Memory is an extremely funny thing. You can try as hard as you like to recall something from decades ago, but it’s often an impossible struggle to access the required neuron from the back of your brain.
But at the same time, one smell of potpourri immediately takes you back to your grandma’s house, a few seconds of your favourite retro pop tune whisks you straight back to your childhood, and one image from a 1980s Saturday morning TV show instantly reminds you of sitting alongside your siblings, long before you all went your separate ways.
So today we’ve compiled a list of 20 cartoons that we suspect that you’ve forgotten you even watched, but ones that will immediately remind you of the greatest decade that there ever was, as soon as you cast your eyes on them. Be sure to post a comment letting us know how many of them you remember, as well as which was your very favourite!
20. Mysterious Cities of Gold
It’s hard to imagine the children of today getting excited about a story set against the early colonisation of America in the 16th century, but us 80s kids went crazy for The Mysterious Cities of Gold.
It obviously didn’t hurt that the show had an unbelievably catchy theme tune which you couldn’t help getting stuck in your head all week – a quality it shared with a lot of 80s cartoons.
A French-Japanese co-production, Mysterious Cities of Gold centred on a young Spanish hero named Estaban (in Japan, the cartoon’s title translated as Estaban: Child of the Sun).
In search of his long lost father, Estaban joins a band of explorers who head out to South America looking for the lost cities of the title, making some cool friends along the way including Inca girl Zia.
39 episodes were made between 1982 and 1983, and the narrative was continued with a revival of the series in 2012, picking up where the original series left off.
19. Willo the Wisp
If you were a pre-schooler in early 80s Britain, Willo the Wisp might very well have been the very first TV cartoon you ever saw. If you were born anywhere else at any other time, we wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never even heard of it.
This oddball series of 5-minute stories centred on a colourful cast of creatures living in a mystical wood, with narration from the title character: a friendly embodiment of the ghostly will-o’-the-wisp of English folklore.
Kenneth Williams, master of arch-camp and veteran of the Carry On films, provided all the voices – and the title character’s look was modelled on him, with the distinctive nose and cheekbones.
As light and fun as it all was, we remember our infant selves being terrified of the show’s antagonist Evil Edna, an anthropomorphic TV set.
26 episodes of Willo the Wisp were made in 1981, and the ‘toon was later revived in 2005 with James Dreyfus providing the voices.
18. Adventures of the Gummi Bears
It’s no secret that a large percentage of 80s cartoons (including several on this list) existed primarily as marketing for toy lines – but do you remember this Disney series, which took its name from the ever-popular sweets?
Well, the bears on the show certainly didn’t look like they were made almost entirely of sugar and gelatin, but Adventures of the Gummi Bears proved a tasty recipe for young viewers, running for six seasons from 1985 to 1991.
Set against a medieval backdrop, the show centred on a friendly woodland community of walking, talking bears, who harvest the magical juice of gummi-berries, which gives them the ability to bounce.
Of course, every 80s kids cartoon needed some formidable villains, and the Gummi Bears had to fend off against a rather fearsome bunch of ogres, and their dastardly human commander Duke Sigmund Igthorn.
Again, the memorable theme tune helped the show’s popularity. Alicia Keys would surprise everyone by singing it on Jimmy Fallon in 2012.
After the success of He-Man and She-Ra, toymakers Mattel and animation studio Filmation teamed up for another space-set adventure with the bizarre adventures of interstellar wild west lawman Marshall BraveStarr.
It didn’t prove quite so big a hit, and in fact was the last show produced by Filmation before they folded, but it still managed a healthy 65-episode run from 1987 to 1988.
On the distant planet New Texas, BraveStarr – quite possibly the only Native American lead in a kid’s cartoon – fights to keep the peace alongside his steed and deputy Thirty/Thirty, a rough and tough Equestroid (i.e. cyborg horse).
The best part of any episode was when BraveStarr had to call upon the animal powers granted to him by his Shamanic father: eyes of the hawk, ears of the wolf, strength of the bear and speed of the puma!
Plus, as we can see, BraveStarr was a bit of a lady’s man, often locking lips with Judge J.B. McBride – but even though we were little, we don’t remember being too grossed out.
