Top 10 Animated Comic Book TV Shows

While comic books and animation seem to go hand in hand, for some reason there are so, so many more bad animated shows based on comics than there are good. Maybe because so many are aimed at children, or maybe there are so many variables that come with even getting a show off the ground, let alone having and audience to keep it around and also having the right people to keep elevating the material, and ALSO having a studio that has faith in the production team and can stay out of the way.

For every successful show, there’s a Savage Dragon, WildC.A.T.S., or multiple failed adaptations of the likes of Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, or the Avengers. But when all of the right circumstances come together, sometimes you get something special. While a lot of how ‘good’ a show is can come down to personal taste and preferences, below are 10 animated shows based on comics that, regardless of order, everyone can agree are among the best!

Honorable mention goes to MTV’s The Maxx, based on the Image Comics series by Sam Keith, Superman: The Animated Series, and Wolverine & The X-Men!

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10. Spider-Man

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Aired: 1994-1998
You can find it on: Disney Plus

Despite having a pretty terrible- albeit sorta catchy- theme song, Spider-Man might have been the best Marvel animated series of the 90’s. Everyone remembers X-Men, but Spider-Man was really awesome! Some of the episodes are incredibly animated, the writing is solid to really good, and the voice acting is great! What’s not to love?

They gave Spider-Man comic fans everything they could ask for and THEN SOME: if you’re a fan of pretty much any Spidey character- supporting cast, ally or villain- they are probably in here. From Aunt May to J Jonah Jameson to Mary Jane and the obvious ones to Deb Whitman and Randy Robertson and Aunt Anna and other super obscure characters. And a lot of them are around quite a bit!

Love the Spider-Man villains? Of course you do; he’s got the best rogues’ gallery in comics! Well, feast your eyes, true believer, because they are here in spades! You’ve got everyone from Dr Octopus, Kingpin, Lizard and Mysterio to Hydro Man, Shocker, and Rhino! Is that Morbius? Sure is! Oh, look, it’s Kraven! The Black Cat! Venom! Carnage! The Hobgoblin (holy hell that’s Mark Hamill!) and Tombstone, Hammerhead, the Prowler, even freaking Dr. Doom! Again, what more could you ask for as a Spider-Man fan?

Oh, and ending? Ah. Well…. the thing is, it kind of ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, because they thought they were getting another season, so… kind of out of luck there.

Still, if you’re a Spider-Man fan, this is almost as good as it gets!

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9. Spawn

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Aired: 1997-1999
You can find it on: HBO Max

Holy hell this is awesome. Spawn creator Todd McFarlane was heavily involved with the creation of this dark, moody, atmospheric, violent adaptation of his Image Comics series, and it shows. One of the most faithful adaptations of a comic series in American history, Spawn is just as perverse, sick, shocking, thought provoking and intense as the comic series.

Keith David is absolutely incredible as Al Simmons, a former special forces operative who was betrayed and killed. In one of the levels of hell he meets an entity that promises it will allow him to return to his life- to the wife he left behind- if he becomes a soldier of hell. He agrees, but when he comes back to earth he’s in his rotten corpse! Time passes differently down there, and things have changed. His wife, Wanda, is now married to his former best friend, Terry, and they have a daughter together. The people that he thought were his comrades are up to no good, and it looks like Terry- and by extension, Wanda- are getting caught up in it. So, against his better judgement, and despite his anguish, heartbreak and despair, he steps in from time to time and lays ungodly ass beatings on anyone he comes across.

Spawn wasn’t afraid to depict sex, drugs, and insanely intense violence. Check out the episode with Chapel (from Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood), or Spawn’s dismantling of the giant cyborg Overtkill, or perhaps most disturbingly, the episode with the child molester/killer ice cream man…

There are a fair number of episodes, but it’s still a damn shame we didn’t get more. Seems to be a trend with the best comic animated shows…

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8. Spectacular Spider-Man

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Aired: 2008-2009
You can find it on: Amazon Prime, Apple TV (both at extra premium)

This is one of the best examples. A really great show, Spectacular Spider-Man (like the equally awesome Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Wolverine & The X-Men) was cancelled far too soon; a victim of corporate restructuring. A catchy theme song, great animation (you might not care for some of the designs or characters sheets, but give it a chance) and some really great storytelling were not enough to save this awesome show, and it’s a damn shame.

Like the 90’s Spider-Man, Spectacular does a nice job of taking popular stories from the comics and adapting them, although Spectacular tends to take a couple of stories, toss them in a blender, and take the best parts back together, and it totally, completely works. They mystery of the Green Goblin? The sage of the alien costume? The Sinister Six? Love triangles? High school? All here.

Man, it really is a shame it ended when it did, because like Wolverine & The X-Men, it ends with a really, really great season finale that sets up just SOOOO much cool stuff. Sadly, we’ll never get to see it come to fruition.

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7. Batman Beyond

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Aired: 1999-2001
You can find it on: HBO Max

This could have been a trainwreck. A future Batman without a Joker, a Robin, or an Alfred? I was skeptical.

Then I saw his design, and I said, oh, never mind, this will be awesome.

Terry McGinnis is no Bruce Wayne, but he’s got an old, pissed off Bruce Wayne as his Alfred and his teacher, so it’s the next best thing! He’s essentially Dick Grayson mixed with Peter Parker; he’s got all the skills in the world and a strong sense of duty and responsibility, but his activities as Batman are ALWAYS making his life as Terry incredibly hard.

While he doesn’t have some of the classic foes of the original Batman, a few stuck around, and they created some new villains for him to fight (none have the staying power of the classic Gotham gang, though). The Joker gang is interesting, but they are essentially just fanboys.

