One of the best ways to learn a language, after having acquired some basics, is to immerse yourself in authentic materials, such as short stories, comics, movies or of course–cartoons. While many cartoons on German television are dubbed versions of US series, there’s also a plethora of original productions.
Today I’d like to share a handful of these with you. In most cases you can find full episodes on YouTube or on German TV websites. Also, I’ve added links to the DVDs on Amazon and Apple TV streams where available.
These shows are not just for kids, either! With their captivating storylines, endearing characters, and valuable life lessons, these animated gems are perfect for German learners of all ages. So, get ready to dive into a world of adventure, humor, and education as you explore the enchanting realm of German cartoons.
Janoschs Traumstunde is a critically acclaimed and universally beloved cartoon series based on the stories of popular German children’s author Horst Eckert (more famously known as Janosch) which ran between 1985 and 1989 on German television. Most of the episodes tell a number of self-contained stories, featuring popular characters from the author’s children’s books, such as Tiger und Bär, The Flying Popov, Schnuddelbuddel and others.
Based on the comics by Walter Moers, this cartoon series deals with the adventures of the eponymous Captain Blaubär, a blue bear spinning yarns about his journeys on the Seven Seas. Each episode is framed by a little story where the captain interacts with his grandchildren (actors in costumes), and at its center there is an animated cartoon detailing the often hilarious tales of the old seaman.
Der kleine Ritter Trenk
Der kleine Ritter Trenk (The Little Knight Trenk) is an animated series based on the children’s book by Kirsten Boie. It follows the story of Trenk, a young boy who dreams of becoming a knight and embarks on various adventures to achieve his goal.
Benjamin Blümchen (Benjamin the Elephant) is an animated series that chronicles the adventures of a lovable, talking elephant named Benjamin who resides in the fictional town of Neustadt. With his human friend, Otto, Benjamin embarks on various escapades that involve helping the townspeople, protecting the environment, and solving problems, often using his resourcefulness and kind-hearted nature.
Based on the novels by Waldemar Bonsels, this cartoon series ran between 1975 and 1980 and was the first Japanese-German-Austrian co-production. It tells the story of a little honey bee called Maja, her friend Flip, the grasshopper and many other creatures. It was remade in 2013 as a 3D animation series.
Ritter Rost (Rusty Knight) is an animated series based on the children’s book series by Jörg Hilbert and Felix Janosa. The show tells the story of Ritter Rost, a clumsy yet lovable knight robot (yes, that’s right!), who embarks on various adventures with his friends: the damsel Bö, the dragon Koks, and the horse Feuerstuhl. The series combines humor, adventure, and music to entertain and engage its audience.
Geschichten aus Mullewap
Geschichten aus Mullewapp (Stories from Mollywoop) is an animated series based on the children’s book series by Helme Heine. It tells the story of three farm animal friends – a pig named Waldemar, a rooster named Franz von Hahn, and a mouse named Johnny Mauser – who go on adventures and learn valuable lessons about friendship, teamwork, and tolerance. There’s also movie from 2009, simply titled Mullewapp based on the same characters.
Prinzessin Lillifee (Princess Lillifee) is an animated series adapted from the children’s book series by Monika Finsterbusch. The show revolves around the enchanting adventures of a fairy princess named Lillifee, who lives in the magical realm of Pinkovia. Along with her diverse cast of magical friends, which includes unicorns, elves, and talking animals, Lillifee strives to maintain harmony in her kingdom while learning about friendship, kindness, and responsibility.
Wickie und die starken Männer
Originally broadcast from 1972 to 1974 this series was an international cooperation. It’s based on the Swedish children’s book series “Vicke Viking” by Runer Jonsson, and just like Biene Maja, was produced by a Japanese Anime team for the German ZDF. Wickie is a young Viking boy who lives together with his parents in the little Viking village of Flake. Not being very strong and courageous, he’s not your typical Viking, but thanks to his unusual intelligence he often finds the answer to seemingly unsolvable problems in and around the village. Just like Biene Maja, it was redone as a 3D animation series in 2014.
