80s nostalgia kicked off big in the early 2000s, and continues to have a strong following today. For those counting, that means the weird cult revival of all things tubular has outlasted the decade that spawned it! On the other hand, a large generation of kids came of age or at least got their start in the 1980s, and a pop culture Renaissance aimed at children helped infuse them with a rich deluge of adventure cartoons to keep them occupied for hours... and market various toy lines to them too.
Said toys have since become collectors items selling for whopping prices on eBay, and said kids have grown up to create the geek subculture that populates conventions all over the country. The arrival of the DVD allowed legions of fans to once again revisit their favorite kiddie cartoons, and to introduce those shows to new generations of fans. But, in an age of constant rereleases and Blu-Ray upgrades, can DVD really be enough? Most of the shows submitted herein had a DVD release, though many have gone out of print or fallen into obscurity. Others haven’t seen the light of day since they aired on TV all those years ago. Isn’t it time they all got an upgraded Blu-Ray release? The discs could feature any existing holdover features from the DVD sets, as well as new special features including the usual cast and crew interviews etc., though the real masterstroke would be to include any of the toy commercials that often accompanied said series to evoke the bleeding heart kiddie nostalgia freak in us all!
In no particular order, have a look at 15 80s Cartoon Series We Need on Blu-Ray NOW!
15 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
What better quintessential 80s cartoon to come to Blu-Ray than the one that started it all?
By that, of course I refer to the FCC decision to allow children’s television shows to be based on toys, and the choice by toymaker Mattel and production company Filmation to sell the show into syndication. Instead of cartoons only airing on network stations on Saturday mornings, they would now air in the afternoon in local markets. The new rules also allowed cartoons to feature a new level of violence and realism on the proviso that each episode include an educational “moral” tied in with the plot of the show.
He-Man also set new standards for the level of writing for children’s fare. Though low-budget and designed to sell toys, the writers developed a detailed backstory and relationships for the characters, in essence creating the idea of a cartoon mythology. Writers for the show like Bruce Timm would go on to pioneer Batman: The Animated Series and DC Animated Universe, while Larry DiTillio would become a sci-fi icon with his work on Babylon 5 and The Real Ghostbusters. Though primitive, He-Man might is one of the last shows to be fully animated in the US, and featuring the voice talents of John Erwin and Alan Oppenheimer, it’s a must for nostalgia addicts and animation fans.
14 She-Ra Princess of Power
The sequel/spin-off series She-Ra Princess of Power continued the story which begun on He-Man and marks another watershed moment for 80s animation. Mattel and Filmation created a show to appeal to girls and boys alike. More importantly, the mythology begun by the writers of He-Man evolved too, becoming even more intricate and epic in scope. In the debut episodes, Prince Adam/He-Man would search for his long lost twin sister, who herself was destined to take up the powers of Greyskull and defend the universe. As an infant, the villainous Hordak and his minion Skeletor—the primary villain on He-Man—had kidnapped her. The Princess Adora had grown up an agent of evil, raised as Horak’s child. Adam would need to show her the evil of Hordak, and help her realize her destiny.
What had begun as two-dimensional cartoon character suddenly took on new depth, as Skeletor became a more complex, gray villain, and He-Man a mournful brother. She-Ra, while a heroine, would need to grapple with the evils of her past, her desire to be with her family, and her obligation to the people she helped enslave. Though She-Ra never caught on the way He-Man did (in part due to some very strange choices regarding the toy line), it nevertheless remains an important show in the history of animation, and an essential for fans of the Masters of the Universe franchise.
Like He-Man and She-Ra, the Transformers animated series had its roots in toy sales rather than literary inspiration. Toymaker Hasbro created a line of collectables that combined two favorite young boy idioms—robots and cars—into a single line where robots would become the cars. The toyline also had increased popularity thanks to a tie-in cartoon that also helped create a mythology and character dynamic for the toys.
The first two seasons of the show followed the benevolent Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, as they battled for control of their homeworld against the evil Decepticons, led by Megatron. Both clans come to Earth in search of energy to aid in their ongoing war, and take on the form of human machines to hide and battle one another. Like He-Man also, cynical business choices by Hasbro unintentionally created a show mythology. With the release of Transformers: The Movie in 1985 (already on Blu-Ray), a number of the show’s main characters died off, and a pseudo-religious backstory for the Transformers came into play.
