What are the best animated series? Let’s be honest, choosing the best TV series in animation is a difficult prospect. There are tons of brilliant animated shows, each with its own unique style, story, and voice cast. But a handful stand out from the crowd and truly leave their mark in specific ways.
Many audiences jump to superhero shows since the animated medium goes hand-in-hand with the colourful costumes — alongside the ambitious storytelling, which might not translate well into live-action. But animation also lends itself to bonkers comedies about families in idiosyncratic towns, or the bizarre personification of puberty, while some shows use self-deprecating comedy to analyse mental health from a different angle. Basically, the scope for animation is enormous.
Unfortunately, this won’t feature any anime series because, quite frankly, there are too many great choices to pick from, and they already have their own list on this site. (Although, maybe you should go watch Attack on Titan and Fire Force, is all we’re saying). But without further ado, let’s take a look at the best animated series.
What are the best animated series of all time?
- Scooby-Doo: Where Are You?
- Rick and Morty
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series
- The Simpsons
- BoJack Horseman
- X-Men: The Animated Series
- Love, Death and Robots
- Samurai Jack
- Big Mouth
- Batman: The Animated Series
- Avatar: The Last Airbender
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!
Let’s start with a classic: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! kicked off the adventures of Mystery Inc. and their titular Great Dane in the ’70s. The show follows Shaggy, Scooby, Fred, Velma and Daphne as they solve the mysteries behind spooky ghosts, ghouls, and monsters in each episode.
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After an episode or two, the culprit is easy to spot as they’re typically unmasked as the creepy janitor/tour guide/museum curator seen earlier on in the episode (say it with us now: “Old man Smithers!”). But it’s a brilliantly enjoyable show from Hanna-Barbera, and the hi-jinkies still hold up. With iconic monster designs and a truly lovable pooch, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! is heaps of fun.
Rick and Morty
Rick and Morty gets a bad rap these days, thanks to a vocal fanbase who think the height of wit is screaming about Szechuan sauce, but it’s still a brilliant series. Created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, the show is full of engaging sci-fi concepts, fun characters, and great gags.
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On the surface, it’s as cynical as a teenager who’s just read the Nietzsche Wikipedia page, but ultimately Rick and Morty is about the importance of family and finding contentment. After all, in a multiverse where nothing matters, surely that means everything matters?
Spider-Man: The Animated Series
Yes, there are plenty of animated Spider-Man shows to choose from, but there’s only one that has a genuinely iconic theme song AND managed to do some of Spidey’s storylines better than the comics. Of course, we’re talking about the 1994 series. It tackles Peter Parker’s eternal struggle of balancing his life alongside his obligations to the world as Spider-Man.
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It perfectly captured the essence of the comics but managed to condense these tales into chapters that never compromised the story. Comic readers might shudder at the thought of the Clone Saga, but the show managed to do it justice, which is no small feat. As a kid, Spider-Man villains like Venom, Carnage, Green Goblin, and Hobgoblin all felt terrifying and creepy. As an adult, they’re still terrifying and creepy.
Ah, The Simpsons. It’s one of the most famous franchises on the planet – and for good reason. The Matt Groening-created show follows the comedic lives and adventures of a working-class family in Springfield while making jokes at the expense of real-life figures with razor-sharp wit.
Obviously, as time goes by, more of these jokes come across like prophetic visions, like President Lisa Simpson saying: “As you know, we’ve inherited quite a budget crunch from President Trump.” Everyone has their favourite moment from The Simpsons – but if we had to pick one episode to try, give Season 4, Episode 12 a spin: ‘Marge vs. the Monorail’.
To put it bluntly, BoJack Horseman is one of the best comedies of the 21st century, period. It’s tragic and heartbreaking at times – but good god, it’s hilarious. It follows the titular humanoid horse 20 years after the network cancelled the beloved sitcom he starred in, and his life has been in a downward spiral of drugs, drink, and tragedy ever since.
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Yes, that sounds bleak, but this Netflix Original balances its dark humour and soul searching with subversive comedy. It’s completely bonkers at times – like Vincent Adultman, who is three kids stacked on top of each other in a trench coat – yet there’s plenty to say underneath BoJack’s cold, bitter exterior.