Briefe von Felix
Briefe von Felix (Letters from Felix) is an animated series inspired by the children’s book character created by Annette Langen and Constanza Droop. The show narrates the captivating adventures of Felix, a plush rabbit who gets lost while exploring the world. As he encounters new places and meets unique characters, Felix sends letters back to his owner, Sophie, detailing his experiences and discoveries. The series highlights the themes of friendship, curiosity, and perseverance.
Broadcast between 1991 and 1994, this cartoon series is about a new brand of vampires who, although being direct descendents of Count Dracula, are polite, friendly and scorn the taste of blood. They are the Ketchup Vampires and prefer tomato juice, but since their modern way of vampirism is frowned upon, they are constantly challenged by their more conventional counterparts.
Based on a book series by Klaus Baumgart, Lauras Stern tells the story of a seven-year old girl who finds a wounded star. She takes care of it and together they experience many adventures. There are 52 episodes in total, with a length of 10 minutes each.
This cartoon series is based on the comic book series by Manfred Schmidt. The protagonist Nick Knatterton, a private eye, solves fresh new cases in 15 episodes (length between 10 and 25 minutes). While the animated characters themselves don’t say one word, the action is narrated by a voice-over.
Der kleine Eisbär
Der kleine Eisbär (The Little Polar Bear) is an animated series based on the children’s book series by Hans de Beer. The heartwarming story centers on Lars, a young and courageous polar bear who resides in the Arctic. Alongside his diverse group of animal friends, Lars embarks on thrilling adventures that highlight the importance of friendship, courage, and environmental conservation.
The “Ottifant” is an elephant-like creature invented by German comedian Otto Waalkes. The tv series, comprising 13 episodes, tells the story of a family of Ottifanten, from Baby Bruno to Opa Bommel.
Heidi is an animated series inspired by the classic Swiss novel by Johanna Spyri. Set against the backdrop of the idyllic Swiss Alps, the story follows a spirited young girl named Heidi as she moves in with her reclusive grandfather. As she adapts to her new life, Heidi befriends a local boy named Peter and discovers the beauty of nature, all while learning valuable life lessons.
Based on the book by Helme Heine, this cartoon series tells the story of a little village called Sauerkraut, where the mayor is a pig, the school is run by a 200-year-old turtle and spiritual matters are taken care of by a crocodile which speaks in Berlin dialect.
Fix und Foxi
Fix und Foxi is an animated series based on the German comic book series created by Rolf Kauka. The show delves into the exciting adventures of two anthropomorphic fox siblings, Fix and Foxi, as they solve mysteries, help others, and learn valuable life lessons along the way. The siblings, along with their eclectic group of friends, explore their world with curiosity and enthusiasm.
Tabaluga is a small green dragon, a character invented by German rock singer Peter Maffay, children’s song author Rolf Zuckowski and Maffay’s lyricist Gregor Rottschalk. Originally created as part of a concept album “rock fairytale”, this cartoon series tells the story of the little dragon and his home country “Grünland”.
Die Olchis is an animated series based on the children’s book series by Erhard Dietl. The show revolves around a family of quirky, green creatures who live in a landfill and love everything dirty and messy. Through their misadventures, the Olchis teach viewers about environmental issues, recycling, and sustainability. There’s also a 3d-animation movie.
This cartoon series is loosely based on the novel by James Krüss, in which a young boy makes a dangerous deal with a baron: he sells his smile and in return receives the ability to win every bet. First broadcast in 1979, Timm Thaler ran for 13 episodes. It was also turned into a feature-length movie.
Tobias Totz works at the zoo. His best friend is a lion, whose biggest dream is to fall in love — only there is no lioness in the zoo. But since Tobias is a very special zoo-keeper he flies to Africa to look for a spouse for his best friend, where lots of adventures ensue.
Albert sagt … Natur – aber nur!
Running from 1996 to 1997 for 13 episodes, this cartoon was based on the books by Frederic Vester. The protagonist, a curious creature which looks like a cross between a hamster and a bird, has the magical ability to change size. This cartoon takes the viewer on a journey through the wonders of nature and frequently addresses environmental issues.