I grew up on Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons. When I look back at those animated shows now, I can see the humor was such that it could be appreciated by both adults and kids. When my kids were very young, I found the number of cartoons I could watch with them (without wanting to shoot myself from boredom) to be startlingly small.
Now that my kids are a bit older, there is more common ground. However, many animated shows are still either written for an immature audience (I’m looking at YOU, Digimon!) or a mature audience (Can’t let the kids watch Death Note!).
All is not lost. Here are my top six animated shows that you can enjoy with the kids.
RWBY is currently in production, about mid-way through the third season. It is produced by Rooster Teeth, a U.S. studio in Austin, TX, and may be their most ambitious animated project to date.
RWBY is a fantasy story set in the world of Remnant, where four kingdoms exist in a fragile peace that has lasted many years. Their common enemy are the creatures of Grimm, mysterious animal-like monsters that plague humans and attack their cities. Humans use a somewhat magical power based on a material known as Dust to help hold back the barrage of the creatures of Grimm. Academies in each of the four kingdoms train the toughest fighters, known as Hunters, who dedicate themselves to protecting the world.
The main protagonists of RWBY are students at one of these academies, who are grouped into teams of four. “RWBY” is a team named after its four members: Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang. All of the characters in RWBY are based on people from myths, fairy tales, and stories. Ruby is loosely based on Little Red Riding Hood, but you’ve never seen such a kick-butt version of her or the other characters. Weiss alludes to Snow White, Blake to Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and Yang to Goldilocks.
Other teams and supporting characters have similar origins, and it is fun trying to pick out who is who from hints given in the show. Some of the characters are different genders than the ones that inspired them, and none are 100% like the originals, so this is sometimes pretty subtle. The music and video game-like action are original and a blast to experience.
One thing to note for younger viewers, the second season starts getting a bit darker in theme. So adults are warned to view the season two episodes before watching them with the kiddies.
Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: Legend of Korra
Two extremely good series produced by Nickelodeon take place in a world where certain people can control the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. These people are called Benders, since they can bend the elements to their will.
Avatar: The Last Air Bender, follows the story of Aang, an Airbender destined to become the Avatar, a once-in-a-generation bender who can master all four elements. The Avatar is a great force for balance in the world. Aang disappeared as a boy, just as it needed him the most, and hasn’t been seen for 100 years. The story opens as an inexperienced Waterbender named Katara and her older non-bending brother Sokka from the Southern Water Tribe discover the Avatar frozen in an iceberg. The fun begins when the surprised Aang awakes from his 100 year slumber.
A supporting cast of companions and adversaries follow Airbender Aang on his journey to master the other three elements and defeat the evil Fire Lord Ozai before his Fire Nation forces can conquer and subjugate all the people of the world. The show has great characters and the storytelling is both funny and engaging.
Avatar: Legend of Korra takes place years after the events of The Last Airbender. Times have changed and young Korra is the new Avatar, living in the world that Aang and his companions helped shape. Cultures have mixed and both technology and Bending co-exist.
Korra is distinctly different from her predecessor Aang, but her journey is just as fun and entertaining. Once again we have a cast of well-rounded and interesting characters both supporting and opposing Korra. When writers lead with classically good storytelling, everyone can enjoy the show.
Both shows can be watched for free on Nick.com, if you have have a paid television provider subscription. The shows are also available on Amazon Video, if you have a Prime subscription.
Wakfu: The Animated Series
French studio Ankama primarily produces Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs). Wakfu: The Animated Series grew out of one of their popular games.
Wakfu is an adventure following the story of Hugo, an orphaned boy who seems to be the lone survivor of his people, the Eliatropes. He is hunted by the obsessed Nox of the Xelor people, who seems to know more about some hidden power of Hugo’s than Hugo himself.
Of course young Hugo quickly gains the support of companions such as the typically greedy but kind Ruel of the Enotrof people, Princess Amalia of the tree-loving Sadida Kingdom, the fierce Cra warrior Evangelyne, and a goofy but brave Iop named Sir Percedal. The English dub of this show is occasionally slightly stilted, but it doesn’t really detract from the fun.
At least one other Ankama property has been made into an animated show, Dofus: The Treasures of Kerubim, but it has not been made available in English that I could find.
You can watch Wakfu: The Animated Series on Netflix, or if you happen to understand French, you can watch un-dubbed and un-subbed episodes on Ankama’s YouTube channel.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels
This animated series fills the gap between the Star Wars feature films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. If you are one of the many fans who has mixed feelings about (or just unmitigated disapproval of) the Star Wars prequel films, you will be in for a pleasant surprise. In The Clone Wars you get to see major plot and character development that really help round out the story.
The writing and acting is excellent, and you will love seeing Obi Wan, Anakin, Yoda, and other Jedi both familiar and new. The clones themselves get a lot of attention, and the show illuminates the brotherhood felt by soldiers who are cloned from one man. The antagonists of the show are just as well-represented, and perhaps even more fun to watch.
Star Wars Rebels is a new animated series currently in its second season. It takes place after the Jedi have been almost completely wiped out by the Empire. I’ve only checked out the first episode of season one, but it looks like a lot of fun and I’m excited to share this one with my kids.
The entire run of The Clone Wars is available on Netflix. For now, Star Wars Rebels is available on the DisneyXD channel, which you will need a subscription to view through your television provider. You can also buy episodes on the Star Wars YouTube channel or on Amazon Video.
Did I miss your favorite animated show that you share with your kids? Tell me about it in the comments!