As the year draws closer to its end, we’ve decided to look back at the streaming-native series that debuted in 2022, and highlight a cool dozen that we think were culturally significant and will be remembered for years to come.
Some of the shows we picked because they were hugely popular, some for innovative animation and impressive production values, and others just because we really liked them. We’re not saying these 12 are our favorites or that they’re the best (although they’re all great), but all 12 had a significant cultural impact in 2022.
Reflecting a general increase in popularity – especially internationally – of adult animation, we’ve got several series that aren’t for kids, while most of the kids and family shows are mature enough to draw in adult viewers as well. The list also shows that diverse stories and characters are continuing to find their place in the animation ecosystem for both kid and adult audiences.
The Boys Presents: Diabolical (Prime Video)
Released in March, this animated spin-off of The Boys is an anthology series created by Eric Kripke, Simon Racioppa, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg. Each episode featured a stand-alone storyline and its own animation style, most animated by different studios. Contributing studios included: Snipple Animation Studios, Mighty Animation Studio, Edge Animation, Folivari, D’Art Shtajio, and Studio Animal. Think Love, Death + Robots with superheroes, but way more messed up. The show was an instant hit and received rave reviews from fans and critics alike, with storyboard artist Lexy Naut winning a Juried Emmy for individual achievement in animation.
Chainsaw Man (Crunchyroll)
One of the year’s most hyped-up anime series was adapted from Tatsuki Fujimoto’s idiosyncratic manga series Chainsaw Man. The show is directed by Ryu Nakamura, best known for his work on Jujustu Kaisen, and is produced by Mappa. Ultra-violent and flooded with viscera, but also a ton of heart (not the organ), the show turns on Denji, a teenage boy living with a Chainsaw Devil named Pochita. Due to the debt, his father left behind; he has been living a rock-bottom life while repaying his debt by harvesting devil corpses with Pochita. One day, Denji is betrayed and killed. As his consciousness fades, he makes a contract with Pochita and gets revived as “Chainsaw Man” — a man with a devil’s heart.
The Cuphead Show! (Netflix)
Nobody has proved as successful at adapting video game IPs as Netflix, and that holds for its 2d animated series The Cuphead Show!, inspired by the game of the same name. Featuring the game’s 1930s aesthetic, lush production values, and slapstick sense of humor, it turns on brothers Cuphead and Mugman who get into all types of mischief over the show’s 36 episodes, released in three batches across the year. The Cuphead Show! was developed by executive producer Dave Wasson and produced by Netflix Animation. Cuphead creators Chad and Jared Moldenhauer executive-produced for Studio MDHR (which produced the game), and C.J. Kettler executive-produced for King Features, which represents Cuphead for licensing. Adam Paloian and Clay Morrow directed.
Dead End: Paranormal Park (Netflix)
Based on the popular graphic novel DeadEndia by showrunner Hamish Steele, the series follows Barney and Norma, two new employees at Phoenix Parks, a Dollyworld-like theme park created by glamorous celebrity Pauline Phoenix. Dead End touches on themes that countless young people will have experienced, but perhaps never seen presented in a fun, funny, and touching animated series. The series’ animation isn’t revolutionary – although the character designs are impressive and become more intricate in season two – but its narratives certainly are and the show features some musical numbers that deserve recognition of their own. There is little doubt that Dead End will remain a cult classic for years to come. London’s Blink Industries produced the show’s two seasons, both of which hit Netflix this year.
El Deafo (Apple TV+)
Based on the eponymous best-selling graphic novel memoir from Cece Bell, El Deafo is a three-part animated series that premiered all the way back in January. The heartwarming series follows young Cece as she loses her hearing but finds an inner superhero, making lots of friends along the way. El Deafo is simply drawn yet visually appealing, and its characters’ stories are relatable to audiences of all ages. It was created by Bell and Will McRobb, co-executive produced by Claire Finn for Lighthouse Studios, and directed by Gilly Fogg (Bob the Builder).
