RANKING 35 VERSIONS OF THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (6-1)
THIS YEAR THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES ENTER THEIR 35TH ANNIVERSARY.
They’ve had some incredible highs, gaining accolade and admiration across multiple generations. They became pop culture icons, rocketing to become a household name. Producing comics, video games, tv shows, movies, and more, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a billion dollar franchise.
The franchise has also suffered lows on par with The Partridge Family’s “VH1 Behind the Music.”
To celebrate everyone’s favorite Heroes in a Half Shell, I’m ranking the 35 most notable versions of the turtles to date! Keep checking back to see where your favorite ranks. We’re in the homestretch now! Not every version of the TMNT is listed, I kept it to the most notable 35. Did yours make the list? What’s your top 5? Let us know in the comments. And, in case you missed it, check out our other entries below!
6 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 – 1996)
The original cartoon is the one most people are familiar with. This is the version that every other version is judged on. If you ask someone to draw a Ninja Turtle from memory, the 1987 cartoon is what most people will attempt.
The hit cartoon spawned Turtlemania. Mutated turtles were no longer an outlandish idea and “Cowabunga” became a household phrase. As with all cartoons, they were made to sell toys. We were introduced to waves of mutated villains that would remain in the TMNT canon even today. The characters were weird and gross and everything kids wanted.
The cartoon turned most viewers, including myself, in to life long fans. The theme song alone is an instantly recognizable glimpse in to the 90’s. It’s frantic, it’s colorful, and it’s weird. The song lets us know what to expect from each turtle’s personality, what we’re in for, and made up the word “Half-Shell.” This is without a doubt, the most recognized version of the Teenage Mutant ninja turtles, world wide. While time hasn’t been kind to the 80’s, much of the cartoon still holds up today.
The initial 5-episode arc laid the groundwork for multiple generations of villains and characters and stories that would carry on through decades. And the theme song (yes, created by Chuck Lorre) is still as recognizable as ever. It’s a classic.
5 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV – Turtles in Time (1991)
Turtles in Time is considered by some as one of the best video games of all time. Each game in the Konami series led this masterful sidescroller to the level it became. Featuring some fan favorite villains like Metalhead, Baxter in Fly form, Leatherhead, and Tokka and Rahzar from the Secret of the Ooze, this game was even my introduction to Slash, my favorite character. My Super Nintendo was basically a “Turtles in Time” machine for a long time.
This was my first introduction to some of the weirder aspects of the TMNT. Now, Foot Soldiers were pirates and sometimes they rode dinosaurs. The game-play itself was solid. You felt every hit, rode across the water, and were extremely satisfied when you threw a Foot Soldier in to the screen in front of you.
It took parts from the cartoons and movies, but largely existed as its own entity. This is the best version of the Konami run of TMNT games. It’s weird, and it’s fantastic.
4 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Mirage Comics (1984 – 2014)
The self published original Mirage comic book is the ultimate DIY success story. Two friends wrote, drew, published, and released their own comic book. The limited run of 3,250 issues sold out and a cultural phenomenon was born.
The first mirage comics are considerably dark. They weren’t afraid of blood and kill the Shredder in in the first issue. Even though the decision to make it black and white was probably due to limited funds, but it added to the strange and dark tone of the series. The Mirage series is a true love letter to comics in general. The turtles share an origin with Daredevil and Eastman and Laird’s admiration of Jack Kirby shows in the art, and character names.
This comic is the reason that no version of the turtles is right or wrong. The leap from the Mirage series to the 1987 cartoon is night and day. Most people know the original cartoon or the Playmates toys. but knowing that this is the original source material means that any change in style or tone should be welcomed. Yes, even if it’s not for you.
The original Mirage comic is version of the Ninja turtles that’s not like the others. This is clearly an adult comic. But the blueprint was there, and that was all the world needed. Soon the toys and cartoon followed, and a multiverse of mutated turtles was born.
3 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012 – 2017)
I’m going to use a word to describe this show that I never use. The show is wonderful. When the show was announced, I dismissed it as a simple kids show that reused the characters I grew up with. I was wrong.
The show is an epic celebration of everything Ninja Turtles. Each episode works on its own, but the seasons tell a much bigger story. The show truly embraces the weird side of TMNT. They go to Dimension X, they fight the Triceraton, Usagi Yojimbo appears! The final season seems to consist of weird “What if” stories and alternate realities. The final shot in the series is a simple “Thank you” to Peter and Kevin.
The show is smart and fun. It takes elements from every TMNT before it and even creates it’s own lore. We get to see Bebop and Rocksteady in their human forms for a lot longer. This version does another crossover with the 1987 version while they also explore alternate dimensions. This also has my favorite version of April to date! The cast is one filled with a fantastic voice cast and explains a big change in Leo’s voice in the best way. The show is a celebration of every version leading up to it and remained completely new. It’s impressive. It’s so Impressive, I even got on board with “Booyakashaa!”
2 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – IDW (2011 – Current)
With issue #73, the IDW series became the longest running Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series to date. Now with issue #100 in their sights the series has found new ground yet undiscovered in the series.
It’s much more “adult” in tone. Each arc has an old element of TMNT history with a fresh take, along with an onslaught of new characters. The artwork is consistently fantastic, bringing some of the best artists in comics to give their take on the turtles. The writing has brought turns never before thought of in a TMNT series and gives new life to classic characters.
I always felt that the most difficult part of creating a TMNT anything (movie, show, comic, etc) was having it feel grounded and small, while including Triceratons and Dimension X kinds of crazy. The IDW series does this so well, you never question the authenticity of 4 Ninja Turtles fighting an onslaught of mutants. It’s a tough sell, but they nail it. The comic gives explanations to things I never needed explaining. It lets us see how the turtles went from red masks to colors. And the story arch leading to Issue #50 was masterful. For anyone who might not be in to other TMNT options right now, I urge them to start reading this series. This is what you want.
1 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
When I think of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in my head, this is the version I think of. The story is taken from the Mirage series, but seeing them become real was what puts this version above all else. It’s set in our world, in New York City. With suits, state of the art animatronics and masterful puppetry from Jim Henson Studios, this story about a family is the pinnacle of the franchise.
Fun story. I have a scar on my finger from what I was a kid. I threw my talking Mickey Mouse in to my framed movie poster. It was a tiny bloodbath. I might be looking at the movie through nostalgia colored glasses, but I’m not the only one. NECA figures based on the film sell out whenever released, soundtracks based on the film sell out in hours. There’s a hole in our hearts made from the limited amount of merchandise produced during the original films release.
The movie that no studio wanted to make became the highest grossing independent film of the time. It’s a theatrical film with a ridiculous premise that takes itself seriously. Of course it’s a kid’s movie. But not once does it talk down to kids. It remains an enjoyable, even great movie almost 30 years later. It talks about death and family and gives us subtle hints of life lessons like consequences. It’s not a kids movie, it’s a movie suitable for kids. And a great one at that.
That’s the list!
We did the math, this was all very scientific. If you disagree, and I’m sure you do, let us know in the comments!