The 20 Best South Park Episodes, Ranked

South Park opening
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Twenty-six seasons, multiple specials, and a theatrically released blockbuster. And it’s still going today. The legacy that South Park has built since premiering on Comedy Central more than two-and-a-half decades ago is tremendous, with the show making an indelible impact on pop culture along the way. Looking back, it’s remarkable just how many classic episodes there are, making it incredibly hard to pick a favorite… but we figured we’d try and take on the challenge anyway.

Having already written about the most controversial South Park episodes and the series’ darkest moments, we’ve taken a crack at identifying the 20 best episodes of the beloved animated series, and working up to number one, we’ll start with…

South Park Cartman Stan and Kyle

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20. "Kenny Dies" (Season 5, Episode 13)

By Season 5, the idea of killing Kenny in South Park was old hat, but that’s part of what makes “Kenny Dies” so special. The episode features a shockingly emotional storyline with Stan being unable to cope with the idea of losing one of his best friends… but, of course, that story is balanced by a very different kind of shocking plot, with Cartman getting government approval for stem cell research so that he can clone a Shakey’s Pizza Parlor with a horde of aborted fetuses.

South Park Britney's New Look

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19. "Britney's New Look" (Season 12, Episode 2)

Like some other entries on this list, “Britney’s New Look” is an episode of South Park that targets a specific moment in pop culture, but it also has broader commentary to dispense that is sharp and excellent. The titular Britney is, of course, Britney Spears, and her titular new look is having the top of her head blown off as a result of a suicide attempt caused by paparazzi and tabloid journalists constantly harassing her. It’s a terrific look at the horrors of celebrity obsession capped with an excellent nod to Shirley Jackson’s terrifying and beloved short story “The Lottery.”

South Park Cartman Crack Baby Athletic League

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18. "Crack Baby Athletic Association" (Season 15, Episode 5)

Given how much money college athletes make for their schools and the fact that their names and likenesses can be sold by said institutions, should they be paid? South Park makes one hell of an argument for “Yes” with the outrageous and hilarious Season 15 episode "Crack Baby Athletic Association." It’s not only amazing satire with more than a handful of jaw-dropping moments, but it’s also one of the few notable times in the history of the show where Cartman is able to successfully corrupt Kyle.

South Park Cartman

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17. "It Hits The Fan" (Season 5, Episode 1)

Nowadays, it isn’t a big deal in the slightest to say the word “shit” on television – be it on network, basic cable, or premium channels – but that was not the case in 2001… and “It Hits The Fan” can be pointed to as a reason why we’ve seen things change in the last 22 years. South Park viciously mocks the hype and uproar surrounding the use of a simple four letter word and does it with glee, ultimately having characters say the word over 160 times.

South Park Butters tortured

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16. "The Death Of Eric Cartman" (Season 9, Episode 6)

Trey Parker and the South Park writers tend to strike gold when they come up with new ways to torture poor, innocent Butters, and while “The Death Of Eric Cartman” isn’t the best example, it ranks high. It takes a very childish idea (all of the kids deciding to ignore Cartman, making him think that he is dead), and takes it to hilarious places – the great highlight being Butters’ traumatizing committal to a mental institution.

South Park Satan vs Jesus

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15. "Damien" (Season 1, Episode 10)

When South Park first premiered in 1997, the amount of outrage it generated is comical in retrospect, and no episode in that debut run freaked people out more than “Damien.” The amazing idea to have Jesus fighting Satan in a boxing match had faces turning red all around the world – and it sent an important message about the show’s penchant for line crossing.

South Park Butters as dog good time with weapons

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14. "Good Times With Weapons" (Season 8, Episode 1)

While South Park often has its young characters act with the maturity of adults, getting reminders that they are just children regularly yields delightful results, and “Good Times With Weapons” is evidence. Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny are just fooling around and playing ninja when a shuriken gets implanted right in Butters’ eye socket – and their attempts to try and not get in trouble are as hilarious as they are cruel.

