Rather than having a grand sweeping list of the best cartoons, which would be an incredibly difficult endeavour, the cartoons in this list are representative of what I consider the best of the new and current cartoons available on television at the moment.
Admittedly the shows included on this list are not only contemporary but they’re arguably adult in nature. While certainly some are aimed at children or younger audiences, the content and sub-textual value that can be taken away from adult viewers provide the shows with a refreshing depth that places them so high on this list.
- In fifth place is The Amazing World of Gumball.
This Cartoon Network produced, British-American show is not only visually stunning but it is genuinely funny. Following the antics of Gumball (a cat) and Darwin (an evolved pet goldfish who was welcomed into the family) the show is one that explores the pairs school and home life. While Gumball may be the name sake of the show, his family, school friends and teachers nevertheless play important parts in the narrative.
What makes The Amazing World of Gumball stand out from other contemporary cartoons is the visual style of the show. Gumball and his family are animated in a 2D style, while other members of the community are created using special stylised 3D, realistic 3D and even stop motion techniques. This diversity of animation styles coupled with the photo realistic backgrounds make this show such an incredible visual pleasure.
Similar to shows such as Malcolm in the Middle and The Middle, The Amazing World of Gumball is one that paints a more realistic, yet hopeful picture of the lower income family. One issue that has proven to be an annoyance is the amount of material that has been censored for Australian audiences. While no drastic changes have taken place, moments such a same-sex chaste kiss and small violent incidents have been cut from the show; the necessity of such changes is, I feel, questionable. However, relatable yet still incredibly imaginative story lines mixed with genuine belly laughs are what make this cartoon stand out from the crowd.
- In fourth place is Archer.
Putting Archer in fourth place does in no way do the show justice. The show, that focuses on the exploits of ISIS (International Secret Intelligence Service), is not only action packed and story driven but it is down right, hilarious.
Protagonist and name sake of the show, Sterling Malory Archer, is a secret agent whose blasé proficiency and hilariously deep-seeded mother issues drive the whole show. This show cannot be discussed without mentioning the cohesion and hilarity that the rest of the cast provide. From a bitter and alcoholic mother Malory, a rich yet insane Cheryl, to a even more insane mad-scientist Krieger and (a particular favourite) human resource manager and all around arse-kicker Pam, this ensemble of characters is one that continues to grow, evolve and keep audiences watching.
Coupled with this amazing cast of characters, blockbuster story-lines and (as is the production companies want) numerous narrative turns, Archer is a show that cannot be slowed down. Entering into its fifth season Archer is one that only grows and develops as it continues. Although, while the show can by no means be said to be ‘maturing,’ it nevertheless keeps producing top notch entertainment.
- In third place is the Emmy award winning, Regular Show.
Contrary to what the title suggests, this show is anything but regular. Set in a town park, Mordecai (a Bluejay) and Rigby (a Racoon) are groundskeepers who spend most of their time slacking off . The format of the show is similar to that seen on Cartoon Network, with the episodes being broken down into two eleven minutes slots, however the show follows an almost set formula. That is, while the show may start off in ‘normal’ terrain it slowly sinks into deeper and more outrageous ground before somehow righting itself and the ‘regular’ park.
Regular Show has many more adult jokes that are either blatantly obvious to older audiences or buried in sub-text, than any other Cartoon Network show. Even without these sly little nods to the adult viewers, Regular Show is one that still manages to entertain. Similar to The Amazing World of Gumball, there are moments that have been cut out of episodes screened in Australia. However this does not effect the impact of the show, rather it merely cuts out some of the more adult or violent moments.
The sheer quotability of the show will have moments re-playing in your head and the elongated ‘Ohh’ will no doubt be included in many a vocabulary. The sheer diversity of the narratives coupled with the engaging side characters are what makes Regular Show so great.
- Second place goes to The Venture Brothers.
This show stands out above the rest with the sheer wit and amazingly complex storylines at work across all four (soon to be five) seasons. Following Doctor ‘Rusty’ Venture, his two sons Hank and Dean, and bodyguard Brock, The Venture Brothers tells of the second generation and almost repercussions of living in the shadow of a Johnny Quest father figure. Once a young adventurer now ‘Rusty’ Venture is a middle aged, two-bit super-scientist who lives off the remains of his fathers work, all the while going on numerous ‘adventures.’ His two sons, Hank and Dean, who are reminiscent of the Hardy Boys, coupled with their shared relationship with the ultra-violent Brock make this show both engaging and warm.
One of the numerous side characters who over the series have played more of a part, is the Monarch. This evil super-villain who has a monarch butterfly theme, his wife (Dr. Mrs. The Monarch) and his band of loyal Henchmen are the self-proclaimed arch-nemesis of the Ventures. Numerous storyline revolve around this ‘henching’ with the involvements and back stories of the characters becoming increasingly intermingled. The brilliant way in which the story has progressed and evolved is almost like watching a fossil being uncovered. All the hints are there, numerous moments of foreshadowing are present throughout the series and yet they still remain a mind blowing surprise when they happen. Creators Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick demonstrate episode after episode, pop culture reference after reference, their collective genius.
Despite the complexity of the storyline, The Venture Brothers in a surprisingly easy show to watch. The back story and connected relationships, while present remain in the background with hints and off hand comments only connecting them. This is not a show that you have to watch religiously from the beginning as any episode is one that can be watched out of context and still enjoyed. Although for people who want to get right into the new fifth season here is an 8 minute run-down of the four previous seasons. The hilarity and multitude of hidden references of The Venture Brothers are ones that will have you returning over and over again to the show.
- Coming in first is Bob’s Burgers.
What separates Bob’s Burgers from the others in this list is not the humour or the characters but the sheer re-watchability. The premise of Bob’s Burgers is one that follows Bob Belcher and his family as they struggle to run a burger restaurant. This underrated show is one that consistently deliverers great laughs as well as narratives. The Belcher children are an almost endless source of humour with their personalities and relationships with each other providing numerous moments of hilarity.
Despite having seen each episode numerous times, I still find myself laughing, smiling and enjoying the show. It is this freshness that keeps me coming back for more and what makes Bob’s Burgers number one.
To anyone out there who thinks Cartoons aren’t a legitimate or good source of entertainment, I submit to you this list.The shows featured on here and in the honourable mentions are ones that call out to the child in us all, while some speak more to the adult than others, the enjoyment that the animation genre provides should not be devalued, rather, it should be celebrated.
Honourable mentions: Adventure Time, Daria, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Frisky Dingo, Gravity Falls and Robot Chicken.