Home Entertainment The 10 Best cartoons of the 2010s

The 10 Best cartoons of the 2010s

14 min read
23
Best-cartoons-2010-2

When the 2010s kicked off, it looked like animation was in dire straits. TV channels were all too happy to make the cheapest of sitcoms for kids, Marvel’s output based on the hype of the MCU was so bad that you could literally smell the South Korean sweatshop labour through your TV and any actual gems were few and far between.

And then something magical happened. Television got a kick up the pants, the streaming wars encouraged creativity and animation was seen as a new frontier to make signature mark in as the environment got a lot more crowded. From that competition arose dozens and dozens of new animated series that pushed the envelope on what the medium was capable of. Cartoons for kids, cartoons for adults and even more cartoons for everyone between those demographics.

Animation has so much more to offer in 2020 than it did in 2010, but from that groundbreaking decade came some of the very best cartoons of all time. So let’s kick this list off with:

Best animation for adults – Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty

Love its dark humour or despise its nihilistic main character for killing the joy around him, but it’s hard to deny the impact of Rick and Morty. Part science fiction and part dysfunctional family drama with a twisted sense or morality thrown in for good measure, Rick and Morty is still a treat on a visual level with animation that blends both overt and covert ideas together in a blender of insanity.

At its core, Rick and Morty never forgets that its a cartoon either. While shows like Bojack Horseman may have won acclaim for how it tackled real-world issues and mental health, Rick and Morty still manages to touch on those topics while making the most of the medium that it’s in to create episodes which are often controversial or ridiculously over the top romps of style and substance.

One thing that Rick and Morty never happens to be when compared to other cartoon shows aimed at adults? Boring, as Adult Swim’s flagship series delights in being unpredictable entertainment that has everyone talking by the time the end credits have rolled.

Honourable Mentions: Bojack Horseman, Big Mouth, Archer and The Venture Bros.

Best weirdness – Regular Show

Regular Show

Growing up in the 1990s and 2000s, it seemed as if animation was ready to ditch the Saturday morning reputation of cute ‘n fuzzy stories for something a little bit more…weird. Real Monsters, Invader Zim and Courage the Cowardly Dog are prime examples of mind-bending animation somehow sneaking past censors, and right at the start of the decade that baton was picked up and handed to the oddball duo of Mordecai and Rigby.

Regular Show was the name of the series, and if you thought a talking bluebird and his slacker racoon pal being bossed around by a talking gumball machine was the apex of crazy then you’d seen nothing yet. Over the course of several seasons, Regular Show quickly established itself with a simple formula: It took the mundane, dropped the ordinary into a blender and then mixed it all together with twists from the left field that made you question the sanity of anyone working on the show.

But by the massive head of Pops almighty, was it a treat to watch. The animation was consistently smooth, the main cast was kept at a perfect number so as to not let their endearing personalities get diminished and the digs at pop culture from all across time and space was deserving of all the kudos. With licensed music, character highlight episodes that hit you square in the emotional gut and a final episode that guaranteed that not a single eye in the house would be dry, Regular Show is a love letter to weirdness that made the 2010s delightfully mad.

Honourable Mentions: Gravity Falls, Family Guy and Robot Chicken.

Best family series – The Amazing World of Gumball

The Amazing World of Gumball

I’ve got a newfound appreciation for my parents, who’d keep an eye on me as a kid to make certain that I wasn’t being driven slowly mad with terrible animation. Having to sit through some absolute dreck at the time, today’s all ages entertainment isn’t just better but also smarter. In an age where animation can cater to anyone of any demographic, The Amazing World of Gumball is an impossible example of perfection.

Everything that makes the show unique simply shouldn’t work. And yet in reality, Gumball’s blender approach of throwing dozens of varying animation styles, themes and genres together into any given episode makes it one of the most unique TV shows to ever rise to prominence in the 2010s. It has enough appeal to grab the attention of a child and whip-smart writing to keep adults around thanks to some incredibly subtle jokes and themes.

It has animation that lives up to the amazing in its title, mashing together everything that the world has to offer into an eclectic package which is dialled up to 11. Simply put, there’s nothing else like Gumball on TV, as the story of the Wattersons managed to crack out six seasons of episodes that serve as benchmarks in family entertainment.

Honourable Mentions: Adventure Time, Bob’s Burgers.

Best adventure series – Gravity Falls

Gravity Falls

The 1990s were a gold mine for animated series focused on one gloriously long adventure, and the 2010s didn’t disappoint when Disney began throwing considerable amounts of capital at the small screen to produce unique new series. The greatest triumph out of all these shows is easily Gravity Falls, Disney’s Twin Peaks meets the X-Files fusion that took the world by storm.

