South Park has been on the air for over 20 years now, and in that time it's established itself as one of the most iconic animated shows of all time. With its low production aesthetic and no-limits humor, it’s garnered a passionate fanbase, while its quick production turnaround time means it constantly has its finger on the pulse.
It definitely isn’t for everyone, and while they do take swings at all comers (an approach which has been often criticized), creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have occasionally acknowledged overstepping the mark. Either way, it’s a series with a lot of high points, and here are the 25 best.
If you're in the US, you can stream South Park for free on Comedy Central's website. It's also available to stream on HBO Max. In the UK, South Park airs on Comedy Central, and it's streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.
25. Sponsored Content (Season 19, Episode 8)
South Park tells a lot more tech-based stories these days, and in this episode, internet advertising has run amok. Sponsored Content also features a staunch political debate between Hillary Clinton, Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner. The main story, though, is the start of yet another three-act arc, this time on political correctness in media – with political correctness in general a running theme throughout this entire season.
24. Black Friday (Season 17, Episode 7)
Like a few other episodes later on, Black Friday is actually part of a trilogy, along with A Song Of Ass And Fire and Titties And Dragons. They’re all great, but here we’re going with the first instalment. It’s all about a Black Friday sale, with one half of the town looking for a PS4 and the other half for an Xbox One. By the end of the trilogy, it’s a full-blown war, but here it’s the calm before the storm as the residents of South Park choose their sides. Poor Randy, in his new job as a mall security guard, doesn’t realize he’s about to be caught in the middle.
23. Cartmanland (Season 5, Episode 6)
One of the first ‘big concept’ episodes for the show, you can see from this premise how it offered a foundation for more outlandish episodes later. Cartman gets $1 million from his grandmother’s inheritance, and uses it to buy a theme park. His success causes Kyle to lose his faith in God, but Cartman’s financial troubles quickly bring his faith back. There are some great visuals within the theme park, and the show’s gross-out huimor is alive and well in this episode. A great example of South Park’s straightforward storytelling done right.
22. Cartoon Wars (Season 10, Episodes 3 and 4)
This double header is essentially one whole episode, so we’re counting both parts as one entity. It sees Family Guy preparing to feature the Muslim prophet Mohammed in an episode, leaving the USA fearful of retaliation, even prompting Cartman to go to Hollywood to leverage the network into cancelling Family Guy. It ends with an infamous title card after the network refused to air South Park’s own depiction of Mohammed, and has become infamous both for this and its genuinely mean-spirited take on Family Guy.
21. Band in China (Season 23, Episode 2)
These days, everyone knows what to expect from South Park, so it takes something really extreme for it to wind up in the headlines. With Band In China – which was actually banned in China – South Park’s mocked Xi Jinping’s regime and garnered their most controversy in years. It goes after China’s aggressive censorship of Western media, and the way huge conglomerates seemingly compromise in order to profit in the Chinese market, with Randy heading to China for a business deal, but ending up in jail.
20. Medicinal Fried Chicken (Season 14, Episode 3)
Two very disparate plots here, which isn’t usually South Park’s style, but it works brilliantly in Medicinal Fried Chicken. The A-plot sees Randy become desperate to partake in the medicinal marijuana movement, giving himself testicular cancer just so he can reap the herbal benefits. Eventually, he ends up with space hopper-sized balls. Meanwhile, in a heavy Scarface parody, KFC are banned from South Park, leading to Cartman setting up a black market fried chicken business in the episode’s B-plot.
19. Butters’ Bottom Bitch, Season 13, Episode 9
Here, Butters buys a kiss off a girl after the rest of the boys discover he’s never kissed anyone. From here, Butters has a brainwave and realizes he could become a businessman dealing in kisses; soon after, he’s a fully fledged pimp. In his new line of work, he finds himself entangled with an undercover cop who’ll go to any length to expose the prostitution racket in South Park. And when we say any length, we mean any length.
18. Kenny Dies (Season 5, Episode 13)
If you’re even vaguely familiar with South Park, you’ll know that Kenny dies a lot. Like, in every episode of the first few seasons. This episode is specifically about his death, though, with Kenny in hospital with a terminal illness. Cartman hatches a plan to save Kenny using stem cell research, resulting in him winding up with a truckload of fetuses. Cartman eventually takes to Congress to lobby for stem cell research, but his efforts are for nothing as, like the title suggests, Kenny dies.
