Cartoon Network is itself this, compared to its competitors: Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. While those channels aren't above the odd adult joke, CN revels in pushing the boundaries of what a "kids show" is - Most CN shows that have started airing in the early 2010s have been rated TV-PG instead of the usual TV-Y7 (as of 2015 though, most of their new series now use the latter rating). As far as Cartoon Network shows go, these shows are darker than the usual fare:
Samurai Jack was perhaps one of the darkest shows of its era in Cartoon Network history. In fact, this show is a straight up example of Darker and Edgier in comparison to most Cartoon Network shows at the time, which were mostly pure cartoonish comedy while Samurai Jack is a dramedy with some elements of thriller and action. Then we have dark themes which are rarely played in an animated series for children at the time, such as apocalypse, genocide, mass murder, slavery, torture, and episodes entirely built around Nightmare Fuel. Surprisingly, it was Cartoon Network's first original program not to be a part of the Cartoon Cartoons brand, presumably for this reason. Then comes the fifth season (pictured above), set 50 years after the previous seasons featuring more violence and a grittier, darker story. Jack is now willing to kill humans who serve Aku, along with the use of actual blood. It's also on Adult Swim/Toonami instead of Cartoon Network.
Adventure Time 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 mass murder, genocide, mental illness, Mind Rape, suicide, despair, self-esteem, psychological trauma, child abuse/abandonment, relationships and break-ups, age differences, bad communication in relationships, puberty, and even Domestic Abuse. By the time the show was in its sixth season, it was a far cry from the candy-colored jelly beans shouting "Algebraic!" in the pilot so many moons ago. Eventually, the series has become one of the darkest shows of its era in Cartoon Network. It certainly doesn't help the fact that the series has some creepy, disturbing villains: a sexual predator (Ricardio), a genocidal monster (The Lich), a Mad Doctor (Dr. Gross), and a psycho who committed cannibalism and mistreated his brother and his own children (Lemongrab 1). It also has one of the biggest off-screen body counts in kids shows ever, and probably one of the highest on-screen too. And unlike other Cartoon Network shows, which at least manage to soften some dark moments with comic relief, Adventure Time does the opposite, some of the darkest moments of the series are played in the darkest way possible, complete with drama and sadness.
That said, the show manages to be one of the most mature children's cartoons around today, with content that surely couldn't have been allowed in the 90s and themes rarely explored in children's shows such as economic crisis, Parental Favoritism, overzealous censorship, political corruption, inappropriate romances, death, and discrimination (as well as many shout-outs and references to TV shows, movies, and video games that most parents wouldn't consider suitable for children). No wonder why a large portion of the show's viewers are teenagers.
Amphibia takes this direction in season 2, telling a darker; more personal story than the first season; and many parts of season 1 are retroactively made darker with this one. A textbook example would be the season finale, "True Colors," which aired in prime time and was delayed to have a Content Warning added about its final scenes for good reason: Anne's friend Marcy is betrayed and stabbed through the chest on-screen by King Andrias; moments after he tried to kill Sprig and Polly.The Stinger which sets up Season 3 then shows the king using Marcy's body as a power source; and intends to follow Anne and the Plantars back home with the intent of finishing them off for good.
Avatar: The Last Airbender, already a show with extremely dark themes for a family series at the time it was airing, 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, as well as more fully examine the emotional damage Zuko's abuse from his father has had on him. 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.
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 disturbing 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.
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.
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.
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. Its sequel Beast Machinescontinues raising the already dire stakes from the previous series by busting right out of the gate with planetary genocide... and it still manages to degenerate from there.
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.
Ben 10: Alien Force and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, the newer, more dramatic sequel to its predecessors, as allotted by Ben, Gwen, and Kevin being aged up into their adolescence. Aside from the age difference, one drastic change is that Ben now retains wounds inflicted while in alien form even after he's reverted back to human. With Alien Force and Ultimate Alien, villain motivations go from "steal the Omnitrix and kick puppies" to ethnic cleansing, civil war with Black-and-Gray 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.In comparison, the new Omniverse series scaled it back a lot (it does have some more serious episodes, but never reached the same heights and usually tried to made them lighter with more jokes and silly situations inserted), and the new reboot has completely gone back to lighter and softer.