16. Ulysses 31
Another deep space sci-fi spectacular with an unbelievably catchy theme song, this 26-episode series may have been short-lived, but it made a big impression.
A loose retelling of The Odyssey as a space opera, Ulysses 31 follows the adventures of 31st century adventurer Ulysses, as he and his crew bravely struggle to get back home to planet Earth.
It was a pretty bold concept for a kid’s show, blending classical mythology with sci-fi adventure, as Ulysses’ fate is shaped by the ancient Greek Gods themselves.
But it was the show’s eye-popping designs and animation that really won over young viewers, especially their awesome spaceship, aptly named The Odyssey.
Like Mysterious Cities of Gold, Ulysses was a French-Japanese co-production, although it was brought to English-speaking audiences by future Power Rangers producer Haim Saban (who also provided the highly memorable theme music).
15. Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats
Ask any child of the 80s to name an animated TV show about a cat, and, well, they’ll probably either say Garfield or Top Cat. But after they think a little harder, odds are they’ll also remember Heathcliff.
While the comic strip which introduced the character may be older than Garfield, the cartoon show always felt like a pretty pale imitation, even to young eyes.
But that’s not to say we didn’t still have a blast with the misadventures of the mischievous moggy.
Plus, not unlike Garfield and Friends, you got the added bonus of two stories featuring different characters in every episode, thanks to the inclusion of the Catillac Cats; a slightly hipper, more 80s variation on the streetwise Top Cat gang.
Although, honestly, the main thing we remember as kids is having strange, confusing feelings for the oddly alluring Cleo the cat…
14. The Centurions
Remember what we were saying about 80s cartoons usually being thinly-veiled toy commercials? Behold, this bright and bold, hi-tech action extravaganza produced by animation house Ruby-Spears in 1986.
Made in conjunction with Kenner Toys and DC Comics, The Centurions centred on a trio of futuristic soldiers in awe-inspiring robo-suits which are both weapons and vehicles: one for air, one for land, one for water.
This being the 80s, the team’s heroic leader, Max Ray, also sported an impressive Magnum P.I. moustache.
Essentially The Centurions was just a flashier, more Americanised variation on Thunderbirds (they even had a space satellite HQ), but we happily ate it up at the time.
Also, you may be as surprised as we were to learn that it had some serious creative muscle behind the scenes, having been in part developed by comic book legends Jack Kirby and Gil Kane.
13. The Raccoons
Long before every kid in the world knew who Rocket was, there was only one animated raccoon for us: Bert Raccoon, accident-prone hero of cartoon series The Raccoons.
Well, okay, there were also Bert’s room-mates Ralph and Melissa, plus their relatives George, Nicole, Bentley and Lisa; but we’ll be honest, we didn’t remember their names until looking them up just now.
Running from 1985 to 1992, this Canadian cartoon blended your standard kid-friendly funny animal action with hints of social consciousness and environmentalist themes.
While our heroes were simple, nature-loving salt of the earth types, the bad guy was greedy industrialist Cyril Sneer (who apparently was an aardvark, although we spent our entire childhoods not having the first clue what he was meant to be).
Unlike a lot of other 80s cartoons, it wasn’t the opening theme music but the end title music that really won us over, with the strangely rousing song Run With Us, by Lisa Lougheed (who also voiced Lisa Raccoon).
12. Battle Of The Planets
Battle of the Planets was originally released in the 1970s, and was an American adaptation of the Japanese anime series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman.
We were extremely young when we watched it, but vividly remember drawing our own pictures of the cape-clad space heroes – although it may be surprising to learn the original Japanese show was, by western standards, considerably less kid-friendly.
Battle of the Planets heavily reworked the original Science Ninja Team Gatchaman for American audiences to remove material which parents at the time would certainly have found objectionable.
This adaptation consisted of significantly toning down the violence, cutting swearing and sexual content, removing a transgender villain, and introducing a new character, 7-Zark-7, to tie the story together.
Still, this work paid off as we all loved the series, which managed to churn out a pretty impressive 80 episodes in the two years it was in production.
