© 2019 Elsevier Inc. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation appears as one of the most promising pathways to induce cell death. The interesting Cu(II)/Cu(I) redox pair has been reported to biologically generate ROS and induce cell damage. Simple metal complexes, such as cisplatin, sometimes offer even better properties than others highly accurately synthesized, which imply considerable time and economical efforts. This work relies on the synthesis and characterisation of four existing Cu(II) complexes bearing N-donor ligands, previously used for a totally different intend, but tested now for anticancer purposes. Furthermore, a relationship between their coordinating features, i.e. their redox behaviour, with their biological activity have been inferred to further understand the medicinal role of the Cu(II)/Cu(I) redox pair. Cytotoxicity studies and interactions towards DNA have been assessed, studying both covalent and non-covalent modes of binding via mass spectrometry (MS), UV–Vis and fluorescence, evaluating the cleaving properties of the assayed compounds, as well as their capacity to generate ROS inside the cells. The role of the ligand for one of the complexes has been evaluated by a computational approach. The idea of using “old” complexes for “novel” anticancer purposes can offer promising results in the future, being a simple but interesting approach to study, as we demonstrate here for most of the complexes analysed, showing a non-expected “new” and beneficial role.