Big City Greens is normally a lighthearted comedy, but Season 2 marked the point Chip Whistler transferred from recurring rival into an official Big Bad, as commenced when he tricked the Greens and his dad into believing he's changed so he can take over as the Wholesome Foods CEO. It all gets darker in the climax of "Chipwrecked" when he fires Cricket and Gloria and plots an expansion, which will be right where the Greens' house is, leading into the even darker "Chipocalypse Now" where the house, Big Coffee, and the Elkins Apartment are all set to be demolished to make room for the new store, which threatens the Greens' longtime family legacy that had been with them for generations. To add even more insult to injury, the house was threatened to be sold multiple times, while this time, it is threatened to be destroyed, which is much worse. It gets even scarier in the next part, Shane Houghton even claiming that episode is "intense" and stands out from the rest of the show, especially the climax where Chip goes full-on Ax-Crazy and Cricket and the Greens were almost killed.
Underneath the standard adult cartoon shell, BoJack Horseman is a tough but fair view on real life (even with anthros). The overall tone begins to darken in Season 3 onwards. Season 3 alone had episodes include topics like death from overdose, trust issues, abortion, and BoJack's life going From Bad to Worse as he rises back into fame.
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.
Care Bears in the Land Without Feelings is not only the first but easily the darkest installment of the Care Bears franchise, centering around the titular Bears trying to save a boy from a symbolic pedophile who keeps several children as transformed slaves in an Ice Palace in a cold, dead landscape. Professor Coldheart is portrayed as a humorless villain with no bumbling sidekick who revels in the misery he causes his victims who sought the Safety in Indifference he pedals. So much so that he was toned down considerably when he appeared in the series proper, being given the bumbling sidekick Frostbite and engaging in far more lighthearted shenanigans specifically out of fear that he was far too intimidating in his introductory film.
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. In the episode it shows Danny's family dying due to the Nasty Burger exploding. Danny sees this as his fault and goes to Vlad. He rips the human half out of him so he doesn't have feelings. His ghost half then kills the human half and becomes a villain.
Daria: As the series progressed, it became more and more realistic, often dealing with heavy issues that wouldn't be too out of place in a Teen Drama: getting screwed over by a higher authority, a romantic triangle that involves close friends, an identity crisis involving looks, etc.
Among the earliest Saturday Morning Cartoon shows, Hanna-Barbera's 1974 show Devlin was promoted as such, as much as Saturday morning cartoons could be in The '70s. Among the issues the show dealt with were PTSD, illegal immigration, satanism, and child runaways. And in the 1990s, Hanna Barbera made a number of series even darker than Devlin; such as SWAT Kats, which featured horrifying monsters (literally and figuratively) and a fair few on-screen deaths, along with a gritty, moody atmosphere to the general animation and story.
DuckTales (2017) is this compared to most previous portrayals of Donald Duck's family.
The show has a semi-serialized narrative, with Myth Arcs focusing on deconstructing the Dysfunctional Family relationships between the main characters, which were mostly used for humourous gags previously.
The episode "The Duck Knight Returns!" parodies this; Jim Starling, the actor who played Darkwing Duck in a Show Within a Show, learns that his role is being given to another actor for a "grim and gritty" reboot based off of The Dark Knight Trilogy. The end result: the film is cancelled after the two actors fight and wreck the set, the old actor becomes Negaduck, and the new actor (Drake Mallard) is convinced to become a real-life version of Darkwing Duck by Launchpad.
Dungeons & Dragons (1983) 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.
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 Eddy's lack of seriousness and empathy unleashed all of Edd's repressed anger, and later it turned out that Eddy has his reasons for his behavior (like his abusive brother). 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".
