If you find yourself at the end of 2019 wondering what new animated shows you missed this year, we’ve got you covered. While this isn’t an exhaustive list of every new cartoon, adult animated series, or anime title that’s debuted in 2019–because that would be quite a lot–it is a curated list of, subjectively, the best that this year had to offer.
Animation, like live-action fare, has something for audiences of all ages, demographics, and interests. There’s a huge variety of animated shows out there and there’s quite literally something for everyone and, often, at least one new thing for a very specific someone. The following list comes from one such person–yours truly–but will hopefully shine a spotlight on either a favorite of yours that aired this year, or a title you might have missed.
I wish I had the time and energy (and memory… what day is it again?) to go through and rank every single new animated series of the year, because there have been some awesome stand-outs: We got an adult-oriented sci-fi anthology series in Love, Death and Robots, a heartfelt music-driven drama in Carole & Tuesday, and even an animated series take on the Fast and the Furious mythology, of all things. There’s a lot that’s worth your time. For me, these are the shows that stood out in my memory by year’s end, for reasons which I’ll explore below:
It was a pretty good year for Latinx representation in animation, all things considered. The Casagrandes were able to successfully spinoff from The Loud House, famed sleuth Carmen Sandiego returned to the small screen, and both Elena of Avalor and Dora the Explorer continue to be popular draws. Another new original story is Cartoon Network’s Victor and Valentino, From creator Diego Molano, the story is a supernatural adventure comedy following two half-brothers living with their grandma in the small and mysterious town of Monte Macabre. Myth and legend come to life in surprising ways here, and it’s a celebration of an underrepresented culture and people.
It took me a few episodes to warm up to this one, but once I did, Dr. Stone became a favorite of the year; I’m eagerly anticipating its return for a confirmed Season 2 next year. The anime adaptation of writer Riichiro Inagaki and illustrator Boichi‘s manga series hails from TMS Entertainment, coming to the West courtesy of Viz Media. And I’m glad they did because this is the best example of on-screen science since Breaking Bad went off the air; I should know. So while we wait for Season 2 to continue the adventures of super-scientist Senku Ishigami and his attempts to bring scientific advancement to a newly prehistoric world, I may just have to revisit each episode and bring you a fact-check of Senku’s work… for science!
While this Netflix series wasn’t exactly my brand, it definitely deserved a longer lifespan. Tuca & Bertie boasted some strong BoJack Horseman in its DNA with T&B creator Lisa Hanawalt executive producing alongside Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Noel Bright, Steven A. Cohen, and co-star Tiffany Haddish. The directing and writing teams were mostly female, including Amy Winfrey, Mollie Helms, Karen Graci, Rachelle R. Williams, Shauna McGarry and Hanawalt herself. It was poised to be a breakout series of the year and boasted critical acclaim for the friendship between two 30-year-old bird women who live in the same apartment building … at least until Netflix axed it. Luckily, it’s still there to stream!
Best Animated Series for Kids:
While animation offers something for everyone, I’ve broken up these sections into kid-friendly and more adult-oriented titles. First up is Cartoon Network’s Infinity Train, a 10-episode series (and counting) that was originally thought up nearly a decade ago by creator Owen Dennis (Regular Show). It came about like many Cartoon Network series tend to do, through a seemingly random and tortuous production pipeline that saw Infinity Train evolve from a 2016 pilot released on the network’s unique app, VOD channel, and YouTube outlet, where it became the most-viewed pilot. Nearly two years later, a teaser for the series’ order appeared on the Cartoon Network site, followed by another tease at San Diego Comic-Con 2018. Clock another year until the first trailer arrived, followed in short order by the series itself, all 10 episodes of which debuted in a week. You’d be forgiven if you missed the five nights when Infinity Train aired after nearly three years of scattershot marketing.
And yet, to miss out on it now would be unforgivable. Not only is a second season on the way–very soon, actually, arriving on Cartoon Network from January 6, 2020 to January 10–it’ll connect to Season 1, even though it’s intended as an anthology series. The first season centers on 13-year-old video game coder-in-training Tulip, who attempts to make her way to a coding camp only to hop aboard a mysterious train carrying an infinite number of cars. So while that fantastical, science-fictional setting is a great one for the adventures that follow, the very personal and relatable story of a young teenager dealing with her parents’ divorce is even better. Seek this one out before Season 2 arrives in a week!
I guess it was a pretty good year for 13-year-old female protagonists finding themselves flung into a far-off world, huh? This delightful Disney toon sees Thai-American girl Anne Boonechuy transported to a magical marshland full of friendly frog-folk and otherworldly problems for her to solve. And the biggest one of those problems might just have followed Anne there from the human world…
It’s a classic story in the making, wonderfully fun and purely imaginative, and it’ll be back for more stories next year. That’s great news for creator Matt Braly, whose childhood trips to Thailand served as inspiration for the show’s magical world and characters. The Annie Award-winner, for his work on Gravity Falls, now gets to explore his own mythology and further delve into the fraught friendship between Anne and Sasha. We can’t wait to see where this one goes next!
