Founded in Atlanta, Georgia in 1992 the company started to make a network dedicated solely to kid’s and young adult entertainment, with current other networks such as Adult Swim, Boomerang, Cartoonito, and Toonami operating under it. Most young adults, teens, and children have a memory of at least one show if not more that they latched onto in their youth, and the company certainly has made this easy for Gen Z as we have had access to a diverse and unique range of new content in addition to re-runs of old CN shows. In the spirit of this nostalgia, here is a list of the top five most important and most iconic CN shows of the last 10 years to my generation.
In what is truly one of the most creative cartoons to ever be made Pendelton Ward’s “Adventure Time” follows Jake the Dog and Finn the Human on wild, cosmic, and apocalyptic adventures in a post-nuclear war version of our world as they fight to save the world alongside colorful characters made of candy, chaos, and more.
While being able to appeal to a more surface-level audience visually, the show’s strengths lie in its ability to be a vessel for fandom nerds and lore collectors. Heavily devoting yourself to the narrative can reveal a whole storyline of war, abandonment, relationships, growing up, and more. “Adventure Time” really takes fun for the entire family to a new level with its versatility depending on age.
J.G Quintel’s Regular Show is anything but regular, looking at the lives of the sentient blue jay Mordecai and his best raccoon friend Rigby we are presented with average working-class lives and ordinary problems alongside a cast of other odd characters, however, every episode takes a mundane portrayal of middle-class Americanism and subverts it with bizarre wacky adventure.
The childish and humorous dialogue choices contribute to how tweens specifically have latched onto the series the hardest, especially with the comedy veering quickly into dude-bro vernacular and fart humor. Regular Show’s appeal is simply that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it feels no need to be the smartest or grandest it simply just is and that dynamic is exactly what fans love about it.
Based on the toys of the same name Tommy Andreason’s “Lego Ninjago” series coincides with the model toys of the same story, following six teenage lego ninja’s each with color-coordinated powers relating to different elements. Led by a grandmaster-type character, the protagonists band together to fight evil whilst navigating friendship and early teenage discourse.
The show is marketed towards CN’s younger demographic more so than other shows on this list, especially with the depth of storylines being more surface-level to pander to younger audiences. However, this does not take away from the entertainment everyone can find from watching vibrant lego ninjas practice the fictionalized art of “Spinjitzu ”.
Glen Murakami’s Teen Titans is a largely beloved cartoon that gives the spotlight to B-list DC Comics characters in a more detailed setting for the enjoyment of all youths. Tracking five teen superheroes led by Batman’s infamous sidekick Robin as they fight other lesser portrayed DC characters whilst also working through social conflicts among their group.
The show also sees a spin-off remodel of it called “Teen Titans Go!”, this media is largely ignored by the fandom due to being immature and watered down. The original show sees in animation and dialogue a residual darkness to the show that helps it feel more serious making the rejection of the spin-off understandable since it simplifies animation styles and slaps a saturation filter on everything. Teen Titans has been able to remain liked by both sci-fi fans and regular people due to its engaging macabre visual and depth-heavy characters.
Saving arguably the most iconic and controversial for last, Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe has become the defining face of modern CN for many kids throughout the 2010s. Following young teenage half human half alien Steven alongside his alien friend group and superhero team the crystal gems, he navigates a world of magic, trauma, and cosmic conflict whilst growing up and just trying to appreciate ice cream sandwiches.
Similarly to the first show mentioned Steven Universe can be appreciated on the surface level immensely with the aesthetic pastel color palette seen in animation style or the light humor, however for those who want to pay attention the show grapples with heavy themes of childhood trauma, abandonment, and identity unlike what we have ever seen a children’s show cover.
Additionally, this has also been one of the first kid’s shows to have characters with queer/trans experiences and to live with neurodivergence. Overall one of the most discussed CN shows of all time due to its vast array of admirable attributes and unique handling of adult themes.