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Growing with the Audience

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You were a kid in The '80s and grew up watching your favorite Merchandise-Driven cartoon but lost interest as you grew older. Suddenly it's The '90s, and you are bored, flipping through the channels one day, and what do you see? A Darker and Edgier (or Ultimate Universe-ish) revamp of the show you used to watch! It's good! You get sucked right into it! Fast forward to the Turn of the Millennium and to a lesser extent, The New '10s and you hear news that this show is being adapted into a big budget Live-Action Adaptation. You go into the theaters, and what do you notice? All the other moviegoers are in their 20s like yourself and probably grew up watching the show like you did. This isn't a coincidence; whoever created the show made a decision to gradually increase the target audience's age as its fans grew older. This trope is one of the biggest sources of Old Guard Versus New Blood trouble around. It's absolutely great for the old guard, but the new blood often feels it just isn't the same if they came in late.

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For instance, when Degrassi: The Next Generation aired, a lot of old-school Degrassi fans wished the show had stuck to the old characters (who were now adults), while the new Degrassi fans were annoyed that adult characters had their own storylines in a Teen Drama. Later, when the Next Generation cast got too old to stay in High School, the producers were stuck either following them to college and on (which didn't really fit the format) or switching to a new bunch of kids (who nobody cared about). The producers did both and satisfied nobody.

Contrast Fleeting Demographic, where the series/franchise switches to a younger audience as the former audience matures. Also contrast We're Still Relevant, Dammit!, where a series/franchise ReTools itself to be more appealing to the current generation, but does so in a clunky or tone-deaf way.

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Examples:

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     Multiple Media  

     Anime and Manga 
  • Digimon Adventure tri. and Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna: While Digimon Adventure was aimed at kids, the films are geared teens and adults that grew up watching the original series, having more mature plotlines and themes.
  • While Dragon Ball has always been a children's franchise in Japan, its English localization has grown with the audience (although that doesn't stop the franchise having a Multiple Demographic Appeal, however). This is due to Japan and America having very different ideas about what is and isn't appropriate for children in media and Funimation's localization attitude changing drastically a few years after Dragon Ball was launched. Originally, Funimation heavily re-versioned the series to reflect western animation of the time and follow strict syndication rules. When syndication ended, the show was edited to be more tamer and family-friendly on TV and VHS, but was uncut on DVD. The uncut release (with blood, violence and mild swearing) is now the only version of the series available. Dragon Ball Z Kai: The Final Chapters and Dragon Ball Super now both premiered on [adult swim], with no family-friendly version (at least in the United States until Toonami in Asia became defunct) for now.
  • While the original Inuyasha anime was broadcast in a general audience timeslot in Japan (Mondays at 7 p.m.) with the primary target of preteens, Inuyasha: The Final Act aired in the Otaku O'Clock timeslot and is aimed at finally giving a manga-based conclusion to those original preteen fans.
  • Gintama was and still is a series intended for the shonen audience, but its anime has been running for so long that the audience reading it in 2003 will have long become young adults by 2013, with its anime following suit. While earlier anime arcs aired at standard viewing hours for children's shows, the nastier, bloodier arcs like Rakuyo that came in its later years aired at Otaku O'Clock, knowing full well their audience would be able to see it despite the time shift.

     Comics 
  • The entire American comics industry has fallen into this over the past 20 years or so, with about 90% of titles out there right now focusing on the teen/twenty-something demographic.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog started out as a gag comic with elements taken from both cartoons (Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM)) running when it premiered. It eventually started moving more into a serialized dramedy before fully making the leap to action the older its readers got. While there is still a bit of levity here and there, the arcs up to its cancellation were nowhere near as silly as when it started.
    • Sonic the Hedgehog (IDW) was made with those older readers in mind, so the reader who grew up with the Archie comics would expect to read something action-packed and dramatic from the get-go. True to form, the story immediately picks up from a war arc, and only gets darker from there.
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    Fan Works 
  • Tokimeki PokéLive! and TwinBee:
    • The author of this fanfic series intends for it to be considered a Love Live! equivalent to Pokémon media such as Pokémon Origins and Pokémon Generations, which are aimed more at adult fans of Pokémon who grew up playing the Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh and Unova based games who are now adults, and like those OVAs, PokéLive! can also get quite dark at times and the overall story has a more mature feel to it, including touching upon topics like the death of biological parents, adoption, global-level apocalypses, Climate Change, war (At least, through the mention of a small-scale nuclear war that happens in a possible future in which Aleena lives.), duty and becoming a hero or heroine for the greater good as well as a sequel saga that shows the various characters involved in specific pairings, such as Hilda and Shizuku, as married couples and who also have children in their adult years too!
    • There are multiple shoutouts/references to various media that fans of the franchises involved in the crossover are most likely familiar with as well as some that may well fly over their heads such as some references to old sitcoms like All in the Family and Sanford and Son as well as a couple of references to Singin' in the Rain as well as other old Hollywood movies and there is an attempt to give the series Multiple Demographic Appeal so there's something for everyone as well as meshing various continuities of the franchises involved to give it an Ultimate Universe feel! In addition to the aforenentioned PKMN fans, PokéLive! will most likely appeal to those who were younger teens, tweens or even children who first got into LL! through the School Idol Project and Sunshine anime and/or the original School Idol Festival mobile game when those first came out who are most likely adults or older teens now at the very least, and who may also want a more darker, Shonen-like take on the legendary idol franchise!

