Next year, DC will celebrate the 85th anniversary of Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s most famous creation, Batman. That’s closing in fast on nine decades, and yet in all of those years, there have only been eight Batman animated shows to date. A ninth show, Batman: Caped Crusader, was in development at Max until Warner Bros. Discover cast it aside and allowed Prime Video to pick it up for at least two seasons. But we’ll have to wait until next year to see how that show turns out.
When putting together this list, we decided to focus only on the shows where Batman was clearly the lead character. Other animated series, including Super Friends and Justice League, may have featured Batman, but he wasn’t always in the primary role. The only way to properly rank all of the Batman animated shows is by focusing on the ones that are actually about Batman. And if you know your Dark Knight adventures, then you probably won’t be too surprised by how this list turned out.
Ethan Hawke voices Batman on Batwheels, with A.J. Hudson as Duke Thomas/Robin and Leah Lewis as Cassandra Cain/Batgirl. However, the central conceit of the show is that the vehicles of the Bat-family and their villains have all come to life and they’ve become anthropomorphic talking cars, jets, cycles, and so on. Thus, the Batwheels team is led by Batmobile a.k.a. Bam (Jacob Bertrand), alongside Batgirl’s cycle, Bibi (Madigan Kacmar), Robin’s Redbird a.k.a. Red (Jordan Reed), a Bat Truck (Noah Bentley), and even the Batwing (Lilimar).
The thing you have to keep in mind about Batwheels is that adults and teenagers are not the target audience. This is a series that was created for preschoolers, and its sensibilities reflect that. If you have really young kids, they may love Batwheels. And that’s great. It’s always good to create future Batman fans at an early age. But when compared to all of the other Batman animated series that have been produced, Batwheels places dead last.
Watch Batwheels on Max.
The New Adventures of Batman is the very first animated series to feature the Dynamic Duo on their own. Appropriately for the era, Adam West and Burt Ward reprised their roles as Batman and Robin from the 1966 Batman live-action series. Melendy Britt replaced the great Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, and she also voiced Catwoman.
This series marked the animated debut of Bat-Mite (Lou Scheimer), a magic imp from another dimension whose attempts to help the Bat-family often backfired in his face. Voice over actor Lennie Weinrib really worked overtime on this show, as he portrayed Commissioner Gordon, Joker, Penguin, Clayface, and more characters. For its moment in time, the show wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t all that a Batman show could be.
6. The Batman (2004–2008)
Some fans may be upset that The Batman has placed so low on our list. This show does have its admirers, and it had the misfortune of arriving barely a few years after The New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond finished their final runs. Everyone loved the previous take on Batman, but The Batman felt like several steps in reverse. For one thing, the much younger Batman (Rino Romano) wasn’t quite as grim or intense. And the motivations and personalities of the villains felt simplified and watered down compared to Batman: The Animated Series.
Regardless, The Batman put together a solid five-season run that pit the title hero against new incarnations of his familiar rogues’ gallery including Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson), Penguin (Tom Kenny), Catwoman (Gina Gershon), Mr. Freeze (Clancy Brown), Firefly (Jason Marsden), the Ventriloquist and Scarface (Dan Castellaneta), and Man-Bat (Peter MacNicol). It’s far from the worst version of Batman, but also far from the best.
Compared to most of the other series on this list, Beware the Batman only had a very short run. It has the distinction of being the first computer-animated Batman cartoon, as well as the series that attempted to course-correct back to a more serious take on the Dark Knight. Additionally, Beware the Batman stayed away from Batman’s traditional villains in favor of lesser-known foes like Professor Pyg (Brian George), Anarky (Wallace Langham), and Magpie (Grey DeLisle-Griffin).
Anthony Ruivivar provided the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne in this series. And in one of the show’s biggest departures from canon, Katana a.k.a. Yamashiro Tatsu (Sumalee Montano) was introduced as the goddaughter of Bruce’s loyal butler, Alfred Pennyworth (JB Blanc), and the new partner of Batman. Despite its short shelf life, this was an underrated series. It deserved to have additional seasons.
