3) Avatar: The Last Airbender
Why I Like It: Well we all knew this one was coming sooner or later since it’s pretty much impossible to have this kind of list without it, and for good reason. There’s not much I can say about this series that hasn’t been said dozens of times before (and better) but I’ll try. This show is a pretty blatant (though obviously more of a homage than a rip) western take on the action-adventure shonen formula that dominates Japan, and in many ways actually surpasses a lot of those works. The action scenes utilizing real world kung-fu in regards to bending makes for some cool battle choreography, though to be honest the action is far from what makes this series a stand-out.
What really makes it work are it’s characters and themes, though unlike it’s sequel Korra, the more tightly scripted narrative of this series allows it to make better use of both in a more meaningful way. While it’s far from a realistic depiction of war it does do a better job of delving into how affects those left behind by it a lot more than some of it’s contemporaries do and it also covers some interesting stuff in regards to racial propaganda and spirituality. At it’s core though it’s primarily a coming-of-age story for Aang as he grows into his role as the Avatar and the journey towards him fulfilling that destiny makes for one of the greatest animated works of all time.
2) Steven Universe
Synopsis: The world is protected from evil threats by the Crystal Gems, a group of intergalactic female warriors who use the power of special gem stones embedded on their bodies to summon magical weapons. Steven is a young boy who inherited a gem stone from his mother, a Crystal Gem named Rose Quartz. As Steven tries to figure out the secrets to using his gem, he spends his days in Beach City doing activities with the other Crystal Gems, Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl, whether it’s helping them save the universe or just hanging out.
Why I Like It: Given that the series creator, Rebecca Sugar was one of the best writers on Adventure Time before moving over to this show, I had pretty good expectations for it but I’m still amazed at how much I’ve been blown away by it. If Avatar is the ultimate western take on action-adventure shonen, then Steven Universe is in many ways, the ultimate western take on the magical girl shojo genre (albeit with a male protagonist). The show is filled to the brim with a cast of fun and extremely likable characters, all of them getting fleshed out in their own way and makes great use of it’s simplistic artstyle in addition to having a pretty great soundtrack. It’s narrative is also surprisingly more compelling than it would initially seem as the backstory of the Crystal Gems and Steven’s coming-of-age story tie together really well and manages to consistently succeed in making you wonder where it’ll all head next. However these are all just a portion of what makes this show so fantastic.
The real heart and soul of this show lies almost primarily in it’s emotional core. It’s a show that really gets emotional moments without having to blatantly manipulate the audience’s heart strings to do it, and consistently delivers on that front in a way that even anime fails to a lot of the time. Most episodes will have you walking away from them feeling warm and fuzzy in that regard and it’s that element which has allowed it to become a bonafide hit. As it’s still only in the middle of it’s second season there’s still plenty of room for this show to fall apart but it’s managed to knock it out of the park so consistently that I trust the show to keep on delivering, and I’m in this one for the long haul.
And now for the the #1…
1) Ed, Edd n Eddy
Synopsis: Ed, Edd n Eddy are a trio of pals with the same name growing up with the suburbs of Peach Creek. They spend their days attempting to con the other kids in the neighborhood out of their money as much as they do trying to fit in. However failure is the name of the game for these three and neither ever goes as expected.
Why I Like It: So this as my #1 should surprise literally no one who knows me, but I’ve never really taken the time to explain why I have such an unabashed love for this show. Simply put Ed, Edd n Eddy is a show that is 100% straight up about pre-pubescent childhood. I’ve mentioned this element before in regards to some of the other shows at this list but EEnE has something special that really sets it apart from the mold. For the most part, media generally tends to look back on that stage of childhood with a sense of nostalgia. Sure you might occasionally get a story about a perpetually bullied kid every now and then but even those tend to have a fairly optimistic outlook more often than not.
Not so with Ed, Edd n Eddy for it’s here to remind you of one simple fact: your childhood most likely sucked. Kids can be cruel, often for the most simplistic and stupid of reasons, and Ed, Edd n Eddy manages to capture that aspect of childhood completely. Every character can a jerk in some fashion with no one ever being safe from abuse and it’s titular trio suffers far more setbacks than victories in regards to finding their own little place to belong.
However despite the level of sadism that would imply it’s also clear that the show doesn’t really hate any of it’s cast (and the fact that a good 5/6ths of them are heavily implied to have issues with parental guidance certainly helps things) and it does manage to capture the whimsical and fun nature of childhood just as often as it destroys it. While most of the characters are jerks, they’re also just as much relatable and it’s hard not to find at least a little bit of your self in some of them (well hopefully not the Kanker Sisters since I’d like to believe most people don’t have anything in common with serial molesters). Also despite it’s heavily cynical nature it actually does manage to end on an uplifting note, but one that feels a lot more genuinely earned than most in regards to childhood stories. This series has endured over the years as one of CN’s most beloved classics, even managing to hold as it’s longest running show to date, and for me it stands as one of my favorite shows of all time.
So there you have it. A nice tidy list of my favorite toons to go right alongside my favorite anime. Here’s hoping I don’t have to make any major updates anytime soon.