     Film 

  • Part of the appeal of Logan, an R-rated/TV-MA-rated X-Men spin-off that's the Grand Finale to Wolverine's film appearances, was that anyone who saw the original film as a child in 2000 would be in their twenties in 2017.
  • Christopher Robin contrasts with previous Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh projects with this trope.

     Literature  

  • J. K. Rowling intentionally wrote the Harry Potter series to encompass more mature and scarier themes as the young readers got a little older for each book. This is also reflected in the other media of the franchise: The film adaptations, from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (where Harry turns 14) onward, would receive 12A/PG-13 (with the odd exception of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in the U.S.) ratings instead of PG. Later on, both Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them have adult protagonists and adult conflicts (contrast the depiction of child neglect/abuse in Philosopher's Stone and Fantastic Beasts).
  • Alan Garner wrote two fantasy novels in the early nineteen-sixties, aimed at a readership of 12 or above. The fact he didn't like the books very much meant it took him a long time to get around to writing a concluding sequel, Boneland. Fifty years, to be precise. Boneland is as far away as you can possibly get from the certainties and the linear plot of The Moon of Gomrath. The book has a dark, grey, quality to it and follows one of the child-characters from the earlier books into adulthood. Colin, the heroic child who entered Faerie at age twelve, is bewildered, disillusioned, on the brink of the male menopause and fighting mental health issues. He is, quite literally, wondering where the Magic went to. It isn't difficult to suspect Garner is writing an ironic postscript for all those children who devoured the magic of Brisingamen and Gomrath. And then grew up into adults, thinking back to the magical excitement of reading Garner's adventures as kids, and who today....
  • The How to Train Your Dragon books got progressively darker as the series went on, in lockstep with what the original readers were old enough to handle. It started as an unquestionably silly children's franchise and ended with such things as slavery, torture, and genocide.

     Video Games  
  • The Pokémon video games have taken on more mature subjects in their storylines over the years as their original audience has now grown to adulthood. Later games deal with themes like whether or not capturing Pokemon counts as animal abuse, Abusive Parents, world overpopulation, alternate dimensions, broken families, over-worked employees, and more. The later villains are also far greater in threat and vileness than Team Rocket from the earlier games. On another front, the games have slowly begun acknowledging the Tournament Play scene in-universe, to cater to the younger players who got into competitive battling as they grew up. Later games add Anti-Frustration Features aimed specifically at competitive players. Similarly, Nintendo's Earthbound (aka Mother in Japan) trilogy (despite being a Widget Series) had cases of this, especially with the Grand Finale of the trilogy, Mother 3.
  • The Legend of Zelda has many cases of this, whether depicting Link more as an adult man than a child or worlds more sprawling with more complex themes.
  • The Final Fantasy series has many cases of this as well, like the Zelda series does along with other JRPG franchises such as Nintendo's Golden Sun and Fire Emblem, SEGA's Phantasy Star and Bandai-Namco's Tales Series. The same can be said with Square-Enix's fellow RPG series, Kingdom Hearts (while the Kingdom Hearts is slightly Lighter and Softer at times than one of it's two big inspirations, it had been going to the Growing with the Audience route as well), to the point that as Players who grew up playing the Games of the franchise, the themes became more understandable to the grown-up Gamers (especially with Teenagers and Young Adults who are in their High School, College and University years in addition to including the fangirls of the JRPG franchises) who played them back in their Younger years.
  • Attempted in the Sonic the Hedgehog series. The games' stories started out in a typical cartoony video game setting with the protagonist fighting Eggman and his army of robots. Then came Sonic Adventure, a Darker and Edgier installment with pointedly more mature themes than any previous game in the series. Sonic Adventure 2 took this even further, dealing with themes such as a corrupt military murdering innocent scientists and weapons of mass destruction. However, when Shadow the Hedgehog took this to ludicrous extents and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) was slammed for its overly convoluted plot among other things, a growing backlash towards this trend forced Sega to go back and aim for a younger audience again, especially with Sonic Colors and beyond. Eventually, Sonic Team went for a second attempt at this with Sonic Forces, though again to mixed reaction.
  • Similarly to Sonic, the Mega Man franchise rose from humble roots as a series about a robot defending the world from the jealous Dr. Wily. Then came the Mega Man X series, which featured far more intense combat and mechanics on top of a more mature protagonist who just wants the fighting to stop, and as that series made the jump to the PlayStation, it explored the dark implications of building an entire line of fully sentient robots. The Mega Man Zero series went even further by exploring the oppression of Reploids and how Zero and Ciel were working towards human-Reploid equality. And while Mega Man ZX is Lighter and Softer, it still carries much of X and Zero's mature themes.

