6 Kids Cartoons Adventure Time Fans Should Be Watching

It’s a cartoon special this week! Thirsty for more adventure? More wackiness? More epicosity? This week we’re taking a break from the world of comics and manga recommendations to count down our top 6 (because 5 just wasn’t enough…) kids cartoons – other than Adventure Time – that you should really be watching right now:

Bravest Warriors

Bravest Warriors

  1. Bravest Warriors

Channel: You Tube/Cartoon Hangover

Creator: Pendleton Ward

If you’re already an Adventure Time fan, then Bravest Warriors is a pretty easy sell when you realise that they share the same creative talents of Pendleton Ward. Set in the year 3085, the show revolves around Ward’s version of the Teen Titans as they travel around weird and wonderful parts of the universe having weird and wonderful adventures. Although it is aimed at a more mature audience than Adventure Time – with references to beer and a cheeky elf named, um, ‘Wankershim’ – it still feels very much like a kid’s show at heart, full of adorable creatures, punchy slang, bizarre plot lines, and heavy emphasis on friendship and emotion.

The beauty of Ward’s distinctive storytelling method is that events unfold in a seemingly random way on the surface, but upon closer inspection clearly rely on their own internal logic, with the seeds for overarching story arcs hinted at way before they come to fruition. That feeling of ‘randomness’ makes each episode wonderfully unpredictable, fresh, and organic.

Just remember: It’s always been Wankershim!


Regular Show

Regular Show

  1. Regular Show

       Channel: Cartoon Network

       Creator: JG Quintel

Although superficially very different, Regular Show and Bravest Warriors actually have a lot in common. Both are shows whose target audience is adults, but very much have the same appeal as a kid’s show (and certainly more appropriate for kids than other brands of adult cartoon, i.e. anything made by Seth McFarlane). Both of their respective creators also attended and befriended each other at The California Institute of the Arts and went on to work on The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack at Cartoon Network Studios together. Ward and Quintel also provide the voices of main characters in their shows, and this ‘hands-on’ approach to their creations keeps their shows consistently true to their unique creative visions.

Quintel’s Regular Show revolves around the lives of two minimum wage groundskeepers, Modecai – a blue jay – and Rigby – a racoon, who spend most of their time avoiding work and being inadvertently sucked into unusual situations involving things like portals to alternate dimensions and the ghosts of guys from the 1980s who partied too hard. The show also features a beautiful watercolour-wash effect in its art; naturalistic dialogue in its scripting; and references to obscure 1980s/1990s pop culture and media that – through surreal reinterpretations – manage not to isolate any younger viewers.

And if that wasn’t persuasion enough, Mark Hamill voices an immortal yeti in it called Skips. Enough said.

Teen Titans GO!

Teen Titans GO!

  1. Teen Titans GO!

       Channel: Cartoon Network

Creators: Glen Murakami & Sam Register

       Developers: Michael Jelenic & Aaron Horvath

The original cartoon incarnation of DC comics’ Teen Titans in 2003 was nothing short of perfection. Dramatic, funny, touching, stylish, and hugely entertaining; it’s no surprise that cartoon guru Bruce Timm and his protégé Glen Murakami were involved in it’s development. It’s no understatement that I – and many others – was heartbroken when the series finally ended in 2008, and then overjoyed when its return was announced in 2013 following a series of popular shorts by DC Nation.

But, hold on… this wasn’t going to be the same show that we knew and loved. Following the equally superb DC comics’ based series Young Justice getting (criminally) cancelled in 2013 after just 2 seasons, it became clear that Warner Bros. was going in another direction with it’s DC owned properties, and that direction was: wacky. ‘More wack! The kids love the wack these days what with that Adventure Time thing…’ the network execs probably said to each other. And more ‘wack’ is exactly what we got with the rebirth of Teen Titans as Teen Titans GO!

