The Best Adult Animation Of 2021

"It's not enough to give people what they need to survive, you have to give them what they need to live." This quote from Netflix's "League of Legends" spin-off "Arcane" resonated particularly strongly in 2021. With the COVID-19 crisis still ongoing and the effects of rampant wealth inequality becoming more evident than ever, generations of adults — and a number of impending adults — are realizing that they deserve better than the bureaucratic systems they're saddled with. 

Animation crafted for an adult audience can offer an emotional experience by giving viewers an escape, providing them with coping mechanisms, validating their psychological struggles, and letting them release stress through comedy. At the same time, animation workers are fighting to change the industry, unleashing the #NewDeal4Animation campaign for fairer wages. After all, it's the talented writers, directors, storyboard artists, and animators who give us the entertainment that allow us to weather a succession of struggles, both worldly and personal, as the pandemic continues to storm.

From the humorous to the gravely serious, we've gathered a list of the best adult animation of 2021. The following projects are not to be viewed by kids' eyes, but if you're old enough, you'll find quite a bit to enjoy here. After all, these feature-length films and ongoing series are all united by one theme: Whether you're surrounded by the supernatural or not, how do you survive being an adult?

Honorable Mention: Dota: Dragon's Blood

Similar to "Onyx Equinox," "Dota: Dragon's Blood" belongs to a league of adult animation that preserves the adventuring vibes of the "Avatar: The Last Airbender," although it's set in a European-inspired world. It helps that the series is worked on by Studio Mir, the same company that handled "The Legend of Korra," and that it shares a similar visual sense with the Avatar-verse.

Dragon Knight Davion was a respected dragon slayer, but after an encounter with an evil force, he's cursed and forced to endure uncontrollable bestial transformations. So, Davion teams up with the exiled Princess Mirana to search for a cure, all while she seeks out her goddess' possessions, which were stolen by an elf. "Dota: Dragon's Blood" earns an honorable mention on our list because of its untapped potential. With a compelling enough cast and an intriguing world full of precarious faiths and competing factions, the forthcoming 2nd season will hopefully address the series' shortcomings.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Honorable Mention: Rick And Morty

Season 5 of "Rick and Morty" did not slow down as it studied the toxic sludge that is Rick Sanchez. Despite a lapse in quality during the middle episodes, which had inventive premises that required a little more refinement in the lab, "Rick and Morty" still provided no shortage of shocking and entertaining scenarios, including Morty evolving into a sort of mythic "dragon" in a world where time flows differently, the cloned decoys of the Smith family warring for survival, and a trek through a dreamscape that uncovers secrets and offers deep insights into Rick's friendship with Birdperson. 

Through his cyclical self-destructive behavior, Rick is always bound to push away his loved ones, especially his accomplice, Morty. However, the season 5 finale, which brought back the nefarious Evil Morty, opened up the universe with the promise of even more interdimensional adventures. 

Where to Watch: Adult Swim

Inside Job

Led by Shion Takeuchi, a "Gravity Falls" alum, "Inside Job" takes place in a world where nearly every conspiracy theory is true. The president has a robot double, a secret clan of lizard people includes the likes of Taylor Swift and Queen Elizabeth, the Earth's crust is filled with sea creatures, and there's an entire town that's literally stuck in the '80s. That this all remains a secret is thanks to Cognito Inc., an organization that does the bidding of shadowy government officials.

Voiced with feverish vigor by Lizzy Caplan, Reagan Ridley is the overworked and undervalued brain behind many of those schemes. She deals with feeling unappreciated, her egoistical father (who once worked for the company), and her eccentric co-workers, which include a sapient alien, a quack doctor, a human-dolphin hybrid, a social media influencer, and a cheerful yes-man. As the architect of conspiracies in America and around the world, Cognito works hard to keep up appearances for the public, leading to a show filled with informants and spies, cover-ups, and a healthy amount of workplace drama.

Where to Watch: Netflix


Based on the Konami video game franchise, the anime-styled "Castlevania, directed by Sam and Adam Deats of Powerhouse Animation, recently concluded its 4th season, tying up most of the loose ends. Despite the pessimistic musings of the 2020 episodes, the final season provides a counterpoint to the bleakness as the show's final 10 installments charge toward a promise of justice and growth. In spite of setbacks, Sypha rediscovers her purpose, and while he can't admit it, Trevor has more faith in the world than ever. Meanwhile, Alucard finds a new motivation in protecting villagers from vampire attacks, a cause that has links to his friends' distant mission.

