The 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (2023)

For even more Top 25 lists, check out our picks for the 25 Best Disney Animated Movies, the Top 25 Marvel Villains, or the 25 Best Harry Potter Characters! You can even read our top 100 TV shows of al time.
We've long since blown past the notion that cartoons are "for kids." Not only are there animated shows that both kids and adults can enjoy together, but there are animated TV series specifically aimed at adults - ones that formative youths should stay far, far away from.
Some are long-standing institutions that have been rocking our primetime world for decades, like The Simpsons and South Park, while others are momentary marvels, like Gravity Falls and The Tick. Watch the video above for the full list - from Rocky and Bullwinkle to Rick and Morty - or check out our picks below for the 25 best adult cartoon TV series...

The 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series

[Note: This list does not contain anime.]

25 Aqua Teen Hunger ForceThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (1)

Part of Adult Swim's early insane asylum lineup, Aqua Teen (See it on Amazon) managed to create iconic characters out of a dim-witted ball of beef, a pompous container of fries and a shrieking, selfish milkshake. The series started out with the premise that the trio were actually a crime-fighting detective squad, but that quickly fell by the wayside and was replaced with adventures spanning from the mundane to the surreal to the horrifying. Throw in gruff, Foreigner-loving neighbor Carl and you had the perfect recipe for absurd mayhem and unnecessary bloodletting.

24 DariaThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (2)

A spinoff of MTV's Beavis and Butt-head, Daria (See it on Amazon) centered on the irreverently banal existence of Daria Morgendorffer, as she and her BFF (an acronym Daria would hate!) Jane Lane faced pungent suburban mediocrity at every turn. No one in the town of Lawndale was safe from Daria's aggressive apathy and on-point one-liners.

23 The BoondocksThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (3)

(Video) The 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series

Based on a syndicated comic strip, The Boondocks (See it on Amazon) was first developed as a series for FOX before being rejected for its non-network appeal. Then it was picked up by Adult Swim with the directive that it not try to appeal to a network audience at all. What remained was a potent, poignant, sometimes controversial look at politics and race as brothers Huey and Riley Freeman (both voiced by Regina King) and their grandfather addressed hot button issues in unconventionally humorous ways.

22 The TickThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (4)

Based on writer Ben Edlund's independent comic series, The Tick (See it on Amazon) gave us a lovable hero whose bombastic rhetoric knew no bounds. Whether it was "Mucal invader! Is there no end to your oozing?" or "Evil is out there making hand-crafted mischief for the swap meet of villainy!" we got our first taste of a mighty hero who was - erm - a well-spoken doofus. Before superhero movies were a staple of every multiplex, The Tick parodied the entire genre, offering up a brigade of misfit heroes and villains fighting absurd battles in a nameless city.

21 The Ren & Stimpy ShowThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (5)

As a precursor to the likes of Beavis and Butt-head and South Park, this controversial 1991 Nickelodeon series, featuring a disturbed chihuahua and a chowderheaded cat (See it on Amazon), wowed the college crowd with gross-out humor, sexual innuendo, and crude scenarios. And the craziest part was that it was part of a block that also featured Rugrats and Doug. So yeah, there were plenty of back and forth battles between the writers and the Standards & Practices division.

The animated style involved body distortion and grotesque close-ups while the humor ranged from whimsical to deranged, with the writers constantly refusing to create the "educational" show that the network wanted.

20 Samurai JackThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (6)

Airing its fifth and final season after 12 years off the air, Cartoon Network’s Samurai Jack (See it on Amazon) landed an intense, bloody, and emotionally devastating conclusion to what was already a masterwork of animation and storytelling. Genndy Tartakovsky’s superb saga of an unnamed samurai sent through time to a dystopian future garnered critical acclaim as viewers were left stunned by jaw-dropping visuals.

19 Gravity FallsThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (7)

Gravity Falls (See it on Amazon), from Alex Hirsch (Flapjack, Fish Hooks), may have closed up shop after only two beloved seasons, but the story of twins Dipper and Mabel (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal) and their "Grunkle" Stan's Oregonian Mystery Shack was a quirky and gently twisted heart-warmer for all ages. Smart, satirical, and sweet, Gravity Falls was a one-of-a-kind gem.

18 Avatar: The Last AirbenderThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (8)

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Avatar: The Last Airbender (See it on Amazon) boasted well-crafted storytelling and crisp, beautiful animation set in a fantastic, immersive world centered around a dynamic cast of characters. It also spawned the sequel series The Legend of Korra, which should also be on this list if we had the room!


Puns, political humor, self-deprecation, meta moments - quite a leap for an animated "variety" show from the early '60s. Rocky and Bullwinkle (See it on Amazon) were gloriously ahead of their time, influencing everything from The Simpsons to Supernatural (where do you think Crowley's "Moose and Squirrel" references come from?). In between thwarting the plots and schemes of Russian spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, Rocky and Bullwinkle led us through an assortment of supporting serial segments, such as Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and Fractured Fairy Tales.