This version focuses on the antics that the team get up to in between all the serious crime-fighting stuff, and is suitably rendered in the chibi ‘deformed body’ style that some of the gag cutaways were done in during the original show. As such, stories for episodes are as simple as: Cyborg and Beast Boy can only say ‘waffles’ all day; Raven starts a book club; Robin gets driving lessons, etc. All of which are peppered with Internet humour, quirky cutaways, and musical montages.

Some fans have taken against this new direction, and although I do miss the original sorely, I’d rather the show was on TV in some form or another than not at all. Plus, sorry to the haters, but it really does make me laugh.

The Amazing World of Gumball

The Amazing World of Gumball

  1. The Amazing World of Gumball

       Channel: Cartoon Network

       Creator: Ben Becquelet

The Amazing World of Gumball centres on Gumball Watterson – a blue cat – and his pet talking goldfish – Darwin – who grew legs one day and now exists as his adopted brother. The pair attend Elmore Elementary School, which is inhabited by an eclectic mix of characters such as a banana, a female T-Rex, a balloon, a peanut shell with moose ears, a potted flower, an Emo ghost, and – my personal favourite – a human upside-down chin with a face drawn on, to name only a few.

The most distinctive quality of The Amazing World of Gumball though is its ingenious collagic mix of 3D and 2D animation. Characters range from 3D computer models, to 2D flat drawings, to real objects with googly-eyes and mouths drawn on; and backgrounds are real images of peaceful American suburbia. This assorted visual tapestry merges well with plots that frequently unravel from typical family sit-com scenarios into chaos, accompanied by highly-strung, fast-paced voice acting from actual children who are not afraid to go from a whisper to a screech in an instant. Amongst all the chaos however, is an abundance of sheer warmth and vitality that few kid’s cartoons ever manage to achieve.

Gravity Falls

Gravity Falls

  1. Gravity Falls

       Channel: Disney Channel and Disney X D

       Creator: Alex Hirsch

What do you get when you cross summer vacation, Oregon, grumpy elderly relatives, conspiracy theories, and an amazing jumper collection? Gravity Falls.

Created by another California Arts alumni, Alex Hirsch – who also voices two of the show’s main characters – Gravity Falls follows the summer vacation exploits of twins, Dipper and Mabel Pines, who are sent to stay with their Grunkle (Great + Uncle) Stan in his ‘Mystery Shack.’ Together with Handyman Soos and gift shop attendant Wendy, they discover the spooky mysteries of the fictional town of Gravity Falls with the help of a strange journal marked ‘3’ that Dipper discovers in the woods.

The strengths of the show are two-fold:

  1. It is genuinely creepy, and
  2. It is genuinely funny.

Combine this with excellent characterisation and fantastic voice acting – particularly from Kristen Schaal who voices Mabel – and you have the recipe for a loyal and enthusiastic fan base of children and young adults alike.

Most of the monsters that inhabit the town are well-worn supernatural and science fiction tropes – haunted wax works, time-travelling scientists, shape shifting creatures, underwater serpents, zombies, etc. – but the real underpinning of the show is the conspiratorial thread that connects each of these occurrences. Hidden patterns, ciphers, codes, and repeated motifs feature regularly and cleverly riff on the suspicions and fears of Internet Illuminati enthusiasts. The antagonist – Bill Cipher – an inter-dimensional demon in the form of a floating yellow pyramid with a single eye and dapper top hat is a clear reference to the Eye of Providence that appears on the American dollar bill, which itself is associated with Freemasonry.

Bill Cipher

Bill Cipher

This attention to detail runs through every element of the show, including its comedic elements: Mabel’s brilliant jumper collection; the post-credits gags; Waddles the pig; Grenda’s masculine voice; Xyler and Craz from ‘Dream Boy High’… This is a show you will definitely want to catch the reruns of.

