Captain Planet and the Planeteers featured several episodes which were darker than the rest of the series as well as children's animation in general. Linka's cousin dies of a drug overdose in "Mind Pollution", a drive by shooting of a family is shown in "Utopia", "Formula For Hate" covers the topic of AIDS, a teacher and a friend of Gi gets shot in a gang shoot out in "Teers in the Hood" (and the episode also shows realistic images of victims of gang violence, including a dead child), Wheeler's friend is killed in "Talking Trash", and throughout the series, the deadly effects of pollution are shown.
Tom and Jerry short "Heavenly Puss" is a lot darker than most Tom and Jerry cartoons. Tom is killed trying to catch Jerry, and is told that if he wants to get into Cat Heaven, he has one hour to make amends with Jerry... otherwise, he'll be condemned to eternal torment by a demonic bulldog. Tom justmisses the deadline, and is literally dropped into Hell, where demon Spike dunks him in a cauldron of boiling water. Fortunately for Tom it was All Just a Dream, but it was still a harrowing experience for him, and for young children watching, too.
The short "Blue Cat Blues" is just as dark. Both Tom and Jerry are driven to suicide in this episode after their hearts are broken, and though it is never shown, it is implied, as they sit on the train tracks as the sound of an oncoming train is heard just before the episode ends.
The works of Fleischer Studios (which brought us cartoons such as Betty Boop, Popeye, and Superman) was mostly lighthearted or at most Dark Comedy- with the exception of Somewhere In Dreamland (1936), which takes a surprisingly sad glimpse at growing up in poverty.
The pre-school claymation series Pingu includes a shamefulBanned Episode that terrified many toddlers: "Pingu Runs Away". In this episode, Pingu misbehaves, runs way from home in the dark of night and comes across some scary ice sculptures (a skull, a dinosaur and a devil). The episode does have a happy ending, and is designed to teach young children about the dangers of running away, but it can easily make toddlers cry and/or give them nightmares. Even the scene of Pingu being punished at the beginning of the episode is pretty dark; Pingu actually gets spanked by his mother, with him crying in pain. This may be the darkest episode of a pre-school television series ever made.
Regular Show is generally a bit more adult and risqué in its humor and situations than other Cartoon Network shows. In one Christmas special Quillgangets his hands on a present he created and wishes for the destruction of Christmas forever, which then causes bombs to be placed on anything Christmas-ish, including snow. Thankfully we never see how powerful the bombs were but it's very likely they could do serious damage and had he succeeded it would've been the largest terror attack in history. This would've likely caused no one to want to celebrate a holiday that goes hand in hand for a global scale bombing.
Family Guy entered this territory more or less since season 4. The first few seasons were a kind of humor reminiscent of The Simpsons (with more crudeness and mockery), and the characters themselves are sane. However, it was not until season 4, and later episodes, which adds up to the brim, extremely sadistic, and violent moments with people being gutted, torn in half, beheaded, etc. Watch any occasional episode of the first three Family Guy's seasons and then see recent episodes like the third episode of "Family Guy Presents: Laugh It Up, Fuzzball!" and the full episode "Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q", there is a clear difference.
Brian's hallucinogenic trip in the episode "Seahorse Seashell Party" is often regarded as the most disturbing and dark animation in the show.
The episode "Life Of Brian" is probably the darkest episode ever in the series so far. The episode in itself seems to mark a total change in the whole series because Brian is suddenly Killed Off for Real and really Played for Drama. And then, two episodes later, he's back. Death Is Cheap, indeed.
It started off as a light-hearted children's show (albeit with a heavy dose of subversive jokes and Black Comedy) but took a darker turn around the end of season 2, in which we are presented with a villain with absolutely no quirky or amusing characteristics whose only goal is to end all life. Since then, we've seen the show openly deal with issues like death, mental illness, Mind Rape, suicide, despair, self-esteem, child abuse/abandonment, relationships and break-ups, age differences, bad communication in relationships, puberty, even dismemberment. The show is in its 6th season-a far cry from the candy-colored jelly beans shouting "Algebraic!" in the pilot so many moons ago.
The show's backstory is also dark. It takes place a thousand years after a global thermonuclear war ravaged the planet and pushed the human race to the brink of extinction. Currently, only three humans are known to exist: Finn (the protagonist), his father Martin (a total Jerkass), and Ice King's old fiancee Betty (who was brought to the present via time travel). One character, Moe (BMO's creator who looks like Jamie Farr) is also human, but his internal organs have been replaced by cybernetics. Also, Susan Strong may be a human or a Hyooman (a mutant human with fish fins and gills). With only three humans known, and the only other humans besides Finn either biologically related to him or too old/engaged to someone else, the future seems bleak for humanity. It's never stated, but the mythology of the show always implies this.
Most fans of the series agree that the seventh season has been by far the grimmest and deepest yet. The miniseries Stakes is primarily about Marceline coming of age. She's confronted with five evil foes from her past whom she has to defeat, and there are plenty of heartbreaking flashbacks of her childhood.
