Rating The TMNT Character Designs


Artwork by Nahomy Vega- The brothers had their evolution of head shapes in the 2012 adaptation.

By Nahomy Vega, Staff Writer

    The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, often abbreviated to TMNT, is an extremely well-known franchise all over the world. The turtle brothers themselves are quite an iconic group of characters, as well as one of the most popular.  

     With popularity comes the development of many other movies, series, and even games. I will be rating the Turtles’ character designs in the most well-known movies and series in this franchise based on their accessories, the difficulty of differentiating the brothers, and the choice of art style. 


The Mirage Comics (1984) 

     In the year 1984, Kevin Eastman and Peter Liard formulated the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic books, later to be published by Mirage Studios. The comic soon became well known in the late 80s. The Turtles’ designs were almost completely different. 

     When shown fully colored in official cover art, the Turtles’ bandanas were all red, unlike how they now have their signature colors. They were all basically copy-pastes of each other, so I think this makes it hard to tell the difference between them, unless they are seen holding their signature weapons.  

     The art style is amazing, though, especially in black and white! In conclusion, I do really like the choices they made with the Turtles’ designs but wish there was more to distinguish. 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) 

     The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series got its first TV show several years after the comics’ publication. The series was animated and mainly targeted towards young children, which was a switch up compared to the comics, which were targeted towards teenagers. This was most likely to increase the audience. The Turtles now had their signature colors, and had varied personalities, as well as roles and ages. For instance, Leonardo became the oldest and the leader of the group from this point onward.  

     The Turtles now appeared to have their signature colors, not only on their bandanas, but on their knee and elbow pads. Their belts had their names’ initials. 

     The art style is easily appealing to younger audiences, with all the vibrant colors and very stylized features of the turtles. They all still looked extremely similar, but were much easier to distinguish. 


First Live Action Films (1990-93) 

     The very first live action films were quite iconic. This was due to the costumes the actors wore throughout the three movies: TMNT, Secret of the Ooze, and TMNT III.  

     I can imagine how difficult it would have been to imagine the Turtles in real life. However, the costumes they used for this film worked surprisingly well for its time. Even in live action films, the Turtles still had that charm to them with their unique personalities.  


The Next Mutation (1997-1998) 

     The Next Mutation was the very first live action series for the TMNT franchise. This time around, a new turtle, Venus, was introduced. She was temporarily the fifth turtle of the group and was considered the sister. Unfortunately, this would be the first and last time she would make an appearance in the live action adaptations.

Artwork by Nahomy Vega- The turtles, including Venus, had varying types of masks and mask tails.

     The Turtles, Venus included, had extremely varied mask designs compared to the past live action films. The iconic belt and strap buckles made a comeback in this series.  

     All in all, the design and accessory choices were quite appealing, especially with Venus’s bandana tails forming a braid. The TV producers got creative with certain aspects of the Turtles. 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) 

     The 2012 animated series aired on Nickelodeon and was the most popular adaptation of the franchise. In this adaptation, the designs of the Turtles were extremely diverse and distinguishable. For example, their head shapes and the height of each turtle were different, instead of all four being the same height.  

     Very minor details could be seen on the Turtles’ features, as well, like how Donatello had a tooth gap and Michelangelo had facial freckles. I find these features extremely important, as they add to the way you can distinguish the turtles, even just by their silhouettes. 


TMNT (2014), TMNT: Out of the Shadows (2016) 

     In these two films, directed by Liebesman (2014) and Dave Green (2016), CGI was used for the Turtles. Their designs were even more realistic thanks to advances in technology. 

     From an artist’s viewpoint, the Turtles were shown with many, MANY accessories, and you can’t go wrong with those. A lot of straps, belts and buckles were present, as well as jewelry and glasses. Tattoos were even included in their designs! 

     The movies would have gotten better feedback if they stuck to being animated, like the majority of the series and movies. Animated series and movies, unlike the live action, do much better when it comes to the TMNT. Therefore, the live action movies were not as memorable as the 2012 and 1987 animated series. However, I don’t dislike them, for they also had very personalized designs that fit the Turtles well. 


Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2018-2020, 2022) 

     In this series, also produced by Nickelodeon, the Turtles got a whole new fresh start. One of the major changes was Raphael starting off as the leader of the group instead of Leonardo, which many fans were taken aback by. 

     The character designs in this series were absolutely iconic. The Turtles’ species are now more specific in this series. Like the 2012 series, the Turtles also had very distinguishing features like height, overall shape of their designs and minor details, like Leonardo having stripes on his face due to being a red eared slider, and Donatello having a softer shell. Both designs and refreshed personalities of the Turtles had good charisma. Even older fans have grown to love this rebooted version of them. 


What’s Next? 

     After so many years of the Turtles having many changes and refreshers, I believe every single one of the series and movies has both pros and cons, but especially pros! They all have their own charm to them, and I can’t bring myself to dislike any of them. Later this year, a confirmed film titled Mutant Mayhem is said to be released on August 4th, 2023. And to be honest, I am extremely excited to check out what else the franchise has to offer in the future!


  • Donatello stands the tallest of his brothers for most adaptations. In the 2014/16 films, he stands at 6 feet and 8 inches (203 centimeters). 


  • In the 2012 adaptation, Leonardo is a huge fan of a TV sci-fi cartoon series titled Space Heroes, a parody of Star Trek. 


  • Leonardo and Raphael are known to have a sibling rivalry throughout the franchise. 


  • Pizza is the turtle brothers’ signature food. They throw on exotic toppings like jelly beans and tuna!