There’s a New(ish) Breed of Cartoon
There’s a new(ish) breed of cartoon roaming the fields of entertainment. They appear on networks, such as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, and they are just as valid as any live-action series out there. These animated shows are first kid-friendly, but nonetheless entertaining.
Shows, like Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and The Amazing World of Gumball, play different than the regular Saturday morning cartoon-kid-brain-rotting you’d expect. They feature strong writing elements that touch on real world topics and struggles.
Let’s start with Avatar: The Last Airbender. This marks the beginning of a more mature type of cartoon, premiering in 2005. It starts with an 1800s-esque world that’s been battling a hundred year war. Right out of the gate, the show touches on something most cartoons won’t, world war. Other themes include genocide, oppression, sexism, and death. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as it still gives brief moments of goofiness due to the main protagonists being about twelve years old. The show is fun to watch because of the fantastical idea of “bending” where there are people in the world who can telekinetically “bend” four elements: water, earth, fire, and air. The show plays like a book series where each episode carries the weight from the last. Each character shows real human emotions, not just goofball kids with magical powers. Do you need solid proof that this cartoon is a true gem? It has won twelve awards, ranging from Kids’ Choice Awards to Peabody.
The Legend of Korra is the sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender, and it’s a show made specifically for the kids who grew up watching its predecessor. It premiered in 2012 , and works in the same world, but in a time period similar to the roaring twenties; it is complete with transatlantic narration and technology. It pulls focus to the complex lives of the teenagers who are navigating the “bending” world around them and the real strength of their powers. Not only does it touch on the same subjects as The Last Airbender, it also dives into something almost unheard of in kid’s television, sexuality. This show is a perfect compliment after binge-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the proof is in the twenty-eight award pudding.
Adventure Time is a fun, mythical, magical world that challenges its two main protagonists, Jake the dog and Finn the human. They’re adventurers that like to explore and fight the dangers of Ooo, the post-apocalyptic land where magic has regrown after “the mushroom war.” It sounds ridiculous, but there are episodes where I joined the characters in their existential crises and questioned the world around me. Released in 2010, it has been the golden animated goose of Cartoon Network, boasting almost three hundred episodes and nineteen awards.
The Amazing World of Gumball is the slightly more immature standout, but is still worth the watch. Each episode “resets” where the last episode fades away, and the characters are fresh and new for new, zany adventures. Gumball Watterson, a bright blue cat that’s best friends with his walking, adopted pet fish brother named Darwin, get into all sorts of stupidity and madness that you’d expect from a kid’s show. Yet, what you don’t expect are the episodes where you have to hit pause and ask yourself, did this prepubescent cat really roast a talking cactus on their privilege? This show entails whip smart writing that hides behind a colorful world that blends all types of animation into one show. As the series progresses, the main protagonists includes Gumball and Darwin’s parents and little sister, and they go off on family related hijinks. The main antagonist? The Wattersons’ own ridiculousness that comes to bite them in the ass. The show began in 2011, and has a whopping six-season run that deserves your full attention.
Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe (2013) is like a flower. The first episodes are like cute little rosebuds; they’re wonderful to look at because they are so innocent and lovely, then turn in the best way possible. You’re hit with moments that explore a deeper world of extraterrestrial beings who have been battling an unfair war for thousands of years. As the series continues, we see the happy-go-lucky kid named Steven Universe deal with situations, like learning his mom gave up her life for him, or being held responsible for his mom’s war crimes, or being mistaken for his mom. However, it’s not all mommy issues— they dive into a world of difficult topics similar to Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, and explore even further into LGBT identities. Who knew this could come from a show where a boy has a space rock in his belly button that gives him glowing pink powers, and who’s parented by three other space rocks that take feminine forms…
In short, you need to be watching these shows. Ditch the idea that all kids’ cartoons have easily digestible plots and slapstick humor. They offer fresh and original stories with younger underlying tones that are balanced with strong writing that are delivered through gorgeous eye-candy animations. So, the next time you’re on a mindless streaming scroll, hit the kids’ section and relive those Saturday mornings.