Education for Death is this for the era of War Time Cartoon shorts. Aside from one particular scene, the short is devoid of humor and shows how once innocent children can be indoctrinated into racist killings machines who have no purpose other than to fight for the Nazi ideology. It's especially grim once its shown that these children will die in warfare without a second thought. Unlike most other darker Disney shorts which invoke some fantastical situation, this one is based entirely in reality.
Family Guy entered this territory more or less since Season 4. The first few seasons were kind of reminiscent of The Simpsons (with more crudeness and mockery), and the characters themselves were mostly 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.
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.
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? There was also a version on Discovery Family called G.I. Joe: Renegades. While not as dark as Resolute, it certainly wasn't the kiddie-esque fare of the '80s cartoons.
Gravity Falls is easily one of Disney's more mature properties. The show is centered around the paranormal, supernatural happenings surrounding the main characters, its sense of humor is more morbid and taboo, and the amount of Nightmare Fuel is very prevalent.
The show itself gets significantly darker 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 is so dark and edgy that it makes the first season darker and edgier.
Green Eggs and Ham: From a book where the main conflict was an annoying little guy trying to get a bigger guy to eat an unappetizing-looking dish, to a sprawling chase story full of bonafide danger and mortal peril where one of the main characters is a Villain Protagonist.
Spoofed in this ytmnd image, which depicts a darker take on Inspector Gadget where Gadget is a no-nonsense cyborg equipped with firearms and Dr. Claw has apparently taken over the world.
Iron Man: The Animated Series saw the show get darker is Season 2, with more serious plots; darker colors; and Tony gaining more of the manipulative, secret-keeping, self-destructive personality traits he had in the comics.
King of the Hill has 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.
Downplayed in Netflix's Lalaloopsy reboot. They're not too depressing, but the last three episodes are surprisingly bleak and don't get better until the season finale.
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.
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 violent, are rather painful, and some of the episode plots are very realistic, with "Can't 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.
Season 2 inevitably ended up becoming darker with the return of Scar, whose visage appears in the fire of a volcano and plots to take back control of the Pridelands. His Villain Song goes so far as to imply he wants to see it all burn to the ground.
Warner Brothers attempted to make the classic Looney Tunes characters Darker and Edgier in the 2005 series Loonatics Unleashed, only to result in a backlsh against the idea, and an overhaul resulting in a strangely drawn cartoon that was an odd mixture of classic Looney Tunes, Anime and superhero shows that received mixed opinions from fans. 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.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation: Compared to the original and '02 reboot, at least. Although the situation is much more grave and various characters die, the inherently camp aspects of the series are still present. The series goes out of its way to draw attention to this change with flashbacks to events set during the original series with a radically different tone.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a downplayed example. It is Darker and Edgier compared to the G3 shows. However, that doesn't really say much. At its core it is still My Little Pony and still very sugary sweet and light-hearted, just to a slightly lesser extent compared to G3. It's at least willing to get really dark on occasion, albeit briefly, and touch on themes of genocide, slavery, torture, and having the deaths of the Mean Six and King Sombra be on-screen and surprisinglyviolent.
Despite still being fairly preschooler-friendly, PAW Patrol has gotten quite a bit more violent and dangerous in its later seasons. One example includes the debut of The Copycat, which has the Copycat leave Mayor Humdinger (dressed in a goofy sidekick costume) and the Kitten Catastrophe Crew stranded on a building that was about to collapse, which would have very well killed them had the PAW Patrol pups not gotten their new powers and saved them in time.
Despite being funny and preschooler-friendly, PJ Masks started introducing more serious and slightly darker plots in Season 4 onwards. One example includes the PJ Masks forcing to team up with Luna Girl to stop Romeo using their stolen crystals to drain the PJ Masks powers and memories, destroy their own bases, or else he rapidly clones his flying factories and uses them to destroy the entire globe!
The Penguins of Madagascar took on a slightly darker tone in Season 2, 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."
While Phineas and Ferb is funny and light-hearted in its own right, the first movie is this. It involves the first time where Phineas is truly mad at someone, as the story involves him being upset when Perry is revealed 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, while still overall remaining optimistic and upbeat, seems to be more liberal when it comes to using black comedy, and the stories of some episodes may count too, in particular Phineas' controversial snapping in "Mission Marvel".
