The Best Animated Series Debuts of 2017
As 2017 draws to a close, we’re taking a look back on a lot of things. One standout has been the year in TV, a year which featured 450+ scripted shows airing across broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms. You can take a look at Collider’s TV Editor Allison Keene‘s best of the best in TV here and Chris Cabin‘s own Top 25 list. But for me, the focus will be on top-notch animated series debuts you may have missed in 2017. That narrows down the list significantly since shows like Trollhunters, The Simpsons, and Dragon Ball Super are merely continuing their epic run from year to year. Instead, I’ll put the spotlight on new shows that are worth your attention.
Rather than give you a ranked list, which is kind of silly considering the wide range of stories on display here, I’ll be breaking down the 2017 debuts by audience age. Kids who love Vampirina definitely aren’t ready to jump straight into Castlevania, unless their parents are awful/incredibly cool. I’ll also be including some honorable mentions that entered the scene this year but didn’t make as big a splash as the others. So with that being said, let’s get into the best animated series debuts of 2017 that you might have missed!
Vampirina is a Disney Junior toon that centers on the titular vampire tot and her family as they travel from Transylvania to Pennsylvania. This is like a super-cute take on The Munsters or The Addams Family with a bit of the “new kid in school” thrown in for good measure. The cast, featuring James Van Der Beek and Lauren Graham as the parents to up-and-comer Isabella Crovetti‘s title character, is top-notch, with veterans like Dee Bradley Baker, Wanda Sykes, and Patti LuPone along for the ride in the supporting cast. And since Vampirina hails from Primetime Emmy-nominated and BAFTA-nominated producer Chris Nee (Doc McStuffins) you know it’s quality stuff.
Adapted from Disney Publishing’s popular children’s book series “Vampirina Ballerina,” written by Anne Marie Pace and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, with songs from Broadway composers Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond (The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes) and composer Layla Minoui (Castle) it went on to be Disney Junior’s strongest premiere of the year, following our next installment.
Mickey and the Roadster Racers
Mickey and the Roadster Racers is another Disney Junior toon that reimagines Disney’s very famous mascot and his friends as racecar drivers situated in Hot Dog Hills. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Daisy and Donald take their super-cool cars all over the world on amazing races. It was another strong performer for the network this year and it will be coming back for a second season. So all you kids ages 2-7 out there, rejoice!
But this show’s not all about the racing. Off the track, Minnie and Daisy also run their own successful business as Happy Helpers, solving problems for anyone in need of a helping hand. The stories are designed to impart social and emotional lessons about friendship, teamwork, optimism and good sportsmanship. And it’s got quite the creative team behind it, including the Emmy-nominated Rob LaDuca and Mark Seidenberg (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Jake and the Never Land Pirates).
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Amazon’s original animated series If You Give a Mouse a Cookie made its way into a regular season rotation this year after airing a pilot back in 2015 and launching a Christmas special just last year. But if that title alone gives you the nostalgia chills, you’ll want to check this series out. The art style captures the beautiful illustrations from Felicia Bond while the stories expand on the clever little logic circles established by author Laura Numeroff. And while these tales are told in a roughly 12-minute chunks, each segment in the half-hour episodes start with Mouse asking for the same item, which is a cute way to reinforce the if/then puzzles that are secretly teaching your little ones some basic logic functions.
Be sure to check out my interview with creator/showrunner Ken Scarborough here for a little more insight on how IYGaMaC came about!
Spirit Riding Free
Netflix’s animated original series Spirit Riding Free takes the adventure of the classic animated movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and imbues it within a kid-friendly story of friendship and overcoming challenges. Already enjoying its third season this year, the show’s 20 episodes follow three newly minted best friends Lucky (Amber Frank), Pru (Sydney Park), and Abigail (Bailey Gambertoglio) as they ride off into various adventures on their steeds Spirit, Chica Linda, and Boomerang. Aury Wallington‘s (Gravity Falls, Sex and the City) creation, a DreamWorksTV production, offers up the perfect family-friendly Wild West series for every young cowboy or cowgirl-in-training out there!
The Magic School Bus Rides Again
Netflix brought nostalgia back in a big way and with a modern twist in The Magic School Bus Rides Again. The classic 90s series featured Ms. Frizzle (Lily Tomlin) as the energetic and unconventional science teacher who took her classroom full of optimistic and curious students on wild educational adventures. Frizzle is back as a professor in this reboot, but the adventures are led by the animated antics of her younger sister, Fiona Frizzle (Kate McKinnon). McKinnon takes up the mantle of the magic-powered, science-based educator with vigor, making these all-new adventures feel fresh yet familiar at the same time. Modern scientific understanding meets cutting-edge animation in this Netflix series, which is as entertaining as it is educational.