The best thing this show has going for it is its setting and its look. Terry’s Batman suit is killer, and the fact that you are able to play with recognizable settings and properties but because it’s the future there aren’t really any rules allowed for some really inventive story-telling.

Great intro, too!

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6. Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

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Aired: 2010-2012
You can find it on: Disney Plus

Before it was cancelled after Marvel wanted more synergy between its animated series and its cinematic universe, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes was one of the best animated series featuring Marvel characters ever made! Sticking relatively closely to the concepts of the classic Avengers comics but providing modern twists on old concepts, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes not only showed off why Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, etc are all awesome, but it really took time to explore the secondary and tertiary characters, so people like Hank Pym, Hawkeye, the Wasp, and Black Panther got a lot of screen time and development.

Sadly there are only two seasons (so far…?), but in those two seasons there is a hell of a lot of awesome packed into every episode. You like easter eggs and nods to fans? You’ll get them all over the place here. Love the classic, weirder Marvel villains, but also want to see a super scary Ultron, an incredibly dangerous Kang, or a maniacal Loki? Go no further. You were taken from us too soon, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

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5. Young Justice

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Aired: 2010-2013, 2019-?
You can find it on: HBO Max

What could have easily been just a crappy Teen Titans knock-off has become one of the best, most memorable animated series DC has ever created, and that’s saying something! The show has evolved as few ever have before from season to season, not only aging the characters up but introducing replacements, clones, and all kinds of shenanigans. The ongoing threat of the Light (think the Legion of Doom, or Injustice Gang) is always in the background, and sometimes, violently, the foreground, while each season deals with an overarching threat that is usually tied to, or in some way orchestrated by, the Light (might be Vandal Savage, or Lex Luthor, or Ra’s Al Ghul, or…).

While the Justice League is not the focus, they are often featured pretty heavily, while the Team (they are NOT the Teen Titans, dammit!) is always the primary focus. The action is always very well animated and choreographed, and some of the writing is really top-notch. Pretty much every character has had at least one moment to shine.

It was cancelled after its second season, but the combination of fan demand and streaming services’ need for content, it was recently resurrected and is still releasing new episodes!

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4. X-Men

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Aired: 1992-1997
You can find it on: Disney Plus

The theme song is stuck in your head right now, and will be for days. I apologize for nothing. As a kid in the early 90’s every Saturday at around 10:30 (maybe it was 11:00) was reserved pretty much the entire year: X-Men was on! You can probably hear the “Previously, on X-Men…” right now.

Featuring practically every X-character from the comics at one point or another, this show was awesome. Great characters, action, and drama (oh, so much drama) with cliffhangers everywhere, mysterious shadow figures, hidden schemes, and bombastic dialogue where people SHOUT WHAT THEY ARE DOING, in many ways this show was X-Men comics in the 90’s come to life!

We all remember Gambit’s over the top cajun sayings, Rogue’s hilarious southern-isms, Storm’s bonkers command shouts (WIND! RAINS! LET THE MIGHT OF WHATEVER FLOW THROUGH BLAH BLAH!), Scott and Jean constantly screaming each other’s names, and Wolverine trying so hard not to swear on a kid’s show (‘You egg suckin’ piece of gutter trash!”), but do you remember the way it tackled heavy themes (as much as a kid’s network cartoon could) such as racism, bigotry, violence, pacifism, xenophobia, and imperialism. While the voice acting isn’t always fantastic and some of the animation is trash (some of the later seasons… wow), this show will forever be beloved by comic book fans in general, X-Men fans in particular, and everyone that loves catchy theme songs.

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3. Invincible

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Aired: 2021- ?
You can find it on: Amazon Prime

Holy. Shit. Possibly the most faithful direct adaption of the source material on this list, Invincible pulls no punches. The violence and subject matter are every bit as mature- and at times even extreme- as they are in the incredible Image Comics series (by the Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman!). Featuring a cast with names like Steven Yeun, JK Simmons, Sandra Oh, Walton Goggins and Mark Hamill and animation that looks like it came straight from the pencils of Ryan Ottley and Corey Walker, maybe more so than any before it, Invincible is an animated series that really feels like its subject matter come to life!

Season one left us with Omni Man’s secret being revealed to all, and Mark taking an incredible ass kicking from his dad, who then fled the planet. Mark is going to try to take his dad’s place moving forward, and for those that have read the incredible comic series, you know that we are in for some crazy, crazy stuff!

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2. Justice League/Unlimited

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Aired: 2001-2004 (Justice League), 2004-2006 (Justice League Unlimited)
You can find it on: HBO Max

The big finale of the Bruce Timm-verse of animated series, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited are about as good as superhero shows can get! ‘Justice League’ focuses on their version of the ‘big 7’: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkgirl. Together they face down pretty much every major threat you can think of in DC Comics. But eventually there were just too many threats, and the show adopted the Satellite Era of the comics with Justice League Unlimited, which featured the orbiting space base for the League and an ever-growing, seemingly bottomless roster! Featuring everyone from Green Arrow to the Question to Zatanna to Supergirl, this show- possibly even more than BTAS- is the ultimate letter to DC Comics!

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1. Batman

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Aired: 1992-1995
You can find it on: HBO Max

The best of the best; Batman: The Animated Series hits all the right buttons. The story telling is top-notch, the voice acting is legendary (Kevin Conroy is who most of us hear when we read Batman, right?), the villains are all extremely well served, and there is a terrific mix between new material and adaptations of existing comic stories. Essentially, BTAS distilled everything that is great about every single character down to its purest form and put it out for the world to see. Other than a few head scratchers and at times some less than stellar animation (the majority of the time it’s great, but there are a few that are not so awesome) it is a really, really great show that was so popular it spun out into Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Justice League: Unlimited!

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