Quarantine has been making me reminisce on my childhood memories when I have nothing left to do. It’s easy to look back and hope for simpler times when today’s horrors become too much. While looking back at those bygone days is a bittersweet quarantine activity, I can’t really help it. The steady rise of reboots, adaptations and spin-offs are making me revisit the cartoons I enjoyed the most when I was younger. And it’s not just me—nostalgia is an effective marketing tool that introduced us to the Twilight renaissance, resurrected the Percy Jackson fandom and made Avatar: The Last Airbender one of Netflix’s top shows.
Making a case for nostalgia, here are the cartoons that I think need an overdue resurgence.
My love for ghosts and all things morbid made “Danny Phantom” one of my favorite cartoons. This was the show that made me want to be a ghost-hunter. When titular character Danny explores the Ghost Portal that his ghost-hunting parents built in an attempt to connect the real world to the Ghost Zone, he emerges a half-ghost, half-human hybrid who must stop ghosts from ruling over and possessing everyone in town. His adventures are clearly influenced by many comic book superheroes as well as horror movies, from having a secret double life to the recurring roster of villains and even a dark and evil clone plot.
Not going to lie though, I had a childhood crush on Danny, so maybe that’s why I look at the cartoon so fondly when I remember it.
I grew up around women and girls. My grandmother and mom taught my two sisters and me everything we know. I was also enrolled in an all-girls school. So I know how badass girls can be. But I’ve never seen that come to life in a cartoon until I got hooked on “Totally Spies,” and nope, I’m not going to talk about “The Amazing Spiez” because that needs to disappear forever.
Alex, Sam and Clover were smart and fierce girls who were never afraid to get down to business. As spies working to eliminate crime around the world, they were decisive and quick to their feet. They also looked effortlessly cool using their gadgets disguised as makeup and rappelling down a building with their iconic heart-shaped silver belt. They were strong girls who didn’t have to be boyish to be strong. They taught me that loving the color pink, being fashionable and being ultra-feminine wasn’t the bad superficial thing that everyone was making it out to be. This series proved that girls can do anything in heels, and they can do it better.
“My Life as a Teenage Robot”
Set in the fictional town of Tremorton, this cartoon follows XJ-9, who was the first robot/person I encountered with a number in their name (sorry Elon Musk and Grimes). The six-foot-tall automaton, going by the name Jenny, attempts to have a normal human girl experience like getting her metallic ear pierced, while her creator/mother insists on her becoming Earth’s full-time protector.
Jenny’s responsibility to protect Earth from aliens or human villains often puts a damper on her plans to live a normal life, but she embodies, more than anyone (at least to my teen mind) the phrase, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I’m a fan of this show because I looked at Jenny as a model for fulfilling your duties without forgetting to have fun as well. Looking back, the series also tackled questions about what it means to be human. Jenny doesn’t have a sense of touch or the ability to dream, but she’s just as human as her friends, trying to live a happy and content life.
“The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy”
I saw myself in the three main characters of this cartoon. Billy, the good-natured but foolish boy who is kind even to the Grim Reaper, Mandy, who is a hard-working and bossy young girl, and Grim, the angry and powerful being legally bound to be best friends with the two young kids because he lost a limbo contest.
I, too, have lost limbo contests, but this unlikely friendship between the main characters was what drew me to the show. As someone who was socially awkward growing up, I felt that I could never fit in no matter how hard I try. While the show started out with the main characters being forced to stay friends, their morbid pursuits eventually helped them see value in each other, no matter how different they were. I also loved that famous fictional characters from popular culture, like Dracula, The Bogeyman and Eris the goddess of discord, made frequent appearances throughout the series.
Pixar’s “Ratatouille” gave us the great quote “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” However, it was “Chowder” who taught me how hard it really is to become a great artist. This cartoon follows the titular Chowder, an aspiring chef and apprentice to Chef Mung Daal, who manages a catering service.
Aside from the cute characters who are all named after food (looking at you, Kimchi the stinky gas cloud) and the traditional and stop motion animation used throughout the series, it was Chowder’s sense of ambition that resonated with me. He may be carefree and a bit of a scatterbrain, but nothing can deter him from training with Mung to become a better chef. He never backed down from a challenge and was always ready to do even better than he did the last time. Coupled with a few crazy adventures, “Chowder” is a great cartoon that showed me how important it was—and still is—to strive for excellence.