Animation is a medium with narrative possibilities that extend beyond sitcoms and family films. And yet, prestige Adult Animation doesn’t have as strong of a vocal fan-base as that of comics or anime. To rectify this, I’ve curated a selection of recommendations designed to expand peoples’ perception of the artistic potential of Adult Animation. For this list I’m focusing on movies and series that are narratively sophisticated, artistically innovative, and deal with complex adult themes. There are also a few anime (or anime-styled) choices that I consider to be accessible to people outside of the anime fan base.
SciFi Fantasy Action
Arcane is an animated Event Series taking place within the universe of League of Legends. Since its debut, the show has made waves within the fandoms of cartoons, anime, SciFi, and Fantasy. The critical response is well-deserved because Arcane delivers a gripping narrative that surpasses most other film and TV, animated or live-action. From its complex characters, artful cinematography, killer music, and epic narrative, Arcane is in a league of its own.
Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal
Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky returns to animated action TV with Primal. Tartakovsky’s superb directorial vision is on full display as the visceral adventures within Primal are communicated without any dialogue. This commitment to pure cinema offers a breath of fresh air from other overwritten animated offerings. The action within Primal is brutal but all the horror and violence that plays out on screen is rooted in emotion. If you’re a fan of Adventure Pulp like Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian, you need to check out Primal.
Castlevania is a horror-fantasy series based on the video games by Konami. The narrative sees Dracula as a world-weary philosopher who seeks vengeance on humanity for the murder of his wife. Vampires and vampire hunters from across the globe gather to participate in Dracula’s bloody war to end the world. Castlevania is alive with intrigue and philosophical exploration. The series delivers spectacular battles but also knows when to slow down and explore the human condition.
Love Death and Robots
Love Death and Robots is an animated anthology series inspired by the graphic SciFi, Fantasy, and Horror found in Heavy Metal Magazine. The anthology contains a wide variety of art styles and genres. The provocative content has earned the series plenty of controversy and loyal fans. Personal favorite episodes include Good Hunting as well as Ice and Zima Blue directed by Robert Valley.
Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, Devilman Crybaby is about a group of teenage athletes that use demonic possession like a performance-enhancing drug. When young Akira merges with a demon, he becomes the anti-hero known as Devilman. Together with his mysterious friend Ryo, Akira hunts demons to protect humanity. However, demons may not be the only evil Akira has to face, as paranoia spreads, and humanity becomes more destructive than demonkind. Devilman Crybaby is unconventional even by the standards of anime. The show goes to some pretty dark places and is not for the faint of heart.
Directed by Nora Twomey The Breadwinner follows an 11-year-old Afghani girl who disguises herself as boy to provide for her family after her father is arrested by the Taliban. The intimate drama is perfectly paced with moments that feel like a thriller interspersed with stories within the story that are in a paper cut-out style. The artistic and narrative sophistication are of a caliber more films should aspire to.
Another Day of Life
Another Day of Life combines archival footage with cell-shaded animation to deliver a riveting story about Angola’s civil war in 1975. Because the story is based on true events, the violence and conflict have a deeper emotional impact. This is no escapist fantasy that guarantees justice, progress, and closure. Yet, Another Day of Life isn’t your average war documentary. The use of animation is purposeful and engaging. The depictions of the internal turmoil caused by being in a war zone lead to beautiful nightmare imagery that could only exist in the medium of animation.
Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles
Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles combines live-action documentary footage with animation to explore the journey of surrealist filmmaker, Luis Buñuel. The film acts as a portrait of the artist and his quest to shock the bourgeoisie through his work. Provocative, intelligent, and unrelenting, Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles will no doubt confound and transform a new generation of film viewers.
Written by Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) Anomalisa follows a man named Michael Stone who is trapped in a world where everyone looks and sounds the same, until he meets a young woman named Lisa. Romantic, satirical, and surreal, Anomalisa defies traditional categorization. The use of stop-motion adds to the air of unreality but doesn’t undermine the scenes of intimacy.
Belladonna of Sadness
Belladonna of Sadness unfolds as a series of spectacular still watercolor paintings that bleed and twist together. An innocent young woman, Jeanne, is violently raped by the local lord on her wedding night. To take revenge, she makes a pact with the Devil, who transforms her into a black-robed vision of madness and desire. The film has psychedelic imagery worthy of The Yellow Submarine and the sensual of wonder of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Belladonna of Sadness is more of an experience than a narrative film but it’s easily one of the most beautiful works of Art I’ve ever seen.
The Midnight Gospel
Created by Pendleton Ward (Adventure Time) and Duncan Trussell (Duncan Trussell Family Hour podcast), The Midnight Gospel follows Clancy, a space-caster with a malfunctioning multiverse simulator, who leaves the comfort of his home to interview beings from apocalyptic alternate-Earths. The show plays like a podcast episode juxtaposed with animation, the two narratives blending and diverging sporadically. The episodes explore the ethical use of psychedelic drugs, magical beliefs, accepting death, and higher consciousness. Unique and thought- provoking, this is the sort of dreamlike animation we need more of.
MFKZ is an adaption of the French comic, Mutafukaz by Guillaume “Run” Renard inspired by the author’s experience with alien encounters and government cover-ups. MFKZ mixes anime, film noir, lucha libre, and gang culture in an orgy of first-person shooter mayhem. The film utilizes multiple art styles to sell its action and humor to great effect. Those looking for an in-depth plot might want to look elsewhere. But those who want a car chase featuring an ice cream truck can’t go wrong with MFKZ.
Bird Boy: The Forgotten Children
Alberto Vázquez makes his directorial debut with his dark animated feature Bird Boy: The Forgotten Children.The film tells interwoven stories about drug-addicted animals that populate a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. The art style of Bird Boy is a unique blend of sketchbook and watercolor that illustrates a hauntingly beautiful world. The scenes of horror, teen sexuality, and black humor contrast with the storybook aesthetic to leave imagery that’s permanently tattooed onto the audience.
I Lost My Body
Phantom limb syndrome is a condition in which amputees experience sensations in a limb that no longer exists. In I Lost My Body, this condition takes on a metaphorical meaning as we follow a severed hand on a treacherous journey back to its owner. We cut back and forth between the trials of the hand and the personal development of the boy before he lost his limb. A saga both grand and intimate, I Lost My Body evokes feelings one can only describe after a dream.
Isle of Dogs
Visionary auteur Wes Anderson takes the medium of stop-motion animation to new heights with his iconoclastic epic, Isle of Dogs. Every frame of the film is beautifully composed and the character animation embraces the imperfect charm of stop-motion puppetry. What starts as a simple story about a boy trying to find his dog escalates into an absurdist odyssey and a love letter to the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Kurosawa. So if you’re in the mood for a stunningly original fantasy film, let Wes Anderson take you to the Isle of Dogs.