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15 Highly Underrated Adult Animated Series


15 Highly Underrated Adult Animated Series


In recent times, it seems as though animation is finally being recognized for having diverse and rich sections of entertainment. Series like BoJack Horseman and Big Mouth have excelled at entertaining mature audiences with crude humor and cold honesty about key moments of childhood they would rather ignore, or pressing matters that come with maturity. Other series, such as Castlevania, offer older audiences with truly gripping fantasy dramas that manage to discuss heavier topics with the sincerity they deserve while also providing exemplary action scenes.

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However, there are series with riveting stories that either mirror or exceed expectations set by their more monumental counterparts, even if they haven’t been widely recognized. These overlooked series may be the next step for anyone looking for underrated yet compelling stories beyond live-action performances.

15 Castlevania: Nocturne

Castlevania: Nocturne is technically a sequel to Netflix’s original Castlevania series, but it embodies many of the same positive qualities as its predecessor. It takes place during the French Revolution and focuses on Richter Belmont (Edward Bluemel), a descendant of the vampire hunter Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage) and the wielder of a highly coveted “vampire killing” whip. The series chronicles his efforts to prevent the rise of an omnipotent vampire who threatens the balance of the human world. Pixie Davies co-stars as Maria Renard, Richter’s adopted sister.

A Fantastical Look at an Imperative Moment in French History

While Richter’s story may not have debuted with the same level of fascination and popularity as Trevor’s, the series is attracting new fans from the world over. It’s a series not only for those who desire well-written fantasy stories, but for those who also appreciate the balance between acknowledging the material reality of marginalized communities while crafting exceptional otherworldly stories. The additions of characters like Annette (Thuso Mbedu), a former slave, as well as Olrox (Zahn McClarnon), an Aztec vampire, allow for this sequel to go places the original series simply couldn’t. Stream Castlevania: Nocturne on Netflix.

Castlevania: Nocturne

14 Undone

Undone is a mesmerizing psychological thriller starring Rosa Salazar as Alma, a woman who learns that she can manipulate time after a near-fatal car accident. With this newfound talent, Alma aims to gain some clarity about the death of her father, which leads to a set of life-altering secrets rising to the surface. Bob Odenkirk, Angelique Cabral, and Constance Marie co-star alongside Salazer in this series. Undone is also notable for being one of Prime Video’s first adult-oriented animated shows, as well as for being co-created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy of BoJack Horseman fame.

An Enthralling Look at Loss

Aside from its unique and realistic approach to character design, Undone is one of many vivid stories to come about that directly tackles grief. Alma’s journey is nothing short of surreal, crafting a sentimental story about grief and memory. The series prides itself on highlighting the moral grayness of its leads and the haziness that shrouds one’s journey of self-discovery. The rotoscope animation only amplifies these themes, as well as the surrounding stellar story about identity, loss, and disability. In 2023, it would earn a nomination for Best Animated Series at the Critics’ Choice Awards. Stream Undone on Prime Video.

Undone

Undone

Genre
Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Language
English

Number of Seasons
2

Debut Date
September 13, 2019

13 Disenchantment

From the minds behind The Simpsons and Futurama, Disenchantment follows the life of Bean (Abbi Jacobson), a rebellious yet charismatic princess, and her adventures in the fictional kingdom of Dreamland. Alongside Luci (Eric Andre), a small cat-shaped demon, and Elfo (Nat Faxon), her optimistic elf friend, the trio embark on journeys defined by their shared recklessness and compassion. However, underneath their misadventures lies a wider mystery that may threaten the lives of everyone in Dreamland.

A Mature, Whimsical Illustration of Life

As many fans have pointed out, this streaming-exclusive series by Matt Groening completes the trinity of exploring communal relationships in the present, future, and the past. Venturing into the mystical this time around, Disenchantment uses the familiar, jovial tone of its sister series alongside a slow but steady pace in unveiling its many mysteries. It maintains a unique approach to chronicling life’s many challenges and comforts, amounting to a series that’s starkly different from Futurama and The Simpsons in a number of ways. While it initially drew a mixed reception from critics, each season builds upon the last until its tremendous finale. Stream Disenchantment on Netflix.