Downplayed with the movie. It was edgier and more serious than the majority of the series — it may seem like something not hard to accomplish, but given how violent the series was much of the time, the difference lied more in darker visuals and style rather than subject matter and story.
In the episode "Super Zeroes", where the girls try to act like their favorite heroes, they poke fun at this trope. Buttercup at one point complains "And we're not all dark and tormented!".
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.
In 2003, John Kricfalusi made a revival of his cartoon The Ren & Stimpy Show, called Ren & 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.
The first movie. Murderous animals, child endangerment, and tensions between Tommy and his friends. At one point Tommy is about to leave his baby brother Dil in the forest, but then realizes that he needs to help other family members. The adults are 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.
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated has become Darker and Edgier again: The villains are generally more menacing, and the plot is more of a Cosmic Horror story. And then comes the Grand Finale, which has to be seen to be believed. The colors are darker and more somber. The show has people dying and some of the characters are injured. The show also deals with themes such as betrayal and shows how characters can be corrupted by power.
Going back further, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo was fairly darker than the average Scooby-Doo fare. Not only were the monsters real, but they were pretty genuine threats towards the main characters by outright trying to kill them and destroy the world. This was balanced out, however, by the fact that the show was simultaneously Denser and Wackier by featuring a lot of Breaking the Fourth Wall gags and an increase in slapstick humor.
While Scooby-Doo! Shaggy's Showdown has plenty of comedy, it also has a ghostly sheriff who tries to use his guns to actively try to kill the gang, who get into many dangerous situations. There's also the twist of the movie, where it's revealed that Shaggy's ancestor Dapper Jack was a truly nice sheriff who looked out for others, but he was murdered by Rufus Carmichael out of jealousy, and used his legacy to commit crimes.
While The Simpsons as a whole flips between this and Lighter and Softer at the tip of a hat, Season 8 stands out as one of the show's most consistently dark seasons. While it definitely still had its heart, the humor became increasingly darker and more mean-spirited, and it became less common for an epsiode to end on a genuinely sentimental note. Episodes frequently had a Downer Ending, with varying degrees of severity, and the death count started ramping up to enough of a degree that it became a 50/50 shot as to whether or not one-off characters would actually survive to the end of the episode. The show also started heavily deconstructing its own characters and world more often, with the show highlighting the flaws of and criticizing its characters much more frequently. The infamous "Homer's Enemy" is the culmination of all of these elements, and the end result is one giant Black Comedy Burst that's viewed as one of the darkest moments in the show's history. Tropes Are Tools, however, and the season, while sometimes divisive and occasionally viewed as a Franchise Original Sin for the show's Seasonal Rot, is generally regarded as one of the show's best. It's also a good example of how this trope and Denser and Wackier aren't mutually exclusive, as it also happened to be the craziest, wackiest season up to that point.
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.
Sofia the First is normally a lighthearted preschool comedy, but stakes get progressively higher with each new season. The final season shifts to a more serialized narrative, where Sofia is training to become Protector of her home world and has to defend Enchancia from the evil Prisma, who seeks to find enchanted artifacts from Disney Villains known as the Wicked Nine, which could free the spirit of Vor, the most dangerous sorceress ever lived.
Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM) to Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: The latter show was a mostly light-hearted comedic show with the characters most often overcoming the villains without too much effort and relatively rarely being in real danger, while in SatAM, Dr. Robotnik has is 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. 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.
In addition to the direction of its writing, the 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 violent 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) over time.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.
The South Park Digital Studios Video Game South Park: The Fractured but Whole features a darker, edgier, and more dramatic premise compared to that of the first game, South Park: The Stick of Truth. Rather than two groups of kids fighting over a stick in a fantasy LARP game, the whole town is overrun by a crime wave with most of the adults, who were previously friendly NPCs in the first game, being boss characters that have to be fought in order to proceed with the story. The setting for this game is a superhero LARP, after all.