In both grand and subtle ways, the characters of "Castlevania" — including some of its more villainous cast members — end their journeys as better versions of themselves. Although this is a medieval hellscape where demons, monsters, vampires, and morally repugnant humans exist, there is still good in the world, and the show's final season clearly lays out the foundations for change. Alongside a final battle that's an absolute spectacle, the show's ultimate themes can be summed up in a single quote: "It's time to give back the world to people who can build things."

Where to Watch: Netflix

The Witcher: Nightmare Of The Wolf

The feature-length animated prequel to "The Witcher," "Nightmare of the Wolf," makes a good case that live-action productions should invest in more high-quality animated spin-offs. "Nightmare of Wolf" follows the adventures of the Witcher Vesemir, the man who mentored Geralt, the lead of Netflix's live-action fantasy series. Living in the waning age of Witchers, the roguish Vesemir must solve a mystery to exonerate Witcher society. Of course, many nefarious complications make this much harder than it initially seems.

With Studio Mir's lush colors and cracking action by director Kwang Il Han ("Avatar: The Last Airbender"), "Nightmare of the Wolf" tells a self-contained tale about tragically separated childhood friends and a man who's more or less immortal coping with a life that has passed him by.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Summit Of The Gods

Do not sit through "Summit of the Gods" if you have a fear of heights or dangling from frosted cliffs. Several of the majestic long shots in "Summit of the Gods" shrink climbers down to diminutive specks as they cling to the sides of rugged mountains.

Based on the manga by Jiro Taniguchi, this French film follows an ambitious journalist who's charting the journey of Habu Joji, an enigmatic mountain climber who possesses a camera that might yield answers to some of mountain climbing's biggest mysteries. With heart-stopping suspense and composer Amine Bouhafa's tense, spiritual score, "Summit of the Gods" encapsulates the brutal realism that makes the sport so dangerous: spiked boots crashing down on ledges, frayed safety ropes, and the brain going haywire as the high altitude siphons away oxygen.

But there's more to it than that. By telling Habu's story, the photojournalist is chasing a dream — in a psychological way, he's also ascending. Similarly, his subject has a seemingly spiritual reflex to hunt for the next mountain to climb, searching for another apotheosis at its peak.

Where to Watch: Netflix


An anime populated by anthropomorphized animals, "Beastars" is a malleable allegory (it's sometimes referred to as "Zootopia" for adults) set right at the intersection of high school angst and film noir brooding. At Cherryton Academy, relations between predator and prey have been hanging by a thread since a member of the theater club, who also happens to be an alpaca, was eaten. Against that backdrop, Legoshi, a wolf on the cusp of manhood, navigates his anxieties, primal instincts, and his burgeoning love — and carnal hunger — for the dwarf rabbit Hal. 

In 2021, season 2 delved even deeper into the shadows as Legoshi subjected his body and mind to rigorous training in order to mold himself into an ideal protector. He is closer than ever to discovering who devoured his friend, but the identity of the culprit isn't as important as the mystery of the power within both Legoshi and his adversary.

A fantasy-fable with a forensic bent, "Beastars" examines the ever-shifting desire for power and control. Director Shin'ichi Matsumi regularly uses split screens to convey the drama, putting characters into their own boxes, where the audience can observe their movements, quirks, and internal worlds. Although it's actually cel-shaded CGI, the hand-drawn appearance of "Beastars" is one of its biggest advantages. When you catch sight of an obviously digital movement, you're reminded that these anthropomorphized creatures are puppets, mere approximations of our human selves.

Where to Watch: Netflix


Feudal Japan is infused with magic and mecha in this fictionalized retelling of the life of Yasuke, one of the only known African samurai. Like the actual historical figure, the eponymous Yasuke served under Japanese daimyo Oda Nobunaga during the Sengoku period in 16th-century Japan. Embittered by his bygone samurai career, the world-weary Yasuke finds purpose in escorting a magical child, Saki, to safety — she may be the key to saving Japan from evil forces.

