Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s more risque programming block, was a cultural staple for those of us who were kids in the early 2000s and continues to be an amazing source of gritty comedy today. As a kid, I would sneak downstairs after my parents had gone to sleep to watch shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and Robot Chicken, shows my parents would’ve gasped at and surely grounded me for watching. Yes, it’s safe to say that Adult Swim corrupted many of our youths, and for that, its creators deserve a big thanks.
The programming block first aired in 2001 with the original debut airing of the show Home Movies. That same night, an episode of the iconic anime Cowboy Bebop also lit up the screen. A few days later, the first episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force debuted, a series that would become one of the pillars of Adult Swim. Since those days, Adult Swim has grown massively in popularity and has caused huge controversies while gaining loyal fans. In fact, in 2007, the Boston Police Department even misidentified placards of The Mooninites from Aqua Teen Hunger Force as explosive devices, causing massive panic.
All in all, it’s hard to think of a programming block that has shaped the sense of humor of a generation more than Adult Swim. So, to honor this raunchy and weird section of Cartoon Network, I’ve decided to put together a list of the 7 best Adult Swim shows of all time, ranked.
1. The Venture Bros.
The longest-running show ever on Adult Swim, The Venture Bros. follows the happenings of the Venture family, an eclectic and weird family consisting of a scientist known for his wacky and unethical experiments, two dumb-as-rocks twins named Hank and Dean, and a former supervillain named Sergeant Hatred.
The Venture Bros. is loved by fans for the quirky yet seemingly real world that the show builds and for the unpredictable storylines. Truly, you never have any idea where an episode of The Venture Bros. is going to go. The series is an homage to the 1964 animated series Jonny Quest (which is totally worth watching if you’ve never seen it).
2. Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Undoubtedly one of the weirdest cartoons to ever air on basic cable, Aqua Teen Hunger Force stars three anthropomorphic fast food items: Master Shake (a milkshake), Meatwad (a sentient meatball), and Frylock (a carton of french fries with facial hair). Yes, whoever came up with the concept for this show must have been really, really high.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force was created as a spin-off of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which originally aired on Cartoon Network from 1994 to 1999. The primary antagonists of Aqua Teen Hunger Force were The Mooninites, a duo of aliens from the Moon. Other notable characters from the series include Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future, Dr. Wongburger, and MC Pee Pants. This show’s humor is just as crude, juvenile, and strange as you could possibly imagine.
3. Rick and Morty
While Rick and Morty came on the scene later than the previously mentioned shows, first airing in 2013, it definitely garnered one of the largest followings of any Adult Swim show. In fact, I would go so far as to describe Rick and Morty’s fanbase as somewhat cult-like. The show follows the adventures of supergenius scientist Rick Sanchez and his very normal grandson Morty as they journey through the multiverse.
Rick and Morty is visually appealing, presenting viewers with fantastical images of foreign planets and realities. It’s also very intelligent, dealing with a variety of high-level sci-fi concepts. But, most importantly, Rick and Morty is funny as hell. Rick’s god complex and issues with intimacy and substance abuse make for an interesting and hilarious character. Meanwhile, Morty is battling with the problems that come from being a normal adolescent while exploring alien worlds.
4. The Boondocks
Based on a comic strip of the same name, The Boondocks is probably one of the most controversial cartoons of all time. The show follows the daily life of two Black kids living with their grandfather in Woodcrest, Illinois, and deals heavily with the theme of race relations. The Boondocks often employs a fairly vulgar sense of humor and uses some controversial language. However, this daring approach has made it one of the most memorable cartoons ever.
On top of the show’s content, the anime-inspired animation style is unique and strangely beautiful. Plus, there are some amazing fight scenes that I could watch on repeat. Regardless of whether you love or hate The Boondocks, it’s definitely one of the most influential shows to air on Adult Swim.
5. The Eric Andre Show
Watching The Eric Andre Show is a bizarre and often unsettling experience. Will Eric’s coffee cup turn into a blender and cut off one of his fingers? Will someone come falling out of the ceiling and smash the top of his desk? There’s really no way to know. However, as strange and crude as The Eric Andre Show might be, there’s no denying it’s one of the most unique talk shows to ever air.
And, despite the fact that this show seems extremely low-budget and even poorly made, big celebrities like Lauren Conrad, Jack McBrayer, Donald Glover, and Steve-O have appeared as guests.
6. Cowboy Bebop
For a lot of kids growing up in the early 2000s, Cowboy Bebop was the show that started their lifelong love affair with the anime genre. The Japanese neo-noir space Western anime took place in the year 2071, roughly 50 years after an accident with a hyperspace gateway left the Earth nearly uninhabitable. The series follows bounty hunters Spike Spiegel and Jet Black as they confront the mistakes of their past and try to build a better future.
Most of Cowboy Bebop is episodic in nature, meaning that each episode is pretty much self-contained; viewers still become increasingly more familiar with each character as the series progresses. Because of this show’s amazing storytelling ability and captivating visuals, it’s one of the most successful animes to air in the United States.
7. Robot Chicken
Out of all of the shows mentioned on this list, Robot Chicken is the only one that utilizes stop-motion animation. And while the stop-motion technique had been used many times before, it had never been used in such a provocative and raunchy way as Robot Chicken. The show was created by Matthew Senreich and Seth Green as a spoof of everything pop culture-related. The show doesn’t really have a point other than to annoy and amaze people, making fun of celebrities and using their likenesses in claymation and action figures.
For some reason, the animation style of Robot Chicken was incredibly iconic, and I can still picture the opening sequence of the show perfectly despite not having watched it in over a decade. A mad scientist finds a dead chicken on the road and brings it back to his laboratory, and turns it into a cyborg, all of which is set to the chaotic musical stylings of Primus’s Les Claypool. It’s pretty much impossible to describe Robot Chicken any further. You’ll just have to watch it for yourself.