Spider-Man: The New Animated Series is perhaps the darkest version of Spider-Man put to screen. The episode "The Party" 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 violent nature was what killed the series.
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.
Star vs. the Forces of Evil started out as a goofy and lighthearted Slice of Life action-comedy featuring the misadventures of a princess who moves to Earth; episodes after the first season, starting with "Storm the Castle", have transitioned to a slightly darker tone, before becoming more serialized as of the third, where the action shifts to Mewni and Star learns big secrets of her past.
The 1985 season, which came complete with a name change. Cyborg joined the Super Powers Team, and the stories got more serious in that season compared to the previous seasons, including the first-ever depiction of Batman's origin story on television. It also gave us the first ever on-screen depiction of The Death of Superman, well before Superman IV or the creation of Doomsday.
All the seasons from 1977 (The All-New Superfriends Hour) onward were this compared to the lighter-hearted 1973-74 series. Many of the situations were more dangerous or suspenseful and a few episodes actually took stabs (pardon the pun) at killing off the heroes (Superfriends: Rest In Peace, for example.)
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. Though, some episodes from the third and fourth seasons do give the 2003 series the run for its money, with the presence of the Triceratons and Shredder becoming Super Shredder.
The show started out mainly as an action-comedy cartoon with only the Robin-centric episodes being serious, after the first season it gets darker and more serious. Some of the episodes show 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 4) were Cerebus Syndrome incarnate. Slade comes back to life, has pyrokinesis, and is after Raven in a seriously Pedobear way.
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 & Friends: Season 5. 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.
Starting with the Season 3 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.
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.
TRON: Uprising is a darker take on the Tron series. There are scenes of mass murder, witch hunts over the Renegade, he is painted as a terrorist. And Tron himself tries to kill his apprentice in cold blood for intervening in a rampage of revenge against the man who tortured him.
W.I.T.C.H.: Season 2 is more action-packed than Season 1, along with having more insidious plots and deeds that often fly under the Radar.
"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.
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.
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 their breakup.
Aqualad's arc is darker and much more serious then it was in Season 1. 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.
One of the darkest points of the series is when Artemis's Team and family mourns her death and swears vengeance on the killer.
Jason Todd existed in Young Justice and was introduced and killed off during the time skip. This shows how the series got more mature and darker as time went, it also proves that they were willing to kill off charaters.
The episode "Summit" shows a character get stabbed, blood is also shown. (granted, it was Ra's Al Ghul). And in the second season finale, Kid Flash disintegrates, this death is an on screen death.
The series was already dark to begin with, but Outsiders is confirmed to allow more mature content than what was possible on Cartoon Network, thanks to the lax standards of streaming television. Greg Weisman himself stated the season is now PG-13 leaning toward R, rather than PG on the verge of PG-13.
The first five minutes show a 14-year-old girl being abducted, taken to a trafficking lab (where dead bodies are explicitly shown), and forcibly turned into a monster to attack Rann, where she's soon killed by accident by Black Lightning, much to his horror. Marking it further, her death is completely unambiguous, unlike most deaths in the first two seasons.
Halo receives her powers only after being killed by her metahuman transformation. So she is being buried alive when her abilities bring her back to life. Then even more horrifically her face is melted off by Plasmus which she also manages to survive. Also, with a Healing Factor as one of her powers, and eventually her being so overpowered that making sure she needs to spend half the fight putting herself back together is the only way to keep her from instantly solving things, expect the sight of her getting horribly mangled to reach a Kenny level of frequency.
A minor case, but characters now freely say "kill" and "die" to go with the unambiguous deaths, as opposed to how they could only rarely do it before.
If you thought Halo's face getting melted off by Plasmus was disturbing, it's much worse in the 11th episode with Victor Stone, after the explosion at Star Labs. Think Justice League: War, only a lot more gruesome to look at.
The language is also a bit saltier with a couple of variants of ass being used.
The Raccoons started out very uninspired and cartoonish, but shifted gradually to more serious, realistic and story-driven.