In 1984, comic book creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird published a series that shouldn’t have worked. They took a group of reptiles, threw them in a tub of mutagenic ooze, armed them with weapons and ninja skills, and named them after famous Renaissance artists. From that moment, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were born. Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello have changed the pop culture landscape since their creation. Despite the ridiculousness of the concept, the Turtles have starred in seven feature films and six television series, not to mention the toys, video games, comics, and merch.
With the massive success of these characters, it only makes sense that others have tried to capitalize on it. Rip-offs of this franchise are plentiful, and while many of them were spawned in the ’90s due to the popularity of the original animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there are still plenty being produced to this day. This list only consists of ten of those rip-offs, but these ten are some of the best. Whether they brought something new to the concept or did little more than wear their influences on their sleeves, these shows (and one movie) were clearly inspired by the TMNT brand and likely wouldn’t have found success otherwise, but we are glad they found their footing.
Adult Mutant Western Cows just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but Wild West: C.O.W.-Boys of Moo-Mesa is an underrated gem that clearly uses the eponymous turtles as their inspiration. In fact, the show was created by Ryan Brown, an artist for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics. Other than the setting, an American Western with steampunk and Weird West elements, the series is clearly just TMNT with cows. Despite this, the stories are interesting. The series was unique, bringing Western stories to kids, with villain-of-the-week elements that had the C.O.W. (Code of the West) Boys fighting back against frontier crime.
Wild West takes place on Moo-Mesa, a rock formation that was created when a comet struck Earth in the late 1800s. The radiation from the “cow-met” (a pun used in the show) caused the residents on the Mesa to mutate into anthropomorphic cow people, with some also becoming scorpions, vultures, and other frontier animals. Taking inspiration from tales of the wild west, the people of Moo-Mesa built their own frontier community, and cut off from the outside world, this Western way of life persisted. Now, with crime running rampant and the law of the Mesa clearly corrupt, Marshall Moo Montana and his posse must fight to keep peace in the town.
The only film on this list, as well as the only live-action offering, Warriors of Virtue needs to be mentioned. In 1990, New Line Cinema saw the potential of the TMNT brand and produced the characters’ first live-action film. With the help of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came to life for the first time on the big screen. This, of course, inspired many pretenders, and Warriors of Virtue is one of the worst in terms of story and character design. In fact, as outlined by Geek Outpost’s review of the film, there are even reports of viewers becoming physically ill and throwing up when the Kangaroo warriors appeared on-screen in 1997.
However, Warriors of Virtue actually falls into the “so bad, it’s good” territory. There are some stunning fights in this film, all inspired by wire fighting scenes from classic kung-fu films, and the supernatural abilities of the “Roos” helped the movie stand out. The story follows a disabled young man who dreams of joining his school’s football team. Ryan ends up in a mystical land called Tao, where he meets the five color-coded and elementally infused kangaroo guardians of this world, the titular Warriors of Virtue. The film is fun and generally enjoyable, even if most of that enjoyment comes from how ridiculous it is, and despite a horrible box office performance, it still received a sequel in 2002.
The newest item on this list, Kung-Fu Dino Posse premiered in 2010. The story follows a group of, you guessed it, color-coded dinosaurs that are thawed from Arctic ice in the modern day. Somehow, these dinosaurs are masters of kung-fu, and they use these skills to combat the evil Skor and Skrap, a pair of raptor brothers, and their army of mutant dinosaurs. The Posse was even capable of combining to create a massive Combosaur to battle this threat.
While it was definitely not a good series, Kung Fu Dino Posse is still worth your time. The show never takes itself too seriously, with plenty of fourth-wall breaking, humor, and some cool fight scenes. More than that, it almost acts as a parody of TMNT ripoffs, tackling several of the tropes that are presented in the series. You have the serious leader, the smart one, the cool and aggressive one, and the lovable, dumb, and super-strong one. The series plays with these stereotypes, leaning into them in a way that is funny and relevant to the genre. The jokes and satire never quite hit the landing, but as a modern-day example of these tropes, it’s a fun examination.
One of the key landmarks of a TMNT ripoff is its viability as a toy. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles merchandise was a game-changer for the toy industry, and several other companies tried to match this popularity. In 1996, Mattel released a spin-off of their popular Street Sharks toy line, featuring humanoid dinosaurs with alien technology. After all, kids like dinosaurs, right? In order to better promote the new toys, Mattel partnered with director Rich Trueblood to release the Extreme Dinosaurs animated series in 1997.
In terms of modern animation and storytelling, Extreme Dinosaurs definitely feels dated, but the premise still manages to stand out. A group of dinosaurs is experimented on by an interdimensional criminal, turning them into humanoid super-warriors. However, four of these warriors rebelled against their master, coming to Earth in order to stop the criminal’s other experiments, the Raptors. The Raptors sought to make Earth more comfortable for themselves as cold-blooded creatures, attempting to cause global warming (pretty forward-thinking for 1997). This series was a ton of fun, playing with genre in interesting ways that accessibly introduced some real world issues.
Where many of the series on this list featured small teams of fighters, S.W.A.T. Kats was unique in that it only featured two. While they would team up with various allies throughout the series, the titular anthropomorphic cats were a pair of crime-fighting vigilantes, which allowed for some incredible episodes. The series dealt with corrupt law enforcement and vigilante justice in interesting ways, taking obvious inspiration from Batman: The Animated Series. Hanna-Barbara hit the nail on the head when they made this series, with S.W.A.T. Kats becoming the number one animated syndicated series in 1994, but unfortunately, it only received two seasons before cancelation.
