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Cartoons, more often than not, get a bad rap as just being for children. Back in the 90’s that was largely—but not exclusively—true.
Since then, the number of cartoons aimed at adults has increased at an explosive rate, and I could not be happier about that. I love most animated shows anyway. I mean, my tastes have gotten a little more discerning in recent years, but not by much.
So, as a connoisseur of all things animated, I just wanted to offer up some cartoons that are specifically aimed at adults. The following list is but the tip of a much larger iceberg, but hopefully this will give anyone uninitiated an idea of what the world of adult animation has to offer.
Corner Gas Animated
The original Corner Gas is a Canadian sitcom that aired on CTV from 2004 to 2009. It was basically the most quintessentially Canadian television show ever made, and it was awesome. It was about a small gas station in the fictional town of Dog River, Saskatchewan and the eccentric townsfolk who frequented the establishment.
Well, back in 2018 CTV Comedy Network continued the show in the form of Corner Gas Animated. Which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s Corner Gas, but animated.
This is great for a couple of reasons. The first is that the cast has aged quite a bit since then, so having them animated allows for their ages to remain the same. The second is that they got most of the cast to reprise their roles, so it feels like nothing really changed, except that they can do more extreme cutaway gags with less effort.
Archer is ostensibly an animated show about the worst spy agency in the world. It’s run by a narcissistic alcoholic, their best agent is a man-child who never learned what consequences are, and the office staff doesn’t seem capable of doing even the most basic tasks.
Needless to say, it’s one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen.
This show has perfected the running gag. There are jokes that were in the first episode that they continue to use throughout the series. These jokes just seem to get funnier every time, and there is nothing sadder than when they retire one of them.
Of course, there is also nothing funnier than when they bring them back from time to time just to make you chuckle.
It’s also a show that decided to go completely off the rails starting with season 5 (aka Archer Vice). In this season they flipped the script in a number of intriguing ways. Then they decided, with season seven, to completely abandon the spy thriller aesthetic, put the show in Los Angeles, and turn their organization into a detective agency. Season eight saw the cast as old school noir characters. Nine had them as Indiana Jones-style adventurers, and ten had them in space.
So, what I’m trying to say is that they are willing to take risks.
Star Trek: The Lower Decks
For me, Star Trek: The Lower Decks is something I didn’t know I wanted, but that I desperately needed. In fact we said as much in our review of it, which you can find here.
Usually, a Star Trek show follows the bridge crew. You know, the captain, first mate, pilots, chief science and engineering officers… those guys.
The Lower Decks instead opts to follow the nobodies who work in the bowels of the ship, and the misadventures that they have while the bridge crew is trying to save the universe.
There are a few of reasons The Lower Decks is worth your time. The first being that the show has a surprising amount of heart for a joke-version of an existing franchise. The second is that the characters are actually interesting and manage to grow over the course of the series. The third would be that while it has all the trappings of a Star Trek show, it manages to stand apart from its source material and do it’s own thing.
Final Space really came out of left field for me. I didn’t even hear about it until the second season was about to come out. Then, when I finally sat down and watched it, I was… underwhelmed.
The first couple of episodes were only so-so. The story was a bit “Meh” and the sophomoric humor, while funny, wasn’t really impressive in any way.
Well, it turns out if you keep watching, Final Space will surprise you. By the end of the first season it became something worth watching. The story becomes both massive in scale and importance. It manages to find its stride with humor, and its characters go from being two-dimensional cutouts to people you actually care about.
All that being said, the humor is still pretty sophomoric, but, sometimes, it makes you think.
The Venture Brothers
The Venture Brothers ran on tv for almost fifteen years, even though there were only seven seasons. It was a master class in what adult animation could be. It took a simple premise (which was, admittedly, a little lackluster in its first season) and grew it into something else entirely.
It starts off as a satire of the Hanna Barbera cartoons of the mid-to-late sixties, such as Jonny Quest, and slowly builds upon itself. By the time you get to the third and fourth seasons, The Venture Brothers has managed to—without punching you in the face with exposition—created an entire world with a rich and storied mythology. You start to see how the events of the past ripple into the present, and how that influences each character’s motivations.
