So, thanks to a suggestion by Bryce from JacobsonCinema, I’m writing a new post listing some of my favorite (non-anime) cartoon series. These include the shows that shaped me when I was growing up and the new content that I follow today.
10. Star Wars Rebels
Thanks to The Force Awakens, there’s a plethora of new Star Wars tales coming out of the woodworks, and Rebels is one of the best. This show tells the story of 6 unlikely heroes in the earliest days of the Rebellion. What I like most aren’t their high-pitched firefights with stormtroopers or Hera’s impressive feats of flying, but how they interact in their quieter moments. It’s Kanan training Ezra to be a Jedi or the likes of Zeb and Sabine working with the locals they’re trying to help subvert the Empire’s rule. There’s a sense of family that stands out against the detailed Star Wars settings and mythos we’ve all come to know and love.
9. Invader Zim
Absurd comedy is good, and so is dark comedy. Invader Zim has both and I love it for that combination. I can enjoy Zim’s insane logic for his Conquest Plan of the Week, GIR’s actual insanity, and snarky one-liners from Dib and Gaz when there’s enough of them. This is a show where Valentine’s Day is celebrated with slabs of meat, and where school elections include brainwashing and deadly approval meters. And honestly, how cool was it that Kevin McDonald from The Kids in the Hall got to voice one of the characters?
8. Young Justice
Building off the love that I had for the Justice League cartoon (as described in the next section), I got into Young Justice because it was a well-done ensemble series of colorful and sympathetic heroes against an elaborate conspiracy with multiple story arcs. The first episode I ever watched was “Secrets,” a simple side story with Zatanna and Artemis, but it was a great introduction to the kind of depth and action that the show had to offer.
7. Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited
I’m including 2 shows here only because they’re done by the same creators, with the same continuity. And because they’re just that good. I didn’t read comic books as a kid. What I know about DC Comics and their superheroes mostly comes from this version of the Justice League. These shows balanced every possible superhero, big and small, and made great use of their strengths and weaknesses (see episodes like “The Great Brain Robbery” and “Divided We Fall” for examples). In a strange way, I feel like they did for a cartoon series what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is achieving on the big screen: an in-depth, multi-arc franchise with numerous stories and a memorable cast.
6. Adventure Time
It’s weird to think how long Adventure Time has been on the air now. It’s even been 3 years since I wrote an entire blog post about this show’s many zany qualities. And at the time of this writing, those qualities still ring true (especially if you watch the “Stakes” miniseries focused on Marceline and Bubblegum).
Archer never fails to make me laugh. I might cheer at some of its legitimately fun spy and secret agent action, but mostly I’m watching this James Bond/Cold War parody for whatever new pop culture references that the main cast can produce. Or whatever mad science nonsense Krieger has on the side. Or anything that Pam and Cheryl do, honestly. I also can’t forget the fact this series has some great allusions to classic stories, making good use of cameos like Burt Reynolds and Christian Slater whenever it gets the chance.
4. BoJack Horseman
If a show like Archer can usually make me laugh, then Bojack Horseman can never fail to make me chuckle right before yanking hard at my heartstrings. But who doesn’t love the story of a washed-up celebrity from the Nineties and his endless spiral into self-loathing and poor decisions? The show, however, isn’t afraid to actually tackle its own continuity and Bojack’s psychological trauma. I know I’m not alone in admiring how well the show has depicted living with depression, and in wanting to see where else this horse’s journey will go in the future.
3. Rick and Morty
I’ve said it before, but Rick and Morty is what I think I always expected out of a show like Doctor Who. It’s a series about a mad scientist antihero and his young companion, as their bond gets tested through a madcap series of adventures across time and space. Yet the scientist is an alcoholic and misanthrope whose genius is unparalleled. And his companion is traumatized. And so’s his family. I think the second season finale really summed up this issue beautifully. If you want to see a truly alien and colorful universe explored by some fallible but sympathetic characters, this is a show to check out.
2. Steven Universe
Created by Rebecca Sugar, who was attached to Adventure Time as a storyboard artist and writer, Steven Universe is one of those shows that’s a real diamond in the rough. This cartoon is unabashedly optimistic and heartwarming, even when it deals with darker matters like the war between the Crystal Gems and their Homeworld, or serious traumas like Pearl’s bittersweet relationship with Rose Quartz. And because it’s got Rebecca Sugar at the helm, there are tons of good original songs scattered throughout the show. The more I watch Steven’s adventures, the more hopeful and inspired I feel about the world.
1. Batman: The Animated Series
Between the solid noir-style animation and the epic soundtrack, it’s not hard to see why this incarnation of Batman stands out for me and a lot of other kids from my generation. This Caped Crusader fit the bill for those of us who weren’t 100% up-to-date on all the comics and their storylines, with tons of individual stories and amazing performances by the likes of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. But this Batman also has soul, as best described by this Tumblr post.
So what did you enjoy watching as a kid? Or what modern-day show are you enjoying now? Please let me know in the comments section.