The show takes place in MegaKat City, a metropolis filled with anthropomorphic felines called Kats. Razor and T-Bone were members of the paramilitary law enforcement of the city called the Enforcers, but after a mission goes poorly, and they defy orders to capture the evil Dark Kat, their superior attempts to take control of their jet, sending them careening into Enforcer headquarters. Feral, the commander in question, places all the blame on Razor and T-Bone, sending them to work in the scrapyard. However, the pair use the scraps they find to build a new base, vehicles, and weapons, turning to vigilantism to stop the City’s criminals.
Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars! is interesting because, in a sense, it is a rip-off of a rip-off of the original Bucky O’Hare comic books. While the animated series came out in 1992, four years after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the comic books had found their own popularity in 1977, seven years before the creation of the TMNT brand. As such, Bucky’s adventure through space acted as an inspiration for the creation of the Turtles, while the success of the TMNT animated series paved the way and influenced the creation of the Bucky O’Hare animated series, bringing the inspiration full circle and allowing for the creation of a fun and unique TV series.
Taking obvious cues from Star Wars (there was even a green rabbit character named Jaxxon in the Marvel Star Wars comics before Bucky’s creation), Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars! is an interstellar space-opera adventure following the titular rabbit and his crew of anthropomorphic animal space fighters as they attempt to quell the Toad uprising. Working with the villainous KOMPLEX computer system, the Toads are attempting to take over the Aniverse, and for thirteen episodes in 1992, Bucky’s squad battled the Toads in epic laser battles and dogfights. The series is a classic piece of animation, even if a lot of the dialogue is a little dated, and its strange, cyclical history with the Turtles makes it a must-watch for fans.
After the success of the Disney sports movie Mighty Ducks in 1992 about a kid’s underdog hockey team, the next logical step for the franchise was clear: giant humanoid ducks in space with hockey-themed costumes and abilities. For some reason, likely the popularity of both their beloved film and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Disney came to this conclusion, and it led to a series that’s surprisingly good. Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series doesn’t live up to other greats of the day like Gargoyles or Darkwing Duck, but it manages to tell a compelling space adventure story in spite of its absolutely bonkers concept.
The series follows an interdimensional war between the ducks of Puckworld and their enemies, the Saurians. Years before, the Saurians tried to capture the icy, hockey-themed planet, but a brave warrior used a new technology (inside a hockey mask, of course) that let him see through the cloaking abilities of the Saurians to defeat them. However, years later, the Saurians have returned, and after a great battle on Puckworld, Wildwing Flashblade, and his crew arrive on Earth in Anaheim, California, form a professional hockey team, and protect their new home from the Saurian threat. The show has no right to be as good as it is, but somehow, the concept works.
Samurai Pizza Cats shows just how far the influence of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has spread. Originally airing in Japan in 1990, Samurai Pizza Cats was popular enough that it received an English dub. While the Japanese version had a slightly more original premise behind it, the English version took far more liberties, inspired heavily by Animaniacs and TMNT. The series takes place in a futuristic Japanese city called Little Tokyo, where everyone is a cybernetically enhanced animal person. The titular Pizza cats were samurai warriors that owned a pizza shop and are conscripted to stop the political machinations of the evil Big Cheese and his henchmen.
Samurai Pizza Cats is a wild ride, full of insanity and humor at every turn. Every name is a pun, every character a trope. It’s equal parts metafiction and parody, but it never feels like it is trying to be either. The series is just fun, and you can tell that the creators just leaned into the humor and heart of this story. It’s silly, strange, and often ridiculous, but it manages to hold its own among the many TMNT clones out there. The cybernetic character designs definitely help the series stand out, but it’s the deeper focus on the comedy, not the storytelling, that makes this series unique.
Of the many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rip-offs, Street Sharks is one of the most beloved and longest-running. For three seasons, the transformed Bolton brothers were some of the most beloved characters in syndication. While the Turtles were young in attitude, even somewhat immature in some instances, the Street Sharks were meant more for older kids. They rode motorcycles, boxed, and had more mature designs, and that helped them stand out among the many other rip-offs on this list. There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking looking back on the series today, but at the time, Street Sharks was an incredible Saturday Morning Cartoon.
This maturity even spread to the storyline. The four main characters (Ripster, Jab, Sleex, and Big Slammu) are the transformed sons of scientist Robert Bolton. Working with his partner Luther Paradigm, the pair created a machine that allowed them to alter the DNA of sea life to create fish people (The why is never explained). Bolton tried to hide it, but an accident in the lab transformed him into a monster. Paradigm then transformed Bolton’s sons into shark people, trying to pin his crimes on these new monstrous beings. On the run from police, the Street Sharks must battle the fishy foes created by Paradigm and clear their names.
Equally popular as Street Sharks and telling an even more compelling story, Biker Mice from Mars earns the top spot on this list. Taking the attitude of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and turning it into a street tough biker gang of mice aliens is a tall order, but somehow, this series nails it. The storylines are dark and serious, with plenty of personality to pull you through. The series is incredibly popular even today, with Ryan Reynolds co-producing a reboot of the beloved show. Biker Mice from Mars took everything that TMNT did right (the animal characters, the attitude, the serious stories), and added a unique twist to it that still makes it stand out today.
The series follows Vinnie, Modo, and Throttle, the last surviving members of a Martian race of mice people. A fish-like species known as the Plutarkians destroyed their own planet’s natural resources and now travels the galaxy plundering other planets of theirs, which caused the desolation of Mars. Vinnie, Modo, and Throttle escaped to Earth, hoping to start a new life. However, after becoming experiments for Dr. Karbunkle, they received cybernetic enhancements and learned that Karbunkle was working for a disguised Plutarkian on Earth. The trio takes the fight to industrialist Lawrence Limburger and his henchmen in order to protect their new home.