Don’t worry though, this arbitrary list isn’t a fixed list made of stone to make cartoons seem daunting, eerily academic, pretentious and lame. It’s a carefully thought out arbitrary list of ten engraved in stone to serve as recommendations for your own personal amusement. See, it’s all for you. So don’t worry, relax, and enjoy! There will be a test. When you least expect it.
Adventure Time (Cartoon Network)
Difficult to explain and a pleasure to watch. This show has got everything. Literally, everything. Action, adventure, quests, mystery, surrealism, angst, comedy, best buds, relationship drama, science, magic, catchy tunes, strong characters (even the throwaways are memorable and quotable), monsters, candy, candy monsters, etc. It can be enjoyed on many levels. Extra points for a villain you don’t know whether to slap or hug…or do what I do. Laugh at the Ice King and feel bad.
It’s unique brand of style and humor has already spawned imitators, but no one comes close to Pen Ward’s creative charm and delightfully subversive imagination. What looks like a cute cartoon world packs some real heavy concepts (it’s post apocalyptic folks). The fun never ends, until it does, but until then, we have much to enjoy!
Sorry to see that some members of the production crew are leaving next season for other projects, but if this series serves as any indication, we’re in store for some more cartoons for another list!
Avatar: The Last Airbender/ Legend of Korra (Nickelodeon)
These shows are listed together, because they share so much, not because they can’t stand on their own. The only action adventure shows on the list, because this genre is severely lacking on t.v. today. Being, the most immersive shows on this list is a hard won title, but entirely earned. Well constructed, layered, and socially complex it belies its all-ages intended audience, like the best all-ages material. The art and animation is cinematic, the world is tangible, even the bending magic rings true, being based on actual forms of martial arts. The characters feel and the audience feels for them (Iroh, oh, Iroh). As a favor to yourself, give these shows a chance, and pretend the movie is a toxic substance, because it is. Epic is an abused word that has just about lost all meaning in recent years, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko developed a show that gives that word meaning again.
Bob’s Burgers (FOX)
The only prime time cartoon on this list is one of the best cartoons to come out of the Simpsons/Seth McFarlane network…I mean FOX. Like King of the Hill that came before, it takes place in the mundane world (which isn’t all that mundane after all) and thankfully, keeps the pop culture reference count down to a manageable number. Loren Bouchard created the show after he developed Home Movies. The series follows the everyday goings-on of the hapless owner of a burger restaurant and his idiosyncratic family. The animation may appear crude, but it compliments the series perfectly. As does the voice cast. The perceptive viewer may notice some of the voice cast from other shows. Funny people, H. Jon Benjamin from Archer and Kristen Schaal from every cartoon ever (not a complaint, her voice was made for animation). The cartoon sitcom format is rarely successful, the worst offenders leave you wondering why anyone would animate a sitcom. Bob’s Burgers combines the best of both.
Chowder (Aired on Cartoon Network/ Currently available on Netflix)
Chowder gets recognition for being one of the cartoons that broke the popular model laid down by the previous cartoon generation. Created by the talented C. H. Greenblat, and lasting a mere three seasons, it was gone way too soon. This show employs a variety of clever animation techniques and even puppetry! Yay puppets!
Where many cartoons feature pint sized adults deviously disguised and passed off as “kids”, Chowder is a refreshing look at youth through the eyes of a young bear/cat/rabbity thing assigned as an apprentice chef to an elderly cantankerous master chef. He is appealing, impulsive, naive, well meaning, and a complete space case. Often, getting distracted mid…..
Where was I?
Oh yeah , it features an ensemble cast of characters and a world seemingly built around food. Even the characters themselves are all named after foods. It was recently announced that there will be more servings of this great show premiering under the title of Chowder GO, so grab an eating utensil or just an appetite, because here’s a show you can really go radda radda radda radda about.
