1. AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER
Avatar: The Last Airbender was a show that understood exactly what it wanted to be from the very beginning. It knew how to establish characters and how to set up a plot that would be resolved in subsequent seasons. The show constantly had meaning that was greater than the sum of its action.
There were so many poignant moments, great humor, and standout animation. It was set in a new world that had understandable rules and guidelines. It all led up to a bombastic finale that tied up most of the show’s loose ends as well as leaving the door open for more adventures.
2. INVADER ZIM
This dark comedy about an alien coming to Earth and trying to remain in disguise to destroy it was one of the funniest shows on Nickelodeon. Just about every episode was comedy gold, having absurd jokes that were so ridiculous all anyone could do was laugh.
At the same time, there was something about Zim and GIR that were so lovable despite the fact that they were trying to get rid of the Earth. We were rooting for them in some weird way. The show was constantly firing on all cylinders, but it wasn’t long before Nickelodeon pulled the plug, making thousands of fans sad. At least we’re getting Enter the Florpus at some point.
3. HEY ARNOLD!
There has never been a young boy in cartoons quite as likable as Arnold. Living in an urban setting, he makes friends with just about everyone and always strives to do the right thing, but is still a flawed character. While the show was great for an episodic format, it still had several ongoing plot threads and mysteries that were enough to tie people over throughout its few seasons.
It was so resonant with fans that Nickelodeon would later give the series a proper finale with Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie years after the show ended. That alone is reason to celebrate. The show deserved it.
4. SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS
Perhaps the poster child for Nickelodeon, SpongeBob SquarePants had just about everything you could want. Memorable and likable characters, an amazing setting that could be used for all sorts of scenarios, smart writing and character moments, and a team of writers who knew what they were doing.
Walk into a restaurant, quote a SpongeBob episode, and you’re guaranteed that most people will immediately know what you’re talking about. The only downside to the show is that it felt as if was running out of steam after the first three seasons. A dip in quality was apparent to most loyal viewers.
5. DANNY PHANTOM
While Butch Hartman is best known for The Fairly OddParents, his second show, Danny Phantom, was easily a better show. It benefitted from a more connected narrative with heavier themes than we would get with Timmy Turner. We watched Danny and his friends grow from the first episode.
With a cartoon more narratively driven, Danny Phantom managed to grab a big following in its relatively small run. When it came time for the show to end, it managed to go out with a bang, as every story-driven show should. It also didn’t go on too long that it felt the writers were running out of ideas.
6. THE LOUD HOUSE
The Loud House is the youngest show to make this list, but it’s easy to see why it did. Featuring great animation and a wide cast of characters that’s used to surprisingly great effect, there’s plenty of reason that this show became an instant success.
It could’ve been just a boisterous show with no real aim, but the vast characters lead to the show having plenty of entertaining episodes that also manage to hit home meanings that would resonate with people of all ages. The show was also praised for the diversity in its cast, showcasing characters of all kinds of backgrounds.
7. ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE
Rocko’s Modern Life was one of those cartoons that pushed the boundaries every chance it got. It was absurd, irreverent, and slightly twisted at times. However, it was this realistic yet satirical take on adult life that made it such a hit in the first place.
Rocko as a reserved, mostly nice protagonist was a pure joy to watch interact with his socially inept friends. There was always something entertaining happening on screen whenever Rocko was involved. The show proved popular enough for Nickelodeon to announce that a movie would be made as a way to follow up the series years later.
Who knew that a show about babies would end up such a hit? Rugrats was about the life of Tommy Pickles and many of his friends. Viewers saw the world through their eyes as they spoke in their own language and made funny conclusions about whatever their parents were going through.
Rugrats was one of the few shows that managed to not overstay its welcome, being consistently well-written and designed up until the very end. The show’s premise was popular enough that it even spawned a spin-off series in the form of All Grown Up, where we follow all those familiar characters as tweenagers.
9. AAAHH!!! REAL MONSTERS
It seems Nickelodeon beat Pixar to the punch when it came to showing the world through the eyes of a monster. The animation was used to craft some memorable characters with unique designs. The show had a cutesy yet practical explanation for how monsters were integrated with the rest of the world.
It’s a weird show for sure, but there’s something alluring about it. It’s sometimes creepy and uncomfortable, but we could never look away. Despite its odd antics, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters was an undeniably charming experience that had people glued to their screens for quite some time. Take that, Monsters Inc.
10. THE ANGRY BEAVERS
Watching the day-to-day lives of Norbert and Daggett as they spent most of their time in a dam sounded boring on paper. However, the smart comedy, parodical nature, and satisfying animation helped The Angry Beavers stand alongside some of Nickelodeon’s best cartoons back in the ’90s.
The writers of the show had a strong sense of self-awareness, which made the humor well-executed at nearly every turn. Unfortunately, the show was canceled after a few seasons, but that only led the writers to craft a finale poking fun at cancellations. Nothing could stop the hilarious efforts of the beaver brothers and we still miss them.