In case it was hard to tell, I love animation. I love all kinds of animation, from hand drawn to CGI, from claymation to pain staiking oil paintings, from classic Fleisher era to modern Disney, for kids or for adults, if you put me in front of an animated movie or TV show, chances are I’ll appreciate it more than the average critic as long as it isn’t an abomination to mankind. But even in those cases where an animated movie is complete trash, I’d still prefer to watch that over a bad live-action movie. That shows how much I love the art form.
In recent years, we’ve had an explosion of phenomenal animated shows that people have become diehard fans of. There are fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Steven Universe, Gravity Falls, Rick & Morty, and Adventure Time across all ages and nations, and for good reason. However, there are just as many, if not more, great shows that are as good that don’t get the recognition they deserve. Maybe it’s because the show is too new or it’s too niche, but with the summer coming up and most of us having a lot more free time on our hands, why not find a new animated show to watch and fall in love with?
For this post, I’m going to keep this mostly to shows that are relatively new or have new seasons in the past year. That way, you can still hop on the hype train and join me in waiting for future seasons to come out. Also, as much as I love anime, I’m opting to only include one anime title on this list, and even then one that’s not as… out there as other modern titles. Because I’m pretty sure that even by everyone’s standards, watching a show about three middle school boys with crippling relationship skills turn into kappas to fight zombies created by two gay otter cops, one of whom is a robot, to steal energy from their butts by dancing is a bit too insane.
With that in mind, here are five interesting shows that you should definitely check out if you’ve got a couple of days to kill.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Where can I find it?: Netflix
Starting off with a show that’s slowly on the rise, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a modern re-imagining of the classic She-Ra cartoon from the 80’s. In this version, Adora is a soldier for the Evil Horde until she learns that the Evil Horde are, shock of all shocks, the bad guys. Through a magic sword, she’s able to turn into the legendary She-Ra and allies herself with other Princesses from across the world to defeat the Evil Horde, led by Hordak, as well as Shadow Weaver, her adoptive mother, and Catra, her on again/off again best friend/rival/lover(?).
With a second season just airing and a third one due out this August, She-Ra has been a show that I’ve fallen in love with since I first saw it. With some great character designs and smart writing, this is a show that’s an all ages adventure with some compelling characters. Hands down, if you’re going to get involved in any of the characters, you’re going to become really attached to the villains more than the heroes. Not to diss She-Ra and her pals, but they all feel like cookie cutter heroes with the usual character traits and flaws. Instead, our villains are incredibly likable and are actually intelligent. Hordak isn’t just some evil overlord that makes dumb plans because the plot dictates it. He’s crafty and whenever his lieutenants come up to him with a stupid plan for personal vengeance, he calls them an idiot and tells them to focus on the bigger picture and not their own personal vendettas.
Then there’s Catra, who is by far the best character on the show. When I watch her, I get flashbacks to season one Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender who has the potential of following in that character’s footsteps or going full Kylo Ren and eventually becoming the main antagonist. Outside of the awesome character interactions, there’s a nice charm that the show exudes in all of its scenes, though it’s not the best at conveying serious drama just yet. Also, the animation could use a bit more polish since it’s been hovering around “good enough” territory for the past two seasons, but the plot is what’s really carrying the show for now. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has the potential to be another sprawling, animated epic in the same way that Voltron: Legendary Defender was, so check it out if you want some awesome girl power adventuring.
The Promised Neverland
Where can I find it? Crunchyroll, Hulu, FunimationNow, Hidive, Toonami
The Promised Neverland is a bizarre shonen title just because of how un-shonen it really is. For those of you out of the loop, a shonen anime/manga is a title that’s primarily aged for teenage boys and features a majority of the tropes that the genre is subject to. There’s a bunch of action, crazy gags, fan service up the ass, and super serious plots that are all about end-of-the-world action or huge battles. Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, Naruto, and My Hero Academia are all classic shonen titles for reference points. If it wasn’t for the fact that the original manga was published in Shonen Jump, I would not have believed for a second that The Promised Neverland was a shonen title.
This is the kind of story where the less you know about the show going into it, the better. All that you need to know is that Emma, Ray, and Norman are three orphans living in Grace Field House, an orphanage where they’re able to eat, play, and get an education from their caretaker Isabella. Then something happens. I can’t say exactly what happens, but suddenly life at Grace Field House changes and our three heroes begin a game of cat and mouse in order to escape the orphanage.
When this show was airing in the winter, I made sure I streamed it every week to keep up with the insane twists that TPN threw at me. This is a classic thriller where everyone is trying to outsmart everyone and it clearly has an edge. In most shows, our protagonists would win just by virtue of being the main characters while our villains are destined to suffer. Not so here. Our heroes will suffer and not everyone makes it out in one piece from these 12 episodes. Plus with some truly inspired animation, this was one of the best shows visually of the past season. I shouldn’t be so amazed at a scene where a character walks down a hall to get water, but the animation was so stunning and laced with details that I couldn’t turn away from it.
As is the case with most anime that are adapted from a manga, there are several changes made for the sake of the change in media, some of which work while others not so much. Plus, the ending of the first season differs somewhat from the manga and weakens a character somewhat because of it, but that’s a minor complaint. I said first season because a second season has already been confirmed for next year. A dub of the show is currently airing on Toonami, which is honestly a great way to watch it since now I get waves of nostalgia late night like I used to for so many other anime titles growing up. Easily one of the best new shows of 2019.
Where can I watch it?: Youtube, Cartoon Network…?
