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The 10 Best Animated Shows Of 2015

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The 10 Best Animated Shows Of 2015

The truly dedicated TV-watchers out there know that the Golden Age isn’t just a magical time for high-brow dramas and comedies. Animated series continue to evolve and introduce new styles and content, and this year we saw some incredible turns from shows like Rick and Morty (which one of our editors even compared to HBO’s The Leftovers) and BoJack Horseman. These aren’t exactly your grandpa’s cartoons, and yet that nostalgia-inducing familiarity with the genre is, indeed, part of the reason we keep tuning in. Here are our picks for the 10 best animated shows of 2015.

BEST-ANIMATED-SHOWS-simpsons.jpg 10. The Simpsons
Creator: James L. Brooks, Sam Simon, Matt Groening
Stars: Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright, Julie Kavner
Network: Fox

If you get past the facile, intellectually lazy argument that The Simpsons is no longer worthwhile simply because it isn’t exactly as funny as it used to be, you will find that the show is still quite good. Is it still the greatest show in the history of time (as it once was)? No. However, the end of the 26th season and the beginning of the 27th gave us a wide range of solid episodes, and a few that were especially strong, including the very first Halloween episode that wasn’t a Treehouse of Horror installment.—Chris Morgan

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BEST-ANIMATED-SHOWS-star-wars-rebels.jpg 9. Star Wars Rebels
Creators: Simon Kinberg, Carrie Beck, Dave Filoni
Stars: Taylor Gray, Vanessa Marshall, Freddie Prinze Jr.
Network: Disney XD

Don’t know if anyone noticed, but a new Star Wars film got released into theaters this year. Inevitably, a year prior to its release, the franchise’s new corporate overlord found it prudent to expand its newly-purchased universe beyond the cinema and into serialized animation. And so, they wisely culled from the talent pool of the Clone Wars animated series to make Star Wars Rebels. What could easily have been a shameless cash grab, however, has become—in the hands of the proper creatives—a rollicking space adventure that beautifully captures both the fun and awe inherent to the Star Wars experience. Set five years before the events of A New Hope, the series centers on an orphaned boy named Ezra who, due to a well-timed interference, ends up hopping aboard a freighter called The Ghost. The ship’s motley crew turns out to be subversives fighting against the tyrannical Empire in their own small ways. Essentially illustrating the birth of the Rebel Alliance, the series is a textbook example of a prequel done right. While always ready to harken back to the original trilogy via well-placed music cues and returning characters/voices (C-3PO, Yoda and Lando all make appearances—amongst others), the show also strikes out on its own, crafting worlds and characters that build on what came before it, as well as canonizing a branch of kickass new villains called the Inquisitors. And though The Force Awakens will ultimately take the lion’s share of the attention this year, Rebels goes a long way to highlight all the fantastic stories that the Star Wars universe still has to offer.—Mark Rozeman

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BEST-ANIMATED-SHOWS-south-park.jpg 8. South Park
Creators: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Brian Graden
Stars: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Isaac Hayes
Network: Comedy Central

South Park never dedicated a season-long arc to one gigantic story, until they decided to specifically tackle political correctness after nineteen seasons. This often led to some big problems, like the occasionally muddled message, the strange arc for Mr. Garrison and one of the show’s worst characters—PC Principal. But when South Park’s nineteenth season took on the various aspects of the small mountain town, like Officer Barbrady shooting children or the gentrification of Kenny’s home due to the introduction of a Whole Foods, the show excelled with its typical brilliance. The commentary on society’s larger issues remained strong, while the series as a whole kept its unique sense of humor. South Park’s latest season might not have been wholly successful, but after decades on the air, it still has the balls to be ambitious and make attempts at the kinds of crazy things other shows would never touch.—Ross Bonaime

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BEST-ANIMATED-SHOW-steven-universe.jpg 7. Steven Universe
Creator: Rebecca Sugar
Stars: Zach Callison, Deedee Magno, Estelle
Network: Cartoon Network

