With Netflix Originals not only winning Emmys, but now Academy Awards as well— much to Steven Spielberg’s dismay— it’s safe to say that the service has come a long way from the days when its original programming consisted of niche little shows that most subscribers barely noticed. As more and more of Netflix’s content consists of original programming, the variety of what types of shows are offered covers just about every style and genre imaginable— including animation.
Whether you’re looking for cartoons to let your kids binge while you try to get the laundry folded, or more adult animation that is only suitable for when the kids are in bed, Netflix has you covered. But lest you think this article is just an advertisement for Netflix’s slated of cartoon programming, we’re also here to tell you that not all of Netflix’s original animated series are worth binging— or even watching at all. Animation in particular can be easy to be misled by, as some of the prettiest-looking shows are often some of the worst when it comes to their actual quality.
This list covers any type of animated show on Netflix, from anime to western-style animation, and from kids stuff to more adult fare. The only real requirements are that the show be animated, and it be a Netflix Original— but cartoons that Netflix just happens to run, or shows that were already running elsewhere that Netflix later picked up and plastered their logo across, weren’t eligible. Hopefully you’ll find some new potential favorites to check out once you’re done with this list… as well as know which cartoons to stay far, far away from.
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22 Best: Big Mouth
Co-created by comedian Nick Kroll and featuring a talented voice cast that includes himself as well as Jordan Peele, Jenny Slate, Fred Armisen, Maya Rudolph, and John Mulaney, Big Mouth earned a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for each of its two seasons. The show follows a group of middle schoolers who are navigating life at that age, and all of the awkward, inappropriate hilarity that comes with it.
Following in the tradition of animated series like Beavis and Butt-head, Big Mouth has an intentionally off-putting— some would even say outright unappealing— visual style, but it perfectly serves the show’s gross-out subject matter. As with any show of this type, the vulgar humor won’t sit well with everyone, but if that’s your cup of tea you should definitely be watching Big Mouth.
21 Best: Tales Of Arcadia (Franchise)
Visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro originally envisioned Tales of Arcadia some years ago as a live-action series, but soon realized that it would be difficult to pull off from a budgetary perspective so he just made it a book instead. Then, DreamWorks wanted to adapt the book into an animated movie, and that plan eventually resulted in the excellent Netflix series of the same name.
The entire Tales of Arcadia franchise— which includes Trollhunters, 3Below, and the upcoming Wizards— is great for kids and adults alike, anyone who is into sci-fi fantasy. The passing of lead actor Anton Yelchin in 2016 definitely cast a shadow over the series, but Emile Hirsch has done a decent job taking over the role of Jim the Trollhunter. Wizards is due out later this year.
20 Worst: Hero Mask
Anime fans are always skeptical when a non-Japanese company spearheads a new anime project, and given the spotty history of that type of thing, they are right to be. So even the most optimistic of anime fans remained cautious when Netflix first began wading into bringing out Netflix Originals that were anime series.
One of the things that is so hard to get right about anime is not falling into the same old well-worn clichés, and that’s exactly where Hero Mask goes wrong. It’s a crime thriller with fantasy elements, which is one of the most crowded genres in all of anime— and it does almost nothing to stand out from that pack. The animation is fine, but big budget anime animation usually is… and that’s not reason enough to stick with this unremarkable series when better options exist.
19 Best: Disenchantment
When it was announced that Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, was doing another animated series, it was obviously a big deal. That it was going to be on Netflix was cause for even more excitement, as it meant Groening would be afforded more creative freedom to really let loose than he’s probably had in his TV career up until now.
Disenchantment has definitely proven a bit polarizing, but that’s to be expected of a show with such insanely high expectations. Is the show as good as peak years Simpsons? Of course not. Is it better than Futurama? Not really. But that isn’t to say that it’s not still a blast, and with the origin stories and world building of season one out of the way, we’re sure season two will see Disenchantment really hitting its stride.
18 Best: A.I.C.O. -Incarnation-
While the first mention we made on this list of Netflix Original anime was one of the negative examples, the service actually has more good anime than bad if you can believe it. For proof of this, look no further than A.I.C.O., based on the popular manga that has been running since 2017.
