Animation in movies first became popular in the late 1800s. Later, it took over the television industry by storm. It wasn’t until the late 60s and early 70s that black cartoon characters appeared in animated movies and TV shows. They’ve since become crucial parts of several franchises. Honestly, few characters compare with the best black cartoon characters.
It’s safe to say several classic animated shows wouldn’t be around had it not been for these black cartoon characters. Indeed, many breakout black characters got their own shows. At the same time, multiple animated series hit the airwaves featuring a majority of black cartoon characters. These cartoon characters transcend time and remain hugely popular. They broke barriers and paved the way for the funniest animated cartoons.
Huey & Riley Freeman – The Boondocks
The critically acclaimed animated series The Boondocks follows a black family, the Freemans, that moves to a predominantly white suburb. The popular and controversial series often deals with racism, politics, and taboo subjects. Critics praised the series for being unapologetically black and its portrayal of the African American culture.
The groundbreaking and hilarious Cartoon Network series focuses on two brothers, Huey and Riley Freeman. Legendary actress Regina King provides the voices for both brothers. Huey’s highly intelligent, loves to read, and considers himself a left-wing radical. He often discusses current events, politics, and the obstacles black people encounter. His younger brother Riley is heavily into the hip-hop culture and lifestyle. Additionally, the series features a long list of outstanding and genuine black characters.
Penny Proud – The Proud Family
The iconic animated series The Proud Family revolves around a young black girl Penny Proud and her family. Penny encounters all the same problems that any teenager does while growing up in the suburbs. Penny is the main protagonist, but each character is equally important.
The series features her family and best friends as they deal with everyday problems. Critics praised The Proud Family for tackling real issues rooted in the African-American culture and using authentic language heard in black households.
Franklin – Peanuts
On July 31, 1968, Franklin made his first appearance in the immensely popular Peanuts. He is the first black character to appear in the famous comic strip. According to creator Charles M. Schlutz, he added Franklin when he received a letter from a teacher eleven days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The fan urged Schultz to add a black character.
At the time, Franklin stirred up some controversy. However, he soon became Charlie Brown’s best friend and a permanent fixture of the famous Peanuts franchise. He’s appeared in several other mediums, including the Peanuts cartoon.
Princess Tiana – The Princess and the Frog
There have been several memorable Disney Princess, but none compare with Princess Tiana. She was the main character in the 2009 Disney animated movie The Princess and the Frog.
Set in the 1920s, Tiana dreams of opening up her own restaurant in New Orleans. The movie was groundbreaking for several reasons. Most importantly, Princess Tiana made history as the first African American Disney Princess. Undoubtedly, she made black princesses around the world proud. She truly is one of the best black cartoon characters in cinema history.
Black Panther – The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
Nowadays, there are hundreds of superheroes flying around and swinging all over the place. However, none are on Black Panther’s level. Black Panther debuted in 1966 and became the first black superhero. He’s appeared in several different mediums, including the popular animated series The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Black Panther, aka King T’Challa, is a fierce warrior dealing with all the typical superhero problems and evil villains. However, the groundbreaking character is rooted in African American culture and history. Black Panther is one of the most significant black characters of all time.
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Doc McStuffins – Doc McStuffins
The beloved animated cartoon Doc McStuffins follows seven-year-old Doc as she treats and cares for her toys. The series is a massive hit and helped turn Doc McStuffins into a cultural icon.
Kids around the world look up to Doc and admire her. Critics praise the series for featuring a young black girl that wants to be a doctor like her mother. They also praise the series for its depiction of the African American culture. Doc McStuffins is a true hero and one of the best black cartoon characters.
Missy – Big Mouth
Missy is one of the main characters in the critically acclaimed animated series Big Mouth. Missy’s a young black girl who’s socially awkward, sweet, intelligent, and often the voice of reason.
At one point, Missy’s character struggles with her racial identity after visiting her family in Atlanta. She changes her appearance and stops wearing her trademark overalls. Missy also changed her hairstyle and wore in it cornrows with colorful hairbands. Later, Missy starts a diversity club in school to bring the various cultures together.
Initially, actress Jenny Slate voiced Missy until Ayo Edebiri took over.
Cleveland Brown & Donna Tubbs – The Cleveland Show
Cleveland Brown was the breakout character on the critically acclaimed animated sitcom Family Guy. Indeed, Cleveland proved so popular he even got his own spin-off series, The Cleveland Show.
Cleveland happens to be one of the only black characters living in Quahog. Later, in the spin-off, he marries Donna Tubbs and moves in with her kids. Donna is a strong black female character that’s equally as important as Cleveland. Voice actor Mike Henry voiced Cleveland for years before Arif Zahir took over in 2021.
Susie Carmichael – Rugrats
It’s safe to say that the beloved animated series Rugrats wouldn’t be the same without Susie Carmichael, voiced by Cree Summer. Susie offers excellent advice and wisdom to her friends since she’s slightly older.
