My curated list of animated shows (part 2/2)

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Published on 23 May 2024 by Andrew Owen (9 minutes)

In the first part of this article, I got as far as “Invader Zim”, which laid the foundations for what came next. The 2010s is considered by many as the start of a cartoon renaissance. This decade saw the premier of diverse shows including “Adventure Time”, “BoJack Horseman”, “Gravity Falls”, “Harley Quinn”, “Regualr Show”, “Rick and Morty”, “Steven Universe”, “Sym-Bionic Titan” and “Teen Titans Go!”. Netflix joined Cartoon Network, Disney, Nickelodeon and Warner Bros as a major player in animation. In 2013 it began producing original content in partnership with studios like DreamWorks Animation. In 2018 it set up its own animation studio. It has also provided a new audience for shows like “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and picked up canceled shows like “Star Trek: Prodigy”. These are some of my favorites for your consideration:

Friendship Is Magic

2010-2020 • U • 22m

Created by Lauren Faust ("LittleBigPlanet", “DC Super Hero Girls”), the show was originally intended to run for just three seasons. It lasted nine seasons and spawned a “season 10” comic series. It was a hit with the critics who praised its animation style, writing, voice acting, world building, story arcs, award-winning music and its positive message. And yes, this is the show that gave rise to Brony Fandom. But unlike the original 1980s “My Little Pony”, this isn’t your average cartoon based on a toy franchise for little girls. And yes, I did leave out the full title so you wouldn’t skip over it.

Doc McStuffins

2012-2022 • U • 11m

Created by Chris Nee ("Vampirina"), this show is about a young girl who wants to become a doctor like her mother. She practices by fixing toys and dolls. The show marked several firsts for Disney and won the prestigious Peabody Award in 2014. It also led to the creation of the Artemis Medical Society. And when it appeared that the fifth season was in doubt, celebrities including W. Kamau Bell, Jamilah Lemieux and Audra McDonald appealed for its renewal. It also includes guest appearances of various characters from Winnie the Pooh, also owned by Disney.

The Legend of Korra

2012-2014 • PG • 23m

This is a sequel to “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, (familiarity with which is helpful but not essential), from original creators Michale DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. 70 years ago, avatar Aang, who embodies the four classical elements, ended the 100 years war waged by the Fire Nation that saw the genocide of the Air Nomads (airbenders). Bending is the ability to manipulate the elements. After Aang’s passing, the cycle continues and the next avatar is a waterbender called Korra. Both shows hit the number one spot on Netflix when they debuted on the platform, years after they had been off-air, resulting in the recent commission of a live action series. The show draws heavily on Chinese culture, and all in-show writing uses traditional Chinese characters without translation. For me, the giveaway that it’s an American show is that it’s not based on wuxing, but that’s a minor quibble. It has superb animation (by leading South Korean animation studios), strong writing, great voice acting and handles difficult themes in a way that makes them accessible to kids. Critics loved the show. Both a Primetime Emmy and a Peabody were among its haul of awards. And like its predecessor, it also spawned a continuation comic series.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

2018-2020 • PG • 30m

This show was created by ND Stevenson ("Duck Tales", “Big Hero 6”, “Nimona”) as a reimagining of the spin-off of 1980s toy franchise “He-Man”. Like “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”, this also isn’t your average cartoon based on a toy franchise for little girls. Whereas the original “My Little Pony” is charming, I find the original “She-Ra” hard going. For any scene with Catra in it, I have to turn the sound off and use subtitles. But Stevenson aged down the characters and brought new depth and nuance to them. In this interpretation, a diverse range of princesses each have their own mystical power. As you’d expect from this list by now, there’s world building and character arcs. And my favorite character is Entrapta, because science!

Final Space

2018-2021 • 15 • 30m

Created by Olan Rogers, this adult animated space opera comedy drama is what “Star Trek: Lower Decks” would be like if it had real stakes. Don’t get me wrong, I like Lower Decks, but it’s a simpler show. Whereas Final Space is unapologetically a show about loss. Bumbling astronaut Gary Goodspeed is almost at the end of a five-year sentence aboard a prison ship when he encounters a planet-destroying alien that he names “Mooncake”. In their quest to save the universe, their foil is the dark Lord Commander (voiced by David Tennant). Launching on TBS before moving to Adult Swim, the series didn’t survive a move to a third network. After two years of trying to find a way to finish the series, Rogers was finally allowed to do a one-shot graphic novel (with a lot of stipulations from the rights owners). It’s still available to pre-order.

Infinity Train

2019-2021 • PG • 11m

Owen Dennis was previously a writer and storyboard artist on “Regular Show”. This show began as a 2016 short. The setting is a seemingly endless train traveling through a barren landscape. Each car contain a unique environment that isn’t constrained by the normal laws of physics. Individuals board the train with a number (based on their psychological trauma) and leave the train when it reaches zero. Each of the four season tells a different story. Dennis has said he could have made ten seasons of the show, but there is nothing in the works at present. In another theme running through this list, the show deals sensitively with difficult topics. For me, Kate Mulgrew is the standout voice actor as the Cat.