Directed by Kazuya Murata, whose filmography goes back to Studio Ghibli’s Porco Rosso, A.I.C.O. has elements of Ghost in the Shell and should please fans of that classic as well as people who enjoy any anime with a heavy sci-fi bent and a strong female lead (only, in this case, without the fan service). It seems that the story has already been wrapped up in A.I.C.O.‘s single 12-episode season, but when it comes to anime, the best series are often the ones that don’t overstay their welcome.
17 Worst: Kong: King Of The Apes
We wanted to select an image for Kong: King of the Apes that would elicit a “What am I even looking at?” If we succeeded, then you have a pretty good idea as to what the rest of this bizarre and ill-advised series is all about. King Kong may be one of the all-time classic movie creatures, but he’s unfortunately been part of more bad stuff than good— and this Netflix adaptation might be one of the worst.
Reinventing King Kong for a younger audience isn’t a terrible idea in and of itself, but transporting him to the future where he has to battle an army of robot dinosaurs wasn’t the way to go about it. And don’t even get us started on the obnoxious supporting cast of human and animal characters that feel like rejected 1990s breakfast cereal mascots. How this managed a second season is anybody’s guess.
16 Best: The Magic School Bus Rides Again
As soon as The Magic School Bus Rides Again was announced, the all-too-familiar chorus of, “Another reboot that will ruin my childhood!” sprang up, even before a single second of the show was revealed. Putting aside all of the 30-somethings that had strong feelings about a show they hadn’t yet seen and that they also aren’t the target demographic for, Rides Again launched to mostly positive responses from fans of the old show and newcomers alike.
While Lily Tomlin returns to reprise her role as Ms. Frizzle, she largely takes a back seat to her younger sister and the new lead character, Fiona Frizzle, played by the incomparable Kate McKinnon. For our money, more Kate McKinnon is seldom a bad thing no matter the context. Rides Again was renewed for a third season, but its premiere day hasn’t been announced.
15 Best: F Is For Family
One fun thing that Netflix has revived is the tradition of letting comedians create and star in cartoons, something that was at its peak in the late-80s and early-90s. In this case, rant-based comedian Bill Burr brings us F is for Family— also executive produced by Vince Vaughn— an animated series that feels like something of a throwback to family-based cartoon sitcoms like King of the Hill, only not nearly as family-friendly.
Also starring Laura Dern, Justin Long, and Sam Rockwell, F is for Family is actually a lot more sentimental than you might expect from a show from Bill Burr with a title that recalls the foulest of curse words. Make no mistake, there is plenty of vulgarity… but unlike, say, the next item in our list, it isn’t crass just for the sake of being crass.
14 Worst: Paradise PD
Shows like South Park and Family Guy certainly thrive on being politically incorrect… but at their best, there are still actual jokes happening. Unfortunately, a lot of people miss that key component of what makes good vulgar humor work, taking the wrong lessons into trying to replicate their success.
Following the blueprint of series like Brickleberry and Bordertown, Netflix’s Paradise PD thinks that just being offensive is inherently funny in and of itself— and it isn’t. Paradise PD has already earned a legion of fans that are primed and ready to automatically dismiss anyone who doesn’t like it as simply too easily offended, wearing their support of the show like some kind of badge of rebellion against an overly-PC world. The thing is, there are shows out there that are politically incorrect and funny. Paradise PD isn’t one of them.
13 Best: Skylanders Academy
As a character, Spyro the Dragon has had an interesting career. First, he was the star in a trilogy of excellent 3D platformers by developer Insomniac Games (currently riding high on the success last year’s Spider-Man for PlayStation 4.) Then, he struggled a bit in the transition to new developers as Insomniac moved on to Ratchet & Clank. Finally, in 2011, he had a bit of a renaissance as the lead character in the Skylanders franchise, which featured collectible figures that players could buy that turned into in-game characters.
Though Skylanders has since moved away from Spyro being front and center, he is still a primary character in this charming animated adaptation. Even better, pal Crash Bandicoot also later joined the cast, making this a two-for-one for fans of the golden age of PlayStation platform stars.
