Unleash the Magic: Ultimate Guide to Top Kids TV Shows for All Ages
Children's television has come a long way over the years, providing endless hours of entertainment and education for kids of all ages. From classic cartoons like "The Flintstones" and "Looney Tunes" to beloved favorites like "Sesame Street" and "Peppa Pig," there is no shortage of top kids TV shows to choose from. Whether it's teaching important life lessons or simply bringing laughter and joy, these shows have become an integral part of many children's lives. In this article, we will explore some of the most popular and cherished children's TV shows that have made a lasting impact on generations of youngsters. So, let's embark on a journey through the wonderful world of children's television!
Rainbow Rangers is an action-adventure series that revolves around a group of magical girls and emphasizes ecological themes. While some may consider the show to be didactic, that is actually one of its endearing qualities. Unlike other children's shows that are geared towards parents, Rainbow Rangers is specifically designed to captivate young kids who crave a unique form of fantasy team-up. The show introduces various characters, each possessing powers that are not too dissimilar from those of the X-Men. The writing of Rainbow Rangers is exceptional, and it also features a few enjoyable cameos, such as Pierce Brosnan, who lends his voice as a scientist for the Rainbow Ranger's take on COVID-19. — Ryan Britt
Rainbow Rangers streams on Netflix.
Teen Titans Go!
Prepare for laughter with the funniest superhero show of all time—Teen Titans Go! This comedy triumph from Warner Bros and DC is a master at leveraging viewers' familiarity with DC comics canon, often subverting it for comedic effect. Rather than being bogged down by the complex lore, Teen Titans Go! revels in it, demonstrating a keen sense of self-awareness that has become more vital in today's franchise landscape. It serves as both a delightful entry point to the DC Universe for new viewers seeking pure enjoyment and a worthy culmination for long-time fans. — James Grebey
Teen Titans Go! streams on HBO Max.
Step into the world of Lizzie McGuire, a timeless Disney Channel sitcom that continues to resonate with countless teenage girls. Hilary Duff's portrayal of Lizzie, a relatable teenager navigating the challenges of junior high school and life, remains as captivating today as it was in 2001. From dealing with parents, siblings, and mean girls to experiencing crushes, puberty, and homework, Lizzie's journey strikes a chord with viewers. What sets Lizzie McGuire apart is the effervescent performance by Duff and the stellar supporting cast, including Lalaine and Adam Lamberg as Lizzie's best friends, and Hallie Todd and Robert Carradine as her parents. The animated portrayal of Lizzie's inner thoughts adds depth and relatability to the character. — Ian Spelling
Lizzie McGuire streams on Disney.
Travel back in time with The Flintstones, a beloved animated series that aired from 1960 to 1966. Often referred to as a cartoon version of The Honeymooners, The Flintstones follows the misadventures of Fred Flintstone and his best friend Barney Rubble. Witness their outrageous schemes, while Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble appear amused and exasperated in equal measure. Loaded with visual gags, clever wordplay, and humorous references to the modern world, The Flintstones has become a timeless classic. Notable additions to the show, Pebbles, Bamm-Bamm, and the Great Gazoo, introduced an added layer of enjoyment. Despite its lack of logical coherence, The Flintstones continues to captivate audiences with its genius entertainment value. — IS
The Flinstones streams on HBO Max.
Land of the Lost
Embark on an epic adventure with Land of the Lost, a ground-breaking series created by Sid & Marty Kroft that aired from 1974 to 1976. Join the Marshall family—dad Rick, daughter Holly, and son Will—as they find themselves trapped in a prehistoric world. In this dangerous and awe-inspiring realm, they encounter dinosaurs, friendly creatures like Cha-ka the Pekuni, and menacing foes like the hiss-worthy Sleestaks. The show boasts an impressive lineup of sci-fi writers, including David Gerrold, Margaret Armen, Norman Spinrad, and Larry Niven, all contributing to captivating storytelling. Land of the Lost weaves together thrilling narratives, especially in its first and most outstanding season. This classic family show continues to offer more depth and sophistication than one might remember, making it a must-watch for both nostalgic fans and new viewers alike. — IS
Land of the Lost is streaming on Peacock.
Prepare for a remarkable journey as you enter the nostalgic world of Captain Kangaroo. This legendary CBS series, which ran for an astounding 29 seasons from 1955 to 1984, has left an indelible mark on countless generations. Hosted by the charismatic Bob Keeshan, who also created the show, Captain Kangaroo enchanted audiences with its heartwarming stories, delightful puppetry, animated shorts, knock-knock jokes, songs, and more. The cast of beloved characters, including Mr. Green Jeans, Grandfather Clock, Mr. Moose, and Dancing Bear, brought joy and laughter to viewers of all ages. Captain Kangaroo is not just a TV show—it's an iconic piece of Americana that continues to captivate audiences with its timeless charm. — IS
Captain Kangaroo is streaming on the “Beta Max Channel” on Roku.
Clifford the Big Red Dog
Witness the heartwarming adventures of Clifford the Big Red Dog as the beloved children's books come to life in an adorable animated series. Spanning two seasons and featuring 66 episodes, this endearing show introduces audiences to Clifford, a 25-foot-tall Labrador retriever, and his 8-year-old owner, Emily Elizabeth. Their bond is portrayed through Clifford's immense size, which represents Emily Elizabeth's boundless love for him. Together, they embark on exciting escapades, with Clifford's oversized presence and playful energy often causing good-natured chaos. Among all the adaptations of Clifford, this series truly captures the essence of the books. It goes beyond showcasing the problems Clifford creates and instead focuses on Emily Elizabeth's unwavering display of unconditional love—an invaluable lesson for children. — IS
Clifford the Big Red Dog streams on PBS Kids.
