of the show and the talent of the voice cast. It’s hard to name an original Disney Channel animated series that had the same type of following. It is the only show on the list from this decade.
7. Strange Days at Blake Holsey High
If you watched Discovery Kids back in the day, before it was the Discovery Family or the Hub Network, you may have seen this little diamond of show. Even if you didn’t watch the show, you’d recognize the actors, several of the actors went onto star in Degrassi and two went onto star in Life with Derek, that show where the step siblings were always flirting with each other. Strange Days, by comparison, is not that strange.
Episodes would commonly have a mini science lesson from science teacher/dreamboat, Professor Zachary, or “Z” as he’s called by the Science Club, played by Jeff Davis (Cubby in The Famous Jett Jackson), and one of the Science Club members would suffer from a scientific anomaly related to whatever teen trouble they were having that week. Marshall (Noah Reid) turns invisible when he feels invisible. Lucas (Michael Seater) and Vaughn (Robert Clark), polar opposites who both have a crush on Josie (Emma Taylor-Isherwood), switch bodies after a mishap with an EEG. You get the picture.
6. Invader Zim
Invader Zim looked at the story of an alien invasion from the perspective of the aliens, with the ingeniously incompetent Zim as the focal point. Before he was Hot Topic merchandise Zim was a loud, diminutive, egomaniacal alien from the planet Irk, hellbent on taking over Earth for to redeem himself for mistakenly attacking Irk and subsequently bringing about his banishment. His attempts at domination were always thwarted by his own stupidity, or the stupidity of his malfunctioning robot, Gir.
Zim was about as sane as he was tall, but he was in good company on a technologically advanced, alternate version of Earth, where everyone shops at Hot Topic.
Zim’s short stature allows him to pose as a school student. It’s at school where Zim encounters Dib, a paranormal-obsessed classmate who is hellbent on exposing Zim as an alien.
Invader Zim had a demented sense of humor, art style, score, it was demented in every dimension possible. The show use of body horror is why it was considered to be overly dark for children.
The show only lasted two seasons, but has continued in the form of a comic book series in 2015. The comic book’s latest issue came out in February. Yes, Gir still loves tacos. The comics are the perfect thing to hold you over until the 90-minute Nickelodeon TV movie airs. The movie is in pre-production.
5. Code Lyoko
Code Lyoko was a French series that blended CGI and traditional animation to tell the story of private school students who use a computer in an abandoned factory near campus to enter the virtual world of Lyoko to fight the evil A.I., X.A.N.A., and free a young girl named Aelita who was trapped in Lyoko.
Every so often, X.A.N.A. would find a way to cause mayhem in the real world, but the shows appeal stemmed from the CGI used in the scenes set in Lyoko that gave the show a look of a video game. The design of the show is anime-inspired. The creator, Thomas Romain, has worked on Japanese and French/Japanese anime series after leaving Code Lyoko.
The theme song of the show “World Without Danger” is particularly memorable. It plays in the intro, outro, and intermittently within the show, but it’s so good it could play during the whole thirty minutes and one would still not tire of it. The song is musical bliss.
4. The Powerpuff Girls
The Powerpuff Girls was one of the biggest Cartoon Network shows from the channel’s Golden Age. It was about girls who were meant made of sugar, spice, and everything nice… “but Professor Utonium accidentally added an extra ingredient ingredient to the concoction, Chemical X.”
The original series was about showing girls could be tough too, but they didn’t have to be tomboys to be tough, that the tomboy had a feminine side, and that a nice girl can be strong leader. The previous shows on the list covered teen issues, PPG dealt with subject matter relevant to children like bed wetting, not wanting to eat vegetables, and cooties.
The show began with Craig McCracken creating “The Whoopass Girls” at CalArts. The short “The Powerpuff Girls in: Meat Fuzzy Lumkins” appeared on What a Cartoon in 1995. The series aired Powerpuff Girls aired from 1998-2005, and a feature film was released in 2002. As troubled as Townsville was, at least they live a world where the 2016 reboot doesn’t exist.
3. The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
The Jimmy Neutron franchise began with the 2001 feature film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Jimmy was an 11-year-old genius. You would never guess that before watching it. The title doesn’t give that impression at all. He had a distinct head of hair on top of a giant head that accommodated his giant brain.
Every episode had some sort of mayhem caused by one of Jimmy’s inventions. The most memorable inventions were the “sick patch” that allowed the wearer to be sick, Book Gum, all you have to do is chew a book to read it, and his loyal robot dog Goddard.
Jimmy’s social circle included Carl Wheezer, who was pregnant with an alien in one episode, Sheen, an Ultralord-obsessed comic relief, Cindy, the rival/love interest, and Libby, Cindy’s best friend.
The shows lasted for three seasons, 2002-2006. It might have made it to four if it wasn’t for DNA Productions didn’t shut down. Oh, the season that could have been. Cindy and Jimmy would have officially been a couple. The official word on the cancellation is that it was because DNA Productions closing down, but it might be because of “Who’s Your Mommy.”
2. Dexter’s Laboratory
The original cartoon boy-genius. Dexter’s Laboratory was one of the first original shows on Cartoon Network and remains the most popular.
Created by Genndy Tartakovsky, Dexter’s Laboratory was the story of a boy and his lab and his sister who was always breaking into his lab. The trouble caused by Dexter’s inventions was only a little more severe than the trouble caused by his sibling rivalry with his sister Dee Dee.
The show made a number of Star Wars references throughout it’s run. Mandark has a Death Star in his lab. Dexter had a robot that looked like a garbage mixed with a NASA rover that could deliver messages in the form of blue holograms. The show also contained references to the Avengers and Godzilla.
Among Dexter’s inventions was the Rude Removal System, an invention from a banned second season episode that went largely unseen until Adult Swim put it on YouTube 2013. The episode was banned in 1997 for having bleeped out profanity. The popular Spongebob Squarepants episode “Sailor Mouth” has bleeped out profanity and aired in 2001. That’s some bull****.
One cannot dispute ReBoot’s cultural significance. Jimmy Neutron was one of the first CGI-animated Nicktoons, but ReBoot was the first half-hour CGI-animated series ever.
The show takes place entirely within a computer, that the characters refer to as Mainframe. Pretty meta. Sprites Bob, Dot, and Enzo are the main characters of the series and protect Mainframe from viruses like Megabyte and his sister Hexadecimal. Megabyte appears to be cross between a demon and a robot, but Hexadecimal is straight-up computer-generated nightmare fuel.
ReBoot was a Canadian show that premiered on YTV in 1994, lasting four seasons and ending with a cliffhanger. The fanbase tried to amend this by creating a webcomic in 2008. It’s not canon, but sometimes if you want something done, you have to do it yourself.
There’s been talks of a movie for years, and in 2013 there was a reported ReBoot reboot in the works. Last week images were released of ReBoot: the Guardian Code – it’s coming to YTV (in Canada) in 2018, and is set to air on ABC in the USA. It’s going to have four live-action teenagers as cyber Power Rangers. Maybe they’ll encounter our favorite sprites and find out what became of them in last sixteen years.
So what do you think? Was there a show you think we missed?