16 Beavis and Butt-headThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (9)

Starting off as characters in Mike Judge's 1992 short "Frog Baseball," Beavis and Butt-head (See it on Amazon) were given their own MTV series in which they would loaf on their couch, dream about "scoring" with chicks, harass their neighbor (proto-Hank Hill) Mr. Anderson, ignore their teacher Mr. Van Driessen, torment Winger tee-wearing classmate Stewart, and occasionally watch snippets of music videos. It was a disarmingly smart series about two dummies. Pop culture stardom then took hold as Beavis and Butt-head eventually got their own merch and movie. They also garnered enough controversy with their fictional antics that MTV put up the following disclaimer at the top of each episode: "Beavis and Butt-Head are not role models. They're not even human. They're cartoons. Some of the things they do could cause a person to get hurt, expelled, arrested, possibly deported. To put it another way: Don't try this at home."

15 Adventure TimeThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (10)

A wonderful, whimsical delight, Adventure Time (See it on Amazon) roared onto the scene and became, in short work, a cosplay-worthy hit. The never-ending adventures of Finn the Human (Jeremy Shada) and Jake the dog (John DiMaggio) might seem aggressively random to the untrained eye, but for those who watch, there's a method, and sadness, to the madness. Part of it feels like a dream, the rest a nightmare - like a child trying to make the best of a post-apocalyptic world. Plus, there are Ice Kings, Bubblegum Princesses, evil gnomes, Vampire Queens, Rainicorns, and giant slugs voiced by Biz Markie.

14 SpongeBob SquarePantsThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (11)

Most kid shows are meant for certain ages, but everyone, from age two to 10 to 20 to "going to the doctor because of back pain" can watch SpongeBob (See it on Amazon). As Nickelodeon's highest rated show of all time, SpongeBob is a media giant. TV specials, merchandise, a big screen movie...the show's done it all over the past two decades, with barely a change to its basic formula. SpongeBob is a naive, bright-eyed fast food cook and his friend, Patrick, is dumb and short-tempered. Together, they make SpongeBob's pretentious co-worker, Squidward, miserable. Oh, and Mr. Krabs loves money.

13 King of the HillThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (12)

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From Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-head, Office Space) and Greg Daniels (The Simpsons, The Office), King of the Hill (See it on Amazon) felt more like a regular family sitcom when compared to its more satiric and surreal peers, telling sweet, funny, traditional-style stories that revolved around marriage, work, and coming of age. Lasting 13 seasons, this series proved there was a market for animation outside the realm of rapid-fire references and lampooning. And the Hills provided us with a chance to both laugh at, and laugh with, the exquisite stubbornness of Texas-seared Americana.

12 The Venture Bros.The 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (13)

With six sporadic seasons and several specials under its belt (and a seventh season supposedly on the way), The Venture Bros. (See it on Amazon) is a satiric re-imagining of the '60s series The Adventures of Johnny Quest, with a nice jab at the entire superhero genre thrown in for good measure. Creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer know exactly how to skewer over-inflated action sagas, even retroactively commenting on how perversely irresponsible a show like Johnny Quest was by having Venture twins Hank and Dean get killed over and over again and their father, Rusty, experiencing trauma from his previous stint as a boy-adventurer.

11 Bob's BurgersThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (14)

From Home Movies’ Loren Bouchard, the hilarious Bob’s Burgers (See it on Amazon) sort of snuck up on viewers out of nowhere. As the first non-Simpsons/non-Seth MacFarlane helmed animated series to try and crack Fox’s “Animation Domination” Sundays, Bob’s Burgers was slow out of the gate. But, like any great comedy, the series got better with age, finding its groove in Season 2 as the antics of the wickedly funny Belcher family started to create one of the cleverest comedies, animated or not, on TV.

10 AnimaniacsThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (15)

This mid-'90s animated variety show was ostensibly created for kids but contained a ton of stealth humor aimed directly at adults. With a reboot premiering on Hulu in 2020, it's important to remember that the original (See it on Amazon) collected a wealth of Daytime Emmy awards, along with a Peabody, while bringing both kids and grown-ups together with wit, slapstick, and an abundance of rapid fire pop-culture references. With fast-paced Marx Brothers-style comedy, the Warner brothers (and sister) - Yakko, Wakko, and Dot - skewered everything from Monty Python to Goodfellas to Apocalypse Now.

9 BoJack HorsemanThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (16)

This oddball dark dramedy from Netflix features Will Arnett as a self-loathing alcoholic horse in Hollywood dealing with depression after a past role on a popular '90s sitcom gave him a feast of fleeting fame. While satirizing things like anxiety, drug abuse, and mental illness, BoJack Horseman has actually provided its rabid audience with unexpected drama and moving moments capable of rivaling any live-action TV series. Hilarious and devastating, irreverent and melancholy, this series slowly evolved into one of the most profound streaming experiences available.

8 Robot ChickenThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (17)

When it comes to watching your childhood get spectacularly warped via stop-motion technology, Robot Chicken's (See it on Amazon) ground zero for "Oh no, what are you doing to my favorite toy?!" Whether it's Popeye brutally collecting on a hamburger debt from Wimpy, Sonic the Hedgehog getting lacerated on a S.W.A.T. team's spike strip, or Fruity Yummy Mummy having a lovers' spat with Franken Berry, Seth Green and Matthew Senreich's bawdy action-figure puppet show has kept us laughing at the likes of Star Wars, The Walking Dead, DC superheroes and so much more.

