Cartoons aren’t just for kids. The humour in some of the following shows quite simply could never be made if they were live-action as animation helped open the door to so many off the wall premises and very mature jokes. Although some of the TV shows in this list can still be enjoyed by younger viewers, they have so much more going on that can only really be appreciated by an adult mindset.
10. Adventure Time
While at first glance this bright and colourful cartoon may seem like it’s designed for kids, the plot and jokes are something which will probably go above the heads of most younger audiences. Although only a recent creation (it started in 2010), Adventure Time has established a vast cult following very quickly. The show follows Finn the Human and Jake the Dog as they adventure across an imaginary land with friends like Princess Bubblegum and Lady Rainicorn. Basically, Finn and Jake do what every grown adult wishes they could do every day – nothing important. The humour, bizarre characters and LSD visuals will leave you wanting more and you’ll quickly find that you’re four seasons in without realising it.
9. Ren & Stimpy
Ren & Stimpy first aired way back in 1991. When the network Nickelodeon first approached the creators, they wanted an educational show. What they got was completely different. A precursor to the likes of Beavis and Butt-head and South Park, this controversial series featured a disturbed chihuahua and a chowder headed cat who got into all kinds of trouble. Controversial for its off-colour humour, sexual innuendos and violence which was rare for television animation at the time, the show ran for five seasons on the network. It received critical acclaim and developed a cult following, but behind the scenes was fraught with tension thanks to countless battles involving the Standards & Practices department and a strained relationship between the creator and the network. Although this eventually ended with his termination, the show lived on and gave the audience more body distortions and grotesque close-ups than they could handle.
8. Robot Chicken
An American stop-motion comedy series created by Seth Green and Matthew Senreich, Robot Chicken is the show to watch if you want to see your childhood favourites in a new light. Whether you want to see Green Lantern cutting his own hands off by accident, Popeye brutally collecting on a hamburger debt from Wimpy, Sonic the Hedgehog getting lacerated on a S.W.A.T. team’s spike strip or Fruity Yummy Mummy having a lover’s spat with Franken Berry, the series never ceases being weird and hilarious. First airing in 2005, the series has enjoyed seven seasons and had hundreds of guest voices from Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Bob Thornton to 50 Cent and Hugh Hefner.
7. Bob’s Burgers
Bob Belcher is a third-generation restaurateur who runs Bob’s Burgers with his loving wife and their three children. Bob believes his burgers speak for themselves and isn’t afraid to offer a variety of offbeat creations. Bob’s wife, Linda, supports his dream but is becoming sick of the slow times as the restaurant is constantly in danger of going out of business. Meanwhile their kids set different kinds of problems; Tina is an awkward teenager with no social boundaries, Louise always has some crazy scheme going on and Gene is constantly pestering people with sound effects from his keyboard or megaphone. Bob’s Burgers has managed to grab a following that has pushed it through 5 seasons in less than 4 years and its fandom is still growing.
6. Family Guy
Although it was the first show to be nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy since The Flintstones, it has not always been smooth sailings for Family Guy. The series battled its way out of two cancellations – once after Season 2 and a short time later after Season 3. Fans flocked to reruns and helped the series return stronger than ever. However, it does have its detractors – most of the humour is based around bashing jokes into the ground so much that they shift from funny, to not funny, to funny again, ad nauseum. Sometimes bashed for its erratic humour and extremely loose plotting, Family Guy has nonetheless created a comedy empire for creator Seth MacFarlane as he delights in shocking his audience and pushing the boundaries on what is funny.
5. Legend of Korra
A spin-off series of the highly successful series Avatar: The Last Airbender, Legend of Korra is set in the same universe 70 years later. In this world people of the Earth Kingdom, Water Tribes, Air Nomads and Fire Nation can control the element of their nation. Set after the end of the 100 year war in which the Avatar – a 12 year old kid who can control all four elements – defeats the ruler of the Fire Nation, Korra picks up with the next reincarnated Avatar; a 16 year old girl. Although originally the series was based purely for children and happened to attract a huge adult audience, the spin off story focuses more on the struggle of the teenager, making some parts of the story above the heads of those kids who watched the original. Mid way through the four seasons the show was pulled from its allocated TV slot and pushed to an online release. Many believed it was to do with ratings but rumours has it that the real reason is because it grew too dark for the kid-friendly time slot allocated. Almost as good as its predecessor, Korra is full of amazing action sequences, nail biting fights and a very controversial finale.
Originally airing on Fox back in 1999 before it was cancelled 4 years later, Futurama was another cartoon which proved that it’s hard to keep a good thing down. Eventually ending up on Comedy Central, Futurama managed to make it all the way until 2013 before finally drawing to a close. The series follows the adventures of a late-20th-century New York City pizza delivery boy, Philip J. Fry, who, after being unwittingly cryogenically frozen for one thousand years, finds employment at Planet Express; an interplanetary delivery company in the retro-futuristic 31st century. The show’s sharp, sci-fi humour allowed us to look at ourselves through the eyes of the future whilst also reminding us that the same societal problems will always exist and others are sure to arise. Like drunken robots, for example.
Arches is best summed up as James Bond meets Arrested Development. There’s not a whole lot of intelligence in the office of the ISIS (the International Secret Intelligence Service) where the employee’s best efforts are geared towards undermining and betraying one another. Master spy Sterling Archer is a suave, confident secret-keeper at work but a mess when it comes to his personal affairs. He has a tenuous relationship with his ex, fellow agent Lana Kane, and he doesn’t get along with his mother, Jessica, who just so happens to be his boss. Filled with numerous recurring jokes such as Lana’s big man-ish hands, Brett continuously being shot and Woodhouse’s heroin addiction, Archer is full of humorous moments and unexpected twists – in season 5 ISIS is shut down and the agents go rogue by selling cocaine and crossing paths with cartels.
2. The Simpsons
One of the longest running animated series, The Simpsons is incredibly in its 25th year. Focusing on the hilarious daily lives of the Simpson family, the iconic show has managed to stay popular throughout all those years. There are few people in the western world who don’t know about this yellow-skinned family and, while some may argue that the most recent efforts aren’t as good, there are so many memorable classics to watch again and again. While many of us have given up hope that the writers will find that amazing creative touch yet again one day, it’s hard to deny the impact the Simpsons has had on the world of comedy and animation.
1. South Park
You might not always agree with the foul-mouthed antics of Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny, but as long as there is a hypocritical ideology to harass, a “sacred cow” to bash or a celebrity to roast, the team is sticking around. Most animation shows normally take anywhere between 6 to 12 months to complete, but South Park is animated in a few days. This has given the show an edge that none have ever had as the writers are able to comment on (and lampoon) current events that are actually happening at the time. Unsurprisingly, South Park has ignited controversies, created countless catchphrases and opened our eyes to many different issues and celebrities. This animated series is definitely not one for children; with foul language, adult themes and a character who is a talking turd. Now in its 19th season, South Park is hopefully one show which, unlike Kenny, won’t die anytime soon.