The Legend of Korra

The Legend of Korra

  1. The Legend of Korra

Channel: Nickolodeon

Creators: Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko

Let me take you back all the way to 2005. Teenage me wakes up bleary-eyed mid-morning on a Saturday. I wonder downstairs. My sister is sitting in the living room holding a DVD. ‘I’ve recorded a cartoon I watched this morning.’ She says, thrusting the aforementioned DVD at me. ‘You have to watch it.’ That recorded cartoon was the first two episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which aired on CiTV on Saturday mornings in the UK. We didn’t have catch-up TV at the time, so the effort of recording onto a blank disc was reserved for truly ‘must-watch’ stuff. No other show was more deserving of that saintly title than the Avatar series, and we diligently recorded every episode of that show from start to finish until we could buy them on the official DVD releases.

The reason for that little insight into my yesteryears is to convey the nostalgia that I – like many fans of my age group – feel for the original Avatar series, and what has perhaps led some to turn their noses up at its sequel, The Legend of Korra. The original series followed the trials and adventures of 12 year-old Aang – the ‘Avatar’ and master of the four elements – and his friends (‘Team Avatar’) as they seek to bring peace to a world ravaged by war from the over-powered Fire Nation. The series took strong inspiration from Eastern philosophies of balance; reincarnation; harmony between spirits and humans; as well as martial arts, and this also heavily influenced its aesthetic to the point at which many mistake it for an anime.

Avatar Aang from The Last Airbender Series

Avatar Aang from The Last Airbender Series

The Legend of Korra is a sequel series that takes place 100 years after the events of the first. It follows Korra, the successive Avatar to Aang, as she struggles to find her place in a fast-changing world in which industrialism and ideological challenges to the Monarchic ruling system perpetually disrupt the balance that she – as the Avatar – is tasked to keep. And yes – this is show is aimed at kids.

Some fans of the original series complain that the sequel is much weaker, but I can’t help but think that nostalgia impacts heavily on this, as the viewers I know who have discovered Avatar through Korra do not seem to harbour the same feelings. Thematically, the two shows can be seen as perfect inversions of one another: Whereas Aang struggled to accept his role in a world that desperately needed him, Korra struggles to assert her relevance in a world that constantly reject her. The Aang series was also largely character-driven, whereas the Korra series is largely story-driven. Whilst the Aang series had a single overarching story, Korra faces a new adversary in every series, with far more side-characters and subplots making up the story of each episode.

Korra’s production has also been plagued by a seemingly conscious effort by Nickolodeon to get rid of its most critically acclaimed show as fast as possible. From slashing its budget to taking it off-air completely, the network’s treatment of the show has sadly tainted the online airing of its final ever series, much to the anger of its fiercely loyal fan base.

Despite all this, Avatar remains quite simply one of the greatest cartoons ever created; striking the perfect balance between kid’s and adult animation that is only really matched by the likes of Toy Story. The world is steeped in rich history; the characters are loveable and believable; the adversaries are complex and often morally ambiguous; and the creators manage to distil mature emotional, political, and socioeconomic themes into digestible narrative and dialogue that anyone of any age can understand.

The world of Avatar is one that you will want to revisit time and time again long after its final episode airs.

Next week, we continue our cartoon special with a another list of top shows you should be watching!

Young Avengers: Style > Substance by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

“Read the book that understands that hyperbole is the BEST! THING! EVER!”

Phonogram: Rue Britannia Cover

Phonogram: Rue Britannia Cover

One of the great joys of the comics industry for me is following a writer and artist partnership from success to success. I borrowed Gillen and McKelvie’s Phonogram: Rue Britannia from my local library – which was my one-stop-shop for graphic novels and manga when I was teenager (because I was just that cool.) Mixing Britpop, mysticism, and a distinctively British dark sense of humour, Phonogram’s black and white world left such a lasting impression on me; I instantly bought Marvel’s Young Avengers: Style > Substance without a second thought upon seeing their familiar names on the cover.