7 ArcherThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (18)

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Though his code name might be "Dutchess" and his Oedipal issues are endless, super-agent Sterling Archer is the narcissistic cad you want on your team. And as a hyper-violent TV-MA-LSV version of Get Smart, Archer (See it on Amazon) busted out on FX to become a ratings hit and a pop-culture quote machine. From Sealab 2021's Adam Reed, Archer is a marvelous mish-mash of retro spy style and future tech, combining Sean Connery's bond with Jason Bourne and all the STDs in between. H. Jon Benjamin provides Archer's dry, egotistical heroism while Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter, Chris Parnell, and Judy Greer fill in as his unhinged spy team. So if you like your sex and violence mixed with obscure references to Chekhov, Melville, Tolkien and, of course, Loggins, then this Molotov cocktail's for you.

6 Family GuyThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (19)

As the first animated series to be nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy since The Flintstones, Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy (See it on Amazon) battled its way out of two cancellations - once after Season 2 and a short time later after Season 3. Fans then flocked to reruns on Adult Swim, helping the series return stronger than ever. Sometimes maligned for its tangential humor, Family Guy has nonetheless created an empire based on shocking its audience and playing loose with the people's laugh limits.

5 FuturamaThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (20)

As another series, like Family Guy, that was resurrected from FOX cancellation (by Comedy Central though), Futurama (See it on Amazon) has provided us with some of the funniest, darkest, well-written allegories of all time. Operating at both a high and low level, the writing on Futurama allowed us to look at ourselves now through the eyes of the future - while also being reminded that the same societal problems will probably always exist. It's a love story, a worker's story, a human rights story, and a haven for sci-fi and math formula references. Simpsons creator Matt Groening and executive producer David X. Cohen have given us a series that will stand the test of time because, quite simply, it's out of time. And nothing, to this date, has made us sadder than the ending to the episode "Jurassic Bark." Nothing.

Batman :

During an era when movie studios wanted to move away from a dark portrayal of Batman, giving the cinematic reins over to Joel Schumacher, the "Dark Deco" quality of Batman: The Animated Series (See it on Amazon) raised the bar and redefined what quality superhero storytelling is. It gave us dark, complex themes, incredible art, and welcome faithfulness to the title character's crime-fighting origins. Winning the Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program, this great show combined elements of Burton's Batman with the Superman cartoon shorts of the '40s to create a timeless Gotham.

Batman: The Animated Series tested how far a show could go in the kid-friendly arena of cartoons and deliver something all ages could respect and appreciate. The stark and deliberate animation style, Kevin Conroy's gravel-lined voice and Mark Hamill's chilling Joker gave us goosebumps. And the iconic created-for-the-series villain Harley Quinn became a breakout character for the ages.

3 South ParkThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (21)

Given that most episodes of animated shows can take anywhere from six to 12 months to complete, the fact that an episode of South Park (See it on Amazon) can be produced in five days has given creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone a topical freedom that no one else in the business has ever had. South Park, part-machine/part-rage against the machine, has been a huge part of our lives for over 20 years. It's ignited controversy, birthed catchphrases, and opened our eyes to the horrors of Harley-Davidson bikes, Chipotle, George Lucas, Honey Boo Boo, and basically anything mass-produced for the brainless. You might not always agree with the foul-mouthed antics of Cartman, Kyle, Stan, and Kenny, but there's usually always a hypocritical ideology to harass, a "sacred cow" to bash, or a celebrity to roast.

2 Rick and MortyThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (22)

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Adult Swim's Rick and Morty (See it on Amazon) is already a modern-era juggernaut. Following the dangerous and debauchery-ridden (and sometimes reality-altering) adventures of narcissist/uber-genius Rick and his cringing moral-compass grandson Morty, this subversive series has not only given us some of the smartest laughs in a long time, but also some of the smartest sci-fi.

From Justin Roiland (who voices both title characters) and Community's Dan Harmon, Rick and Morty has created a psycho-analytical niche for itself, giving fans hearty nerd humor while also diving deep into the psyche of a fractured family.

1 The SimpsonsThe 25 Best Adult Cartoon TV Series - IGN (23)

After almost 30 years, The Simpsons (See it on Amazon) is very much the establishment. It is "The Man" of the animation landscape. The longevity and overall dominance of this franchise - from toys to games to movies to theme parks - places it perfectly at the top of this list, even if there's an argument to be made about it not being as great as it once was. Still, even if we're just counting the first 10 years of the show, The Simpsons has given us some of the sharpest comedy ever crafted. Even if you didn't enjoy, say, episodes 575 through 615, you can go re-watch "Marge vs. the Monorail," "Mr. Plow" or "Cape Feare" and see that they still stand 10-feet tall, towering above everything else. This is an institution of quality, age-bridging comedy that's still, to this day, discovering new viewers and fans.Matt Fowler is a writer for IGN and a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA). Follow him on Twitter at @TheMattFowler and Facebook at


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