17. Le Petit Tourette (Season 11, Episode 8)
Because South Park is so mercilessly referential, even the great episodes can be dated by relying on context from pop culture 20 years ago. Le Petit Tourette, however, is absolutely timeless, and involves Cartman faking Tourette syndrome in order to say whatever he wants. Unfortunately, over time Cartman struggles with any filter at all, and begins blurting our embarrassing secrets non-stop. The story is a little thin on the ground here, but the jokes more than make up for it.
16. Cartman Sucks (Season 11, Episode 2)
If you’ve been paying attention to some of the things Cartman has done in the history of South Park, you’ll know that he does indeed suck. Here though, the title is far more literal, as it involves Cartman sticking Butters’ penis in his mouth to prove that Butters is gay, taking a picture as proof. However, Kyle tells him that Cartman is the gay one in the scenario, and in order to cancel it out, he and Butters must switch positions, which leads to Butters being sent to gay conversion therapy.
15. The Simpsons Already Did It (Season 6, Episode 7)
This episode references the absolute domination of The Simpsons in late ‘90s/early ‘00s animation, and the ways South Park (and other shows, like Family Guy) were often accused of ripping off Simpsons plots. Here, Butters’ alter ego Professor Chaos tries in vain to come up with an evil scheme the Simpsons have not already done, following on from the previous episode, Professor Chaos. This one is good as a two-parter but incredibly enjoyable as an individual experience too. The jokes are well worth watching for alone, but if you’re an animation fan, it’s packed with references.
14. Cartman Joins NAMBLA (Season 4, Episode 5)
Arguably South Park’s first venture into extreme ‘whoa, can they say that?’ territory, it sees Cartman join the North American Man Boy Love Association. His plan? To make some more mature friends. The episode also entangles another NAMBLA (the North American Marlon Brando Look Alikes), a mistaken FBI raid, and Kenny’s parents trying for another baby. The extremely twisted finale is possibly the best Kenny death in the whole series too.
13. Butters’ Very Own Episode (Season 5, Episode 14)
The season 5 finale is the first time Butters gets substantial spotlight, and is one of the few episodes the creators have since walked back. Revolving around Butters surviving a murder attempt by his own mother after a discovery about his father, the episode is framed like a classic '50s sitcom but of course goes to much darker places.
12. Christian Rock Hard (Season 7, Episode 9)
The dual narrative of this one begins when Cartman leaves the band he, Kyle, Kenny, and Stan had started together. After a disagreement on musical direction, Cartman exits and joins forces with Butters and Token to create a Christian Rock band, recognizing the constant popularity of the genre. Meanwhile, Kyle, Kenny and Stan get busted by the FBI for illegally downloading music. Remember when that used to be a thing we were all so worried about?
11. Imaginationland (Season 11, Episodes 10-12)
Like Cartoon Wars, this is a series of episodes rather than just the one, but there’s nothing between the Imaginationland trilogy. It features a terrorist attack on titular Imaginationland, parodying classic horror, fantasy and sci-fi movies as well as the military industrial complex along the way. Of course, this being South Park, there’s also a subplot where Cartman tries to get Kyle to suck his balls, which the show manages to stretch over three episodes without getting tiresome. Only on South Park...
10. The Death Of Eric Cartman (Season 9, Episode 6)
Unlike ‘Kenny Dies’, this episode doesn’t actually include the death of Eric Cartman, despite the title. Instead, it sees the boys all grow sick of Cartman’s selfishness, ignoring him after he eats all of their crispy chicken skin, which is framed as the ultimate crime. They convince everyone in class to go along with their plan, but forget to tell Butters. Being ignored convinces Cartman that he’s dead, and that Butters is the only one who can see him as a ghost. With Butters’ help, Cartman tries to redeem himself for his past sins.
