When popular cartoons like Looney Tunes first premiered, they were shown before films and were geared towards adult. Fast forward a few centuries and pretty much all cartoons on the air are targeted towards kids. This isn’t a bad thing, since some modern cartoons like “Adventure Time,” “Regular Show” and “Steven Universe” pushed the “for kids” envelope and found their way into the hearts of both adults and children.
Amongst the many kid’s cartoons, a few adult-oriented cartoons found their way to the surface. There is of course the likes of more famous animated sitcoms like “The Simpsons” and “South Park,” but there are some you might not know about. Further, a lot of anime is aimed at teenagers and adults, giving us a nice little well of adult cartoons to explore. With that, CBR is giving you 16 mature cartoons that you need to check out!
16. MISSION HILL
Combining classic and modern (at the time) animation styles, “Mission Hill” is one of many cult cartoons that was cancelled before its time. The show, created by Bill Oakly and Josh Weinstein, originally aired on The WB and followed Andy French, a twenty-something aspiring cartoonist and his brother Kevin, a sheltered nerdy teenager. Andy’s life gets turned upside down when he is forced to take care of his brother in Mission Hill after his parents decide to move to Wyoming. The show explored themes of modern city life, brotherhood, adult life and growing up.
“Mission Hill” had a bit of a strange broadcasting history, as only six of the produced 13 episodes actually aired on the WB, and the rest of the episodes would air on Teletoon, Adult Swim and TBS. The show gained a cult following for its slice-of-life storytelling and use of popular indie music. It also featured famous voice actors like Brian Posehn, Scott Menville (“Teen Titans'” Robin) and Tom Kenny. Despite the recent influx of canceled cartoon revivals, it doesn’t seem like “Mission Hill” will be returning any time soon.
15. CLONE HIGH
As the name implies, “Clone High” focused on a high school full of clones of famous celebrities and historical figures, the results of experimentation by the school principal. The show was created by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who together sport a rather impressive resume in the film industry, writing and directing films like “The Lego Movie” and “21 Jump Street.” The show followed the three main characters of Abe Lincoln (voiced by Will Forte), Joan of Arc and Gahndi, three best friends who struggle to live up to the legacy of the figures they are cloned from while trying to make it through the usual trials of High School.
A lot of the show’s humor revolved around playing against the nature of the historical figures the teenagers were cloned from. Abe is indecisive and weak-willed, Ghandi is an excitable and lovable jerk and Cleopatra is a vain, popular “mean girl.” Other clones like JFK round out the main cast along with Principal Scudworth and his robot butler Mr. Butlerton. The show had a huge cult following after its cancellation, which was partly due to controversy surrounding the depiction of Ghandi and India’s reaction to him.
14. TODD MCFARLANE’S SPAWN
One of the first and only adult cartoons that wasn’t a comedy was “Todd Mcfarlane’s Spawn,” a series based on the popular Image character. A definite product of the ’90s, “Spawn” was created by Todd McFarlane and in 1997 HBO aired an animated series for mature audiences about the demonic superhero. The series ran until 1999 and won an Emmy for outstanding animation program.
Following a similar storyline of the comics, the Spawn series followed Al Simmons, an ex-commando who was killed and had his soul sent to Hell. Al made a deal with Malebolgia, an overlord of hell, to become a soldier in the demon’s army in exchange for getting so see his wife again. However, when Al returned to Earth, he found his body hideously decayed. Further, his wife had remarried to Al’s best friend and started a new life. As the new Hellspawn (Spawn for short) of Malebolgia’s army, Al used his newfound powers to protect his wife and her new family from harm. The series was incredibly popular and a sequel has been in and out of development hell (pardon the pun) since 2009.
13. REN & STIMPY (SEASONS 1 & 2)
Despite being aired on Nickelodeon and being one of its three original “Nicktoons,” John Kricfalusi’s “The Ren & Stimpy Show” was definitely not for kids. The show followed Ren, a high-strung and emotionally unstable chihuahua, and Stimpy, a well-meaning but incredibly stupid cat. The pair served various roles throughout the series, not really staying in one job, time period or place for too long and the show was known for its slapstick, dark comedy, sexual innuendo and absurdist and off-color humor.