South Park woodland critter christmas

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13. "Woodland Critter Christmas" (Season 8, Episode 14)

What does a Christmas fairy tale look like sprung from the mind of Eric Cartman? That’s a question answered in monstrous fashion by “Woodland Critter Christmas,” which is nowhere near as sweet as its title suggests. It starts out sweet enough, but things take a rather rapid trip straight to hell once it’s revealed that the sweet forest animals are devout Satanists who enjoy participating in blood orgies and are looking to bring about the apocalypse via the birth of the anti-Christ. It’s a special kind of demented that only South Park can pull off.

South Park Jimmy vs Timmy Cripple Fight

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12. "Cripple Fight" (Season 5, Episode 2)

The controversy about gay adults being a part of the Boy Scouts has been a non-issue since 2015 when the organization changed its policies to end their existing ban, but “Cripple Fight” has its timeless qualities thanks to South Park using the episode to introduce a new character: Jimmy Valmer. The conflict set up between Jimmy and Timmy (the latter being insanely jealous of the attention garnered by the former) is brilliantly irreverent, and the near-shot-for-shot remake of the classic fight from John Carpenter’s They Live is a genius touch.

South Park Imaginationland

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11. "Imaginationland" (Season 11, Episode 10-12)

South Park has executed a number of amazing multi-part episodes, from the time travel craziness of “Go God Go” to the anti-Family Guy tirade that is “Cartoon Wars,” but “Imaginationland” is the series’ best serialized story to date. Unfolding across three episodes in Season 11, it’s the ultimate film/TV crossover that we’ll never ever get to see in live-action as fiction’s greatest heroes and villains face off in battle, and the storyline regarding the bet over whether or not leprechauns exist is classic Cartman vs. Kyle.

South Park Wacky Molestation Adventure

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10. "The Wacky Molestation Adventure" (Season 4, Episode 16)

There isn’t an arena considered too dark or taboo for South Park to explore, and that’s effectively summed up in the title of Season 4’s “The Wacky Molestation Adventure.” Riffing on Stephen King’s “Children Of The Corn,” all of the kids in the show’s eponymous Colorado town are able to rid themselves of their “oppressive” parents by accusing them of the “M Word,” and there is a fun blend of horror and comedy as everything falls to anarchy and warring factions are formed.

South Park Xenu Trapped In The Closet

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9. "Trapped In The Closet" (Season 9, Episode 12)

When South Park swings, it swings big, and “Trapped In The Closet” is one of the show’s most eye-opening moves. The episode is one big shot fired at Scientology, and while it had the unfortunate side effect of ending the series’ relationship with Scientology member Isaac Hayes, the battle between Stan and the grafter antagonists is priceless – perfectly punctuated with credits full of John Smiths and Jane Smiths after Stan calls on the church to sue him.

South Park Mel Gibson

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8. "The Passion Of The Jew" (Season 8, Episode 3)

Cartman mocking Kyle for being Jewish has been a part of South Park’s brand of irreverence from the very start, but the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ in 2004 really got Trey Parker’s creative juices going, resulting in the brilliance that is “The Passion Of The Jew.” Cartman attempting to restart the Third Reich full of the movie’s fans is unquestionably one of the most despicably sidesplitting things the show has ever done, but far and away the best thing about the episode is the depiction of Gibson as a Looney Tunes-level wackadoodle.

South Park Kanye Gay Fish

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7. "Fishsticks" (Season 13, Episode 5)

Long before his own anti-Semitic rants revealed him as a poisonous figure, Kanye West was viewed as a prime target of satire by South Park, with the show roasting him hard as a self-serious jerk with a ridiculous ego in “Fishsticks.” The “gay fish” joke at the center of it all is incredibly dumb but an effective giggle-inducer; Cartman’s credit battle with Jimmy escalates flawlessly; and the parody of "Heartless" at the very end is one of the series’ best musical moments.

