15 Popular Cat Memes and Their Origins

By John Platt Jr. February 19, 2019

What are Memes?

Today, we find memes just about everywhere we look. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even office chainmail. Memes as we know them are actually “internet memes”.  A meme is a cultural phenomenon that allows humans to describe cultural ideals, symbols, or practices to one another. On the internet, this translates to funny pictures with text designed to garner a reaction from the viewer. Social media is a communication tool that defines the world we live in it, consequently, the memes shared on the internet have the potential to be seen by people around the planet.

Memes become popular because they behave the way viruses do in the human body. They adapt to the viewers(hosts), often changing to fit the audience that is sharing and viewing them. In addition, re-posting and sharing allows us to keep memes in constant circulation with direct feedback in the form of engagement numbers. If people stop sharing, liking, or commenting on a certain type of meme, people stop posting them in favor of a more popular meme. Luckily for us cat enthusiasts, cats are constantly doing weird stuff for us to photograph, the perfect tools for the best memes on the internet. Let’s take a look at 15 popular cat memes you’ve likely seen around the internet, and click on the links to view their pictures.

1. Nyan Cat

Nyan Cat is arguably one of the most popular cats on the internet. The 8-bit sensation captivated the internet in 2011. The original image was created by Chris Torres under the username prguitarman on April 2nd, 2011. Three days later YouTube user saraj00n posted a video titled “NyanCat” with the looping image of the poptart-cat set to a popular Japanese vocaloid song “Nyanyanyanyanyanyanya,” reaching one million views in just two weeks. This meme was widely adaptable to any circumstance, ranging from trolling someone to just trying to make them say “aw.” Different iterations of Nyan Cat would follow, as people adapted different aspects of the image such as changing the rainbow into the Brazilian flag or turning the cat into Gary from Spongebob.

2. Kitler

Unlike Nyan Cat, Kitler is a category of meme that features white cats with black markings akin to Hitler’s signature mustache and haircut. The first instance of the phenomenon on the Internet was in 2006 when a blog was set up for users to submit and rate cats that looked like Hitler. The blog was subsequently linked in other online publications and social media websites, leading to an explosion in popularity of the meme.

3. Bongo Cat

Bongo Cat is another animated cat meme, although much more recent. On May 6th, 2018, Twitter user @StrayRogue posted an animation of a cat patting its paws on a table. The next day, Twitter user @DitzyFlama posted the same animation edited to have a pair of bongos under the cat’s hands and a song from the Super Mario World soundtrack playing in the background. The meme quickly spread with adaptations forming by giving the cat an electric guitar for instance.

4. Grumpy Cat

On September 23rd, Bryan Bundesen posted two pictures of his sister’s new cat, Tardar Sauce on the subreddit /r/pics. The images were immediately met with popularity as people began photoshopping Tardar Sauce’s expression. On Reddit alone 300 posts would pop up related to the term “grumpy cat” within two days of the original post. Other internet news sites such as Buzzfeed and Paw Nation published stories about the kitten, creating even more fanfare. These memes were made by people who had a serious bone to pick with someone or something, as the expression on Grumpy Cat’s face is not one that’s messing around. You can find more grumpy cat memes on Grumpycats.com and you can follow the adorable Tardar Sauce on Twitter, @RealGrumpyCat.

5. Keyboard Cat

In June of 2007, Charlie Schmidt uploaded to YouTube footage he had filmed in 1984 of his cat in a shirt being manipulated to make it look like the cat was playing the piano. For 2 years the video sat in obscurity until Brad O’Farrell, a YouTuber/Blogger created the video “play him off, Keyboard Cat” in which a video of a man falling down an escalator is played with the original Keyboard Cat footage for comedic effect. Most iterations of this meme were used as background noise in trolling videos or in fail videos. The trend of creating your own keyboard cat parody or meme peaked in May of 2009 when Ashton Kutcher, who had over 1 million Twitter followers at the time, tweeted a link to a Keyboard Cat mashup video.

6. Chemistry Cat

Chemistry Cat is a meme you’ve probably seen being shared on Facebook by your grandparents, or your aunts or uncles. In April 2011, a Reddit thread about science jokes was responded to with an image of a cat with a chemistry joke on it. It wasn’t until July that popular meme generation websites like Meme Generator allowed users to create their own chemistry cat memes with an easy to use template. These memes feature classic chemistry jokes on topics that everyone learns in grade school like the periodic table.

7. Business Cat

On January 1st, a forum user by the name of Apple Jax posted an image of a cat, Emilio, wearing a tie his owner had bought for him. The image was reposted on Reddit three days later with the title business cat, which was then posted on MemeGenerator. Instantly the Business Cat meme format took shape as the template was a way for people to make cat puns about business. In addition to cat puns, the meme format was used to make fun of some of the outrageous things our furry feline friends do, invoking the image of a professional business cat leaving a dead mouse on your desk, for instance.

