Y’know what’s freakin awesome? Animation.
Y’know what’s extra freakin awesome? The American television industry has (finally) caught up to this fact in a BIG way, and we are in the midst of an animation renaissance my dudes! And I’m not talking about shows like Bob’s Burgers or Archer or anything else ostensibly made for adults. No. I’m talking about fan-freakin-tastic animated series made “for kids” that will blow your grown-ass mind.
Now, maybe some of the adults reading this are thinking, why would I be interested in content made for children?
And to that I say: Wowwwww, good for you, you’re a super grown-up person with super grown-up taste and I respect you so much for not being childish and silly.
Bro, c’mon. You’re missing so much up there on that high horse. Come down here into fun-land and try something different:
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (available on Netflix)
They’re here, they’re queer, they’re wearing pastels and fighting fascist dictators! Yes, it’s the cast of the She-Ra reboot we never knew we needed.
Leaving those campy 80s He-Man characters firmly in its superior wake, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power follows Adora, aka She-Ra, as she leads the Princess Alliance in rebellion against the Evil Horde. We watch Adora, her friends, and her enemies grow from bumbling kids into hardened fighters against the backdrop of a war that’s tearing an entire magical planet apart.
If you’re a fan of beautiful, complex animation, the simplistic art style of SPOP may be a turn off at first – but hang in there! Cutesy animation aside, this is a series that really grows with its characters.
This show is all heart from top to bottom, with an overarching emphasis on the power of friendship and love to change the world. But it’s not all sugar and spice and nice things – SPOP is heavily imbued with whimsy and magic, but it also offers a big middle finger to fascist regimes and repressive religious dogma.
Recommended especially for women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community! Powerful ladies and canonical queer love galore!
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts (Netflix)
Imagine if Hayao Miyazaki was a child of 90s hip-hop and you might end up picturing something that looks like Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. This show blends surreal post-apocalyptic moodiness with explosions of colorful buffoonery, and it has a kickass soundtrack to boot.
Kipo’s titular character is separated from her family and must cross a bizarre, hyper-pigmented landscape filled with feral kids and dangerous mutants in order to make it home again. And when I say dangerous mutants, I do mean giant kitty cats wielding axes and mustachioed frogs wearing suits.
The art in this show is a gorgeous blend of traditional and pop-art sensibilities. Dreamlike land and cityscapes are populated with characters that might have been kicked out of a Lisa Frank notebook for being too badass. It’s vibrant, futuristic, edgy, and downright cool.
Oh, and if you’re tired of seeing and hearing an endless parade of white characters played by white actors – Kipo’s got you! Multiple characters of color all voiced by actors of color?! Egads, it’s a new world indeed!
Infinity Train (HBO)
You wanna get real trippy? Hop aboard the Infinity Train!
This is one of those shows that might be made for kids but also might give adults anxiety nightmares. Luckily each episode is only eleven minutes long, so the mind-bendiness comes in bite-sized pieces.
The hero of Infinity Train’s first season is Tulip, a preteen girl who runs away from home after her parents’ divorce interferes with her plans to attend computer programming camp. Somehow, Tulip ends up on an impossibly mysterious train, each car of which contains a different world she must navigate if she ever wants to escape the train and return home.
This show is pretty heavy considering that it features a talking Corgi. Tulip has to face some serious real life shit during her journey through the utter madness that is the infinity train. And it’s not a show that takes its time explaining itself either, so you gotta be willing to take the ride without asking too many questions at first.
That said, Infinity Train is taking the kind of risks both visually and narratively that make animation such a rich playground in the first place. If you’re ready to get a little weird, this show is a must.
The Dragon Prince (Netflix)
I swear to you, Netflix is not sponsoring this. They’re just really killing it in the animation department over there, and The Dragon Prince is no exception.
I’ll admit, this is another one where you’re going to have to clench through it for a while if you’re a sucker for traditional animation. The animation in the first season of The Dragon Prince is – it’s clunky, man. It’s just not pretty. But, the folks in control evidently have a lot of love for their fans, because they listened to feedback and changed up the art a bit after season one.
The animation might be questionable, but the storytelling in the Dragon Prince is outstanding. Equal parts fantasy epic and political drama, it follows an assorted cast of characters as they navigate a world that has been literally split in two with humans on one side and magical creatures (elves & dragons) on the other. And, like the title suggests, this story has a prince at its center. Two princes actually, one human and one – you guessed it – dragon. And they’re both super, super cute.
There’s a good amount of old fashioned fantasy action in this series, along with a dash of young-adult-novel style romance. But, the depth of its characters is what really sets this show apart. The heroes, villains, and everyone in between are complex, conflicted, loveable, and despicable – making the stakes much higher than what you might expect out of a show made for kids.
Bunnicula (Amazon Prime)
This show isn’t exactly “next-level,” or even all that new, it’s just weird and delightful and I can’t talk about animated series without mentioning it.
The protagonist, Bunnicula, is a vampire rabbit who can suck the juice out of fruits & veggies with his fangs, absorbing a wide array of ridiculous powers from the juice as he feeds. That’s it. That’s the show. It is so utterly strange and charming, and has no stakes whatsoever, and might make you feel as though you’re floating in a bowl of pudding if you watch too many episodes in a row.
This series is based on a series of children’s novels, which I have not read, but I can only assume that they’re just as bizarre and endearing.
Watch this show when you want to experience what it might be like to have Vincent Price skipping rope inside your head.
Tales of Arcadia (Netflix)
It’s a classic hero’s journey from the mind of freakin Guillermo del Toro. I don’t personally feel like I need to explain this any further, but for those of you who aren’t already sluts for Papi Guillermo, I’ll continue.
From the man who brought us Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water comes an animated tale about… a dumb kid named Jim who picks up an amulet and accidentally becomes the Trollhunter, a legendary warrior destined to save trollkind from ultimate destruction! Joined by an eclectic cast of characters, including a touchy troll academic voiced by Mark Hamill, Jim leads the fight against legendary forces of evil bent on bringing about an eternal night.
And that’s just part one: Trollhunters. Part two, 3Below, is about aliens. And part three has wizards! (It’s titled, aptly enough, Wizards.) And yes, these parts are all interconnected. This series is freakin epic! Seriously, just skip the next week of work and watch the whole damn thing. It’ll be worth it.
What Are Some of Your Favorite Animated Shows?
Leave some comments below!
Mary Beth is a rebel nerd with a deep love for acrylic paint, animation, and Muay Thai. After nearly a decade of working in the entertainment industry, she’s a kickass production ops coordinator but she’d rather be drinkin’ a sweet tea on the back porch.
Instagram: @emm.bee.ess / @emm.bee.art