List of the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters. The Ninja Turtle franchise has expanded from comic books to cartoon series and film. Characters ranging from Leonardo to Shredder have left impressions in millions of memories. Since their debut in 1984, the TMNT have remained an iconic staple in pop culture.The Ninja Turtles quickly became an animated series for the first time in 1987. The release of the series led the Turtles into mainstream America. Children all over were playing with action figures while teenagers picked up the Ninja Turtle slang which included surfer based lingo such as "bummer," "dude," and "cowabunga."The first live action movie debuted in 1990 (see the theme of 3 years here?) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a large success. The original movie did so well it led to a trilogy. Although the third installment was not as large a success, an animated movie was released in 2007. A new live action film directed by Michael Bay is currently in production.