After its initial launch on Nickelodeon in the early 2000s, Invader Zim became a huge cult classic with a massive online following. It was created by Jhonen Vasquez, known for the comics Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Squee! at the time. Vasquez has since contributed to various shows as a character designer, including DisneyXD’s Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja and the Nickelodeon short TMNT: Don vs Raph.
Arguably, Invader Zim is one of the most influential animated shows to come out of that time period, with echoes of its humor and tone present in Adventure Time, The Regular Show, Gravity Falls, and Steven Universe. But nothing can replace the cynicism, inventiveness, and craziness of Invader Zim. Thankfully, there are forty-six episodes and the upcoming TV movie Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus! to fall back on.
From hilarious one-liners to organ abduction, here are the 10 best Invader Zim episodes of all time.
10 The Nightmare Begins
Without a strong pilot, a show goes nowhere. While the pilot may not objectively be the best episode ever produced, it deserves a spot on the list for introducing us to the characters and the world of Invader Zim. It has a high rewatch value, hilarious one-liners, and the legendary house building scene that is later featured in the opening. Also, infamous Doom Song that’s never used again is in this episode. So stop singing it. Please.
The biggest criticism about the pilot is Dib’s introduction. He’s markedly more unhinged than in later episodes and goes a bit hard on the “Let’s dissect an alien!” vibe. The writers noticed early on, as by the second episode, he’s more like the Dib we know now. He’s still passionate and the most woke character in the show, but he knows when things aren’t worth his time anymore.
9 Battle Of The Planets
What happens when planets double as ancient alien spaceships? Human squishing.
The ridiculous goes up to 11 for “Battle of the Planets.” Zim discovers that Mars was outfitted to be a spaceship, so his brilliant plan involves ending all life on Earth by squishing it. Yeah, you’d think he’d just ram the planets together. But surprise! Mercury is ALSO a spaceship, so Dib has a fighting chance.
“Battle of the Planets” was the first 22-minute Invader Zim episode to air after the pilot and really showed us what the creative team was capable of. There are hilarious visuals, Jhonen Vasquez’s legendary one take screaming session, and satire of the highest quality. But it only gets better from here.
8 The Voting Of The Doomed
Invader Zim is great at taking the mundane and making it ridiculous. In “The Voting of the Doomed,” Zim believes becoming Skool president would result in ultimate control of the Skool and, by default, the Earth as a whole. This is entirely untrue, but even the thought of Zim being student president gets a big no from Dib. Dib enlists another student, Willy, to run against Zim. Willy ultimately wins and saves Zim from a fate of being the Skool’s brainwashed puppet.
This episode highlights Zim and Dib’s relationship as enemies and how they’re also two sides of the same coin. Being Skool president wouldn’t have done anything, brainwashing or not. Dib and Zim buy into the same game and at this point in the series, they both validate each other’s goals. It’s an interesting look at where they are in life, but it’s not the funniest episode or the wackiest concept the show has to offer.
7 Dark Harvest
There should be a club for anyone scarred for life by “Dark Harvest.” The entire concept is probably the darkest the show’s ever gone. After being diagnosed with Head Pigeons, Zim has to go to the school nurse. He then realizes that he doesn’t have human organs and, with Dib fueling his paranoia, decides the best thing to do is steal everyone else’s.
This episode has some truly nightmare-inducing imagery but also balances a line in dark humor that’s really hard to achieve. If Zim simply stole the organs? That would be scary. But replacing organs with random household objects? That’s funny. And that was a good enough argument for Nickelodeon.
Zim probably had the right idea on this one. Noticing how enamored humans are by cute things, Zim attaches a device to the classroom pet, Peepi the hamster, to turn it into a giant adorable monster. Peepi grows out of control and Zim has no choice but to launch him into space.
We’d probably all melt if we saw a giant cute hamster, so honestly? Solid plan. And it’s fun seeing Zim inadvertently protect the Earth. But probably the best tidbit about this episode is the Ultra-Peepi music that plays. According to the director’s commentary by Steve Russel, Ultra-Peepi’s stroll down the street was supposed to be more imposing and Godzilla-esque. When they got the final animation from the overseas studio, it looked like they’d animated Peepi walking to the Shaft theme. The composer, Kevin Manthei, laid down a funk beat to parody the movie’s theme to play it up for laughs.
5 Mysterious Mysteries
Dib finally gets his time in the spotlight. Without any good material, the anchor of Mysterious Mysteries of Strange Mysteries digs into the Dib Files. Gaz, Zim, GIR, and Dib all appear on the show for the ultimate tell all. It’s a hilarious parody on any and all reality TV shows, complete with testimonials, anonymous guest “Stacy” (aka GIR), and dramatic reenactments.
Most of the episode is animated to look like it’s a recording of a screen, considering that it’s supposed to take place in the editing room of Mysterious Mysteries. This isn’t the only time the team uses this technique and it almost feels like a test for what’s to come.
4 Zim Eats Waffles
Any network show will have filler episodes where the production team needs to save their budget for something awesome. Sometimes, these episodes are generally low in quality. “Zim Eats Waffles” was a money saver given the limited amount of backgrounds and camera movements, but it’s probably the most memorable episode of the show.
It’s exactly what it says on the tin. Zim eats waffles for eleven minutes while Dib watches and tried to get evidence for the Swollen Eyeball Network. Literally nothing happens in this episode, but the humor is compelling enough to drive the plot (if we can call it that) forward. And it’s nice to see Dib as more level-headed, simply rolling over and going to bed when everything goes wrong. Same, buddy. Same.
Invader Zim asks the important questions, like what happens when your giant mecha of doom doesn’t turn its pilot (or charging cables) invisible?
After accidentally receiving a Megadoomer, Zim decides to use this ultimate machine of destruction to get back at Dib rather than, you know, enslave the Earth. Using the Megadoomer’s cloaking function, we literally watch Zim float through the air for 11 minutes as GIR breaks into people’s homes to plug in the mech.
The concept itself is genius enough, but the joke’s played up so well. And you can’t help but get wrapped up in Zim’s logic. It kind of makes sense that he’d want to annihilate Dib, but what’s a kid gonna do against a giant war mecha?
2 A Room With A Moose
The title should say it all. Nothing about this concept makes sense and yet, we’re sold on it. Being insulted and demeaned by his classmates one too many times, Zim sends the entire class on a field trip into space. Dib discovers Zim intends to doom them to an eternity in a room with a moose. Because that’s super horrifying and traumatic. A moose. Yes.
It does make you feel kind of bad for Dib while giving you a new respect for him. He saves the class even though they all bully him and call him crazy. Sure, he totally wanted to save his own skin too, but Dib cares about humanity, given the effort he puts in to stop Zim. It’s the slightest glimmer of goodness in the awful universe the show takes place in. You have to appreciate Dib for that.
1 Backseat Drivers From Beyond The Stars
Behold, the crown jewel of Invader Zim. Everything about this episode is fantastic, over-the-top, and chaotically brilliant. Had the series continued beyond the Christmas special, “Backseat Drivers from Beyond the Stars” would’ve set up a lot of overarching plot details. It’s also the most solid episode of the show, juggling so many pieces and tying up every loose end that’s introduced.
It has the right blend of action and humor while not being bogged down by either. And it’s true. The overseas animation came back as perfect as it could be and there’s really no part of the episode that lags or feels like too much at once.
Also, “My Tallest!” It’s the longest episode opening of the entire series and it’s hilarious.