Even compared to all of the other shows on this list, Infinity Train is a weird one. This is a show that actually hasn’t released yet and is due to come out sometime in 2019. So how do I know that this is a show to watch? Because the pilot originally aired back in 2016 and has become a fan favorite series since.
Cartoon Network originally released the pilot of the show, created by Owen Dennis of Regular Show fame, and the positive reception was overwhelming to say the least. The pilot became the most watched in Cartoon Network’s history, currently sitting at 4.5 million views on Youtube after releasing in November of 2016. Since then, fans were chomping at the bit for it to be greenlit by the network, with them announcing a full order of the show in March of 2018, followed by a teaser at San Diego Comic Con last year with a much darker tone than we’ve seen before.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, watch the pilot. It’s only nine minutes long and is a pretty good time, but the direction of the teaser, coupled with the fact that no one knows if it’s going to air on Cartoon Network or Adult Swim, makes this a fascinating show just to follow. I admit, Infinity Train could end up being disappointing just from all of the years of hype possibly making this show better than it could ever be, but I have faith that this is going to be an interesting sci-fi series that can fill the Gravity Falls shaped hole in your heart and then some.
The Venture Bros.
Where can I watch it?: Adult Swim
I know I’m kind of cheating putting The Venture Bros., a show that’s been on the air in some form since 2004, on this list of unknown modern animated shows, but how many of you have actually sat down to watch an episode of The Venture Bros.? How many of you can begin to explain what the hell happens here? Even fans that have followed the show from the beginning, like myself, have a tough time following what’s happening in the show at this point and I love it.
Receiving an eighth season last August, the show originally started out as a simple parody of Jonny Quest and the Hardy Boys series of books before becoming so complex that following it is a herculean task. In short, the show follows Dr. Rusty Venture, a boy genius turned super lazy asshole scientist extraordinaire with his two moronic but good-natured sons Dean and Hank, as well as his bodyguard and deadliest thing alive, Brock Sampson. There’re adventures, secret agent stuff, and a plot so dense that I wish anyone the best of luck that decides to hop in without starting from the beginning.
Here’s an example of how crazy the plot of the series is. Season Eight started off with a three part storyline that concluded the events of the previous season, which aired over two years, and deals with a side villain from multiple seasons ago, who may or may not be related to one of the main supporting characters, which centers around a throwaway joke from the second episode of the show that no one remembered because it was a throwaway joke from the second goddamn episode of the show.
But for all of its incomprehensibility, The Venture Bros. has managed to be one of the funniest and most outrageous shows I’ve seen in years. When compared to modern Adult Swim shows like Rick & Morty, I still prefer The Venture Bros. because of its tighter focus, more compelling characters, and how the humor on display always makes me laugh. There are some duds in Rick & Morty’s catalog and Justin Roiland’s schtick can get old after a while, but I can’t find an episode of The Venture Bros. that didn’t make me laugh.
Unfortunately, there are some long hiatuses between seasons. Usually the show goes two to three years between new seasons, which last about eight or ten episodes each. There may be a special every now and then to pass the time, but this is a show that takes an agonizingly long time to make new content. But whenever a new season comes out, it’s almost always comedy gold.
Star vs. the Forces of Evil
Where can I watch it?: Disney Channel, Hulu
And here’s the main reason why I made this list in the first place. While everyone was going nuts over Game of Thrones‘ titanic finale, Star vs. the Forces of Evil was having its own series finale that unlike GoT actually delivered on all of its plot threads and themes.
The show follows Princess Star Butterfly, a manic teenager with magical powers from the land of Mewny, that is sent to Earth to go to school, make friends, and try to be a normal teenager. She instantly becomes friends with a boy named Marco Diaz, who is so painfully normal and safe that he’s made fun of because of it despite being a pretty cool dude. The two become close friends, and magical adventures ensue. They meet demons, monsters, a flying horse head that turns out to be the most insufferable character in existence, and come to grips with the secrets of the land of Mewny.
The first two seasons of the show are, if I’m being honest with myself her, not all that great. They follow the exact format you think a show like this would have. There’s a comically inept villain that tries to steal Star’s magic wand every week, and it feels like just another Disney Channel kids show, albeit with an awesome heroine like Star. However, halfway through season 2, something changes. The show stops focusing on what life is like on Earth and instead becomes a fantasy adventure that tackles of topics and themes that you don’t normally see a kids show tackle. When was the last you ever saw a show, animated or otherwise, deal with the complicated nature of historical revisionism and how it can foster xenophobia and hatred in an entire race of people? When was the last time you a saw a show where in the finale, our heroes realize that one of the main antagonists was right all along and fulfill their wish in order to save the world? Star vs. the Forces of Evil does that and then some, balancing all of that with enjoyable comedic episodes.
The status quo of Star is always changing and features moments that directly impact the plot. When an entire season is spent building up how terrifying and evil a future antagonist is, only to find out they’re actually a really nice person is the kind of subversion that I look for in kids shows. There was a purpose and a point to it and serves to highlight its themes more. But even if you’re not a big fan of watching the show for its plot, you can instead watch it for its cast of characters that are all memorable in their own ways. Star is a show that plays it fast and loose with “shipping” its various characters, but in other shows where I may not care about that because I know that the main characters are just going to get together in the end, I was surprised to find out I actually care a lot about the relationships of these characters because I wanted them all to be happy.
Unfortunately the series has concluded as of May 19th, 2019, with a series finale that only served to highlight how great the show truly was. I may need some more time to think on it, but as of right now, Star vs. the Forces of Evil may be the best animated show that Disney ever aired, Gravity Falls included. It had everything that a kid could ask for when watching a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s a shame that not many people saw it as it was airing, but it’s not too late to discover a genuine diamond in the rough.