The 16 best memes of 2016

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As a remarkably unpredictable and, in some cases, tragic 2016 winds down, Yahoo News is taking a look back at the year that was.

Between a wild and often times ugly election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the death of the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla Harambe and Michael Jordan reaffirming his status as an Internet legend, 2016 was quite the year in memes.

Here are the ones Yahoo News thought dominated the discussion in 2016:


Bernie vs. Hillary

Before the nation decided between Clinton and Trump, the eventual Democratic nominee was battling Sen. Bernie Sanders in their party’s primary election. Sanders, who had widespread appeal with young voters, became a meme champion, even inspiring the popular Facebook group “Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash.”

As an attempt to push Sanders over Clinton, the Internet decided to compare their stances on many subjects.

Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer

Sanders, Clinton and Trump weren’t the only political figures to get caught in the Internet’s cross hairs this year. Cruz, whose presidential campaign fell short of its ultimate goal, became the subject of a decades old murder mystery.


In a year that saw so many tragic deaths, the most discussed — at least in the meme community — came in May when the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla was shot after a 3-year-old boy climbed into his enclosure. The incident received national attention and became one of the signature moments of 2016.

SpongeBob SquarePants

There were few characters, fictional or not, that were more influential in terms of memes than SpongeBob. Between the “Spongegar,” a primitive-looking version of the popular children’s character, and confused Mr. Krabs memes, the cartoon took center stage in many ways.

Running Man Challenge

Seemingly eons (in Internet time) before the Mannequin Challenge (more on this later), there was the Running Man Challenge. Popular in locker rooms around the country, the meme hit its peak popularity in June when first lady Michelle Obama did it alongside creators Kevin and Jeremiah, thanks to the Ellen Show.

Pokémon Go

One of the most popular video games of all-time had a massive resurgence in 2016, the 20th anniversary of its release, when Pokémon Go debuted. The wildly popular mobile app became the talk of the world over the summer and inspired its own set of memes.

Rio 2016

Before swimmer Ryan Lochte became the story of the Summer Olympics, we had instant meme moments when Tongan flag-bearer Pita Taufatofua stole hearts with his oiled-up body, and Michael Phelps was caught looking quite angry before a race.

Arthur’s fist

SpongeBob wasn’t the only cartoon character to get in on the meme party in 2016. While Arthur memes in general saw a spike in use over the summer, his fist was the biggest of the bunch.

Pepe the Frog

As the year went on and the election continued to dominate the attention of many Americans, Pepe the Frog became one of the memes at the center of it all. The once-innocent cartoon frog became a symbol of the alt-right and of racist and anti-Semitic agitation.

“Boys Club” cover featuring Pepe the Frog, by Matt Furie.

Ken Bone

For one night in October, Americans forgot about the election battle between Clinton and Trump, and focused on a mustachioed, overweight man in a red sweater. As is the case with most Internet celebrities, his fame was short-lived after his Reddit history became public.


The president-elect himself was not immune to meme culture. While he was the subject of memes throughout his campaign, the number exploded after his surprising win.


Following Trump’s win, the Internet — perhaps as a coping mechanism — looked back at the First Bromance, embracing “Uncle Joe” and his wacky pranks, sayings and antics.

Crying Jordan

Thanks to his Hall of Fame induction speech, the legendary basketball player had long been a subject of memes, but in November he took it to the next level. During the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony, the Hornets owner’s famous waterworks started again, reaffirming his status in Internet history.

Mannequin Challenge

The Mannequin Challenge was one of the most fun memes of 2016, putting people in clever, hilarious or downright awkward positions and forcing them to remain frozen for a short video. Michelle Obama and the Cleveland Cavaliers did one of the best, while Jerry Jones and the Cowboys executives did one of the worst.

Bottle Flipping

Around for a short time, bottle flips really took off in 2016 and drew the ire of the New York sports world when LeBron James and his teammates did it during a blowout win against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in December.

Me vs. Inner Me

Finally, one of the biggest memes of the year came late in 2016. While Kermit sipping his tea is the Muppet’s most popular meme, the newest — “Star Wars” inspired — has really taken off as of late, and even served as an inspiration for this story.




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