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Growing with the Audience

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You were a kid in The '80s or The '90s and grew up watching your favorite Merchandise-Driven cartoon but lost interest as you grew older. Suddenly it's either The '90s, the Turn of the Millennium or The New '10s and you are bored, flipping through the channels one day or using the Internet 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 very beefed up, 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.

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.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • 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:
    • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) 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.

    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, Global Warming, 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!
  • This is the purpose of Thomas Vaccaro's rewrite of Seasons 5 and 6 of Winx Club. He made the rewrite series with the intention of keeping to the more mature, complex tone of the series' first 3 canon seasons, which was abandoned in Season 4 and onward in favor of making a Lighter and Softer show in an attempt to appeal more to children. For one thing, the rewrite keeps the titular heroes as adults rather than rewriting them as teens. It also deals with a greater amount of adult themes than the canon series, including LGBT relationships, racism and discrimination, Abusive Parents, loss of one's culture, and miscarriage.

    Films — Animated 
  • 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.
  • Part of the appeal of the PAW Patrol movies was that many children who saw the show when it first premiered in 2013 would be teens in 2021. Most likely, many thought that it would just be another series for children of preschool age. Nope. The increased presence of the Periphery Demographic of adults and teens was also a likely factor.
  • Toy Story has been growing with its initial audience throughout 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 who are at their College/University years, 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Part of the appeal of Logan, an even more Darker and Edgier X-Men spin-off that's the Grand Finale to Wolverine's film appearances (and as well as the title that's very comparable to Berserk, of all things, in terms of tone, storytelling and themes), 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 1960s, 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 dealing with such subjects as slavery, torture, and genocide.

    Live Action TV 
  • Boy Meets World was a Coming of Age story centered around Cory Matthews, and over the course of the series softly modifies the issues and situations that the characters get involved with at the relative age they were supposed to be. The first season had Cory in the "girls are icky" phase, the second season shows him and Topanga getting together, graduates high school in the fifth season, in college in the sixth and married in the seventh. Some of this is tested out with his older brother Eric dealing with things Cory has to handle later on. The rather frankness in how the show dealt with complicated life problems (Cory and Topanga's intimacy is a subject of multiple episodes, Shawns' family life is very troubled) contributes to its lasting appeal. The Sequel Series Girl Meets World attempts to replicate the idea, but the change in network to Disney Channel and three season run prevented them from having this kind of continuity.

    Multiple Media 
  • BIONICLE, in its original run, went whole-hog with this, especially in the later years. It featured shades of Cosmic Horror Story, named characters dying, and thoughts of nihilism and hopelessness. The series even had the guile to have an ending where The Bad Guy Wins, if only temporarily. The intent seemed to be to make stories more mature as the audience inevitably got mature.
  • At times compared to many Toku series, Kamen Rider has many cases of this.
  • Toonami is an odd example, as it is a programming block that originally aired during daytime Cartoon Network with a target audience of kids and preteens, was uncanceled, then received a new placement during the [adult swim] watershed hours with a new teenage and adult audience. That said, most of the programming for both incarnations of the block is Japanese anime that was targeted towards kids in their native Japan.
  • Transformers started as a daily syndicated cartoon based on a line of toys and meant to appeal to a young crowd.
    • Transformers: The Movie was rather infamous for ramping up the violence, including some language and featuring on-screen deaths of the most popular characters, which was partially due to the dramatic shift in tone so early in the franchises history. While the kids were not ready for it then, it's been somewhat Vindicated by History because older fans grew to love how insane that tonal shift was.
    • The '90s brought in Beast Wars, which was fairly kid friendly but aimed for a more all-ages approach alongside the occasional mature content that proved Transformers could cultivate an older audience.
    • The Transformers Film Series by Michael Bay included some sophomoric humor but elevated the action and violence to a blockbuster level that had not been seen before, bringing in an audience that never realized they wanted something like it.
    • Transformers: Animated found a new mixture of goofy humor and mature storytelling that they could combine with Continuity Porn, which came in contrast to the previous Unicron Trilogy that didn't appeal as much to older fans due to the more simplistic plot, Inaction Sequence and Stock Footage heavy show. After Animated, Transformers: Prime and its follow-up Transformers: Robots in Disguise would flex back and forth between which demographic it was aiming towards but still kept an eye towards keeping the Multiple Demographic Appeal.
    • Throughout all of these shows, Hasbro noted that sometimes they would skew a little too high and develop toys that were more advanced than the original age group was capable of handling. This made them create a two-stage process with one line of toys actually intended for 6 year olds and another meant to be appreciated by 10 and up.

