The 10 Best Cartoons on the Air Right Now

Bill Loguidice's picture

Adventure TimeAdventure TimeI thought I'd mix things up a bit today with a list of my current 10 favorite cartoons (most of which are also my family's favorites, too), which I'd argue are among the short list of best shows on TV today, animated or otherwise. Interestingly, videogame culture/influence - not to mention, technology - has clearly made its way into all of these cartoons in one way or another, which I'll of course point out where relevant.

Here's the list, in no particular order:

Adventure Time: This is probably the hottest show on this list and is a true cult favorite that spans age groups. The show is about Finn, a human teenage boy, and his "brother" and best friend, Jake the magic dog, and their adventures in a post-apocalyptic world consisting of the candy kingdom and a host of other far out settings. It's bizarre, surreal, lots of fun, and, more often than not, supremely funny and clever. The creator, Pendleton Ward, has consistently stated his first love and influences have come from videogames, and that much can't be disputed. The whole show is sort of a mash-up of a teenage boy's dreamworld and videogames, be it the obvious, like with Beemo, who is a delightful GameBoy-like autonotam who likes to pretend to be a real boy, to the more subtle boss battles and power-ups. There is even heavy influence from anime and Japanese culture, but, thankfully, it's its own creation and art style, which is rare to say for much of anything that gives a nod to those. While it can take several episodes to grok the various princesses (Lumpy Space Princess is a favorite of ours), baddies (check out Gunther the penguin), and sometimes surprisingly deep character profiles, of all the shows on this list, this is the one most worth investing the extra time in to get to know all of its nuances.

The first Adventure Time videogame, coming out for the Nintendo DS and 3DS (I pre-ordered the collector's 3DS version for me and the family) looks extremely promising as well, with direct involvement from Ward. I'm hoping for something special like the show, and I think we just may get it.

The Looney Tunes ShowThe Looney Tunes ShowThe Looney Tunes Show: No, not the classic series of shorts we all grew up on, but instead a modern day sitcom reimagining. Now, I'll be the first to admit when this debuted last year that I was skeptical (to say the least) of placing the iconic Looney Tunes characters in a traditional sitcom, but after the first few episodes when it hit its stride, I realized that when you have writing talent like they have on that show, anything is possible. The result is the familiar Looney Tunes characters and their well-known personalities thrust into a "normal" suburban life of hijinks, with a few new/newer characters thrown into the mix for good measure, like Bugs Bunny's wacky girlfriend, Lola Bunny - brilliantly written, and acted (by Kristen Wiig, no less) - or Daffy Duck's girlfriend, Tina Russo, who would not be out of place on any standard blue collar, live action sitcom. Besides the sharp writing - the absolute equal of any other sitcom on the planet for the best episodes - it's the interplay of the various Looney Tunes characters in "real-life" settings that makes it so special for fans of the original, which its easy to argue has not been done proper justice in a long, long time.

By the way, like Adventure Time, this is traditional 2D animation, which is a relief, though they do occasionally have Road Runner shorts that are somewhat low-tech CGI. Maybe it's all the coyote failure events that lend themselves to that extra dimension...

Looney Tunes videogames have been plentiful over the years, but uneven at best. Though this modern interpretation is wonderful, I just don't see how it could make for a compelling videogame in its present form.

The Amazing World of GumballThe Amazing World of GumballThe Amazing World of Gumball: This is another goofball Cartoon Network show with a fascinating hodgepodge of main characters and extended characters that also happens to have impeccable, fast-paced, comic timing. This is a mix of 2D animation and real world photos/objects, including the occasional mash-up character. As a result, it has a unique look to go along with the hijinks, and this look often times adds to the comedy, with subtle or not-so-subtle details to provide an additional chuckle (for instance, band-aids with arms and legs as paramedics).

The visual style alone would make for an interesting videogame. We'll see.

SpongeBob SquarePants: Now in its 13th year, SpongeBob SquarePants finally made the full-time switch to HD, one of the last major shows that I knew of that still needed to do so. Also, because it's in its 13th year, like other long running shows on this list, its arguable that the show's best years are behind it, but, also like those other long running shows, its characters (both main and secondary) are so well developed at this point that you still can eek the occasional delightful episode out of them, and, as a result, makes it a must-watch regardless.

There have been and continue to be a steady stream of SpongeBob videogames on all platforms, but the reality is most haven't been worth bothering with. Hopefully one day that will change with something truly epic.

Bob's BurgersBob's BurgersBob's Burgers: In the tradition of King of the Hill, Bob's Burgers could just as easily be a live action sitcom, but instead chooses to use animation to help better define its characters than real-life actors ever could. In fact, even moreso than King of the Hill, Bob's Burgers uses its medium for some additional creative wiggle room, in this case with the voice actors - many of who are battle tested stand-up comics - with many times males playing female parts and females playing male parts (a comedic tradition in and of itself). The end result remains clever banter with strong comedic timing.

This is another one that wouldn't really translate well to a videogame without forcing it. And you know someone out there wants to force it...

The Simpsons: Now in its 24th season, this is the ultimate momentum show, but the reality is, it's still pretty darn good and has picked up the quality in the past few years after one of its frequent down cycles. I think one thing that helped the energy of the show was the switch to HD in 2009, which made the animation and colors pop, and also allowed a bit more room for creativity. At its current pace, this could easily last another 10 years--we love the characters that much.

