1. Adventure Time
Everybody knows Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time cartoon, whether from watching it themselves or from the massive impact it has had on pop culture.
You can’t visit a comic-con without seeing a Jake the Dog, Finn and/or Fiona the Human, or a Marceline the Vampire Queen.
But what is Adventure Time? It is, at its heart, a story about the adventures of a boy and his dog.
Except, the dog is a talking shapeshifter, and the boy is the last human (wizards don’t count) in a world ruled by animated food stuffs. And the adventures are mostly the two fighting monsters and saving the realm from the evil Ice King.
So, is it worth the time?
The show features great animation and stunning plots. Over its seven seasons, it has tackled questions like: loss, abandonment, hope, the meaning of life, the existence of god, the nature of friendship, mental illness, the nature of evil, and countless other topics.
Plus, it has a talking game system called BMO! How can you top that?
2. Steven Universe
According to some, Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe does top Adventure Time. 90% of tumblr users know exactly what I’m talking about.
Steven Universe is about a boy who has to take his mother’s place in a band of space-faring Amazonian warriors made out of gems and “a conscious manifestation of light”, as neat-freak Pearl describes herself.
But, this show is about so much more than a boy fighting giant alien gem monsters (that are the the corrupted remnants of noble warriors). It is about a boy trying to find his place in a world that expects very clear things of him, and how he balances the different responsibilities that he has thrust upon him.
It also deals with a huge variety of topics, such as: whether seeing the future is actually a good thing, romance, failed romance, jealousy (so much jealousy), healthy and unhealthy relationships, what it means to have a homosexual relationship in a society that rejects the very idea, what it means to be a hero, what it means to grow up…I could name one theme for every episode they’ve made, and still not have listed them all.
Plus, Steven Universe has a killer soundtrack (I couldn’t choose just one song). We’re talking Guardians of the Galaxy good here. If a boy finding friends among aliens, redeeming enemies, battling ultimate evil, and also finding time for so very many laughs, then Steven Universe is definitely for you.
3. Gravity Falls
If action/comedy/science fiction isn’t your thing, then how about Supernatural/comedy/mystery?
Alex Hirsch’s Gravity Falls follows two twins, Mabel and Dipper, as they explore the weird and wacky small town of Gravity Falls.
During their adventures they find: a spaceship, a handsome zombie, aliens, dinosaurs, the truth about their town, three mysterious journals with an even bigger secret, what it means when you aren’t ready to grow up, what it means when you are, why endings aren’t the worst, how to deal with monsters, how to deal with bullies, and also numerous quirky friends.
From ghostly lumberjacks back for revenge to literal man-eaters (it’s always those giant spider ladies, eh?), this show covers pretty much every trope out there in the mystery and supernatural horror genres.
Then, it has a stellar cast of villains, from the charming Lil’ Gideon to the sinister and enigmatic Bill Cipher.
Plus, it has a great theme song.
4. Over the Garden Wall
Much less well known than the other three, my final recommendation is Patrick McHale’s Over the Garden Wall.
Over the Garden Wall is American Gothic at its finest, the forest actually being called “the Unknown”. Like Steven Universe, it features a great sound track, one that never fails to enhance the mood, whether that mood be comedic, sheer terror, or mounting horror.
Over the Garden Wall knows how to play on its audience’s emotions. It starts out grim, then spends much of the series with a more light-hearted tone, only occasionally dipping back into that grim horror that it started with when you least expect it.
Following the adventures of brothers Wirt and Greg, along with a little bluebird named Beatrice (who may or may not be a cursed human girl), the series is a travelogue of their journey through the mysterious land of “the Unknown”. The series only finally explains the backstory in the second-to-last episode.
It is a great show that will keep you on your toes, while addressing growing up, why family matters, and what it means to face your fears (no matter what they may be).