12 Smiling Friends

Smiling Friends is a surreal and satisfying Adult Swim series, chronicling the daily adventures of four people and their shared responsibilities for an eccentric charity organization. As a “smiling friend,” their job is to make someone smile. But things aren’t always that simple. The four, especially Charlie (Zach Hadel) and Pim (Michael Cusack), bond over stressful encounters with their customers and leave each situation with something to laugh about. That is, when things don’t go horribly awry. A second season is currently slated to premiere on May 12.

A Dark, Yet Relieving Comedy

Through characters like Pim and Charlie, Smiling Friends effortlessly combines a wholesomeness and saccharine tone that more of the world needs, with a dark, edgy sense of humor that replicates real world attitudes towards labor, mental health, and the general disillusionment of life that many can attest to. Its multimedia approach to its animation style is a breath of fresh air as well, mixing traditional 2D animation with 3D models, stop-motion figures, and even live-action footage. You can’t ever really tell where an episode is going to go based on the premise alone, leading to a series that consistently surprises with each episode. Stream Smiling Friends on Max.

11 Undergrads

Undergrads proved to be a worthwhile attempt to showcase the many rich stories that the college experience includes. The series opens with four friends, all voiced by creator Pete Williams, who attend State U. The short-lived series focused on common frustrations with student loans, forays into early adulthood and the self-exploration that comes with maturity. Despite the intriguing premise, the series was canceled after one season. With that being said, the series has currently been picked up for a series finale film, due for 2025.

A Comical Exploration of College Days

However, due to its professional ties to Canadian entertainment stations, the series would become a sleeper hit. The format of the series clearly mirrors the relatable yet sporadic storylines that current audiences enjoy in shows like Heartbreak High and Sex Education, all while featuring a plethora of licensed music tracks that firmly cement the series in the early 2000s. With the current animation ecosystem, the movie might just be the project that highlights Undergrads as a series to look into. Undergrads is currently unavailable on streaming.

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10 Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law

Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, sees the titular Hanna Barbera hero return to the screen as a lawyer. Much like himself, the series also invites iconic cartoon characters from the 1960s and 1970s, typically serving as Birdman’s clients. It was one of the very first shows produced exclusively for Adult Swim, embodying the network’s sense of surrealistic humor alongside other classic shows like Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Though its original run ended in the mid 2000s, a one-off revival special premiered in 2018, with a spin-off series, Birdgirl, debuting three years later.

A Well Crafted Web of References

Offering audiences a hyperbolic look at staples of American culture, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law is one of the better examples of parody being embedded into a greater, whimsical tale. The series was especially clever in its approach. Notoriously difficult to create, good parodies and good homages are few and far between. Not only do they function well separately, but when bridged together, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law stands as an exciting series in its own right, carving out a sense of originality within the heap of references. Stream Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law on Max.

9 Sealab 2021

The third Williams Street original on the list, Sealab 2021, is an adult-animated science fiction series that sees a group of scientists attempt to solve various problems from the comfort, or lack thereof, of their underwater abode. Throughout the four-season odyssey, viewers instantly learn about the general disdain the scientists have for one another, making for a hilarious story that pokes fun at the awkwardness of forced proximity with people you can not stand.

A Surreal Sea Adventure

Taking inspiration from the previous iteration, Sealab 2020, the franchise as a whole experienced another worthwhile bloom in the early 2000s. Known for its hilariously shocking dialogue, exciting look into technologically advanced underwater equipment, and its ambitious approach to character development and storytelling, Sealab 2021 maintains a generally positive reputation for its willingness to experiment, even if it’s at its own detriment. For those who yearn for a surreal series with a sense of direction and cleverness, Sealab 2021 may just be the perfect destination. Stream Sealab 2021 on Max.

Sealab 2021

Sealab 2021

Release Date
December 21, 2000

Cast
Erik Estrada , Angela Elayne Gibbs

Seasons
4

8 Clone High

Clone High envisions a world where the clones of history’s immortalized figures congregate in a typical North American high school, poking fun at the sordid history of their likenesses while navigating teenage rivalries, unrequited love and social justice. Despite the interesting premise, the first season stood as the only season for almost two decades. The recent revival sees characters both old and new tap into the magic of the source material, bringing back this parody of high-school dramas for a new audience.

