I can't be the only person who occasionally used to wish I were a fictional animated being when I was a kid, right? I mean, there just so many '90s cartoon characters we were all jealous of that dreaming you actually were those characters was a totally natural step in the development of our imaginations. We know that imaginative play is not only good for us, but also crucial for our growth as people — so perhaps it's only to be expected that a huge amount of our playground adventures involved inserting ourselves into some of our favorite Saturday morning cartoons.
Or maybe that's just me.
In any event, though, the '90s definitely were an excellent era for cartoons — and I'm not ashamed to admit that sometimes, I still go back and rewatch old episodes of my favorites, even though I'm well out of their target demographic now. The stories were fantastic, the worlds were fun, and the characters were strong — all of which are a perfect recipe for some serious nostalgia.
These 10 characters all filled that “I either want to be friends with you or be you, but I'm not sure which would be more fun” niche for me. Obviously there are plenty more out there worthy of being on the list, though, so feel free to sound off if you've got a few of your own to add. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an adventure to take with The Magic School Bus.
1. April O'Neil, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
In the great Power Rangers/Ninja Turtles loyalty debate, I was a Turtles girl all the way. I both looked up to April and envied her: She was a badass feminist making her way in a series of male-dominated professions (computer programming in the comics and television journalism in the cartoon show that ran from 1987 to 1996), which was awesome; but she also got to hang out with the Turtles all the time and I didn't, hence the envy. Ultimately, she was one heck of a role model who was definitely living her best life — and boy, did she know how to rock a yellow jumpsuit.
2. The Entire Cast of The Magic School Bus
Because they had Ms. Frizzle as their teacher, and Ms. Frizzle was the best. A trip into the actual human body made your third grade science museum field trip look tame in comparison.
3. Spinelli, Recess
Spinelli's first name is actually Ashley, but no one called her that. She was just too awesome to go by anything as pedestrian as a first name; nothing says “cool” quite like a person who goes only by their last name.
4. Dot Matrix, ReBoot
A common theme running between many of these characters is how overwhelmingly cool and/or badass they were, and ReBoot's Dot Matrix is no exception. In addition to eventually becoming, y'know, the command.com of Mainframe and proving herself as a brilliant tactician, she was also a business owner — and her little brother Enzo's primary guardian. Maybe saying that we were “jealous” of Dot isn't quite accurate; however, we did definitely look up to her. The discussion about whether women can or can't really “have it all” aside, Dot proved that you didn't have to be one thing — you could be as many different things as you needed to be.
5. Porkchop, Doug
Doug's dog was living his best life pretty much all the time. You do you, Porkchop. You do you.
6. Belle, Beauty and the Beast
OK, to be fair, Belle had a whole lot going on that definitely isn't particularly enviable: Life as a hostage, being relentlessly pursued by a jerk who doesn't understand the concept of consent, growing up in a town that has judged her for her entire life, needing to adjust to the idea of sentient furniture… you get the idea. But you know why I was always a little jealous of Belle?
Because of her library access.
Seriously, you guys. I want to live in that library.
7. The Planeteers, Captain Planet
Mostly because let's face it: We all wanted a piece of jewelry that would magically summon our very own superhero. The fact that said superhero was capable of helping us save the planet made it all even better.
8. The Muppet Babies and Their Rich Fantasy Lives
I would just like to remind you all that this happened. Aren't the powers of the imagination great?
9. Carmen Sandiego
Carmen Sandiego was the ultimate international woman of mystery. While it's true that it might be a tiny bit messed up to be jealous of a criminal mastermind, she was just so clever that it was hard not to wish you had half her smarts. Add to that the spiffy red trench coat and fedora and the best theme song ever, and, well… you do the math.
10. Princess Gwenevere and Her Jewel Rider Buddies
Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders followed a pretty classic “special kid and special friends have awesome powers and must defeat the forces of darkness” format. The fact that it met at the intersection of horses, sparkly things, and girl power, though, means that it holds a special place in many '90s kids' hearts.