The 10 Best Animated Shows Of 2014

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This list will give you a sense of what you’re missing, if you’re not watching “cartoons” anymore. Although none of these shows broke into our 20 Best TV Shows of the Year list, a few of them came very close, and it’s clear that some of the best narratives, comedy, and social commentary is happening on animated series. Here are our picks for the 10 best animated shows of the year.

10. Over the Garden Wall

Creator: Patrick McHale
Stars:Elijah Wood, Collin Dean, Melanie Lynskey, Christopher Lloyd, Jack Jones, Samuel Ramey
Network: Cartoon Network

A long-time passion project of Adventure Time writer/producer Patrick McHale, Over the Garden Wall marks Cartoon Network’s first foray into the miniseries model. Told in ten, 11-minute installments, over five consecutive nights in October, the series centers on the seemingly simple story of two brothers—reckless adventurer Greg (Collin Dean), and his cautious older sibling Wirt (Elijah Wood)—who become lost in a strange, ethereal forest and must find their way back home. Along the way, they meet an assortment of oddball characters, including an eccentric woodsman, a talking bluebird and a frog that can communicate only through singing. Such a premise always carries the risk of coming off as overtly whimsical or folksy, but Over the Garden Wall strikes a perfect balance between light-hearted romp and Brother Grimms-esque horror yarn. While it doesn’t quite display the knowing, ironic sensibilities that characterize its contemporaries in this recent animation renaissance, the show still fits right alongside the best of the best via its sheer commitment to world-building and atmosphere. By the time the tale finally wraps up, there’s a genuine sense of melancholy in leaving such a tangible, beautifully rendered fantasyland behind. Here’s hoping Over the Garden Wall opens the floodgates for equally visionary creators to develop their own one-off, close-ended projects. Even if not, the existence of such an incredible work of storytelling is reward enough.—Mark Rozeman

9. Archer

Creator: Adam Reed
Stars: H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Amber Nash, Chris Parnell, Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter, George Coe, Adam Reed, Lucky Yates
Network: FX

The beauty of an animated show like Archer is that it can dramatically shift gears at a moment’s notice and few people would bat an eyelash. That’s how the creators of this spy movie parody were able to get away with completely eschewing the spy movie parody plotting for their fifth season, and shift instead to the former ISIS agents trying, and mightily failing, to become drug smugglers. Still, it was a bit of a risk that paid off beautifully thanks to some perfectly outlandish situations, like the nebbish Cyril winding up as the president of San Marcos (a great nod to Woody Allen’s Bananas), the appearance of Kenny Loggins, and plenty of Archer’s trigger happy apoplectica.—Rob Ham

8. The Simpsons

Creator: Matt Groening
Stars: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria
Network: FOX

Is The Simpsons the show that it used to be, in its glory days? No—but to be fair, The Simpsons in its glory days is the greatest achievement in the history of mankind. While the show has been a bit hit-or-miss for the last, oh, decade or so, most of the time they still manage to make solid, funny television. The move to HD has really opened up the animation, particularly the opening credit sequences. This year’s LEGO episode was one of the most fun, most inventive things any show did in 2014, and their Futurama crossover episode gave fans of Matt Groening’s late, beloved other series a chance to see Bender and Scruffy and company again. The Simpsons has hit over 550 episodes at this point, which is amazing, but you don’t have to grade it on a curve to still call it a strong show.—Chris Morgan

7. Bee & Puppycat

Creator: Natasha Allegri
Stars: Allyn Rachel
Network: Cartoon Hangover (YouTube)

While working on Adventure Time, Natasha Allegri created fan-favorite, gender-swapped characters Fiona and Cake. Now, with her own web series, the artist is changing the way we think about cartoons. Bee & Puppycat first appeared in 2013 as a 10-and-a-half minute short that took YouTube by storm. That led to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, which resulted in the premiere this past November. The Frederator-produced series, which airs on Cartoon Hangover’s YouTube channel, is unusual for more than just its back story. Bee & Puppycat is the story of a grown woman, Bee, who may have a few problems behaving like an adult. After a chance encounter with a strange cat-dog hybrid creature, Bee’s life is forever changed.

The series also draws more from anime, than from U.S. cartoons, but does so in a way that is truly unique. Mixing fantastic adventures with real world angst, Bee & Puppycat is as whimsical as it is heartfelt. Bee emerges as the imperfect heroine whose journey won’t be easy, but will be relatable to fans in many ways.—Liz Ohanesian

6. Gravity Falls

Creator: Alex Hirsch
Stars: Jason Ritter, Kristen Schaal, Alex Hirsch, Linda Cardellini
Network: Disney XD

