The 70's and 80's were truly the golden age of children's cartoon programming. Barbarians, wizards, space operas, sci-fi murders, post-apocalyptic wastelands are all present in the Saturday morning, Sunday, and after school cartoons of the day. This was an age where some dudes who wanted to sell toys to kids would cook up plots about the entire world dying and use the cartoons to sell it. These aren't cartoon about best friends in outer space who fight selfishness with love, these were cartoons about betrayal, power and death. Here are some surprisingly dark children's cartoons:
Visonaires: Knights of The Magical Light
Visionairies takes place on the fictional planet of Prysmos where a technological apocalypse has destroyed all electrically powered instruments forcing the inhabitants into a brutal medieval feudalistic society. Two groups emerge, the Spectral Knights (good guys) and the Darkling Lords (obviously evil). However, both groups are rewarded equally with powerful magical spells by a wizard named Merklynn (come on) who delights in tricking them and pitting good against evil in such a way that neither wins. The world is basically a handful of people surviving in a post apocalyptic game of Dungeons and Dragons where the Dungeon Master is a giant dick who hates good guys as much as bad guys.
Source: SciFi Now
On a world called Symbion scientists let some kind of genetic mutation experiment go crazy and the whole world gets fucked. Everyone becomes mutated insect people and giant insects start destroying everything until they are...wait for it...thrust back into a medieval feudalistic society with barbarians, evil doers and knights riding giant man eating spiders.
In this show some scientists are trying to cure starvation with a new type of genetically modified plant (you know where this is going) but when they make the plant a fucking super nova goes off and mutates the beneficial plant material for curing world hunger into sentient plant based killing machines who want to wipe out everyone but themselves. Jayce and the gang then have to assemble an army of survivors and use what amounts to weaponized lawn care equipment to destroy the only thing that they thought would save them.
Source: Dubbed Scene
Inhumanoids is basically half hollow earth conspiracy theory and half Call of Cthulhu. Some dudes in Big Sur open some shit up and realize the earth is filled with slumbering demons who want to do terrible, terrible things to all humans. The plot lines involve treaties with magma based lifeforms, nuclear proliferation and a monster called Decompose who rips open his chest, stuffs you in his guts and causes you to rot while you're still alive. Check out the scene where he turns a main character into a rotting nightmare giant in front of her friends. That's real. My little brother had the fucking toy.
Source: Villans Wikia
In the not too distant future, a famous test pilot, who also became a cyborg presumably from some horrific crash, is on a ski vacation with his family. An alien attack on his family traps them in an avalanche and irradiates them into a coma. In order to save their lives, the test pilot, Jack Bennett has them all turned into cyborgs as well. When you think about the fact that this is a show about a family of adopted kids, forced by their robot dad to have almost their entire bodies replaced with military weaponry to keep them alive...well it's dark as shit.
Source: Cold Slither Podcast Network
Thundercats begins with the nobility of the dying planet Thundera fleeing in space ships for their lives and being gunned down by a race of evil mutants until only one ship, containing a handful of nobles is left. They crash on Third Earth and try to rebuild their lives, knowing that every single person except the handful of Thundercats remaining has been wiped out.
Thundarr The Barbarian
Thundarr The Barbarian takes place in the future on Earth where there was...wait for it...a massive apocalypse that totally destroyed civilization and shattered the moon into pieces. Now the wasteland is ruled by evil wizards and sorcerers who have claimed ancient ruins of our civilization as their fortresses.
In this kick ass Japanese import, humanity is almost totally wiped out and forced to fight a technologically superior alien race using technology they can barely understand. Main and beloved characters get wiped out for keeps, masses of people die horribly, like almost the entire planet, and the main dude, Rick Hunter, gets dumped by his vapid girlfriend who goes on to be a pop-star.
Source: Den Of Geek
With a premise as disturbing as it is stupid, Turbo-Teen really is...something. A teenage kid runs off the road in thunderstorm, crashes into secret science lab and becomes forever fused with his car. From now one, any temperature change causes him to be pulled apart violently into the shape of a car which his friends ride in like it's no big deal. It's like an episode of The Twilight Zone. "Oh, you wanted this car so bad? Well let's see how much you like it when you BECOME the car forever!! Muahahah!"
In Star Blazers Earth is attacked by another planet with nuclear bombs until all of Earth's inhabitants are forced underground. However, the radiation is so severe that everyone will die within a year if a cure for radiation isn't found. A distant alien savior has the technology they need to survive but is super far away so now a single ship equipped with new technology that will allow it to travel fast enough to make it there and back has to haul ass across the galaxy or everyone dies. Also, like Robotech, major characters get offed like crazy.
What were some of your favorite super dark kids' cartoons? Did we miss one of yours? I probably should have put Pirates of Dark Water in here, right? Jungalongo. Yell at me in the comments!