With a simple setup of twin siblings investigating the supernatural town of Gravity Falls, Alex Hirsch’s show wove subtle threads throughout the saga, eventually stitching them all together into a jersey of full circle plot completion so glorious in its execution that it’s a small miracle that Mabel herself hasn’t run off with the end product yet.

Any single episode of Gravity Falls makes for a fun diversion, but step back to observe the bigger picture and its an astounding work of art. It’s a grand tapestry of hidden clues and references, dangling threads that are never wasted and all lead to one of the best finales in animation. Gravity is all charm and heart, but it’s also a prime example of a TV series realising that it didn’t have to treat its primary audience like children. It could rely on its viewers actually being clever enough to see a bigger picture at work, a masterpiece of storytelling that won’t be surpassed for years to come.

Honourable Mentions: Starr vs. the Forces of Evil, Steven Universe, Over the Garden Wall, Duck Tales.

Best superhero series – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Cartoons may have been doing business long before Superman lifted an old Ford car above his head in 1938, but when Fleischer studios decided to rotoscope the hell out of the man of steel it set a benchmark for the medium and a genre that would flourish over the decades to come. The 1990s saw DC rule the roost with Batman, Superman and Justice League cartoons, while Marvel would step into the fold in the years to come with their shared animated universe of shows that were…meeeeeeeeeh.

If you’re talking comic book source material cartoons though, you don’t get a franchise any bigger than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Having existed in one form or another ever since they began raising shell in the 1980s, every decade since then has had a take on the sewer-dwelling heroes since then. Coming off of the shakey but ultimately solid extreme reimagining of the 2000s, Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman’s creation eventually wound up being sold to Nicklelodeon in the 2010s, a sale that would see the definitive TMNT cartoon rise from that acquisition.

Using a mixture of cutting edge CGI animation, 2D stylisation and a whole heap of nostalgia, Nicklelodeon’s first foray into the world of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a sight to behold. Several seasons of charm, action and world-building that ran like a mix-tape of highlights from across the eras of turtledom, the early 2010s gave birth to a show that may have been aimed at kids but still knew how to hook adults back in thanks to callbacks from the past that were given a fresh coat of paint

That Nicklelodeon’s show still managed to stay kid-friendly enough to sell a ton of toys while pushing the envelop on animated action sequences and character development, is a triumph not only for its genre but for all of animation. The bar was raised, the fandom was reignited and Nicklelodeon would prove that the quartet of Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo had found the right home for their shadowy shinobi adventures in the 2010s and the decades of adventure that are still to come.

Honourable Mentions:  Justice League Action, Beware the Batman, Young Justice and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

The groundbreaker – Avatar: Legend of Korra

Legend of Korra

In an age where norms are challenged and people are beginning to question the status quo of everything, Avatar: The Legend of Korra felt like the first brave step in a new direction towards tomorrow. It wasn’t just the fact that Korra’s saga would end with baby steps towards people realising that gasp two people of the same sex could fall in love, but so so much more when you examine the overall series.

There were themes of mental damage and loss, heartbreak and inner turmoil. There were challenges to overcome not only of the body but of the mind as well. There was the threat of division in a world that realised that unity was more powerful than ancient gods seeking to disrupt balance in a brave new world, there were questions of spirituality and change.

For a show that was only meant to last a single season, Nickelodeon and Studio Mir’s four season epic was a groundbreaking adventure at the time. Weaving a complex narrative with expert precision, The Legend of Korra still realised that it could be more than just a traditional cartoon while also playing to the strengths of the medium, merging the traditional with the new. Having all that and incredible animation on top of it, made this show more than the sum of its part and an important first step in advancing storytelling for a new age and audience.

Honourable Mention: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

Best stupidity – Sanjay and Craig

Sanjay and Craig

I’m a big believer that cartoons can be an uplifting and important part of our entertainment diet, but at the same time I’m also a massive fan of junk food animation. The kind of cartoon that revels in stupidity, idiotic adventures and storylines so absurd that you’d swear the entire creative crew behind it was constantly on the trippiest of drugs possible.

When it comes to stupid good fun, it simply doesn’t get better than Sanjay and Craig. It’s a delightful romp of dumbassery, a mindless jolt to the system that is pitch perfect in extracting a giggle from its audience. Maybe it’s a perfectly timed fart sound, maybe it’s a cast of voice actors who can give Japanese Kabuki performers a run for their money in overacting or maybe its the animation style which perfectly complements the insanity.

Heck, maybe it’s all of those things and more, as Sanjay and Craig somehow managed to outdo itself with every single episode and raise the roof on having a good heart chuckle every week.

Honourable Mentions: Pickle and Peanut, Uncle Grandpa.

