The Animated History of He-Man, She-Ra and the Masters of the Universe

Blair Marnell
TV Streaming
TV Streaming Animation Netflix

In 1982, Mattel introduced the world to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, but the massive toy line almost certainly wouldn’t have become a smash success without the animated series that followed shortly after in 1983. In the last four decades, He-Man and his friends and foes have had multiple animated iterations, but it almost always comes back to something close to the original show that was produced by Filmation.

This week, Netflix is taking fans back to Eternia with Masters of the Universe: Revolution, the eighth MOTU series to date and a direct sequel to Masters of the Universe: Revelation. If the trailers for the new series are any indication, Executive Producer?Kevin Smith and his Revolution team are not only drawing on the previous cartoons, they’re also incorporating elements from the He-Man minicomics and the 1987 live-action Masters of the Universe movie as well.

To get everyone up to speed for He-Man’蝉 next adventure, we’re taking a look back at all of the previous Masters of the Universe-connected animated series to date, including one that didn’t feature He-Man at all.

1983: HE-MAN’S TV ARRIVAL

The mythology of the early Masters of the Universe minicomics that came with the original figures was closer to a sci-fi-laced Conan the Barbarian than anything that came after it. There was no Prince Adam, He-Man was more of a savage, and there wasn’t a real difference between Teela and the Goddess.

Everything changed after He-Man and the Masters of the Universe premiered in syndication in 1983. This was also the first time that He-Man’蝉 name was in the title, since the toyline itself was simply called Masters of the Universe. Even 顿颁’蝉 Masters of the Universe comics, which predate the show, didn’t give He-Man top billing and nor did Marvel’蝉 Masters of the Universe comic when it was published during the series’ original run.

Within the show, He-Man had a secret identity as Prince Adam of Eternia, a guy who looked almost exactly like He-Man… minus a tan. This show also introduced many of the elements that have remained with Masters of the Universe ever since, including Battle Cat’s alter ego, Cringer, the Sorceress as the mother of Teela, and Orko, the comedy relief character who got to share the secret of He-Man’蝉 identity. Additionally, it was this series that established the way that Adam transformed into He-Man by holding up his sword and shouting “By the Power of Grayskull! I have the power!” And to save animation costs, the same sequence was reused in almost every episode.

The first Masters of the Universe series technically only ran for two seasons, though it was comprised of a massive 130 episodes, thanks to the needs of hit daily syndicated animated shows at the time. Unfortunately, as was also common in that era of animation, the show never received a true finale when it came to a close in 1985. That’蝉 another big year in He-Man’蝉 history though, because the first-ever MOTU film, the theatrically released animated movie?The Secret of the Sword, introduced He-Man’蝉 twin sister, She-Ra, into the continuity established by the initial animated series.

1985: THE PRINCESS OF POWER

He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword was cobbled together from the first few episodes of the then-upcoming companion series, She-Ra: Princess of Power, which revealed how He-Man could have a sister that he didn’t know about. Roughly two decades before the show, Hordak and the Horde attacked Eternia and nearly stole both the newborn twins,?Adora and Adam. Thanks to some timely intervention from Man-At-Arms, and because Skeletor betrayed his master, Hordak only got away with Adora.

Both Adora and Adam were kept in the dark about their shared connection, and Adora was raised as a member of the Horde. But because her bond with Adam was unbreakable, He-Man was eventually able to travel to Etheria and free Adora from the spells that kept her blind to the evil of the Horde. Adora also discovered that Castle Grayskull’蝉 Sword of Protection could turn her into She-Ra, a woman who had the strength of He-Man, plus a few extra abilities as well.

He-Man went on to guest star in a few episodes of She-Ra, and they co-headlined a Christmas special together as well. But for the majority of She-Ra’蝉 two-season run, Adora was the primary hero as she and her fellow rebels attempted to free Etheria from the Horde.

1990: NEW ADVENTURES IN SCI-FI

By 1987, both He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra: Princess of Power had come to an end, and their toylines were faltering. Not even the disappointing live-action Masters of the Universe movie, itself released in 1987, could change that. So in 1990, Mattel went for a radical reinvention of the franchise with a semi-sequel series, The New Adventures of He-Man.

Technically, this is supposed to be the same continuity as the original series, but both He-Man and Skeletor had entirely different appearances and personalities even before they were transported to Primus, a planet that had technology far ahead of Eternia’蝉 tech. He-Man was summoned to help his new allies, the Galactic Guardians, save Primus from the Evil Mutants of Denebria, who were led by Flogg. Skeletor naturally decided to side with the mutants.

Although the events of New Adventures were largely removed from Filmation’蝉 earlier series, this show did allow Adam to reveal his identity as He-Man to his parents before he left for Primus. It also gave Teela a guest appearance, but even she looked and seemed like an entirely different person compared to what she was before.

