Nickelodeon has a deservedly elite reputation as one of the best children’s networks in TV history. The lack of current gems on their airwaves shouldn’t make us forget that they were once a powerhouse in innovation in three different types of programming: toddler television, bigger kid animation, and teen sitcoms. Unique characters, signature animation styles, and a variety of explored genres made Nick what it turned into. We want to celebrate the 22 best Nickelodeon shows of all time to see whether your favorites make the list!
1. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999-Present Day)
Before it started to enter The Simpsons territory and outstay its welcome, SpongeBob SquarePants was truly the best cartoon on television. Creator Stephen Hillenburg used his ocean knowledge to craft an ingenious variety of cartoon sea creatures with personalities and quirks that will never be matched. Meme culture and the instantly quotable nature of the dialogue in the series make it the defining children’s pop culture entertainment piece of the 2000s.
2. Blue’s Clues (1995-2007)
Blue’s Clues combined the warmth of its live-action hosts with the simplicity of an animated blue dog to welcome toddlers into the incredible world of edutainment in the late 1990s. With just the right amount of puzzle-solving enrichment and aid from Steve Burns, the show left an indelible mark on anybody who went through preschool and kindergarten in the decade.
3. Rugrats (1991-2006)
Rugrats was probably the show that proved the most that Nickelodeon would have major staying power in the television industry. The infant protagonists of the series all have their signature personalities, from Tommy’s leadership to Chuckie’s sheepishness. Rugrats is sharply written and an endless sandbox of imagination that gives a voice to an age group (babies) that quite literally can’t have one in real life.
4. Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008)
No matter whether you were one of the early adopters of Avatar: The Last Airbender or one of the people who joined the party after it exploded in popularity, you can’t deny the sophistication and craft that was brought to this series. The journey of Aang and his grappling with the responsibility of being the last of his people is filled with real-world issues and universal themes that adults and children enjoy.
5. Fairly Odd Parents (2001-2017)
One of the true creative endeavors in the network’s history, Fairly Odd Parents is so much fun because it brings a concept to life that every kid has always dreamed of: what if you could have all of your wishes granted? Timmy Turner learns that getting what you ask for doesn’t always work in your favor, and his relationship with his fairies grounds the show and makes it sentimental and wholesome.
6. Dora the Explorer (2000-2019)
Dora the Explorer is an iconic preschool show because it uses a variety of cultural references and influences that normally weren’t touched upon before the series aired. Drawing inspiration from Latin culture is always a massive win in a country with millions of Spanish speakers. The colorful animation style and friendly demeanor of the characters are inviting to young viewers, as well. Following Dora and her monkey, Boots, as they traverse a puzzle-filled journey, each episode always remains fresh.
7. iCarly (2007-2012)
The best live-action series in Nickelodeon history got a reboot on Paramount Plus in 2021, but the first go-around remains the pinnacle of these characters. Carly and Sam’s web show was an acutely accurate portrayal of the social media age that dawned in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Plot elements like romance, friendship, parental windfall, and sibling closeness are great thematic devices in iCarly.
8. The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2002-2006)
Based on a film before it became a long-running series, Jimmy Neutron is one of the best characters in Nick’s history because his inventions stimulate viewers’ own imaginations for innovation. The devices Jimmy builds don’t often manifest the results the boy genius hoped for, but the storylines from this chaos are funny and memorable.
9. Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide (2004-2007)
Middle school is the hardest time in most children’s lives. No longer a child and not quite an adult, being amidst the wonder years brings about a unique set of challenges, especially at school. Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide is a hilarious take on the advice that someone in their own age bracket can only give to middle schoolers. Ned and his friends aren’t the most popular kids in school, but they’ll definitely be the most prepared for the future, right?
10. The Wild Thornberrys (1998-2004)
A child’s best friend often isn’t another kid in the neighborhood but their trusted animal companion. The Wild Thornberrys focuses on a girl who can communicate with whatever animal she wants, and the results are entertaining and engaging for kids of all ages. A mashup movie with Rugrats was a highlight of the series: Rugrats Go Wild.