8. Longcat

Sometime between 2004-2005, the original picture of Longcat appeared on a Japanese social media service akin to 4chan in the West. Her name, Shiroi, means “white” in Japan, although she was referred to as Nobiiru which means “stretch.” Pictures of Longcat photoshopped to look incredibly large, such as making her the flag hoisted on Iwo Jima, quickly began popping up around the internet, and her fame peaked in May of 2007 when she appeared on the Tim and Eric show on Adult Swim.

9. Hipster Kitty

Originally an acrylic painting, the original image of this meme was uploaded to Flickr.com, an image hosting webservice in early 20009 by an artist named Craig Wheat. The image was later posted and shared in places such as Tumblr and Reddit where people began adding text to the image. By November of 2009, MemeGenerator had a macro template available for usage, spawning over 900 variants on the site alone. The meme is used to poke fun at those who identify as being “hipster,” or thrifty, alternative, and nonconforming. In June of 2010, Craig Wheat expressed in a Tumblr post his happiness that his artwork had been seen by so many people, even in the form of a meme.

10. I Should Buy A Boat Cat

In 2005, the music video for the song “Triumph of the Heart” by Bjork featured an anthropomorphic cat drinking coffee and reading the newspaper in a blue suit. Reddit user DrTango used a screen capture from the video, adding the text “I should buy a boat.” to the image, to accrue over 12,350 upvotes and 165 comments in 2012. Other communities rapidly began adapting the format to fit their own cultural quirks. The format allows people to describe an epiphany or a sudden realization that they need something. I even found one that I liked, specifically targeted at writers.

11. Crying Cat

Crying Cat first showed up on Meme Generator in June of 2014 as a variation of another meme, the Serious Cat. The anonymous user altered the serious cat’s face to have glassy, crying eyes as to appear sad. The meme quickly picked up traction as people began using it to symbolize frustration while also trying to keep it together in addition to trying to look cute while sad. However, in 2017 a Crying Cat meme was shared on Facebook by a popular meme page bringing the meme into the spotlight again. Many different cats have had their faces altered to appear like Crying Cat. Try it yourself at Meme Generator!

12. Persian Cat Room Guardian

The Persian Cat Room Guardian (crazy name right?) was originally a DeviantArtist’s creation, an addition to her series on animals that watch over rooms to ward off evil spirits. This Room Guardian is a Persian Cat sitting on its butt like a human on a box with its arms outstretched. The popularity of the meme exploded on Instagram and the subreddit /r/photoshopbattles where users battle to make the most outrageous photoshopped image with a base stock image, in this case our creepy Persian Cat. The images are typically made to express frustration in incredibly annoying situations.

13. OMG Cat

OMG Cat has to be one of the cutest cat memes out there, even if it did come from a scary circumstance! On March 17th, 2010, a user posted to a 4chan-like board in Japan asking for assistance with their cat’s dislocated jaw, as the pet hospitals had all closed. The user’s images and videos of the cat, Chocolate, quickly became popular as the open-mouthed cat appeared to be surprised. Although Chocolate was seen by a vet and taken care of properly, the meme lived on. On April 1st, 2010, the meme peaked in popularity when Justin Bieber parodied the cat in a prank on the comedy website Funny or Die.

14. Cat Breading

How did it take us until the fourteenth entry in this list to get to a meme about cats and food!? Cat Breading, or Breading Cats its up to you, is a meme fad that involves placing slices of bread (hollowed out) around your cat’s head like a headgear, or a mane. The original cat bread photo was posted on August 2nd, 2011, on both Reddit and Tumblr receiving more than 50,000+ engagements in the first 6 months alone. The meme was described in a Gawker article as a hot new Internet meme on January 31st, 2012 and was also picked up by other publications following the Gawker article. This meme, unlike some of the other ones we’ve looked at, is more so designed to make you laugh about the facial expressions these ridiculous looking floof balls are wearing in reaction to the bread. The pun on cat breeding/cat breading is a nice bonus too.

15. Anxiety Cat

Last but not least is Anxiety Cat, another meme format that spun off of an originally different meme format. The frightened black cat featured in the meme was originally part of a popular demotivational poster meme in 2007 that stated, “what has been seen cannot be unseen.” This original meme was made to look like the cat had seen some truly traumatizing things. However, users from across the internet quickly cropped the cat and began making memes to express their anxieties over things like car maintenance, ordering food, and having a crush.

If you want to know more about memes in general, a specific type of meme, or more internet content, you should check out knowyourmeme.com, a website devoted researching and archiving memes, and their histories. If you want to make your own memes, you can use these generation sites: icanhas.cheezburger.com and Meme Generator. If you want to see more funny, adorable cat memes, check out lolcats.com

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