For the most part, Susie’s upbeat and cheerful. Of course, she’s still a three-year-old kid prone to throwing temper tantrums. Regardless, she remains one of Rugrats‘ most recognizable characters. However, this little black girl is also one of the best black cartoon characters in television history.
Harlem Globetrotters – Harlem Globetrotters
In the 1970s, the iconic Harlem Globetrotters starred in their very own Saturday morning cartoon, Harlem Globetrotters. The series follows the team as they travel the world and play a basketball game against a local villain. Despite lasting only a few seasons, the animated cartoon overcame obstacles and broke down barriers. For instance, the series was the first Saturday morning cartoon to feature a primarily African American cast.
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Cyborg – Teen Titans
The animated cartoon Teen Titans Go follows the lives of several superheroes, including the world-famous Cyborg. Cyborg, aka Victor Stone, is a crucial part of the series and the Teen Titans team.
He’s a young black man that’s half robot and highly intelligent. He’s one of the first black superheroes to get his own DC Comics book series. Indeed, Cyborg is massively popular and an important black cartoon character.
Mr. T – Mister T
In the 80s, Mr. T exploded in popularity and became one of the biggest celebrities in the world. He appeared in numerous memorable TV shows and movies. However, Mr. T also starred in a classic animated series, Mister T.
The show follows Mr. T as he coaches a gymnastics team and solves mysteries on the side. It only lasted a few seasons but had an enduring impact on black cartoon characters.
Gerald Johanssen – Hey Arnold
Gerald Johanssen is Arnold’s cool and calm best friend in the hit animated cartoon Hey Arnold. Gerald’s the popular kid with his unique hairstyle and cool fashion sense. He’s street smart, loyal, and upbeat. However, Gerald sometimes goes against his friend Arnold in certain situations. Gerald’s a memorable black cartoon character.
Frozone – The Incredibles
Iconic actor Samuel L. Jackson provides the voice for the memorable cartoon character Frozone in the popular animated movies The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2. He’s a famous black cartoon character who paved the way for other black superheroes on the big screen. He’s close friends with the Parr family and an incredible superhero in his own right.
Fat Albert – Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
The critically acclaimed animated series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids followed the Junkyard Gang’s adventures in their hometown of North Philadelphia. The groundbreaking series debuted in 1972 to rave reviews. Each episode is educational and features an important lesson in the end.
Indeed, Fat Albert and his friends are unique and authentic characters. Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the horrible actions of the show’s creator and host. However, the series broke down barriers and led the way for similar cartoons. Fat Albert and his friends are iconic black cartoon characters.
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Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
As an animation enthusiast and expert, I have witnessed the evolution and impact of animation in movies and television over the years. Animation first gained popularity in the late 1800s and soon became a force to be reckoned with in the television industry. However, it wasn't until the late 60s and early 70s that black cartoon characters started appearing in animated movies and TV shows.
These black cartoon characters have since become integral parts of several franchises and have played a significant role in shaping the animation landscape. They have broken barriers and paved the way for the funniest and most memorable animated cartoons.
One of the groundbreaking animated series that prominently features black cartoon characters is "The Boondocks." This critically acclaimed show follows the Freeman family as they navigate a predominantly white suburb and tackle issues of racism and politics. The series focuses on two brothers, Huey and Riley Freeman, who are voiced by the legendary actress Regina King. Huey is highly intelligent and politically engaged, while Riley is immersed in hip-hop culture.
Another iconic animated series is "The Proud Family," which revolves around Penny Proud, a young black girl growing up in the suburbs. The show tackles real issues rooted in African-American culture and uses authentic language heard in black households.
In the world of comic strips, "Peanuts" introduced Franklin, the first black character to appear in the famous strip. Created by Charles M. Schulz, Franklin became Charlie Brown's best friend and a permanent fixture in the Peanuts franchise.
Disney also made history with the introduction of Princess Tiana in "The Princess and the Frog." She became the first African American Disney Princess, inspiring black princesses around the world and leaving a lasting impact on cinema history.
In the realm of superheroes, Black Panther stands out as the first black superhero. Debuting in 1966, Black Panther has appeared in various mediums, including the popular animated series "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes." Rooted in African American culture and history, Black Panther has become one of the most significant black characters of all time.
Other notable black cartoon characters include Doc McStuffins, Missy from "Big Mouth," Cleveland Brown and Donna Tubbs from "The Cleveland Show," Susie Carmichael from "Rugrats," the Harlem Globetrotters in their self-titled cartoon, Cyborg from "Teen Titans," Mr. T in "Mister T," Gerald Johanssen from "Hey Arnold," Frozone from "The Incredibles," and Fat Albert from "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids."
These black cartoon characters have not only entertained audiences but also provided representation and diversity in the animation industry. They have broken down barriers, tackled important issues, and left a lasting impact on the world of animation.