Adult animation: An ever-changing industry

Adult animation is changing and evolving with its viewers, but are viewers aware of what’s going on behind the TV screen? Photo courtesy of Independent


Waking up in the middle of the night to a TV playing “Samurai Jack” or “Beavis and Butt-Head” after “Scooby-Doo” is the closest many get to watching adult animation in their lives. On the other hand, some end up being entranced by its style of storytelling and stick with it. 

Adult animation is not a new genre and has in fact been around for about a hundred years. Betty Boop was one of the earliest adult animated caricatures. In order to catch the attention of men of this time, she was meant to be a sort of risqué character who had baby eyes but a mature body. Betty was created as a sex symbol for the male gaze — not exactly as a way to tell the story of a woman. 

Adult animation started with films such as “Betty Boop”. Then studios realized there was a market for children’s animated cartoons. 

Tom and Jerry”, “The Flintstones”, “Popeye”, “The Pink Panther Show” and “Looney Tunes” are all memorable shows geared toward children. Although they were for children, they often had gags and jokes specifically for adults. Animation studios knew that parents would be watching with their children, so making them appealing to adults as well would help gain a bigger audience. 

Felix the Cat” was the first modern animated show meant to entertain adults — in a non-sexual sense — rather than children. The show explored themes such as war and violence that were not seen often in animated shows.  Unfortunately, after a couple of years, the show became more geared towards children and changed almost entirely, seeing as it was gaining popularity around the world. 

This was not the only adult animated show that quickly gained popularity. “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” may be more recent, but they are household classics that have held their popularity for so long. The reason for this success was that studios knew their audiences pretty well. 

It is obvious that television audiences have changed and grown in the past decades. A variety of new shows have popped up both on streaming services and cable TV, making all of these shows handy by just clicking on a channel or streaming app. 

Watching cartoons was different when Adult Swim first appeared on television because they were the first channel dedicated to late-night animated adult entertainment. After years of advertising to children, Cartoon Network wanted their older audience to enjoy cartoons without children watching. 

Shortly after, shows like “King of the Hill” and “Futurama” showed up on Adult Swim, winning over many viewers tuning in at night. 

The popularity of late-night animated entertainment quickly became popular and caused a chain reaction in other networks as the years went on. Audiences grew, flowed in and clearly knew what they wanted to see on television. 

Audiences have changed since then and have different perceptions of what they would like to see on streaming services. 

Unfortunately, it is not just audiences that have changed today’s adult entertainment. 

First-year physics major Corbin Austin explains the problem with newly animated shows and their direction under large corporations. 

“[Netflix] is notorious for taking shows down for seemingly no reason,” Austin said. “‘Inside Job’ and most of [Netflix’s] originals do not make it past the first season, even though they [get] so much good attention. You’d think that a company like Netflix would want to keep shows that help with subscriptions.” 

Big streaming services like Netflix and Max have been in charge of helping smaller studios get on the map, but often cancel or remove their programs for a variety of reasons. 

Although some shows might have done well when their first season aired, if their following season airs and does not do well, they are canceled. 

“It’s essentially quantity [of viewers] over quality,” Austin said. 

Not all streaming services are like Netflix, though. In recent years, Hulu has picked up a variety of animated adult shows and given them a platform to grow and gain a bigger audience. It has allowed viewers to sit down whenever and catch up, offered episodes airing weekly, and dedicated an entire hub to just animation and anime alone. 

This helped the demographic of adult animation grow dramatically, making it a more popular genre that people can enjoy without judgment. Especially in the past couple of years when COVID-19 was around its peak, forcing many to find entertainment inside their homes. 

People were able to sit in their houses and eventually encountered this genre. They were able to relax in their homes and connect with others about what they were watching, which alone made the demand for adult animation grow almost three times its size

Not only did it help adult animation become more popular, but it began a demand for more complex and binge-worthy stories rather than sitcoms or “filler” episodes. 

E Ogorsolka, a first-year engineering and art double major, shared their appreciation for more complex stories in adult animation. 

“I feel like [complex themes in adult animation are] more natural,” Ogorsolka said. “ In my experience, we don’t talk that much about our problems. Seeing representation [in those stories] and the raw aspects helps with learning about what we feel.” 

Although they are not often talked about, children’s shows have been quicker to address issues and themes that are a lot more serious than adult animated shows have. 

Children’s shows often tackle issues such as queer discovery, war, loss of a loved one and addiction, which is not usually taken seriously in the adult animation genre. 

Bojack Horseman”, “Blue Eyed Samurai”, “Invincible” and “Hazbin Hotel” are all new shows that have taken a new approach to storytelling and reach for those dark topics that have not been talked about. 

Exploring these topics helps bring in a bigger audience of people who can relate to the underlying themes of the shows. They have a bigger story to tell and can also give others that feeling of nostalgia. 

Just because a show has kept the same formula throughout its production does not necessarily mean it is a bad show. For example, “Rick and Morty” and “Bob’s Burgers” have been on the air for years now and have a recognizable fandom. 

Unique shows grow with their audiences, and creators will keep up with their audiences because they care about what they are putting out. Whether it is just for the gags or an epic story, animation should not be thrown out because it is putting someone’s art out there like any media would. 

Adult animation has grown since it was created back in the 1920s, and it will continue to keep skyrocketing like it has before. With the support of the viewers, new shows will come out that will push the boundaries of entertainment. 

Animation is not a genre just for kids. It is for the enjoyment and exploration of ideas like any other TV show out there.


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