Danny Phantom: The TV movie, "The Ultimate Enemy", was the perhaps the darkest episode in the entire series, as well as one of the darkest moments in Nickelodeon history.
The show is usually a fairly light-hearted Slice of Life cartoon with the occasional moments of Getting Crap Past the Radar, but one episode called "On The Lam" was pretty dark as well as hilarious. It involves Harold, Sid, and Stinky believing to blowing up an old police station with a rocket and they bound and gagged Arnold so that he wouldn't tell anybody.
The infamous "Cheese Festival" episodes. They usually start in a lovey dovey valentine style, with Arnold going to the cheese festival with his love interest, and Helga doing whatever she can to ruin the date. No matter how hilarious the episode is, they always have the same, depressing, dark ending: Arnold doesn't get the girl while Helga is left completely alone at the festival without a lover or even a friend, making a very miserable face just before all the lights go out.
There are also the episodes addressing Arnold's parents ("Parents' Day" and "The Journal"). "Parents' Day" is just straight up sad for the most part, given the subject matter. "The Journal" does have its fair share of comedic moments, but the Foregone Conclusion that Miles and Stella will eventually go missing and be unable to properly raise their son makes the whole thing kind of sad. The two parter does end on an optimistic note given that Arnold finds a map detailing where his parents actually went. This was supposed to be a hook for the second series movie, which unfortunately never got made...until 2017, that is.
Warner Brothers attempted to make the classic Looney Tunes characters Darker and Edgier in the 2005 series Loonatics Unleashed, only to result in massive outcry against the idea, and an overhaul resulting in a strangely drawn cartoon that wasn't very much in the way of new or interesting. A retool for the second season attempted to add more references to the original Looney Tunes, with mixed results.
The Looney Tunes series went in this direction during the mid 1940's. The Disney-esque musical cartoons were all but abandoned, the jokes became meaner and more cynical, etc. "Fresh Airedale", "Each Dawn I Crow", "Long-Haired Hare", "Knights Must Fall", "Chow Hound", and "Hare Raising Hare" are among the darkest cartoons Warner Brothers ever produced. Around 1952, this toned down slightly, and there were more fluctuations between Darker and Edgier and Lighter and Softer (although 1964's "Dumb Patrol" was among the darkest Bugs Bunny cartoons ever made). This also renders quite pointless the general notion that The Looney Tunes Show is one of the most cynical adaptions of a classic cartoon franchise.
This goes back even further in some cases. For example, the Porky Pig cartoon "Pied Piper Porky" is surprisingly dark for a pre-1943 Porky Pig cartoon.
Legion of Super HeroesAnimated Adaptation started out fairly light in tone, but the second season features a future laid waste by an evil warlord, the replacement of the young Clark Kent version of Superman with a rather disagreeable clone called Superman X, an utterly destroyed New Metropolis, and the death of one of Triplicate Girl's selves. Dark and edgy enough? No? How about, Superman X says Brainiac 5's going to do something original-Brainiac-level nasty at some point in the future. The other episodes showed similar darker shades such as a murder conspiracy where Timber Wolf was convicted of patricide, the Legion brainwashing Chameleon Boy to infiltrate Imperiex's lair, a child who will be responsible for Imperiex's creation in the future being hunted down for that exact reason, Dream Girl being kidnapped and forced to use her precognitive powers to fight against the Legion by a group of terrorists. Ultimately, Brainiac 1 influences Brainiac 5 with More Than Mind Control, and Brainy brutally kills Imperiex onscreen, turns on the Legion, puts a crown of Kryptonite on Superman - not the clone, our Superman. He begins to digitize the entire universe, basically assimilating the Coluans to be his army. The LOSH finale is how Wham Episode is done. We get an Earn Your Happy Ending, though, when 5 is able to drive 1 out during a Journey to the Center of the Mind, and Superman X can go home right and the restoration of the time-stream brings the third Triplicate Girl back.
It's not just making 'em a little older, either. With Alien Force and Ultimate Alien, villain motivations go from "steal the Omnitrix and kick puppies" to ethnic cleansing, civil war with Black and Grey Morality and no good guys, people dying and staying that way, and consequences go from "astonishingly, nobody got hurt" to "Anything goes behind a Gory Discretion Shot and people stay dead." The last half of Ultimate Alien takes it farthest, especially with the episode "Catch a Falling Star."note Today, on your favorite kids' cartoon: A murderous criminal better suited for CSI gets back-alley surgery to alter his face. The amount of blood the team found from that was apparently impressive. We find he killed the "surgeon" (that is, the veterinarian who owed him a favor) and anyone else who got in his way. His sidekick is an actress with a messed-up upbringing that lead to her becoming like the many Real Life "groupies" of criminals. He had in fact put her in a Sadistic ChoiceDeath Trap back when he'd been more of a "cartoon" villain than a dark villain; her affection for him is explicitly compared to Stockholm Syndrome.The new Omniverse series is scaling it back - it's not without its more serious episodes, but there's a distinct lack of genocide.
