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Cartoons I Love

The highlights of my favorite medium!

Cartoons hold a very special place in my heart. The canvas they provide for storytellers is unmatched in its space for artistic vision and creative freedom. They can portray worlds totally unlike our own, yet make them feel so alive and rich with possibility that viewers can see themselves inside the stories nonetheless. Character design in cartoons can add whole new dimensions of expression to communicate feelings and motivation in extravagant or subtle ways. They can be delightfully zany, deeply serious, or any tone in between.

When all those pieces come together, they create something truly special in which viewers are invited to get lost.

Here are some of my favorites, in release order.

Note: The boundary between what does and doesn't count as a "cartoon" is vague and ill-defined, so this list is about western serialized shows featuring primarily 2D animated characters and is extremely subjective.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Synopsis

Three kids go on an adventure around the world to develop their elemental magic powers, grow as people, and bring peace to the nations.

Why I like it

The character arcs are so rich, the fight choreography is so captivating, and the world is so vibrant that after the first few episodes you'll be hooked. It's a cultural touchstone in the world of western animation and is a triumph of the medium!

Avatar: The Last Airbender on IMDB

Steven Universe

Synopsis

A boy is raised by three moms who are actually queer alien gemstones with projected bodies. He learns to control his own powers and helps those around him.

Why I like it

The highlights are the music (both background and musical numbers), and the celebration of non-traditional family structures! Super groundbreaking in queer representation for the time that models emotional intelligence for kids in a really sweet way.

Steven Universe on IMDB

Disenchantment

Synopsis

A princess in a shitty kingdom makes friends with a naive elf and a charming demon. Shenanigans ensue as they begin to uncover the darker secrets of the royal family's history.

Why I like it

Bean and Luci's relationship is super fun to watch develop, and there's even a queer mermaid for Bean to pine after! There's lots of fun characters for both comic relief and palace intrigue, and has a very particular sense of humor that I enjoy.

Disenchantment on IMDB

Hilda

Synopsis

Hilda is an adventurous young girl with a trusty deerfox companion. After their house in the countryside is demolished by a giant, they move to the city, where they meet friends, learn magic, and help bring peace between the townsfolk and the trolls that live outside their walls.

Why I like it

An extremely polished show with immaculate animation and music! Hilda's world is brimming with love for the outdoors and its importance to society, who must learn to coexist with it for both to prosper. It's a comforting, nostalgic show depicting childhood with love and excitement!

Hilda on IMDB

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

Synopsis

A girl from a fascist colonizing regime discovers that they're the baddies, is granted magical powers in the process, and learns the value of friendship after joining the opposing side.

Why I like it

Super great queer rep, fantastic and diverse character designs, and those characters grow and change so much over the several seasons into a super exciting finale! It can get pretty heavy at times, but the ending is well worth it.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on IMDB

Infinity Train

Synopsis

A train traveling in another dimension kidnaps people and puts them through a journey of self-discovery and improvement through the use of fantastical settings.

Why I like it

Outstanding and unique visual design, gorgeous synthy soundtrack, and a super compelling premise makes this show a huge standout. Books 1 and 2 in particular are super meaningful to me in their depictions of queerness.

Infinity Train on IMDB

Amphibia

Synopsis

Three girls open a magic music box and are transported to a world of anthropomorphic amphibians, where they work to fit in and look for a way home.

Why I like it

A triumph of the portal fantasy genre, which places a big emphasis on the importance of found family in a way that's incredibly moving at times, while managing to be good silly fun as well. This show goes places and I was glad to be along for the ride!

Amphibia on IMDB

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

Synopsis

In a post-apocalyptic earth ruled by large anthropomorphic mutant animals, a girl is separated from her human community and bands together with other survivors to find her way back.

Why I like it

I've never seen the post-apocalypse portrayed with so much color and so much music before, and it's utterly refreshing! It has a fantastic original score, along with a ton of incredible needle drops. The animation style is super stylized and unique and it becomes really fun to watch. It's got explicit queer rep, animal transformation, and found family! What's not to love?

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts on IMDB

The Owl House

Synopsis

A girl with a hyperactive imagination chases an owl into an abandoned house and winds up on the other side of a portal to the demon realm, where she decides to live out her fantasy and train to become a witch.

Why I like it

Alongside Amphibia, The Owl House is a tour-de-force in portal fantasy storytelling. Luz is a genre-savvy protagonist who finds herself out of her depth a lot, but through sheer determination she proves herself time and time again. Her curiosity and delight are infectious, and the way she makes easy friends in this strange land is so heartwarming.

She's also bisexual, and the romantic relationship she develops with another girl is a huge part of what makes the show so great. The other strongest part is the found family aspect. Luz trains under the witch Eda, and they both grow and learn from each other as the show progresses in such a lovely, comforting way.

The Owl House on IMDB

Centaurworld

Synopsis

A Horse is separated from her Rider when she falls through a portal in their dark and war-torn world and lands in a colorful and bubbly world full of singing centaurs and a dark past.

Why I like it

Found family plays a big part in this show, as does musical numbers and extremely indulgent wobbly animation. The new herd of which Horse finds herself part of start off kinda weird but they work their way into your heart very quickly! The contrasting animation styles between Human world and Centaurworld is so fun to see, and you can tell the animators had a lot of fun with this extra-cartoony setting!

Centaurworld on IMDB

Dead End: Paranormal Park

Synopsis

A fat, Jewish, queer, trans guy follows a job ad to a haunted house in the local theme park, only to find it infested with demons. He moves in because it's better than living with his nominally-supportive parents, and finds community of compassionate and thoughtful coworkers.

Why I like it

This show is peak representation out of all of the shows on this list. Apart from the protagonist mentioned earlier, there's also a Pakistani-American girl with anxiety and autism whose special interest is the park where they both work. The park's staff becomes like a found family, and they get involved in wacky hijinks with lots of horror tropes (but in a kid-friendly way). The animation is super smooth and nice to look at, and the performances of all the characters are a delight to listen to!

Dead End: Paranormal Park on IMDB