Flapjack (Aired on Cartoon Network)
This is probably the weirdest and most bizarre cartoon, on a list of mostly weird bizarre cartoons. The strange dial is turned up past eleven and the knob has broke off. Created by Thurop Van Orman, who as legend has it, was inspired by his own misadventures. The animation is fun and inventive, as it mixes different animation styles (the ultra creepy yet somehow cute Candy Wife), and sometimes even live action ( Mr. Van Orman himself, as K’nuckles). A surrealistic nautical theme with sea creatures, tough sailors, crusty fishermen, and blackhearted pirates, sometimes with hearts of…gold? The characters and voice acting are unique and full of personality. The situations are insane. My only complaint is that I wish there were more seasons than the three inspired crazy ones that exist now. If you don’t leave an episode without a serious craving for more…or candy…you’ve been watching something else.
Interesting note, other creators of shows on this list are alums of this cartoon.
Gravity Falls (Disney Channel)
A supernatural cartoon mystery comedy that isn’t Scooby Doo. Spooky. Creepy. Eerie. Uncanny. Yet, somehow it exists, as well as ghosts, elves, mermen, clones, time traveling, 8 bit video game heroes, and other secret paranormal freakishness. No rubber masked geezers here, just a conniving con-man of a “Grunkle”, his intrepid tween twin relations, his staff, and a pig. Alex Hirsch has breathed new life into a genre so stale it petrifies. So, grab your decoders, mysterious manuals, and keep an eye out for an entertaining show. The secret is out and it’s good. Onward Aoshima!
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (The Hub)
The dark horse of the list. Those as old as time will remember the original. Miniature ungulates with flank tattoos bore you in song and bright pastel colors, but this is a horse of a different color (sorry). Re-imagined by Lauren Faust, the characters are well developed and designed, the lessons not entirely contrived or saccharine, and it’s simply fun and creative. For a show based on a show created to sell plastic that girls could brush and braid (an entire toy trend btw, e.g. Lady Lovely Locks, Fairy Tail Birds, etc.), it turned out to be pretty darn good. Any show with the amount of fan dedication to produce its own convention and documentary is at least worth checking out. You may even be pleasantly surprised.
Regular Show (Cartoon Network)
Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!! The blunt title, simple premise and seemingly formulaic episode format, can be extremely deceptive to the uninitiated. Two slackers that get into trouble and resolve said trouble. Seems plain enough…almost…regular. Not even close. J.G. Quintel created a show that exemplifies how a story can rise far and beyond a mold, shatter it, while remaining within its borders. Consistently imaginative and hilarious, it always manages to surprise. Every situation is bewilderingly original, even when riffing on tropes. You’ll find yourself wondering, where they come up with this stuff, between plenty of laughs. The characters are enjoyable and relatable, who doesn’t know at least one person similar to these guys? Losers, that’s who. Hm, hm, hm , hm , hm.
Samurai Jack (Aired on Cartoon Network/ Currently available on Netflix)
There have been stories with time-displaced heroes, but this one containing a samurai, cast in a strange future with aliens, robots, arcane magic and a villain that shifts effortlessly from comedic to threatening is top notch. An excellent action adventure show with a keen sense of timing, great action scenes, score, and moments of quiet introspection. Created by Genndy Tartakovsky, this show ought to be watched for the expertly designed aesthetics and attention to detail alone. Though, it’s much more than eye candy. Tragically, it ended before it wrapped up the adventure promised. There were rumors of a movie to cap the series, which may or may not happen, but it’s alright, still got four seasons of awesome.
Venture Bros (Adult Swim)
For a show that began as a parody of beloved pop culture icons it has truly surpassed its humble beginnings and come well into its own. Inspired by everything from Jonny Quest to the Fantastic Four, to the Hardy Boys to G.I. Joe and comic book/ adventure tropes in general . Venture Bros. expands on them, while turning them on their head. It’s a testament to how gags and satire can develop when allowed to, beyond one note cutaway references. Every season so far, has added to and improved upon the previous, building a rich world full of a diverse cast of memorable characters. It stands as one of the greatest love letters to geek culture, made by geeks for geeks, but in a way that everyone can enjoy. Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer have made an adult cartoon show that makes you feel like a kid again. Go Team Venture!
Have another cartoon in mind people need to look for? Leave a comment below.
Max Winters is a guest contributor to GeekCLE. Working at Cleveland Comics by day and aspiring comic creator by night, Max can arguably be considered an expert of comics and cartoons. He is constantly surrounded by all things pop culture and geek and wouldn’t have it any other way.