While Saturday morning cartoons have more-or-less gone the way of the dinosaur (as soul-crushing as that sounds), there are still legions of fans who adore the world of animated television, and especially the characters that come with it.
Whether you are a kid from the ’80s who lived and breathed Thundercats and Voltron, a kid from the ’90s who worshipped at the altar of Nickelodeon’s Doug and Rugrats, or even a kid from the 2000s who fell in love with Adventure Time or Samurai Jack, there was something for everyone, and there still is today.
While many of these shows were good in their own rights due to exceptional storytelling, they were also blessed with incredible character designs and unbelievably rich aesthetics, all of which left a lasting impression on all those who watched them.
For our list, we’ve compiled incredible fan art of beloved characters that alter (sometimes radically) the designs of the shows they are based on and somehow make them even better.
While not all on our list are technically “superior” to the original products, each and every one has a unique take that justifies its existence and drastically changes the entire atmosphere of a series in a way that it could feasibly justify an entirely new plot.
Others are subtle changes that refine and enhance the original work, and others are hopeful recreations of what could be if a series were ever given new life.
Here are the 25 Crazy Redesigns of Iconic Cartoon Characters Better Than What We Got.
25 Sailor Moon
Sailor Moon’s initial television run helped usher in the concept of anime to the West, and was an incredibly popular show throughout the entire planet.
The love for Sailor Moon continues to this day through all kinds of merchandise and even an entirely new animated remake of the original series titled Sailor Moon Crystal.
This artist chose to take these beloved characters in an entirely new direction, however, and we have to admit that find it absolutely enthralling.
Created for the “Meatball Head” Sailor Moon art show, this piece shows the original Sailor Scouts hanging out and enjoying life with an artstyle that is reminiscent of anime but given its own twist.
24 Realistic Frieza
Frieza is one of the most iconic anime villains in existence, and has struck fear into the hearts of the Z Warriors and fans since his inception, even reappearing in Dragon Ball Super as a main character.
While most fan re-designs of Dragon Ball villains go for the ultra-realistic aesthetic, many end up coming off as shocking, disgusting and a major departure from their original concepts.
This artist bucks those standards and opts for a realistic take on Frieza, but one that is incredibly faithful to his original appearance, proving once and for all that there isn’t a need to turn characters like Cell into abominations when drawing them “realistically.”
23 The Simpsons Anime
Matt Groening’s signature style is almost as iconic as the Simpsons themselves. While the long-lasting series has waned considerably in quality, the sheer familiarity with the show’s characters can’t be denied.
Because of that, this artist’s take on redesigning some of the most recognizable characters on the planet in an anime style can only be considered incredibly bold.
Best of all, however, is that it totally pays off.
In fact, it’s practically shocking to see that the characters could survive with an entirely different aesthetic than what we are used to, and that’s an impressive feat.
22 Chuckie Finster
Rugrats, one of the original Nicktoons, helped define the 90s era of Nickelodeon with its unusual imagery and storytelling, which followed the lives of babies who went on epic adventures with their imaginations.
Chuckie, the fearful redhead of the cast, was always the one who thought it might be a better idea to stay in the playpen instead of going on quests.
These journeys often resulted in the destruction of movie theaters, the kids being kidnapped, or travelling through time (and maybe he was right.)
This artist captures Chuckie perfectly, going past the weird designs of the original show and showing us an emotional character with a hint of anime-influence.
21 Raven & Starfire
Teen Titans was a fanastic show on the Cartoon Network.
Not only did it introduce countless fans to superheroes and villains they may not have been familiar with beforehand, but it also delivered a high-caliber show with excellent writing and characters paired with stellar animation and action.
While the show aimed for a faux-anime look, Pauline had her own interpration of the characters, and we fell in love with it.
Raven and Starfire are redesigned to shed cloaks and space armor for typical clothing, and they are also given incredibly expressive faces without the need for exaggerated anime outbursts.
20 Realistic Digimon
While the wars of Digimon vs. Pokemon may have simmered down to a mere few embers, passions for both franchises run high.
Digimon’s serialized, character-driven stories still hold up to this day, as do the varied assortment of lovable main characters.
If there’s one thing that Pokemon could certainly claim victory over Digimon in, though, it would be animation and design quality.
Digimon had a horribly low-budget look, with awful, stilted animation and cheesy effects to mask it.
This artist corrects that issue entirely, with a savage representation of a realistic Greymon charging up a fiery blast while Tai looks on in awe (and terror.)
Thundercats was a staple of 80’s cartoons, and it was then given a stellar remake in 2011 that was sadly cancelled by Cartoon Network.
Now we’re getting another remake, this time inspired by the likes of Teen Titans Go!, and it sends a shiver down our spine.
That said, this artist has a bold new take on the franchise, and one that remains totally unique.
A blending of concepts rather than the aesthetics of both the original or 2011 remake, concept artist Alex Chu’s work gives the Thundercats a more barbaric, feline appearance, and it is awesome.
