Marvel has dominated the box office for years with the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, but when it comes to animation on television, it was usually DC that ruled. With that said, Marvel has enjoyed its fair number of animated television hits, mostly with the production that began in the 1990s.
It all started with Marvel’s merry mutants and then moved through the Marvel Universe. By the time the MCU started its run to dominance, the Marvel animated series began to morph and turn into cartoon versions of the popular movies. Along the way, Marvel proved they could release animated cartoons on TV that matched anything DC put out.
One of the most beloved Marvel animated series of all time was the X-Men series that ran from 1992 to 1997. The show was so popular that Disney+ is reviving it as X-Men ’97, continuing that animated world’s storylines and picking up right where the original cartoon left off at in 1997.
Originally airing on Fox Kids Network, the X-Men had the same designs of the Jim Lee comics at the time with names like Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Gambit, Jean Grey, and Wolverine in the lineup. In the ’90s, X-Men was Marvel’s answer to Batman: The Animated Series, and received critical praise for bringing popular comic book storylines to the small screen.
Spider-Man had appeared in cartoons for many years, even holding a spot in the PBS kids’ series The Electric Company. In 1994, Spider-Man joined X-Men in the Marvel animated series lineup on Fox Kids Network. The series ran for five seasons and 65 episodes, with Peter Parker as a college student when the series launched.
Spider-Man was hugely popular, praised for its faithfulness to the classic comic book stories. It also stood out because it focused a lot on Peter Parker’s life as well as Spider-Man, making this one of the more nuanced look at a superhero in an animated series.
X-Men: Evolution (2000-03)
Three years after X-Men left the air, Fox Kids released a new series based on Marvel’s mutants with X-Men: Evolution. This changed things up completely from the previous animated series, because the X-Men were all turned into teenagers instead of adults.
Despite the changes, the cartoon ended up a huge success, running for four seasons. It started out as a disappointment compared to the previous series, but in the second season, the improvements were drastic and it ended up great on its own thanks to the high school and teenage themes.
The Spectacular Spider-Man (2008-09)
In 2008, a new Spider-Man animated series arrived from Marvel with Spectacular Spider-Man. Unlike the 1990s cartoon, this series made some major changes to the Spider-Man world, including drastically changing some villains’ origin stories. It also had a more anime-styled design.
The animated series only ran for two seasons, but it was met with widespread acclaim. The changes to many Spectacular Spider-Man characters, including Electro and Venom, and keeping Peter Parker in high school helped it stand out from the comics while still paying homage to what came before.
The Super Hero Squad Show (2009-2011)
The visual look of The Super Hero Squad Show would make some fans think this is a cartoon only for little kids. That is far from the truth. In a cartoonish, almost toy-like design style, this cartoon was a self-aware parody of the Marvel heroes that appeared in the series, even going so far as to have Stan Lee as the Mayor of Superhero City.
This series was also popular because of the callbacks to the comics, including making every episode’s title card a homage to a classic comic book cover. With Thanos, Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, and more, the show was a huge success and ran for 52 episodes.
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010-12)
Premiering in 2010, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes debuted on Disney XD and brought the Avengers back in an animated series. The cartoon chose to bring the comic book version of the team rather than the MCU version Marvel was building in the movies at the time.
The show was praised for bringing some of the most popular comic book storylines to life in an animated series. The cartoon was loyal to the comics, including using hte original lineup and even bringing in Captain America as he was introduced in the comics. When the MCU convinced Disney to bring those heroes to an animated series, Disney canceled Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and replaced it with Avengers Assemble.
Ultimate Spider-Man (2012-17)
In 2012, Spider-Man was back with his first series on Disney XD. In this case, it was Ultimate Spider-Man. While the animated series uses the word Ultimate in the title, this was not necessarily an adaptation of the Ultimate Marvel Comics version of the character, although it is the Ultimates version of Nick Fury in the series.
Here, Peter Parker has been Spider-Man for a year and Nick Fury offers him a chance to become an “ultimate” Spider-Man with training. He teams Spider-Man with other teenage heroes, including Nova, White Tiger, Iron Fist, and Power Man. The show lasted four seasons and the multi-episode stories elevated it above other cartoons at the time.
Hulk And The Agents Of S.M.A.S.H. (2013-15)
Hulk and the Agents of SMASH brings not only Hulk to the best animated series he ever appeared in, but combines him with his fellow gamma-radiated heroes and antiheroes. The show is told from the point of view of Rick Jones, who becomes the gamma hero A-Bomb in this series and is voiced by popular comic actor Seth Green.
Also featured are characters like She-Hulk, Red Hulk, and Hulk’s son Skaar. What resulted was a show that helped open up the world of Marvel’s gamma heroes to cartoon fans with two seasons and 52 episodes.
Guardians Of The Galaxy (2015-19)
In 2015, Disney brought the Guardians of the Galaxy to Disney XD with the same lineup as the one introduced in the MCU movies. This followed a lot of the format of Avengers Assembled with trying to find success of the movies on the small screen animated world.
The cartoon lasted for three seasons, ending in 2019, and found high critical success thanks to the action and cosmic Marvel storylines. The one thing holding the show down was its overreliance on adhering to the MCU, but the animation and humor helped the series stand high.
The one Marvel animation series that seemed to have no chance to succeed ended up as one of the biggest surprises for Marvel television. Marvel was producing shows for Hulu, which stopped when Disney+ launched. However, one last series arrived in the Marvel animated M.O.D.O.K.
The animation style was stop-motion and Patton Oswalt led the way both as a producer and the voice of M.O.D.O.K. There was only one season and 10 episodes, but the series ended up receiving high critical acclaim. The show was a parody that had sharp humor and played irreverent from start to finish. There isn’t a Marvel animated series anything like M.O.D.O.K.
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