80s Animated Series That Deserve Netflix Reboots
It is time for a new generation to discover these cartoon classics.
During Power-Con 2019 in Anaheim, California, filmmaker Kevin "Silent Bob" Smith announced he is rebooting the iconic 80s animated series He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe as an anime series for video streaming giant Netflix.
When I read the news, a tidal wave of nostalgia swept over me.
One of my fondest memories of growing up during the 80s is watching the many animated television series produced during that era.
From traveling to the kingdom of Eternia after school to accompanying He-Man on his fantastic adventures, to waking up inhumanely early on Saturdays to drown in an hours-long marathon of zany cartoons such as The Smurfs, the animated series of the 80s symbolize a time of youthful exuberance and innocence for myself and an entire generation of fellow Gen-Xers.
Netflix excavated the decade of Guess jeans and Rubik's Cubes to retrieve beloved animated series like Voltron: Defender Of The Universe and She-Ra: Princess of Power in order to reboot them into bona fide modern hits.
This was accomplished by recognizing and respecting what makes those cartoons so iconic for fans of the original incarnations while updating the series tone, aesthetics, and narratives to appeal to modern audiences.
One key example is Netflix's adaptation of Voltron into Voltron Legendary Defender. The original animated series was imported to the United States from Japan and became one of the most popular cartoons of the 80s due to its striking visuals and action-figure-ready robotic characters.
In the current version, the show is still a sprawling space opera with breathtaking animation, but the series tells an almost operatic saga. It's an epic involving royal familial intrigue, the effects of love and loss, and the enduring power of loyalty, hope, friendship, and sacrifice—all set against an epic struggle between good and evil with the fate of the universe at stake.
Voltron: Legendary Defender resonates with viewers of all ages by telling a magnificent, affecting story.
Netflix struck gold again with another 80s animated gem, She-Ra. In She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power, viewers follow Adora AKA She-Ra the princess of power, a brave and stalwart teenage girl who is on a magical odyssey of self-discovery.
Joining Adora in her fight against the Horde—an evil army attempting to conquer the planet of Etheria—are other princesses of power: young, gifted teen girls with distinct personalities and each possessing their own agency. She-Ra and her cohorts are bound together by love, mutual respect, and friendship.
Voltron and She-Ra are just a few of the many fondly remembered 80s animated series that would make perfect candidates for a modern update courtesy of Netflix. Here are a few more:
This Saturday morning animated series aired on the ABC network for two seasons, from October 4, 1980, to October 31, 1981.
What set this series apart from other Saturday morning cartoon shows was its dark, post-apocalyptic premise. In the year 1994 (remember folks, this aired in the early 1980s!) a runaway planet is hurled between the earth and the moon. The resulting gravitational upheaval devastates humanity's civilizations. The show picks up 2,000 years later. The world is transformed into a bizarre place where sorcery, almost neolithic societies, and bastions of high technology co-exist.
Against this bizarre backdrop, the titular hero frees himself from enslavement. With the help of his close allies—the sorceress Princess Ariel and Ookla the Mok (think of a Wookie that wears shorts)—Thundarr fights against evil wizards and mad scientists on his quest for justice for all.
At the time of its airing, there was nothing quite like Thundarr The Barbarian in animation. Its cunning—though-often-underestimated protagonist, post-apocalyptic setting, mysticism, and menagerie of weird, bizarre creatures would fit right in with the science fiction and fantasy narratives popular today.
This animated series based on the granddaddy of all fantasy role-playing games, Dungeons & Dragons.
In 1983, Dungeon & Dragon creator Gary Gygax convinced Marvel Productions (yes, THAT Marvel Productions) and Japanese animation studio Teoi Animation to produce an animated series based on his wildly popular fantasy game.
The animated series tells the story of five young people between the ages of eight to 15, who go on a Dungeons & Dragons-themed amusement park ride. Something goes wrong, and the young group finds themselves magically transported into the world of the fantasy game itself.
There, they meet a benevolent being known only as Dungeon Master. Yes, a "friendly" dungeon master is oxymoronic, but just go with it.
The Dungeon Master gifts each of the kids with a powerful magical weapon. The remainder of the series chronicles the children's attempts to find a way home.
Like the source material, Dungeons & Dragons: The Animated Series is pure epic fantasy revelry: there were wizards, orcs, demons, dragons, and other mystical creatures. The animated series was a favorite with fans of the role-playing game and general audiences alike.
