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An animated woman on a futuristic bike in this image from Titmouse, Inc.
“Scavengers Reign” is hands down the best animated series from 2023, and one of the year’s best series. (Image: Titmouse, Inc.)

The animation you now see on streaming services is nothing like what I grew up watching. Saturday morning cartoons were one of my favorite ways to spend the weekend, but many of the series don’t hold up because they were made solely for the purpose of selling toys.

The current quality of animation would be enough to shock the 8-year-old me, with storylines, soundtracks, and visuals that are far beyond anything I thought possible. Every year, there are more animated shows that raise the bar. It’s clear that we’re in the golden age of adult animation. If you’re wondering why, you just have to follow the one statistic that drives all streamers: the number of hours watched.

The Market Demands More Animation Than Ever

A group of animated people sit on a leaning pine tree in this image from Fox Entertainment.
“The Great North” is a more recent example of a successful animated adult show, as it’s currently in its fourth season. (Image: Fox Entertainment)

The year kicks off with the return of “The Great North,” which premieres on Hulu on Jan. 7, while other favorites such as “Arcane” and “Invincible” return later in the year on their respective streamers. I’m excited for the debut of the “Harley Quinn” spin-off series, “Kite Man: Hell Yeah!,” which, if you know anything about Kite Man, is guaranteed to be hilarious.

Supply increases with demand, so when you have a 45 percent increase in animation viewership on streamers, there’s bound to be more shows and seasons to meet the rising demand. That’s how streamers operate, giving viewers more of what they like to watch to keep them engaged for longer, which justifies the expense of the monthly subscription.

Whether it’s Sony acquiring Crunchyroll to merge it with Funimation, Max purchasing the streaming rights to the Studio Ghibli catalog, or Netflix announcing its commitment to spend more on animation, it’s clear that animation is a big target for streamers. Netflix animated originals such as “Nimona,” “Leo,” and “The Monkey King” have been huge hits, forcing the platform to pay attention.

Why Is There More Demand?

Simply put, demand most likely comes down to being a generational thing. Gen Z and younger millennials are more likely to watch animated series, including anime (Japanese animation), than other age groups. That’s because impressive animated projects are more readily available than before, since anime and adult animation are now easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection and a subscription. That’s a stark difference from the 1990s and early 2000s, when fans of anime and animated series had to hunt down their favorite shows via specialty shops or import services.

Another reason is that Gen Z and millennials grew up watching animated series during their formative years, and it stuck with them into adulthood. With series such as “The Legend of Korra,” “Gravity Falls,” “Rick and Morty,” and “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” airing in the late 2000s and early 2010s, there was no shortage of incredible series to make an impression.

Those are some of the reasons I still watch animated series and anime, but the biggest reason is the quality, which has often proven to be better than live-action series. Some stories, characters, and worlds can only be portrayed through 2D or 3D animation.

Quality Animated Shows Make Them Worth Watching

An animated woman and a robot sit in this image from Titmouse, Inc.
Adult animation not only tells stories made for adults, but also allows more creative freedom. (Image: Titmouse, Inc)

Children’s animation is the gateway to watching animated shows and movies for many, but it has to be viewed simply as a genre of animation for children. Animation is a medium, not a genre. It can be for children, but animation can also be for people of all ages — as we’ve seen with the best adult cartoons. Series such as “Cyberpunk Edgerunners,” “Invincible,” “Arcane,” and “Star Trek: Lower Decks” are definitely not for younger viewers, since they explore mature themes and concepts that are as nuanced as anything else available on streaming services.

Just like other visual mediums, such as TV or film, animation can be broken down into various genres and subgenres. From adult horror to comedy, from action to superhero dramas, there’s truly something for everyone. The problem for animation fans is finding the time to watch everything since so many animated projects are released on streamers on a seemingly monthly basis. In 2023, we had:

  • Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” (Netflix)
  • “Castlevania: Nocturne” (Netflix)
  • “Blue Eye Samurai” (Netflix)
  • “Scavengers Reign” (Max)
  • “Unicorn: Warriors Eternal” (Max)
  • “My Adventures With Superman” (Max)

That’s just a snapshot of new, must-watch animated series from 2023, but it doesn’t even include all the ones returned with new seasons, nor the dozens of popular anime series. Finding the time to watch all of them is difficult, and it’s not going to get any easier. This year looks just as stacked.

Adult Animation Deserves More Recognition

A woman with blue hair holds a weapon in this image from Fortiche.
It’s been a long wait, but “Arcane” is one of the most highly anticipated animated shows to return to the small screen. (Image: Fortiche)

Netflix’s “Arcane,” which is based on Riot’s League of Legends IP, broke new ground by being the first streaming series to win the Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program in 2022. It should have won more at the Emmys and other awards shows, however, or at least been nominated in more categories. And that’s the thing: Animated series and films have been pigeonholed into their own categories, as if animation were a genre of TV or film instead of the medium it actually is.

I’d like to see animated projects being nominated in non-animation categories, because the quality of the best animated projects — from the voice acting to the visuals — can contend with the best live-action projects. That may be too idealistic, but I think it’s possible. Look at “Spirited Away,” from Studio Ghibli. It won Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, as well as Best Feature Film at the Christopher Awards. Why do we need to add “animated” to the category title?

After watching the entirety of 2023’s best animated series, “Scavengers Reign,” in record time, I’m once again blown away by the quality of animation and storytelling, which gets better every year. That’s why I think we’ll see the day when animated series and films are nominated in non-animation categories. That’s the dream, at least.

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