A beginner’s guide to cartoons for adults

Some cartoons are just NSFW.
Some cartoons are just NSFW.
Image: Netflix
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There’s nothing quite like traumatic intergalactic adventures, people who transform into giant penises, and an alcoholic horse to spice up your television schedule. Let’s be clear: The cartoons we’re talking about are not the kind that kids should be watching (even if their access to offensive content has been increasing).

Cartoons have long been a successful medium for cultural commentary. The Simpsons is the longest-running scripted show in history—its 30th season premiere date was announced at Comic-Con this weekend—while the subversive animations of the late ’90s, namely South Park and Family Guy, are still going strong. But a new generation of shows in the last decade continue to push the envelope, whether it’s the normalized bestiality in BoJack Horseman or cartoon pornography in Big Mouth. These are shows for our time, practically built to spawn viral memes and challenge the political correctness now policing popular culture.

Demand for such material continues to grow: Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim just ordered an unprecedented 70 more episodes of Rick & Morty, while Matt Groening’s Disenchantment, a show about a hard-drinking princess in a fantasy world, debuts this year. So if there’s ever a time to go down the rabbit hole of raunchy and absurdist animation, it’s now, and these shows are a binge-worthy starter pack.

Big Mouth

Puberty is a weird time, but it gets even weirder when it’s personified by cartoon hormone monsters whispering sweet nothings (read: explicit everythings). Inspired by creators Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg’s teenage years, Big Mouth follows a group of  seventh graders as they navigate adolescence, replete with masturbatory urges and bodily fluids. Netflix will release the second season this year, while the first has been recognized for its clever handling of how complicated growing up can be.


Now in its ninth season, Archer began in 2010 with the central character, Sterling Archer, as a sex-addicted and alcoholic parody of James Bond in a vaguely Cold War era. Since then, the spy series has experimented with different styles of animation and fictional universes all together, with the 10th season set to take place in space. The series is known for its obscure cultural references, which span literary devices to world history.

BoJack Horseman

The star of the show is an alcoholic and depressive horse, voiced by Arrested Development’s Will Arnett, whose character is struggling to come to terms with the fact that his fame as the star of a ‘90s sitcom is over. With its repertoire of black comedy that delves into topics such as addiction, self-destruction, and abuse, BoJack Horseman has been called one of the most “emotionally ambitious” shows on television. The fifth season premieres this September.

Rick & Morty

This cartoon from Adult Swim follows the adventures of Rick Sanchez, a cynical mad scientist, and Morty Smith, Rick’s morally anxious grandson. The series is peppered with interdimensional journeys, unsettling space encounters, and an unflinching look into family dynamics. The cartoon has already made its mark just three seasons in—according to Nielsen, Rick & Morty was the most-watched comedy show for 18-to-34-year-olds, aka millennials, in the United States in 2017.