Growing up, black representation was few and far between. With black leads only making up five percent of television, it was difficult to find someone who looked and act liked us, reflected on screen. Even more so, if you were looking at animations. Although, despite the lack of prominent representation, there were a few black cartoon characters that made the experience of growing up worthwhile.
From Storm's fierce relentlessness to Frozone's disarming charm, these are the top ten black cartoon characters that make our inner child scream black girl (and boy) magic.
1. Ororo "Storm" Munroe (The X-Men)90s marvel GIF Giphy
Making her debut over 45 years ago, Ororo "Storm" Munroe is hands down the best cartoon depiction of what it means to be a black superhero. Despite the live action movies constantly getting her wrong—remember when Halle Berry had an accent and then suddenly didn't—the origins of this character is worth exploring. Daughter of a Kenyan tribal princess and an American journalist, Storm was orphaned at a young age. As a result, she spent time as a petty-thief before choosing to use her power for good. With the abilities to control the weather (Atmokinesis), witchcraft, telepathic resistance, and eventually godhood, Storm is one of the strongest mutants in the X-Men universe.
Not only is she a powerful superhero, but she is also a compassionate one, often using her powers to stop man-made or weather-related disasters. Nevertheless, despite being an interesting and omnipotent hero, Storm is often overlooked in films and cartoon adaptations. Although, now that Marvel has obtained the rights to X-Men, hopefully this will change in the near-future. With the care that the Marvel Universe gives towards their superhero stories, there is a good chance that will see the Storm we all deserve on the big screens soon.
2. Virgil "Static Shock" Hawkins (Static Shock)Giphy
Get up, get up, gotta go. Gotta get up, get up, gotta go. Here we go!
Static freaking Shock was the best thing about childhood cartoons. Premiering almost 21 years ago on WB, and 28 years ago in the comics, Static Shock is the pseudonym of teenage superhero, Virgil Hawkins. Made a social outcast due to his high intellect, Hawkins was subjected to constant ridicule and bullying from his peers. After a particularly harsh beating, Virgil attempts to get payback, where he was ambushed by the cops and sprayed with supernatural tear gas, which resulted in Hawkins obtaining electromagnetic mutant abilities. He later chooses to use his abilities to save those of Dakota City from both supernatural beings and petty criminals. Despite being an interesting superhero and having an enticing origin story and series, there hasn't been many adaptations of the cartoon/comic book character. Though, that looks like it might be changing soon.
During the DC Fandom last August, Reginald Hudlin teased an upcoming Static Shock film. Not long after, in October 2020, Blank Panther's Michael B. Jordan announced that he would be producing the Static Shock DC Superhero movie adaptation. There is still no word on who will be playing Static Shock or when the movie is set to production, but regardless of when it does, I'm sure it will do what it has always done: put "a shock to our systems" that will never run out.
3. Numbuh 5 (Codename: Kids Next Door)
"We are the Kids Next Door, Numbuh 4! We save kids. That's our job."
A job well done, indeed. Saving us from the sheer boredom of weekends at home was the infamous and adventurous Codename: Kids Next Door. Voiced by showstopper in all things black, Cree Summer, Numbuh 5 was the best KND member around. Second-in-command, due to her relaxed nature and wicked intelligence, Numbuh 5, or Abigail Lincoln if you dare, was the only African-American teammate of the codename crew. Taking all of her missions seriously, Numbuh 5 used her book and street smarts to help execute successful operations.
Numbuh 5 was a fun character from KND. Balanced perfectly between wholehearted earnestness and plain absurdity (refusing to give up a treasure chest of candy), she often created hilarity in the foil of her character. Numbuh 5 was the first of few black female cartoon characters that was given more than background roles to play. With a good amount of the episodes surrounding Numbuh 5 and her relationship with others, it was no wonder why we were all glued to our TVs. And because they respected her enough to develop her character to be more than just her race, there is no doubt that "We're going to be Kids Next Door [fans] forever."
4. Penny Proud (The Proud Family)Mad The Proud Family GIF Giphy
Sing it with me: She's Penny Proud, she's cute and she's loud. And she gots. It. Going on.
Let's be real, you sung that in the proper cadence without me even having to mention the where to find the video. Between its original airing times, the movie, Destiny's Child and Solange Knowles' theme song, its promised revitalization on BET, and the reruns on Disney+, The Proud Family is a show that is hard to forget. It's an even harder show to put down, despite the show's final episode premiering nearly 16 years ago. The Proud Family follows the family and friends of 14-year-old Penny Proud who live in Wizville, California. Confident and fearless, Penny spends most of her time seeking out what she wants and relentlessly achieving those goals. As a jack of all trades and master of none, most of her adventures are sporadic and varying in degree.
One moment she is a pop singer, traveling the world, and the next she is attempting to babysit her siblings who insist on going on adventures of their own. With every episode being something new to explore, your journey with the Proud Family will be like traveling with your own dysfunctional family. A show ahead of its time, The Proud Family had all black families, smiling from ear to ear and glued to the TV. After all, what's better than seeing yourself reflected back on television?
Though the show follows protagonist, Penny Proud (voiced by Kyla Pratt), it is hard to watch it without acknowledging all of the characters that make us so damn proud to watch it in the first place. With Suga Mama putting her feet in everything, Oscar's constant yelling, Trudy's insistence on keeping her family together, the twins' escapades, the Gross Sisters' thieving, and Dijonay's unreliability—except in her love for Sticky, this show was only meant to succeed.
