Cartoons may be colorful, and often silly, but they aren’t just for kids: As proof, look no further than these five series, which are filled with complex adventure, wit and surprisingly mature themes.
Even better: These shows are available on Hulu, Amazon or Netflix (or more than one), so they’re perfect for binging.
1. “Adventure Time” (Amazon, Netflix) Set in the post-apocalyptic land of Ooo, this Cartoon Network ‘toon follows Finn and his adopted brother Jake, a dog with magical powers. “At first the deceptively immature style fooled me into thinking the plot would be equally juvenile,” says John Kelly, instructor of digital effects and animation technologies at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“The dialogue and point of view are mostly in line with the teenaged lead, but the short 10-minute episodes are packed with eye candy, unique and strangely captivating characters and boyish adventure,” he said.
2. “Attack on Titan” (Hulu, Amazon, Netflix) In this action-packed anime series, produced out of Japan, giant human-like creatures called Titans have forced humans into hiding behind three giant walls to avoid their wrath. But humans are fighting back, equipping special defenders with long blades and high-powered grappling lines to thwart the Titans.
“Dig in for some sweet cable-flying sword action, intercut with frequent and gory flesh-chomping horror,” Kelly said. “The human drama is almost laughable, but easily overlooked as you anticipate the next onslaught of nightmarish visuals.”
3. “Darker than Black” (Hulu) Japan’s “Darker than Black” tells a new, anime version of an old science-fiction premise, where a mysterious wall appears, blocking off a part of space and changing the world in extreme and mysterious ways. “The storyline is thoughtfully teased out over the entire season as you get to know the cast and finally come to understand the nature of the world they live in,” Kelly said.
It’s a world that includes not just spatial abnormalities and characters with special abilities, but spies and assassins and a shadowy super group known as “The Syndicate.”
4. “Steins;Gate” (Hulu, Amazon) In this Japanese adaptation of a video game by the same name, Rintarou Okabe is a self-proclaimed mad scientist who has finally uncovered the secret to time travel through alternate worlds. At least, that’s what he thinks.
“Hang on for a zany and touching ride through the multiverse,” Kelly said. “Chaos and the most endearing, dangerous and captivating series of misadventures ensue.”
5. “Tokyo Magnitude 8.0” (Hulu, Amazon) This Japanese anime series is only 11 episodes long, but it doesn’t lack heart. “Tokyo Magnitude 8.0” follows two young sisters and an older companion as they try to navigate home after a devastating earthquake destroys Tokyo.
“We get a child’s view of the myriad ways a catastrophe can affect a city,” Kelly said. “Watch and learn a little about what makes you carry on — just be sure to have a tissue handy.”