With the movie already on Blu-Ray, it feels only fitting that the accompanying TV series get the same treatment, especially since the film only tells one chapter in an ongoing story. With the mega-budget Transformers live-action films continuing to make a killing at the box office, it boggles the mind to ponder why the producers wouldn’t want to capitalize on the franchise’s ongoing fandom!
While never quite as popular or influential as He-Man or Transformers, the Thundercats TV series nevertheless has a strong cult following probably ravenous to get their show on Blu-Ray media! Thundercats also went into production to help promote a toy line, and while the toys never quite took off the way the manufacturers hoped, the show did net a strong following, and eventually outlasted the toy line.
The story of feline humanoid aliens trying to rebuild their civilization after a planetary apocalypse, Thundercats actually grew as a show the longer the series ran. What began as a villain-of-the week one-off episodic series later became an ongoing serial of multi-part episode arcs and rich character mythology. In an unusual move, the show also managed to cap itself off, producing a proper series finale that found the heroes creating peace in their new world, and the final defeat of their enemies. Much of the animation staff would later go on to work at Disney Studios, or under Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki, and the quality of animation for the show, while still primitive, foreshadows the later prestige of the animators. Thundercats enjoyed a brief reboot series in 2011, and though it only ran one season, it received positive critical notice and developed a strong fanbase…strong enough that the original should come to Blu-Ray for future enjoyment.
11 GI Joe
GI Joe the toy had debuted in the 1960s, though it would take almost 20 years for the toys evolve into a full-blown franchise. Born out of the Cold War paranoia and militarism that piqued in the 1980s, the toys, which began as dolls and later shrunk down to action-figure size, featured a broad array of vehicles and weapons to instill and glorify the virtues of military might. What could have begun and ended with simple Reganesque saber rattling and bombast, instead actually grew into a memorable storyline courtesy of a fine animated series.
GI Joe debuted in 1983, and in the same vein as He-Man used animation to help sell toys under the auspice of a “moral” at the end of every episode. The show helped push the toyline beyond simple military ennui into a full-blown sci-fi epic. Like Thundercats too, it would feature several multi-part episode arcs, and a direct to video movie.
GI Joe, despite several big-screen outings, never quite found a second life the way Transformers did. Still, the epic scale of the show made for a fun story, and the basic concept—a special forces task force taking on terrorist group bent on world domination and destruction—feels more timely now than it did in the 1980s!
10 Strawberry Shortcake
Strawberry Shortcake, while one of the secondary characters to come out of the 80s cartoon-toy boom, deserves a release on Blu-Ray, if for no other reason but to prove how far female characters have come! The character began as a figure on a series of greeting cards, which, much like the Care Bears (more on them in a moment), hit TV screens as toy companies rushed to find properties to produce as toys and cartoons.
Strawberry Shortcake never had a full series like GI Joe or Care Bears, but still managed to enjoy wild popularity in the 80s thanks to a series of TV specials produced by noted Canadian animation company Nelvana. From 1980-1985 the studio produced six animated shorts about Strawberry and her friends who lived in a world made of food. Kind and resourceful, Strawberry often had to match wits with the dastardly Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak, still remembered for his lascivious demeanor and signature tap dance.
The character Strawberry Shortcake is an interesting one in the context of history. At the time of her debut, she was attacked by Peanuts creator Charles Schultz for being a merchandising knockoff of his beloved Charlie Brown and friends. At the same time, Strawberry’s pluck, smarts and independence made her a sort of proto-feminist predecessor to later cartoons like The Powerpuff Girls. Dated but charming, silly but fun, Strawberry deserves a place on Blu-Ray for animation historians and nostalgia buffs to revisit her adventures.
For all the Star Wars nostalgia evoked by The Force Awakens, and for all the crazy merchandising that George Lucas and Disney have earned a reputation for, there two very notable lapses in emptying out the archives of a galaxy long ago and far away cast a glare on the faces of fans. Droids marked the first foray into animated television series for the Star Wars galaxy. Focusing on the adventures of droids C3P0 (with actor Anthony Daniels reprising his role) and R2-D2, the show explored the further outskirts of the Star Wars universe, featuring space pirates, gangsters and the rise of the Empire. A prequel to the Original Trilogy, the show became the pet project of sound designer Ben Burtt who wrote several episodes.