Thundarr the Barbarian
Experience the thrilling journey of Thundarr the Barbarian, an extraordinary series that premiered in 1981. This post-apocalyptic show, reminiscent of Planet of the Apes, features a Conan-esque character who captivates viewers with his heroic quests. Despite the popular opinion favoring Thundercats, Thundarr the Barbarian shines as the true winner. Hanna Barbera took the bold step of equipping Thundarr with a lightsaber-esque weapon, which adds an extra layer of excitement to the series. Fans of action and adventure will be left in awe of the show's mesmerizing storytelling and dynamic protagonist. – RB
You can buy episodes of Thundarr on Amazon.
Transport yourself to a futuristic world with The Jetsons, a Warner Bros animated series. Although the show only aired for one season consisting of 24 episodes in 1962-1963, another 51 episodes were produced between 1985 and 1987. The Jetsons revolves around the daily life of George Jetson, his wife Jane, their children Judy and Elroy, and their loyal pet dog Astro. The series showcases a delightful blend of weird and wacky stories, transported to viewers through vibrant visuals inspired by the World's Fair. The Jetsons' futuristic concepts, including flying cars, sky-high apartment complexes, a robot maid named Rosey, and an outdoor treadmill for Astro, continue to captivate audiences. Whether set in outer space or high in the sky, this show provokes queries that ignite the imaginations of children. — IS
The Jetsons are streaming on HBO.
Immerse yourself in the enchanting world of Dragon Tales, a PBS series that beautifully captures the allure of escaping into a fantastical realm. The show follows the adventures of Max and Emmy, who journey to Dragon Land—a realm filled with excitement and wonder—where they interact with their dragon friends. Dragon Tales strikes the perfect balance between thrilling escapades and a reassuring sense of safety. It manages to captivate young viewers without crossing into fearful territory. The show never patronizes its audience or reduces the fantasy elements to boredom, which is truly a magical accomplishment. Through its vibrant storytelling, Dragon Tales offers a profound level of escapism, leaving children mesmerized and eager for more. — JG
Dragon Tales is streaming on Prime.
Enter the fascinating world of Vampirina, a delightful series based on Anne Marie Pace's picture book series. Watch as a young monster family from Transylvania moves to Pennsylvania, creating a case of "human race cultural shock" for themselves. Vampirina masterfully explores the themes of being an outsider, providing relatable experiences for viewers. The show takes an intelligent approach by not explicitly defining the specific type of vampire that Vee is, and it carefully avoids any references to blood-drinking. Nevertheless, it pushes boundaries within the parameters of contemporary Disney series, making it an engaging and thoughtfully crafted production. Vampirina's unique blend of sweetness and wit shines through its seemingly saccharine appearance, making it a delightful watch for both children struggling to find their place and anyone feeling left out. — RB
Vampirina streams on Disney.
Join the lovable and iconic Smurfs on their whimsical adventures that have captured the hearts of millions worldwide. This classic animated series is an essential part of any list of the greatest kids shows. Although it may have its flaws, such as some dated aspects, the energy, the strong sense of family, and the overall goofiness of the Smurfs have firmly established them in our collective consciousness. Each Smurf represents a different personality, allowing both parents and children to find characters with whom they can identify. The enduring brilliance of the Smurfs lies in their ability to resonate with various individuals, providing comfort and entertainment on numerous levels. — Harlan Sharpe
Smurfs is streaming now on Tubi.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Indulge in the epic saga of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), a franchise that has captured the hearts of viewers since the '90s. Despite its seemingly overwhelming premise, TMNT adeptly explores the concept of family in all its forms. The parenting lessons embedded in the series, imparted by the wise and noble Splinter, offer valuable guidance to viewers of all ages. While TMNT may not delve deep into martial arts beyond showcasing exciting fight sequences, it expertly depicts the teenagers' relatable behaviors, allowing impatient kids to identify with their heroes. TMNT remains a remarkable show that strikes a perfect balance between thrilling action and heartwarming family dynamics. — RB
The 1987 version of TMNT is available for rent on Apple TV .
If you're in need of some laughter, look no further than Larva. This offbeat show, which aired on Netflix, exhibits a level of inappropriateness that is solely meant for children. Unlike other shows that employ adult-oriented humor as a wink to parents, Larva revels in toilet humor because it knows that kids find it amusing. The two main characters, a red and yellow caterpillar, engage in slapstick comedy and gross jokes, creating a goofy dynamic that mirrors the world's largeness and scariness for children. Through their playful roughhousing, farting, and bizarre behavior, children can find solace and laughter, helping to make their world a little smaller and more manageable. While Larva may not possess profound themes or social redemption, it brings joy to kids through its hysterical antics. — TT
Larva is streaming for free on Tubi.
The Facts of Life
The Facts of Life, although starting a bit aimlessly, found its footing when it shifted focus to Blair, Tootie, Natalie, Jo, and their headmistress, Mrs. Garrett. This bold series not only centered on four adolescent girls but also tackled a range of subjects in each episode. As the title implies, the comedy aimed to teach its characters and viewers that life is a mix of good and bad, presenting this fact in an entertaining and relatable manner. The Facts of Life beautifully captured the challenges faced by young girls and offered valuable life lessons. It will forever remain a fact that this series proved to be a memorable and thought-provoking experience. — Caseen Gaines
The Facts of Life is streaming on Tubi.
