Of all the fantastical things TV brings into our lives, nothing indulges the imagination quite like cartoons. Whether timely (South Park) or timeless (Looney Tunes), animation can truly take us anywhere. The rules — and the budgets — of conventional television don't apply. In short, we just can't help being drawn to them. In honor of TV Guide Magazine's 60th anniversary, we present our list of the best and, often quite literally, the brightest:
1. The Simpsons (1989—present)
We're still not exactly sure where Springfield is, but we feel right at home at 742 Evergreen Terrace. Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and their friends and relatives have balanced cheeky humor and sharp social satire for more than 500 episodes, making this TV's longest-running scripted primetime series and as American as apple pie. Mmm, pie...
2. The Flintstones (1960—66)
Seemingly modeled on The Honeymooners, this prehistoric comedy from animation kingpins William Hanna and Joseph Barbera proved that cartoons could succeed in primetime. The exploits of modern Stone Age families the Flintstones and the Rubbles lasted six seasons, inspiring dozens of remakes, spinoffs and specials — and even a pair of live-action films — providing several generations with a yabba dabba do time.
3. Looney Tunes (1960—present)
They started at the movies way back in the 1930s, but Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Co. have an enduring appeal that has made their slapstick antics pop-culture mainstays. Countless TV incarnations and an extensive cast of beloved characters — Tweety and Sylvester, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and Yosemite Sam, among many others — ensures it'll be a long time before Looney fans will be saying, "That's all, folks!"
4. Peanuts (1965—present)
Springing from Charles M. Schulz's endearing comic strip, the Peanuts gang has become a TV fixture, thanks to the ongoing (and much-cherished) replays of holiday specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The snark-free adventures of long-suffering Chuck, joyful beagle Snoopy and their friends define what happiness is.
5. Scooby-Doo (1969—present)
Zoinks! Who would've guessed that an animated comedy about a crew of paranormal investigators (four eclectic humans and one frequently cowardly and constantly hungry canine) would still be sniffing out new fans in its fifth decade. Beginning with the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! adventures and morphing into multiple series and movies, the Scooby gang has solved the mystery of longevity.
6. Rocky and His Friends/The Bullwinkle Show (1959—64)
Moose and squirrel, such unlikely heroes — and such a hoot. Jay Ward's pun-filled send-up of movie serials may have been primitive in technique, but it compensated with sophisticated and wacky satire. With Fractured Fairy Tales, Dudley Do-Right and time-traveling Mr. Peabody in the mix, each intricate episode was a dizzying delight.
7. Batman: The Animated Series (1992—95)
Holy transformation! With moody film-noir art direction, emotional storytelling and mature casting (led by the brawny voice of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Bruce Wayne), BTAS was the definitive incarnation of the Dark Knight and set the standard for superhero cartoons.
8. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999—present)
With his optimistic outlook and colorful cohorts — including a gleeful starfish, a narcissistic octopus and a deep-sea-diving squirrel — SpongeBob is the unpretentious antidote to today's cynicism. You'd have to be seriously Krusty not to smile when visiting Bikini Bottom.
9. Family Guy (1999—2002; 2005—present)
Seth MacFarlane built his animation empire on the stinging (some would say crass) comedy of the Griffin family of Quahog, Rhode Island. The show came back from cancellation in 2005 with the same irreverence and deadpan cutaways and has remained freak-in' sweet to its fans—not to -mention the television academy, which in 2009 gave the cartoon a rare Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series alongside live-action heavyweights like 30 Rock.
10. South Park (1997—present)
Nothing has ever been off-limits to South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who have spent 16 years going to outrageous extremes to slaughter pop culture's most sacred cows. Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny have seen Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson and Barbra Streisand pilloried in their tiny Colorado town. Because of its simple animation style, South Park has been able to churn out instantly topical episodes, demanding that we respect its authori-tay.
The Other 50 (listed alphabetically):
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
Battle of the Planets
Beavis and Butt-Head
Dora the Explorer
The Fairly OddParents
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
George of the Jungle
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
The Huckleberry Hound Show
Iron Man: Armored Adventures
Jem and the Holograms
Josie and the Pussycats
Justice League/Justice League Unlimited
King of the Hill
The Magilla Gorilla Show
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
Phineas and Ferb
The Pink Panther Show
Pinky and the Brain
Popeye the Sailor
The Powerpuff Girls
Ren & Stimpy
The Spectacular Spider-Man
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Superman: The Animated Series
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Tom and Jerry
The Yogi Bear Show