Animated by Nelvana, Droids featured the participation of several noted voice artists, and a number of elements of the series tied in to the Prequel Trilogy, and again to The Force Awakens. For example, the Boonta Eve stadium, famous as the site of Anakin’s podrace in The Phantom Menace, appears in one episode as home to speeder races. Battle droids also appear in the show, as does a supporting character named Kylo. The notorious Boba Fett also appears in one episode. Given these fun connections to the film, and given the ravenous appetite of fans for anything and everything Star Wars, that the show has never seen a full release on home media boggles the mind. In particular, Droids featured a more mature and hardcore sci-fi tone, making it a perfect snack for fans chomping at the bit for the next Star Wars cinematic entry.
Also known as the other missing link in Star Wars media, Ewoks ran for two seasons on ABC. The show centered on Wicket, the Ewok who befriended Princess Leia during Return of the Jedi, and his young Ewok friends as they explore the magical and mysterious moon of Endor. Ewoks aimed at a slightly younger audience than Droids, but still managed to offer some great adventures in the Star Wars milieu.
Though the show only enjoyed limited popularity at the time, the episodes are better than their reputation might suggest. Linda Woolverton, who would go on to great success as the writer of Beauty and the Beast, Malefecent, and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, contributed several episodes, as did future Batman: The Animated Series godfather Paul Dini. Most of the story revolved around Wicket and the Ewok shaman Logray trying to protect a magical stone called the Sunstar from the forces of evil. Though closer in tone to the Ewok telefilms of the mid-80s, the show also featured appearances by the Empire, including one mad scientist who plots to use the Sunstar as a weapon. Also animated by Nelvana, Ewoks deserves to have a full-scale Blu-Ray restoration and release, and given the latter-day Star Wars mania, Disney’s overlooking the series for home media perplexes.
7 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Speaking of 80s cartoons that have made a comeback, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted in the late 1980s as a TV cartoon. The property had already become a successful comic book series before hitting screens, and of course, to tie in with the cartoon, Turtle toys had to hit shelves too. Though the four heroes in the half-shell wouldn’t really hit their stride until the 1990s, that the early episodes debuted in 1987 qualify it for entry here. Those early episodes too, despite broad departures from the source comics, would help shape the franchise for years to come.
The cartoon series established the four turtles as wearing color-coded masks to differentiate between them, and also introduced key characters like Krang, Rocksteady and Bebop. Though fans of the cult comic criticized the changes from the source material—including the addition of more humor, the softening of violence, and introduction of more colorful characters and stories—the animated series helped popularize the Ninja Turtles beyond their cult status. It remains one of the most important and influential cartoon series ever, running for a shocking nine years. The entire series has since hit DVD shelves, though given their place in history and enduring popularity, surely the Ninja Turtles deserve an upgrade.
6 Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
Long before Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield swung on to movie screens, and long before current Spider-Man Tom Holland was even alive (munch on that one a moment), Spider-Man graced the screen Saturday mornings on NBC with his team-up series Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. The show followed college student Peter Parker as he attended Empire University, and met up with Bobby Drake, also known as Iceman, of the X-Men. The two joined forces along with the mutant Firestar to fight popular Marvel villains like Dr. Doom and Loki. On occasion, the team also joined forces with the X-Men, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America.
Though the show only ran about three years, it proved very popular and had some radical effects on the comic continuity. The writers created Firestar for the show after they failed to obtain permission to use the Human Torch, and after the cancelation of the show, Firestar became a popular character in the comics. The show also proved the viability of the Marvel characters in animation, which would later have a rennesance with the 1990s X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons. Though available in Europe, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends has never had a release in the US. What better way to debut it than on Blu-Ray disc?
This near-forgotten series aired from 1987-1989 as part of the Alf fad of the mid-80s. By that time, the show had become a popular hit on NBC for more than a year, and producer/comedian/lead puppeteer Paul Fusco made a bid for Saturday morning spinoff success. It had worked for other shows: The Muppet Show had spun off into the long-running Muppet Babies, and popular shows of yesteryear Gilligan’s Island and Happy Days found a way to satisfy their loyal fanbases. Alf: The Animated Series, followed the adventures of the titular alien on his home planet of Melmac, The show served as a prequel to the prime time, live action series, and elaborated on many of the jokes about Alf’s homeworld.