Embrace the early-aughts era of girl power with the fun and fast-paced Kim Possible. In this adventure-packed series, the title character, Kim Possible, skillfully balances high school life, friends, family, and cheerleading alongside her superhero duties to save the world. Assisted by her loyal sidekick Ron Stoppable and his pet naked mole rat Rufus, Kim Possible navigates the challenges with both grace and determination. The show encapsulates a form of classic feminism, still relevant to this day, which sets it apart from others in the genre. Offering a thrilling blend of action and relatable teenage experiences, Kim Possible stands as a testament to the search for outstanding female action heroes, making it an enduring source of inspiration for girls everywhere. — IS
Kim Possible is streaming on Disney.
Inspector Gadget is an iconic animated character that combines the comedic elements of The Pink Panther's Inspector Clouseau and Get Smart's Maxwell Smart. He is a bionic police inspector who fights crime all over the world, displaying equal amounts of daftness and ineptitude. Alongside him are his brilliant and resourceful niece Penny, and his loyal and intelligent dog Brain. Together, they battle against the evil organization known as M.A.D. (Mean and Dirty), reminiscent of the infamous KAOS. The show ran from 1982 to 1986, spanning two extended seasons and delighting fans with 88 episodes of pure silliness. Notably, the voice of Inspector Gadget is none other than Don Adams, the iconic Maxwell Smart/Secret Agent 86 from Get Smart. — IS
You can stream Inspector Gadget on PlutoTV.
Looney Tunes is an animated series that holds a special place in childhood memories. While it is true that some aspects of the show may seem bizarre, violent, or even disturbing, they reflect the essence of the real world. Characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and others embody the looney nature of life and teach us to have a sense of humor about it.
The impact and influence of Looney Tunes are immeasurable. Some purists may argue that it deserves a higher rank on any list of great shows. Nevertheless, it is important to note that Looney Tunes goes beyond the boundaries of a mere list or discussion. For those seeking to experience the full magic of Looney Tunes, it is highly recommended to purchase the DVDs, as accessing all the good stuff online can be quite challenging for now. — RB
For a guide on how to stream classic Looney Tunes online right now, check out Fatherly's article here.
Care Bears may not be considered "cool," but it presents a powerful and compassionate message. One of the most endearing characters in Care Bears is "Grumpy Bear." In all the different versions of the show, Grumpy Bear remains a beloved character. The concept behind Care Bears is that each bear represents different emotions that children experience. The show does not shame the concept of grumpiness; rather, it embraces the idea that children, like everyone else, have moments of grumpiness. This inclusive approach with a positive and accepting perspective is not only brilliant but also very kind. It teaches children that they deserve love and understanding in all their emotional states. — RB
You can stream the classic Care Bears series on YouTube.
Phineas and Ferb
Phineas and Ferb is an animated series that centers around the adventures of two pre-teen stepbrothers, Phineas and Ferb, during their summer vacation. These two imaginative and resourceful boys engage in building elaborate contraptions and embarking on wacky adventures. Meanwhile, their older sister Candace constantly tries to expose their antics to their mom. Not to be forgotten is their pet platypus, Perry, who leads a double life as a secret agent. The show is filled with whiz-bang silliness, action, and catchy original songs. Notably, the voices of Phineas and Ferb are portrayed by the talented Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ashley Tisdale respectively. The remarkable talent behind Phineas and Ferb contributes to its immense popularity and quality. — IS
You can stream Phineas and Ferb on Disney.
Among the original Nicktoons, Doug stands out as a grounded and heartfelt series. The show revolves around the life of Doug Funnie, a relatable and lovable character who diligently writes in his journal every day. Doug's journal often reflects his adventures with his best friend Skeeter and his feelings for his crush, Patti Mayonnaise. Doug embraces both the weird and mundane aspects of adolescence, exploring themes such as schoolwork, bullies, best friends, and unrequited crushes. With its vibrantly diverse cast of characters, including Doug's loyal pup Porkchop and artistic sister Judy, the show effectively captures the essence of coming-of-age experiences in the fictional town of Bluffington. Doug made a lasting impression on those who grew up alongside its endearing characters. — CG
You can stream Doug on Paramount.
The Brady Bunch
The original Brady Bunch in 1969.
CBS Photo Archive/CBS/Getty ImagesThe Brady Bunch holds a special place in popular culture, as reflected in the iconic imagery of the family lined up in a three-by-three grid, with each member awkwardly tilting their heads and smiling at each other. The show's charm stems from its unashamed embrace of cheesiness, starting with the convenient and humorously gendered premise of a man with three sons marrying a woman with three daughters. Even the most cynical viewer can find entertainment in the simple yet relatable problems faced by the Brady family, often accompanied by a heavy-handed but heartwarming life lesson from their patriarch. The show's dated fashion and groovy songs, such as "Sunshine Day" and "Keep On," further contribute to its enduring appeal. The Brady Bunch has spawned tribute-parody films and various specials, animated series, and offshoots, but the original show remains a standout in its own right. — CG
You can stream the classic Brady Bunch on Paramount.