Steven Universe takes the best parts of Adventure Time—the humor, the emotional depth, the flexible structure that allows the show to go anywhere and do anything—and marries them with a continuous storyline and a significantly more developed cast. The show’s progressive depiction of gender and sexuality also helps set it apart from nearly everything else on television, “children’s show” or not. Featuring superb animation and infinitely catchy songs by its creator Rebecca Sugar, Steven Universe is one of the most creative, daring, and absolutely indispensable shows being made today.—Sean Gandert

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BEST-ANIMATED-SHOW-adventure-time.jpg 6. Adventure Time
Creator: Pendleton Ward
Stars: Jeremy Shada, John DiMaggio, Hynden Walch
Network: Cartoon Network

There is a world where the Adventure Time creative team is content with rehashing its brand of surreal, candy-infused tomfoolery ad nauseam. Luckily, this is not the world we live in. Indeed, Pendleton Ward and Co. have spent the latter half of the series’ run not only stretching the bounds of the show’s weirdass sandbox, but actively working to push the characters forward. More than anything, Adventure Time realizes that to avoid change is to become tired and stagnant. Thus, rather than adhering to the typical “floating timeline” structure of most animated programs, the show has allowed its character to grow and develop, often in ways that are more heartbreaking and dramatically potent than anything a prestige cable drama could throw out. Never was this sensibility more apparent than in Stakes, the eight-part miniseries that went a long way towards exploring the backstory of vampire Marceline, one of Adventure Time’s most beloved, mysterious and tragic characters. There may come a day when Adventure Time fails to remain the strange, yet endlessly innovative little gem that fans know and love. Judging from 2015’s output, however, that day will not be coming around anytime soon.—Mark Rozeman

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BEST-ANIMATED-SHOWS-gravity-falls.jpg 5. Gravity Falls
Creator: Alex Hirsch
Stars: Jason Ritter, Alex Hirsch, Kristen Schaal
Network: Disney

All good things must come to an end. In late November, Gravity Falls creator/mastermind Alex Hirsch announced what many viewers had long predicted—the summertime misadventures of Dipper and Mabel Pines would soon be coming to a close, with the show’s final, hour-long episode set to air sometime in early 2016. Fans can take comfort in the fact that Hirsch is ending the show the same way he ran it—on his own terms. Over the course of close to 40 episodes and several shorts (with a lot of hiatuses in between), Hirsch and his creative team have essentially rewritten the book on how to produce a children’s animated series. Besides delivering hours of layered entertainment that simultaneously appeal to both youthful viewers and their savvy adults supervisors, the show also successfully spun some of the most engaging long-term story arcs this side of Lost. What’s more, in a tangible display of the show’s reach, the guest star roster this year included the likes of J.K. Simmons, Nick Offerman, Jonathan Banks, Louis C.K. and Jon Stewart. Although it will soon be time to say goodbye, there is little question that Gravity Falls’ limited run will become—like the best summer memories—something fans will cherish for the rest of their lives.—Mark Rozeman

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BEST-ANIMATED-SHOWS-bobs-burgers.jpg 4. Bob’s Burgers
Creator: Loren Bouchard, Jim Dauterive
Stars: H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman
Network: Fox

It’s weird to think that Bob’s Burgers, a show centered around a constantly failing business and the proprietor’s eccentric and unpopular children, has become a bit of an institution. Despite this fact, it’s barely beginning to show its age, and rather than becoming by-the-numbers Bob’s Burgers has become stranger and more willing to step away from the Simpsons-esque format that’s always centered its storytelling. The show’s cast keeps getting more distinct as time goes on, and as a result the humor has veered away from the inevitable broadening that’s occurred for just about every other animated show Fox has aired. There’s no attempt at making the Belchers into an every-family, and while that might explain the show’s declining ratings, it’s also kept its jokes and episodes remarkably consistent six years in.—Sean Gandert

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BEST-ANIMATED-SHOWS-rick-and-morty.jpg 3. Rick and Morty
Creator: Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland
Stars: Justin Roiland, Chris Parnell, Spencer Grammer
Network: Adult Swim