Alf: The Animated Series remained in production even as the popularity of the prime time Alf began to wane. The producers retooled The Animated Series into the spinoff AlfTales, which imagined Alf as the lead in retellings of various fairytales. It lasted only one season. Alf’s animated outings probably qualify as little more than a footnote in TV history, or even in the history of the Alf fad. Still, packaging both animated shows along with the live action version could make for a great Blu boxed set!
4 Care Bears
The fuzzy, loving, tummy tattooed bears hit the big time in the early 1980s. Like Strawberry Shortcake, they happened to get lucky: toy company Kenner, wanting products to fill shelves and an animated series to help popularize them, decided to bring the Care Bears to life. A major marketing roll out captured press attention, and Kenner hired Atkinson Film-Arts to produce an animated special to help popularize the characters. It worked: the Care Bear toys began selling plush dolls and action figures to kids everywhere.
In 1985, hot off the success of two TV specials and the launch of a spin-off line of Care Bear Cousins, the fuzzies made their big screen debut with the Nelvana produced Care Bears Movie, which shocked Hollywood by becoming the highest grossing non-Disney animated feature in history. A full TV series followed, until the loveable bears found their popularity on the wane. A full anthology of all the Care Bear adventures would be a must for fans, and could combine the various incarnations into a single anthology.
3 Video Game Cartoons
Video games became household names literally in the 1980s, courtesy of an ever-expanding number of video arcades around the country, and home systems like Atari, and later, the classic Nintendo. As Pac-Man fever gripped the nation, Atari, Nintendo and the like rushed to bring their characters even more visibility via Saturday morning cartoons. Pac-Man led the charge, followed by Saturday Supercade, a segmented show which featured a variety of video game characters, including Donkey Kong, Q-Bert and Frogger. In its second season, Pac-Man also combined with the popular Rubik’s Cube fad to add a segment featuring the notorious cube anthropomorphized and having adventures. By the end of the decade, Nintendo had gotten in on the action, bringing The Super Mario Bros. Super Show to the airwaves, which featured animated adventures of Mario, and a series based on the Legend of Zelda games.
Several of these video game series made it to DVD, though several only saw limited release and are since hard to come by. A Blu-Ray treatment for some or all of the video game cartoons would pull on the heartstrings of nostalgic 80s kids yearning for their youth.
2 Dungeons and Dragons
Yet another 80s fad that found a new audience in animation, Dungeons and Dragons spawned from the popular role playing game. In the late 1970s, the game of the same name took the world by shock and storm when millions of players all over the world rushed to buy gaming materials and role the twelve-sided die. Even as Christian groups began to charge that the games promoted Satanism, CBS began to air an animated series loosely based on the game in 1983. The premise saw a group of kids transported into the magical Dungeon Realm, where they first met the benevolent Dungeon Master, and the evil wizard Venger.
The show ran for three seasons before the controversies surrounding the game helped it get the axe. The show, on its own, had been criticized as too violent for children, even though it was primarily aimed at teens. Writer Michael Reeves penned a series finale at the behest of CBS, though when it looked like a fourth season might air, the finale went on hold. In the end, the third season would end the show and the finale would go unproduced. A much praised-DVD release included every episode of the series, and a radio-show version of the finale. Long out of print thanks to the bankruptcy of producer BCI, a Blu-Ray release would help bring the show a new audience, and provide a much needed wrap up to the action.
1 Rainbow Brite
With the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake enjoying massive success in the early 80s, and with both franchises raking in massive bucks, Hallmark decided it too needed a greeting card character to merchandise. The company answered with Rainbow Brite, a plucky, punky heroine who could control the colors of the universe. The character made a splash in 1984 with a debut TV special, and an animated series followed. Rainbow Brite ran for only one season and helped promote the enormous toy line produced by Mattel. A big screen outing, Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer followed in 1985, intended to bring new notoriety to the franchise, but instead had the opposite effect. Produced quickly and at low cost, critics savaged the film as sloppy and boring, and toy sales waned.
The show and the character maintained a cult following, however, and in the 1990s, the rise of Rave Culture, which adopted Rainbow Brite as a sort of mascot, helped win the character a brief revival. Repeated attempts to reboot the series have had mixed success, though none of them have come close to topping the original. The original series has never had a North American DVD release, so the cult of Rainbow Brite still sits eager for another return to Rainbowland.
Any favorite 80s cartoons we missed? Tell us in the comments!