The New Adventures of He-Man favored stories that leaned more towards sci-fi than fantasy, but it couldn’t recapture the success of the original series. 65 episodes were made in its one and only season, though at least this show got more closure than the first series did. In the last episode, The Final Invasion, the Galactic Guardians firmly defeated Flogg and his mutants before He-Man had a showdown with Skeletor that left the latter trapped on a disabled spaceship with little hope of escape. He-Man didn’t get to go home to Eternia in this episode, but the show’蝉 primary storylines were wrapped up.

2002: THE FIRST FULL REBOOT

It took another twelve years before another He-Man animated show was made, but Cartoon Network and Mike Young Productions did a great job with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe in 2002. This wasn’t simply a rehash of the Filmation era, as the show had its own continuity and a more streamlined mythology. Larry DiTillio and Michael Reaves, two of the writers on the original series, also returned for this incarnation, which gave the stories more of an edge and also re-envisioned the Masters as more of a central team instead of feeling like rotating guests who helped He-Man.

This was also the show that established Prince Adam and He-Man as a more dramatic transformation from child to adult hero, not unlike Billy Batson’蝉 transformation into Shazam. That was the missing step that Adam needed to become a more distinct character from He-Man.

In the second season, Skeletor was set aside so He-Man and the Masters could face King Hiss and the Snake Men over the course of several episodes. The series was even briefly renamed Masters of the Universe vs. The Snake Men to reflect this. But despite the masterful job of streamlining He-Man’蝉 continuity and characters, this series only ran for 39 episodes across two seasons.

2018: PRINCELESS

The next incarnation of the Masters of the Universe franchise was the first to not include He-Man at all, as Netflix and DreamWorks Animation’蝉 She-Ra and the Princesses of Power almost entirely severed the connection between Adora and her brother. Neither Adam nor He-Man ever appeared, and the show’蝉 rebooted continuity didn’t leave much room for the Eternia-based characters.

As envisioned in this series, Adora was once again raised by the Horde on Etheria, and she was very close with Catra, a fellow member of the Horde. While Adora was eventually called to fill a heroic destiny as She-Ra, Catra remained with the Horde and eventually assumed a position of power.

However, the bonds of love between Adora and Catra eventually brought them back together during the final battle against Horde Prime, in which they saved the universe together and began a romantic relationship. The series ran for five short seasons – the modern norm for animated series on Netflix vs. the days where single seasons of syndicated cartoons could have 60+ episodes – and finished with 52 episodes.

2021: HE-MAN’S SECOND REBOOT

While the 2002 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series was still largely true to the original show, Netflix’蝉 2021 CGI take was a major reinterpretation of the show and its lore. This time, Prince Adam grew up separated from his father and unaware who he really was. Additionally, this show borrowed a trick from the modern Shazam! comics by letting the Sword of Power transform not only Adam, but also some of his closest friends, including Cringer, Teela, Duncan (Man-At-Arms), and Krass’tine, a gender-flipped Ram-Man who briefly went by the name Ram-Ma’am.

In this continuity, Ork-O was a drone instead of a diminutive wizard. But Ork-O eventually did meet an alternate version of Orko who helped him utilize real magic before the show’蝉 final showdown with evil. In the last episode, Skeletor was defeated, imprisoned, and depowered. But there were clearly more stories left to tell. Beast Man recovered Skeletor’蝉 Havoc Staff, while Evil-Lynn learned that her father, Hordak, was actually in plain sight all along as her bat construct, Horakoth. And Hordak planned to use Evil-Lyn to begin a new invasion of Eternia. However, those plotlines were never resolved, as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was cut short at only three seasons and 26 episodes.

2021: REVELATION LEADS TO REVOLUTION

Masters of the Universe: Revelation also debuted in 2021 on Netflix, just a few months before He-Man and the Masters of the Universe premiered. Executive producer Kevin Smith described the series as a sequel to the original Masters of the Universe animated series. While several aspects of the first cartoon were indeed retained, it also notably included elements from the 2002 reboot as well, including Prince Adam’蝉 transformation from a kid to an adult hero.

This series also riled some fans when He-Man perished in the first episode, and Teela was forced to step up as Eternia’蝉 hero in order to restore magic. Adam’蝉 resurrection a few episodes later didn’t entirely quell that backlash, even though he was the co-lead of every episode after. Revelation allowed Adam to choose to return from the afterlife and become a greater version of He-Man. Similarly, Teela learned that her mother was the Sorceress and she became the new Sorceress at last.

The cliffhanger ending featured Skeletor assimilated by Motherboard, a living technological creation of the Horde. She-Ra’蝉 presence in Masters of the Universe: Revolution is unconfirmed, but if there was ever a time to reintroduce her to this continuity, this is it. Especially since the Horde, Hordak, and the transformed Skeletor will be the primary enemies in the series. And if this version of the show is successful, perhaps we’ll see more He-Man adventures in the near future. Either way, we’re sure he’ll be back again at some point. He does have the power, after all.

Masters of the Universe: Revolution debuts January 25 on Netflix.


Blair Marnell
Freelance writer for almost every major geek outlet, including Fandom!
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