I never would have imagined that an animated series adaptation of the 62-page classic children’s book from Dr. Seuss would have worked as well as it did. Over 13 episodes, all gorgeously animated, I might add, Green Eggs and Ham takes the simple premise of the original story and brings it into the modern era. Sam I Am and Guy Am I take their conversation from one that merely philosophizes on culinary oddities to a full-on road trip comedy of epic proportions. Factor in some increasingly complex character relationships across generations, wild and wacky comedy that builds on Seussian creations, and excellent voice work by the accomplished cast, and Green Eggs and Ham is a surprise favorite among kids animated shows this year.
Hailing from Jared Stern and Warner Bros. Animation, the series is a prime example of how to adapt a world-famous property. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s compelling, but it’s also familiar and comforting in ways that only nostalgia can provide. Luckily, this isn’t a once-and-done attempt; fans will get to see the continuing adventures of Sam and Guy as they search for a long-lost member of Sam’s family when Season 2 returns to Netflix. Put it on your watchlist here!
Best Animated Series for Adults:
Alright, time to put the kiddos to bed; these series from here on out are for adults only. And we start with one of my favorites of the year: Seis Manos.
From co-creators Brad Graeber and Álvaro Rodríguez, Seis Manos is made for lovers of Mexicanime and telenovelas, 70s kung fu flicks, and the grindhouse stylings of Robert Rodriguez, and the like. The original series boasts incredible, action-packed animation from Powerhouse Animation (the team behind Castlevania) that brings the power, grace, and bloody vengeance of a trio of martial artists to life in a Mexican border town. San Simon has its share of problems, from local drug lords to corrupt cops and a population overflowing with orphans, but once the myth and legend of Mexican folklore start to wreak havoc on the town, things escalate very quickly.
While it’s a bummer that Netflix hasn’t done a better job of promoting Seis Manos, it’s heartening to see the creative team behind the series continually pushing it on social media. Clearly the folks at Powerhouse are passionate about the series; hopefully we’ll see more of it, but we’re waiting on an official renewal. Season 1 wraps things up fairly nicely but also leaves room for much more story to follow in adventures that could travel from Mexico to China; expect a return to 70s kung fu flick aesthetics if and when Season 2 arrives. Be sure to watch it again or for the first time on Netflix now, and make some noise for Jesus, Silencio, Isabella, and the rest!
Any time Genndy Tartakovsky drops a new project, it’s gonna be hard to top him. But for the acclaimed animation veteran himself, it might be hard to top Primal, a five-episode miniseries that opts for ambient noise, character grunts, and creature growls instead of traditional dialogue. It’s an absolute experience. Part “boy and his dog” story, except for the fact that it follows a caveman and one of the world’s last carnivorous dinosaurs, Primal is a bloody, savage, and unrelenting look at nature, red in tooth and claw. It’s also Tartakovsky’s most mature major project to date, following up on his Samurai Jack franchise-closer and a string of family-friendly Hotel Transylvania flicks.
Primal would have netted the top spot here as the year’s best overall newcomer in the animated realm, but its distinction as a series, miniseries, or, and this is a bit of a stretch, an animated feature is muddying the waters a bit. Cartoon Network is campaigning for Primal as an animated feature, making a big push for a longshot at an Oscar nod. But since it aired in episodic installments over the course of five nights, we’re calling it a series, especially since another batch of five episodes are due out in 2020. Now’s a great time to catch up if you haven’t yet.
If you have been looking for the next Game of Thrones after the live-action fantasy series came to a close earlier this year, you might be surprised to find out that the heir apparent is, in fact, the anime series Vinland Saga. Hailing from WIT Studio, the same powerhouse behind Attack on Titan, Vinland Saga is more of an historical drama than you might expect at first blush. Sure, there are plenty of creative liberties taken in writer-illustrator Makoto Yukimura‘s manga, who has been working on the series since 2005, but where factual accuracy falls short, powerful storytelling takes over.
Vinland Saga centers on 11th century England and the surrounding territories, a time when Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard had conquered just about all of the country. A battle of succession to the throne is waged behind the scenes by his sons Harald and Canute, but that’s not the focus of the series early on. Instead, we get a very character-centric introduction in the legendary warrior Thors, his wife Helga, and their young son, Thorfinn. It’s here that the story begins, though both flashbacks and historical documents shed some light on events that came before and after this moment.
That should be enough enticement for most of you to dive into Vinland Saga if you haven’t already. The anime, streaming on Amazon, has dramatic twists, turns, and character deaths/reveals worthy of the most shocking moments of Game of Thrones, but it also means that it’s a spoiler-sensitive series; it’s best to go in cold whether you’re a history buff or not. The 24th episode, fittingly titled “End of the Prologue”, just aired a few days ago, so you have some time to catch up on the best new animated series of the year. But don’t tarry; history waits for no one.