I loved cartoons growing up but as a little black girl, there wasn’t much representation. I didn’t realize how I was being robbed of seeing black characters in TV shows until I reached adulthood and noted a lack of representation in adult media as well. Despite the limited options, there were a few characters that I clung to for dear life. Here are 10 black cartoon characters that got me through my childhood in no particular order (not ranked from worst to best, no need to put black characters against each other).
Calling all 2003 Teen Titans fans! The original, not the remake. Cyborg was definitely one of my favorite black characters growing up. He was strong and always stayed loyal to his friends. Not to mention he was hilarious and served as perfect comedic relief throughout the entire series. Although he was half-human and half-robot, we still saw his beautiful blackness in his face and arms.
“WHERE’S MY SUPER SUIT?” We didn’t see Frozone much in the Incredibles movie, but he might be one of the only characters that had a quotable line. Frozone was a truly loyal friend and when he came to save the day at the end of the movie, four-year-old me screamed in the movie theater. A black person using these extraordinary powers to save his friends and family is the positive representation many black children needed to see growing up. Remember the hilarious and accurate scene with his wife when he was trying to find his super suit? A truly iconic moment.
8. Libby Folfax
Libby has to be one of my favorite black girl characters growing up hands down. She was unapologetically black even though she was the only black person in her town, and was never afraid to embrace her heritage and love for hip hop. They even did an episode in which Libby discovered she was a descendant of an Egyptian queen, and the rest of her friends gave her a complete makeover (which included locs). Let’s give Jimmy Neutron writers their flowers for accuracy because if Cindy was the one picked to be dressed in Egyptian garb, we would have had a problem!
7. Valarie Gray
One of the baddest black characters from a child’s TV show! Valarie was a studious girl by day and a ghost hunting baddie by night. Her long luscious hair stayed on 10 no matter what situation she was in. She was raised by her single dad, who did an amazing job with her because she grew up to be this super powerful crime-fighting hero.
6. Abigail Lincoln AKA Numbuh 5
Numbuh 5 was the coolest operative on the show, and everybody knew it. Any episode that focused on Abigail, or had Abigail as one of the main characters was 10 times more entertaining than any other episode in the series. She ruled that show and did it wearing gold hoop earrings and a red cap. Abigail was actually supposed to be head of Sector V in the show but hacked the grades for the KND entrance exam so Numbah 1 could become the leader instead. If that’s not enough proof, in the end, she became the supreme leader because she was the only operative qualified enough for the position. Black girl excellence!
Garnet was voiced by Estelle… do I need to say more? The black characters in these cartoon shows always seem to be far cooler, and loyalty always runs deep. She was the backbone of the Crystal Gems, and the one everybody looked to for guidance. She was also the most powerful on the show and saved the gang with a 4C fro. You’ve got to love it!
4. Marceline the Vampire Queen
I know, I know, but yes! Marceline is a black woman! Well, she’s black and half-demon. She was raised by her black mother before the world ended. It makes total sense since she is an amazing singer, musician, and songwriter. After discovering she was black later in the season, I loved that show that much more. She was the coolest, most laid back, and loyal character on the show which holds true to the black cartoon character trope.
3. Susie Carmichael
Let’s give it up for the 2 parent household black representation! Susie’s dad was a TV show writer and her mom was a doctor. Susie was the most intelligent character out of all the main characters and constantly put Angelica in her place. She was the voice of reason, and always kept the babies out of danger the best she could. We also have to talk about Ms. Carmichael’s hair because she never left home without her slick pigtails.
2. Craig Williams
Craig of the Creek definitely came in my later years, but the representation in the show is too great not to add to this list. We have to stan shows that don’t water down blackness and Craig of the Creek earned its flowers during the “Escape from Dinner” episode where Craig’s family had a little family reunion at his home. Between the accuracy of the family’s dialogue to Craig looking forward to spending time with his favorite cousin to the family eating crabs at the reunion, this is the show I wish I had when I was growing up. If that’s not enough to love, Craig’s mom was wearing a Hampton University sweatshirt! We love to see HBCU presence in our children’s TV shows.
1. Penny Proud
The Proud Family was THE best black TV show when I was growing up. Finally, we were the main characters throughout the entirety of the show instead of being the supporting, spunky black friends of a white girl. We were able to laugh at relatable jokes intended for black audiences to understand. The episode where Oscar rubbed his ashy feet together and made fire is iconic, and the creators even gave us an African American History Month episode. This show never skimped on representing every facet of our culture. The Proud Family was the epitome of black excellence, a wholesome and pure show about an African American girl growing into a young woman.