The Simpsons videogame history has also been uneven, with a few notable exceptions. Now it seems to have found a home on smartphones and tablets as much as consoles or PCs, but I think the return to the latter platforms is inevitable. Even if the show goes away someday (it has to at some point, right?), we'll surely always have new videogames.

Futurama: Futurama is a bit like the Star Trek of animation--it just won't die and it can often do an amazing job of alternating between epic adventures and genuinely emotional landmark episodes. It can also be extremely funny, of course, and offers plenty of nods to geekdom (and videogames) while doing it (in fact, the whole show is a love letter to geeks). While it's a crime this didn't stay on Fox considering some of the other shows they've put on over the years, at least it seems safe - if with too few episodes per new season these days - on Comedy Central.

There was one mediocre Futurama game during the PS2 era. It's unlikely we'll see another, though this would make a great TellTale Games adventure game...

South Park: Another one that's been around forever and sometimes too much of a well-oiled machine, the topical world of South Park is still one worth visiting.

There have been some crappy South Park games mixed in with the (very) occasional solid effort, but the upcoming RPG, The Stick of Truth, looks like it's going to be awesome...

American Dad!: I have to admit, I have a backlog of episodes to watch from this new season, so for all I know it could have instantly tanked, but of all the Seth MacFarlane shows, this one always has had the most potential to do something interesting with its deeper-than-MacFarlane's-usual-characters, and often does.

This could make a solid videogame, but I just don't see it being popular enough to make one happen.

Family Guy: This one, among all the others, I was debating about, and is another show that relies a lot on its own past momentum. There have been too many times where the show has fallen back on the easy gag, going for the easy gross-out, or going for the easy shock value. What saves it besides the characters we've come to love is that it can still be very funny when all the elements come together.

The videogames have not been good to this point, though the license has not really been leveraged much for "real" games. The upcoming "Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse," based off of one of those really good (arguably, great) recent episodes, does look promising, though.

Here is an honorable mention:

Regular ShowRegular ShowRegular Show: We're slowly trying to get into this one. Though many of the characters are a mix of anthropomorphised animals and other bizarre mash-ups of things, the interesting themes often revolve around friendship, responsibility, and romantic relationships in a relatively mundane, every day setting. We're still trying to decide if it all works on a consistent basis, but so far it's pretty promising and it's certainly a favorite of many others, including the Emmys.

I also usually like or admire the following, though they just didn't quite make the cut for various reasons:
- Robot Chicken
- My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
- The Penguins of Madagascar
- The Cleveland Show

Avoid:
Brickleberry (occasionally funny, but too often goes for the easy gross-out or being outrageous over anything resembling substance; maybe they can right the ship one day)

Comments

Matt Barton
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I'm surprised Bill hasn't

I'm surprised Bill hasn't caught any flack from the anime crowd. The ones I know are pretty religious when it comes to their favorites.

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Bill Loguidice
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Matt Barton wrote:

I'm surprised Bill hasn't caught any flack from the anime crowd. The ones I know are pretty religious when it comes to their favorites.

Well, I was only covering active cartoons. Are there any major active anime cartoons at the moment?

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David Barbour
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Some nice cartoons

Some nice cartoons there.

Used to love watching some of the following.

Dungeons and Dragons
He-man
Thundercats
Mysterious Citys of Gold

Amongst others.

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Matt Barton
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I watched D&D, He-Man, GI

I watched D&D, He-Man, GI Joe, Transformers, Duck Tales, and .Super Friends..Sat morning I liked Gummi Bears, Spidey and Friends (or whatever that was called), Smurfs, Garfield (though I didn't like the American Farm or whatever that was), and Looney Tunes.

I never liked Mighty Mouse or Tiny Toons.

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Matt Barton
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Amazing how watchable this is

Amazing how watchable this is after all these years!

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Bill Loguidice
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If you've never played it,

If you've never played it, you owe it to yourself to check out the Dreamcast interpretation of "Wacky Races." It's spot on. It's a shame the difficulty ramps up to impossible later on, though. There's a Japanese-only "Wacky Races" for the 3DO, too, but I haven't tried that one yet. I doubt it's the same (or similar to) as the Dreamcast one.

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Matt Barton
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Yeah, I'm familiar with it

Yeah, I'm familiar with it and the difficulty issue. What a shame.

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clok1966
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racing
Matt Barton wrote:

Amazing how watchable this is after all these years!

and... surprisingly sly and adult references too.. its strange you almost think the new kids cartoons that slip stuff in for adults is NEW.. its not.. but since i watched 90% of those old toons as a child I just never seen it.. And Whacky racers on 3do isn't a race game really and is 3D rendered.. and almost impossible to play with out translation help.. You bet on races and have to collect stuff. the races are all pre rendered and you just watch them. To be honest to this day im not sure what he game is about.. but I do know you don't steer a car in any way.

here is one of my favorites as a kid.. and a hit song too! Think about it.. back in the late 60's early 70's every cartoon sung.. not kiddy songs.. but real songs ( many quite crappy)..

Matt Barton
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Wow! Nice find, Clok.

Wow! Nice find, Clok.

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Bill Loguidice
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Man, I HATED cartoons that

Man, I HATED cartoons that sang songs as a kid. Some cartoons today still do it - Adventure Time on occasion, Phineas and Pherb (should have been an honorable mention by me, actually), SpongeBob, the aforementioned Looney Tunes Show, etc. - though I must admit I find them more tolerable than I used to, particularly since it's often done comedically and/or with a good ear (i.e., not a quick slapdash effort like the older cartoons).

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