9. Good Times With Weapons (Season 8, Episode 1)
The Season 8 premiere pays homage to anime as the kids lie about being orphans to get entry into a ninja weapons expo. Throughout the episode, the animation style switches to give it a more anime flavor. The boys have fun at the expo, but unfortunately Butters soon gets injured with a throwing star, and the boys are left scrambling. They can’t tell their parents or a doctor on account of lying, so instead dress Butters up as a dog and take him to the vet. South Park is quite often a show to watch in spite of the animation, but here it adds to the texture of the episode brilliantly.
8. Trapped In The Closet (Season 9, Episode 12)
You’d think from the title that this one would be a parody of the R Kelly musical, but they really just use him and his ‘hiphopera’ as the wrap around here. Instead, the episode targets Scientology, focusing specifically on a couple of big name Scientologists – to much controversy at the time. For some fans, South Park is at its best when it’s lampooning celebrities; if that’s you, send this one right to the top of the list.
7. Grounded Vindaloop (Season 18, Episode 7)
Similar to Black Friday, Grounded Vindaloop is built around modern gaming technology. This time around, it’s an Oculus Rift which takes center stage, as the boys experiment with virtual reality. Things start out smoothly, until they suspect they’re stuck in a virtual world, and can no longer tell which of them are real and which are simply virtual creations. As they struggle to decide who’s wearing the Oculus Rift, the episode only gets stranger and stranger.
6. Casa Bonita (Season 7, Episode 11)
This episode is a genius example of how Cartman can transform a simple premise into a fantastic story by just cranking the pressure up and up and up. Kyle doesn’t invite Cartman to his birthday party, but does invite Butters. Cartman is outraged, but initially tries sucking up to Kyle, eventually being told he can come but only if one of the other boys drops out. All Cartman needs to do now is convince Butters a meteor is about to strike and he needs to hide for his own good…
5. The Return Of The Fellowship Of The Ring To The Towers (Season 6, Episode 13)
This is a retelling of The Lord Of The Rings the way only South Park could do. Here, the 'precious' is a pornographic tape accidentally given to Butters, which he watches with no knowledge of what he’s seeing but gradually becomes obsessed with. The rest of the boys go on a Middle-Earth style adventure to recover the tape, with the rest of the town folding into the Lord Of The Rings parody superbly. Even if you’re not a Lord Of The Rings fan, there’s so much to enjoy here.
4. Scott Tenorman Must Die (Season 5, Episode 4)
This is the highest-rated episode of South Park on IMDb ever, and for good reason. If anyone wants an introduction to what makes Cartman Cartman, just show them Scott Tenorman Must Die. Cartman takes revenge on Tenorman after being refused a refund on a sale of pubic hair, and creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone point to this as Cartman’s first descent into truly unhinged behavior, using it as a benchmark for future episodes. A must watch for Cartman fans.
3. AWESOM-O (Season 8, Episode 5)
A rare instance of Cartman being on the backfoot, this episode has Cartman pretend to be a robot in order to trick Butters. As planned, he learns of Butters’ embarrassing secrets, but also discovers Butters has a tape of Cartman dancing to Britney Spears. Cartman is forced to stay as AWESOM-O while he tries to find the tape, something which only gets harder when the military captures AWESOM-O for research. Cartman is so often on the offensive (in more ways than one), and this dynamic flip works fantastically.
2. All About Mormons (Season 7, Episode 12)
Following immediately after Casa Bonita is another all time great episode in All About Mormons. The episode focuses on a new kid, Gary, introducing the Mormon faith to Stan. Stan’s dad Randy is initially annoyed by this, but eventually converts to Mormonism himself. The episode also sporadically breaks off into flashbacks which detail the origins of Mormonism in entertaining ways. Working on this episode also led Parker & Stone to write the Tony winning musical The Book Of Mormon almost a decade later.
1. Make Love, Not Warcraft (Season 10, Episode 8)
Along with Scott Tenorman Must Die, many fans would point to Make Love, Not Warcraft as one of the essential South Park episodes. It revolves around World Of Warcraft, with the boys initially just playing together for fun, until a high level player ruins the game by killing everyone. In response, the boys sit at their computers for days on end, barely sleeping, and become fat, greasy and unkept. With a little help from World Of Warcraft creators Blizzard, the boys finally become ready to take on their foe.