At the heart of the show are Lakeith Stanfield and Maya Tanida as the warrior and his young charge, respectively. With glossy animation by Studio MAPPA and a visual imagination that burns like wildfire courtesy of director LeSean Thomas, "Yasuke" is set to the tranquilizing beats of Flying Lotus, which soak up the mood and seep into the mind as Yasuke swings his katana.

Where to Watch: Netflix


With an art style that resembles unfiltered concept art courtesy of Riot and Fortiche Production, "Arcane" is the next step in the evolution of adult animation. Based on the "League of Legends" video game, "Arcane" has a refreshing airbrushed palette not normally seen in CGI shows, with textures reminiscent of "The Mitchell vs. the Machines" and "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," a wide range of expressions, supremely choreographed fight scenes, and jaw-dropping background art.

In "Arcane," there are two worlds: the polished, upper-crust Piltover and the impoverished Zaun. While Zaun languishes, Piltover is experimenting with cutting-edge magical advancements. As the class war simmers, numerous tragedies and a major quarrel lead two Zaunite sisters, Vi and Jinx, to go their separate ways. However, after Jinx is adopted by a crime boss, her theft of an explosive gem in Piltover rips the conflict between the two communities wide open. "Arcane" is not just a stunning, exciting series. Vi, Jinx, and the rest of the large cast are all extremely well fleshed-out, reacting accordingly to the way that class and various hardships have molded them.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Close Enough

Given that it comes from J.G. Quintel, the creator of "Regular Show," it's no surprise that "Close Enough" resembles an acid trip. Like "Regular Show," it's characterized by seemingly mundane pursuits that quickly escalate into surreal shenanigans. However, unlike its kid-friendly predecessor, "Close Enough" also contains adult elements like explicit sex, graphic violence, and the pressure of having to pay bills. 

In the series, a pair of married 20-somethings, Josh and Emily, and their toddler Candice reside with two divorced roommates and tumble into a number of increasingly bizarre misadventures. Season 2 double downs on the weirdness with time travel, a plumbing catastrophe, hijinks involving romance book sales, a flight to the dictatorship of Cromania, and the oppressive presence of the World Wide Web.

Where to Watch: HBO Max


Mark Grayson is a product of a superpowered father and a human mother. When Mark's inherited powers emerge, he's eager to train with his dad. However, his father harbors unspeakable secrets, ones that will have grave ramifications for Earth and superhero society. But Mark doesn't know that. He dons a suit, subs himself "Invincible," and endures the trials of his early superhero career, even as he's unwittingly moving closer to discovering his father's ultra-secret identity. 

Even though the focus is scattered and the storylines are complex, "Invincible" toys with the viewer's expectations by defying the typical structure of a superhero television series. The emotional crux of "Invincible" is the dreaded unraveling of Omni-Man's actual motives, but along the way the show is drenched with gore, with imagery that will have traumatic consequences for Mark as he comes of age. Despite its title, "Invincible" takes place in a world where caped heroes can and will die without warning. It's also one of the rare animated productions with 40-minute-plus episodes, making for an incredibly wild ride.

Where to Watch: Amazon Video

Tuca & Bertie

If you didn't see it during its 1st season, you'll wonder why Netflix canceled "Tuca & Bertie," a witty creation by cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt. You'll also sigh with relief that Adult Swim ended up commissioning another season.

Either way, the titular toucan and robin duo, voiced by Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong respectively, are back for another adventure through cruddy adulthood. With her head full of doubts over her career and the lingering effects of sexual assault, Bertie spends season 2 auditioning a series of therapists as she confronts the shapeshifting nature of trauma. Meanwhile, Tuca is exploring both the high and lows of romantic commitment. Famous for its elastic animation, "Tuca & Bertie" gives intrusive thoughts, trauma, and anxiety monstrous shapes, leading to an exploration of adulthood and friendship that's only strengthened by scripts that are both quippy and rawly emotional.

Where to Watch: Adult Swim (season 2), Netflix (season 1)

Bombay Rose

Heartbreak and escapism go hand-in-hand in "Bombay Rose," a 2021 Netflix release. Inspired by the street dwellers in Bombay, animator Gitanjali Rao weaves together a vibrant tapestry of the day-to-day struggles faced by the Indian poor. 

