13 Addictive French Cartoons to Make Learning French Fun
Remember Saturday morning cartoons when you were a kid?
What if I told you that you could discover cartoons all over again and learn French while you’re at it?
Maybe you’ve been studying French for a while now—you’ve listened to French songs, maybe even a radio broadcast or two, but you’re looking to change things up a bit.
Look no further than French cartoons.
- My Favorite French Cartoons
- 1. “Titeuf”
- 2. “Corneil et Bernie”
- 3. “Astérix”
- 4. “Les Zinzins de l’espace”
- 5. “Les Malheurs de Sophie”
- 6. “Les Aventures de Tintin”
- 7. “La Famille Barbapapa”
- 8. “Miraculous, Les Aventures de Ladybug et Chat Noir”
- 9. “Trotro”
- 10. “Le Petit Nicolas”
- 11. “Voltron: Le Défenseur Légendaire”
- 12. “She-Ra: Et Les Princesses Au Pouvoir”
- 13. “Avatar, Le Dernier Maître De L’air”
- How to Get the Most out of French Cartoons
- Where to Find French Cartoons
- Why Learn French with French Cartoons?
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My Favorite French Cartoons
There are many great French cartoon series, but the 13 I chose each offer unique learning advantages and feature different production styles.
“Titeuf” is a popular Swiss franchise that was spun into a cartoon series in France. This classic coming-of-age tale follows the adventures of Titeuf (a corruption of p’tit œuf, or “little egg,” because his head is shaped like an egg) and his friends Manu, Hugo and François as they navigate their murky preteen years.
One of the more profound series geared toward children, the characters aren’t afraid to approach subjects such as seduction and crushes, but never in a way that would cause offense.
Titeuf is also known for his heavy use of jargon, providing viewers a solid exposure to French slang.
2. “Corneil et Bernie”
This series tells the story of Corneil, a genius talking dog who hides his intelligence to protect his pampered life, and Bernie, an unwitting dog sitter who discovers Corneil’s secret. Although they argue often, they become the best of friends. Unfortunately for Corneil, Bernie often gets into situations that risk exposing Corneil’s secret.
This is one of the few French cartoons to be translated into English and broadcast in North America. That makes it easy to check your understanding, by chefcking the French-language version against the English-language one.
The series is still in production and is widely available online. In fact, there’s a “Corneil et Bernie” clip up on FluentU, with interactive subtitles that explain each French word:
The subtitles are specifically annotated for French learners, so you can see example sentences and videos for every word too.
To understand a language, one must understand a culture, and no cartoon has had a larger cultural impact on France than “Astérix.”
The Gaulish warrior Astérix strives incessantly to protect his village from Julius Caesar, foiling Caesar’s plans with his intelligence and a magic potion that temporarily gives him superhuman strength. He’s accompanied on his adventures by his friend Obélix and his dog Idéfix.
Originally a comic series, “Astérix” was subsequently expanded into a media franchise that includes video games, merchandise and several feature-length films. Although “Astérix” was never adapted into an animated series, the franchise is known by most French children.
The various “Astérix” movies occasionally pop up on streaming services. For instance, you can check the availability of “Astérix the Gaul” on Amazon Prime.
4. “Les Zinzins de l’espace”
Besides being one of the more prolific series (with 104 episodes), “Les Zinzins de l’espace” will seem familiar to American viewers thanks to its “Ren and Stimpy”-esque hijinks. Five aliens crash land on Earth and hide in the attic of a rental house while coming up with harebrained schemes to return to their home planet, always with disastrous consequences.
Their situation is complicated by the array of human tenants who shuffle through the lower floor, forcing them to use their “SMTV” (“Super-Méga-Trans-Volteur”) to take the form of innocuous Earth life.
With animation reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons and a variety of French accents, “Les Zinzins de l’espace” serves as a great starter series.
If the DVD set is a bit too pricy for you, no worries: The show’s official YouTube channel has plenty of content available to watch for free!
