Do you remember waking up early Saturday mornings, plunking down in front of the television, and getting your fix of cartoons? Maybe the animation was not the greatest, but the entertainment was designed for kids, which was all that mattered.
Today, cartoons are produced with state-of-the-art animation. Much of it is marketed to an adult audience. And after many years of only seeing the odd black character, we now have our library of black cartoons.
From the early days when musicians dabbled in voicing cartoon versions of themselves, to today’s explicit, action-packed adult animation, black cartoons have come a long way.
Here are some of the best black cartoons ever made, some for adults only, some for kids.
One of the earliest black cartoons that appealed to a wide demographic was Fat Albert, a group of kids growing up in the inner city of Philadelphia.
Bill Cosby created the series based on his experiences growing up. He hosted the show in a mix of live-action-animations and voiced several characters, including Fat Albert and his catchphrase, “Hey hey hey!”
It was also educational, with each episode containing a lesson for children to learn. Fat Albert and his gang would end the cartoon playing their homemade instruments in a song about the show’s lesson.
The series ran Saturday mornings from 1972 to 1985 as Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
Class of 3000
Some cartoons are popular for their style of animation. Other cartoons are all about the music.
Class of 3000 is all about the music. Created by André 3000 of hip hop’s Outkast, the cartoon is about music teacher Sunny Bridges and his class of students at an Atlanta School for Performing Arts.
The show was created for the Cartoon Network by André 3000 based on his own experiences growing up in Atlanta. The cartoon focuses on diversity as André went to school with students of different nationalities who came together with music.
André 3000 was inspired by the 1989 film Dead Poets Society. He provides the voice of teacher Sunny Bridges, and the music steals the show.
Emmy Award-winning The PJs was created by Eddie Murphy and Larry Wilmore and produced by Ron Howard and Imagine Entertainment. It was Disney’s first adult animated series, with 44 episodes running from 1999 to 2001.
The show was a black sitcom about urban life in a housing project. ‘PJs’ is an abbreviation for ‘the projects’. Eddie Murphy voiced the main character, superintendent Thurgood Orenthal Stubbs.
The series met some opposition, notably Spike Lee, who felt it played too much on black stereotypes. The show was also costly to produce. The use of stop-motion claymation took more than two months to produce each episode.
The PJs can be streamed on NBC’s Peacock service out of syndication.
Another popular Saturday morning cartoon was the Jackson 5ive, portraying the lives of Jermaine, Tito, Jackie, Marlon, and Michael: the Jackson 5.
The series ran on ABC between 1971 and 1972, produced by Motown Productions. The cartoon was rebroadcast in syndication in the mid-80s during Michael’s immense popularity following the release of Thriller.
Each episode of Jackson 5ive would feature two songs from the group and follow the brothers’ adventures together. Actors would voice the cartoon characters due to the touring demands of the Jackson 5.The Jacksons’ faces would morph into their cartoon selves in the opening.
The animated band was managed by a character based on Motown’s Berry Gordy. Diana Ross appeared in the debut episode and provided her voice in the cameo.
Black Dynamite – An African American Cartoon For Adults
Black Dynamite is an adult animation series based on the 2009 movie of the same name, featuring many actors who appeared in the film.
The cartoon pays homage to the blaxploitation films of the 1970s. The series refers to the film and many celebrities of the era, including Michael Jackson, O.J. Simpson, Richard Pryor, Rick James, and the dreaded nemesis of Black Dynamite: President Richard Nixon.
Black Dynamite was released in 2011 and ran until 2015 on the Adult Swim block of the Cartoon Network. It explored themes of racism and discrimination with its dark yet stylistic animation. The series was rated TV-MA, the equivalent of an R-rated movie, for its violent content and sexual references.
Black Dynamite featured the movie’s star actors, including Michael Jai White as Black Dynamite, Tommy Davidson as Cream Corn, Kym Whitley as Honeybee, and Arsenio Hall as Tasty Freeze.
Based on the syndicated comic strip, The Boondocks is an adult animated series about a dysfunctional black family living in the white suburbs.
The cartoon follows the fictional family,The Freemans, and delves into their perspective on social issues and stereotypes. The show’s satire provided much of the comedy, making it very popular across a wide audience.
The series ran from 2005 through 2014, with a total of 55 episodes broadcast on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. There was talk of a series reboot in 2019 with actor John Witherspoon reprising his role as Robert Freeman; however, he passed away that year, and the project was eventually shelved.
Keeping with the educational slant he created with Fat Albert, Bill Cosby returned to the cartoon universe with Little Bill, based on his book series of the same name.
Little Bill Glover explores everyday life through his imagination while growing up in Philadelphia. He lives with his parents and siblings along with his great-grandmother. At the end of every episode, Little Bill summarizes his day by talking directly to the audience before going to bed.
The series ran on CBS/Nick Jr. from 1999 through 2004, with reruns airing the following year.
The Harlem Globetrotters animated series about the traveling basketball team has the distinction of being the first Saturday morning cartoon in history featuring an African-American cast.
The 1970-71 series followed the adventures of team members Meadowlark Lemon, Bobby Joe Mason, Geese Ausbie, Curly Neal, Gip Gipson, and Pablo Robertson, with their bus driver Granny and dog mascot Dribbles.