5. Frozone (The Incredibles)the incredibles animation GIF by Walt Disney Studios Giphy
Frozone probably had the total of thirty minutes of screen time in The Incredible movies combined, but in those thirty minutes, he knew how to steal a show. Known for his "where's my super suit" scene and Samuel L. Jackson voice, Frozone was a Black cartoon character that we just simply can't forget. As a longtime close friend to Mr. and Mrs. Incredible and surrogate "Uncle Lucius" to the kids, Frozone was essential to helping the Incredibles fight villains. With his ability to create ice and freeze surfaces with his hands, he often got himself and the Incredibles out of situations when super-strength just wouldn't do. Despite not seeing him nearly as much as we hope in The Incredibles and its sequel, a little birdie (Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures) says that they plan to release a Frozone film as the prequel to The Incredibles movies. Thus far, it looks like Samuel L. Jackson will return to voice the role, alongside Zoe Saldana, Jordan Peele, Kimberly Adair Clark, Tracy Morgan, and Craig T. Nelson.
6. Riley and Huey Freeman (The Boondocks)
The Boondocks was a show that everyone just happened to find. Without a single amount of advertisement, rhyme, or reason, every night around midnight and two, you'd find yourself in front of the television laughing at these children, who behaved like anything but. Between Riley and his constant need to buck the system and Huey and his endless need to dismantle it, The Boondocks offered an adult animation from the perspective of children. Children, who at most times, behaved better than the adults. And man was it beautiful ride.
Balancing itself perfectly between offensive and woke, The Boondocks offered a comedic outlook on how African-Americans see themselves and the world they live in. Voiced by Regina King, John Witherspoon, Gary Anthony Williams, and other various stars and guests, The Boondocks discussed topics of Blackness in a comedic and objective way. Whether they were talking about the first Black President, systematic racism, peer pressure, perms, or the Civil Rights Movement, The Boondocks was a show that knew what story it wanted to tell and just how to tell it. Now in the political climate where it is necessary to have Black stories told, The Boondocks is seemingly set to return for the 2022 television season on HBO Max. This means more stories of the Freeman family and friends navigating the world both carefully and carelessly, and we're over the moon to see it.
7. Libby Folfax (Jimmy Neutron)Own It Jimmy Neutron GIF by Nickelodeon Giphy
Liberty "Libby" Folfax is one of five central characters in Nickelodeon's Jimmy Neutron. Although, when the show first premiered it didn't seem this way. Clearly unsure of what to do with her character, in the early seasons, Libby was often seen, but rarely heard. She could be found in the background or in Cindy's shadow offering very little lines with even less substance. Nevertheless, this was rectified in season three of the beloved television show, and with this came the endless joy of Libby Folfax. From discovering her ancestor was an Egyptian queen to fashion model turned werewolf, and eventual dictator, Libby was given one interesting story after the other for little Black girls to fall in love with. With her candid personality, inability to lie, and levelheadedness, Libby was often a breath of fresh air in a show that thrived on endless chaos.
8. Susie Carmichael (The Rugrats)nicksplat rugrats GIF Giphy
Susie Carmichael was the absolute best. She was kind, caring, witty, and most importantly, she read Angelica for filth. Though she didn't appear in Rugrats nearly as much as she should've, when she did, Susie stole the show. First appearing in the 1993 episode, "Meet the Carmichaels," Susie quickly showed herself to be a promising character. Bright, friendly, fun-loving Susie was often put against Angelica, showing that she was willing to be supportive of Tommy and the crew's adventures. Ever the protector, she often stood up for the babies when bullies would attempt to get in their way and showed herself to be a character worthy of admiration. Eventually Susie and her family were given their own-spin off, The Carmichaels, nevertheless due to the Rugrats and All Grown Up universes, the series was axed due to continuity issues, leaving Susie and all her glory behind.
9. Princess TianaNew Orleans Food GIF by Disney Giphy
To be honest, I am indifferent towards Princess Tiana. Admittedly, this indifference has nothing to do with Princess Tiana herself, but everything to do with The Princess and the Frog. I found it frustrating that when given the first chance to have a Black princess, Disney doesn't actually make her a princess, but a damn frog for the majority of the film. As if it couldn't get worse, the film's use of voodoo, jazz, and African-American dialect reflected the Black community in some unflattering light. Regardless, this is not meant to bash the Disney film that came out nearly 12 years ago, instead it's to mention and appreciate the only thing they managed to get right: Princess Tiana.
Voiced and sung by the amazing and disgustingly under-appreciated Anika Noni Rose, Princess Tiana is the first Disney princess who creates her own wealth, dreams, and manages to not be saved by a prince, or any man, for that fact. With her lively number of "Almost There," Princess Tiana encourages young Black girls to be driven and hardworking, as she works towards her goal of fixing up an old sugar mill to pursue her dream of creating her own restaurant. She constantly faces challenges, from being a social outcast to being a Black woman in the 1920s, yet she remains unshakably true to herself and her dreams, while dealing with the pressure of others. Despite the movie's issues, Tiana makes for a worthy heroine to root for and reflects the magic—and sometimes burden— of being a Black woman accurately and well.
10. Garnet (Steven Universe)steven universe garnet GIF Giphy
"Take a moment to remind yourself to take a moment and find yourself."
If you're looking for a strong, fierce, and clever character development, look no further than Steven Universe's Garnet. A fusion of the Ruby and Sapphire, Garnet is one of the most dynamic characters on this innovative and daring show. As the leader of the Crystal Gems, she is known to be a pragmatic, blunt character, though she rarely thinks a situation through before acting. With her combined size and strength, Garnet makes for a formidable hero against the show's biggest and baddest villains.
And with her old (yet youthful appearance) age, comes limitless wisdom, which she isn't afraid to share with her Gem family and audience alike. Garnet teaches young Black girls to be outwardly and unapologetically themselves, despite the expectations forced on them by society. Not to mention, she is voiced by singer Estelle, which makes her songs soulful and enticing to listen to.
Featured image via Giphy