Watch Beware the Batman on Max.
4. Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008–2011)
Although Batman: The Brave and the Bold was clearly meant to be a more family-friendly take on the world’s most famous superhero, it’s actually pretty true to the spirit of a lot of the Golden Age and Silver Age Batman comic book stories. Diedrich Bader also turned out to be an inspired choice to play Batman, a role he has reprised on Max’s Harley Quinn animated series. Bader’s Batman is just serious enough to be in character, and yet he’s not out of place in The Brave and the Bold‘s more comedic stories. That’s because Batman himself is never treated like a joke.
The big idea behind this show was teaming up Batman with other heroes, including Green Arrow (James Arnold Taylor), Plastic Man (Tom Kenny), Blue Beetle (Will Friedle), and a truly hilarious take on Aquaman as voiced by Futurama‘s John DiMaggio. Batman even got to reunite with Scooby-Doo and join forces with Space Ghost (Gary Owens)! That’s the best kind of crazy.
Watch Batman: The Brave and the Bold on Max.
3. Batman Beyond (1999–2001)
Supposedly the mandate from Kids WB was for a younger Batman. The result of that request was Batman Beyond, a sequel series to Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures that advanced the timeline by 50 years. Kevin Conroy reprised his role as Bruce Wayne, who had long since retired from his role as Batman. In this new era, a new Dark Knight took the mantle. A teenager named Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle) accidentally discovered Bruce’s secret identity. Shortly thereafter, Terry’s father was murdered and he was well on his path towards becoming the next Batman.
For the most part, this series gave Terry his own Batman villains and only occasionally reintroduced the classic bad guys. The animation was also stunning and beautifully assembled. Although the series ended somewhat abruptly after three seasons, Terry and Bruce’s story did receive closure years later in “Epilogue,” the season 2 finale of Justice League Unlimited. That was the episode that unveiled the hidden secrets of Project Batman Beyond and helped solidify Terry’s place in the Batman mythology.
Watch Batman Beyond on Max.
It’s a common misconception that Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures are the same series. Even Max plays into that misunderstanding by dropping all of The New Batman Adventures episodes as the third season of the previous series. Most of the cast and creative team remained intact, but the heroes, the villains, and the world around them received a visual upgrade and redefined character models for the show’s premiere on Kids WB.
The New Batman Adventures wasn’t always as consistent with its storytelling as Batman: The Animated Series. But a handful of episodes, including Over the Edge (pictured above) are easily some of the best Batman stories ever put to animation. Even the origin of Harley Quinn, which was previously established in the Mad Love comic book one-shot, was faithfully recreated to great effect in this series. That’s one of the biggest reasons why The New Batman Adventures has the second-highest placement on this list.
Watch The New Batman Adventures on Max.
1. Batman: The Animated Series (1992-95)
To no one’s surprise, Batman: The Animated Series remains the best version of the Dark Knight’s cartoon adventures. When it premiered on Fox in 1992, few were prepared for just how breathtaking and innovative it was. This series was created in part to capitalize on the Tim Burton Batman movies, but it quickly morphed into its own fully realized incarnation of DC’s iconic character. This show also marked the first time that Conroy portrayed Batman/Bruce Wayne, a role that would define his career for the following three decades across the subsequent animated series, animated movies, and video games.
Star Wars actor Mark Hamill also had his second role of a lifetime (after Luke Skywalker) on this series as the voice of the Joker, a part he reprised several times alongside Conroy over the years. Additionally, this was the series that introduced Harley Quinn (the late Arleen Sorkin), an anti-heroine whose popularity has made her a leading character in her comic books, an animated TV series, and the DCEU movies.
Most of all, Batman: The Animated Series won over fans of all ages with its wonderful storytelling, lush animation, fantastic voice talent, and the cinematic scores by the late Shirley Walker. This show remains the gold standard for every Batman cartoon that came after it. We have high hopes for Prime Video’s Batman: Caped Crusader in 2024. But it will take a lot to unseat Batman: The Animated Series from number one on our list.
Watch Batman: The Animated Series on Max.