5. “Les Malheurs de Sophie”
If you want proof that cartoons are works of art, “Les Malheurs de Sophie” will provide it. Adapted from the namesake novel by the Comtesse de Ségur and set in Normandy during the Second Empire, “Les Malheurs de Sophie” brings to television one of the most popular children’s stories of the 19th century.
Heroine Sophie de Réan, a little girl of roughly seven years, lives an idyllic life in her family’s castle with her mother and Paul, her cousin and best friend. With Paul and her friends Madeleine and Camille, she gets into all sorts of trouble.
As the series progresses, Sophie grows into a responsible adult while being subjected to sudden and unspeakable hardships. Seeing how this young heroine reacts in the face of adversity will warm your heart, and the exceptional animation and clearly-spoken, formal French makes “Les Malheurs de Sophie” a must-watch. To get started, you can check out the series on YouTube.
6. “Les Aventures de Tintin”
This Belgian comic published in the French language has become a beloved cultural icon in France and Belgium alike, and in 1991 it was made into a full-length cartoon series. Though originally recorded in English, this show, naturally, has a French-language version available.
“Les Aventures de Tintin” stars a Belgian reporter named Tintin who goes around the world, solving mysteries together with his dog Snowy. He’s often joined on his adventures by the gruff Captain Haddock, the genius Professeur Tournesol and the bumbling detectives Dupont and Dupond.
Tintin’s stories take him on fantastic journeys to places both real and fictional, where he takes down international smuggling rings, brings kidnappers to justice and uncovers long-lost treasures. His noble spirit and desire to do good make him an admirable hero, and you’ll be rooting for him in every episode.
The series can be difficult to find on streaming services in its French-language iteration, but if you want to preview it before committing to the DVD set, YouTube usually has several full-length episodes unofficially available.
7. “La Famille Barbapapa”
Created by a French and American couple, “La Famille Barbapapa” has been much loved in France since the 1970s. Many older French cartoons like this one are spoken in very slow voices, making it a cinch for learners to follow along.
The Barbapapas are colorful blob creatures who can shapeshift into whatever form they please. One such Barbapapa is lonely, spurring him to travel the world in search of a wife. After his journey, Barbapapa finds Barbamama, and they make a family of seven children, all with their own distinct personalities. Each episode features the Barbapapa family helping humans and animals alike, all with powerful environmental messages.
Fun fact: The name Barbapapa comes from Barbe à papa, which translates to “cotton candy” (literally “daddy’s beard”), the treat which Barbapapa and his family closely resemble!
The official website has some clips available in French. It’s also a great way to supplement your learning with some reading practice, thanks to the character descriptions, which are written in very simple French. Switch the website language to English (on the top right-hand corner) to check how much you understood correctly!
8. “Miraculous, Les Aventures de Ladybug et Chat Noir”
If you spend time in cartoon or fandom circles, odds are you’ve heard about this recent smash-hit. “Miraculous” is the result of a collaboration between France and Japan (with a few other countries having ties to the project) and has received acclaim the world over.
Marinette and Adrien are a pair of French high school students who are tasked with saving Paris from Hawk Moth, who seeks to turn ordinary people into evil villains through creatures called Akuma. They must do battle using powers they’ve received from magical jewels known as Miraculous, turning Marinette into the heroine Ladybug and Adrien into Chat Noir.
While both of them must keep their superhero identities secret, neither Marinette nor Adrien are aware of who the other really is—which makes things complicated, considering that Marinette has a big crush on Adrien!
This show is available on Disney Plus, with Netflix offering the original French dialogue!
Aimed at young children, this show features simple dialogue and situations, so definitely check it out if you’re just starting to dip your toes into French cartoons.
The adorable cartoon stars a five-year-old donkey named Trotro who goes around learning lessons and having adventures with his mom, dad and little sister. With a lighthearted atmosphere and simple yet charming animation, Trotro prances around with his friends and family, speaking with a very natural childish vocabulary.
“Trotro” is available to stream on Apple TV.
10. “Le Petit Nicolas”
Many students of French learn from this children’s book series. But did you know that it’s been adapted into a cartoon as well? “Le Petit Nicolas” is extremely popular among young French children, with its very own YouTube channel, to boot!
