When it comes to classic kids shows, it doesn’t get any better than Arthur. Since 1996, there have been over 22 seasons and 250+ episodes, all telling the story of an anthropomorphic aardvark that really doesn’t look anything like an aardvark.
Though the show is aimed at younger kids, the warm tone and easy going humour have made it a family favourite for decades, and a show that anyone growing up in the 90s or early 2000s will be sure to remember.
Arthur isn’t afraid to deal with real issues, especially those relating to the family. In the past, episodes have dealt with everything from cancer to autism, as well as dyslexia and bullying.
Recently, Arthur made the headlines again, with an episode showing Arthur’s school teacher Mr Ratburn’s marriage. The students all attend the wedding expecting him to marry a fellow rat named Patty, but they realise pretty soon that Patty is his sister. Instead, Mr Ratburn walks down the aisle with his groom, in one of the first instances of gay marriage in a kids’ cartoon.
Raven is one of the lesser known kids’ TV shows of the early 2000s, especially outside of the UK, but it also has one of the most interesting concepts in kids’ TV. In the show, real kids are selected to compete in their own medieval quest, trying to become the Ultimate Warrior while also being plagued by demons.
The games involve tests of agility, intelligence and strategy, and are made even more terrifying by the hooded figures constantly following them around. The hooded figures can kill a warrior with a single touch, and work for a terrifying and ancient evil called Nevar.
The show ran for eight years in its first form, with the figure of Raven himself becoming iconic, and several spin-off shows being made. These shows elaborated on the lore, showing how Raven had brought magic back to his homeland, and was constantly looking for new warriors to help protect his home from Nevar.
In addition to the awesome spin-off shows Raven: The Island and Raven: The Secret Temple, the show itself was rebooted in 2017 for a new generation, including a new female Raven called Raven 11. The original Raven was still given a part of the show, where he oversaw the next generation of warriors as The Raven Of Olde.
13. Bear In The Big Blue House
Bear In The Big Blue House is another show that defined a whole generation of kids. Everything from the Bear Cha-Cha-Cha to the Goodbye Song have become iconic since the show wrapped up in 2008, and that’s not even mentioning the bear himself.
Created by iconic Muppet and Sesame Street creator Jim Henson, Bear was a gentle and welcoming host who had a whole family of creatures around him – including a wildcard lemur named Treelo, and a pair of otters named Pip and Pop.
Every episode included a short story or song from a shadow on the wall, as well as a number of songs and short skits relating to the theme. In the end, the bear would go out on the balcony and sing with Luna the moon, saying goodbye to everyone who had come to the house that day.
The most iconic part of the show was in the beginning, where the bear would snuffle right into the camera, and ask what the watching crowd smells like. This delighted and terrified kids in equal measure, since the adorable bear did also become scarier the closer to the camera he got.
12. Johnny Test
Johnny Test is another kid’s show that never really got the credit it deserved, even though it had a loyal fanbase who turned in to watch every episode out of 170. The show followed Johnny Test, a rebellious kid with a talking dog and two genius older sisters.
Johnny himself is not super intelligent, but is mischevious enough to get what he wants at almost any cost. This means that most episodes revolve around him tricking his sisters into making him some kind of life-altering tech, and then dealing with the consequences of his actions.
The show aired on Disney XD and was mostly aimed at boys, but gained a loyal following of girls too, who sympathised with the genius sisters Susan and Mary. The show also became famous for its bizarre changes of genres – from high school drama to sci-fi epic to rom-com.
The show was cancelled before its seventh season began, but a YouTube teaser uploaded earlier this year showed that a new project relating to the show was in the works. So we may see more of Johnny Test and his talking dog Dukey yet.
11. Blues Clues
Children’s shows don’t often have that many seasons, especially when the show is aimed at young kids. This is because once enough episodes are made, they can pretty much just survive on re-runs alone. That makes Blue’s Clues ten-year original release even more impressive.
Blue’s Clues was created to solve a problem with kids’ TV, which is that it never used to be based on actual science and child psychology. Blue’s Clues researched for years before filming about the way young kids learn and remember information, and built the entire show’s structure around that.
In every Blue’s Clues episode, Steve loses Blue, and has to discover what the dog’s plan is to do that day. In order to figure it out, they look for Blue’s signature paw prints around the house and garden, and then draw clues in their handy dandy notebook.
Over the seasons certain things changed, such as Salt and Pepper having a baby named Paprika, and Steve being replaced by Joe. However, the staples of the show stayed the same, making it a nostalgic favourite that could be passed from generation to generation.