The first two seasons, known sometimes as “Spümcø” seasons, were the only seasons where Kricfalusi served as show runner and voice of Ren. As the show got more violent and adult and more executives got involved at Nickelodeon, the network began to disapprove of the show’s content. The epitome of this came when Ren violently beat a character with an oar in the episode “Man’s Best Friend.” After this episode, Kricfalusi was fired from the show and the following three seasons became more kid-friendly. Many credit “Ren & Stimpy” for opening the door for shows like “South Park” and “Beavis and Butthead,” and the show had a short-lived revival on Spike TV in 2003.
12. THE AWESOMES
“The Awesomes” was a Hulu original animated series that followed a group of superheroes recruited to replace a long-standing but recently disbanded team known as The Awesomes. Created by Seth Meyers (a huge superhero nerd himself) and Mike Shoemaker, the show first premiered on Hulu in 2013 and featured a large cast of comedians of both SNL and MadTV origins as the main cast and as cameo appearances.
The show followed Prock Awesome, the nerdy professor/doctor (thus the name) and mostly powerless son of Mr. Awesome, the worlds greatest superhero. When Mr. Awesome steps down from being a superhero and leader of The Awesomes, many of his allies leave the team as well. However, Prock wants to continue the legacy of the team and collects a team of “rejects” to form a new “Awesomes.” The show ran for three seasons on Hulu and was cancelled due to low ratings. Despite this, “The Awesomes” features some great nods to classic superhero storytelling, playing with tropes and cliches while balancing an overarching story over each season. While not featuring the greatest animation in the world, “The Awesomes” is definitely worth checking out for superhero fans.
11. BLACK DYNAMITE
Based of the 2009 film of the same name, “Black Dynamite” the series ran from 2012 to 2015. The show follows the further adventures of the film character Black Dynamite, a parody/tribute of blaxploitation movies and characters, and his supporting cast of Honey Bee, Cream Corn, and Bullhorn. The team takes care of a combination orphanage/brothel and often go on missions to protect them, resulting in some crazy, explosive and over-the-top adventures. Takin place in the ’70s, the show and the original movie’s main antagonist is President Richard Nixon and featured several famous celebrities of the time including Michael Jackson and Richard Pryor.
The series did not serve as a sequel to the film and followed its own while still featuring some of the same characters. The large cast of villains and allies made for some great celebrity cameos and the played-serious humor of the show made it a fun and wild ride to watch. The animation of “Black Dynamite” is worth watching it on its own as famous anime studio “Trigger” worked on the show, along with Titmouse and MOI animation.
10. BRAVEST WARRIORS
Created by “Adventure Time” creator Pendleton Ward and featuring a similar visual style, “Bravest Warriors” is a web-released cartoon following the Bravest Warriors, a group of teenage heroes in the year 3085. “Bravest Warriors” released its first two seasons via “Cartoon Hangover,” the free-content Youtube channel from Frederator Studios, and the third season moved to a subscriber-content app known as VRV. The show featured a bizarre comedy style similar to “Adventure Time” and played with tropes of the superhero, space hero and sci-fi genres.
The Bravest Warriors are made up of Chris Kirkman, Beth Tezuka, Wallow, and Danny Vasquez, the children of The Courageous Battlers, their predecessors who were stranded in “the see-through zone.” Each have their own animal-themed holographic weapons (activated by rubbing orbs on their shirts) and go on bizarre adventures, encountering aliens both adorable and hideous as they try to save the day and rescue their parents. Though “Bravest Warriors” is not much more adult than “Adventure Time” — basically they can say “crap” — it’s still a great cartoon to check out, featuring themes of friendship, growing up and young love.
9. MAJOR LAZER
“Major Lazer” is an animated music project from the electronic music group of the same name. The group consists of Diplo, Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire and covers multiple musical genres like Reggae, Dancehall and electronic. Similar to the likes of Gorillaz and The Aquabats, the group tried and failed a few times to get a television series based on the lore of their music and namesake. After five years, “Major Lazer” finally found a home on FXX, coming out of Fox’s “ADHD” (Animation Domination High Def) block.
