Updated with new release dates and images.
Whether it’s because the pandemic shut down live-action productions and increased demand for animated shows or that an overabundance of streaming options has exposed a vast pool of new talent and new titles, there’s never been a better time to be an animation fan. New animated series that release starting this year include family-friendly spin-offs of Pixar favorites, revivals of ’90s cartoons, and adult anime series full of action.
With so much to keep track of, we’ve prepared a list of the most exciting shows you should definitely check out when they release. Premiere dates are to be announced except where noted.
Debuted: February 5
Why We Couldn’t Wait: Right on time for the 70th anniversary of the comic strip, The Snoopy Show brings back the titular beagle, as well as the entire Peanuts gang for three new adventures. The whole gang’s here, from Woodstock, to Schroeder and his tiny piano. The show seems to mirror the animation style of the classic Bill Melendez–Lee Mendelson cartoons, which instantly makes this a must-watch.
Debuts: March 25
Why We Can’t Wait: A show based on an insanely popular video game franchise, DOTA is already an exciting prospect, especially when focusing on the high fantasy aspect of the game. Add in the animation studio behind The Legend of Korra and you have show you can’t miss. The series will follow the story of popular character Davion, a Dragon Knight who gets involved in a story larger than himself that includes princesses and dragons. Netflix has had a good track record with fantasy animation, thanks to the success of both Blood of Zeus and Castlevania, so it should be an exciting time for fans of both high fantasy and video games to check out this animated adaptation.
Debuts: April 29
Why We Can’t Wait: Based on the fascinating story of Yasuke, a real man who became the first Black samurai and fought alongside a feudal lord in 16th century Japan. The show comes from LeSean Thomas and stars Lakeith Stanfield as the titular Yasuke. The logline for the six-episode series reads: “In a war-torn feudal Japan filled with mechs and magic, the greatest ronin never known, Yasuke, struggles to maintain a peaceful existence after a past life of violence. But when a local village becomes the center of social upheaval between warring daimyo, Yasuke must take up his sword and transport a mysterious child who is the target of dark forces and bloodthirsty warlords.” The promise of “a Japan of magic and mechs” means this will be more than just a period drama. The studio behind the last season of Attack on Titan is in charge of this show, which has one of the coolest concepts we’ve heard for this year, and a kickass lead voice actor. If you’re a fan of either Samurai Champloo or Afro Samurai, this should be right up your alley.
Debuts: May 4
Why We Can’t Wait: Introduced in the excellent last season of The Clone Wars, The Bad Batch is a unique squad of clones that look straight out of an ’80s action movie, the most badass soldiers this side of Coruscant. But they face a bit of a problem — the war is over, clones are being decommissioned, and the Jedi are gone. The action looks stunning, the transition-to-the-Empire setting is fascinating and full of potential, and the trailer is already promising lots of connections to The Mandalorian and the future of Star Wars. While we wait for more Baby Yoda, you might want to keep an eye out for The Bad Batch.
Debuts: May 23
Why We Can’t Wait: Co-created by Patton Oswalt, this animated show will center around the hilarious day-to-day life of Marvel supervillain M.O.D.O.K. The show seems like Marvel’s answer to Robot Chicken, with stop-motion animation being used to tell very R-rated jokes about the Marvel universe. The first tease showcased a handheld camera style that brings to mind The Office, and it’s been teased that the show will be able to pull characters from the X-Men comics, making this an intriguing new experience for Marvel fans.
(Photo by Disney+)
Debuts: July 2
Why We Can’t Wait: We’ve seen what happened before the events of Monsters, Inc., but what about what happens after? What happens when a society of monsters built on the idea of scaring kids changes to instead entertain kids and make them laugh? And how does Mike Wazowski get famous enough to have fans of his own? Monsters At Work aims to answer these questions with the story of a new worker (Tylor Tuskmon, voiced by Ben Feldman) at the Monsters, Inc. Facilities Team who dreams of becoming a jokester like Mike and Sulley. Many of the original voice actors are back, but what we really want to know is, where is Boo?
Why We Can’t Wait: The original Rugrats helped make Nickelodeon a powerhouse in children’s animation back in the ’90s, thanks to its hilarious characters, progressive views on gender roles, and sharp commentary on adult life viewed from the eyes of toddlers. A reboot has been in the works since 2018, with a new promo featuring the new character designs releasing last year. The logline for the revival reads: “One of Nickelodeon’s all-time biggest hits returns with new adventures following Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil, Susie and Angelica as they explore the world and beyond from their pint-sized and wildly imaginative point-of-view.”
Why We Can’t Wait: What if Peggy Carter had been infused with the super-serum instead of Steve Rogers? What if T’challa had become Star-Lord? What if the Winter Soldier had to fight a bunch of zombified Avengers? After more than 20 films, we sort of know how the Marvel universe works, which means it’s time to shake things up! Marvel’s What If? promises to give fans wildly different stories with the characters we know and love, bringing back many castmembers and using animation to tell stories that would be difficult to tell in live-action. While we wait for Phase 4 to hit theaters, this show should get our collective imagination fired up.
