There’s never really been a better time to be into heroes that carry both a convenient half-shell and a love of pizza in their hearts: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a franchise has spent over 35 years telling stories of radical reptilian action across myriad mediums. Want to know where to start? Here are some suggestions.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie—A love of the Ninja Turtles can be mostly predicated on nostalgia, sure, but 30 years on, the original live-action Turtles movie still holds up really well. The suits are great and never rob the action of any physicality, and for an adaptation of the Ninja Turtles, it’s actually a solid character piece. A lot of the goofy charm about what made the animated version of the turtles so beloved is retained, but rendered in a style that really shouldn’t work but really rather does.
TMNT—The 2007 CG animated movie has no right being this good, but aside from any visual hangups you might have about seeing the Ninja Turtles rendered in this lanky 3D style—and the fact that it’s sort of predicated on you really caring about these characters more than anything else, given the plot is not all that (evil Patrick Stewart is always fun, though)—this is, kind of like the first live-action movie, a fun character piece. It digs into the bond between the brothers in some cool ways, and it uses its animated arena to give us some great ninja action, to boot.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003)—Look, it’s gonna be heresy, but your nostalgia for the classic show can only go so far. Don’t go back to the original animated series, as much as your heart may want to; instead, go back to the first reboot that took things a little more in a direction inspired by the original comics. Matching an expanded universe with serialized storytelling, the 2003 Turtles cartoon treated the team as fully fleshed out characters that made for some really interesting arcs. Plus, if you do want your nostalgia fix, Turtles Forever, the TV movie that acted as a finale for the show, pairs up the 2003 team with the 1987 show’s goofy quartet in a pretty satisfying way.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012)—When it was time for the Turtles to return to TV nearly a decade later, they did so with a vivid, 3D aesthetic that, inevitably had a bit of an “It Looks Different, and That’s Bad!!!” backlash from fans. (Quelle surprise, this is a bit of a running theme with this whole-ass franchise!) But the 2012 TMNT show is perhaps the peak of Turtles storytelling outside of the comics. Taking the serialized approach its 2003 predecessor dipped its toes into and running with it, it’s a really great balance between radical ‘tude goofs and grand-scaled, surprisingly dramatic adventures.
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—Once again, the initial reaction to this series had a very “It Looks Different, and That’s Bad!!!” backlash; ironically, now it was fans who missed the CG stylization of the 2012 cartoon. But not only is Rise one of the best looking cartoons around, it’s fun as hell. There’s an energy to this take on the Ninja Turtles that is absolutely madcap, and it’s matched by some truly brilliant action sequences that are at times genuinely astonishing to witness. It may not quite have had the time to build up the storytelling chops of its predecessors, but it makes up with it in sheer attitude and style.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Volume 2—The first volume of the original Kevin Eastman/Peter Laird Mirage comics is a weird one, not just because it’s infinitely darker and grittier-toned than you may expect out of the Turtles’ origins, it’s also incredibly inconsistent. The characters rarely got a chance to develop and grow as Eastman and Laird handed over issue slots to guest creative teams, meaning you don’t really get what the Ninja Turtles are amidst parodies of comics of the era and actual attempts to flesh out these characters. The second volume is a bit more consistent, developing across a few short arcs, and a better slice of “classic” Turtles for it.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures—Archie Comics did Ninja Turtles! Archie Comics did the second longest-running Ninja Turtles comic! Yes, really, it’s kind of wild. It started as a straight-up adaptation of the beloved animated series, but Adventures eventually began using the cartoon as a stepping stone to developing its own stories with that take on the Turtles. It expanded into a world that, by the end, felt almost unrecognizable from the beloved cartoon but in an interesting way.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The IDW Collection—In 2011 Kevin Eastman, alongside a host of artists, returned to the character he’d helped bring to life decades prior for a brand new complete reboot of Turtles continuity at IDW. Heavily serialized and free to take new risks, this one developed new characters, and pushed the limits of what the Turtles could be as a team and individuals. The still-ongoing series is, in all honesty, perhaps the best Ninja Turtles around.
It lovingly weaves in elements from other interpretations of the TMNT mythos with bold and often shocking decisions of its own. It’s also done some really compelling work with each of the brothers as characters—work that has been allowed to persist and have an impact, lending a sense of stakes few ongoing superhero comics can really have. If you try any slice of TMNT goodness on this list, let it be these comics. They may not have the weight of nostalgia things like the original show and first movie do, but that doesn’t stop them from being what is arguably the definitive take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
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