When the 1980s gave way to the '90s, Transformers and G.I. Joe were on their way out. Their replacements: a quartet of pizza-loving, weapon-wielding turtles. While they made their biggest impact with toys, cartoons and movies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trading cards were also very popular.
They got their start early with a pair of sets from Topps based on the hit animated series. From there, Topps proceeded to make cards for all three of the original feature films that came out between 1990 and 1992.
More than a decade passed before the next major release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trading cards came out. Fleer picked up the license in 2003 for a new version of the cartoon. They put out a pair of sets before going bankrupt.
Below you can get an overview of the various major Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trading cards that have been released to American audiences over the years. In addition to the ones highlights, there have been regional releases like O-Pee-Chee in Canada.
If you're interested in specific sets, click on the links to shop for cards on eBay.
This is the first in a string of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trading card sets Topps would release over a several-year span. Focusing on the cartoon, the set has 88 cards and 11 stickers.
Cards have a shell look to them with lime borders and lines intended to give a look of texture. Stickers have yellow backgrounds. They are not die-cut like a lot of other Topps sticker inserts from the 1980s.
Basic boxes are huge, coming with 48 packs. Each pack has five cards and one sticker. Jumbo boxes have 24 packs of 11 cards and one sticker.
The set also has a Collector's Edition factory set. Done on glossy stock, similar to Topps Tiffany baseball sets, it also comes with 22 exclusive cards with cover art from the comic.
A direct continuation of the first set, this release adds another 88 cards and 11 stickers. Numbering carries on from where the earlier series left off. However, they are easy to spot because of the borders. Rather than green, base cards have black borders. Stickers have a blue border.
Boxes maintain the configuration of 48 packs with five cards and a sticker.
When it comes to rapid-fire releases for a single property, there was nothing like the Ninja Turtles since the sets for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. While this set is separate from the earlier cartoon releases, it's all crossover appeal.
Recapping the first live-action feature, this is the largest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trading card set from Topps. The base set has 132 cards. They're paired with 11 stickers.
Boxes have 36 packs of nine cards and one sticker. There's also a factory set that was available through a mail-in offer. The factory set has just the 132-card main set, no stickers. Collectors can also find a pair of hanger sets. Each has 66 cards. When both are combined they make a full base set.
By the time TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze rolled around, the turtles had peaked. They were still popular, but kids were starting to move on to other things. While not rare, this set is still not as widely available as cards from the first film. A complete set has 99 cards and 11 stickers.
Boxes come with 36 packs, each holding eight cards and a sticker.
If interest was starting to wane a year earlier, it was largely gone when 1992 Topps Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III came out. This is easily the toughest of the Topps Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trading card sets to find. The checklist includes 88 cards and 11 stickers.
The time travel theme makes for some interesting images. Besides movie stills, the set has cards featuring original art as well.
Full boxes have 36 packs of eight cards and one sticker.
Similar to Transformers. He-Man and G.I. Joe, the Ninja Turtles have gone through several reboots over the years. One of them came in the form of a 2003 cartoon on FOX. Fleer jumped in on the action, creating a set that stands up as a modern release. If only it were the turtles long-time fans know and love.
Besides a 125-card base set, there are several inserts. The first 84 cards have Gold Foil parallels that were inserted one per pack. Other inserts include Previews (20 cards, 1:4), Sewer Covers (11 cards, 1:36) and Mutant Ooze (eight cards, 1:72 packs).
While this edition of the cartoon is largely forgotten, this release brought the Ninja Turtles into the modern hobby. While there are no autographs, the inserts bring both a chase element and interesting designs.
2003 Fleer Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Shredder Strikes
The second Fleer set came shortly after the first. It has another large base set, this time clocking in at 136 cards. Besides basic episode and character cards, there are four nine-card puzzles. Inserts include 100 Gold parallels (1 per pack), die-cut Raising Shell (ten cards, 1:9), Stand-Ups (15 cards, 1:9) and Ninja Masks (four cards, 1:36).
This extremely limited edition release combines cards and comics. Available exclusively online, each package includes an original sketch card, the first official sketches in the franchise's history. Click here for more details on the set and a full artist list.