The Original Ghostwriter on PBS
PBSGhostwriter is a captivating children's show designed to enhance reading and writing skills. Despite its educational focus, the show manages to be engaging and thrilling. Set in a romanticized version of New York City in the mid-'90s, the stories revolve around a group of diverse characters, including Black, Latinx, Asian, and white kids, who come together to solve mysteries. At the center of it all is Ghostwriter, a mysterious spirit who helps the children by making words appear on screens and in the sky, visible only to those who can summon him with special pens. The show encourages critical thinking by prompting viewers to keep track of clues, either mentally or in a physical notebook, throughout its two-hour story arcs. Ghostwriter's cumulative effect goes beyond reading and writing skills, fostering imagination and a love for uncovering hidden truths. — CG
You can stream new and old episodes of Ghostwriter on Apple TV.
Lily's Driftwood Bay
Lily's Driftwood Bay is an animated series that stands out for its unique and visually stunning animation style. The show's stories revolve around the main character, Lily, and her imaginative play with found objects. While it may not be the most captivating show in terms of action, it offers a sense of tranquility and relaxation. For children who need to unwind and find stimulation in a different way, Lily's Driftwood Bay is a hidden gem that gradually leaves a profound impact. Much like the treasures Lily finds on her driftwood bay, the show's effect accumulates over time, offering a deeper appreciation and understanding. — HS
Lily's Driftwood Bay streams on Apple TV.
The Backyardigans is celebrated as one of the greatest musical shows ever to grace Nickelodeon. It represents a distinct era in the early 2000s and stands apart from other shows with its wit, charm, and heart. While encouraging sing-alongs can be challenging, The Backyardigans successfully accomplishes this and more. The show's songs are so captivating that they have sparked a whole resurgence on TikTok. The Backyardigans remains a timeless show that embodies the philosophy that kids rule. — HS
You can stream The Backyardigans on Paramount.
The Adventures of Puss In Boots
Puss In Boots is an iconic and beloved character known for his brash, fearless, and reckless nature. He has carved a special place in our hearts and keeps us wanting more. Despite his consistent personality, Puss In Boots remains a multi-dimensional character that carries the weight of a movie franchise, cameo appearances, and three successful seasons of streaming television. His unwavering determination and defiance are not only charming but also highly relatable, especially to the bravado-filled minds of young children. The adventures and exploits of Puss In Boots captivate audiences with their Quixotian charm and provide a perfect blend of excitement and entertainment. — TT
The Adventures of Puss In Boots streams on Netflix.
Shaun The Sheep
Shaun The Sheep is a British stop-motion animated series that resonates with children today. The show captivates young audiences with its immortal gargoyles who come to life to protect humans from bad humans. It challenges conventional beliefs about what is scary and good by inverting traditional perspectives. Shaun The Sheep is not merely an excellent action adventure; it also instills important values in children. It encourages them to see beyond superficiality and embrace a worldview that extends far beyond appearances. The show delivers these profound messages in a way that is both delightful and entertaining. — RB
Shaun The Sheep streams on Prime.
The Wild Thornberrys
The Wild Thornberrys is a remarkable animated series that revolves around the adventures of Eliza Thornberry. What sets this show apart is Eliza's secret ability to communicate with animals, which she must keep hidden from others. This secrecy introduces tension and relatability to her extraordinary life. Who wouldn't want to travel the world and communicate with elephants, tigers, and chimpanzees instead of attending school? The Wild Thornberrys manages to strike a balance between the extraordinary and the mundane, making it a show that captures viewers' attention. Furthermore, Eliza's constant need to guard her secret adds stakes to the narrative, allowing any viewer to become invested in the show's compelling storylines. — JG
You can stream The Wild Thornberrys on Paramount.
Pinky and the Brain
Pinky and the Brain is a delightful animated series that stands out for its comedic brilliance. As a spin-off of The Animaniacs, it follows the adventures of two iconic characters, Brain and Pinky, as they attempt to take over the world. The show's charm lies not only in its entertaining plots but also in its clever references to pop culture icons like Orson Welles. While knowledge of these references may not be necessary for younger viewers, it adds an extra layer of enjoyment for older audiences. Pinky and the Brain's ability to pay homage to bygone eras sets it apart from other Saturday morning cartoons and showcases the show's unique sense of history. — JG
You can rent episodes of Pinky and the Brain on YouTube.
Gargoyles is a '90s animated series that holds a distinct place in the hearts of fans. It stands out for its unique premise and thought-provoking storytelling. The show introduces immortal gargoyles who come to life at night to protect humans from evil. Gargoyles challenges superficial judgments, exploring the depths of what is scary and good through its inversion of traditional tropes. Furthermore, the show advocates against superficiality, encouraging viewers to adopt a perspective that values substance over appearance. Gargoyles is not only an exceptional action adventure but also an important show that promotes critical thinking and rejects superficial values. — RB
You can stream Gargoyles on Disney.
Double Dare has become synonymous with the excitement and joy of game shows for kids. It was one of the pioneering shows that allowed children to see themselves as contestants. Hosted by the amiable Marc Summers, the show struck the perfect balance between being a "cool dad" figure and an objective enforcer of the rules. The questions ranged from accessible to challenging, catering to its primary demographic. However, it was the physical challenges that truly captivated viewers, with contestants experiencing the fun of getting slimed, covered in whipped cream, and various other slippery substances. Double Dare embodied Nickelodeon's philosophy that kids rule, making it a beloved and timeless show. — CG
You can stream Double Dare on Paramount.
