Hello, fellow fans of animation! A new year’s worth of entertainment is already well underway, and it will undoubtedly bring oodles of new shows, games, and stories for our narrative-obsessed minds to ponder. For a moment, though, let’s take a little time to look back at some excellent shows you might have missed—the past few years have brimmed with amazing series. So many, in fact, that you might have let a gem slip you by…
Here are five extraordinary animated series you might have missed.
Fans of animated shows will almost certainly recognize the name Genndy Tartakovsky. He created Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, and Primal and worked on countless other well-known animation projects, including Star Wars: Clone Wars and the Hotel Transylvania films.
Tartakovsky’s latest project is Unicorn: Warriors Eternal (streaming on Max, formerly HBO Max) a labor of love that took years to hit screens. The series follows a group of magical beings who return to the human realm (possessing the bodies of their ancestors in the process) to fight a terrible evil…except when it goes wrong, a group of “normal” teenagers are overtaken by the spirits and left to piece their fates together. Most of the series takes place in a steampunk version of London, providing a brilliant playground for Tartakovsky and his fellow animators. It’s also the perfect backdrop for characters like Copernicus, a talkative, top-hat-wearing robot whose language is beeps and whistles, who quickly became one of my favorites.
Fantasy fans will enjoy the unique magic and deep worldbuilding of Unicorn: Warriors Eternal. Though it was released to some fanfare in 2023, I haven’t heard much about it in the months since launch. Give it a watch!
From creators Joseph Bennett and Charlies Huettner comes a must-watch series for any sci-fi fan (also streaming on Max). Crew members of a freighter spacecraft crash-land on an alien world and are separated; they’re left to fend for themselves without any means of communication with each other or their fleet. Their temporary home is inhabited by a variety of mysterious and often hostile life forms. Our human crew must contend with the challenges of a completely unfamiliar ecosystem as they attempt to rescue themselves.
Scavengers Reign strikes a remarkable balance between bleakness and vibrancy. The story has a lilting sadness to it, as the action is propelled along by the characters’ need to survive. Even so, the planet surrounding them overflows with glorious colors and highly evolved life forms perfectly suited to hide from (or take advantage of) the dangers lurking in every crack and crevice.
Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake
Perhaps this series’ predecessor is far too well known for Fionna and Cake to make an appearance on a list of show’s that aren’t getting enough attention, but I’m going for it anyway! If you are a fan of Adventure Time, you should absolutely watch Max’s Fionna and Cake.
As a spin-off from the original series, the show walks a tightrope in terms of its approach, balancing between its identity as direct follow-up to Adventure Time on one side while on the other, the characters careen into wholly unique territory where they can flourish all on their own. The result is a fabulous, can’t-miss series with all the trademark wackiness of Adventure Time and the surprising depth of character that made me fall in love with the original series.
And if you’re here for the lore? You won’t be disappointed. Developed by writer and animator Adam Muto, who worked on the original Adventure Time’s ten-season run, Fionna and Cake dives headfirst into the same fantastic lore-heavy depths of its precursor.
In 2020, Netflix dropped three seasons of what is—in my opinion—one of the most criminally underrated animated series ever released. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts forces or charming and kind protagonist, Kipo Oak, out of her comfort zone and into a post-apocalyptic world populated by dangerous beasts, talking animals, and humans just trying to survive. After a sheltered early life in a cushy underground lab, Kipo must contend with the challenges of her new surroundings—but she also has a thing or two to teach the people of the broken world.
I praised Kipo in an article for this site just over two years ago, citing its strong themes, character development, and commitment to understanding and portraying diversity in its worldbuilding. After rewatching a few episodes for this article, I was thrilled to find that my claims held up. Anyone looking for a colorful animated series full of heart and sharp writing needs to look no further: Kipo has everything you need—I just wish it had gotten a longer run.
I wavered for a long time on which series to put last on this list. I finally landed on The Midnight Gospel because it’s just so out-there in format and execution that many potential fans might’ve skipped right over it. See the honorable mentions below for the other great shows that almost made the list…
But first, let’s talk about The Midnight Gospel: the series was co-created by comedian Duncan Trussell and Pendleton Ward (the creator of Adventure Time). It focuses on Clancy Gilroy, who hosts a space podcast (in-universe, it’s called a “spacecast”) from his home planet, the Chromatic Ribbon. Clancy ventures to other worlds—usually to planets in the midst of world-ending crises—and talks with their inhabitants. The show samples actual interviews from Trussell’s podcast, The Duncan Trussell Family Hour, and by extension, The Midnight Gospel often grapples with hard truths and heady themes—death, love, spirituality…they’re all fair game. My favorite episode features Trussell’s mother Deneen Fendig, and a touching conversation about the inevitability of loss.
If any or all of this intrigues you, I encourage you to take some time to check out The Midnight Gospel. It’s like nothing else, and I can hardly do it justice in a few hundred words.
Maybe you’ve seen all the shows above. Maybe you just want more. Others I considered for this list include the following:
Genndy Tartakovsy’s Primal, briefly mentioned above,sees a caveman forge an unlikely friendship with a dinosaur, and the animation is spectacular. You can watch the trailer here.
Harley Quinn, Over the Garden Wall, The Dragon Prince, and Regular Show are some of my all-time favorites, but they all lean a smidgen too far into the mainstream for me to include on the list proper—but if you haven’t seen them, they’re all great!
And finally, Netflix’s Inside Job (trailer here) is an irreverent workplace comedy with plenty of sci-fi antics to boot.
Now, over to you: What great animated series did I miss? Which deep cuts have I yet to find? Let me know in the comments.