Making History Fun and Relatable

Despite initially mixed reviews and an infamous controversy surrounding the portrayal of Gandhi, Clone High has received glowing retrospective reviews due to its playful approach to documenting popular archetypes and a strong web of continuity that binds the episodes together, even years into the then-uncertain future of the story. The revival not only continues the traditions set by the initial season but further propels Clone High to a new, exciting stratosphere. Stream Clone High on Max.

clone high

Clone High

Release Date
November 2, 2002

Seasons
1

7 Pantheon

Read Our Review

Pantheon stars Katie Chang as Maddie, a young teen experiencing malicious building. However, after she receives messages from someone claiming to be her recently deceased father, Maddie learns that there’s an entire dimension out there that she’s barely scratched the surface of. This leads her to another disgruntled teenager, Caspian (Paul Dano), who realizes their shared association with a looming, technologically advanced corporation may be the key to finding their respective secrets unearthed.

An Ambitious, Touching Sci-Fi Drama

For some, it may seem like there’s only a limited number of ways to tell stories about grief. Nevertheless, grief is one of many universal experiences that feels gratifying when explored in such a meaningful manner. Approaching loss and pain with a combination of chilling suspense and an eye-opening detour into science fiction, Pantheon is nothing short of brilliant. Though the series initially floundered on its original streaming service, AMC+, it has since gained wider recognition for its stunning presentation, excellent casting, and fascinating take on the science fiction genre. Pantheon is not currently available on streaming.

6 Close Enough

From the mind behind Regular Show, Close Enough follows a seemingly normal family and the many bizarre adventures they entail. Starring creator J. G. Quintel as Josh Singleton, the series transforms mundane life experiences into visually appealing, nerve-wracking adventures. Those who’ve watched Regular Show thoroughly may notice a familiar storytelling pattern here.

A Fun, Absurd Depiction of Family Life

Dipping their toes into science fiction and fantasy, the series has excelled at entertaining a wide range of viewers while also illustrating the difficulties of life many folks have grown used to. If Regular Show aimed to capture the chaos of everyday millennial experiences, then Close Enough successfully follows in its footsteps with its look into adulthood. From first-hand experience or otherwise, many are more than aware of the hectic nature of family life and the responsibilities it entails. However, Close Enough stresses the power of community in maintaining some semblance of peace and excitement. Buy Close Enough on Prime Video.

5 Fired on Mars

Fired on Mars sees Luke Wilson portray Jeff Cooper, a graphic designer who was recently tapped for a position on Mars. After arriving at the red planet, he quickly learns that his position has been rendered obsolete. With no way to return to Earth, Jeff attempts to make the best of his situation on Mars. Between maintaining a long-term relationship with Hannah (Chase Bernstein), his girlfriend on Earth, and attempting to make a name for himself on Mars, Jeff’s story rings true to a lot of people in the labor force.

A Bleak Yet Amusing Look at Labor

Fired on Mars introduces a bevy of interesting characters that effectively share the limelight and heighten the series as a whole. From the understandably frustrated Jeff, to his boss, Reagan (Pamela Adlon), these characters both acknowledge the bleakness of their situations but also shine a light on the promising aspects of life: celebrations and companions that offer an escape to more fulfilling and joyous moments, and thus inspire characters and audiences alike with the idea that there always is something worth living for. It’s a deliberately subdued series that definitely needs to be on your radar. Stream Fired on Mars on Max.

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4 Black Dynamite

Based on the 2009 film of the same name, Black Dynamite is a blaxploitation action comedy that finds Michael Jai White, Kym Whitley, and Tommy Davidson reprising their roles to tell a tale of Black Dynamite (White), a Vietnam War veteran turned vigilante who aims to protect his community from shady organizations meddling in the daily lives of his neighbors and loved ones. A total of 20 episodes across two seasons would be produced between 2012 and 2015.