Each episode would find the team in some sort of conflict that would need resolution on the basketball court. Despite the villain attempting to rig the game, good always triumphs over evil, and the Harlem Globetrotters always win.
Mike Tyson Mysteries
What do Mike Tyson and a pigeon have in common? You’ll have to watch Mike Tyson Mysteries to find out. The animated series featuring Mike Tyson as himself contains adult language and mature themes.
The show is loosely structured in the same format as Hanna-Barbera’s Scooby-Doo in that each episode contains a mystery that needs to be solved. However, the mystery never seems to be resolved in this adult-targeted version.
The series ran on Adult Swim between 2014 and 2020. Reruns are still in syndication. Mike Tyson Mysteries is one of those cartoons so out there that you have to see it for yourself.
Doc McStuffins is a children’s cartoon series that follows a seven-year-old girl, Dottie “Doc” McStuffins, who wants to become a doctor like her pediatrician mom. She practices by fixing her toys and dolls.
Doc McStuffins can bring her stuffed toys to life with her magic stethoscope. The show’s themes include how to stay healthy, helping one another, and rescuing pets in need.
The show was well-received for its appeal to children and its depiction of African-Americans. The series ran for five seasons on the Disney Channel from 2012 to 2020 and is available for streaming on Disney+. A 10th-anniversary musical special is in the works, slated for release in 2022.
The Cleveland Show
A spin-off from Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, created by Seth MacFarlane, is an adult animated sitcom for the Fox Network.
The show stars the character Cleveland Brown and his wife Donna Tubbs and revolves around their dysfunctional families. The cartoon has the same format as its predecessor, with cutaway gags and tongue-in-cheek humor about American culture.
The series ran for four seasons between 2009 and 2013, with a total of 88 episodes. Once the show was canceled, Cleveland and his family returned as regulars on Family Guy.
Nominated for a Daytime Emmy, Static Shock was a pre-teen cartoon based on the DC comic book, Static.
The story revolves around Virgil Hawkins, a 14-year-old African-American boy who, during a gang confrontation, is accidentally exposed to a mutagen gas that gives him the ability to create, absorb, and control electricity, turning him into the superhero Static Shock.
The show was very successful, with 52 episodes running for four seasons on the Kids’ WB programming block. The cartoon was well-received by television critics who applauded the show’s approach to social issues.
Static Shock was the first African-American cartoon superhero to star as the title character in a series.
Adapted from the world of manga, a Japanese style of comic book/graphic novel is the anime series Afro Samurai.
Written and illustrated by artist Takashi Okazaki, the series reflects the influences of soul and hip hop and American culture.
The character Afro Samurai seeks to avenge his father’s death, which he witnessed as a child. He must regain the headband from the killer, which gives the owner god-like powers. But first, he must defeat a group of assassins and mercenaries.
The series stars Samuel L. Jackson as Afro Samurai and features a soundtrack by hip hop artist The RZA from the rap group Wu-Tang Clan. The anime won an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program.
Fillmore! is an animated series following the adventures of 12-year-old Cornelius Fillmore, a juvenile delinquent who sees the error of his ways and decides to join the safety patrol. Fillmore and his partner Ingrid Third solve kid-friendly crimes and mysteries.
Set in the suburbs of Minneapolis and Saint Paul in Minnesota, the cartoon is a parody of popular police dramas. Although the series was aimed at children, the cartoon proved popular with adults for its nostalgic references.
Fillmore! ran from 2002 to 2004 on ABC and Toon Disney. It would be the last Walt Disney produced animation for another network before exclusively creating content for the Disney Channel.
In the children’s animated series Mr. T, the title character (voiced by Mr. T himself), is a gymnastics coach who travels the world with his team solving mysteries.
Mr. T appears in a live-action intro, telling the audience what the episode is about and again summarizing the moral lesson in the outro. The format of the show influenced subsequent cartoons, including Mike Tyson Mysteries.
Mr. T ran on NBC Saturday mornings between 1983 and 1985 with a total of 30 episodes over three seasons. You can still find the cartoon in reruns on Adult Swim and some streaming services.
Kid n’ Play
Another kids’ cartoon that follows the lives of a musical group is Kid n’ Play, a popular hip-hop duo of the 80s and 90s.
The lessons in each episode stressed positive role models and how to stay out of trouble while getting along with one another. Much like their House Party films of the time, Play was often getting into trouble while Kid had to clean up the mess.
Christopher Reid (Kid) and Christopher Martin (Play) would appear as themselves in the live-action open but would not voice the cartoon characters. Their animated versions depicted them as teenagers. However, the storyline followed their real-life musical careers.
The cartoon only ran for one season in 1990 on NBC.
Following Kid n’ Play, the next musical artist to become animated was rapper MC Hammer and his Saturday morning cartoon, Hammerman.
The cartoon follows MC Hammer, a youth center worker. He inherits a pair of magical dancing shoes from his Gramps that would give him the power to become the superhero Hammerman.
Hammerman aired for thirteen episodes on ABC in the fall of 1991. MC Hammer performed the show’s theme song and would speak to the audience at the end of each episode about the lesson learned.
Best Black Cartoons Ever
Like animated series in general, black cartoons black cartoon characters have expanded to include adult audiences and children’s programming.
Black cartoons have evolved over the years, from rudimentary animation to slick anime. Regardless of the production quality, the best black cartoons have taught us valuable life lessons and an awareness of the important social issues of today.