(...and that kids will probably enjoy, too.)
Once upon a time, the world of animated shorts was designed exclusively for adults. What? You think those old Loony Tunes shorts were actually made for consumption by children? Have you seen some of the in jokes in those things? But somewhere, over the course of time, people decided that kids made perfect targets for animated television. So much so, in fact, that it was practically a stigma for an adult to admit that they watched a "silly cartoon."
Fortunately, over the course of time, there have been some exceptions. Shows that, while targeting children, were actually written like the kids had brains and might enjoy some decent storytelling. Not to mention that some adults (with or without children) might be able to enjoy the higher level they present themselves on.
With that in mind, I present this: a hearty handful of all ages animated programming that I feel that any grownup (especially one in my age range) would enjoy. Note that the list is restricted to shows that are currently airing new (or newish) episodes, and that for the sake of not sparking a tremendous level of debate, I have completely omitted anime from this list. It's the only way to keep five different mech based shows from being listed here.
The list, not necessarily in order of preference (although the latter part of the list does contain my favorite of favorites).
5. Johnny Test: This is an odd choice, and arguably the "kiddiest" of the kid's targeted shows on the list. But while I don't watch the show religiously, I have never seen an episode that I haven't enjoyed a great deal. It's in the vein of the Powerpuff Girls and a few other shows of a similar ilk, which may explain why it hits its points the way that it does.
Who would think that a show about a boy who ends up a guinea pig for his two sisters’ crazy laboratory experiments would have legs? Really, the show is eight shades of insane, but within the insanity and gags is a solid foundation of writing. Well, as solid as you can get in a show that does two 10 minute shorts per episode.
4. Ben 10: Alien Force: When I first heard of this show (which would technically be the in the series Ben 10), I honestly thought it sounded stupid. Okay, to be fair, I heard it pitched as effectively being a version of the old DC comic series Dial H for HERO except that the lead was a kid. So the first thought I had was, "Lame. Why not just do the actual show?" Even I have my weak moments.
But much to my surprise, this quirky little series is pretty deep. There's plot progression, overlying story arcs, and as evidenced by the show's transition to Alien Force, the main characters actually get older and wiser. I honestly like teen Ben and Gwen more than I ever did kid Ben and Gwen. And they finally get Gwen a boyfriend so that her and Ben don’t have that creepy “cousins” vibe going on. Or was that just me?
3. Transformers: Animated: This is one of those shows that took a ton of flak for being too "kiddie looking." Apparently, some people viewed that as a poor style choice for a show targeting... kids? Yeah, geeks are weird sometimes. But overlooking that one thing (made irrelevant by the fact that the style works for the show), this show is well put together.
Sure, it gets a bit goofy at times, but it doesn't play down to some imagined child's story level. And the show manages to forge new ground while paying homage to the shows that preceded it. I'm a big fan of the theme song that throws back to the original animated series. And if that doesn't work for you, the Constructicons talk with New York accents. How can you not like that?
2. Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Oh, the gripes that were heard when this show was first teased. "The art looks bad." "It's nothing like the Timm/Dini series." "Why does Batman have a lightsaber?" But once you get past all of that, what you end up with is a jazzy series that highlights some of the more over-the-top, campy facets of Batman as a superhero. Yes, it draws some very clear parallels to the old Adam West show (the Robin episode, in particular), but some would argue that that show had its serious moments at times, too.
And don't be fooled. Beneath its campy exterior, the show has some very grounded and serious overtones. Even in the middle of a comic moment, the characters still manage to display their personalities and motivations in compelling ways. And the characters... the show makes a conscious choice to go outside the box and pair Batman up with heroes and villains that only the most hardcore of Bat-fans (and even ardent DC comics readers) could ever hope to identify or recognize. Seriously, who would ever think to form an entire episode around the exploits of Crazy Quilt?
1. Spectacular Spider-Man: When what's probably my favorite super-hero of all time gets his own animated show, that's normally all I need to get hyped. But Greg Weissman and company bring something very special to the table with this one. Given the difficult task of trying to balance the early high school life of Peter Parker with a hearty helping of Peter's friends, foes, and supervillains, the crew here manages to bring it all together in a refreshing mix of drama, action, and comedy.
Some might argue that there are way too many convenient characters floating around, but that just makes it more fun to me. The fact that many of Spidey's foes start out as common hoods that he ran into before they had powers actually makes more sense in the long run, and the constant group of references from and to other cast members only serves to pay proper homage to the characters’ history and possibly set up future storylines. What else can I say about a show that makes me actually care about Venom again?
Of major note is that season 2 of Spectacular Spider-Man is set to premiere on DisneyXD very shortly, and that the potential for there being a season 3 may well depend on whether the new season gets good ratings. So make sure to check it out. I've seen most of it already, but I'll be watching it again on general principle. The show is just that good.
So that’s it. There’s a bit of a running theme with many of the shows in that they all seem kiddy on the surface but end up being deeper. They’re hardly the first shows to pull it off, but if you’re going to be stuck sitting in front of the TV with your ki… er, spend valuable family bonding time with your children, or if you’re going to be ragged on by your friends for “watching some stupid cartoon,” you might as well be caught watching a good show, right?