The show is about Major Lazer, a Jamaican superhero with a laser-gun hand as he fights along with friends Penny and Blkmrkt (voiced by “Star Wars'” John Boyega) against the threats of the dystopian future in which the show takes place. A combination of absurd action and musical videos, “Major Lazer” is a parody of ’80s cartoons with hip hop culture and psychedelic visuals mixed in. Featuring voice overs from the like of Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani and Andy Samberg in appearances and fun over-the-top action, the show has proven itself to be worth the five-year wait from its development hell cycle.
8. PANTY & STOCKING WITH GARTERBELT
The title of this show alone might be enough to scare off some potential viewers (though not anime fans) but stick with us, because it gets weirder. “Panty & Stocking” follows sisters Panty and Stocking, fallen angels who were kicked out of heaven for sinning too much and must collect enough “heaven coins” from defeated ghosts to get back in. Still with us? Good, because the weapons these two use are of course their panties and stockings; Panty can turn her underwear into a pistol while Stocking turns her stockings into katanas.
If that wasn’t weird enough, the concept of the show was created when “Gurren Lagaan” (another great show to check out) creator Hiroyuki Imaishi and his staff at Gainax animation came up with drunken off-the-cuff concepts that eventually formed into “Panty & Stocking.” The sisters are aided by Garterbelt, a reverend and guardian to the sisters, Brief, a ghost hunter who is in love with Panty, and Chuck, the sisters’ dog. The strange premise results in some nutty adventures and the show itself is a tribute and satire of ’90s-era Cartoon Network shows, featuring a style similar to “Power Puff Girls” and “Dexter’s Lab.”
Though the character of Daria Morgendorffer was a creation of Mike Judge and as a character for “Beavis and Butthead,” she eventually got her on MTV series created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis. “Daria,” which aired from 1997-2002 on MTV is about Daria, an intelligently misanthropic high school student and her friends and family as they navigate suburban life. The titular character was voiced by Tracy Grandstaff, who was originally a production assistant for “Beavis and Butt-Head.” “Daria” takes the formula of typical teen dramas and throws in satirical and dark comedy elements, Daria herself being aware of the tropes that plague the genre and sarcastically comments accordingly.
Daria is joined by her best friend Jane Lane, her fashion-and-popularity-obsessed sister Quinn, and a large cast of characters, each a different quirky cliche of high school dramas and suburban life. The show explored themes like politics, social class, cliques, paths in life and the long haul of growing up and high school. In a few words, the show was smart, funny and oh so relatable.
We’re sure we don’t need to tell you about “Archer,” but it couldn’t hurt to help the show garner a few more well-deserved fans. “Archer” is about Sterling Archer, a highly skilled spy who’s kind of a douche. Well, not kind of, more like definitely. Archer is an alcoholic, selfish, Burt-Reynolds-loving man-child who is actually a pretty damn-good spy. Created by Adam Reed, the show focused on Archer’s mother’s spy agency for the first four season before getting more experimental for seasons 6, 7 and 8, the latter of which is currently airing and takes Archer back in time to the era of prohibition and mobsters.
Archer himself is voiced by H. Jon Benjamin (of “Bob’s Burgers”) and he is joined by fellow agent and on-and-off girlfriend Lana Kane, Cyril Figgis, Cherl Aunt, Pam Poovey, Kreiger, Ray Gillete and of course Archer’s mother, Mallory Archer. Archer’s missions and adventures often go awry because of Archer’s ego and the fact that he never seems to take anything seriously, drinking pretty much constantly. As we said, the show already has a huge fan-base, but if you’re not watching “Archer” get to it!
5. BOJACK HORSEMAN
Another one that we’re pretty sure everyone is already watching, but still deserves a lot of recognition is the Netflix original “Bojack Horseman.” Boasting a rather impressive and somewhat cameo-driven voice cast, “Bojack Horseman” takes place in a world of humans and anthropomorphic animals, following Bojack Horseman, a depressed horse who used to be on a popular ’90s sitcom called “Horsin’ Around.” While Bojack seems to live comfortably on that sweet sitcom money, he suffers from depression, narcissism and severe alcohol and drug abuse.
While the colorful cast of animal and human characters presents a fun and naturally comedic world — a Golden Retriever named Mr. Peanut Butter has gotten arrested for chasing mail-trucks in his car — it also gets very real very fast. Bojack is a deep study of celebrity culture, depression, drug abuse and anxiety, using satire and straight-up silliness to explore the themes. If you haven’t watched “Bojack Horseman,” then head over to Netflix and catch the first three seasons while you wait for the fourth season to come out this summer.
