TV's 13 Best Cartoons... for Grown-Ups

By Ilana Diamond

Mar 19, 2010

Cartoons—not Dora the Explorer or Jimmy Neutron or whatever toddlers are watching these days, but quality animated TV series of the decidedly grown-up variety—are having a bit of a moment. Adult Swim recently announced that The Boondocks will see Season 3. Last month, HBO premiered the brand-new Ricky Gervais Show alongside Season 2 of The Life & Times of Tim. On Wednesday, Ugly Americans debuted on Comedy Central right after South Park kicked off Season 14. And last night, Archer wrapped up its excellent first season on FX. So in honor of the cartoon resurgence, we present TV's best animated series for your adult viewing pleasure. Warning: The following clips may include cartoon nudity, gore, and other offensively hilarious scenes.

It's no coincidence that the funniest, most audacious, and most original 'toons aren't on network TV (The Simpsons, you're the exception). So thank you Spike and Mike for your legendary Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation, and R. Crumb for your first-ever x-rated cartoon film Fritz the Cat, and of course any and all Anime.Without your promoting the idea that you can get away with a hell of a lot more with animated cartoon characters than than human actors, we probably wouldn't have the whole slew of fantastic, raunchy, uncomfortably truthful adult cartoons we have on cable today. And while I love a good kids cartoon (ie. The Powerpuff Girls, Spongebob Squarepants, Samurai Jack, etc), I thought we ought to pay homage to some of the best cable network cartoons intended for an adult audience. So here they are, rounded up for your adult viewing pleasure. Warning: The following clips may include cartoon nudity, gore, and other offensively hilarious scenes. (See South Park) and shed an honest and disturbing light on what the hell is wrong with kids these days (or people who were kids in the early 90's).

13. Drinky Crow Show (Adult Swim, 2000-2005)
The name kind of says it all. This comic-based series is about an often drunk and possibly depressed crow who spends most of his time with his friend Uncle Gabby, a drunk and lecherous monkey. Antics inevitably ensue, and it's hard not to want a drink of your own after watching a single episode. Bonus points for the theme song performed by They Might Be Giants.

12. Drawn Together (Comedy Central, 2004-2007)
A spoof of MTV's The Real World, this cartoon takes the most popular cartoon archetypes and houses them all under one roof. In true reality show form, each character had a dark back story that was brought to light bye the pressure of living in a house with a bunch of strangers. From the fairytale princess/racist religious zealot Princess Clara to Captain Leslie Hero, whose only super power is degrading women, Drawn Together is delightful cartoon train wreck from which we just can't turn away.

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11. Sea Lab 2021 (Adult Swim, 2000-2005)
Where do cartoons go when they die? Many of them end up in dusty film cans in the back rooms of a museum. Not so for Hanna Barbera's Sea Lab 2020, which was appropriated into the epic series that is Sea Lab 2021. The original series (from which most of the footage for SL 2021 is derived) was created in the 1960's, in the already-outdated-idea-of-the-future style of Disneyland's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Captain Shanks, Captain Murphy, and the rest of the crew—including Dr. Quinn and the two Debbies—are quite possibly the most subversively hilarious crew ever to explore the life aquatic.

10. Robot Chicken (Adult Swim, 2005-Present)
The creators of this stop-animation series (one of whom is Seth Green) get to spend their time playing with action figures and making fun of celebrities. It's a twisted and remarkably cathartic series with wacky (and often gory) plotlines that've included Godzilla overcoming impotence in the bedroom and N'Sync's Joey Fatone seeking vengeance on his bandmates' killers. Extra points for being one of only two cartoons with a theme song played by Primus.

9. TV Funhouse (Comedy Central, 2000-2001)
Like so many greats, Robert Smigel's TV Funhouse got its start on Saturday Night Live, where cartoons like The Ambiguously Gay Duo and The X Presidents were often funnier than the late-night series. When the series was picked up by Comedy Central, it took more of live-action approach, with a real human host and animal puppets like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

8. Aqua Teen Hunger Force (Adult Swim, 2000-Present)
So a meatball, a milkshake, and a box of fries walk into a bar... Okay, they live together next door to a disgruntled neighbor in a New Jersey suburb. Though nothing totally makes sense on this Space Ghost Coast to Coast spin-off, it is undoubtedly awesome. No words can really describe the magic that is Meatwad's voice.

7. Dr. Katz (Comedy Central, 1995-2002)
Dr. Katz is perhaps an unlikely premise for a cartoon. The show is about a psychotherapist who lives with his adult son Ben and whose patients are neurotic stand-up comics and other assorted funny people: Dave Chappelle rants to him about Aquaman's useless powers, Conan O'Brien expresses his desire to be like David Hasslehoff and to frolick on the beach, Sarah Silverman brings her family in for a group session. And they're all depicted in vibrating Squigglevision.