Niko and the Sword of Light
We’re getting a little older with our animated content now, though shows like Amazon’s original adventure series Niko and the Sword of Light are still perfectly suited for younger audiences. Based on a comic book of the same name, Niko originally arrived on Amazon back in 2015 as a pilot but made its way onto the network as a proper series this past summer. It centers on the 10-year-old title character (Andre Robinson) who awakens in a very strange and dangerous world to find himself the last hope for humanity. While that sounds a bit tropey, pretty much everything that happens from there on out is original and unexpected, from the arrival of the decidedly not heroic Mandok (Tom Kenny) and the truly impressive Lyra (Kari Wahlgren), to the wild, exotic locales the trio travels to, and the manner in which Niko and his magical sword dispatch their many, many enemies. The adventurous series earned itself an Annie Award nomination, which should clue you in that it’s very worth the watch.
Danger & Eggs
Speaking of Amazon, the absolute delight of a series that is Danger & Eggs is one that likely flew under almost everybody’s radar. Co-created by Mike Owens and Shadi Petosky, who have worked together on varying projects like Mad, Super, and Yo Gabba Gabba!, Danger & Eggs is, on the surface, a very silly series about a thrill-seeking young girl named D.D. Danger (Aidy Bryant) and an over-protective, safety-conscious egg named Phillip (Eric Knobel). But it soon becomes quite apparent that there’s much more to this series. It’s been lauded as the first co-creation by an openly transgender creator, though Danger & Eggs also stands on its own merits for offering increasingly mature and complex lessons learned throughout the series, along with a mysterious mythology, the layers of which only start to be peeled back by the season finale.
The show’s strengths include its incredible imagination and the courage to deal with common themes like trust, friendship, and following the rules, but surprisingly complex issues like confirmation bias, personal accountability, the comforts of routine, and complications from depression, anxiety, and identity disorders are also addressed in approachable and understated ways. Danger & Eggs is worth another watch whether you’ve seen it already or not.
OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes
Don’t worry, Cartoon Network gets in on this list with the excellent addition to Ian Jones-Quartey‘s body of work, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes. It’s not always easy to predict which new debuts are going to be hits, especially with tricky younger audiences, but it was clear from the early looks at this series that it was a winner in the making. It’s got a zany energy, a spin on the superhero genre, and the heart and soul of shows like Steven Universe; can’t miss.
OK K.O.! centers on its title character, K.O., a wannabe superhero who trains alongside his mentors while working at Gar’s Bodega in Lakewood Plaza shopping center. The coming-of-age story plays heavily on superhero tropes in new and hilarious ways, but it also folds in a lot mysterious mythology (the setting takes place in an undetermined future and is pretty post-apocalyptic) and friends-and-family relationships along the way. The good news is that the first season of OK K.O.! lived up to the hype, but the great news is that it’ll be back in 2018 for a second season!
It’s not all Disney Junior on this list! Disney XD took a bold move with the reboot of the classic Disney animated series DuckTales. That bold move paid off in a big way. The new DuckTales is an adventurous romp that goes well beyond the borders of Duckburg and into international tales of mystery and mythology. In the show’s 10 episodes so far, Scrooge, his nephews, Webby, and Launchpad have already traveled to modern haunts like spooky abandoned subway tunnels, the arcade-like Funzone, and a very dangerous luxury resort, but they’ve also tangled with mummies and the dangers of Mount Neverrest.
Additionally, you can’t really beat this cast, which includes David Tennant, Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, Bobby Moynihan, Kate Micucci, and Beck Bennett, along with some fantastic guest stars. It’s a worthy reboot, a rare thing to find these days.
That wraps up the animated series debuts for the little ones, but some Honorable mentions for kids shows include:
- Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters
- Bunsen Is a Beast
- Big Hero 6: The Series
- Hotel Transylvania: The Series
- My Little Pony: Equestria Girls
Disney XD also gets the first entry in the somewhat older category of new animated series here with the 2017 rendition of Spider-Man. This cartoon has gotten some flack from the fandom, more out of spite for replacing Ultimate Spider-Man than for anything creatively related. That’s a shame since this take, led by voice actor Robbie Daymond, actually puts the focus on science and splits time between Peter Parker and his costumed alter ego. Now while the “science” on display might be more on the fictional/comic book side of things than real-world, practical applications, Spider-Man is better suited for slightly older audiences who might be inspired by these scientific curiosities.
But for Spider-Fans out there, this show is absolutely packed full of enemies, allies, and all sorts of Easter eggs from the pages of the Marvel hero’s mythology. There’s a new spin on them since a lot the characters get their start at one of New York’s elite academic institutions, with both the students and the teachers equally capable of becoming heroes or villains, depending on which of their personality traits proves the strongest. It’s a very unique take on a familiar tale and one worth revisiting.