ReBoot pulled this off rather well in season 3 by showing two young characters suddenly grown up, adapting to the change in writing style, introducing new locations, and expanding the scope of the series.
This was the culmination of a transitional phase of the story begun during the Web World Wars when Bob was thrown into the Web and the previously one-shot virus attacks became a full-on assault. When Enzo was required to take the role of Guardian and lost in a game, losing his right eye in the process... that was when the Darker and Edgier tone was cemented.
Starting with the season three opener "Transwarped", instead of the usual light-hearted action/humor, it explored the ethical implications of building a sentient but simple-minded superweapon, dealt with Ratchet's troubled past, involved far more visceral violence (albeit to robots) and brought several main characters close to death. As of "Where Is Thy Sting" one Autobot character's been killed off grotesquely and the leader of the Autobots is beaten into a coma with his own hammer. We never do see him wake up, by the way.Word of God says that had the series continued, he would have been revealed as having been killed.
All in all, the series has a habit of borrowing characters, ideas, or scenery from the earlier Transformers shows and modifying them for its own purposes. In Beast Wars Waspinator was the lovable hapless Butt Monkey who blew up many times but always pieced himself together without any obvious lasting effects. In Animated he's a gigantic, half-crazed techno-organic bent on bloody revenge upon Bumblebee for (accidentally) having him sent to the stockades under accusations of treachery. When he blows up, he's also seen piecing himself back together, but the effect is intensely creepier.
Beast Wars itself saw this after the end of season 1, which featured the death of Optimus Primal. The first, episodic, often very campy season stands in contrast to the more mature, more serious later seasons. Anyone Can Die also goes into full effect, though naturally, Optimus does get resurrected into a new toy, er, body.
Transformers Prime is the darkest and edgiest Transformers cartoon thus far. There's far less comic relief; disease, brutality, and the undead are common thematic elements; and deaths are common (the Autobots are actually shown killing Decepticons). Heck, in the first episode a character is killed by Starscream rather violently and his death is mourned throughout the series. Whenever a character is killed, they don't come back and are only referenced.
The movie was edgier and more serious than the majority of the series — not that that's hard to accomplish.
The episode "Knock it Off" had them sell the formula Dick Hardly, a villain who, despite having no superpowers, was thought by most fans to be the worst villain they ever fought, even worse than Him. He was an unscrupulous and cruel man who used the stuff to started cranking out "EXTREME" Powerpuff Girls. He used more Chemical X and less of the other ingredients resulting in malformed girls, whom he abused or callously destroyed, and for no reason other than greed. Later when he wouldn't give up the Chemical X he drinks it and turned into a monster and nearly sucked the life out of the girls leaving them sickly green and covered in spots. The professor and their clones were just barely able to save them. It was little wonder that Dick was the only originally-human villain on the show who was Killed Off for Real.
The "Speed Demon" episode where the girls travel to a grim future where Ms. Bellum has turned into a Mayor-hat obsessed wretch because the Mayor had been killed, the teacher is so traumatized that she keeps repeating a Madness Mantra about the girls leaving, and the professor is a shallow shell of his former self, not even going into the list of people who blame them, having suffered possibly even worse things. And it's all caused by Him who has reduced the town to an apocalyptic wasteland and becoming a literal Satan himself.
In the episode Super Zeros, where the girls try to act like their favourite heroes, they poke fun at this trope. Buttercup at one point complains, "And we're not all dark and tormented!".
In 2003, John Kricfalusi made a revival of his cartoon The Ren & Stimpy Show, called Ren and Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon, to allow him more freedom on what he couldn't do previously on the show. It was darker, much more violent, the characters used stronger curse words, and it had a lot more blatant sex jokes, including a few episodes where the duo are portrayed as gay lovers. Needless to say, it didn't go down well...
To promote the movie, a PG-13 version of G.I. Joe called G.I. Joe: Resolute was launched on [adult swim]. The first episode involves Cobra getting a massive boost in competence, leading to the Joe's battleship base being attacked, Bazooka getting killed, and Moscow getting wiped off the face of the map. Then again, what do you expect when Warren Ellis is doing the writing?
The final episode of Tales from the Crypt (the only one animated) was a bloody and gory retelling of The Three Little Pigs, featuring the wolf messily eating the pigs (and presented as a rapist in one scene) and making two of the pigs a smoker and an alcoholic who sponge off their brother. Plus, The Bad Guy Wins.
Strangely enough, Raphael becomes Darker and Edgier for a few seconds in the second intro of the 1987 series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This happens during the long version of the intro when the Theme Song reaches about 18 seconds and happens right at the beginning in the short version. It's when the screen pans upward to Raphael's face. His shading is much darker than usual, not to mention having an angry glare in his eyes. Keep in mind that this version of Raphael is a levelheaded wise guy, unlike the usual portrayalofRaphael in most of the other TMNTcontinuities. With that said, this instance of an aggressive-looking '87 Raphael (pre-season 8) is actually quite fitting.