The Legend of Vox Machina (Prime Video)
Like Prime Video’s Diabolical, this series is entirely for adults, and it’s absolutely wild. Over-the-top violence, non-stop humor, foul language, and a vulgar halfling that wants to sleep with just about anything that moves, The Legend of Vox Machina had everything a degenerate gamer could want in an animated series. The show didn’t offer much new by way of aesthetics, but it did prove easy to watch for general audiences, not just gamers, and its humor was top-notch, featuring the talented voice cast of the popular Critical Role web series. It’s produced by Critical Role Productions, Titmouse, Inc., and Amazon Studios, with animation provided by Titmouse.
Lost Ollie (Netflix)
The year’s most emotionally evocative animated series must have been Lost Ollie. It would take a heart of stone to make it through the limited series’ four episodes (that actually feel more like one long movie) without empathizing deeply with its floppy-eared stuffed animal protagonist as he embarks on an epic adventure to find his lost child. The series is based on William Joyce’s 2016 book Ollie’s Odyssey and was created and written by Shannon Tindle with Peter Ramsey directing. The show’s own journey to the screen was as unlikely and winding as that of its protagonist, and we spoke to some of the people who helped make it a reality earlier this year.
Oni: Thunder God’s Tale (Netflix)
A limited series that looked like nothing else we saw this year, Oni: Thunder God’s Tale is the latest production from Oscar-nominated studio Tonko House (The Dam Keeper) working with Japan’s Marza Animation Planet. Animated in cg but with a tactile aesthetic and reduced frame rate, the series feels like stop motion. Unspooling in a land of gods and magic, it follows a young girl who is the only one among her peers that doesn’t seem to have powers. However, when a powerful group of “Oni” threatens her peaceful village, she is forced to overcome incredible peril to save everyone. Produced by Tonko House, the series was animated by Megalis VFX and Dwarf Studios.
Pantheon is AMC Networks’ first-ever traditionally animated original series and immediately found a passionate fanbase. A sci-fi drama, it’s based on a collection of short stories by author Ken Liu and turns on a bullied teen who gets messages on her computer from a stranger who turns out to be her recently deceased father, whose consciousness has been uploaded to the cloud after an experimental brain scan. The series is created, written, showrun, and executive produced by Craig Silverstein, with Titmouse handling animation.
The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder (Disney+)
One of Disney’s most fun original animated series returned in 2022 after a 15-year hiatus, and it’s every bit as good as we remembered the original being. From creator and executive producer Bruce W. Smith and executive producer Ralph Farquhar, this revival continues to star Penny Proud and her family: parents Oscar and Trudy, twin siblings BeBe and CeCe, and grandmother Suga Mama. The series just won the first-ever Children and Family Emmy for casting for an animated program and will return for season two in February of 2023.
Spirit Rangers (Netflix)
This kids’ show stands out for several reasons, including its Native American protagonists and narratives, a just-right level of adventure for its young audience, and a vibrant and dynamic aesthetic featuring impressive production values that make it a joy for parents to watch with their kids. It’s one of those kids’ shows that clearly got a lot of love and wasn’t just produced as quickly as possible to make a buck. Spirit Rangers was created by Karissa Valencia and is co-produced by Netflix, Laughing Wild, and Superprod Studio.
Spy x Family (Crunchyroll)
Some days, spy missions include taking down governments. For others, the job simply mopping the floors in the family apartment that doubles as a secret headquarters. The good and the bad are shown in equal parts in the breakout anime Sky x Family, directed by Kazuhiro Furuhashi (Hunter x Hunter 1999, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn) and produced by Wit Studio and CloverWorks. A heartwarming family tale set in an unconventional industry and featuring one of the year’s most adorable protagonists, fans were over the moon about its endearing character design, executed by Kazuaki Shimada (The Promised Neverland).
Pictured at top: The Boys Presents: Diabolical, The Cuphead Show, El Deafo