    Music 
  • Confession Executive Committee never loses HoneyWorks' overarching theme of "youth" over its run and still likes to make lighthearted high school romances and situations, but the older groups of the cast are shown going from inexperienced and clumsy teenagers to navigating their relationships through college, jobs, and other obstacles while they become adults. The story also starts branching out into adult worries and life outside the main cast, such as married life with the Narumi parents or the bittersweetness of a Teacher/Student Romance and bachelorhood with Saku Akechi. Given that most of the franchise's intended demographic was teenagers, they're subjected to seeing characters they grew up with go on to have a life and career of their own, while the franchise still secures younger viewers by making new generations of teens (albeit with different problems).

    Video Games 
  • The Final Fantasy series has become increasingly more mature and complex as it goes on, as have other JRPG franchises such as Nintendo's Golden Sun and Fire Emblem, SEGA's Phantasy Star, and Bandai-Namco's Tales Series. While Square-Enix's Final Fantasy-related RPG series Kingdom Hearts is Lighter and Softer compared to its inspiration, it has been taking this route as well, to the point that the themes became more understandable to the now-grown-up fans who played them back in their younger years.
  • 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 Mega Man franchise rose from humble beginnings 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 while at the same time, solving them on certain cases 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.
  • Nintendo's Mother trilogy (despite being a Quirky Work and as well as looking more like a Peanuts comic strip than other JRPG games) had cases of this, especially with the Grand Finale of the entire trilogy, Mother 3. While the first two games were rather standard Eastern RPGs in an Urban Fantasy setting, the final game deals with themes such as the loss of family members and the corrupting nature of capitalism.
  • 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.
  • Psychonauts had an irreverent air about itself. It leaned heavily into Black Comedy and while it doesn't go outright into "all mentally ill people are dangerous psychos" territory, some of the portrayal of mentally ill characters could be considered offensive or uninformed by a modern viewer. Psychonauts 2 takes itself more seriously than the first game and has mature portrayals of complex themes such as grief and PTSD. It mostly helps that the Sequel Gap of 16 years meant that there was a lot of time for the series to mature and for the people behind it to gain a more nuanced understanding of the human psyche.
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog series has cycled through this.
    • 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, with much of the Character Development of the cast being themed around not relying on others and becoming more independent. Sonic Adventure 2 took this even further, dealing with themes such as a corrupt military murdering innocent scientists and weapons of mass destruction.
    • 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 by going Lighter and Softer and undoing much of the character growth experienced in the previous games.
    • After the lighter direction would receive a backlash itself, Sonic Team went for a second attempt at this. First came Sonic Forces, which earned a very mixed reaction due to audiences feeling it failed to commit to its promise as a return to a darker story. This would lead to Sonic Frontiers, which committed harder to a mature direction by taking on a more contemplative, melancholy atmosphere compared to previous games and reinstated much of the Character Development from the Adventure games.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: Whereas its first season was full of one-off comedic adventure stories, by its final season over eight years later, episodes would showcase heavy continuity, regularly tackle mature themes, and be seeped in metaphor and existentialist ideas as main character Finn matured from a child into a young adult while the older supporting cast also began to receive more focus. Both its sequel miniseries, Distant Lands and Fionna and Cake, would continue on this track, with the latter (which premiered thirteen years after the start of the franchise) being explicitly targeted at a young adult audience.
  • Ben 10 did this for its "classic" continuity, at least narratively, as it followed and expanding on the same plotlines and characters for nine years. In terms of tone, however, only Ben 10: Alien Force and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien can be said to be Darker and Edgier than the original series. Diminishing popularity overseas would result in that continuity's final entry being Denser and Wackier to better appeal to its target demographic, before the series was rebooted entirely.
  • The DC Animated Universe fluctuates with this process, with different shows taking a different approach to things. That said, the movies did tend to be more adult than normal, especially Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Lobo (Webseries) is the only installment to get a TV-MA rating. Years after the franchise concluded, Batman and Harley Quinn was released that including more overt swearing, sexual situations and Toilet Humor, which came to a more mixed response.
  • Warren Ellis wrote a Darker and Edgier treatment of G.I. Joe called G.I. Joe: Resolute, which premiered first as a Web Original series. While hardcore current fans did not really appreciate the changes, It did receive positive reviews from casual fans who had grown up with the series.
  • 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.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic does this from a meta-perspective throughout the series. The first three (and to a lesser extent four) seasons had each episode end with Twilight or one of the other Mane Six spelling out to the audience the moral learned that episode in the form of writing letters to Celestia or writing in their Friendship Journal. By season five, the concept was completely dropped, as the writers felt that any children who had been watching the show for that long would have matured enough to understand the lessons without needing them spoon-fed at the end of each episode. The increased presence of the adult Periphery Demographic was also a likely factor.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 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).
  • 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.
  • Young Justice was already pretty mature for a show that aired on Cartoon Network for kids, resulting it having a strong Periphery Demographic of teens and adults until it was cancelled in 2013. After it was uncancelled a few years later for streaming services, the show bumped up from a TV-PG to TV-14 rating, exploring more mature themes and occasionally dabbling in more gory and violent content, with this trope being the reason given for the demographic shift.

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