The Nickelodeon series is in-between, being more serious than the 80s one but lighter than the 2003 one.
Avatar: The Last Airbender features this after Season 1. While the first episodes did detail how a nation was destroyed and explains Zuko's scar, it's not until the second season when the plot really starts to hammer in the sheer destruction of war, touching on such cheery implications as genocide, concentration camps for water benders, and a general feeling of helplessness. In addition, the second season introduced the extremelycompetentPrincess Azula to follow up on the first season's Starter Villain. Even the personal stories get deeper and darker, with Zuko struggling with moral issues, Katara seeking vengeance for her mother's death with a technique called "bloodbending", and Azula going absolutely psychotic. Done well, because the descent into darkness is gradual and doesn't just put a gun in a character's hand. Rather, the focus is on fleshing out characters and exploring the implications of their situation.
The creators have even stated outright that Korra is darker and more mature in comparison to Airbender - which is extremely impressive for a Nickelodeon cartoon, given how mature the original series was already. So far, nothing has proven them wrong, with scenes that are highly reminiscent of public executions and rape, constant allusions to historic examples of oppression such as McCarthyism, the Red Scare, the Nazi suppression of Jews, etc. A politically driven storyline filled with social and political unrest, perhaps the most blatant depiction of a terrorist attack in the history of children's television, and a Murder-Suicide in the season finale.
Season 3 started out dark, showing unambiguous suicidal thoughts, violent prison escapes, and a queen who forced airbenders into an army regardless of age, but once the show was put online it got even darker than Books 1 and 2. To start off, Zaheer killed the Earth Queen in the most graphic death in the series by bending the air out of her lungs while giving her a chilling Hannibal Lecture. After doing that they broke down the walls of Ba Sing Se and the city descended into chaos with looters robbing the palace and entire neighborhoods being burned down. The Red Lotus next tried to get their hands on Korra by threatening another Airbender genocide with P'Li being the cold sniper and nearly killing Kai. The episode also ended with Tenzin being on the receiving end of a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. The finale had P'Li accidentally blowing herself up and her love Zaheer witnessing her death, Korra being poisoned with mercury, Ghazan committing suicide to avoid reimprisonment, Ming-Hua getting electrocuted, and Zaheer going pretty much berserk. The finale ends with Korra broken physically and mentally from the poison and wheelchair bound, and the story ends with a Single Tear from Korra who can barely talk, move, or smile. Basically, by the end of the book there were no more questions why this season was put online and not TV.
Sonic SatAM to Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: The latter show was a light hearted comedic show without any of the characters being in any real danger while in SatAM, Dr. Robotnik has become a power hungry dictator who has taken over the city of Mobotropolis, captured the king and thrown him into another universe, and has turned most of the inhabitants into robots to do his bidding. He is also much more menacing and capable than his other interpretations, which are generally bumbling idiots. Also, Sonic, Tails and a band of surviving friends known as the Freedom Fighters try to stop him from completely taking over the world- he already owns most of it -and must avoid being captured and roboticized in the process.
Parodied in The Stinger for the movie. Having been beaten up by the cul-de-sac kids over a misunderstanding (he attacked the Eds, not knowing that everyone had made up), Johnny, as his superhero persona Captain Melonhead, reimages himself as The Gourd and swears revenge on the neighborhood... only for Plank to tell him the movie was over.
The movie itself was a Darker and Edgier version of the series, and not in the fun way: The Eds' scheme seriously wounded the other kids for once, which cause them to seek retribution, meaning ganging up on the Eds and (though merely implied) murder them. The Eds themselves ends up in several hardships trying to escape them, which takes its tolls on both Edd and Eddy. They end up in a rather ugly fight because of Eddy's lack of seriousness and empathy unleashed all of Edd's repressed anger, and later it turned out that Eddy has his reasonsforhisbehavior. The climax itself was a horrific deconstruction of Amusing Injuries and what consequences they actually have.
Another episode that has a dark feel to it is the Cartoon Network Invaded special episode "The Eds Are Coming".
In addition to the direction of its writing, South Park's evolving animation style and loosening content restrictions imposed by the network played a major part in the show becoming darker (if not more serious) over its run, with more and more graphic content included on a regular basis. It's gotten to the point that most of the old episodes, which were once rated TV-MA, are now rated TV-14 since they appear downright tame compared to what's been allowed on the show (and other basic cable programming) in recent years.note Some of them are still Edited for Syndication in order to achieve said rating.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was an early indication of some of the things the series would do in later years. To elucidate, there's a higher body count than the first three seasons combined (As it involves a war), Kyle's mom is a genuine, no-nonsense Big Bad and the global scale war and The End of the World as We Know It was treated dead seriously, although some of the events that kick-start it, like rampant cussing and the bombing of the Baldwins, is pretty hilarious.