Why We Can’t Wait: It seems Netflix is going all-out on a new anime MonsterVerse, with a recently announced Skull Island anime joining the upcoming Godzilla: Singular Point. This show boasts an impressive team behind it, with the studios behind the visually stunning Beastars and the global sensation My Hero Academia joining forces for a hand-drawn/CG animated hybrid following a group of scientists facing down tons of monsters. If that wasn’t enough, the trailer teased the return of classic kaiju monsters like Rodan and Gabara, and also the giant mech and savior of humanity, Jet Jaguar from the 1973 film Godzilla vs. Megalon.
Why We Can’t Wait: Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A deadly yakuza who is used to torture and kill without remorse, a man so renowned they call him “The Immortal Dragon,” decides to walk away from his life of crime and become the best househusband around. That’s the premise behind Netflix’s upcoming anime comedy The Way of the Househusband, a show about a former yakuza boss whose entire life is devoted to supporting his wife and taking care of domestic tasks, while frequently running into former rivals and associates.
(Photo by Cartoon Network/HBO Max)
Why We Can’t Wait: Genndy Tartakovsky is one of the most exciting voices working in animation today. Whether it’s with Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, or Sym-Bionic Titan, he’s always pushing the boundaries of what TV animation can do. After going full R-rating with his prehistoric epic, Primal, Tartakovsky is returning to kids’ action animation with Unicorn: Warriors Eternal. The show follows a team of ancient teenage heroes who need to protect the world from supernatural forces. Tartakovsky is a master when it comes to action animation, and he knows when to blur the line between kid-friendly content and darker, more adult content. A show about monsters, dark magic, and ancient warriors seems like a perfect fit for Tartakovsky.
(Photo by Netflix)
Why We Can’t Wait: High fantasy and mythology-heavy adventures are always at least interesting, and there is a criminally low number of Mesoamerican-inspired shows out there, instantly making Maya and the Three a show worth keeping an eye out. Created by The Book of Life’s Jorge R. Gutierrez, the show is the epic tale of a warrior princess embarking on a quest to recruit legendary warriors and save the world of both men and gods. Mesoamerican mythology is full of potential for epic storytelling, so to see a show take advantage of it and involve warrior princesses and gods certainly peaks our interest.
(Photo by Netflix)
Why We Can’t Wait: Do you like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Do you enjoy old-timey animation and tons of references to Max Fleischer cartoons? Well, we do, so we cannot wait to watch The Cuphead Show. Based on the highly successful and critically acclaimed video game Cuphead, this animated show follows the misadventures of two brothers across a surreal and cartoonish world full of dangers and villains. In terms of pure aesthetics, this is promising to be one of the most unique TV shows of 2021, and if it’s anything like the video game, the story is going to get wild.
(Photo by Netflix)
Why We Can’t Wait: The Resident Evil franchise is absolutely massive, and it’s kind of insane we hadn’t got a TV show until now (but now we’re getting 2 of them, and one is animated! The show is taking place after the events of the fourth game and it brings back fan favorites Claire Redfield and Leon S. Kennedy for a new fight against zombies. Plot details are very scarce, but if you’ve played a Resident Evil game before, you have some idea of how this will go, there will be tons of scares, thrilling action, and probably a rocket launcher used to kill the final boss — just how we like it.
(Photo by Adult Swim)
Why We Can’t Wait: Produced by anime legend and Cowboy Bebop creator, Shinichiro Watanabe, Blade Runner: Black Lotus is a brand new anime set in the Blade Runner cyberpunk universe, set to feature some prominent characters from the franchise. Even if we don’t know much about the plot of the show, this is an exciting concept. After all, Blade Runner inspired tons of classic works of anime, from Akira, to Ghost in the Shell, and even Cowboy Bebop, so to bring the franchise to the medium it influenced the most seems like a no-brainer. The colorful visuals as well as the epic and complex sci-fi concepts of the original film seem perfectly built for the animation medium, which is limited only by your imagination.
(Photo by Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
Why We Can’t Wait: First of all, this animated prequel to Gremlins is written by Tze Chun, who worked on the last couple of seasons of Gotham, another prequel to a popular franchise, and that show was absolutely bonkers. Though we haven’t seen much for Secrets of the Mogwai, we do know that the show will be set in 1920s Shanghai and tell the story of how the old man from Gremlins met a young mogwai called Gizmo. There will be a chase for a legendary treasure, and the promise of “colorful monsters” according to HBO Max, and even an army of evil gremlins, meaning this show has all the ingredients of filling the void left by the Godzilla cartoon from the ’90s, making us incredibly excited to see how this turns out. The series, already renewed for a second season, features a star-studded voice cast including Izaac Wang, Ming-Na Wen, BD Wong, James Hong, A.J. LoCascio, Gabrielle Green, and Matthew Rhys.