If you were a child living in the 1980s (I was a kid of the 90s, but let's pretend for a second) you probably watched shows like "Transformers", "My Little Pony", "G.I. Joe", "Jem and the Holograms", "He-Man", "She-Ra", and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" just to name a few. Shows like this were everywhere during the 1980s and very much reflected the unique culture of the time from the hair styles, clothes, and slang used by the characters. However, despite being "products of their time" these shows and characters have endured to this day in some incarnation and I've always wanted to know why.
It would be easy to just say that nostalgia kept these glorified toy commercials alive and there is some truth to that. The children who grew up with these shows and have fond memories of them have carried that love into adulthood and passed it on to their children. Yet that does not explain how other aspects of the time period haven't endured like big hair, synthesizers, and neon colored clothes. There has to be some reason why they survived and the rest of the 80s didn't.
These shows were never particularly deep, if we're being honest, when it came to character and story. These shows primarily existed as advertisements for certain lines of toys being sold at the time, when you look at the original shows they, while still entertaining, could be quite shallow. This makes it only more surprising that these shows have endured to this day.
So, what is the secret behind these 80s kids shows not only surviving but thriving in this day and age? The answer can be given with a single word; evolution. Many of these shows have been remade and rebooted into several different incarnations over the last 30 years. Most of these new series re-imagines certain elements of the characters and the plot and has the freedom to play around with ideas. For example, in "Transformers: Animated" Optimus Prime is not the leader of the Autobots and many other characters have different personalities compared to the original G1 cartoon.
These newer shows have also improved in the realm of character development and plot in order to meet the higher demands of quality that's expected of children's shows these days. These franchises know you can't just coast on nostalgia alone, you have to improve and give people, both young and old, a reason to keep watching these characters and their story. For example, the newer Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons have put more focus on the Turtles' family dynamic with their surrogate father Splinter and the complex history behind his rivalry with the Shredder.
These shows understand that you can't just rely on aging fans to maintain a franchise, you have to create new fans out of the next generation, that's how you become enduring. The best way to endure is to move with the times, not against them. Despite the fact that they were originally nothing more than toy commercials, these franchises have evolved beyond that and have become minor generational touchstones. I'd say that's pretty impressive for shows that used slang like "cowabunga" and saw cassette tapes as advanced technology.