The story revolves around Nicolas, a rambunctious elementary schooler, and his life at school in 1960s France. Many childish schoolyard terms are used and the stories frequently focus on how children interpret the adult world around them.
Nicolas’s humorous adventures with his friends are sure to charm you, with simple vocabulary that will keep you engaged along with the stunning visuals.
11. “Voltron: Le Défenseur Légendaire”
This popular Netflix original is a modern reimagining of the 1980s cartoon “Voltron: Defender of the Universe.” Like many Netflix original programming, it’s available in French—simply change the audio language to French and start watching!
The evil Galra Empire has been waging war across the galaxy in the name of conquest for millennia. Voltron, a legendary robot, is the universe’s one hope at defense. However, it was separated into five lion robots that can only be piloted by the chosen Paladins, whose whereabouts remain unknown.
In the present day, five Earth space pilots—Shiro, Lance, Keith, Hunk and Pidge—uncover these robot lions, dragging them into the conflict. By learning to work together and combine their lions, they once again revive Voltron, Defender of the Universe. Now it’s up to them to stop the Galra Empire, once and for all!
12. “She-Ra: Et Les Princesses Au Pouvoir”
Though this cartoon is another Netflix remake of an 80s classic, this version of “She-Ra” takes the original “He-Man” spinoff in a whole new direction.
Adora is an orphan who was raised in the intergalactic empire known as The Horde. She’s been an enthusiastic Horde soldier for her entire life, but on the day she’s set to become captain of her own force, she encounters the mythical Sword of Protection.
Upon obtaining the sword, she realizes that The Horde is actually an evil army set on conquering the universe. Her entire life was a lie.
Alongside her new friends Bow and Glimmer, she sets out to destroy The Horde as the legendary She-Ra: Princess of Power.
13. “Avatar, Le Dernier Maître De L’air”
As you may have gathered from the “Spongebob Squarepants” and “Rugrats” mentions above, a good amount of Nickelodeon cartoons have been dubbed in French. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is one of them and happens to have a great French voice cast! (Don’t believe us? Check it out on the Nickelodeon France YouTube channel!)
Long ago, four nations of Earth, Water, Fire and Air lived in harmony. However, in order to spread its influence across the entire world, the Fire Nation launched an assault against the other three nations. The only threat to their force was the Avatar, a master of all four elements, therefore they attempted to destroy him by slaying every last one of the Air Nomads, the nation to which he belonged.
One hundred years later, two members of the Water Tribe, brother and sister Sokka and Katara reawaken the Avatar. The Avatar is a 12-year-old boy named Aang who survived the genocide of the Air Nomads as a result of being frozen in a state of suspended animation within an iceberg. Now, Aang must travel with Sokka and Katara to master all four elements and save the world from the Fire Nation’s wrath.
If you have a VPN or live in France, you can stream this popular series on France tv.
How to Get the Most out of French Cartoons
Hopefully, by now you’re excited about watching French cartoons, but how can you actually learn from them?
Start with familiar English-language cartoons dubbed in French
First, look for dubbed versions of anglophone cartoons you enjoy. And believe me, many exist. For example, can you translate “Bob l’éponge”?
(That would be “SpongeBob SquarePants.”)
How about “Les Razmoket”?
If you already know the plot, it’s easier to understand the French version because you know what’s going on. What’s more, content is usually dubbed in simplified French so that the meaning is preserved.
Another advantage of dubbed programming, in my experience, is that there are only a few French voice actors who dub most of the anglophone content. So if you understand these particular people, you’re golden.
When you’re ready, you can move on to actual French cartoons.
Use French subtitles wisely
When used judiciously, the subtitles included in most DVDs are useful for listening comprehension, but overuse can slow your progress. When the subtitles are on, you can end up relying on them instead of letting your listening muscles do the work!
When I’m studying a language with videos, I replay passages I don’t understand several times, and if I absolutely can’t understand what’s being said, then I’ll turn on subtitles.
English subtitles are, thus, a tool of last resort. If you can avoid them, do so.