South Park Casa Bonita

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6. "Casa Bonita" (Season 7, Episode 11)

How far would you go to visit a really cool restaurant? Passionate as you may be, I doubt that you’d go as far as Eric Cartman. “Casa Bonita” is another one of the great instances of Butters being tormented for our amusement, with Cartman actually convincing him that a nuclear war has happened so that the thatch-headed child will stay hidden away in a bomb shelter for multiple days. It’s cruel and insane, and easily one of South Park’s best Cartman-centric episodes.

South Park Awesom-O with Butters

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5. "Awesom-O" (Season 8, Episode 5)

It might be funny to see poor, innocent Butters regularly tortured on South Park, but it’s even more fun to see Cartman tortured when he tries to torture Butters. This idea is at its zenith in Season 8’s “Awesom-O,” where Cartman accidentally gets stuck pretending to be a hyper-advanced robot. After taking digs at Hollywood’s lack of originality and Adam Sandler movies and debating the ethics in handling artificial intelligence, a fart proves an impeccable way to end the story, along with all of Cartman’s classmates laughing at him while a video is shown of him dancing with a Justin Timberlake cutout.

South Park Professor Chaos

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4. "Simpsons Already Did It" (Season 6, Episode 7)

You can tell that this one started with frustration in the writing room. By the time South Park was in the middle of airing its sixth season in 2002, The Simpsons was in its 14th, and with over 300 episodes, they used a lot of great ideas before South Park could. Fortunately, that foil proved fantastic plot fodder for one of the show’s best chapters. The folly and frustration of Butters’ villainous alter-ego Professor Chaos is perpetually funny as he tries to figure out original ways to terrorize his home town and it’s matched with a truly disgusting but gut-busting plot featuring Cartman creating a “SeaCiety” by mixing sea monkeys and semen.

South Park Osama bin Laden and Cartman

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3. "Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants" (Season 5, Episode 9)

In the wake of the horrible events on September 11, the film and television industries were challenged to appropriately react – but South Park took its own tactic to the history-changing moment. “Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants” aired less than a month after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and it provided some incredible catharsis for fans, who could take in the commentary about the military operations in Afghanistan while also laughing hysterically at Cartman tortures the titular evil fanatic a la Bugs Bunny.

South Park Scott Tenorman mocked by Radiohead

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2. "Scott Tenorman Must Die" (Season 5, Episode 4)

Eric Cartman made a teenager eat his parents. I will repeat that. Eric Cartman made a teenager eat his parents. South Park has gone to some especially dark places since it premiered in 1997, but it has never gone blacker than it did for the fourth episode of the fifth season. “Scott Tenorman Must Die” technically doesn’t live up to its title, as the eponymous character ends up surviving his battle with pop culture’s most notorious big-boned fourth grader, but his fate is arguably even worse than death. After all, he not only becomes an accidental cannibal feeding on the people who bore and raised him, but he also gets hardcore shamed by the members of Radiohead.

South Park kids in movie theater

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1. "You're Getting Old" (Season 15, Episode 7)

“Maturity” has obviously never been South Park’s thing (encapsulated in the fact that the main characters are perma-pre-teens), but that’s part of what makes “You’re Getting Old” so special. It certainly has its immature aspects – namely the two farmers who make it their mission to protect Randy’s underwear when he starts musically performing by shitting his britches – but mostly it’s a powerful and honest meditation on aging, evolving taste, and the cynicism of adulthood. Had the 2011 episode been the show’s finale, it would have been a perfect end note for the series, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone have chosen to continue to make us laugh in new, inventive, and topical ways over the last 12 years instead. I first declared “You’re Getting Old” as South Park’s best episode in 2012, and it’s a sentiment I still express.

Every episode of South Park is available to stream with an HBO Max subscription, though you’ll also need a Paramount+ subscription to watch the show’s various specials, including "South Park: Post Covid" and "South Park The Streaming Wars."

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.