Best inspiration – OK KO! Let’s Be Heroes

OK KO! Let’s Be Heroes

If you’re going to learn a moral lesson, you might as well learn it from cartoons. He-Man would regularly deliver a sermon by the end of an episode, Captain Planet’s warning to save the environment was largely ignored and Channel Um-Teevee was…well it was something. The idea of a cartoon series actually having something to say was pretty much dead ad buried throughout the 2000s as cheap Japanese animation took the west by storm, but nearing the end of the 2010s one reminder of the past surfaced to the top.

Called OK KO! Let’s Be Heroes, it seemed like your stock standard action series with delightful animation, but scratch beneath the surface and you’d find that KO’s story packed a lot more punch than you were prepared for. Now make no mistake, OK KO! is still a bucket of fun and absolutely delights in running wild with quick-fire bursts of action, but it still manages to deliver a haymaker of unexpected twists straight to the emotional gut.

What starts out as an atypical journey to be the best like no one ever was quickly subverts the genre and instead becomes an absolute joy to watch. More than anything else, it’s KO’s unbridled optimism and enduring spirit that makes this short ‘n sweet knockout punch of animation so memorable.

Honourable Mention: We Bare Bears.

Best legacy – Star Wars Rebels

star-wars-rebels-season-four-key-art-tall_16x9_1600

There’s a certain thrill in seeing the past given a slick new coat of paint, and there’s no other form of media on the planet that can wield nostalgia with the same deadly precision that Star Wars can. Nine movies later, countless tie-ins and video games added to the Disney vault, and Star Wars Rebels stands as the very best of the entire franchise.

It’s everything that works about Star Wars, but condensed and delivered in a form factor that’s easy to digest. It is both intimate and epic in its construction, a story of renegades fighting back against the biggest Imperial dog in the yard. Victory is fleeting, defeat is unavoidable and by the time the show ends you’ll be buried a sobbing wreck trying to process multiple stages of grief and joy.

Legacy shows are meant to encapsulate everything that’s great about the source material, but Star Wars Rebels didn’t just do that. It made the entire Star Wars franchise even better.

Honourable Mention: Scooby Doo Mystery Inc., Transformers Prime and Tron: Uprising.

Best of the Best – Voltron: Legendary Defender

Voltron Legendary Defender

You want action? Voltron. You want emotion? Voltron. You want a multiple season-spanning universal saga with a definitive beginning, middle and end that defies the norm and is a testament to just how truly epic animation can be when given the chance to shine? Voltron. Dreamworks Animation and Netflix created magic when they teamed up for Voltron: Legendary Defender, a show so epic and intimate in its construction that it is amazing that it even exists.

There may be a Point A to Point B destination throughout the multiple series of the Voltron saga, but it operates on so many other levels at such an incredible level of craftsmanship that the show is obscene in just how good it is. It has a soundtrack that lays an audio foundation for any scene with expert care and attention, it looks like a trillion-dollar investment from Studio Mir and it has moments that will leave you reeling from the heavy emotional body blow that it delivers right your organs.

Voltron: Legendary Defender isn’t just a cartoon…it’s a work of art. It is love and care for the source material that inspired it while also being brave in how it blazes its own path forward. Voltron: Legendary Defender is a triumph of animation and storytelling, and is hands down the very finest experience that animation had to offer in the 2010s.

Last Updated: January 29, 2020

23 Comments

  1. This was an unexpected treat and now I have a few more shows to go watch after work.

    Reply

  2. Alien Emperor Trevor

    January 28, 2020 at 15:32

    Amazon’s Undone is an amazing series if you’re looking for something animated and serious.

    And a shout out to Dragon Prince, Castlevania, Final Space, & Gary and His Demons.

    Reply

  3. Chris

    January 28, 2020 at 15:44

    Final Space and The Dragon Prince are also brilliant shows.

    Reply

  4. Yozzie

    January 28, 2020 at 15:19

    Star vs the Forces of Evil, Gravity Falls and The Amazing World of Gumball were/is amazing!

    Reply

    • Kromas

      January 29, 2020 at 08:59

      Star jumped off the deep end in the last season. But Netflix has a new show that you might enjoy. Kipo and the age of wonderbeasts.

      Reply

  5. Original Heretic

    January 28, 2020 at 15:19

    Glad to see that Venture Bros got a mention.

    Reply

    • The D

      January 28, 2020 at 16:34

      Dude, it was such a close second on this list. I really wanted to give it top honours, but I think its sporadic release schedule hurt it way too much.

      Reply

      • Original Heretic

        January 28, 2020 at 16:39

        Plus there was hardly hype over the next season coming, etc.
        I only watched the latest season about 3 months ago, after me one mate told me “it’s been out for a while!”.
        I love what they’ve done with it. The pop culture bastardisation is pure magic.