Instead, you can start watching French cartoons with French subtitles enabled and read along, then turn them off and re-listen. This might be more useful if you’re a beginner.
If there’s a French word I’m still not getting, I can do a quick Google search to find the definition and get a better understanding of it.
This multi-layered approach not only familiarizes your ears with the sounds of the French language, but it helps you improve your French reading skills, as well.
Commit to intensive studying
The fastest way to learn through French cartoons would be to study them intensively.
What this means is looking up every word that you don’t understand and adding that intentionally to your vocabulary.
For example, you might make flashcards for new words and then review these with spaced repetition. To train your listening, you can also keep replaying a scene until you’re picking up all of the words.
This is great for getting a better grasp of conversational French, but depending on your level, it can take a while to unpack even a few minutes of a cartoon! Plus a lot of French video online have automated subtitles that can be inaccurate (Youtube, I love you, but this applies to you).
It’s actually a pretty universal experience, so as a language learning program, FluentU tackles this by making cartoon clips and other online videos more accessible for French learners.
Every clip on FluentU has transcripts and interactive subtitles that are written by language experts. With the app’s video dictionary, you can click on any word or expression while watching and get a more in-depth explanation of it.
This cuts out a lot of the time that you could have spent looking up words on your own.
To absorb what you’ve learned in each video, you can also do flashcard reviews and personalized quizzes with written and spoken input.
FluentU has a web platform as well as apps for Android and iOS users.
Where to Find French Cartoons
Most of the links to buy DVDs in this post are to Amazon.com, with a few to Amazon.fr. Besides Amazon, there are other great French DVD sites you can use, like fnac and Cdiscount.
Whatever you do, check into regional information before buying DVDs to make sure they’ll actually work in your player.
I haven’t had problems getting French products delivered to North America, but some items can either only be delivered in France or are prohibitively expensive. In these cases, your best bet is to look for the content on YouTube or Dailymotion or to find used DVDs on Ebay.fr.
If it turns out DVDs aren’t an option for you, though, don’t worry: There’s plenty of material online to get you started!
Why Learn French with French Cartoons?
To give you some added motivation, here are major reasons why French cartoons are worth studying with (given all of the interesting French media out there):
They’re easy to understand
There’s something in between the five-minute clips your French teacher showed in class and full-on movies. Often overlooked by French teachers as a learning material, French cartoons are a step up in difficulty from small clips or audio specifically made for learners, while still being much easier to understand than your average French movie.
Cartoons are recorded in noise-free studios by professional voice actors. This means no background noises or muffled speaking that makes just hearing the dialogue a struggle, not to mention trying to understand it!
Watching a cartoon is like listening to someone next to you in an otherwise quiet room. You’ll be amazed at the ease with which you can follow 30 minutes to an hour of content while still training your brain to stay in “French mode” for extended periods.
They teach you children’s vocabulary
Just because cartoons are easier to understand than movies doesn’t mean you aren’t learning anything. Children and youth, the target audiences of cartoons, often don’t speak “textbook” French, and cartoons reflect that. Youth have their own slang (obviously), but did you know that even young French children have their own set of vocabulary?
Here are a few examples:
dodo (sommeil) — sleep
joujou (jouet) — toy
nounours (ours en peluche) — teddy bear
Such words are used frequently in cartoons, so it’s good to commit them to memory.
They help you understand French culture and slang
To really learn French, you have to look beyond the textbook and into the real world. French cartoons offer a window into French culture, as they show you how people actually use the language.
Cartoons also often reflect the way the younger generation is changing language. When I come across a slang term I don’t understand in a cartoon, I look it up on a reference website. This is an excellent way to make sure your skills don’t grow stale as the language evolves.
The cartoons I mention represent only a tiny fraction of the robust French animation heritage, but whether they offer exposure to classical literature or a better understanding of how children speak, cartoons are surprisingly useful to aspiring French speakers.
French subtitles make cartoons accessible to beginners and are a tool for fine-tuning listening comprehension for advanced speakers.
By not relying too heavily on them, soon you won’t even need subtitles to enjoy the high-quality animation France has to offer!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)