11. The Amanda Show (1999-2002)
Amanda Bynes is an unfortunate tagline in many folks’ jokes about celebrities who have lost themselves due to fame and fortune, but she was once a prodigious comedic talent on this sketch show reminiscent of Saturday Night Live. The Amanda Show was a revelation for fans introduced to many of Nick’s most popular stars, such as Drake Bell and Josh Peck.
12. The Angry Beavers (1997-2001)
One of the forebears of Nickelodeon entertainment, The Angry Beavers was your typical buddy comedy but with a nice mix of juvenile and adult humor in one convenient package. The rapport between the two beaver brothers the show focuses on drives audiences into fits of laughter and makes the show remain a cult classic.
13. Hey Arnold! (1996-2004)
One of the only Nick shows that focuses completely on human characters rather than anthropomorphic ones, this cartoon was a nice change of pace from the bottom of the sea or the land of fairies. Arnold and his friends overcome typical child problems with large urban environments as the backdrop for most plots.
14. Drake & Josh (2004-2007)
Drake Bell and Josh Peck are absolutely incredible in this sitcom about step-brothers with comically juxtaposed interests who soon find out they are much closer than they ever realized they could be. Drake & Josh isn’t the best live-action show Nick had to offer during the 2000s, but it certainly had the most hilarious teamwork.
15. Rocket Power (1999-2004)
Watching TV seems to run entirely contradictory to playing sports or getting exercise, but Rocket Power's focus helps usher activity into the picture. This vibrant cartoon set in California follows four children with an incredible thirst for action sports like skateboarding and surfing. Family elements and themes surrounding friendship are the core elements of the story.
16. Rocko’s Modern Life (1993-1996)
One of the earliest signs that Nickelodeon was going to be a force in the animation industry was the success of Rocko’s Modern Life. The brilliant Stephen Hillenburg from SpongeBob SquarePants got his start on this show about a talking wallaby who struggles to get out of his comfort zone but often does enjoy an adventure here and there thanks to his friends and pet dog.
17. BrainSurge (2009-2011)
Nickelodeon has the most variety of any children’s network, with even game shows ranking amongst their best programs. BrainSurge was a wild and fun quiz show hosted by Jeff Sutphen in which the contestants have to think quickly to avoid getting a bucket of slime poured on them (the network’s signature gimmick). Parents want kids to work on their learning skills, so this show is perfect for edutainment.
18. Zoey 101 (2005-2008)
Unlike other shows created by Dan Schneider in the 2000s, Zoey 101 was more of a narratively driven, sophisticated comedy about coming of age with your peers in a California boarding school. Zoey Brooks is a normal teenage girl who worries about grades, friends, and romance, and with a splash of awesome side characters who came along for the ride, this show was one of the better live-action ones of its decade. A sequel movie titled Zoey 102 was released in July 2023.
The animation of CatDog might be a little jarring for some younger viewers who don’t know about the concept of conjoined twins, but a rough explanation should do the trick. The series is a typical buddy comedy with two characters of opposing personalities; only they can’t escape each other’s presence because they are literally hooked at the hip.
20. ChalkZone (2002-2009)
Despite running for six years, there are only 40 episodes of this creatively rich series about a boy with an incessant thirst for drawing with chalk. The twist is that he discovers the ability to enter an alternate dimension with all of his and other people’s drawings with a simple swipe of magical chalk.
21. All That (1994-2020)
Nickelodeon’s first big live-action show was a sketch comedy called All That. More than just a distraction from the usually animated shows of the network, the series had talented comedians like Kenan Thompson, who would go on to star on Saturday Night Live for going on two decades. The series was revived for a short time in 2019.
22. All Grown Up! (2003-2008)
A spinoff of Rugrats that gives viewers a look at the babies of the original series now that they’ve reached their teenage years. The series isn’t quite as sharply written, but it does have a strong grasp on what type of people Tommy, Chuckie, Angelica, and the others would have turned out to be. Now we just need another sequel series showing the gang as adults!