Features and Columns · TV

The 20 Best Animated Series of 2020

With their fantastical escapes and beautiful worlds, these shows served as much-needed reprieves from a dark year.
Best Animated Series 2020
By  · Published on December 16th, 2020

5. Bojack Horseman 

Bojack Horseman best animated series 2020

All good things must come to an end, and after six seasons of dark comedy and navigating trauma, Bojack Horseman aired its final episodes in 2020. Since 2014, the series has been lauded for its ability to mix comedy and drama using anthropomorphic characters and a never-ending supply of puns. But, despite the fantastical elements, Bojack Horseman never let go of its humanity, creating narratives about holding people accountable for their actions, trying to establish boundaries, and reckoning with your own past. 

In the second half of the last season, BoJack is forced to confront his demons and his role in the death of Sarah Lynn. He must publicly reckon with his actions and admit how they led the actress down a path of addiction, as well as his past relationships with women. These final episodes are a thoughtful take on the #MeToo movement, showcasing how animation is able to interpret real-world events into poignant stories. 

4. Primal


Genndy Tartakovsky is the brilliant mind behind such iconic animated series as Samurai Jack, Dexter’s Laboratory, and The Powerpuff Girls. But in 2019, he released something new for a much older audience. His series Primal is the tale of a caveman, Spear, and his dinosaur sidekick, Fang, as they navigate their prehistoric treacherous world.

This year, he rounded out Season 1 with five new episodes, with Season 2 on the horizon. The first arc ended on a seemingly tragic note as Fang appeared to have died in a battle with a group of ape-men. But, thankfully she is alive, and she and Spear are back on the path for survival as they continue to encounter seemingly impossible foes, including a coven of primitive witches. 

The blood and tears continue to flow, making Primal a must-watch for any lover of animation. There is no dialogue, only grunts and screeches, so all of the emotional weight lies on the animation. The result is a stunning, violent, and deeply sad show that is able to use facial expressions and a series of tragedies to make you really care for these two characters. Tartakovsky has made something special with Primal that will catch you with its beauty and keep you with its rich stories.

3. Castlevania

Castlevania best animated series 2020

Something that Netflix’s Castlevania has taught me about myself is that when watching animation, I don’t just love the ways the human form can be manipulated and the worlds that can be imagined. I am in awe of how animation can forge and establish such strong emotional connections between colorful characters and their audience. This is why the latest season of Castlevania is one of my favorite animated series of this year.

Castlevania is a Netflix original series that proves video game adaptations can in fact be done right. Season 3 released this year and pushed the show to new emotional heights. After the death of Dracula in Season 2, Castlevania showcased that it could be both violent and affecting. But Season 3 delves even deeper as Trevor and Sypha fall in love, as Alucard combats loneliness, and as the villain vampires are shown as complex creatures who can also experience love.

This season is not afraid of being absolutely heart-breaking as it shows the humanity of our protagonists, even if they aren’t necessarily human. Just as in the previous two seasons, Castlevania’s action sequences are beautifully animated, creating jaw-dropping moments that are both disgusting and phenomenal to behold. Each season of Castlevania is better than the last, and I can only hope it continues with that momentum.

2. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!

Keep Your Hands off Eizouken!

No show this year has better captured the beauty of imagination than Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! Masaaki Yuasa, director of the colorful Space Dandy and the soul-crushing Devilman Crybaby, tells the story of three young girls who want to create anime. Well, two of them do while one just wants to help make money off of their talents.

Midori Asakusa has always wanted to be an anime artist and drags her apathetic friend Sayaka Kanamori to an anime screening. There they meet the famous Tsubame Mizusaki, who also wants to be an anime artist but her parents strictly forbid it. So, the three form a club that appears to be a live-action film club called Eizouken but is actually a ruse for them to work on their anime. 

While this is perhaps more a slice of life anime compared to Yuasa’s previous work, he still imbues the show with whimsy and fantastical elements as Asakusa and Mizusaki work to build their perfect world. It is a series not only about three young women trying to fight against a system that wants them to fail, but about appreciating the medium of anime. Keep Your Hands Off Eizuoken! is a testament to the power of animation and the spirit of those who love creating it.

1. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts best animated series 2020

If one show has been a bright beacon of hope during 2020, it is Netflix’s Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. Its beautiful animation, emphasis on diverse characters, and stories about the power of friendship make it a perfect new watch for those who feel a hole in their hearts after Steven Universe and Adventure Time.

Kipo lives underground with the rest of humanity after the world has been taken over by giant animals called MUTES. When she accidentally arrives on the surface, she discovers a beautiful and terrifying world of lumberjack cats, amusement park-owning rattlesnakes, a baboon named Scarlemagne who wants to make all humans his servants, and more.

This colorful backdrop lends itself to a multitude of stories about coping with trauma, LGBTQ love, and trying to understand who you are. Plus, it is stacked with voice-acting talents, such as Dan Stevens as the crazed Scarlemagne, Sterling K. Brown as  Kipo’s father, and John Hodgman as a wolf scientist. The three seasons released this year weave a tapestry of both hilarious and touching stories that will appeal to all audiences. 

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Mary Beth McAndrews thinks found footage is good and will fight you if you say otherwise. When she's not writing, she's searching for Mothman with her two cats. Follow her on Twitter @mbmcandrews. (She/Her)