The days of cartoons being only for children are long gone. Aside from the obvious adult cartoons like Family Guy, Archer, The Simpsons, or Bob’s Burgers, children’s animation has gained a notable depth and artistry in recent years, captivating viewers of all ages. Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender created a sprawling, gorgeous world filled with a fascinating history and complex, powerful characters; Disney’s Gravity Falls crafted compelling mysteries, balancing sharp humor with surprisingly emotional storylines; and Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time has never shied away from no-holds-barred goofiness while also establishing its own incredibly dark and riveting mythology.
All of these shows, and many more, have shown time and again that children’s animation is not a medium to be looked down on, but the show that proves this point best of all is Steven Universe.
To the unitiated, Rebecca Sugar’s vibrant show may look like it’s just a bright, silly 11 minutes of wackiness — and sometimes it is, which is great. But Steven Universe is also a bona fide superhero series, complete with villains and action-packed battles, and it’s a sci-fi mystery about a warring race of powerful intergalactic gemstones, and most importantly of all, it’s an important statement about gender, LGBT rights, and racial equality.
Still unconvinced? Here are my 5 reasons that you should be watching Steven Universe, which is returning on July 18.
Dynamic, colorful animation
Just as episodes of Steven Universe can shift from cutesy, human stories about Steven with his fellow townspeople in Beach City to epic, intergalactic battles, so too does the style of animation jump from starry-eyed adorableness to inventive depictions of the characters’s various superpowers.
Whimsical original music
Rebecca Sugar was a songwriter on Adventure Time before creating Steven Universe, so it’s no surprise that she filled her own show with the quaint, often ukelele-based original tunes she’s known for. But Sugar isn’t the only musical powerhouse behind Steven Universe — Grammy-winner Estelle voices lead character Garnet. Take a listen to Garnet’s big number “Stronger Than You” to get see why the show is a force in the music world as well as the animation world.
Unique, expansive mythology
One of the major reasons Steven Universe has such devoted fans is its ever-expanding universe. After 2 seasons, viewers still don’t know very much at all about the antagonistic Home World, or the pasts of the ageless Crystal Gems. Each little piece of information that’s revealed only encourages fans to dig deeper and try to piece together this enormous animated world.
Diversity and representation
Children’s shows are making strides in better representing women, LGBT people, and people of color. This well-rounded, emotional depiction of often under-represented groups is one of Steven Universe‘s biggest strengths. The superpowered gems are exclusively female, and the show ups the ante by delicately portraying different kinds of strong female relationships. Most notable is the loving relationship between Ruby and Sapphire, the two women who fuse to become Garnet. And in turns boldly and subtly, Steven Universe also tackles themes of racism, slavery, consent, gender identity, and what it means to be part of a family.
What brings all these facets of Steven Universe together into one incredible show is that the characters truly love and care for one another. Steven’s trusting nature and generosity of spirit is infectious, and his family and friends constantly reassure each other and laugh together. While you don’t know whether you’ll be laughing, crying, or screaming during any given episode of Steven Universe, the one thing that’s guaranteed is that you’ll be smiling from ear to ear at the end.