Darkwing Duck is an exceptional spinoff of the highly acclaimed DuckTales, surpassing its predecessor in brilliance. This show combines the essence of Disney's Batman and The Shadow, resulting in a witty and thrilling animation that stands out from other Disney productions. Darkwing Duck introduces a character, Drake Mallard, who defies the conventions of problematic or absent fathers seen in other Disney cartoons. He is portrayed as a great dad, combating evil with his unwavering confidence and fearless nature. Darkwing Duck showcases Disney's ability to create cartoons that are wittier and less restrained than traditional Disney fare, making it a standout in its own right. — RB
Darkwing Duck streams on Disney.
It’s almost time for some action-packed transforming.
Archive Photos/Moviepix/Getty ImagesThe decision to adapt the special effects shots and main plot concepts from the Japanese series Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger into a new show featuring American teenagers was a stroke of genius. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, along with its countless sequels and spin-offs, is a true gem. Despite its recycled footage, low-budget fights, and repetitive storylines, none of that matters to a young audience — all that matters is the call to Morphin Time. — JG
The classic Power Rangers are available for streaming on Netflix.
Saved by the Bell
The beloved cast of Saved By The Bell.
NBC/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesFor young viewers who have yet to enter high school, Saved by the Bell presented an idealized vision of a school that kids would actually want to attend. Who needs a cafeteria when you have The Max, a cool restaurant conveniently located right next door, where students seem to work instead of attending classes? While Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski were the central couple to follow, the duo of jock A.C. Slater and the feminist and occasional caffeine pill consumer Jessie Spano added an interesting dynamic to the show. Though some may have hoped for a romantic connection between the nerdy Screech and fashionista Lisa Turtle, it unfortunately never came to fruition. — CG
Saved By the Bell is available for streaming on Peacock.
Bob D'Amico/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty ImagesIt's easy to forget that Family Matters originated as a spinoff of the sitcom Perfect Strangers, as the show quickly established its own unique identity. While it initially centered around the Winslow family, a Black family in Chicago, it eventually transformed into a platform for Jaleel White’s memorable character, the lovably annoying Steve Urkel. Throughout the show's nine seasons, Urkel became known for causing extensive property damage, conducting scientific experiments, and pining for his crush, Laura Winslow.
Despite the declining quality in its later seasons and the departure of Jo Marie Payton, who played matriarch Harriet Winslow, midway through the final season, Family Matters left an enduring legacy for young viewers. Urkel became a "geek icon" that generations of kids identified with, and the show's moral lessons remain relevant to this day. — CG
Family Matters is available for streaming on HBO Max.
The Little Rascals
Silver Screen Collection/Moviepix/Getty ImagesWhen Hal Roach conceived the idea of featuring a group of children from different backgrounds and ages in a series of films in the 1920s, he created one of the greatest television programs for children of all time. The Little Rascals, originally known as Our Gang, remains timeless.
Each viewer, whether they have seen the original shorts or the well-received 1994 film adaptation, likely has a favorite character, sight gag, pun, or song from the series. While each episode, ranging from 10 to 20 minutes in length, can be enjoyed individually, watching them in chronological order reveals the different generations of children who joined the gang, often at a very young age, and left once they outgrew the series. For example, Spanky, easily the most popular "rascal," made his first appearance at the age of three and remained with the show until he was fourteen, when the series concluded. For those unfamiliar with the show, we recommend starting with "Our Gang Follies of 1938," a particularly high-budget episode that exemplifies what makes the series special even to this day. — CG
The Little Rascals can be streamed on Freevee via Amazon Prime.
Garfield and Friends
Warner BrosEven at its peak during the Reagan era, Jim Davis' Garfield, a newspaper and marketing sensation, was never more than a pleasant but predictable success. However, Film Roman elevated the franchise to a new level with Garfield and Friends, which aired from 1988 to 1994. The series featured classic, Emmy-winning specials such as Garfield on the Town and Garfield's Halloween Adventure. The talented Lorenzo Music, who co-created The Bob Newhart Show, provided the perfect voice for Garfield, effortlessly outshining even Bill Murray's portrayal of the beloved character in the film adaptations. The experienced professionals at Film Roman, the animation studio behind iconic shows like The Simpsons, The Critic, and Family Guy, delivered polished animation and character design.
Unlike its source material, Garfield and Friends not only garnered popularity but also stood out as a truly excellent show. — NR
Garfield and Friends streams for free on Tubi.
Keep this charming little piggy away from muddy puddles.
ilbusca/iStock Unreleased/Getty ImagesPeppa Pig has become synonymous with British culture, much like tea time, cricket, and the Queen. The delightfully dry adventures of Peppa Pig, her brother George, and their parents offer a glimpse into the idyllic and quaint life in merry old England. The show's influence was so strong that it even led to a wave of American children developing fake British accents from absorbing the show a little too intensely. Peppa Pig stands as one of the most irresistible and quintessentially British exports since Wallace and Gromit. — NR
Peppa Pig can be streamed on Paramount.
The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show
Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown
SonyBill Melendez and Lee Mendelson's legendary Peanuts animated specials, particularly the iconic A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and It's the Great Pumpkin (1966), brought the timeless and bittersweet brilliance of Charles Schultz's American institution to television. In 1983, Melendez ventured into episodic television with The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show. This series successfully retained the delicate genius of Schultz's comic strip and the spirit of the iconic holiday specials. Similarly to the specials, The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show featured the voices of actual children instead of professional adult voice actors. In its second season, the show even introduced Stacy Ferguson, better known as Fergie from Black Eyed Peas, as the voices of Sally Brown and Peppermint Patty. — NR
The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show can be streamed on Apple TV.