Nickelodeon’s Doug was the very first Nicktoon, and it has remained a tried-and-true classic years after its initial run, and even after its disastrous acquisition by Disney.
With all of the nostalgia for ’90s Nick raging at an all-time high, we’d love to see a new Doug, no matter how unlikely that would be.
In the meantime, though, our best bet is this great piece cooked up by artist Nuri Durr.
It shows Skeeter in his college years, but he’s been given a subtle redesign that cleans up his original look while adequately modernizing the character to fit in with current trends, especially that Legends shirt.
17 Adventure Time
Adventure Time, one of Cartoon Network’s most gargantuan hits, is synonymous with surreal imagery and imaginative writing.
Most intriguingly, though, is its subtly over-arching plots with darker elements that would be hard to spot from just the artwork.
NocturnalMoTH embraces the general spirit of surrealism that defines the series, but also manages to successfully take things in a darker, more realistic direction, creating an intensely curious mix that works far better than we would have ever thought possible.
While a reboot of Adventure Time is likely a long way out (if ever), it’d be cool to see a special done in this style.
Avatar: The Last Airbender was a gigantic hit for Nickelodeon, and rightfully so. With silky smooth animation, an anime aesthetic, great characters and superb writing, it was no wonder that the show captivated both kids and adults.
Artist TealnK has taken Katara of the Southern Water Tribe, and has dropped her anime look for one that’s a more realistic.
Thankfully, they don’t make things too realistic, lest we be reminded of the horrifyingly putrid Last Airbender film.
Regardless, this piece is exquisite, particularly with its incredible lighting and texture details.
15 Dragon Ball Z
Akira Toriyama’s art is synonymous with Dragon Ball. His seemingly endless creativity and distinct design trademarks give life to the over-the-top series, but every now and then we can’t help but wonder what a change of pace might look like, and IgorWolski gives it to us.
While not radically different from the source material, the angle of the shot is unique, as is the massive amount of destructive detail throughout the back and foregrounds.
Best of all, though, are the rich colors. The series once relied on lighter colors, but as the anime progressed, things became increasingly bright.
The artist takes the best of both worlds, however, creating a stunning piece.
14 Dexter And Dee Dee
Genndy Tartakovsky’s work has always been extremely iconic due to his unique aesthetic and sensibilities.
It’d be difficult to divorce his creations from his specific style, but this artist, sakimichan, manages to do exactly that, with their own version of the boy genius and his dunce sister, Dee Dee.
The two are done in a more traditional, even realistic, style, but are uniquely stylized, setting them apart from the original version of the work but maintaining the visual elements that define both of them (like Dexter’s raised eyebrow scowl or Dee Dee’s huge eyes) which is no small task.
13 Numbah One
Codename: Kids Next Door was a popular show during its run, featuring the secret lives of kids who are forever locked in a clandestine war with adults and rivals using homemade-but-high-tech technology.
The show’s premise was exceedingly clever, even if totally over-the-top, and the tongue-in-cheek humor won over countless fans, so it was only inevitable that out of this legion of fans would come some great fan art.
Artist Nintendo-Nut1 delivers exactly that, with an older, more defined take of the KND’s leader, Numbah One, poised to do battle at any moment.
12 Hey Arnold!
Fans were recently rewarded with the long-awaited conclusion to the original Hey Arnold! cartoon with the release of the TV movie, The Jungle Movie.
In it, long-standing rumors about characters and plots were addressed and confirmed, and Arnold was able to finally rescue his parents.
With talks of a new series brewing, fans are hungry to see what their characters might look like as a few years older.
Artist merrymarmalade does exactly that, but goes one step further by transforming the aesthetic into one of anime, and it works gloriously.
11 Future Goku
The furthest point in the Dragon Ball timeline is Dragon Ball Online, which takes place centuries after the Buu Saga. Despite that, nothing looks particularly advanced despite the setting.
Bogdan Tauciuc decided to take things in another direction, and gave us a taste of a much older Goku, one who has clearly seen increasingly dangerous and difficult battles – so difficult, in fact, that he has a need for an awesome looking cyborg arm.
If we were ever given a future take of Dragon Ball, one without Toriyama’s aesthetic, we hope it would be something like this, even if only for a brief special.
It’d be surreal to see iconic characters in completely different styles.
10 Transformers: Prime
For many, the most iconic looks of the Transformers are from their original incarnation in the ’80s, but there have been multiple Transformers series and products that extensively alter these beloved designs.
Transformers: Prime borrowed design elements from multiple sources for its CGI tale, creating a rather unique look, and it is one that is excellently captured by beroberob.
The Prime designs are given a two-dimensional treatment in this piece, and we’d be lying if we didn’t say that it looks infinitely superior to the series it was based on, with each Autobot given an incredibly emotive face that puts us right into the scene.
9 Realistic Pikachu
While this artist’s work has been floating around for a while now, it’s still worth bringing up.
The original Game Boy games have beautiful and stylish airbrush artwork that brings the strong designs to life, and these were refined with the animated adaptation.
No incarnation of the pocket monsters looked decidedly realistic, however, until now.
And Joshua Dunlop hasn’t only worked on Pikachu. There are plenty of other Pokemon given the eerily realistic treatment, but Pikachu may be the most iconic of the bunch.
While the Pokemon world has always seemed to be fully-realized and immersive, these pieces of art truly show what living that fictional realm would really be like.
Arthur is one of the longest-running children’s programs in existence, and it’s not much a surprise considering its continuing high-quality.
Another element of Arthur’s continued longevity is its appeal to adults (and others who grew up watching it), and the character has found its way into the core of truly dank memes.
It’s only fitting that older fans would create art of the aardvark and his friends, and this artist has done exactly that, with a unique redesign.
The original books by Marc Brown are vastly different than the redesigned look of the series, and the artist has masterfully blended elements of both into their own unique work, and it’s incredible.
Gargoyles was one of the most beloved Disney cartoons ever created, despite becoming an increasingly obscure cult-favorite in recent years.
Following a clan of living gargoyles from the Viking era who are awakened in modern day Manhattan, the series has fantastic stories that incorporate Shakespeare, myths and genuine emotion.
We are waiting for a Gargoyles revival or, better yet, a live-action adaptations (especially considering Disney’s current obsession with the concept).
I-GUY JIN-I has satiated us with what a realistic version of these awesome characters would look like.
Make it happen, Disney.
6 Ash And Pikachu
Earlier in this list, we brought up the hyper-realistic Pikachu (and other Pokemon) that have made the rounds by the artist.
While they are incredible in their own right, we also wanted to show off the opposite end of that spectrum with this piece by CoconutMilkyway.
Here we see an extremely stylized Ash and Pikachu, looking very far from realistic or even their original anime renderings, but it’s still brilliant.
If there were ever a Western reboot of Pokemon, we can easily envision this being the style chosen, and we’d probably love it.
5 Dexter And Dee Dee Grown Up
Earlier in this list, we showed a rather bold take on Genndy Tartakovsky’s Dexter’s Laboratory characters, that majorly distanced itself from his iconic aesthetic.
The artist for this entry, DanteFitts, chose to do the same, but took things in another direction entirely.
While the other entry featured a Western-inspired (though still highly accurate) depiction of Dexter and Dee Dee, this artist gives the two characters a slight dose of anime aesthetic, and also ages them up considerably.
We love both takes on these fantastic characters, and we would be extremely interested to see a new Dexter with either of these bold design choices.
ReBoot was the first fully-CGI-animated television show, and it blew the minds of kids and adults in the 90s. Starting out as a mix of goofy antics and action following the world inside of a computer, it would slowly transition to very complex and often incredibly dark plotlines.
MattRhodesArt decided to eschew CGI all together and, instead, redefines the characters of ReBoot in traditional 2D.
Their effort completely pays off, and the work is an incredible reimagining of the beloved cast.
While a 2D ReBoot reboot seems sacrilegious, it would almost certainly be better than the heinous Guardian Code.
3 Kim Possible
With casting announcements regarding a future live-action Kim Possible movie making the rounds, it seemed only fitting that we showcased a more realistic take of this beloved Disney Channel spy.
While the arist, inktion, remains extremely faithful to Kim’s original design, they also manage to evolve her angular appearance into one that’s more fit for a human being yet is still cartoony enough to not go overboard, which is an extremely difficult thing to balance.
We hope the live-action film takes some inspiration from this art and knows not to take its design elements too seriously, especially if it means sacrificing the visual identity of the show it’s based upon.
2 Samurai Jack
Not unlike how Hey Arnold! fans got their long-awaited conclusion to their favorite series, Adult Swim granted Samurai Jack’s sizable fanbase a satisfying conclusion, too.
After years of waiting, Genndy Tartakovsky was able to craft one last season for the time-ripped samurai, and it was a touching finale for those who were still holding out hope.
The original show is easily Tartakovsky’s most stylized, but this artist takes the concept of stylization and takes it in a stunning new direction.
Unlike the original, the character of Jack is now far more realistic, but the backgrounds and details have taken a seriously artistic and surreal direction, which ends up as a great trade-off.
The Masters of the Universe movie is considered by many to be an abomination, but they often overlook the one incredible element that make it worth watching: a deliciously evil, Oscar-winning Frank Langella as Skeletor.
Langella’s performance is chilling. This wasn’t a paycheck for him; he devoted his soul to this role and created a character that is so terrifying you might think he is capable of doing harm in the real world.
This piece by RUIZBURGOS captures the essence of Langella’s Skeletor, but drops the rest of the rubbish.
The menace and aesthetic are maintained, and the work as a whole puts the original, goofy Skeletor, along with the 2003 rebooted edition, to shame.
What do you think of these fan redesigns of our favorite cartoon characters? Let us know in the comments!