While the first season of Rick and Morty—Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s cartoon misadventures of a sociopathic mad scientist and his grandson—played manically with its wonderful premise, sending the titular characters throughout multiple galaxies and dimensions, throwing astronomical shit at the wall to find that it all stuck, their second season ventured further into the twilight of the soul, resulting in some seriously dark matter. By regularly wrangling the rest of the members of the Smith family into the duo’s cosmic capers (with a special mention for Chris Parnell’s voice work, which is unparalleled when it comes to contemporary adult animation), Roiland and Harmon paid extra attention this year to the consequences of Grandpa Rick’s actions. Like Bojack Horseman, season two of Rick and Morty emerged as more a study in the absurdities of depression rather than just a study in the absurd. It bore witness to how one man who could pretty much do anything (like be at the center of an orgy with an entire planet of hivemind’d humanoids; reassemble a time-space torn irrevocably at the seams; cultivate a microscopic civilization to power his car battery; win an intergalactic reality competition with a song about shitting on the floor, both saving Earth and helping Ice-T find his true self in the process) still couldn’t be a good grandfather. It’s hilarious and it’s heartbreaking—and it’s a cartoon, a cartoon which confronts the immensely un-confrontable nature of our wholly insignificant existence within this vast, fantastic universe we struggle to call home. —Dom Sinacola

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BEST-ANIMATED-SHOWS-archer.jpg 2. Archer
Creator: Adam Reed
Stars: H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Amber Nash
Network: FX

After upping its own ante with last year’s Archer Vice, returning to the roots of what makes Archer, well, Archer sounds like a dicey proposition on paper. Change, as they say, is good, and following a season spent unsuccessfully running drugs, taking our favorite bumbling ISIS CIA operatives back to basics feels like a step back. In point of fact, it’s a pole vault back, but that’s okay: sometimes, going back to the beginning really is the same thing as going forward. So it is with Archer’s sixth foray into spy hijinks (spyjinks?), in which the major overarching plot thread is Archer’s reluctant march toward adult responsibility, interrupted, of course, by run-ins with Japanese holdouts, Irish assassins, cybernetically enhanced operatives, Welsh separatists, and Lana’s parents, among many, many others. The jokes are as sharp as ever, though the animation has never been crisper, and the action has rarely been better. (The apartment fistfight in “Three to Tango” is an all-timer for this series.) Most of all, the stakes have never felt so grounded. Maybe making parenthood the real heavy here is a risk, but for Adam Reed, it pays off.—Andy Crump

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BEST-SITCOMS-bojack-horseman-poster.jpg 1. Bojack Horseman
Creator: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Stars: Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie
Network: Netflix

BoJack Horseman is one of the most underrated comedies ever made, and it almost pains me that it doesn’t earn more praise. Right from the title sequence, which documents BoJack’s sad decline from network sitcom star to drunken has-been—set to the beautiful theme song written by the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney—this is one of the most thoughtful comedies ever made. Which doesn’t mean it’s not hilarious, of course. Will Arnett is the perfect voice for BoJack, and Paul F. Tompkins, who is in my mind the funniest man on planet Earth, could not be better suited to the child-like Mr. Peanut Butter. This is a show that isn’t above a visual gag or vicious banter or a wonderfully cheap laugh, but it also looks some very hard realities of life straight in the eye. There are times when you will hate BoJack—this is not a straight redemption story, and the minute you think he’s on the upswing, he will do something absolutely horrible to let you down. (There’s a special irony in the fact that a horse is one of the most human characters on TV, and the unblinking examination of his character makes “Escape from L.A.” one of the best episodes of TV this year.) So why isn’t it loved beyond a strong cult following? Maybe it’s the anthropomorphism that keeps people away, or maybe it’s the animation, but I implore you: Look beyond those elements, settle into the story, and let yourself be amazed by a comedy that straddles the line between hilarious and sad like no other on television.—Shane Ryan

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