Animation and fantasy go hand-in-hand, as the medium is the perfect avenue to bring fantastical and other-worldly settings, concepts, and characters to life. What’s more, animation and fantasy are broad enough categories that there are films and TV shows that suit everyone’s tastes and interests. From Samurai Jack to Avatar: The Last Airbender, there is no shortage of animated series to get lost in.
Indeed, these 20 shows see beloved characters flourishing in fantastical universes. Their imaginative storytelling offers refuge from everyday life on Earth while also gifting viewers worthwhile advice about empathy, self-love, and the importance of community.
Young Justice follows the youthful DC Comics heroes attempting to make their own mark in Happy Harbor while sifting through their personal insecurities. From their dynamic relationships with their predecessors to the struggle of balancing superhero responsibilities with the everyday plights and potential highlights of adolescence, our young heroes must face it all in order to keep the universe safe.
With much-needed maturity in its approach to character development and universe-building, Young Justice successfully resuscitates characters like Superboy, Artemis, and Aqualad, and experiments with their canonical adventures, resulting in a truly refreshing adaptation. With four seasons, Young Justice has been hailed as one of the best DC shows ever made. Stream on Max
Based on the Japanese series Beast King GoLion, Voltron: Legendary Defender sees the universe’s technology being reliant on a force named “Quintessence.” Banded by a joint concern for the survival of sentient beings, the titular Voltron Force bands together in hopes of thwarting the plans of the nefarious Galra Empire.
Voltron has received immense acclaim for offering authentically funny moments, riveting drama between characters, and astonishing action sequences. Successfully crafting characters and narratives worth investing in, Voltron has cemented itself as a truly amazing fantasy adaptation, rivaling and, at times, besting the original. Stream on Netflix
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood finds brothers, Edward (Ryosuke Yamada) and Alphonse (Rie Kugimiya) Elric, traveling across Amestris in hopes of recovering their bodies. In search of the Philosopher’s Stone, the two decide to join the state military, with Edward serving as the titular Alchemist.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood continues to be upheld as a particularly pristine story due to its fantastic depiction of combat at the forefront and a gripping narrative at its foundation. Noted for its excellent pacing and fantastical world-building, this popular anime series gracefully rests at the top of everyone’s recommendations as it pertains to what a gratifying fantasy series looks like. Stream on Hulu
Fighting against a tyrannical conqueror named Aku, the brooding titular hero in Samurai Jack finds himself thrust into the future and must make sense of the frightening yet familiar new world he has stepped into.
Unlike most animated fantasy series, Samurai Jack‘s appeal relies on action rather than dialogue. With a few words exchanged between characters, aspects of the series become much more intentional. Be it the actions conducted or the amount of space filled, Samurai Jack offers an unconventional yet entertaining story of retribution. Stream on Max
X-Men: The Animated Series sees the beloved outcasts from Marvel Comics star in their own adventures. The iconic ’90s animated series sees the mutant rights advocates processing the meaning of their power, the responsibilities they choose to acknowledge, and the consequences of such.
Seamlessly balancing the esoteric-like connection between the mutants and the real predicaments of everyday people, X-Men: The Animated Series successfully widens the appeal of their characters and their respective, riveting narratives. Stream on Disney+
The Dragon Prince takes place in a mythical kingdom, where power struggles result in the Crown Prince Ezran (Sasha Rojen) and his brother Prince Callum (Jack DeSena) venturing throughout the continent of Zadia in hopes of retaining peace, symbolized by the baby dragon Azymodias or “Zym.”
The Dragon Prince makes excellent use of the interpersonal relationships present. Whether it be strengthening familial ties, romantic relationships, or secret alliances, the Netflix fantasy series as a whole is enriched by the dynamics of the characters and their respective ambitions.
Set in the fictional “Hyborian Age,” Conan the Adventurer reimagines the many popular clans and cultures of the world of Antiquity, inviting audiences into a mature, exciting adventure about the titular hero’s quest against evil.
Despite his relative fame before the animation, Conan the Adventurer offers a more nuanced portrayal, straying away from the one-dimensional brute that many may perceive him as. With his conflict resolution skills standing just as strong as his combat skills, the series makes for a great epic. Not Currently Available to Stream or Purchase
Discovering a world of magic, 14-year-old Luz (Sarah-Nicole Robles) finds refuge with Eda (Wendie Malick), an ostracized witch with a witty sense of humor, and King (Alex Hirsch), the adorable, self-proclaimed “King of Demons”. Studying at Hexside Academy, Luz becomes enthralled with sorcery while also making sense of her personal ambitions.
With an incredibly admirable protagonist like Luz and the web of connections she makes along the way, The Owl House‘s themes of compassion and community are beautifully accentuated, resulting in a moving yet amusing depiction of childhood. Stream on Disney+
Over the Garden Wall follows two brothers, Greg (Collin Dean) and Wirt (Elijah Wood), who find themselves in a bleak, agrarian world after suffering from an accident. With hopes of returning home, the brothers align with Beatrice (voiced by Melanie Lynskey) in hopes of saving the new-found land they come to know as “The Unknown.”
Over the Garden Wall entrances the audience with a chilling suspense that strengthens the story, but never detracts from the mutual companionship that Wirt and Greg have for each other, and their sincerity as it concerns The Unknown and the many residents they befriend along the way. Stream on Hulu
Gargoyles sees the titular creatures, led by the valiant Goliath (Keith David), freed from their stone prisons and serving as the knights of the night. Aside from their daily duties, the clan regularly mingles with their human counterparts, most notably NYPD detective Eliza Maza (Salli Richardson).