Thomas and Friends
This playful little train is full of surprises.
Gullane EntertainmentThomas & Friends embodies a quintessentially British charm. While later iterations of the franchise modernized its look and storytelling, the original episodes from the '80s and '90s broke away from the typical conventions of children's television. The deliberate and affectionate use of model train animation, combined with a storytelling style reminiscent of a traditional oral narrating a story, creates a wonderfully unique viewing experience. The entire concept is delightfully uncanny. — JG
Thomas and Friends can be streamed on Amazon Prime.
The Electric Company
PBSThe Electric Company, which produced 780 episodes over six seasons from 1971 to 1977, stands as the hippest and most unconventional children's entertainment series of its time. The show's catchy theme song and star-studded cast, including Rita Moreno, Morgan Freeman, Irene Cara, and Denise Nickerson (Violet from Willy Wonka!), alongside guest appearances by Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Gene Wilder, Diane Keaton, Walt Frazier, and Carol Burnett, made it a standout.
Featuring a range of sketches, animated segments like The Adventures of Letterman!, and songs, each with a valuable lesson, moral, or useful advice, The Electric Company may seem dated to modern viewers. However, its influence on subsequent shows is undeniable, and its unique style remains unforgettable. Plus, just look at that incredible cast. (Fun fact: Paul Dooley, known for his role as Molly Ringwald's father in Sixteen Candles and Pops in The Wonder Years, co-created the show.) Wouldn't you want these talented individuals entertaining your kids? — IS
The Electric Company is available for purchase on Amazon.
Molly of Denali
Molly doesn't mind the cold!
PBSA relatively recent addition to the PBS lineup, Molly of Denali stands out for its commitment to representation, an area where some classic shows fall short. Molly, a young Alaskan native, takes viewers on wonderfully whimsical adventures that introduce various aspects of indigenous culture. Among the newer PBS offerings, Molly of Denali is a true instant classic. — HS
Molly of Denali can be streamed on PBS Kids.
The Magic School Bus (Classic)
PBS/NetflixJoanna Cole and Bruce Degen's Magic School Bus books not only captivated children's imaginations but also brought the adventures of Miss Frizzle and her students to life. The animated adaptation of The Magic School Bus (1994-1997) took it even further, utilizing vibrant visuals, catchy music, and the dynamic voice of Lily Tomlin as Miss Frizzle. Its follow-up series, The Magic School Bus Rides Again (2017-2018), features Miss Fiona Felicity Frizzle (voiced by Kate McKinnon) as the new lead, with Tomlin reprising her role as Miss Frizzle's older sister. — IS
The Magic School Bus can be streamed on Netflix.
AmazonThe greatest strength of Tumble Leaf lies in its stunning visual aesthetics. Through the use of stop-motion animation reminiscent of Wes Anderson's style, this show is delightfully quirky. In a refreshing departure from the emotional focus of many children's programs, the characters in Tumble Leaf solve practical problems. Fig, Maple, and the other lovable characters exude a can-do attitude, always rallying together with the cry, "let's figure this out!" Above all, the concept of a "finding place" treasure chest is truly ingenious. When young viewers watch Tumble Leaf, they'll be inspired to create their own "finding place," turning ordinary household objects and forgotten toys into sources of wonder. — RB
Tumble Leaf can be streamed on Amazon Prime.
The Real Ghostbusters
Bustin' makes them feel good.
Sony/ColumbiaIn 1984, Ghostbusters was not initially conceived as a children's brand. However, The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series, which premiered in 1986, changed everything. Not only did it redefine the meaning of "ghost" (seriously, what were some of those creatures?), but it also challenged the common perception of what is "real."
The show's first script editor, J. Michael Straczynski, renowned for his work on Babylon 5, co-writing the first Thor movie, and co-creating Sense8, infused the early seasons of The Real Ghostbusters with an authentic sci-fi flavor. His immense talent is evident throughout. — RB
The Real Ghostbusters streams for free on Crackle.
This extraordinary hero doesn't even need laser eyes.
Warner Bros/DCWhen it comes to introducing your kids to the adventures of Superman, the Max Fleischer animated shorts from the 1940s are unparalleled. These timeless classics demonstrate that superheroes can be true works of art, as they expertly convey captivating stories with minimal dialogue. — RB
All the 1940s Superman cartoons can be streamed on YouTube.
The classic Fraggle Rock Christmas Special.
HBO/AppleFraggle Rock is beloved by both children and adults alike. This Jim Henson project offers a colorful cast of puppets, memorable songs, imaginative sets, and delightful humor. It's pure entertainment that effortlessly weaves educational elements into the fun. Over the course of almost 100 episodes spanning five seasons from 1983 to 1987, Fraggle Rock introduced us to Red, Boober, Wembley, Gobo, Mokey, and their fellow Fraggles, who sang, danced, explored, and occasionally worked together. Meanwhile, Uncle Traveling Matt spent a great deal of time in the Human world, also known as Outer Space. Fraggle Rock later inspired an animated series and a recent reboot, Fraggle Rock: Back on the Rock, which features most of the original characters and their familiar voices/puppeteers. — IS
Fraggle Rock can be streamed on Apple TV.