I had already been following the YA through creators’ Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s run, and as a huge Teen Titans fan, I think it was pretty easy for me to also fall in love with Marvel’s teen equivalent. But if it was Heinberg and Cheung who got me to bite, it was Gillen and McKelvie’s subsequent run that got me hooked and reminded me just how good they were together.

I’ve always thought that the hardest thing about writing as a teenage character is that you’re never really the right age to do it. Children can’t do it because they’ve obviously never experienced it, teenagers themselves can’t do it because they’re too close to it to have any proper perspective, and adults can’t do it because they can’t remember it properly. It’s a hard job… but not impossible. Gillen not only cracks it in YA, but he makes it look easy, and beyond even that – he makes it look convincing.

“I have no powers and not nearly enough training. But I’m doing this anyway. Being a Super Hero is amazing. Everyone should try it.”

The underpinning of Gillen’s writing on YA amplifies relatable and believable problems and heartaches of everyday teenagers through their larger-than-life super-powers within the chaotic and bizarre Marvel universe around them. This makes it sound deceptively serious, and although there is a fair share of angst and arguing, the thing that makes the book the most appealing is that it’s fun. It’s just really good fun. And the characters are really funny, too. Kid Loki in particular – I mean, how can an amoral Norse God trapped within the body of a teenage boy not be hysterical.

One of the other things that drew me to YA initially was its inclusion of a more diverse character roster. In terms of race, gender, and sexuality, I have to applaud YA for not just using the ‘outsider’ theme as a metaphor, but also actually embodying it with characters such as Patriot, Miss America, Hulkling, and Wiccan. Moreover, I have to applaud Gillen for making Hulkling and Wiccan’s relationship – in particular – more than just ticking an equality and diversity quota box, but fleshing it out into one of the most fully realised and emotionally charged in the Marvel universe that I’ve come across, and one of my favourites.

Hulkling & Wiccan

Hulkling & Wiccan

In terms of the artwork, I’ve been trying to work out why McKelvie’s style resonates with me so much as it’s not the kind of artwork I normally favour. My all-time favourite comic book artists are people like Dave McKean and Alex Ross – artists who are far more painterly and…’fine arty,’ for lack of a better word. However, as a Tintin fan since childhood, I think McKelvie’s clear-line style owes a huge debt to Hérge and makes me all nostalgic and tingly when I see it. It’s also a deceptively hard style to pull off. If you’re someone like Frank Miller with an unrealistic – almost abstract – way of drawing, you can kind of get away with not being a master of anatomy. If you’re a clear-line artist like McKelvie, there’s nothing to hide behind, and of course, he doesn’t need to. His neat and slick approach perfectly meets and compliments Gillen’s similar stylistic execution of the story and dialogue.

McKelvie's GLORIOUS layouts

McKelvie’s GLORIOUS layouts

What I love the most about McKelvie’s artwork for YA in particular though is his layouts. I don’t hear people talking a lot about layouts when they talk about comic artists, but as an artist who is still learning her craft, I really appreciate seeing creative and unique layouts in a book. A layout can be more than just telling the story in a series of pictures – it can be a whole, cohesive idea. Going beyond just square boxes on a comic page takes guts, skill, and most importantly: passion. Someone who is passionate about what they do will always go that extra mile to show that passion off, and seeing a really wacky and fun layout when you turn the page is the earmark of an artist who loves what they do and is also having fun doing it, which makes you as a reader have fun looking at it.

I’ve read YA: Style > Substance twice to date, and there are very few books that I revisit besides well-worn copies of my childhood favourites, so for re-readability alone I recommend it, as well as the other collections – Alternative Cultures and Mic Drop at the Edge of Space and Time. And if you read and like those then please track down Phonogram, too. It needs more love.

Variant Cover by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Variant Cover by Bryan Lee O’Malley

FYI: For die-hard fans, my favourite YA variant issue cover to track down is the one by Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley (pictured right).

Written by Hannah Collins.