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The 10 Best Animated Fantasy TV Shows You Really Need To Watch
From D&D to dinosaurs, there's something here for everyone.
As much as we’ve all benefited from a great deal more live-action fantasy these days, thanks to the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and HBO’s Game Of Thrones, there’s still a soft spot in my heart for animated fantasy offerings.
Maybe it’s because I grew up on The Last Unicorn, The Secret Of NIMH, Wizards and various other fantastical animated films. Maybe I just see a lot of potential in going the animated route, which can be cheaper and more flexible than live-action plus CGI.
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Whatever the case, I thought I’d jot down a short list of some of the best fantasy TV series out there right now. There are obviously tons of cartoons to sift through, so I made some rules for the list:
No anime. These can be anime-inspired, but not actual anime because there would be far too many to list. If you want some good anime, it’s out there. Vinland Saga, Demon Slayer, Cyberpunk Edgerunners etc. etc. etc.
No superheroes or science-fiction. I love fantasy of all types, and broadly speaking you can include superhero shows like Invincible or science-fiction comedies like Inside Job, but I’m sticking closer to fantasy (including space fantasy and steampunk).
I haven’t seen everything out there so obviously this list is limited to what I’ve watched (including stuff I’ve started but have yet to finish). All of these shows are available online to stream and some have seasons in the works, or new spinoffs available. But some shows like Dota Dragon’s Blood and Dragon Age: Absolution I haven’t started yet. I’ve only watched the first couple episodes of Unicorn: Warriors Eternal so I can’t really include that here either.
Also worth noting, this is not a “ranked” list. I am not saying any of these are better than the other based on where they fall 1 - 10. They’re all magnificent shows! Watch each of them if you can! (Some are more appropriate for kids than others, however).
Alright, let’s dive in . . . .
1. Castlevania (Netflix)
Castlevania is one of those heavily-inspired-by-anime adult cartoons that some people might just call anime, but since this isn’t a Japanese show, it doesn’t count. In any case, it’s the show that really kicked off so many other dark, gritty, gory Western animated series geared towards adults and remains one of the best of the best. As a longtime fan of the game series, seeing this come to life was just incredible. It remains one of the finest adaptations of a video game ever made (sorry The Last Of Us, you didn’t break the curse).
2. Arcane (Netflix)
Arcane is quite simply one of the greatest adult cartoons ever made. It’s also a video game adaptation, based on a game I actually kind of hate: League Of Legends. But it doesn’t matter that I don’t like the game. I love the show. Complicated characters, a truly unique and striking animation, and rich, evocative world-building all make this a must-watch series on Netflix—not just one of the best animated shows, but one of the best shows the streaming giant has ever released.
3. The Dragon Prince (Netflix)
The Dragon Prince is geared toward a younger audience than many of the shows on this list, but that doesn’t mean it won’t appeal to viewers of all-ages. The series is something of a spiritual successor to Avatar: The Last Airbender, since its co-creator Aaron Ehasz was the head writer on that Nickelodeon hit.
The Dragon Prince’s greatest strengths lie in its excellent characters, including one particularly adorable dragon, who all must navigate a perilous, magical world—and even more perilous relationships between friends and family—in order to avoid catastrophe. This is also a story that does wonderfully complex villains. The Dragon Prince has been renewed through Season 7, so there’s no risk of an early Netflix cancellation, which is certainly a bonus.
4. The Legend Of Vox Machina (Amazon)
Based on the Critical Role podcast series—a Dungeons & Dragons game comprised of a bunch of super-talented voice actors—The Legend Of Vox Machina is one of the funniest shows on TV, though you’ll need to enjoy foul-mouthed, often quite raunchy, humor. Like The Dragon Prince, its greatest strength is its wonderful cast of complex, lovable characters. Epic fantasy and dick jokes, basically. It’s great. Season 3 is in the works.
5. Primal (Max)
Genndy Tartakovsky’s unique animation style is back in bloody, gory magnificence in this dinosaur-barbarian fantasy. There’s no talking, lots of blood and gore, and it just works. It’s harrowing, exciting, at times terrifying, but always just right, though it’s not always for the faint of heart. You’ll know if you can stomach this particular treat by the end of the first episode.
6. Voltron: Legendary Defender (Netflix)
As you can see, I’m sprinkling in family-friendly shows and more adult shows in this list. I suppose this is because when my kids were younger, we watched a lot more family-friendly stuff and now that they’re older we watch both. Voltron: Legendary Defender has great action, wonderful characters, and epic space battles. I never get tired of Voltron’s colorful Lions all joining into one giant mecha.
7. Gravity Falls (Disney Plus)
Quite simply one of the best TV shows I’ve ever watched, Gravity Falls is hilarious and charming and nothing at all like any of the other shows on this list, except for maybe the scene where Grunkle Stan punches a Pterodactyl in the face while aping Captain Ahab: “From heck’s heart I stab at thee!” That’s a bit Primal in nature. Nobody should miss this show. It’s only two seasons long and it’s wonderful from start to finish.
8. The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance (Netflix)
I’m not sure if I should tell you to watch The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance or cancel your Netflix subscription because it was cancelled. One of the most brilliant, unique shows to be made in the last decade, it deserved a sequel series to tie up loose ends. All those Muppets and sets already built! That insanely wonderful cast of voice-actors! All gone.
Yes, I know it’s not animated. It’s puppetry. But I’m including it here because it sits in-between the realm of live-action and animation and deserves a place in both categories rather than no place in either.
9. Star Wars Rebels (Disney Plus)
I don’t consider Star Wars to be science fiction. It’s space opera or space fantasy, but there’s little “science” to be found. There are also numerous different shows I could have included on this list, from Clone Wars to The Bad Batch. I include Rebels because I really loved this show and because it ties directly into The Mandalorian and the upcoming Ahsoka. If you’re planning on watching the latter, brush up on this first. You won’t regret it!
10. Avatar: The Last Airbender (Netflix)
Sure, it’s not new but it’s one of those shows you’d be worse off without seeing. Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend Of Korra remain two of my all-time favorite animated fantasies, and serve as major inspiration for so many shows today.
Also, a new live-action series is headed to Netflix and I think it will illustrate my point that animated shows are sometimes the better way to go than live-action versions. I maintain that The Witcher ought to have been animated as well, and my dream is that someday we’ll get a faithful Lord Of The Rings animated series.
Bonus: Castlevania Nocturne (Netflix, September 28th)
I thought I’d add this yet-to-be-released Castlevania spinoff to the mix. Set in the French Revolution, Nocturne looks gorgeous, with real gains in the animation department from the original show.