Some pretty dark and dramatic episodes, such as "The Return of Chef", "Stanley's Cup", "Imaginationland" trilogy (that is clearly more serious), "Coon & Friends" trilogy and "You're Getting Old" are clear examples that often the series goes from being Played for Laughs to Played for Drama. Try watching these episodes and then watch any episode from the season 1. There is a clear difference.
Spider-Man: The New Animated Series is perhaps the darkest telling of Spider-Man. The pilot alone portrays the origin of villain Electro as a tormented university student who smashes a sign after everyone laughs at a cruel prank played on him, is electrocuted, then murders the chief antagonist. Spider-Man tries to stop him from killing more people, Electro seeing everyone as the people who hurt him, but can only do so by killing him. Too bad, as the graphic nature was what killed the series.
The 1981 syndicated Spider-Man series was also darker and edgier compared to the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends series shown on NBC's Saturday morning lineup at the same time.
The first movie. Murderous animals, child endangerment, and tension between the babies thick enough that it can be cut by a katana. It's a bad sign when the adults are being more competent than usual.
The 1991-1994 episodes, in comparision to the more kid-friendly later seasons. They featured very adult jokes and references no child could possibly get, scary situations out the wazoo, and more subplots involving the adults than the post-hiatus episodes.
The Penguins of Madagascar has taken on a slightly darker tone in season two, by playing up the For Science! and commando motifs more. "Driven to the Brink" is a far darker Halloween special than "I was a Penguin Zombie."
The show started out mainly as an action-comedy cartoon with only the Robin-centric episodes being serious, but after the first season it all went downhill from there, and you got episodes like Robin going temporarily insane and Terra "dying" and then later maybe possibly coming back to life? And then there was the apocalypse with everyone turning to stone.
All of the arc episodes in Raven's season (a.k.a. season four) were Cerebus Syndrome incarnate. How bad is it? Well, Slade comes back to life, has pyrokinesis, and is after Raven in a seriously Pedobear way. And that's just the first arc episode.
J. Torres: [The show] started out skewed a lot younger... but along the way, I think the producers discovered it was reaching a wider audience. ... [the show] got into some darker story lines, and they introduced a lot more characters, so they expanded on it, and they let the show evolve with the audience.
Thomas the Tank Engine: Season Five. It had several scary and adventurous episodes, and most episodes involved violent crashes. Nothing too gratuitous of course (it is a kids show after all), though an unnamed engine was shown falling to its death on-screen.
The Boondocks TV series in comparison to the comic strip its based on. Though justified in that being on television obviously allows it to get away with a lot more than what a daily newspaper comic strip would.
When Batman: The Animated Series started in 1992, it was this compared to every other kids show out there. In a good way though, with mature storylines and complex characters and themes. The movies were even darker.
While Phineas and Ferb is funny and light-hearted in its own right, the show's first half-hour episode (and season one finale), "Phineas And Ferb Get Busted", is among one of the darkest things Disney has ever done. After Candace successfully busts her brothers, the duo get sent to a reform school that's a prison where their identities and creativity are stripped and they are subject to Clockwork Orange-esque torture and a not-so-subtle form of waterboarding, to the point of becoming imagination-deprived zombies. Candace eventually discovers what's going on and attempts a rescue, where she is barely able to save them. Bonus points for the fact that the reformatory's Drill Sergeant Nasty is perhaps one of the most evil villains to appear in a Disney cartoon, to the point where he even gets killed at the end. Thankfully, it's All Just a Dream (within a dream), but it's still a terrifying What If? episode.
The movie is also this. It involves the first time where Phineas is truly mad at someone (him being upset at Perry revealing himself to be a secret agent, as he feels like Perry never regarded him and Ferb as friends), we have a dictatorship where every character has Darker and Edgier counterparts, and the first time the main characters have been faced with someone trying to kill them.
To a lesser extent, the fourth season as a whole seems to be more liberal when it comes to using black comedy and Getting Crap Past the Radar, and the stories of some episodes may count too, in particular Phineas' controversial snapping in "Mission Marvel".
It's been noted that the series has been getting Darker and Edgier as it goes along, too. While the main villain from season one was forgiven, Season 2's Discord was put back in the Fate Worse Than Deaththat he came from, and in the third season's premiere, the villain is outright killed. This coincides with and is somewhat justified by each of these villains in turn being less sympathetic than the last (angry and frustrated moon princess, jerkassish and unempathetic but still somewhat amusing spirit of chaos, egotistical and sadistic shape-shifting Queen, blackhearted unicorn king who enslaved his subjects seemingly just for the evulz...), though of course that's still this trope. Trend possibly averted with the main villain of the season 2 finale, though, even if she and her army haven't been seen since — merely being blasted over the horizon should by rights be only an inconvenience for cartoon villains with wings. As for one-parters, we have season 3's "Magic Duel", where Trixie, who in season 1 was a mostly harmless Miles GloriosusJerk Ass, comes back under the control of an Artifact of Doom, inflicts various types of Body Horror on the characters, forces Twilight Sparkle, the only character capable of saving them, out of town and turns Ponyville into a dictatorship where everypony is her slave.