Gargoyles blurs the lines between our understanding of the real world and the supernatural. However, the animated fantasy series made gritty and unique stories truly gratifying to watch unfold. Everything from the strong presence of loyalty to the twisted comedy within made for an invigorating drama series. Stream on Disney+
Æon Flux focuses on the titular character (Denise Poirier), a talented agent whose conventional attractiveness and excellent combat skills render her a hero in one light and a threat in another. Found in the middle of two warring human enclaves, Æon Flux is a well executed dystopian fantasy.
From its exciting storylines to the stunning designs, the animated series cements itself as a timeless story through its ambition and openness to experiment. Seemingly free from consumerist pressures, Æon Flux‘s story becomes impossible to pull away from and all the more feasible to fall in love with. Stream on Paramount+
From its younger target audience to conspiracy theorists on social media, the story of twins Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel (Kristen Schaal) enthralled viewers, and, soon, Gravity Falls would cement itself as an astonishingly bizarre mystery-comedy.
Gravity Falls benefits from its brevity. In under two seasons, the series manages to highlight the importance of seemingly absurd episodic plots to both the overarching plots of the series. Commended for its poignant and inclusive storytelling, Gravity Falls brings the vivid thoughts of everyday youths to life and creates a compelling adventure for audiences to indulge in. Stream on Hulu or Disney+
Infinity Train contains a spectacular set of intriguing and heart-wrenching stories. Finding themselves in a mythical train containing universes within their carts, kids like Tulip (Ashley Johnson) and Grace (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) are given time and space, literally, to process their trauma while making new friends along the way.
Infinity Train offers audiences clever, character-driven storytelling that does more than simply entertain. The series has expertly tackled issues such as grief, depression, and anxiety, all the while crafting beautifully written heroes for viewers to admire and see themselves in. Buy on Prime Video
Following a disillusioned orphan named Adora (Aimee Carrero), She-Ra and the Princesses of Power finds Adora attempting to corral the Princesses of Etheria in hopes of defeating the Horde while also coming to understand her role as the incarnation of the legendary hero She-ra.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power‘s appeal lies in its authentic and inclusive portrayal of its characters. Coupled with the interesting lore of Etheria, the animated Netflix fantasy series invites audiences into a whirlwind of magic, chosen families, and bravery as the pervasive threat of imperialism is eloquently explored throughout the show’s five seasons. Stream on Netflix
Teen Titans offers authentically hilarious moments alongside clear signs of story progression. From uncovering Raven’s (Tara Strong) reserved personality to Robin’s (Scott Menville) brooding disposition, the animated series allows its fans to get a deeper look into the people behind the mask, even if they never reveal their true identities.
The series has gone on to be fondly remembered for its ability to lift inspiration from the pages of their respective stories and experiment with the execution of invigorating action scenes, personal triumphs, and pivotal moments. Stream on Max or Prime Video
Sailor Moon sees fashionable Japanese teen Usagi Tsukino (Kotono Mitsuishi) transform into a stellar superheroine. Aligning with like-minded girls, Usagi aims to preserve peace in the universe, thwarting various threats from ominous forces.
At the center of countless theories, it’s safe to say that Sailor Moon exists beyond mass appreciation. From the styling of the characters themselves, Usagi’s profound journey through the stars, and its pivotal role in ushering in a new era of the “magical girl” genre, Sailor Moon is an endearing and adventurous heroes’ journey that openly embraces hyperfemininity as a driving force behind their individual and collective might. Stream on Hulu
Set 75 years after its predecessor, The Legend of Korra finds the short-tempered, courageous protagonist sparring against formidable foes, expanding on the familiar universe with its intriguing yet admittedly murky social-political commentary and providing exemplary representation of mental health issues and trauma.
The Legend of Korrawas a subversive animated series, highlighting the dark realities within the characters’ experiences, effectively drawing parallels to pivotal moments in history like the rise of socialism, anarchy, and fascism in the early half of the 20th Century. Mending the magic of bending with the technological advancement of the world, the series remains an earnest and entertaining project that successfully stands on its own. Stream on Netflix or Paramount+
Adventure Time finds Finn and Jake in the Land of Ooo, encountering various peculiar predicaments. With colorful characters like Princess Bubblegum, Lumy Space Princess, and Marceline The Vampire Queen, Adventure Time is an emotional roller coaster with vivid imagery and gratifying plot progression.
Alongside truly hilarious moments, Adventure Time is truly a delight to delve deeper into. The most saccharine moments are juxtaposed with sullen and bleak storylines concerning abuse, mental health, and exploitation. In spite of such, the writing is spectacularly strong due to care and consciousness weaved into the lives of Fin, Jake, friends and even foes. Stream on Hulu or Max
Steven Universe finds the jubilant titular protagonist aligned with a group of parental-like titans whose primary concern is the safety of the known universe. Set in the fictional Beach City, the series tracks Steven’s transformation into a bonafide hero in his own right, redefining what it looks like to have super-powered individuals address conflict resolution alongside personal plights.
With touching storylines depicting wholesome moments of conflict resolution, the importance of affirmation, and the beauty of the unpredictable, the animated fantasy series leaves a lasting warmth that helps make the chaos of life a little less suffocating. Stream on Max
Avatar: The Last Airbender is a three-season arc that follows the adventures of Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen), a young Air Nomad who is destined to protect the world from the genocidal Fire Nation. The sole person capable of mastering the four elements, he travels the world alongside Katara (Mae Whitman), Sokka (Jack DeSena), and Toph (Michaela Jill Murphy).
Avatar: The Last Airbender has been hailed as ahead of its time for its direct discussions about marginalization, genocide, and imperialism. Alongside strong comedic timing and rich lore, the animated series has served as a template for many beloved 2010s fantasy cartoons, balancing childhood imagination with inescapable realities. Stream on Netflix or Paramount+