     Western Animation  
  • John Kricfalusi tried this with Ren & Stimpy "Adult Party Cartoon", amping up the violence and grossout humor, incorporating blatant sexual themes, and making the Homoerotic Subtext between Ren and Stimpy less ambiguous. It ended up getting panned.
  • The first four seasons of Samurai Jack (which originally aired from 2001 to 2004), while generally more ambitious in style and serious in tone than other shows from Cartoon Network at the time, were still rated TV-Y7. The fifth season, made 16 years later, is rated both TV-PG and TV-14 for a good reason, dealing with Bloodier and Gorier levels of violence and Darker and Edgier themes (such as the main character contemplating the possibility of suicide).
  • Toy Story has been growing with its initial audience through out the entire franchise, most notably in Toy Story 3 where main-character Andy is set to go to college, and most of the original Toy Story fans, at the time, related to him for that reason. Toy Story 4 (a Grand Finale for Woody's Story Arc) had equally relatable themes for grown-ups, such as Bo Peep's change of life, and Woody's struggles with making Forky accept his nature.
  • The prequel to Monsters, Inc., Monsters University, which focuses on Sulley's and Mike's college days, came out when the audience for the original movie were in college.
  • Rugrats fits this trope because when it first aired it was a children's show that focused on the exploits of toddlers. However when the show passed the ten-year mark, it was revamped into All Grown Up!, aging the protagonists to the status of pre-teens to appeal to the aging original audience of Rugrats.
  • The Legend of Korra with respect to Avatar: The Last Airbender. This example is a bit more literal than most. If a 12-year-old kid watched A:TLA when it was first broadcast in 2005, they would start the first series at the same age as its kid protagonist, and finish LOK in 2014 at the same age as its 21-year-old adult protagonist.
  • Adventure Time. Its first season was full of one-off comedic adventure stories, whereas several seasons later as its original audience has grown, the characters have aged and developed, there is ongoing continuity in several serious storylines, and the show routinely deals with more mature themes.
  • Steven Universe started out light-hearted yet becoming more plot-driven and mature over the years. However, it still successfully manages to stay child-friendly enough so as not to exclude new audiences.
  • This was attempted with Ben 10, with its Darker and Edgier sequels Ben 10: Alien Force and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien. It initially worked really well, with ratings getting to even bigger heights than before. However, by the time the second season of Ultimate Alien hit, the series had lost plenty of its older audience, even though the series kept getting darker and darker with every episode (the mentioned season 2 of Ultimate Alien outright deals with adult themes in some of its episodes). This, combined with the tragic death of its series runner Dwayne Mcduffie, pushed Cartoon Network to take the decision of backtracking with Ben 10: Omniverse, followed by a reboot of the franchise.
  • When Toonami, originally aired during the daytime with programs aimed at kids and pre-teens, was uncanceled, it received a new placement on the [adult swim] watershed hours as its primary audience now being teenagers and full grown adults. That being said, much of the content is still anime that was targeted towards kids in its native Japan.
  • Young Justice was pretty mature for a show that aired on Cartoon Network for kids, making a strong Periphery Demographic for teens and adults until it was cancelled in 2013. Its third season, Outsiders, premiered on DC's DC Universe service after being Uncancelled, and explores more mature themes and storylinesnote  as a result of having more creative freedom and that their audiences are over seven years older than when they first started. It does get pretty dark, and there's the occasional nastiness here and there, but it's not too far off-tone from the earlier seasons.

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