Not every cartoon that was big with the kids in the 80s was an original product of that decade. Take Batfink, which was first broadcast all the way back in the 60s.
100 five-minute episodes of Batfink were produced from 1966 to 1967, but it wasn’t until the 80s and 90s that the show really found its audience, with TV reruns becoming hugely popular in the UK.
No prizes for guessing which well-known superhero (who also had a TV show in the late 60s) this crime-fighting bat was an affectionate lampoon of.
Batfink’s wings were like a shield of steel, which he never failed to remind us of in every episode!
Still, as popular as Batfink was at the time, it’s likely the show would prove controversial now thanks to the hero’s sidekick Karate, a culturally insensitive caricature of a Japanese man.
10. Bionic Six
As the 1970s had given us TV classic The Six Million Dollar Man and its equally beloved spin-off The Bionic Woman, by the 80s every kid knew that ‘bionic’ was just a synonym for ‘awesome.’
So if you could have a bionic man and a bionic woman, why not an entire family? And that’s just what we got in Bionic Six, a US-Japan co-production which originally aired between 1987 and 1989.
The main characters were a family of bionically enhanced human beings, who use their unique powers to form a superhero team named the Bionic Six (who’d have guessed it?!)
As much as we recall loving it at the time, we’ll confess to remembering almost nothing at all about Bionic Six, apart from – once again – its extremely catchy theme tune.
Unsurprisingly the show was another toy line tie-in, and it’s definitely worth having a dig through your attic seeing as these collectible figures may now be worth a small fortune.
9. Defenders Of The Earth
Defenders of the Earth featured the vintage comic book characters Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and Mandrake’s assistant Lothar, doing battle with Flash’s old adversary Ming the Merciless.
For those of us who grew up loving the 1980 Flash Gordon movie (which is surely all of us), this was pretty much the closest we ever got to a sequel!
The show saw the central heroes teaming up when Ming’s forces attack our world. Joining the battle (and giving the show a bit more kid-appeal) are Flash’s son Rick Gordon, the Phantom’s daughter Jedda, Lothar’s son LJ, and Mandrake’s ward Kshin.
Defenders of the Earth was a group effort. Marvel Productions and King Features Syndicate worked together to develop the premise.
Animated primarily in Korea and Japan, Defenders of the Earth lasted for 65 episodes, and even inspired its own short-lived comic book series.
8. Galaxy High
While Galaxy High isn’t the best-remembered cartoon of the 80s, it was created by a very notable Hollywood figure: Chris Columbus, writer of The Goonies and Gremlins, and later director of two Home Alone and Harry Potter movies.
Believe it or not, the sci-fi comedy only ever had 13 episodes, which originally aired from September to December in 1986.
Once again, the show was an American-Japanese co-production, telling the story of two earthlings – football star Doyle, and bookworm Amy – who are chosen to attend high school in outer space.
However, things do not go smoothly for Doyle who, having been popular on earth, finds it hard to make friends and adjust to life on the asteroid Flutor – whereas former outcast Amy finds herself accepted.
Galaxy High is yet another 80s cartoon with a highly memorable theme tune; which, believe it or not, was composed by Eagles guitarist Don Felder.
7. Henry’s Cat
Animator Bob Godfrey had already made a major impact on kids of the 70s with his colourful creations Roobarb and Custard – and he had a similar impact on 80s kids with Henry’s Cat.
We’ll admit our memories of this show are hazy, but we do remember one thing, which is that the cat’s name was not Henry; he belonged to Henry!
Henry’s cat’s name was never actually revealed (much to our dismay), and the show detailed the exploits of him and his many friends and enemies.
Charming audiences with its very simple animation and storytelling with overtones of adult-pleasing wit, the show was first screened on the BBC in 1983, and ran to five seasons in total.
Since its initial run ended in 1993, Henry’s Cat has enjoyed many repeats, and has been broadcast on Canadian and South African TV channels.
6. Jayce And The Wheeled Warriors
Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors was another 80s cartoon specifically created to sell toys, but damned if these weren’t some of the coolest-looking toys we’d ever seen at the time.
