Animation: Then and Now

July 15, 2020 by Cameron Hallenbeck

Throughout the years, adult animation has maintained its success as a dominant force in television, streaming, and film. From the humble beginnings of adult animators like Ralph Bakshi with Fritz the Cat to the wildly successful Adult Swim series Rick and Morty, adult animation has become a staple of intellectual satire as well just downright funny. This is a brief glimpse into the world of adult animation, beginning to now.

Fritz the Cat | 1971

One could argue that adult animation began with just that… adult animation. But adult animation as we know it wouldn’t really see mainstream success until the early 70s with Ralph Bakshi’s underground hit Fritz the Cat (1971), which is the first animated film to receive an X rating as well as the first the first independent animated film to gross more than $100 million at the box office.

The irreverent style and satire of Bakshi’s work pushed the envelope and proved that there was a market for non-family friendly oriented material.

Belladonna of Sadness | 1973

A string of psychedelic animated features came out from the 70s to the 80s with varying degrees of success, although all maintain a cult following for their help in developing the genre we’re more familiar with today.

Most of these movies included medieval, fantasy, and post-apocalyptic themes, some titles include: Belladonna of Sadness (1973), Wizards (1977), Son of the White Mare (1981), Heavy Metal (1981), Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), and Akira (1988).

Heavy Metal | 1981

While the film industry seemed like a possible stable market for independent artists with low overheads, it wasn’t until the late 80s and early 90s that we began to see the same kind of success for adult animation in the transition from film to TV.

Now the longest-running American sitcom, The Simpsons, has long engrained itself into the global cultural psyche for years, but it’s modest beginnings as a short segment in the Tracey Ullman Show proves the ludicrous nature of animation at the time.

The Simpsons

The Simpsons helped pave the way for more adult-oriented animated comedies like South Park, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, King of the Hill, Robot Chicken, and Rick and Morty.

But least of all was that The Simpsons helped normalize adult themes in animation. It  helped birth the kids cartoon boom of the 90s featuring series like Ren and Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Space Ghost, Coast to Coast.

Ren and Stimpy

While The Simpsons can claim their stake in helping to create a mainstream audience for adult animation, there have been numerous successes over the years from Adult Swim, Comedy Central, and overseas Studio Ghibli, Toei Animation, and Sunrise Studios.

Dragon Ball Z

TV has potentially met its match with streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. With streaming subscriptions continuing to grow, the popularity of adult animation has become a staple of all the key streaming competitors. Here’s a breakdown of some of what’s streaming and where in adult animation


Bojack Horseman (Netflix Original)

Big Mouth (Netflix Original) | Midnight Gospel (Netflix Original) | Castlevania (Netflix Original) | Avatar: The Last Airbender | Adventure Time |One Piece


Solar Opposites (Hulu Original) | Crossing Swords (Hulu Original) | The Awesomes (Hulu Original) | Rick and Morty | Bob’s Burgers | Archer | South Park | Family Guy

Amazon Prime

Undone (Amazon Prime Original)

Rick and Morty | South Park | Family Guy | Futurama


Gravity Falls

The Simpsons | Star Wars: The Clone Wars | X-Men: The Animated Series


Regular Show

The Amazing World of Gumball | Steven Universe | Primal | Batman The Animated Series | Spawn: The Animated Series.

And if that’s not enough Adult Swim has a massive catalogue of series to watch for free (with ads).

The Squidbillies

What’s next in adult animation? The sky’s the limit really for the genre, with originals and syndicated series still averaging as some of the highest ranked shows in the world.

Here’s some of what we’re looking forward to in the future.

Uzumaki  – Adult Swim

Beavis and Butthead Reboot – Comedy Central

Attack on Titan The Final Season – Hulu/Funimation/Crunchy Roll

The Cuphead Show – Netflix

10 Year Old Tom – HBO Max

Invincible – Amazon Prime

The Promised Neverland Season 2 – Hulu/Funimation/Crunchy Roll


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