The 16 Best Cartoon Shows For Adults
Saturday-morning cartoons were the highlight of the week for many of us growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, especially before there were entire channels dedicated to animation.
And as we've grown up, so has our love of all things animated. Some of our favorite modern cartoon shows are made for adults or families, but there are also plenty of excellent kid-focused shows that are just as fun for adults as the kiddos in the audience.
While there are dozens of shows we could mention as favorites from the last 20 years, we've tried to highlight those with staying power and the ability to surprise, move, and entertain us. Here they are, in no particular order.
1) The Simpsons
both of the eponymous characters .) —Monica Riese
Adults with their own surly teenagers at home might not appreciate this MTV classic quite as much, but the rest of us can enjoy a good chuckle as we reacquaint ourselves with our cynical high school counterpart Daria Morgendorffer and her best friend, Jane Lane. (Full disclosure: My AIM screen name was morgendorffer7 for longer than that reference made any sense, so I’m a bit biased here.) Daria was a recurring guest on Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-head show, but she took center stage to skewer suburban culture, high school stereotypes, and nuclear family bonding in five seasons and two movies that ran from 1997 to 2002. —Monica Riese
14) Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Aqua Teen Hunger Force aired its last episode in August 2015 after 15 years and 11 seasons, but the show is still in regular rotation on Adult Swim and streaming on Hulu. What gives it staying power? This is going to sound strange given that the main characters are anthropomorphic fast food items, but the lovable and naive Meatwad, smart and cynical Frylock, and bombastic and scheming Master Shake are what glue the show together. Creators Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro have put these characters into every scenario imaginable (and unimaginable for that matter), keeping it fresh through years of television. — Sarah Weber
Part animated comedy, part variety show, Animaniacs, often balanced its young and older audiences with multi-layered humor that fans can appreciate even more as they age. Yakko, Wakko, and Dot lead the pack with their antics in (and out) of the Warner Bros. studio lot, but its ensemble, which introduced us to Pinky and the Brain and a slew of other strong supporting characters, could carry a show on their own. And chances are, some of us totally used one of Yakko or Wakko’s educational songs to get us through school. —Michelle Jaworski
16) Avatar: The Last Airbender; Legend of Korra
Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra—which ran on Nickelodeon from 2005-2008 and 2012-2014, respectively—are set in a world heavily influenced by Asian and Native American cultures where some people can bend certain elements and an Avatar can bend all four. The shows told nuanced, layered stories filled with flawed and compelling characters (many of them female), believable journeys, and redemption arcs. While whimsical in its portrayal of the known world, its characters grounded it in reality. ATLA told a year-long journey of the latest Avatar, Aang, as he learned all of the elements and tried to stop the Firelord from wiping out an entire culture. Legend of Korra spends less time on the Avatar journey, but it tackles more mature elements such as revolution, civil war, fascism, and PTSD. Korra is also prized for having one of the most progressive endings we’ve seen in animation in some time. —Michelle Jaworski