A Clever and Stellar Animated Series

The series never shies away from adult-oriented humor, instead incorporating it into the overall clever fabric of commentary that shrouds the show, even during its silliest moments. Black Dynamite is one of the few shows not to have ever fully sacrificed the premise of their series to cater to a wider audience. Expertly entertaining fans of blaxploitation films and fans of crude humor, the Adult Swim program proved to be a highlight in multiple genres: animation, blaxploitation, and the surreal comedies that would come to dominate the 2010s and beyond. Suffice to say, if you loved the underrated comedy film that this series was based on, you’re practically guaranteed to love Black Dynamite. Stream Black Dynamite on Max.

3 Ugly Americans

Ugly Americans sees everyday social worker Mark Lilly (Matt Oberg) living in an alternate variant of New York City where humans live side by side with zombies, succubi, wizards, and other creatures pulled from myths. As the optimistic Mark tries his best to integrate the many new arrivals to the Big Apple, he’ll have to contend with the supernatural phenomena that come with the job. One of the biggest examples of this is Randall (Kurt Metzger), Mark’s slovenly, zombified roommate.

A Bizarre and Delightful Fish-Out-Of-Water Story

Initially perceived as another series reliant on slapstick humor, Ugly Americans offers audiences fully formed characters to latch onto. Through the two-season adventure, Mark and characters like Callie Maggotbone (Natasha Leggero) and Leonard Powers (Randy Pearlstein) prove to be all the more captivating. The series has been hailed by critics and fans alike for its ability to incorporate the grotesque imagery of the inhabitants as they contrast with the seemingly normal life of Mark. While some might have found the combination a bit too bizarre, the series ultimately pokes fun at modern American city life in an interesting way. The series functions as a nonsensical comedy, as well as being a commentary on labor and dehumanization in the United States. Stream Ugly Americans on Paramount+.

2 Æon Flux

Æon Flux envisions a future where humanity is divided into two cities, surrounded by robots and aliens who have come to populate and dominate Earth. The titular character (Denise Poirier) is a skilled agent and assassin from the city of Monica, tasked with destroying the Orwellian city of Bregna, ruled by Trever Goodchild (John Rafter Lee). The rich lore of the two cities, as well as Flux and Goodchild’s connections, are some of the many riveting stories told in this adventurous piece.

A Sci-Fi Odyssey that Was Ahead of Its Time

Not only does Æon Flux offer audiences vivid, experimental depictions of the future, but the series continues to offer biting critiques about surveillance, technology and how both inform human interaction. Coming from the anarchist city of Monica, Flux, as her name suggests, desires a life free of invasive documentation, the very life that Goodchild and the authorities of Bregna hope to thwart. Over the course of this ordeal, audiences get treated to a visually stunning series that is ahead of its time in its presentation and themes. It’s easily one of the most incredible pieces of underrated animation ever produced for network television — even though it aired on MTV, of all places. Stream Æon Flux on Paramount+.

Aeon Flux

Aeon Flux

Release Date
August 8, 1995

Cast
John Rafter Lee

Seasons
3

1 Daria

The cynicism that defines Daria (Tracy Grandstaff) makes for truly compelling television. Between the monotone yet profound commentary delivered through the context of teenage life, the series continues to be a benchmark for teen dramas willing to handle difficult topics with an air of much-needed nuance and skepticism. A character originally found in early episodes of Beavis and Butt-Head, another MTV staple, Daria‘s own series sees the titular character moving away to a new school. From there, her disillusioned personality truly shines as she navigates the complex world of high-school, with her eccentric family and equally-detached friend Jane in tow.

Quintessential Viewing for Authentic Teen Stories

What makes Daria particularly refreshing is the creative decision to structure the series around a teenage girl who appears to be self-assured rather than self-conscious. Her pessimistic approach to the world around her doesn’t read as inherently malicious or pretentious. But rather, she captures the disillusionment many teens face while maturing. Woven with a unique cleverness, Daria is imperative viewing for anyone who wants to witness the true magic of animated television. Stream Dara on Paramount+.

daria

Daria

Release Date
March 3, 1997

Seasons
5

For even more classics that have seemingly vanished over the years, check out our picks for more animated TV shows barely anyone remembers below.

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