X-Men: The Animated Series
Even as you’re reading this, you can hear that theme song, can’t you? X-Men: The Animated Series sees the eponymous team face off against the government, other mutants like Magneto, and even villainous galactic empires from outer space. Yes, this was a show about colourful superheroes in great outfits, but it was also a story about equal rights, racism, religion, homophobia and the AIDS crisis.
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Much like the comics, the social subtext wasn’t hard to pick up on, and it made the series much more relatable for many audiences who could see themselves in Charles Xavier’s team. It’s got such a gorgeous flair. It’s like you’ve been pulled into the pages of the comics themselves.
Love, Death and Robots
There’s a brilliant sci-fi series on Netflix that constantly challenges the audience with each new chapter, and we don’t mean Black Mirror. No – Love, Death and Robots is an animated series from the minds of David Fincher, Tim Miller, Joshua Donen, and Jennifer Miller.
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The series boasts a huge range of animation styles, from 2D adventures to realistically horrifying CGI. These sweeping adventures allow the creative team to explore an equally eclectic bunch of stories. There’s Kaiju cage-matches, profound discussions about the nature of Artificial Intelligence, and a nightmarish vision of what happens to lost astronauts in space. It’s disturbing, terrifying, gory, beautiful, and heartfelt.
OK, Invincible is a relatively new show, but it’s already flown into the hearts and minds of audiences across the world with its fresh take on the superhero genre. It adapts the Image Comics series written by Robert Kirkman with art by Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley of the same name. The series follows teenager Mark Grayson who wants to become a superhero like his father, Omni-Man.
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Except, in this world, when someone gets the living snot punched out of them by a supervillain, the consequences are real. The fights leave carnage in their wake, and it’s always a bloody affair. Plus, it has some incredible talent bringing these characters to life, with the cast featuring Steven Yeun, J.K. Simmons, Sandra Oh, and Gillian Jacobs. If you want to be challenged about what superheroes can do on the small screen, give this a go.
No one does animation like Genndy Tartakovsky. His unique 2D style is visceral, artistic and downright gorgeous – and it’s never been better than in Samurai Jack. The 2001 show follows the master swordsman in his fight against the demon Aku, only to be flung through a time portal into a nightmarish future where the villain has turned the planet into a dystopian hellscape.
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Jack’s adventures often pit him against other demons and aliens, obviously. Although it is a children’s show, it got pretty dark at times – particularly in season 5 when Jack becomes determined to get back to his own time of Feudal Japan. The story is incredible, but Samurai Jack is worth it for the art style alone.
Puberty is not a fun time, but Big Mouth is. The Netflix series follows Nick Kroll as Nick, a young teenager stumbling around all the awkward roadblocks most people have been through when it comes to love, life, sex, puberty, and everything in between.
It doesn’t shy away from all the gross aspects of growing up, nor does it glamorise being a teenager in the way some tween-romcoms do. But the relatability of it all makes it extremely funny to watch, if a little cringy at times. Honestly, it’s worth it just for the puberty monsters. Everyone’s got one.
Batman: The Animated Series
Batman: The Animated Series was always going to have the top spot. Bruce Timm’s unique vision of the Caped Crusader arguably created one of the best versions of Batman. Kevin Conroy excellently voices the hero, and he’s the voice many people hear when reading Batman comics – this writer included.
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His gravelly tones work perfectly in that striking costume, but it’s when the actor spars with Mark Hamill’s Joker that the whole show just steps it up a notch. This Joker is a cruel trickster, but he’s so much fun to watch. And, the anachronistic take on Gotham makes the city feel like a living, breathing villain that the Dark Knight has to contend with. A personal highlight? The Two-Face episodes in season 1 – chilling stuff.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Few entries on this list come close to being as poignant or beautiful as Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s Avatar. In this fantasy world, people can “bend” particular elements, and nations are divided by who controls what. Aang, the main character, has the power to manipulate fire, air, water, and earth, and is destined to bring peace and order to the land.
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Easier said than done, and the three seasons cover his journey to understanding his abilities, his place in history, and the broader political climate, with Sokka, Zatara, Uncle Iroh, and more to lean on. Battles are gorgeously rendered, characters are well-defined and nuanced, and it’ll all leave you feeling very inspired.