12 Best: B: The Beginning
Combining elements of the Sherlock Holmes franchise with criminals reminiscent of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, B: The Beginning also has some of the most breathtaking fight scene animation in years. There’s a lot more to B than action, though, as the most entertaining moments in the series come courtesy of the sibling-like volatility between grumpy lead detective Keith and his peppy partner, Lily.
If there are any major gripes to be found with B, it’s that the villains are a bit cookie-cutter, and the investigation surrounding the show’s primary big bad follows the usual familiar beats of a detective story like this. But with a second season confirmed in the works, it’s entirely possible that the strong foundation laid in season one will go in more interesting and unexpected directions for the next batch of episodes.
11 Worst: The Boss Baby: Back In Business
Someone needs to tell DreamWorks that they don’t need to turn all of their movies into Netflix series— either that, or tell Netflix that they are allowed to tell DreamWorks “no” sometimes. To be fair, the partnership between the two companies has led to some great animated series… but it also brought us The Boss Baby: Back in Business.
The Boss Baby wasn’t even a particularly good movie to begin with, and was only a “hit” with the youngest of moviegoers. The little bit of charm that it had was thanks to Alec Baldwin’s fun turn as the titular infant— and needless to say, he didn’t reprise his role here. Without Baldwin, as well as Steve Buscemi, Tobey Maguire, Lisa Kudrow, and Jimmy Kimmel, the already-weak premise of the movie makes for an even weaker TV series.
10 Best: Cupcake & Dino: General Services
Cupcake & Dino: General Services is very much cut from the same cloth as Cartoon Network shows like The Amazing World of Gumball and Uncle Grandpa, and we mean that in the most positive way possible. With a wonderfully weird cast of characters that includes exactly what the title suggests— a dinosaur and an anthropomorphic cupcake— Cupcake & Dino‘s “let’s do odd jobs” premise serves no real purpose other than giving the show an excuse to go to completely random and ridiculous places, and that’s exactly why it works.
With a unique visual style that combines hand-drawn animation with live action footage borrowed directly from Shutterstock, Cupcake & Dino will immediately capture the imagination of viewers both young and young-at-heart. A second season is still up in the air, but our fingers are definitely crossed.
9 Best: Devilman Crybaby
If we’re being honest, even most of the best Netflix Original anime kind of teeters on the edge of “good for Netflix.” But that isn’t the case at all for Devilman Crybaby, which needs no such exceptions in describing how great it is. If anything, Devilman Crybaby might almost be described as “too good for Netflix.”
Being called the 2018 Anime of the Year by Crunchyroll, Devilman Crybaby might be a bit too crazy, too dark, too obtuse, and too naughty for the typical viewer of Netflix animated fare. But it certainly helped to announce that Netflix is a service that is capable of authentic, no-punches-pulled anime, and it hopefully made as many new anime fans among Netflix subscribers as it did please existing ones.
8 Worst: Tarzan And Jane
There are some legacy fictional characters that are really hard to get right, and seem to get bad adaptations far more often than good ones. Tarzan, originally created by author Edgar Rice Burroughs, has had a few bright spots in his time off the pages and on the screen, but those have been the exception. More often than not, those adaptations are as dreadful as Netflix’s Tarzan and Jane.
Don’t let some initial visual and tonal similarities to Disney’s charming 1999 Tarzan animated film fool you— Tarzan and Jane will quickly squander that good will minutes into the first episode. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to reinvent a classic character with a fresh take, giving Tarzan special powers and making Jane a hip big-city girl just doesn’t work. Even King Kong’s bizarre appearance in the series can’t save it.
7 Best: Carmen Sandiego
If you’re under 25, you’ve likely crossed paths with the character Carmen Sandiego in some form. Maybe you are old enough to primarily known her as the villain in a series of education video games, maybe you’re most familiar with the Lynne Thigpen-hosted game show, or maybe you’re a bit younger and didn’t jump on her bandwagon until her 1994-1999 animated series. Either way, you should be happy that she’s back in such a fantastic new animated series, and that she’s being introduced to a younger generation in such an awesome way.
Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) is the perfect casting choice to play the new incarnation of Carmen, who is more of a Robin Hood-type figure this time around rather than a straight-up thief. It’s great to have Carmen back… now we just need some new games!