4. SAMURAI JACK SEASON 5
Genndy Tarakovsky’s “Samurai Jack” originally aired on Carton Network and was market towards kids. This target audience eventually lead to its own cancellation after four seasons since kids’ cartoons are driven by merchandise, of which Jack had very little. Cut to 13 years later and a fifth season of the show found its way to Adult Swim, finally giving fans the ending Jack deserved. The first four seasons were very kid-friendly, blood and guts of sliced up bad-guys were replaced with oil and wires of robots sent to take out Jack. The fifth season, however, takes its position on Adult Swim and current age of the original audience with stride.
Taking place 50 years after season 4, Jack has not aged a day (a result of time travel). This Jack has lost his way, having given up on defeating Aku and returning home. When seven assassin sisters are sent after Jack, he must come to terms with taking his first human lives, having gotten used to killing mere machines. However, even with all this, the mature tone doesn’t overpower the heart of the series and a lot of the comedy and fun action still remains, as does the beautiful animation.
3. THE VENTURE BROS.
“The Venture Bros.” is a satirical and dark humor take on classic Hanna Barbara cartoons like “Johnny Quest,” following Dr. Venture, former boy adventurer turned failed super-scientist as he deals with his not-so-ideal life of living in the shadow of his father’s legacy while half-heartedly raising his own two sons, Hank and Dean Venture. Dr. Venture is emotionally insecure and has a pretty loose moral compass, most early episodes following him as he sells super-weapons to shady buyers while Hank and Dean incompetently get into some kind of kidnapping, their bodyguard Brock Sampson always there to get them out of it.
The show features an immensely large cast of characters, most of them being villains of The Guild of Calamitous Intent, a very bureaucratic organization of villains who assign bad-guys to “arch” heroes and super-scientists. Two of the most prominent antagonists are the butterfly-themed “The Monarch” and a culturally-refined, invisible-limbed villain known as “Phantom Limb.” Created by Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, the show is perfect for lovers of dark humor, genre satire and obscure references.
2. COWBOY BEBOP
As we mentioned earlier, Japanese animation doesn’t seem to have the same audience restrictions as American cartoons, most anime being aimed at teenagers and adults. Perhaps the simpler animation style saves enough money that merchandise sales are not a big factor in the production, or maybe the market is just different in general. Whatever it is, Anime has a big selection of animation for the adult viewer, one of the most popular being Shinichirō Watanabe’s sci-fi western/noir masterpiece “Cowboy Bebop.”
“Bebop” follows Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, two space bounty hunters looking to make ends meet. The down-on-thier-luck bounty hunters are eventually joined by Ein, a corgi, Faye Valentine, a femme fatale with a lot of debt, and Edward, a young hacker protege. The crew live aboard Jet’s ship, “The Bebop” and each episode follows them on a different bounty mission, with a few episodes exploring each character’s background and individual story arcs. “Cowboy Bebop” is known for its jazz-infused soundtrack, it’s cool neo-noire take on the future and its ending title card which read “See You, Space Cowboy.”
1. RICK AND MORTY
This was an obvious one, everyone is watching and talking about Rick and Morty. Created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, the show evolved from a short parodying Doc Brown and Marty McFly (it is extremely NSFW if you look it up) and follows the titular characters Rick, a super-smart scientist, and Morty, his dimwitted grandson who gets roped in on Rick’s high-concept, space-faring sci-fi adventures. Along the way, Morty is often victim to strange situations, harsh life-lessons or even just his grandpa’s selfishness.
The show was enormously successful and garnered another season and two comic book series almost immediately. After leaving on a cliffhanger at the end of season two, the third season premiered in place of an episode “Samurai Jack” as an April Fools joke (which didn’t go over super well with “Jack” fans). “Rick and Morty” is all the sci-fi tropes you love combined with deep philosophical and immensely screwed-up situations to make an absurdly funny show with a lot of deep, gut-wrenching moments. Seriously, if you aren’t watching “Rick and Morty,” then you need to start right now.
Which cartoon shows for adult audiences do you think are must-sees? Let us know which ones in the comments!