Of course, on top of all of the meticulously crafted worldbuilding is a ton of irreverent and sometimes off-the-wall comedy, which makes this bizarre show worth every second.
I will throw in a disclaimer here. Some of the early jokes haven’t aged well over the last seventeen years. So, be aware of that.
Samurai Jack – Season 5
Samurai Jack aired on Cartoon Network from 2001-2004, and was about a samurai warrior on a quest to slay a shapeshifting demon.
During its original run, it did some things that a lot of cartoons would have never dared. For example, there are several episodes with little-to-no dialogue. What’s more is that those are some of the show’s best episodes.
Samurai Jack also won several awards, including 8 Emmy’s.
Needless to say, it has long been one of my favorite shows. However, it always had one glaring flaw; It was incomplete. It ended after four seasons, and the final episode resolved exactly nothing.
It was something I was bitter about for roughly twelve years.
Then, in 2017, something glorious happened. Somehow, Samurai Jack was renewed for a fifth and final season. What’s better is that the final season wasn’t for children. The overall tone of the show was much more serious, they exchanged robotic enemies for ones with blood and guts…
It had become a show for adults.
Honestly, I can only recommend this show if you’d be willing to watch the first four seasons, but if you do (or if you were already a fan and didn’t know that they’d created a fifth season) then I strongly recommend that you do yourself a favor and watch this miraculous fifth season.
Rick and Morty
If you haven’t heard about Rick and Morty, that’s very impressive. It’s consistently praised as one of the best animated series on television, and honestly has some of the most mind-bending episodes of any show I’ve ever seen.
The show is about the smartest man in the multi-verse and the insane—and often disturbing—adventures he goes on with his grandson.
The show is mostly overt toilet humor with a sprinkle of violence and just a dash existential dread. That might not sound like the greatest set of things for a show to offer, but Rick and Morty does a couple of things so well that it’s hard not to love it.
The first is how mind-blowing the show can be. The way they conceptualize the universe and how things could operate within it is often disorienting, but in the best way. There are episodes where multiple timelines are shown on the screen at the same time, with different versions of the main characters trying to kill one another from across the timestream, and other episodes where there are universes contained within universes, which are all contained in a car battery.
The second reason to love Rick and Morty is the heavy hitting morals… or lack thereof. Sometimes you feel like you walked away learning a deep and valuable lesson from the episode you just watched. Other times you walk away with the knowledge that the universe is merely chaos and you are but a speck of dust within the cosmos.
If none of that is your thing, it still has an amazing amount of toilet humor, which is just the best.
Oh, and if it turns out that you like Rick and Morty, or you already know that you do, you should check out Solar Opposites on Hulu.
Invincible—based on a series of comics by the same name—is currently still airing its first season. Usually, I would reserve my judgement until after I’ve seen the whole thing, but currently I’m only a few episodes in and I don’t think I could recommend this show enough.
It takes place in a world a lot like the DC-comics universe, and follows a kid who is basically the son of the in-world Superman. The story begins just as this kid’s powers are starting to develop, so it’s a bit of an origin story. However, what sets this apart from something you might find on Cartoon Network is how seriously the show takes itself.
It does not pull any punches. It shows what really happens when a supervillain shoots a death ray into a crowd, or when a superhuman who can break the sound barrier punches someone in the face. This can get a little gruesome, but it sure does make for some powerful scenes.
Because it plays everything straight, it shows the psychological side of what it would be like to become a hero. The main character does not start off saving everyone, and unlike children’s cartoons—or even the Marvel movies—the stakes are, more often than not, deadly for everyone.
There is also an incredible/terrible scene at the end of the first episode that is so compelling that you don’t really have any choice but to continue watching the show to see where it’s going.
It’s also worth mentioning that when the first part of the credits starts rolling, the episode is not over.
So make sure you keep watching.