Teenage Jayce commanded human heroes the Lightning League, who drive awesome high-tech vehicles in their battle against the Monster Minds, vegetable-like mutations out to conquer the universe under the leadership of the evil Saw Boss.
A French-Canadian cartoon which has been broadcast in both English and French, the show’s writing team included future Babylon 5 and Sense8 creator J. Michael Straczynski.
As awesome as it was, both the series and the toys failed to gain much traction, and Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors wound up being abruptly cancelled after 65 episodes, leaving its ongoing plot line unresolved.
Straczynski had hoped to resolve the plot with a movie, but unfortunately this never came to fruition.
5. Jimbo And The Jet-Set
Jimbo and the Jet-Set, which to be honest we thought was simply called Jimbo, had one of the greatest theme tunes of our entire childhood.
Made by the UK’s Maddocks Cartoon Productions, the children’s BBC series ran for 25 episodes between 1986 and 1987, and the title character was one of our very favourite cartoon characters when we were young.
The premise of the show was that Jimbo’s designer had originally intended for him to be a jumbo jet, but his plans were thwarted by his inability to distinguish between inches and centimetres.
This resulted in the jet’s diminutive size and, let’s face it, adorable appearance.
The story was based at a fictional London airport, and featured an array of anthropomorphic airport vehicles, as well as a rather irate controller; who can forget his anguished cries of “JIMB-OHH!” every episode?
4. King Rollo
Not unlike Henry’s Cat creator Bob Godfrey, King Rollo creator David McKee had also made quite the impression on younger British viewers in the 70s, 80s and beyond.
As well as writing such still-popular children’s books as Not Now Bernard and the Elmer series, McKee was also the creator of TV’s Mr Benn, with which King Rollo shares a lot of common ground.
As well as being animated in a very similar style to McKee’s early 70s show, King Rollo also featured the vocal stylings of Mr Benn narrator Ray Brooks.
The central character was, of course, Rollo himself, and the show detailed the shenanigans of the child-like King and his many friends.
Surprisingly, only 13 episodes of King Rollo were ever made, originally aired between October and December 1980, but these have been repeated a great many times since.
3. Pigeon Street
Pigeon Street is another 80s cartoon that made a big impression on kids in Britain at the time, although like King Rollo and Galaxy High, there were only ever 13 episodes.
The show featured the adventures of a group of residents living on Pigeon Street, which consisted of flats and terraced houses located in an undisclosed British city.
The street was also home to several pigeons (hence the name), although they were rarely an integral part of the plot.
We recall being more enamoured with the human characters, particularly lorry driver Long Distance Clara!
The show’s animators, Roger and Lang, would go on to animate a number of kids TV shows, namely Numbertime and Rosie and Jim.
2. Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends
For those of us who grew up in a world without a slew of blockbuster movies featuring Marvel’s beloved wall-crawling hero, this cartoon series was our introduction to the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.
Produced from 1981 to 1983, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends teamed up Spidey with the X-Men’s Iceman, plus an original character called Firestar.
The group lived together in the home of Peter’s Aunt May, and their adventures often saw them team up with other Marvel characters including Captain America, Thor and the X-Men.
It wasn’t until the 90s that Marvel really won over the cartoon world with the Fox Kids adaptations of Spider-Man, X-Men and more besides – but Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends helped sow the seeds for that future success.
However, only 24 episodes were made over three seasons between 1981 and 1983.
1. Visionaries: Knights Of The Magical Light
Visionaries: Knights Of The Magical Light is another one that only ran for 13 episodes, and we don’t remember the toys being available for long either.
The main distinguishing feature of the Hasbro toy line were the holograms on the breastplates of the futuristic knight heroes, although in reality they were never as cool as in the show, in which magical creatures literally leaped from the heroes’ chests.
The story was set on a fictional planet named Prysmos, inhabited by a futuristic society whose technology suddenly ceases to function, forcing its citizens to rely on ancient magic to survive.
The characters were split primarily into two groups: the heroic Spectral Knights, and the villainous Darkling Lords.
During the show’s brief run from 1987 to 1988, a six-issue comic book series was published; and in 2018 the Visionaries were briefly revived in comic book form by IDW Publishing, as part of their Hasbro comic universe.