10. Ren And Stimpy
Most of the shows on this list are comforting and wholesome, or at the very least mostly family friendly. With that said, that kind of description does not apply to the Ren and Stimpy show, which was so controversial when it was first released that it almost couldn’t brand itself as a kids’ show.
Ren and Stimpy is the story of an emotionally unstable chihuahua and a kind but dim-witted cat. The show has no overarching plot, and simply puts the two characters in different ridiculous situations every episode, where the two of them normally are enemies.
The show relied on intentionally ugly animation, as well as absurdist humour, sexual innuendo and jokes far more adult than the preteen audience the show was aimed at. This meant it attracted huge amounts of controversy, but also developed a serious cult following.
As for the actual scenarios the characters found themselves in, it included everything from outer space explorers to cowboys in a Western, and even hosts of a nature documentary. Thanks to its weird grown-up humour and out of nowhere adult gags, an adult-oriented spin-off of its own was even created.
9. Art Attack
Blue’s Clues decade long run might be impressive, but Art Attack has it beat. The live action art how-to show ran for over 20 years, and during that time had a whole roster of hosts, segments and recurring gags.
Some, including the clay head known only as The Head, are no longer a part of the show. With that said, other segments such as the Big Art, still continue to this day.
Art Attack is still going today, although it no longer has the same nineties charm as before. Instead of The Head, there is now a talking palm tree called Vincent Van Coconut, and the original host Neil Buchanan retired back in 2007.
In fact, the show was so iconic that it inspired another long-running kids’ art show, known as SMart, which ran from 1994 to 2009.
Shows aimed at kids are difficult, because keeping a toddler’s attention is basically an impossible task. Shows usually resort to speaking directly to the audience to keep them interested, but the genius of Pingu is that nobody speaks at all.
Seriously, the adventures of this claymation penguin, his baby sister and his best friend the seal are old told without words – conveyed instead through weird but hilarious squashy body language and aggravated noots.
The great thing is, the lack of spoken dialogue gives it universal appeal, as well as meaning it can be understood and loved by people of any age – from kids to adults. Not only that, but Pingu’s frustration at every tiny inconvenience is pretty relatable, even if you’re too old for throwing tantrums to be acceptable.
Given these adorable character designs, the simple but relevant conflicts such as having to relate to a much younger sibling or wanting more attention from a parent, it’s no wonder Pingu has become one of the most recognisable (and memeable) show on television.
7. Ed, Edd And Eddy
Ed, Edd n Eddy is another preteen show that falls into the category of “super ugly on purpose”. It follows the boyish exploits of three friends with variations on the same name, and has a down to Earth but pretty depressing take on suburban life that made it hugely popular with the edgier preteen crowd.
No aliens or talking animals here, instead the main ally is a plank of wood called Planky, and the main villains are terrifyingly cool older brothers, annoyingly clingy preteen girls and the ever-present school bullies.
So what made the show so popular? Well, a huge part of it was that it wasn’t afraid to be gross or uncomfortable, and to deal with real issues in an absurdist but very head-on way. Not only that, but there were ongoing mysteries weaved between the snot jokes and disgustingly huge gob-stoppers, such as why Eddy wears his hat even when he’s in the shower. These secrets were played pretty close to the chest by the showrunners, with some not even being explained until the very last episode.
Speaking of the last episode, it has since gone down in history as one of the best endings in all of kids TV. It’s a sprawling epic that sees the three kids leave their neighbourhood for the first time ever and completely changes the rules of the universe, introducing real stakes and elements in a terrifying (but thankfully still pretty hilarious) way. Needless to say, it was a fitting end that left kids with their jaws on the floor.
6. Courage The Cowardly Dog
Courage the Cowardly Dog is one of those shows that people loved and hated in equal measure. It was the kid of show that kids would insist they were brave enough to watch before bed, only to spend hours later sitting in the dark wishing wishing they hadn’t.
The show revolves around a beloved pet dog with anxiety, who is forced to defend his elderly owners from the horrors that regularly show up at their front door. The twist is, all these monsters are just ordinary situations, seen from the perspective of an incredibly anxious dog.
With that said, that is just one interpretation, and it doesn’t explain some of the more terrifying decisions. In one episode, a live action screaming demon head is composited into the shot, and it’s never fully explained who or what it is.
That, along with scenes of Courage’s owners being operated by puppet strings, have led some people to come to a darker conclusion: Courage’s owners are long dead, and he’s living in the empty house with only their bodies for company. Bit dark for a kid’s show if you ask me.
5. Ben 10
Ben 10 has had so many iterations, reboots, spin-offs and movies that it’s impossible to keep track of them all – in fact, the show’s many loyal fans still struggle to understand what exactly canon is at this point.
