I can feel the quiet disapproval from some of you through the screen right now. I get it; many people hear animation and think Saturday morning cartoons, so they stop listening. So if you have dropped off from the genre once you outgrew watching Boomerang with a bowl of cereal while mom snoozed on the couch, you have been missing a true renaissance for animated programming. So much more can be done stylistically and realistically than live-action shows can ever hope to capture. Animation is a special kind of magic and it’s time we all learned to appreciate it.
Now back to the topic at hand. How and which animated shows are healing my wounded heart? Let’s face it, there are only so many hours in the day and dollars in a paycheck, so some items in the house have to pull double duty. Old towels become new cleaning rags, that little table you keep your key bowl on becomes a home office with a stunning view of the television and Netflix animated series replace your weekly Zoom therapy sessions. Will it work in the long term? Who knows! But for now, my Netflix subscription (though it is ever-rising) is still cheaper than talking to a professional.
Blue Period (2021)
Blue Period is exactly what my burnt-out, gifted kid soul needed. Yatora Yaguchi is a delinquent high school student with no direction in life until he finds art. Anyone who followed a passion and was told it wasn’t worth their time will connect with this anime, even if you weren’t an artist. Some phrases used in the anime are more technical and inherent to the art world, but since Yaguchi is also a newcomer, it’s all explained for the audience, so don’t feel like you can’t watch if you aren’t an artist.
I found purpose in writing, but the feelings of self-doubt, isolation, and art burn-out didn’t stop after high school and this show was somehow reassuring. This one seems like it will stay a standalone season, so you can watch it now without any fear of cliffhangers leaving you in suspense. All storylines are tied up and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.
Blue Period can be found here!
Aggretsuko (2018 – Current)
Aggretsuko shares its name with the main character, who is a red panda that works in an office and just happens to be a major metalhead. There are currently four seasons of this show with a fifth season on the way and covers more ground than I can do justice to here, but I’ll hit the highlights for you. This show took me by surprise at the depth that it has. I thought it would be a cutesy slice of life anime but was taken aback by the storylines hitting on apathy, escapism, career stagnation, mental health, and missed opportunities. I’m glad this show found me in my 20’s because I truly need it some days. This is now one of those shows I binge in one sitting whenever new seasons drop and re-watch whenever I feel those familiar feelings creeping back in.
Aggretsuko can be found here!
Kipo and The Age of Wonderbeasts (2020)
Kipo and The Age of Wonderbeasts was adapted from a webcomic into a stunning, witty and thoughtfully written animated original series for Netflix. I understand that a show set in the post-apocalyptic ruins of humanity’s folly might hit too close to home for some, but that’s why you need to watch it. In a world where humanity is giving up ground to the mutants they created, Kipo is separated from her burrow following an attack on her friends and family who live there. Living underground, Kipo was sheltered from the horrors of the world above and is naïve to the dangers it presents.
While the setting is what draws you in, it’s the characters that keep you there. The surviving humans she teams up with have conflicting experiences of the world she’s had no experience in and reminds the audience that even though we might all live together, we don’t all see the world the same way. The series is highly introspective and gave me time to reflect on the ways I approach problems while making me intensely jealous that I’ll never write anything as brilliant or creative. There are three seasons of Kipo and The Age of Wonderbeasts for you to rock out, cry, and reflect through.
Kipo and The Age of Wonderbeasts can be found here!
A Whisker Away (2020)
A Whisker Away is a film about unrequited love. Miyo Sasaki is known by everyone as the loudmouth in class. She’s always running around recklessly, diving headfirst into problems, and wears her heart on her sleeves as she continuously (and shamelessly) propositions her crush, Kento Hinode. Her eccentric personality is just a mask for her real struggles with rejection, abandonment and depression though.
This is a coming-of-age story, but it works for different times in your life, I think. If you have ever had to become someone else to make it through or wondered if you wouldn’t be happier as a house cat bathing in a sunbeam for the rest of your life, you will find something you need in this film. Now that all sounds very sad, I will admit, but while the film is emotional, also it’s full of magic and adventure. If you are a fan of Spirited Away, this film is definitely for you.
A Whisker Away can be found here!
Hilda (2018 – Present)
Hilda is an animated Netflix series based on a middle-grade graphic novel. The show does a brilliant job of bringing the art style of the source material to life as it follows the adventures of Hilda, a young Sparrow Scout, as she settles into her new home. Hilda and her friends live in a fantastical world of trolls, giants, elf villages, and flying cloud-dog spirit things. Unlike her friends, though, Hilda grew up in the wilds of the mountains. Her childhood seeped in adventure and independence, so when she’s forced to give it all up to move into the walls of the city, there’s some expected resistance.
The show encapsulates those feelings of growing up and fitting in through those moments. As a kid who moved more than a few times, this really got me. Outside of that, Hilda rekindles my inner child. It’s beautiful, freeing, and makes me feel like a little girl playing outside again until the streetlights come on. There are some darker themes in later episodes, so I’m very excited to see what season 3 brings us. Catch up now and set your inner child free again.
Hilda can be found here!
The Orbital Children (2022)
The Orbital Children is a Netflix original anime set in the year 2045. It follows the story of two children born on the moon and three children from Earth after an incident leaves them stranded on their shuttle. This is another one that I can honestly say the animation is stunning. The visuals immediately pull you in and for some reason, the whole show reminded me a bit of Sword Art Online. All six episodes take place in the span of just a few hours as the children struggle together to survive the horrors of space.
Because the runtime on this one is so short, you don’t get a lot of backstory on these characters, which makes you focus on their current situation instead. If there’s one thing I am worried about in the future, it’s humanity’s reliance on technology and social media. The Orbital Children let me explore in the safe space from my couch as well as reaffirm that my fear of space is completely justified. Also, I need them to release a soundtrack for this one ASAP.
The Orbital Children can be found here!
Centaurworld (2021 – Current)
I did not want to watch Centaurworld, but this is a textbook case of don’t judge a cartoon by its animation style. I’m ashamed to say I apparently didn’t learn my lesson from Steven Universe, which, despite being one of my all-time favorite shows now, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to watch it. When the song about “Becky Apples” started to trend on Tiktok, I was pretty taken aback by how good it was. It was goofy and ridiculous, of course, but also deep and surprisingly thoughtful. So I started the show, fully intending not to like it, but I will admit I was wrong. Centaurworld follows the story of Horse, a horse who is thrown from the battlefield into the magical, singing, nonsense world of Centaurs.
The whole story is so much deeper than the surface lets on to, a delicate balance of the perils of buying into unabashed optimism or cynicism. On Horse’s side of the story, it’s about defining yourself beyond just your job or friends, but even the centaurs provide deep lessons of how different people react to a single shared trauma. Fans of Adventure Time will love this one deeply if you take the time to look past the cotton candy and fluff aesthetic and work through to the nugget of substance at the center. I learned I loved, I laughed and I cried—none of which I ever expected from this show.
Centaurworld can be found here!