Here’s the thing about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your late thirties or not even 10 yet. If you fit within that age bracket, then you’ve had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV shows to call your own. Created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird and debuting as a comic book series that was a homage to Daredevil back in 1984, the heroes in a half-shell didn’t really blow up until their 1987 cartoon series.
That’s how I and many other little boys and girls were introduced to the Turtles. I mean, you were probably there. Turtle power was everywhere back in the late 80s, early 90s. Now, I already did an article ranking all 6 TMNT movies, but now, I wanted to rank all of the cartoon versions of the characters. This list is actually much harder to make since even though I’ve seen several episodes of all 4 cartoons, and have seen both animated movies, I’m well aware that I’m going to base every version of the Turtles off of the first cartoon since that’s the one that’s left the biggest impression on me. Even so, I’ll be fair. So, with that said, let’s get to it. Cowabunga!
6. Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2018-Present)
When I initially saw the designs for Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I cringed. Still, I made sure to give it a chance, and really, it’s not that bad as a series. It’s just not for me. The show is extremely modern in that’s it’s really weird and surreal. It kind of reminds me of shows like Pinky Malinky or even The Powerpuff Girls in that it has such obscure humor.
But I just can’t with this show. It’s just too different from any other version of the turtles that has ever come before it. For instance, Raph is the leader—at least in the first season. Leo cracks jokes (and has a sword that can make portals?), but Mikey also makes jokes, so it’s like there are two Mikey’s. Donnie’s the same, but still, the whole dynamic and visuals are just so off-putting that I can’t enjoy it. I do like that there is a black April O’Neil, though. That’s pretty cool.
5. TMNT (2007 movie)
In my review of the TMNT movies, I put the 2007 animated feature at number 3 on that list, mostly because it was a nice palate cleanse from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. But as a whole, I’m not in love with this version of the Turtles. They’re just kind of…okay?
But that’s actually not fair. All 4 of the Turtles are still very distinct, and I dig that loner Raphael is the reason why the Turtles aren’t together early on. But it’s probably the fact that besides Karai, we don’t really get any of the mainline Turtle villains in this movie. And it wasn’t until this film that I realized that the four brothers’ personalities really need to be juxtaposed against, say a Shredder, or a Krang to really be compelling for me.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003-2010)
Much respect for the 2003 Turtles cartoon. It’s definitely the closest of the TV shows to mimic the comics. I really like this version, but it kind of feels like two different shows. Throughout its lifespan, it went from a darker version of the Turtles, to a more kid-friendly version once they went into the future.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, and I probably like Leonardo and Shredder the most when it comes to animated versions of these characters. That said, I’m not in love with the art style or the action, and it definitely feels very early 2000s. In the end, I’m kind of in the middle with this version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which is why it gets this place on the list.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-1996)
Okay, here’s where there might be some controversy. I understand that a lot of people grew up with this version of the Turtles, and for those who did, this will always be the version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that they think of. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best version. In a lot of ways, the characters are kind of just missing something. Raphael is “cool but rude,” but he’s really not the rebel that makes up the foundation of his character. Donnie is the smart one, but only in that he creates all the vehicles. Leo’s the leader, but you only accept it because that’s what the show tells you. And Mikey is just Mikey.
If anything saves the first animated cartoon, it’s all the villains that were created from it, mostly for the purpose of making new toys. Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady, The Rat King, Leatherhead, the list goes on and on. Listen, I still love the original series for nostalgic purposes, but the best version of the Turtles? Hardly.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012-2017)
I like to kid my children, who are 5 and 4. They say that the 2012 Turtles are their Turtles, because they’re so awesome. But I say, “No, THESE are your Turtles” and I show them the ones from Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to which they pinch their noses. But I don’t blame my kids for trying to claim the 2012 ones as their own because these Turtles are the best TV version of the characters.
Where do I begin? Well, these Turtles are the perfect mix of humor and action. All of the Turtles fit distinctly into their character types, and the scenarios they’re put in really suit each Turtle. Plus, all of the familiar villains are present, but they’re all a lot more interesting here, like Leatherhead, who is actually sympathetic. Plus, the storylines are all over the place, but they’re just so much fun. Seeing the Turtles in each season was such a treat. They would be my favorite cartoon version of the Turtles, but …
1. Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019)
Okay, this one is almost unfair, but the best cartoon version of the Turtles is in the 2019 movie, Batman Vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These turtles are the PERFECT blend of jokey but also serious. And each Turtle is interesting. You know, here’s the thing about the Turtles. I love all of them dearly. But Raph has always been my favorite, no matter which iteration I’m watching. But in Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I don’t have a favorite. I love them equally!
And the fact that they work so well in Batman’s universe is a testament to how good these Turtles are. When they’re beaten up by Robin in the Bat Cave, you laugh, but then you understand that the Turtles really are nothing without each other, and it makes their brotherhood even stronger. I love this movie, and I love these Turtles. That is why this is the best animated version of the characters, by far.
But what do you think? Will you always be an original series Turtle fan until your dying day? Sound off in the poll or the comments section down below what you think.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.