6 Best: Aggretsuko
After finding success in a series of animated shorts on TBS, Sanrio creation Aggretsuko eventually got the full-series treatment on Netflix when it premiered last April. But don’t let the fact that Aggretsuko comes from the company that also makes Hellp Kitty fool you— the show is a black comedy that deals with things like satirizing commercialism and corporate culture as well as featuring heaping doses of complete absurdity.
It’s tough to definitively call this the best Netflix Original anime series, but if we make that call, it’s primarily because it’s a bit less insurmountable to the average viewer than Devilman Crybaby is. That, and Aggretsuko got to have a standalone Christmas special that hilariously skewed social media in the most brilliant manner this side of Black Mirror‘s “Nosedive.”
5 Worst: SWORDGAI The Animation
If there is one thing Netflix has— sometimes inexplicably so— it’s money to spend on its original programming. How a streaming service is able to fund $100 million+ budget movies and dozens upon dozens of AAA series is anyone’s guess. In terms of much of its anime, that willingness to spend has meant some really breathtaking work from a visual standpoint. But as we all know, especially when it comes to anime, pretty art isn’t everything.
SWORDGAI looks objectively stunning, from incredibly detailed character art to buttery smooth fight sequences. It all looks so gorgeous that it’s easy to miss how utterly bland and forgettable the story is. A third season hasn’t been ruled out yet, so maybe things can still get better… but you still have two watch two dull seasons to get caught up.
4 Best: She-Ra And The Princesses of Power
It’s ironic that the primary complaint from people about the new Netflix She-Ra cartoon is how bad the animation supposedly looks. Apparently those people have some seriously skewed nostalgia for the 1980s original, because high-quality animation was the last thing it was known for.
All that aside, most of the people who actually bothered to give She-Ra and the Princesses of Power a chance found it to be a great modern action cartoon in the vein of Steven Universe. We would even go so far as to call it superior to the original in overall quality, though that comes with the caveat that the two shows are of two very different eras and probably have slightly different target demos— more specifically, the new She-Ra is a bit more for girls than the original probably actually was.
3 Best: Castlevania
You can probably count on one hand the number of times a video game has actually seen a decent adaptation to either the big or small screen— and no, we don’t count being able to enjoy Street Fighter: The Movie on a “so bad it’s good” level. So expectations for the Netflix series based on Castlevania were almost non-existent when it was first announced. And then… we saw the trailer.
While admittedly a little slow to get going, once Castlevania got the origin stuff out of the way, it took off like a whip and proved itself to be perhaps the best video game adaptation of all time. Of course, that might me too small of a compliment given the other contenders in that category. Castlevania is simply a great fantasy/action animated series, period.
2 Best: BoJack Horseman
It’s easy to dismiss BoJack Horseman for its bizarre title and absurd premise, but to do so would be to miss out on one of the best shows currently on television right now. No, really. After a somewhat rocky first season, BoJack has been crushing it in its subsequent four seasons, with two earning 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and the other two coming in at 97%.
What began as a show commenting on a well-worn topic— the fickle nature of fame and celebrity culture— with seemingly little new to say on the subject beyond its man/horse protagonist, BoJack soon evolved into a whip-smart and relentlessly clever series and has remained one ever since. That it features a veritable whose-who of the best voice talent of the last decade is just the icing on the cake.
1 Worst: Neo Yokio
Not only is Neo Yokio the undeniably worst animated Netflix Original, it’s one of the worst Netflix Originals, period. The brainchild of Vampire Weekend front-man Ezra Koening, Neo Yokio is produced by the generally-reliable Production I.G. and features top-tier voice talent that includes Jude Law, Susan Sarandon, and Jason Schwartzman. So what’s the problem?
Just about everything. The characters try to be deadpan but just sound bored, especially lead Jaden Smith, who seems utterly uninterested in the material. The animation looks strangely amateurish and low-budget for a Netflix show, and not a single character looks remotely unique or memorable. And worst of all, the show never feels as clever or ironic as it thinks it does, and you just feel embarrassed for it watching it try so hard to be. Stay far, far away from this one.