Cartoons Are Not Just For Kids

Ever since “The Simpsons,” Americans have been obsessed with adult cartoons


Graphic by Natasha Castanedo

For more than 20 years, cartoons targeted towards adults have exploded onto the mainstream. This shift in American television was somewhat surprising because cartoons were traditionally viewed as children’s shows.

However, the success of “The Simpsons,” a cartoon about a dysfunctional family whose father works at a nuclear plant, opened the gateway for cartoons that were not just for kids.

“The Simpsons” first aired on Fox network in 1989, and strayed away from the “innocent” material that had been a long-standing pillar in American animation. Instead, the comedy in the show was geared more towards adults. The slightly mature storyline that was embedded with subtle jokes about adulthood captivated children and adults alike. “The Simpsons” leaned heavily on the dynamic of rambunctious kids, a slovenly dad and a weathered mom, and that blueprint would later be used for shows such as “Bob’s Burgers” and “King of the Hill.”

While “The Simpsons” may not fall into the raunchy categories of today’s adult cartoons, the show was a trailblazer that helped pave the way for the mature animations on the market today. The series has since become the longest-running American scripted prime-time television show and stands as a testament of its success.

Following “The Simpsons,” both “South Park” and “Family Guy” aired in the late 90’s and dared to be more risqué with the jokes that were featured. These shows both used their respective storylines to comment on current political and cultural topics. The brutally hilarious jokes were nothing short of ingenious, and garnered cult-like followings for the shows. There had never been cartoons that were so explicitly vulgar in the name of comedy until these sitcoms ventured to do so.

As American culture shifted, it became quite clear that there was an audience of adults who had been eager for devilishly funny cartoons. The commentary on political issues, pop culture and news resonated with adults and served as a way for audiences to escape the seriousness of adulthood or the pressures of continually being politically correct.

Since then, the floodgates opened, and adult animations have evolved into many different subgenres. Networks such as Adult Swim created cartoons like “The Boondocks” and “Rick and Morty,” which offered darker comedic takes on their storylines than their cartoon forefathers.

Netflix has also offered cartoons with unique stories like those that were featured in “Big Mouth” and “Midnight Gospel.”

“Big Mouth” aired on Netflix in 2017 and was an outrageously hilarious sitcom about the trials and tribulations of puberty, a topic no cartoon had explored before.

“Midnight Gospel,” on the other hand, took a different turn. Created by Duncan Trussell, this cartoon features a space traveler who roams the galaxy in a quest to find the answers to life’s complex existential questions. While it was a step away from the risqué content of other cartoons, “Midnight Gospel’s” sophisticated plotline was one that adult audiences connected to. Shows like these have made it clear that the possibilities of what American audiences want to see in animation is vast and varied.

Amazon Prime has also jumped on the cartoon wave and recently aired a variety of different adult cartoons. One in particular that stands out, though, is “Invincible,” an adaptation of a comic book about a superhero who has a secret dark side. This gruesome and graphic tale is another drift away from the provocative content of other mature animations and is an additional example of how American animation has continued to evolve.

But the American cartoons of today would be nowhere without anime, which has long been the template for animations that feature extremely mature content. Anime, or Japanese cartoons, are stories that have often dealt with more serious themes than their American counterparts. The oftentimes grisly content of anime has relied on characters that were troubled and flawed which contrasted deeply with America’s early cartoon industry (think Mickey Mouse).

Yet, the current state of American animation is proof of the inspiration that anime has had on cartoons with adult subject matter.

As the times have progressed and the culture has pivoted, so has the cartoon appetite of adults.

Animations that are more synonymous with adulthood have enthralled audiences and created an American market for shows that cater to the dark humor and deafening reality of life after childhood.

While there is no clear reason as to why adult animations have become so popular in America, one thing is for certain: they are here to stay, and there is no end in sight for the possible topics that will be explored in the future.