Cartoons, once considered only for children, have evolved beyond what got you up on a Saturday morning during your childhood years. Though there are cartoons made for younger audiences, don’t let anyone say you can’t watch something because it’s “for kids.” Watching cartoons is valid at any age.
That said, sometimes you want to watch a cartoon with more meat on its bones, something that goes deeper than flashy fight scenes and superficial romance. In that case, you’re in luck. We’re in the golden era of adult animation, and though it’s hard to pick a selection of the best, we’ve done just that below.
‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ (1995 - 1996)
Within anime, there’s an entire genre devoted to huge mechanical robots known as “mecha,” but “Neon Genesis Evangelion” stands apart from the rest. The revolutionary anime series explored adult themes such as death, depression, and abandonment, preferring to focus more on the mecha pilots’ well-being than the action sequences. With 26 episodes, this series doesn’t require a lot of commitment, though you’ll want to watch it multiple times to pick up on all the themes and subtext within the dense plot. While the last two episodes provide a confusing, disappointing ending, the four “Rebuild of Evangelion” films retell the story and provide a much more satisfying ending.
You can watch “Neon Genesis Evangelion” streaming on Netflix. The movies are on Amazon Prime Video.
‘Cowboy Bebop’ (1998 - 1999)
“Cowboy Bebop” is another classic anime series made for older viewers. While the gritty space Western doesn’t hold back on the action, it’s more interested in emotional moments, character development, and telling a tight story within 26 episodes. The show primarily focuses on Spike Spiegel (Steve Blum), a bounty hunter with a dark past that’s returning to haunt him. Along the way, Spike and Jet Black (Beau Billingslea) bring on an additional three companions on the Bebop, each with their own reason for joining. With top-notch writing and an animation quality that still holds up today, “Cowboy Bebop” is worth the watch, even if you’re not into anime.
“Cowboy Bebop” is available on Hulu and Netflix.
‘Rick and Morty’ (2013 - Present)
This show’s popularity seems to have no ceiling. The Adult Swim show is replete with vulgar jokes, sex, violence, and crass language, outdoing every other show on this list. With edgy, juvenile humor that comes across as absurd or childish, “Rick and Morty” may not be for everyone. However, “Rick and Morty” is more than that, offering a gateway into a rich sci-fi world that takes characters across dimensions. It’s wildly original but not afraid to tackle other genres besides sci-fi, often parodying popular media. For example, in one episode about heists, “Rick and Morty” deconstructs and parodies heist tropes like “putting the team back together” or double-crossing. So, while not every joke may land, there’s still much to enjoy.
You can stream the first five “Rick and Morty” seasons on HBO Max and Hulu.
‘Love, Death + Robots’ (2019 - Present)
This Netflix show is an animated anthology series that collects short animations from various animation studios. Although there’s no overarching plot, love, death, and robots are featured in every episode, hence the show’s name. The animation styles vary from one episode to the next, ranging from anime to CGI to even stop motion. Since episodes are self-contained, themes can also vary. For example, in one episode, a group of soldiers will be fighting a chained Cthulhu, while in another, a robot trio will wander through the desolate ruins of our present, commenting on humanity and the purpose of things like eating or keeping pets. Each episode of “Love, Death + Robots” is a little treat that always leaves you wanting more.
Three seasons of “Love, Death + Robots” are available on Netflix.
‘BoJack Horseman’ (2014 - 2020)
You wouldn’t think a show about a washed-up horse actor could bring up so many feelings, but “BoJack Horseman” does that in spades. Voiced by Will Arnett, BoJack is a selfish, narcissistic, and self-loathing artist who wasted away his career, yet you can’t help but root for him, even when he lets you down time after time. The show delves into themes of alcoholism, childhood trauma, depression, and loneliness, capturing the existential, nihilistic vibe of a generation both full of potential and devoid of meaningful purpose. As funny as “BoJack Horseman” is, it’s the moments that make you pause and think that make this show special — some lines will stick with you for a long time.
You can watch all six seasons of “BoJack Horseman” on Netflix.
‘Arcane’ (2021 - Present)
Whenever a video-game-to-TV series or film adaptation hits screens, there’s the expectation that it won’t be any good. “Arcane,” however, isn’t another failed Netflix adaptation. Based on “League of Legends,” a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, “Arcane” follows the story of sisters Vi (Hailee Steinfeld) and Jinx (Ella Purnell). You don’t need to play the game to follow along, with the nine-episode series doing a great job introducing viewers to the contrasting cities of Piltover and Zaun. While the plot is good, the quality and originality of the animation are why “Arcane” is worth watching. “Arcane” is to TV animation what “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is to film animation, which is to say it’s groundbreaking, game-changing, and genre-defining.
The first season of “Arcane” is streaming on Netflix. A second season is currently in production.
‘Invincible’ (2021 - Present)
“Invincible” has all the makings of a great show, starting with an all-star cast that includes Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, and J.K. Simmons. The show, executive produced by leading Hollywood geek Seth Rogen, is based on the popular comic book series written by Robert Kirkman, the creator of “The Walking Dead.” If that isn’t enough to convince you, just tune in for one episode. The story of Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), son of the legendary Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), is a subversive superhero drama full of shocking reveals and gory, graphic fight scenes. But “Invincible” isn’t always serious; there are lots of funny moments to contrast the violence and drama. The only complaint about “Invincible” is that the show’s second season isn’t available yet.
“Invincible” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The second season is confirmed for late 2023.
‘Cyberpunk Edgerunners’ (2022)
Like “Arcane,” “Cyberpunk Edgerunners” is another video game adaptation that doesn’t disappoint, telling a gripping story that rivals, and arguably surpasses, the source material. “Cyberpunk Edgerunners” takes place in the world of “Cyberpunk 2077,” but you don’t need to play the game to get on board with the animated series. The plot is original and self-contained. The heartbreaking story follows David Martinez (Zach Aguilar), a high school boy whose dreams of becoming an underworld legend turn into reality when he finds a military-grade weapon that makes him nearly unstoppable. Aside from the sharp writing, the show delivers on so many levels. It’s animated by the legendary Studio Trigger — known for anime like “Kill la Kill” and “SSSS.Dynazenon” — and has an opening music track performed by Franz Ferdinand. So don’t be a gonk; watch the show.
You can binge-watch “Cyberpunk Edgerunners” on Netflix.
‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ (2022 - Present)
What started as a Dungeons & Dragons game amongst friends has evolved into a multimedia empire that now includes “The Legend of Vox Machina.” Based on the first campaign of Critical Role’s live-play series, the show follows a party of foul-mouthed elves, gnomes, humans, and one lovable goliath. With 115 episodes of source material to pull from, “The Legend of Vox Machina” doesn’t lack rich, layered storytelling that gives each party member their time in the spotlight. However, if high fantasy isn’t your ideal setting, don’t overlook it just yet; the writing is incredible and cleverly toes the line between an epic saga and a road trip comedy. The main characters are voiced by the original players of the campaign, who are all professional voice actors.
“The Legend of Vox Machina” just wrapped up its second season and it’s one of the best Amazon Prime Video Originals.