Unfortunately, the animated series only ran for two seasons between 1983 and 1985. To add salt to the wound, it also ended on a cliffhanger.
A reboot with modern animation stylings and more complex storytelling that picks up where the original series left off seems like a recipe for a guaranteed hit.
The syndicated animated series BraveStarr aired from 1987 to 1988 and was a science fiction and western genre mashup.
Set in the 23rd century, the show took place on the desert planet of New Texas, located approximately over 1900 light-years from earth.
New Texas is the location of a multi-cultural settlement, where many of the inhabitants mine a precious substance called kerium.
Kerium is used as a fuel source, making it extremely valuable and the source of conflict between opposing factions on New Texas.
The series centers on Marshal BraveStarr, a Native American charged with keeping the peace on New Texas. Marshal BraveStarr is able to mystically call upon the abilities of four animals: the hawk, wolf, bear, and puma in order to temporarily perform superhuman feats.
What made BraveStarr a standout was it centered a Native American character—an occurrence extremely rare in media then as it is now. The series also tackled more sophisticated subject matter than typical for animated series of the era and offered a moral lesson at the conclusion of each episode.
The series gained attention for its episode entitled "The Price" in which a young boy buys an LSD-type hallucinogen, becomes addicted to it, and dies of an overdose.BraveStarr's groundbreaking choice to center a Native American character and focus on more mature storytelling made it a standout in the 80s. A revival could make it even more timely and relevant now.
Bionic Six was an American-Japanese animated series that aired in syndication from 1987 to 1989.
The show's highly stylized animation was due to the close involvement of acclaimed Japanese animator Osamu Dezaki.
The series follows the Bennetts, a family of six who each receive superhuman powers from bionic implants. They form the superhero team Bionic Six and use their abilities to fight evil.
The production on Bionic Six was cut above most animated series of the time. Mr. Dezaki's highly detailed art style gave the show dynamism and flare uncommon in American animation.
Also of note, the superhero team was also a multicultural one, with an African-American and Asian character having been adopted into the Bennett family.
Watching an episode of Bionic Six is like watching a comic book come to life. And with superhero and comic book-based films reigning in popular culture right now, bringing the Bionic Six out of retirement to pursue new animated adventures seems like a no-brainer.
Ah, Star Blazers.
For many of us here in the United States, this animated series was our first exposure to Japanese animation or anime.
In fact, Star Blazers is an American adaptation of the Japanese animated series Space Battleship Yamato I, which aired in Japan in 1974. Star Blazers was the first American anime-adaptation to introduce audiences in the United States to the more serialized and mature storytelling indicative of anime.
The epitome of an epic space opera, Star Blazers is the story of the spaceship the Argo, a refitted battleship equipped with an engine capable of interstellar flight. Led by Captain Avatar, the Argo is tasked with meeting an alien ally in space—an ally that can help the earth survive a devastating attack from the distant world of Gamilon.
Star Blazers has it all: alien foes and allies, starship battles in deep space, and the drama of intrepid heroes tasked with saving the earth.
The series still has legions of fans who would be clamoring to see more.
Honestly, I wish Netflix has greenlit these Defenders instead of that other show.
Defenders Of The Earth was an animated series that aired in syndication in 1986 and featured classic characters from three comic strips distributed by King Features Syndicate: Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake The Magician and Mandrake's assistant Lothar.
Together these heroes protect the earth from the evil machinations of alien dictator Ming the Merciless.
The twist to the series is that the heroes are joined in their opposition to Ming by their teen children: Rick the son of Flash Gordon, L. J., the son of Lothar, Jedda Walker, the daughter of The Phantom, and Kshin, the adopted son of Mandrake The Magician.
The series was a co-production between King Features Syndicate and Marvel Productions. There were 65 episodes made.
The show was a fun and unabashed tribute to the classic sci-fi serial origins of many of its main characters, most notably Flash Gordon. The addition of a new generation of characters who are legacies of the original heroes was a brilliant narrative stroke.
In many ways, Defenders Of The Earth feels ahead of its time. A reboot of the series that continues to mine the rich publication history of Flash Gordon and the other King Features heroes in order to tell new adventures appealing to a 21st-century audience? Sign me up, please.
And there you have it, a few iconic and beloved animated series from the 80s that would be perfect for getting a reboot—Netflix style. Those cartoons evoke fond memories from my childhood, and with any luck, they may get a new opportunity to have the same effect for a new generation.