Disenchantment

2018-2023 • 18 • 56m

Matt Groening ("The Simpsons", “Futurama”) needs no introduction. Futurama is to “The Jetsons” as Simpsons is to “The Flintstones”, but Disenchantment doesn’t have a Hanna-Barbera parallel. This is an adult comedy show set mainly in a medieval fantasy setting, but with elements of cyberpunk. Because of its deep story arcs, it suffered from having only 10 episodes released a year (and a gap year due to Covid-19) over a six yera period. This is even referenced within the show (although it’s nothing compared to Futurama’s cancelations and restarts). But now it’s complete, you can binge-watch it all and enjoy something from Groening that knows when to end.

Hilda

2018-2023 • PG • 24m

Created by Luke Pearson ("Adventure Time") based on his graphic novels series of the same name, the show is set in a fantasy version of Scandinavia technologically analogous to the late 1980s and early 1990s. Hilda lives with her mother in a cabin in the forest, but has to adjust to life in the city. It’s charming and slower paced than some other shows in this list, but that works perfectly for it. The original source material was updated for the show, which aired over three seasons, with a film between the last two. Another show with great animation, voice acting and story telling. Among its haul of awards are two Daytime Emmys.

Green Eggs and Ham

2019-2022 • U • 26m

Created by Jared Stern, this Daytime Emmy-winning show takes the setting and protagonists of the Dr. Seuss book, and then somehow turns it into a spy thriller with an all-star cast including Michael Douglas. It’s faithful to laws of the Suessniverse (I wish I’d coined that word) but has its own special ingredients that elevated it above previous adaptations.

Primal

2019- • 15 • 56m

Created by Genndy Tartakovsky ("Dexter’s Laboratory", “Samurai Jack”, “Star Wars: Clone Wars” – the good one, “Unicorn: Warriors Eternal”), this is the kind of show you only get to make when you have a proven track record of hits. Almost completely devoid of dialogue. Bloodsoaked from the outset. Set in an anachronistic prehistory. It tells the story of a male neanderthal (Spear) and a female tyrannosaurus (Fang), who become an odd couple after their respective families are killed. As they travel the world in search of a place to live in peace they encounter a variety of human cultures including Celts, Egyptians and Vikings, Its initial run picked up three Primtetime Emmy Awards. While the second season concludes the story of Spear and Fang, Tartakovsky has plans for a third season with new characters.

The 2020s

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

2020 • PG • 24m

Created by Bill Wolkoff (writer on “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”) and Radford Sechrist (art on “Megamind”), based on a 2015 webcomic published on Tumblr. Kipo is a young girl who has lived underground her whole life. After a cave-in, she goes to the surface to look for her father. There she finds a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by mutated talking animals. Critic Glen Weldon said: “If you were to combine the vast world-building of ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender  with the heart and inclusivity of ‘Steven Universe’, you’d wind up with something that looked a lot like ‘Kipo’.”

Kid Cosmic

2021-2022 • PG • 25m

This show was created by Lauren Faust and her partner Craig McCracken whose previous collaborations include “The PowerPuff Girls”, “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” and “Wander Over Yonder”. It tells the story of a boy living in a junkyard in a sparsely populated strip of the New Mexico desert who dreams of becoming a superhero. When a spaceship containing five cosmic stones of power crashes nearby, he has his chance. Another hit with the critics and winner of two Children’s and Family Emmy Awards.

Dead End: Paranormal Park

2022 • PG • 27m

Created by Hamish Steele based on his “DeadEndia” graphic novel series, the show follows haunted amusement park employees Barney and Norma. It’s been called a horror mystery comedy, and in some respects it is a bit like “Scooby-Doo” if the ghosts and demons were real. It’s another hit with the critics, although at this point the phrase “Steven Universe meets Adventure Time” probably needs to be retired. Also, I should probably go and watch them.

Star Trek: Prodigy

2021-2024 • PG • 24m

I left “Prodigy” out when I originally published this article, but that was before I saw the second season. This computer animated show acts as a direct successor to “Voyager” but doesn’t suffer from the problems that show had. It takes place in between the events of “Lower Decks” and “Picard” with the season 2 finale directly referencing the events of the latter and the “Short Treks” episode “Children of Mars”. Created by the Dan and Kevin Hageman, whose credits include co-writing “The Lego Movie” and “Ninjago”, this may be the best written Star Trek of the current era. So of course it was canceled before the second season aired. But it was picked up by Netflix and if enough people watch it, perhaps there will be a third season. And I almost forgot to mention that it features the voice talents of Jason Mantzoukas and Jameela Jamil from “The Good Place” and is full of easter eggs for “Doctor Who” fans.