You’d think that superheroes, the comic book characters who fight crime with their arsenal of fantastic superhuman abilities, would translate best to big-budget blockbusters where special effects and loud theatrical fight scenes can bring their most exciting elements to life. And it’s certainly true that cinema has been dominated by superhero stories for more than 20 years now.

That said, the complex story arcs and long-running character evolution that make superheroes such compelling characters are often a better fit for television, the episodic nature of the medium allowing for plotting that would need to be edited down to fit into a two-hour feature film. While plenty of live-action superhero shows have popped up in recent years, the genre is best served by animation, which turns the fluid art of comic books into actual motion, and isn’t constrained by the boundaries of reality.

Here, we’ve looked back on four decades of superhero-centric television, most of which is based on iconic comic characters, altering and remixing famous arcs to fit into half-hour TV episodes; or toy lines that needed long commercials to get kids interested in their product, and ended up creating a beloved media franchise; or totally original characters whose debut on television announced the arrival of new angles from which to tell the story of a kid with special abilities. We’ve chosen a mix of stone-cold classics and underappreciated gems to create a collage of the best the genre has to offer.

READ MORE: The Weirdest Animated Movies Ever Made

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