Back in the 2000s, Fox branded a lineup of Sunday animated comedies as “Animation Domination.” Through this grouping, shows like “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill” and later “Bob’s Burgers” could work together to attract an audience.
As Netflix has spent billions on original content over the last few years, the company’s growing library of cartoons has felt a bit like an afterthought compared with more star-studded fare. Sandra Bullock or Ben Affleck starring in a movie just inherently attracts more attention than Jude Law voicing a mecha butler in “Neo Yokio” without his face gracing the screen.
So, the goal with the list below is to highlight Netflix’s own animation domination (Cartoon Platoon? Illustration Concentration?) and group a few of the best animated Netflix Originals together to convince you to give them a shot.
Premise: Kids living in a suburb of New York City experience the strange transformation of puberty. While the students hang out with each other, monstrous, anthropomorphic representations of their new urges manifest and demand to hang.
Sum-Up: This has an all-star voice cast of comedians, including Nick Kroll, Jessi Klein, Jason Mantzoukas, John Mulaney, Maya Rudolph and Jenny Slate. Despite focusing on children, the vulgar but inventive writing aims for adult sensibilities, much like the long-running animated show, “South Park.”
Heads-Up: “Big Mouth” tries to balance storytelling about kid stuff with jokes only an adult audience could get. This sometimes makes the intent of the show confusing, as it toggles between being hypersophomoric and mature.
Premise: A young man living in an alternate version of New York City (“Neo Yokio”) tries to balance desires of capitalist success along with inner happiness. Also, he has to fight demons using magic because he’s a magistocrat ― a magical aristocrat.
Sum-Up: Created by Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig, this has a voice cast that includes Jude Law, Susan Sarandon, Jason Schwartzman, and Jaden Smith in the lead role. The show has a Wes Anderson vibe, but with a bigger focus on critiquing consumer culture. The recent Christmas special may be the best episode of the series. So, even though it’s not the Christmas season, consider checking that out.
Heads-Up: The show blurs the line between mocking and celebrating obscene wealth ― much like the earlier work of Koenig’s band. Although the underlying critiques are there, all the brand-based jokes can feel excessive.
Premise: A 25-year-old red panda living in Japan has a dead-end office job that she hates. The friends she makes in the office don’t fulfill or distract her enough from avoiding a daily existential crisis. To find some peace, she regularly visits a karaoke bar to sing death metal.
Sum-Up: These short episodes satirize the spiritual emptiness and brutal exploitation of the contemporary office job. By mixing cute animation (the characters are all different animals) with dread-based anger, “Aggretsuko” makes a tough, nuanced critique palatable and fun.
Heads-Up: The trailer below has English subtitles, but you can also watch a version of the show with spoken English dialogue.
Premise: A former sitcom star and current alcoholic seeks a return to fame, a quieting of inner demons and a chance at happiness. This sad, talking horse gets into various misadventures in Los Angeles that cause him to stumble into different circles of personal hell. But it’s funny!
Sum-Up: Perhaps the best Netflix Original show, full stop. “BoJack Horseman” balances long, insightful journeys into the various facets of depression with near-constant jokes. The show also has a long list of star voice talent, including Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris and Paul F. Tompkins.
Heads-Up: The first season of the show is far worse than the next four. The writers took some time to figure out the show, so you have to stick with it until at least Season 2 to understand why this earns so much critical love.
“F is for Family”
Premise: A loose telling of the childhood life of comedian Bill Burr. This focuses on a family living in 1970s America. Through all the swearing and fighting, the family members love each other, even if they don’t like each other very much.
Sum-Up: Compared with the other shows on the list, this demands the least amount of thinking in terms of huge, existential concepts, but the writing is strong in its own way. This has a vibe that fans of the Mike Judge show “King of the Hill” will appreciate, as the small-town characters teeter between serving as the butt of jokes and rising to the be heroic figures of various low-stakes quests. The voice cast includes Bill Burr, Laura Dern, Justin Long and Sam Rockwell.
Heads-Up: The plots move a bit slowly, so this can be boring if the jokes don’t work for you.
Bonus: “We Bare Bears”
The only show on this list that’s not a Netflix Original. Netflix only has one season of this show, but that season has an insane 55 episodes (they’re all about 10 minutes long). “We Bare Bears” follows the lives of three bears living in San Francisco and going through the daily trials and tribulations of contemporary life. The show might not have much storytelling ambition, but it has great writing and achieves the straightforward pleasure of simply being a joy to watch.