The fifth season opener is even darker, verging into What Do You Mean, It's for Kids? territory. Instead of a powerful ancient evil, the Arc Villain is a perfectly normal unicorn who runs a False Utopia where Individuality Is Illegal, and any pony who stumbles upon the village is brainwashed through More Than Mind Control into never leaving. The town's Villain Song is, according to Word of God, inspired by WWII era propaganda, and every pony in the town sports incredibly disturbing fake smiles. What's more, the villain captures the Mane 6 and locks them in a room full of speakers that chant her philosophy non-stop, refusing to let them out until they accept her way, and they can slowly feel themselves losing their identities. Yes, a show about coloured horses for kids has a disturbingly realistic take on a cult or dictatorship.
And then comes the season 5 finale, which includes (among other things) a G-rated depiction of an actual pony war and a Bad Future apocalyptic version of Equestria that is nothing but a lifeless ash-swept wasteland.
In an in-universe example, multiple episodes show Luanne running a Bible-themed puppet show called "The Manger Babies". In a later episode, John Redcorn runs a business of selling children's educational DVDs and has Luanne make some. When her popularity wanes, she tries to gain back her fanbase by making a Darker and Edgier show with "edgier" storylines and characters, including a Bratz doll Expy.
"Pigmalion". Luanne gets a job at a millionaire's house and moves in with him, at first things are fine but after a while he starts to get very obsessive and creepy, he dyes her hair and won't let her wear anything but identical dresses, it turns out to be an insane plot about his vision of "the perfect family" which consists of her and a man dressed in a Swiss outfit and himself as their pet pig, this scares Luanne and he chases her into a pork processing plant where he ends up being killed by the processing machine.
The first Treehouse of Horror was a series of moderately creepy stories connected by a non-frightening Framing Device which kept reminding viewers that the tales were fictional. Starting with the second special, however, the stories began to get more violent and scary while the Framing Device got less and less reassuring. Eventually it was dropped altogether, and the stories quickly became downright horrific.
"Homer's Enemy" is considered by some fans as one of the darkest episodes of The Simpsons, although many also count it as an episode to which he added more Black Humor.
Any episode with a character who has no funny quirks and is played seriously. Examples include the french winemakers from "The Crepes Of Wrath" (who nearly killed Bart by giving him antfreeze-laced wine not to mention that their general treatment of him was pretty poor), the Babysitter Bandit from "Some Enchanted Evening" (who tied up the kids and tried to rob the house) and Bart's kindergarten teacher from "Lisa's Sax" (whose treatment of Bart made him what he is today).
Some episodes with Mr. Burns are darker and more dramatic than any other episodes (except the ones mentioned here). Examples include "Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in The Curse of the Flying Hellfish" (where he crossed Moral Event Horizon by trying to drown Bart), "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" (where he blocked all the sunlight from Springfield, and he screwed over other characters in the same episode and his action were played seriously. It makes his shooting look justifiable.), "Mother Simpson" (where he was involved with biological warfare and he is responsible for making Homer's mother, Mona Simpson, to run from the law, even though she saved him). As you can see like Bart's unhappy kinder gardening, Mr Burn's actions also set future episodes in motion...
The earlier Sideshow Bob episodes were also quite dark and dramatic. This eventually went away after his gradual Villain Decay.
The show's first 7 seasons were darker and occasionally more violent than the last, culminating in episodes like "One Coarse Meal", "Squidward in Clarinet Land" and "Earworm". This was dialled back a bit in Season 8, and especially the second half of Season 9.
The films and Comedy Central seasons, though there were earlier examples that foreshadowed this.
The darkest episode has to be "The Sting", with its death of Fry moment, Leela's hallucinations, and her almost-suicide. As well, the episode is favored as a clearer view of Leela's unrevealed affection for Fry and Philip's not-as-dumb-as-seems devotion to her.
Recess, despite being a light-hearted show about group of kids and their adventures at school, had a few dark and serious episodes.
"Prickly Is Leaving". We were introduced to Dr. Slicer, the most evil villain in the series, who employed cruel and unusual tactics to control the school and, unlike Finster or Prickly, only cared about power without regard for the students' welfare. His behavior even disgusted Miss Finster, and TJ (who was never afraid to stand up to adults before or since) was completely scared of him. He was ousted in the end, but consider this: Third Street wasn't the first school he was principal of, and likely would not be the last.
"The Biggest Trouble Ever" is a Wham Episode for the series. It involves the gang accidentally breaking the statue of Thaddeus T. Third III and become the town's most hated people. Ms. Finster punishes them by making them work menial jobs. But the real reason why the episode is so dark is what happens later: Mayor Fitzhugh, the mayor of Third Street, decides to send the Recess Gang to six separate schools, even though they were remorseful and even Prickly and Ms. Finster objected. Throughout the episode, Fitzhugh looked very gleefully sadistic about the whole thing, and only relented when Third's own grandson, demanding that they be pardoned, threatened to expose Fitzhugh's own (deliberate) past misbehavior regarding the statue.