With that said, the main gist is that a boy called Ben is given an alien watch in mysterious circumstances, which allow him to transform into 10 different alien species – such as a hothead named Flameblast and a tiny genius named Grey Matter.
It gets way more complicated than that though. His cousin, affectionately known as Gwen 10, is revealed to be a witch – and eventually starts a relationship with Ben’s sworn enemy Kevin. That’s without even touching on the times he goes into the future, the times his own aliens gain self-awareness, or the 100s of aliens he unlocks over the course of the show.
Despite the massively confusing timeline, Ben 10 is actually still a pretty enjoyable show, and perfect for anyone who needs whole libraries full of lore to enjoy a kids TV show about aliens.
Trapped is a pretty niche pick, as it only ever aired on the BBC’s CBBC channel, but it had to go on this list as there’s just no other show like it. Based around an evil unseen witch and her hilarious but deeply unsettling goblin companion, the whole point of the show was to trap children.
In the show, kids would work together to complete a series of teamwork-based games, while one actively worked to destroy their progress. The saboteur would never reveal their status, and it would be down to the other kids to work to figure out who they were across the course of the game.
So what happened if they were caught? Well they’d be Trapped of course! This led to a terrifying shot of the camera panning away as the poor kid wailed alone in a locked tower, with the witch cackling in the background. Even worse, every episode ended with the witch’s reminder that the kids were never found, and that the next kid to be trapped could be you. Yikes.
Pretty dark stuff for a kid’s game show, but it made for some awesome high stakes, as well as a witchy laugh that would stick in the brains of kid’s even once they were all grown up.
3. Suite Life Of Zack And Cody
No matter what your opinion is on the all powerful mouse, it’s hard to argue that Disney aren’t one of the titans of kid’s TV. For a while in the early 200s, they dominated with show’s like Hannah Montana, Wizards Of Waverly Place and That’s So Raven – and The Suite Life Of Zack And Cody was the underdog of the programming block.
The premise is pretty odd, with it showing the life of a divorced mum working as the cabaret singer of a posh hotel, leaving her kids to roam around the hotel as they pleased, much to the aggravation of the hotel’s exasperated manager. There were also frequent encounters with Maddy the candy girl, as well as the rich heiress who inexplicably hung around her father’s hotel.
Though many of these episodes are solid gold, it’s worth going back and watching the Halloween and Christmas specials in particular. These include surreal time travelling plots, and a lady giving birth in an elevator because the hotel (red: inn) is full, and even a horror themed episode where the janitor turns himself into Mr Hyde.
That’s not to mention the bizarre crossovers and universe breaks, such as when Suite Life characters perform the show High School Musical, and the actual actress from the HSM movie is told she looks nothing like the character she literally played. Also there are sometimes crossovers with wizards, so what’s not to love?
We’ve had both older and newer shows on this list, but Recess is undoubtedly the quintessential nineties show. It follows six brave fourth graders as they seek to protect others in the playground come recess, and their efforts are (at least most of the time) a success.
There are all your stock characters like bullies, nerds, tomboys and jocks, but there’s a complexity and warmth to their many friendships and rivalries that gave the whole thing a realism that kids really responded to.
Not only that, but the hilarious English teacher was surprisingly ahead of her time, ranting about the oppression of women and America’s treatment of the Native Americans to hilarious affect, but also teaching kids some valuable lessons with her deadbeat delivery and unapologetic stance.
In short, if you lived through the nineties you probably didn’t need the reminder that this show existed, or the excuse to go back and watch the whole thing again from start to finish, preferably with a juice box and a whole stack of lunchables nearby.
1. Phineas And Ferb
The answer to the question “what’s the best kid’s TV show of all time” is not an easy one to figure out, and everybody reading this will no doubt have their own opinions and answers. With that said, the undisputed champion of this list at least is the Disney XD classic Phineas and Ferb.
For the tragically uninitiated, the show follows two genius step brothers as they build more and more inexplicable gadgets over summer, while their older sister tries to bust them by telling their mother what they’ve been up to over the course of the day.
Pretty simple set-up, but running parallel to that is another storyline, that of their pet platypus who is secretly a super spy, whose job it is to constantly thwart the city’s lovably inept mad scientist and villain. In every episode, the villain’s gadget somehow cancels out or destroys Phineas and Ferb’s own tech, leading their sister to descend further and further into madness.
Not only that, but there’s slowburn romance between Phineas and the adorable Girl Scout Isabella, as well as between the silent Ferb and the mad scientist’s goth daughter Vanessa. Add in musical numbers spanning every genre from funk to heavy metal, and on every subject from giant roller coasters to giant fighting tree houses, and you’ve got a recipe for success. Especially since that’s without mentioning the intergalactic and adorable superhero named Meep.