Top Ten Expansive Animated Worlds
By: Justin Cummings
I admit, I haven’t seen all of this show, but I don’t live under a rock I know how cerebral it is. Usually when you see fan theories online they will never come to fruition. Gravity Falls on the other hand purposely left clues hidden all over the place from the very beginning knowing people would start to pick up on them, and pick up on them they did. Everything you saw on screen in Gravity Falls meant something, nothing was expendable. Every little background clue was important, which helped the show truly gain ground as one of the cartoons with the biggest story in history. Gravity Falls did symbols and clues as world building better on a consistent basis than any other show on this list, and it’s that consistency that makes it worth seeing.
From here on out the shows are rather hard for me to rank, but all of this definitely show great examples of expansive world building. Code Lyoko spent most of its first season doing episodic monster of the week plots, which was totally fine, but it’s in seasons two through four that the show really shines. The scale of what they begin unravelling, and more so what they don’t gives the show a sense of wonder and awe that other shows sometimes lack. The role of X.A.N.A, its origins, its motives, and its creator’s motives, remain a driving force and shows a commitment not just to the show but the world the show takes place in. Lyoko was the kind of place you could just get lost in, and although it only had a handful of locales, it made each one feel massive. Code Lyoko, without actually moving its setting, managed to create a large world, and that only deserves praise, but the level of storytelling on display in the Franz Hopper storyline makes the show unmissable and unforgettable.
In less than two seasons Steven Universe has reached a level of lore close to that of Adventure Time, which itself took two seasons to establish much lore of any kind. Before the show aired I had all but written it off due to Cartoon Network’s misadvertising of it as a show comparable to Uncle Grandpa. Once I saw a single episode though I was blown away and realized how much the show had to offer. Like Gravity Falls, Steven Universe hid much in its background, but didn’t rely solely on those background clues. Things such as the red and blue lights on the temple door fall into this category. Much of the lore and world building in Steven Universe comes in the form of dialogue, lines that at first could be seen as throw away until listened to closely. This truly helps the viewer see the world from Steven’s perspective, as we don’t get concrete answers on anything until he does. This season especially has dived deep into the structure of homeworld and how Gem society functions, and has shown just how much we still don’t know. Like other shows on this lists it’s the unique structure, in this case the way we see the world through Steven’s eyes, that makes this show so expansive in its own way.
Same world, same entry. These shows get deep into their lore, like Middle Earth deep, but never lose sight of the main characters and their quests. Like Samurai Jack before it, many episodes take place in new locations, giving new characters to understand. In this case however many of the characters end up recurring, allowing us to see them grow parallel to the main cast. The ensemble cast also lets us follow two different storylines at various points in the series, letting us see things a show with one main character couldn’t afford. The universe is also consistent, allowing it to easily be built upon, which helps make the series that much more expansive, as it doesn’t feel close-ended. If you haven’t seen both of these in their entirety you’re missing out, and should go experience them to see how well a balance of side stories and main quests can play out.
It certainly took a while to get going, but once it did there was no stopping this juggernaut. Missing just one episode of Adventure Time can leave you completely dumbfounded. For instance a character may have a new sword, or arm. Other episodes aren’t so overt with their impact on the universe however. For instance the ancient physic tandem war elephant took a couple seasons to finally come into play, and the entirety of Mars has had varying degrees of weight on our protagonists. That’s what truly sets Adventure Time apart though, the protagonists. Sure Finn and Jake are great, but several episodes barely have them appear if at all. We get to put Finn and Jake aside and see what the rest of Ooo is like, and no other show on this list truly affords us that. Adventure Time’s scope is truly massive, the Lord of the Rings of cartoons if you would, and what it has done, over several seasons, is the greatest example there is of an expansive world in cartoons.