The Halloween special is really quite creepy, especially for a show aimed at kids. It's presented in an anthology format (similar to the Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons): One story features a recurring character becoming a werewolf and attacking various citizens, the second (in a homage to Stephen King's Christine), has the kids' bicycles coming to life during a storm, causing fear and chaos (this even ends with a sinister cliffhanger, as the bus the school escapes on is revealed to be similarly alive), and the final story features the gang being pursued by zombies, very creepy ones at that.
"The Rise of Miss Power" is this to the regular WordGirl series. While there are still jokes, we are introduced to the villainess Miss Power, who, unlike other villains, is taken seriously. She goes to Earth, and teaches WordGirl her powers (like ice breath), and also teaches her to mock the other villains. This goes so far as to WordGirl/Becky Botsford talking back to her parents, and she even mocks her own sidekick. When she discovers Miss Power's scheme, she gets a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, and is declared to be weak by Miss Power, and she takes over the town. And, unlike other villains, she would've succeeded in killing someone, had WordGirl not intervened, and almost succeeded in taking over the world. This feeling towards the episode is mostly because of the anti-bullying message they put into the movie.
Miss Martian is now an Anti-Hero who regularly extracts information from her enemies' minds, even though it leaves them completely catatonic. Superboy (now her ex-boyfriend) is increasingly concerned, and the fact that she tried to make him forget he was upset was the last straw before the breakup.
Aqualad's arc isn't any lighter. When he first appears, it's set up to look like he switched sides during the Time Skip, and he nukes a base full of oblivious krolotean henchmen just to make it convincing. Then it turns out he's a Fake Defector and picked warning his friends about the bomb over saving the aliens, but Nightwing still notes that it was an "impossible choice". He is then mind-raped by M'gann.
Have fun watching Artemis's Team and family mourning her death and swearing vengeance on the killer!
It gets worse with the revelation that Jason Todd existed in Young Justice and was introduced and killed off during the time skip. Not enough terror yet? Think about the emotional effects of that on Nightwing coupled with everything else that's been going on. Can you say "impending mental breakdown"?
The closer two episodes take the cake. "Summit" shows a character get stabbed with blood on the exit wound (granted, it was Ra's Al Ghul). And in the second season finale, Kid Flash disintegrated very painfully on-screen, being very definitely Killed Off for Real.
The Grand Finale of Kim Possible could probably qualify. Not only are all the main locations of the series destroyed, but the Take Over the World scheme is more destructive than any other, and on top of that, the hero comes closest to dying. It also contains the only real time when the villains of the episode are Killed Off for Real. Granted, they were more dangerous than the other villains that the series showed and they weren't humans, but still.
X-Men was a pleasant surprise when it first hit TV. It had the death of one of the main characters in the first episode, dealt with prejudice and interpersonal conflicts virtually unknown in a Saturday morning cartoon, portrayed bad futures, and took a more adult approach that treated viewers as mature.
Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. While the film still has comedic beats, the plot is much more serious than any episode of the series. A criminal confuses Beavis and Butthead for a couple of thugs he hired to kill his wife, Dallas. Dallas also hides an extremely dangerous biological weapon in Beavis' shorts. The CIA learns of this and starts to go after the duo. Given all of this, Beavis and Butthead have several brushes with death. In addition, a couple of scenes were somewhat sexual.
Episodes featuring Katz are clearly darker and edgier, but also more dense.
In the final season things really got worse, especially in the episode "The Mask", which had a realistically portrayed domestic abuser in the form of villain Mad Dog.
Then came the grand finale, and in "Remembrance of Courage Past" we were introduced to the worst villain in the show, an evil vet who was responsible for the fate of Courage's parents, while "Perfect" revolves around psychological abuse and despair, and includes absolutely horrifying nightmare sequences.
The Grand Finale titled "Destination Imagination". It was even rated TV-PG.
The first episode "House of Bloo" could count as well. There are much more serious and Tear Jerker moments dealing with possibly losing a friendship. The next episodes became Lighter and Softer when that conflict was resolved.
"Action Packed" is an example of this. Even the physics of the animation is darker and edgier when Timmy wished to be in an action movie.
The Movie titled Abra Catastrophe. Crocker is much more evil than in other episodes, even crossing the Moral Event Horizon when kidnaps and tortures Wanda for use as a power source. In fact, the consequences are quite threatening and Timmy has no choice that faces Crocker in a fight during the climax.
Any episode featuring a villain who is really evil, such as Miss Doombringer (a crazy woman who is definitely worse than Mr.Crocker) from "No Substitute For Crazy" and The Destructinator from the episode "Wishology".
In the Wham Episode "Hassle In The Castle", we're introduced to Maryanne who, despite being a one shot character, is probably one of the most evil characters ever to appear in a children's cartoon. She killed Franz Ferdinand and his wife For the Evulz and caused World War One, which led to Adolf Hitler rising to power, World War II, the deaths of millions, and the creation of nuclear weaponry.