Perhaps the strangest entry in this entire list is the pseudo-anime series, Neo Yokio, a hodgepodge of all sorts of inspirations clumped together by “Vampire Weekend” lead, Ezra Koenig. It’s bizarre and a bit of a mess, especially for folks familiar with anime series to begin with, but it’s just unique and quotable enough to be worth checking out. As for the plot … I can’t really explain it, because not much happens. It’s essentially rich kids dealing with rich kid problems, though they also happen to have magical demon-fighting powers and a flying robot butler. Yeah, it’s weird, but it’s also unlike anything else you’re likely to find. Do yourself a favor, shake up a Caprese Martini, kick back, and enjoy the insanity that is Neo Yokio.
[adult swim] introduced a really interesting animated series earlier this year by the name of Apollo Gauntlet. If you took the classic animated adventures of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and dosed in a bit of hallucinogenics, then you’d have a good idea of what you can expect from this show. From the animated swagger of the lead characters to the transformative power of the various armor and weapons they pick up, Apollo Gauntlet is both a skewering satire of 80s musclebound adventure series and a loving homage to them.
It’s also a completely bonkers creation from the mind of Myles Langlois, who originally drew and animated the web series of the same name, all on his own. The story follows Earth cop Paul Cassidy, who is transported to a magical fantasy world by the evil Dr. Benign and becomes a legendary hero thanks to a magical suit and a set of talking gauntlets. It’s that talking gauntlet that acts as his conscience throughout the series and it also offers the opportunity for some very ridiculous humor. Voice actors Tom Kenny, Ryan Kwanten, Kelsy Abbott, Mark Proksch, Betsy Sodaro, and James Urbaniak also get in on the fun, so be sure to do the same!
- The Jellies
- Freedom Fighters: The Ray
- Little Witch Academia
Now we’re well and truly into the mature animated series, even if Netflix’s Big Mouth puts the focus on adolescents. This one will for sure be back for a second season since it’s already been ordered, so do yourself a favor and catch up on the first season now. It’s an unflinching and unapologetically raunchy approach to puberty, sexuality, and all the awkward questions and experiences that come with transitioning from childhood into early adulthood.
What’s very interesting about Big Mouth is just who the series is supposed to be aimed at. Is it for kids who are actually going through puberty? Maybe, because it does give them some answers and an emotional outlet for their frustrations that they probably don’t feel comfortable sharing with their parents, teachers, or even their friends. But Big Mouth doesn’t intend to be educational, it’s straight-up entertainment, so its incredibly wrong style of humor is best left for adults who have already weathered the awkwardness of puberty and come out the other side, better to appreciate the jokes.
Delivering the absurd and the inappropriate in equal measure are Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Fred Armisen, Jessi Klein, Jason Mantzoukas, Jordan Peele, Maya Rudolph and Jenny Slate, just to name the main cast. And it’s very clear that they’re having an absolute ball.
The only knock on Castlevania, the excellent Netflix animated adaptation of the classic Konami video game franchise, is that the sole season is just too short. This series was about a decade in the making, going through a number of stops and starts on its way to being produced. While the wait may have been long, it was worthwhile. Netflix’s version is a slick, incredibly violent and gory adaptation that pulls no punches when it comes to bringing Konami’s characters and Warren Ellis‘s script to the screen.
Richard Armitage lends a confident if sometimes detached air to Trevor Belmont, perfectly befitting the character as the last of a bloodline who wants no business with continuing the fight, but whose morality forces him to do just that. James Callis, for his part, lends an exotic slickness to Alucard, while Alejandra Reynoso‘s Sypha Belnades is as strong as she is enchanting. Oh, and Matt Frewer‘s Bishop that you’ll love to hate and Graham McTavish‘s Dracula that you’ll hate to love are just perfect. The only thing wrong here is that the gang gets together by the end of Season 1 and we’ll likely have to wait a long time to see them embark on their first adventure together.
So I know this isn’t a ranking, but Lastman is my #1 overall favorite animated newcomer to the scene this year. Technically, the French action-adventure series with an occult slant debuted in 2016, but the excellent English-language dub landed on the VRV platform earlier this year. I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s completely insane in the best possible way. I’ve described it as:
#Lastman is like if Supernatural went all Cronenberg body horror.
Or like if ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ centered on a boxer instead of a trucker.
Or if ‘Men in Black’ had a Lovecraftian vibe.https://t.co/VpVuiZlaWi pic.twitter.com/NAyZOa7uVM
— Jovial Cartoonist Dave Trumbore (@DrClawMD) November 26, 2017
It’s impossible to summarize Lastman. There’s so much going on from one episode to the next, but so much of that is underneath the surface only to be revealed as the episodes roll on. What starts as a focus on the talented by kinda lazy boxer Richard Aldana soon morphs into an all-out battle for survival against some Miskatonic forces I’m still struggling to understand. It’s one of the most engrossing and original stories I’ve seen in a while, and I have it on good authority that it only gets crazier and more intoxicating as the adventure continues. If you only add one series from this list to your lineup this year, make sure it’s Lastman.
- Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus