Toonami was a programming block that aired on Cartoon Network from 1997-2008 before being canceled (it was brought back in 2012 and is still going strong to this day). In retrospect, Toonami can be credited with introducing anime to an entire generation of American youth, and can be partly attributed to the genre’s growth to mainstream popularity.
Originally created to focus on more action-based animation, the TV block quickly turned into the premier source for anime in the United States, with shows like Dragon Ball Z, Voltron, Sailor Moon, and finally even Narutoand A piece. Cowboy Bebopvoice actor Steve Blum (Spike) also pronounced TOM, the animated host of the Toonami block, but Cowboy Bebop was not part of the original run.
‘The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest’ (1997-1999)
The real adventures, is a continuation of the years 1964 Johnny Quest and from 1986 The New Adventures of Jonny Quest. It follows the titular character Jonny, Hadji Singh, Jessie Bannon, along with Dr. Quest and Race Bannon, as they investigate phenomena and mysteries.
The real adventures was one of the original shows that aired on the Toonami block, and one of the few shows that was American animation and not Japanese. Not as great as the 60s original, the show was canceled after just two seasons. However, the legacy will be that it was at the creation of Toonami.
Sailor Moon (1998-2001)
Sailor Moon is one of the most popular female lead animes to this day. It spans 200 episodes and aired on Toonami from 1998-2001; Toonami also broadcast all three Sailor Moon’s movies. The anime follows a teenage girl who learns of her destiny to be Sailor Moon, a legendary warrior, and must protect the Earth.
The show briefly survived outside of Toonami, with reruns airing on Cartoon Network throughout 2002. However, the show was heavily censored in America, as was much of the anime, but it still proved to be a favorite on the lineup of Toonami.
‘Yu Yu Hakusho’ (2003-2005)
A classic 90s anime that lasts to this day, Yu Yu Hakusho follows the teenage delinquent, Yusuk, who dies after being hit by a car while trying to save a young boy. He gets the chance to return to life as a supernatural detective after passing a series of tests.
Yu Yu Hakusho aired on Toonami from 2003 to 2005, having previously aired on Adult Swim. It is a very influential anime to this day, although it was extremely edited during its run due to the action scenes and the more YA skewed themes.
The very first show that aired on Toonami was thunder cats, it remained on the channel until 2002. Following a group of anthropomorphic cats, the Thunderians find themselves on “Third Earth” after fleeing the destruction of their homeworld. They are also children in adult bodies, because their suspended animation only slowed down their aging, but didn’t stop it completely.
thunder cats is also an American animated show and originally aired between 1985 and 1989. The show was a staple of the late 90s and the ThunderCats logo and opening are iconic.
‘Samurai Jack’ (2002-2008)
samurai jack, a Cartoon Network favorite, airing on Toonami’s block from 2002-2008 sporadically during the Saturday lineup and the traditional nighttime lineup; the show has won several Primetime Emmy Awards. It follows the titular character, Jack (Phil LaMarr), as he is sent into the future by the demon Aku, and he must find his way back to the past.
The show didn’t end until 2017, when the fifth season aired, 50 years since the start of the series and finally ended Jack’s long battle with the demon Aku. samurai jack was the last show to air on Toonami before the block was canceled in 2008.
‘One Piece’ (2005-2008)
A piece is currently on the go, totaling over 1,000 episodes, and is considered one of the most popular anime of all time. It aired on Toonami from 2005-2008, with the 4Kids dub ending in 2007, Funimation continued until the show was removed from the block in 2008.
It follows Monkey D. Luffy as he assembles a crew to enter the Grand Line and become the king of the pirates. One piece, Naruto, and Bleach (which aired on Toonami after its revival) are considered three of the most influential anime, due to their distribution in the United States and their success in Japanese magazine Shonen jumped.
A cornerstone of anime’s popularity in western culture, Naruto ran on Toonami from 2005 until the block’s cancellation in 2008, this anime arguably had the biggest influence in western culture next to dragon ball z. his successor Naruto Shippuden was also hugely successful in the United States, but did not air on Toonami. There’s a whole generation of kids who watched Naruto AMVs on YouTube with Linkin Park in the background.
The story follows Naruto Uzumaki, a child who is cursed with the Nine-Tail Fox demon sealed within him, making him an outcast in his village. He is not blessed with natural gifts like some of his peers, but his unwavering spirit and determination makes him grow into a strong ninja.
‘Gundam Wing’ (2000-2002)
Gundam Wing‘s success in the United States far exceeded the success in Japan during its original run in ’95-’96. It ran on Toonami from 2000-2002 and served as a catalyst for the success of anime as a genre, as well as making the Gundam Wing franchise as a whole.
Gundam Wing also has five main characters, all of whom are Gundam pilots. Space colonies are oppressed by the United Earth Sphere Alliance, and it’s up to the five Gundam pilots to stop the Organization of the Zodiac from helping the Alliance advance its oppressive rule over the colonies.
Voltron Notably, is the first anime to ever air on Toonami, and is the precursor to the anime-focused programming that would eventually become the TV block. Season one, “The Lion Force”, aired sporadically on Toonami from 1997-2000.
Voltron centered around five pilots of five robotic Lion mechs that could then be combined to become the titular Voltron. They had to protect the planet Arus from King Zarkon, his son Lotor and a witch named Haggar.
‘Dragon Ball Z’ (1998-2003)
By far the most popular anime to ever make its way to the United States, Dragon Ball Z is known for its iconic fight scenes, main characters and memorable villains. Although the initial 1996-98 western debut didn’t have much success, it broke in popularity when it was placed on Toonami’s block from 1998, until its final installment in 2003.
Toonami sent every major bow of the . from Dragon Ball Z anime, including the Saiyan Saga, Frieza Saga, Android Saga, Cell Saga, and Buu Saga. Even after the last episode aired in ’03, reruns continued on Cartoon Network through 2008.
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