NickelodeonNot every children's show needs to be educational. This brings us to SpongeBob SquarePants, the energetic and well-meaning sea sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea. With his dopey starfish friend and gig flipping burgers at the Krusty Krab, SpongeBob's adventures are filled with vibrant animation, rapid-fire jokes, visual gags for all ages, and whimsical music. Since its launch in 1999, SpongeBob SquarePants has become a cultural phenomenon, spawning movies featuring Johnny Depp and Keanu Reeves, a hit Broadway musical, and a plethora of merchandise. Nickelodeon continues to release new episodes, closing in on the 300th episode milestone! — IS
SpongeBob SquarePants is available for streaming on Paramount.
In 1984, the debut of Transformers was an astounding moment that captivated viewers worldwide. The show's premise combined two beloved elements for young children: absurdity and unwavering commitment to that absurdity. With its captivating sci-fi world-building, Transformers managed to outshine even Star Wars, creating a deep emotional bond between generations of children and their robot counterparts, who could seamlessly transform into cars, planes, trucks, and even cassette tapes. The brilliance of Transformers was that it allowed children to imagine any object as a potential robot in disguise, a companion that could accompany them wherever they went. — RB
Transformers (1984-1987) is available for streaming for free on Tubi.
The Wonder Years
ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images
Running from the late 1980s to the early 1990s and set between 1968 and 1973, The Wonder Years has rightfully earned its reputation as one of the finest dramas in television history. Kevin Arnold's coming-of-age story delves into themes such as first love, friendship, sibling rivalry, and the joys and challenges of middle-class family life. The audience fell in love with characters like Winnie and Paul, portrayed by Danica McKellar and Josh Saviano, respectively. The show's impeccable cinematography, well-crafted writing, period-appropriate costumes, and unforgettable theme song, Joe Cocker's cover of "With a Little Help from My Friends," all contributed to its status as a timeless classic. The Wonder Years delighted viewers with its exceptional ensemble cast and recurring characters such as Coach Cutlip, played by Robert Picardo. — IS
The Wonder Years can be streamed on Hulu.
The Doc is...living in a sci-fi show.
Created by the genius behind contemporary kids' shows, Chris Nee, Doc McStuffins takes the concept of toys coming to life, famously seen in Toy Story, and transforms it into a captivating science-fiction hospital-themed series. The show's relentlessly positive tone, endearing characters, and the imaginative nature of each toy's unique ailments never fail to surprise and delight young viewers. Doc McStuffins fearlessly embraces scenarios where some toy malfunctions have no direct real-world analogs. This unwavering dedication to its premise is undoubtedly a key factor in the show's tremendous success. — RB
Doc McStuffins can be streamed on Disney.
How does the time tunnel work again?
The unforgettable theme song of Dinosaur Train, reminiscent of a baritone descending A minor, immediately captures the attention of any fan of PBS's greatest dinosaur show. The charm, fun, and addictive qualities of the series can be attributed to this engaging title song, written by Jim Lang of Hey Arnold! fame. The show's plot is quite peculiar: a Pteranodon has a clutch of babies, and one of them turns out to be a T-Rex. Instead of abandoning him, they decide to embark on a series of time-traveling train journeys that transport them to various locations within the Mesozoic era—an 80-million-year period when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
While the premise may sound like a toddler's dream ("Dinosaurs! Trains! Time travel!"), Dinosaur Train goes above and beyond with Jim Lang's masterful touch, an abundance of fascinating dinosaur facts, captivating subplots, and an animation style that brings its characters to life. The series is equally enjoyable for three-year-olds (PBS identifies the target age range as 3-6) and their parents humming along to the theme song. — TT
Dinosaur Train can be streamed on Amazon Prime.
The Muppet Show
Shirley Bassey on The Muppet Show in 1981.
TV Times/TV Times/Getty Images
The brilliance of The Muppet Show lies in its simple yet effective premise. Jim Henson's lovable felt and foam creations are tasked with putting on a variety show in a theater, spiced up with the presence of hecklers and celebrity guest stars. The show effortlessly appeals to audiences of all ages through its clever humor and family-friendly content. Much like The Flintstones, The Muppet Show's target demographic may be difficult to pin down, as it manages to enchant viewers of all ages. While some tuning in for the weekly guest star, the banter and antics between fan-favorite characters like Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, and the rest of the gang are reason enough to keep coming back for more. — CG
The Muppet Show is streaming on Disney.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
Daniel Tiger is about to flip out. Sound familiar?
Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood introduces viewers to the most emotionally complex character on this list—Daniel Tiger himself. In nearly every episode, Daniel experiences a full-blown meltdown over something. Interestingly, Daniel is perpetually without pants, and the world of his make-believe neighborhood seems to imply that he exists within a Matrix-esque simulation. A spinoff from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Daniel Tiger's day-to-day emotional turmoil is considerably darker than the show that inspired it. If Bluey resonates with parents and makes them question their parenting skills, Daniel Tiger resonates with toddlers, as they see their own thought processes reflected in the characters. The show's ability to capture the inner workings of a child's mind is both eerie and brilliant. — RB
Daniel Tiger (mostly) streams on Amazon Prime with a PBS Kids add-on.
Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor.
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Many longtime fans of the cult British sci-fi series might be surprised to learn that Doctor Who was originally created as a children's program in 1963. The minds behind the show, Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert, envisioned it as a means to introduce children to science concepts and history through the exciting medium of time travel. Simultaneously, Doctor Who aimed to provide family-friendly action-adventure stories, emphasizing problem-solving through intelligence and resourcefulness rather than violence.
