The TV sitcom has been one of the most popular genres in all of TV history, and even so, it’s more popular now than it’s ever been.
There’s really no way to improve on the tried-and-true TV sitcom formula: establish a solid cast of funny characters, put them in mundane/awkward/unusual situations, and let things play themselves out. At the end of the day, we’re here for the characters.
Yet while the fundamental core of the TV sitcom formula has never changed, the format of the TV sitcom has definitely evolved. Multi-camera sitcoms and canned laugh tracks are passé. Even mockumentaries are on their way out.
These days, animated TV sitcoms are all the rage. We aren’t talking about King of the Hill or The Flintstones, but modern animated comedy series that have the ability to explore concepts, stories, and characters that just aren’t possible with live-action TV sitcoms.
Here are the best modern animated TV series that each elevated the sitcom genre in their own ways. (We’re only counting animated comedy series that were still airing after 2010.)
10. Big Mouth
Big Mouth is vulgar. It’s crass. It’s unabashedly unrefined in the way it presents itself. But all of these things are what make Big Mouth an important show worth watching.
Because it’s not just being profane for fun. Big Mouth is a show about teenagers who are going through puberty and on their way toward becoming adults. It’s an animated series that’s willing to talk about the forbidden, the taboo, and the shameful.
It’s simply drawn and messy in its plots, but that messiness is exactly why we all need a show like this. After all, life isn’t always clean and easy—and that makes Big Mouth as authentic as it gets.
9. Solar Opposites
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Solar Opposites is about a family of aliens who arrive on Earth and try to assimilate into middle America—all the while stumbling over the peculiarities of mankind and marveling at humanity’s capabilities.
If you’ve watched Rick and Morty and feel like this show seems strangely familiar, that’d be because Solar Opposites is co-created by Justin Roiland (who co-created Rick and Morty with Dan Harmon).
Archer is an animated comedy TV series that’s episodic, but follows season-long overarching storylines. It departs from the tried-and-true setting of most animated sitcoms (a family home) and goes in a totally different direction: a dysfunctional intelligence agency.
This opens up the show to have many interesting action sequences, but the heart of the series rests in how incompetent everyone is. It’s hilarious and novel, proving that there’s still plenty of unique situations to mine when it comes to animated sitcoms.
7. Bob’s Burgers
Bob’s Burgers is one of those animated comedy series that starts off on rocky ground, but becomes exquisitely good once it finds its footing. Not that the first season is bad. It just doesn’t do justice to the greatness that comes in later seasons.
It centers on the Belcher family and their burger restaurant in a small seaside town, along with the lives they live beyond the restaurant. The plots are simple but characters are strongly defined and their interactions are just plain fun to watch.
6. Gravity Falls
Gravity Falls is an animated comedy TV series with a dash of mystery. Twin brother and sister Dipper and Mabel are sent to live with their great-uncle in Gravity Falls, Oregon for the summer. But Gravity Falls is a strange place full of paranormal creatures and occurrences.
It looks like a kids show at first glance—and in many ways, it is a kids show—but Gravity Falls is so good at blending its mysterious lore with heart-warming moments and pop culture references that there’s plenty to love even as an adult.
Futurama completely breaks the mold as far as setting is concerned for an animated comedy series. Instead of taking place in a fictional or exaggerated version of the modern world, it takes us 1,000 years into the future with a completely unique sci-fi setting.
And while the premise does lead to all kinds of insanity and hilarity, and while the characters are all lovable in their own quirky ways, the real draw of Futurama is how smart its jokes are.
Indeed, the writing team behind Futurama held a combined three Ph.D.s, seven Master’s degrees, and over 50 years of Harvard University education. If you’re smart enough, you might catch some of the math, physics, and other higher-level gags littered throughout.
4. Rick and Morty
On the surface, Rick and Morty seems like a crude and vulgar show with obnoxious characters and not many redeeming qualities. But give it a few episodes and dwell on it for a little while. Only then will the better aspects of the show begin to become apparent.
This animated comedy series is imaginative, willing to explore scenarios and storylines that are too far-out for most shows. It’s an absurdist take on the mundane, and it manages to present thought-provoking content wrapped in unsophisticated characters.
3. BoJack Horseman
BoJack Horseman is about a humanoid horse who used to be the star of a 1990s TV sitcom but is now washed-up, depressed, and struggling with addiction. The first season started off wobbly, but the show found its footing and soon became one of the best animated shows ever.
Underneath all the humor, the show is dark and willing to address mature subject matter like self-destructive behavior, issues of sexuality, overt and covert racism, and crippling depression. BoJack Horseman is a must-watch for fans of black comedy and surreal humor.
2. South Park
At 23 seasons, South Park is one of the longest-running animated comedy series right now. It easily wins the number two spot on this list because it’s just downright unique in many ways—the animation style, the voice acting, the dialog, the storylines.
Most of South Park’s draw is its satirical look at modern trends and its unflinching willingness to say what other shows are too afraid to say and tackle controversial issues that other shows avoid at all costs.
South Park has readily mocked (and pissed off) pretty much every class, group, faction, organization, religion, social movement, and high-profile celebrity on the planet—and yet, the show still has millions of fans. That alone says everything.
1. The Simpsons
When it comes to longevity, no scripted show can rival The Simpsons. It’s been on for so long that if we were to write an article on the longest running animated TV shows, it would top that one too.
The Simpsons has crossed 700 episodes and it’s still going strong. Are the recent episodes as good as the first few seasons? For a lot of people, the answer is no. But it’s still a strong show!
It’s impossible to argue with creator Matt Groening’s genius, as he managed to create some of the most iconic characters in any medium. For its legacy and cultural impact, The Simpsons absolutely deserves first spot for best modern animated comedy TV series.