A Hindu flower seller named Kamala finds herself falling for Salim, a Muslim refugee. While the star-crossed lovers figure out their lives, a widow dreams of her past as a movie star, and Kamala's younger sister befriends a child dishwasher. Embracing orange and red hues, with imaginative shifts into Mughal aesthetics, "Bombay Rose" combines slice-of-life tales with colonial haunts, dancing spirits, and class intersections to paint an emotional portrait of the everyday fight for survival in Mumbai's slums.

Where to Watch: Netflix


Anim is first introduced solemnly staring up at the camera while inhaling and exhaling. "Flee" is a documentary about the tribulations of a gay man recollecting his escape from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Oscillating between Anim's past and his present, the choice to use animation does not detract from the importance of his story. Instead, it creates a sensitive emotional outlet through which the film can explore Anim's headspace as he wrestles with his helplessness against the environmental factors that threaten his arduous trek, his rage against the corrupt law enforcement agencies that exploit his family, and the crisis that comes with falsifying his family story so that he'll be "worthy" of asylum in Denmark. With footage from newsreels spliced in to flesh out the story, "Flee" contextualizes the uncertainty of memory and identity under the supervision of filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen.

Observe, for example, the impressionistic sequence in which Amin's mother watches his father be seized by the Taliban, an event Anim was not present to witness. Note how the fading of the scenes forms wrinkles on the countenance of Anim's mother, drawing a logical link between the family separation and her aged appearance in the eyes of her son. "Flee" is a documentary elevated by animation that chisels away at the emotional truths that fill in memory's blanks.

Where to Watch: Limited theatrical screenings


Based on from the Filipino comic series written by Budjette Tan and illustrated by Kajo Baldisimo, "Trese" is set on the streets of modern Manila, the capital of the Philippines, where supernatural creatures are sequestered away in abandoned properties and sewers, and serve as members of gangs and political offices. 

Armed with knowledge, incantations, informants, and a spirit on speed-dial, detective Alexandra Trese investigates the ill-doings of the supernatural as they target humanity — and vice versa. As the babaylan-mandirigma, the sixth child of the sixth child, Trese has inherited a great responsibility to ensure an amiable co-existence between the creatures and humanity, and her investigations lead to some truly heartbreaking reveals. 

The paltry six episodes available on Netflix do not do justice to the series' worldbuilding, which mixes topical themes about government corruption with the supernatural; hopefully, a second season will deliver more compelling chapters of this story.

Where to Watch: Netflix


Figures from myths and urban legends often serve as the basis for classic tales about being othered in society. Is it better to assimilate, or to live on the fringes? "Cryptozoo," Dash Shaw's Sundance-selected animated feature, tackles this question while layering cutouts on top of crayon-like backdrops in order to bring this story of legendary creatures to life. 

As the Vietnam War looms in the background, monster hunter Lauren Grey seeks to protect cryptids from the military, which is quashing all things counterculture. In order to do so, she constructs a "cryptozoo" that doubles as a profitable theme park, eliciting moral questions about the objectification of these creatures and whether or not they should join the public human world.

Although "Cryptozoo" has been criticized for its flat characters and garish look, it's a hypnotic, nearly hallucinogenic, experiment, with every set piece serving as an elaborate ecosystem of artistry. 

Where to Watch: Hulu

Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon A Time

Hideaki Anno, a former animator for Studio Ghibli, has said that he is drawn to what's broken. His personal crises and depression are infamously baked into the classic anime "Neon Genesis Evangelion," a show about mechas, intergalactic threats, and psychological drudgery. On its debut, the series was a game-changer, disrupting and deconstructing the chipper fantasy of the mecha genre.

Since then, Anno has revisited the "Neon Genesis Evangelion" story a number of times, including with the "Evangelion Rebuild" tetralogy, which finally reached its end with "Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time." In this feature-length film, Shinji Ikari remains wracked with guilt and trauma over his actions, which essentially triggered doomsday. At first, Shinji and company are sequestered in a pastoral land of peace, a place of relative respite that allows him to reflect on his guilt, until he's called back into the field. 

When Shinji confronts his father's nefarious plan to force humanity into the Human Instrumentality project, what results is an apocalyptic therapy session between father and son, a conversation that ultimately allows Shinji and his friends to escape a vicious cycle and construct a new world order. For a saga known for its darkness and depression, it's a heavenly note of hope that reminds us why the "Evangelion" series made such an impression to begin with.

Where to Watch: Prime Video

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