After six decades, Doctor Who continues to embody its core principles. While the show's fan base has expanded beyond families, modern iterations are best suited for children aged 8 and up. Despite its darker moments, Doctor Who maintains an irresistibly optimistic spirit. The eponymous Doctor is characterized as "never cruel or cowardly," and the series as a whole exudes wisdom, humor, and a large-heartedness that resonates with audiences. The show's metaphors and motifs further reflect its uplifting nature; the Doctor has two hearts, symbolizing the emotional depth of the storytelling, and the TARDIS, the Doctor's time and space machine, is famously "bigger on the inside," a fitting description for a series that has captivated multiple generations of fans. Disney's decision to acquire Doctor Who in 2023 is a testament to its enduring appeal. — RB
Doctor Who is currently available for streaming on HBO Max and BritBox. In Fall 2023, it will be available on Disney.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
This photo is a borderline spoiler. That's how good this show is.
When it comes to middle-grade book series from the past two decades, none can surpass the excellence of Daniel Handler’s Lemony Snicket books, particularly the volumes comprising All the Wrong Questions and A Series of Unfortunate Events. However, the 2017-2019 TV adaptation nearly matches the brilliance of the first 13 books with a simple yet effective approach: rather than condensing the material, the series expands upon the Baudelaire saga, introducing new characters and scenes that could not be depicted in the printed pages.
The wit, style, intelligence, and sheer originality of this series are unparalleled. While one disappointing aspect is the absence of a fourth season due to the show closely following the storylines of the 13 original books, this minor setback does not overshadow the fact that A Series of Unfortunate Events is not only one of the greatest children's shows but also one of the finest TV shows of the past two decades. Period. — RB
A Series of Unfortunate Events streams on Netflix.
One of the greatest attributes of Octonauts is its genuine authenticity. Featuring a fearless crew of explorers who also happen to be talking animals, the Octonauts navigate the depths of the ocean aboard their undersea vessel, the Octopod. With a musical score that evokes the spirit of John Barry's James Bond soundtracks and Michael Giacchino's The Incredibles, the show puts adventure at the forefront. Each character has their own catchphrase, seamlessly blending elements reminiscent of Star Trek, Voltron, and Thunderbirds. Moreover, Octonauts stands out for its non-violent nature and highly educational content. Through "Creature Reports" and later "OctoReports," viewers learn about various animal species, natural phenomena, and more. The show strikes the perfect balance between entertainment and learning, a rare gem among modern children's programming. The only drawback is that parents will wish they had Octonauts when they were preschoolers. — RB
The Octonauts and its various standalone movies all stream on Netflix. The spinoff show, Octonauts: Above and Beyond, which maintains a similar format, also streams on Netflix.
Dora the Explorer
Seriously, Swiper. Don't.
Swiper, no swiping! If there's one show your toddler should watch, it's Dora the Explorer. This show's brilliance knows no bounds. It effortlessly introduces English-speaking children to Spanish while making Spanish-speaking children feel seen and included. Led by the adventurous and good-natured Dora, who is best friends with a monkey, the show is akin to an Indiana Jones-like experience for preschoolers. Dora is an immortal and wonderful character whose existence within the world of her show begs the question: does she live inside a computer? — RB
Dora the Explorer streams on Paramount+.
The cast of Sesame Street in 1969.
Hulton Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images
For over 50 years, Sesame Street has remained the gold standard in children's entertainment. Originally created as an educational supplement for Black and brown children in America's cities, the show has evolved into an internationally recognized cultural phenomenon cherished by children and adults alike. What sets Sesame Street apart is its holistic approach to learning, offering a range of fun and varied content. One moment, viewers might enjoy a comedic musical skit teaching a Muppet how to tie their shoelaces, and in the next, experience an animated segment about counting to twelve. The show's diversity is not only evident in its edutainment approach but also in its inclusive portrayal of humanity through beloved Muppet characters like Big Bird, Grover, Telly, Elmo, Bert and Ernie, among many others that have graced our screens for the past five decades. Sesame Street presents an idyllic neighborhood where individuals openly express their feelings, often with those who are different from themselves.
It's impossible to quantify the positive impact of encounters with Latinx characters like Luis and Maria, Black characters like Gordon and Olivia, deaf actress Linda Bove, and the multitude of guest stars from various cultural backgrounds who have contributed to the show's rich tapestry. Criticisms may occasionally arise with nostalgic sentiments like "it was better when I was a kid!" but these sentiments simply reflect our deep emotional attachment to the memories of sitting on the floor, both laughing and learning alongside our favorite characters. No matter how old we become, a small part of us will always long to return to Sesame Street. — CG
Sesame Street is available for streaming on HBO Max and PBS Kids.
TV Shows for Toddlers
Knowing which shows your toddler should watch and how much screen time is appropriate can be a daunting task, especially for new parents. However, understanding your child and following some basic guidelines can make all the difference. It is generally deemed acceptable for toddlers to watch up to an hour of high-quality TV content per day, with shorter shows that are visually engaging proven to be more effective for learning. Consult our guide of recommended shows for toddlers to find great starting points for you and your child to enjoy together!
In a world filled with countless TV shows for kids, these top picks are sure to spark their imaginations and keep them entertained for hours on end. From classic favorites like The Flintstones and Sesame Street to newer hits like Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig, these shows offer a little something for every age group. So gather the family, grab some popcorn, and get ready to embark on unforgettable adventures with these beloved characters. With their colorful worlds and heartwarming tales, these top kids TV shows are guaranteed to bring joy and laughter to children of all ages.
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