On initial glance, Gravity Falls’s logline does little to distinguish it from countless other youth-oriented tales— in the mysterious town of Gravity Falls, prepubescent twins Dipper and Mabel (voiced by Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal, respectively) are stuck spending the summer working for their cantankerous great-uncle Stanford “Grunkle Stan” Pines (creator Alex Hirsch) at his kitschy museum of oddities. Eventually, the two discover that the seemingly sleepy town boasts countless hidden secrets in the form of monsters, magic, and power-hungry mad men. It’s tempting to say that Gravity Falls serves as a kid version of more adult, genre-based procedurals such as Sleepy Hollow and Supernatural. Such a designation would be fairly reductive, however, since not only is the show one of the most consistently funny programs on television (Mabel, in particular, is a constant source of delight), but it also works just as hard as those aforementioned shows at building long-term story arcs via intriguing teasers and cleverly hidden Easter eggs that bring to mind Lost during its heyday. After a near-perfect first season, this year saw the series deepen its established mythology by further exploring its existing roster of characters, in addition to introducing some wonderful new ones. In an animation landscape dominated by high-quality programming, Gravity Falls firmly stands on equal ground with its stiff competition.—Mark Rozeman

5. Legend of Korra

Creator: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Stars: Janet Varney, David Faustino, P. J. Byrne, Seychelle Gabriel
Network: Nickelodeon

When Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino first announced Legend of Korra—a sequel series set 70 or so years after the events of their beloved original show — they certainly were subjected to no shortage of expectations. Despite a few bumps in the road here and there, however, Legend of Korra more than met these expectations, crafting a relentlessly engaging series of stories that married the whimsy and imagination of Hayao Miyazaki with the kind of complex political intrigue one might find in an average episode of Game of Thrones. Moreover, the show also gave us an incredible female protagonist in the form of its titular character—a kickass teenage girl who must save the world, all the while going through that eternal adolescent journey to discover her own inner self.—Mark Rozeman

4. BoJack Horseman

Creator: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Stars: Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, Amy Sedaris, Aaron Paul
Network: Netflix

BoJack Horseman, the title character in Netflix’s original animated series, exists in that weird world between fame and obscurity. He shows the outward signs of the Hollywood life—the gorgeous party pad in the hills, the perennial houseguest, and the agent who is often on the other end of his phone calls—but the work isn’t coming. Years after his hit sitcom, Horsin’ Around, it’s time for the anthropomorphic equine to write a memoir. The book is essentially the premise for the first season of this showbiz satire. BoJack (Will Arnett) becomes too close to his ghostwriter (Alison Brie), who is also dating his rival (Paul F. Tompkins), and has to face some hard truths about his life. BoJack Horseman could have lost its way in the deluge of insider humor and L.A.-centric references. Instead, the show emerges with well-developed characters and a sense of cynicism that pushes the story forward. It’s a dark comedy that’s perfect for the Netflix marathon age.—Liz Ohanesian

3. Rick and Morty

Creator: Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland
Stars: Justin Roiland, Chris Parnell, Spencer Grammer, Sarah Chalke
Network: Adult Swim

While all the talk surrounding the fate of Community dominated many TV-related conversation over the past year, that show’s creator Dan Harmon has been quietly participating in something equally mind-bending and hilarious, with Rick and Morty, a series he co-created with Justin Roiland. The show pits a hapless youngster against his reckless and alcoholic grandfather… who just happens to be a mad scientist. With the limitless scope of animation at their disposal, Roiland and Harmon have a blast sending this TV odd couple into the vast reaches of space and time, putting them up against killer mantises, alternate universe versions of themselves, and a strange hybrid of Adolf Hitler and Abraham Lincoln called Abradolf Lincler.—Rob Ham

2. Adventure Time

Creator: Pendleton Ward
Stars Jeremy Shada, John DiMaggio, Hynden Walch, Niki Yang, Tom Kenny, Olivia Olson
Network: Cartoon Network

Adventure Time is the most creative show on television, and given the medium’s recent renaissance, that’s no small feat. Despite clocking in at less than 15 minutes, each episode of the show is a mesmerizingly diverse affair in terms of style, story, cast and even reality. The show explores the ability for animation to go anywhere and do anything in a way that puts practically everything else to shame, and this is coupled with a willingness to tell stories with long-form arcs that develop over a period of years. All of this is held together by both a quirky, incisive humor and a deep seriousness about the human condition that makes this “children’s” program much more adult than its bright and colorful surface implies.—Sean Gandert

1. Bob’s Burgers

Creator: Loren Bouchard
Stars: H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman
Network: FOX

This past year is when Bob’s Burgers truly hit its stride. With the characters and the universe that they reside in firmly set, the writers knew that they could really start stretching the storylines into strange places: a wine tasting train ride that wound up being hijacked by the Belcher kids, a convention for Brony-like lovers of a kid’s TV show, or the epic Season Four two-parter that saw Bob’s dreams of a better life scuttled amidst a plot to destroy the town’s amusement park. And through it all, the show never once lost its heart, with the relationships among the Belchers getting stronger and more loving. Even as Bob struggled to understand and tolerate his quirk-filled kids and his flighty, endlessly positive wife, you never forgot how much he would sacrifice for them. You come for the snappy writing, brilliant voice acting work, and silly pop culture references, but you end up staying for the warmth that exudes from each episode.—Robert Ham