Children's Cartoons That Were So EXTREME We Thought We Made Them Up

List Rules
Vote up the cartoons so extreme you thought you had imagined them.

Sure, familial love is important, and everyone enjoys a game of hide-and-seek - but really, wasn’t the best part of childhood watching cartoons? Dinosaurs, robots, talking animals - everything was swirling colors, explosions, and insanity, all made just for us. Here we were kings. But time marches on, people get jobs, and kings get dethroned. Nowadays, if an old cartoon pops into your head, those disjointed images can seem like a mystery from your erased past. They take on an almost mythic quality - a secret world locked away because what was the name of that show? Of course, the other possibility is you made it up or dreamed it.

For a child of the '80s and '90s, this confusion only intensifies. Shows got louder, weirder, and more in-your-face as networks competed for your attention. Shows aimed at boys became more popular, with many focusing on subjects like crime-fighting and monsters. The swaggering heroes dominating this landscape were as equipped with specialized weaponry as they were with snappy one-liners. "Extreme" became a popular descriptor with these shows and characters.

Is it any wonder then, that decades later, we can no longer tell if that colorful mess was real or not? Science agrees: Memory is tricky and brains are weird. So feel free to compare the list below against your own wacky memories. Was it an imaginative TV series or just a hallucination? Once you've verified your sanity, vote up the show you think is the most eXtreme!


  • 1
    719 VOTES

    There’s a reason it’s sometimes hard to keep these old shows straight - so many were made by toy manufacturers trying to compete with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. One ingenious developer over at Mattel had the idea of calling public libraries to ask which subjects were popular with boys aged 6 to 11. Apparently, following the popularity of Jaws, as well as Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, sharks had become all the rage at the local library. 

    In Street Sharks, four brothers are transformed into human-shark hybrids by a device called the "gene slammer." Based on the number of shows at this time joining the gene-splicing genre, one might guess that transforming into a muscular animal-man was every prepubescent boy's dream. In keeping with this fantasy, the sharks, far from being dismayed at their horrific transformation, embrace their new shark lifestyle almost immediately. Jumping right up from the procedure unfazed, they rush to their first entanglement shouting, "Shark attack!"

    Aside from fighting for justice, one of their passions seems to be destroying public property; they rip through doors, buildings, and asphalt roads in their indiscriminate path of destruction. After they've devoured his television, one rattled human friend remarks, "And I thought I was extreme!"

    • Actors: Andrew Rannells, Matt Hill, Lee Tockar
    • Premiered: September 11, 1994
  • Gargoyles
    Photo: ABC
    2
    893 VOTES

    Even a quick glance at the cover art screams extreme. One might be confused into thinking Disney had released a show about a heavy metal band featuring Satan and his minions. It was ambitious for a company like Disney to create a series revolving around characters whose appearance is not easily identifiable as cuddly cute or heroically angelic (especially considering that most of their previous TV creations were about ducks).

    But it's not just Gargoyles' edgy aesthetic that pushes the limits of children's TV. While the show is certainly darker than most of its contemporaries, it is remembered and admired for its intricate plots, intelligent dialogue, and complex characters.

    Sadly, either the public wasn't ready or Disney chickened out, and Gargoyles was canned after only two seasons. It was quickly picked up by another network, but with completely different writers, the show's magic fizzled, leading to a generally dumbed-down version with more standalone episodes and a stronger focus on comedy. The last three seasons are not considered canon among true fans. 

    When you really get behind a show's hero, seeing them take down the bad guys is so satisfying, and with his dope monster appearance, it’s just cool to watch Goliath (the brooding, noble protagonist) swoop down on some jerk who's got it coming. The world just wasn't ready for a hero so extreme that he could double as nightmare fuel.

    • Actors: Keith David, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Jeff Bennett, Ed Asner, Bill Fagerbakke
    • Premiered: October 24, 1994

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  • 3
    578 VOTES

    Could anything be more extreme than weaponized dinosaurs ridden by aliens? Although this show has "toy commercial" written all over it, there are few images in the history of children's entertainment as awesomely outrageous as the scene set by Dino-Riders. Picture it: Dinosaurs of every species and size move restlessly across a Late Cretaceous terrain. Each magnificent beast is fitted with saddles, harnesses, harpoons, and laser blasters as their riders prepare them to face off in an epic fight for supremacy.

    Sadly, that's all anyone really needs to know about the show, as it never delves much deeper than its tantalizing premise. But while the TV program may have been simplistic, there's no question that its accompanying toys were absolutely awesome.

    The need for technologically advanced cultures to use animals, prehistoric or otherwise, as a replacement for military vehicles is never quite justified in the show beyond the cool aesthetic. Perhaps instead of rationalization, the creators were relying on a universally acknowledged principle: Everything's better with dinosaurs.

    • Actors: Dan Gilvezan, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker
    • Premiered: October 1, 1988
  • SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron
    Photo: TBS

    The intro begins with a montage of monsters wreaking havoc on Megakat City, set to a rousing fantasy-adventure score. These scenes are interrupted by a flashing red light filling the screen, and the sound of an urgent alarm. Suddenly, the wailing of an electric guitar announces the arrival of the SWAT Kats. As they swoop in on their jet fighter to a driving hard rock beat, you can tell by their smug smiles that this cocky duo knows how to get the job done. 

    After they're kicked off the police force for being insubordinate bad*sses by their jealous boss, Commander Feral, the boys are reassigned to work in a government-owned salvage yard. They quickly get busy building a jet fighter from discarded parts, and once the Turbokat is complete, they are ready to begin their new career as heroic vigilantes.

    Darker than most animated shows of its time, SWAT Kats still has a sizable fan base even though it only ran for two seasons. Along with their rough-and-tumble ways, the leads, Razor and T-Bone, are a sarcastic pair with a fondness for questionable one-liners, unforgivable cat puns, and of course, that envelope-pushing trope of the '90s: light potty humor! Witnessing one of Feral's signature rants, Razor notes, "That guy looks like he hasn't hit the litter box in a week."

    • Actors: Barry Gordon, Charles Adler, Gary Owens
    • Premiered: September 11, 1993

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