Like most unicorns, YouTube isn't perfect. Its comment sections are famously noxious, its algorithms proliferate conspiracy theorists, its filters fail to protect kids' feeds, and its ad-revenue-sharing model props up problematic vloggers. But it also has hydraulic press videos. And lo-fi hip-hop beats to study/relax to. And a dude lip-syncing TGIF theme songs while sitting on the toilet.
For better or for worse, YouTube is the ultimate time-waster, the place you go when you literally have to watch the Howard Dean scream right now and the place you remain an hour later after the rabbit hole you descended eventually spat you out on an '80s video dating montage. Sometimes, if enough people deem a particular video undeniably watchable all at once, it becomes a phenomenon with the cultural cachet to demand that you take notice and catalog it as a historical event. That's what caught us: When does a YouTube video turn from merely a YouTube video into a great YouTube video? And which great YouTube videos over the years are the greatest?
In compiling this all-important ranking, we traveled back to the dawn of YouTube (2005!) and worked our way forward, amassing a daunting trove of links and whittling them down to the absolute best, funniest, most subversively "online" 100 videos. We largely avoided music videos, web series, tutorials, and sketch comedy, wells so deep they deserve separate rankings of their own. And with apologies to the TGIF theme song guy, we also stuck to bona fide YouTube hits.
As you scroll through the cavalcade of videos on this list, you'll encounter viral videos you definitely remember, viral videos you definitely forgot, selections that have aged like fine wines, and a few relics from less enlightened times that, on their own terms, still have merit. Not every viral video is great, and not every great video goes super-viral. We've almost certainly left off your personal favorite. At the end of the day, what makes a YouTube video great? Like most treasures online, you know it when you see it.