Several episodes focused on Tom and his relationship with Jane and Daria are clearly darker.
The final episode, entitled "Boxing Daria". It is probably the most serious and dark episode of the entire series and has a significant Tear Jerker. The creators had this to say about it:
"Daria's journey was wrapped up in... [this] episode. Daria realizes that her isolation isn't just about being different - she likes being isolated. It may be painful for her, but she's better off trying to interact with the others. She's pretty realistic. She's smart and articulate yet unsure of how the world will accept her."
"Hot Water". In it, Stan buys a living hot tub who alienated Stan from his family, then kills Lewis, Marguerite, Francine and Stan in that order and while the episode was eased with some humor, The Bad Guy Wins this time and the living hot tub is actually a Karma Houdini. If the series had not been renewed after this episode, this would have been the end of the series.
Several episodes focused on Roger are clearly Darker and Edgier, but one that deserves special mention is "Love, American Dad Style", where you could say Roger finally crosses the Moral Event Horizon (if he hasn't already) by developing an extreme obsession with Hayley, to the point of shooting her, tying her to a mattress in an ice factory, and trying to rip off her skin and wear it over himself to be "closer" to her after she rejects him. Jeff shows up in the nick of time, but things still end badly, since Roger decides to wear Jeff's skin instead, leaving him in a tub full of ice.
The episode "Son Of Stan" also deserves a mention, especially in the climax of the episode, where Stevearino (Steve's evil clone) reveals his True Colors: He has dedicated himself to kill cats For the Evulz, later he tries to kill his own brother and his father. Unlike Roger, he's played seriously.
Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2 is more serious than the first movie; despite Eris being deposed, the scenes of the characters' worst nightmares are pretty intense, and it has Merliah in the position of possibly losing her legs forever. There's also two scenes where Kylie almost drowns.
The episode "Dreamscapers" (and "Gideon Rises", for that matter) of is a WHOLE lot darker than the rest of the season. It had a MIND DEMON. Things took an EVEN DARKER turn when he got mad. EAT NIGHTMARES!
The short series Dipper's Guide to the Unexplained was mostly a short, lighthearted comedic bit of animation. However, the last episode The Hide Behind featured a real lumberjack legend (which is disturbingly similar to Slenderman), and even ended with him being real and stalking Dipper on the way home.
Northwest Mansion Mystery is also pretty harsh: A psychoticallyvengeful lumberjack ghost, blood oozing from taxidermy animals, and the true nature of Pacifica's vile father.
The show itself turns dark and edgy in Season 2 once the myth arc begins to kick in, with its Grand Finale featuring an actual apocalypse on Earth transpiring.
This goes to the point of being riddled with several cerebus retcons of previous jokes and quirks of certain characters. That's right, season 2 its so dark and edgy it turns the first season darker and edgier.
Dungeons & Dragons got noticeably Darker and Edgier in its second season (even the opening credits!). Sometimes it worked, by averting Angst? What Angst? and letting the kids actually show the emotional pain they would logically be feeling due to their circumstances. Other times, it drifted into Narm and seemed like a lot of cheap angst for its own sake. The third season pulled back to a tone midway between the first two.
The Snow Queen (2012) is darker than the fairy tale that inspired it; The Snow Queen rules the world as a dictator and plans to cause eternal winter everywhere.
DuckTales was mostly a light-hearted kids show, but it had a few dark episodes.
The nephews were once turned into gold statues, and there also were several episodes, where a character nearly dies.
The alien robots in the episode "Money to Burn" not only stole Scrooge's money bin, so they could melt down the coins to make new robots. But they also were really close to melting Scrooge and Launchpad into grease. Not to mention the Fridge Horror that these robots had probably killed off the alien race, who had once created them in the first place...
The mites in "The Attack of the Metal Mites" were played very seriously, despite the fact that they were tiny insects. After all, they were designed to eat metal! So they caused plenty of damage all over the city, and they even devoured Fenton's otherwise indestructable Gizmoduck suit.
The Intruder II has taken this route and outdoes its predecessor in term of being a Wham Episode. Whereas the original Intruder was perfectly content in killing TOM 1, this has seen that the Intruder has taken over TOM 1's body, assimilate SARA's core, gloat about killing TOM 4, TOM 5 rip off his own arm, and the Absolution is destroyed. There's also a touch of The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You thrown into the bumpers as they go from flashing "RED ALERT", to garbed text as SARA "dies", to error messages after the Absolution's destruction. However, things end on a positive note, as TOM managed to back up SARA and upload her onto a ship he finds and she builds him a new arm.
The Lion Guard: Although the series itself is much more lighter in comparison to the film series, it is this to every other Disney Junior show, as it doesn't have any qualms about mentioning death, many of the fight scenes, although not graphic are rather painful, and some of the episode plots are very realistic, with Cant Wait to be Queen being the best example with Janja's attempted kidnapping of Kiara being very intense. Later episodes seem to have these moments very frequently with main characters in mortal peril and suggestive statements that really push this almost out of preschool friendly territory.