6. Beavis and Butthead (MTV, 1993-1997)
Beavis and Butthead were totally BFFs. Motivated by their own idiotic comments about music videos (not to mention in the women in said music videos) and fueled by nachos and sugary drinks, these two might just be TV's greatest underachievers. Show creator Mike Judge (who was also responsible for Daria and King of the Hill) inspired a whole generation of rude, lazy, fast-food eating, couch potatoes and a bunch of the other great cartoons on this list.

5. Ren and Stimpy (Nickelodeon, 1991-1996)
Yes, it aired on a "for kids" network, but before the show's humor got watered down to appeal to the young'uns, Ren and Stimpy was an especially twisted and delightful series from creator John Kricfalusi. Ren, the anxious little chihuahua, and Stimpy, the dopey Manx cat, were an odd couple with issues, and the show's Loony Tunes 60's style—complete with symphonic music and rich color scheme—made it an instant classic.

4. Archer (FX, 2010-Present)
Agent Sterling Archer's got Don Draper's looks and charisma. He's also one of the biggest mama's boys in history. And his mama, played by Arrested Development's Jessica Walter, is also his disturbingly sexed-up boss. The lines on this show are perfectly delivered by the always hilarious cast, which also includes Chris Parnell (30 Rock, SNL), Judy Greer, and Aisha Tyler (The Soup).

3. Space Ghost Coast to Coast (Cartoon Network, 1994-2001; Adult Swim, 2001-2004; Gametap, 2006-2008)
Another revived Hanna Barbera cartoon! In Space Ghost Coast to Ghost, Space Ghost hosts a talk show and interviews real live celebrities. He is aided by creatures who he is punishing for their crimes—including Zorak, an evil preying mantis who acts as the Paul Schaffer to his David Letterman, and Moltar, a disgruntled man of lava who serves as the director of the show. It's a fabulous animated/life-action hybrid where everything is possible... and most likely awkward.

2. South Park (Comedy Central, 1997-Present)
Co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone know a good thing when they've see it. They've invented a magical formula that combines offensive and politically incorrect scripts with crudely animated, googly eyed kids who deliver the lines. Oh and Primus did the theme song for this one, too.

1. Futurama (Fox, 1993-2003; Comedy Central, 2008-present)
The on-again, off-again series Futurama is another brain child of Simpsons creator Matt Groening. The premise is simple: Phillip J. Fry, a kid who gets cryogenically frozen in 1999 and revived in 2999, has to get used to life in the future. And what a beautiful future it is, filled with boozy robots, hot one-eyed mutants, amphibious creatures, and international humans from Planet Earth and beyond.

Which adult cartoons are your favorites?

  • Comments (181)
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  • ShalenekissorailorAilor Oct 15, 2015

    South Park really isn't that funny. I mean king of the hill blew it out of the water. If you are looking just to be a di&@ about others religious views at least have humor like family guy or American dad. South Park is like their creators. So sick I can't eat chips while watching.

  • gabrielbron3 Jan 09, 2014

    I can kinda of understand Futurama being number one but when you put South Park as Second in a list the says its "... For grown-ups" and not even include The Simpsons or Family Guy. It is wrong. Very very Wrong. South Park seriously? If it was meant as a joke to make me laugh, you've accomplished your goal buddy!

  • krisg1234 Jun 18, 2011

    What, no Code Monkeys or Boondocks? Blasphemy!

    At least they left Simpsons off the list. That show ran out of ideas about 30 seasons ago.

  • krisg1234 Jun 18, 2011

    What, no Code Monkeys or Boondocks? Blasphemy!

    At least they left Simpsons off the list. That show ran out of ideas about 30 seasons ago.

  • SlyBanter Jul 05, 2010

    You know, the best part of not agreeing with a list that a website up is that you can make your damned own...

  • Southparkfa Jun 21, 2010

    This list sucked just for the Simpsons not being #1... but not even mentioning it!? This list is horrible, the only one it got right was #2

  • lilmurfer May 18, 2010


  • Funkdizrallah May 17, 2010

    Family Guy is hilarious, if you have any sense of humour, and yeah South Park is pretty funny most of the time, but can get stupid sometimes.. but not having Family Guy at least be on the top 13 list is just retarded. @ShadowSpawnX King of the Hill? REALLY? I'd rather watch paint dry.

  • ShadowSpawnX May 17, 2010

    Completely agree with Family Guy. That crap is for Guys who get a stiffy looking at fat guys.

  • lightcheese May 16, 2010

    Thank god for no Family Guy/Simpsons/American Dad/other unfunny, overrated piece of crap mainstream cartoon. But when I think about it, those can't possibly be on the list, because they're for 13-year olds, not adults.

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