        Reply

  6. Caveshen Rajman

    January 28, 2020 at 16:33

    Just throwing this in there because I think it’s absolutely the best animated TV series, more so than Rick & Morty and Futurama aka my two favourite animations: Bojack Horseman will make you rethink your entire existence in slow, agonising detail.

    Reply

    • The D

      January 28, 2020 at 16:34

      That’s my whole problem with it. It’s so drawn out and downright depressing, while doing absolutely minimal work with the medium it uses. Content ain’t bad, but execution of it leaves so much more to be desired. Whereas with Rick and Morty I can be depressed and have a good time!

      Reply

      • Caveshen Rajman

        January 28, 2020 at 16:40

        Hahaha, fair enough.
        Perhaps it takes a kind of person.

        Reply

        • The D

          January 28, 2020 at 17:12

          Brad argued for Bojack to be on this list, and after listening to his impassioned pleas and solid justification, I did what any good writer would do.

          I ignored him completely and used Rick and Morty anyway because this isn’t a democracy. HEYOH.

          Reply

  7. KyProRen

    January 28, 2020 at 23:27

    I think calling Voltron the “Best of the best” might be too high of a praise.
    Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good show… but that last season was an insult to Voltron noobs and veterans alike.
    If there’s any show that deserves the “Best of the best” spot, it’s Gravity Falls.
    That show had a great beginning, middle AND end.

    Reply

  8. D.A.V.E.

    January 29, 2020 at 00:35

    Hey, a Beware the Batman shout-out! Hell yeah! For more underrated superhero animated action, I also recommend Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Big Hero 6: The Series, and the cut short Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters.

    I’m also shouting out the recent Ducktales reboot, Legend Quest, and Tangled: The Series. My overall favorite of the decade is She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, which I never expected.

    Reply

    • The D

      January 29, 2020 at 17:33

      I think tomorrow I’m going to take all these other cartoons mentioned in the comments and add them to the article in their own glorious lists of reader recommendations.

      Reply

  9. wdcain1

    January 29, 2020 at 02:19

    A fair list though Adventure Time should have been on here instead of OK KO. The ’00s will always remind me when network TV decided action cartoons no longer had a place. Cartoon Network and Nick both treated their teenage demographic toons horribly, cancelling them despite good ratings or putting them in awful time slots with no advertisement.

    Reply

  10. Hammersteyn

    January 29, 2020 at 10:48

    Regular Show, I want to do the drugs they did when they came up with it.

    Reply

  11. Geoffrey Tim

    January 29, 2020 at 07:03

    Only thing I can dig with on this list, for really real, is Gravity Falls.

    Reply

  12. Daniel Hallinan

    January 29, 2020 at 10:32

    Firstly, fuck yeah Gravity Falls, Regular Show, and especially the absolutely wonderful Amazing World of Gumball.

    While I enjoyed Rick & Morty for the first few seasons, its heavy shift into induglent and celebratory nihilism, despite knowing it was a result of Dan Harmon’s troubles, quickly sapped any enjoyment I got out of the series. (A particularly caustic fanbase didn’t help that either…)

    Bojack Horseman was something I bounced off as well – largely because making a show about a character who’s abusive, but often having the show not call him out of it for some of the worse things he’s done (particularly stuff that relates to my own history) saw me drop out of it really quickly.

    Star Wars Rebels was great at illustrating the dichotomy between what Star Wars is, and what I’d rather it be. It had nice moments, but ultimately I was often disappoitned by it – particularly how Thrawn’strick to being a genius was that he was just… competent as a leader? Regardless, I get why it’s built like it is, it just wasn’t for me.

    Korra was great. Pity everyone going apeshit on social media spoiled the final season so I lost motivation to watch it :I

    I’d also like to throw a shoutout to She-Ra. While I’ve not watched it, I’ve got a few friends who are absolutely in love with it, and it makes them really happy! Tuca & Birdie seemed to corner another fantastic market before it was violently murdered.

    Bonus shoutouts to Adventuer Time, which was a fantastic experience (though I argue it went on for too long), and Duck Tales, which did an amazing job of revisiting older characters.

    Reply

    • The D

      January 29, 2020 at 13:12

      I still blame you for getting me hooked on Gumball 😀

      Reply

    • D.A.V.E.

      January 29, 2020 at 21:32

      Mastermind villains are hard to pull off. I wish Greg Weisman had stuck around through the third season of Star Wars Rebels because he’s pretty good at writing them, and I wanted to see how he’d handle Thrawn.

      Reply

  13. CodeDisQus

    January 30, 2020 at 23:04

    I ADORE cartoons!! Thanks for this list and thanks to all the good people in the comments for adding more to the list. I’m gonna find and watch all that I have missed!
    Also, keep them coming!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

New on Netflix: July 2021

All the new movies, series, documentaries and anime hitting Netflix screens in June …