Before my little brother was born, I had never been a fan of TV. And yes, I realize the profound irony of this statement — a statement that I’m typing as a writer for the TV beat of The Michigan Daily. But, despite how unbelievably boring it makes me sound, it’s true. My youngest brother was born in 2007. George W. Bush was president, the last Harry Potter book came out (no, not “The Cursed Child,” because that book was fake and never happened) and “Spiderman 3,” my least favorite of the series, was released. All in all, an eventful year. My brother would argue that his birth was unequivocally the most important thing to happen in all of 2007 (he’s a Leo), but for me, the biggest thing to come out of of 2007 was Netflix’s streaming service.
We never had cable when I was a kid, and I never spent afternoons watching Nickelodeon, Disney Channel or Cartoon Network like some of my peers (a fact that shaped me into an adult with little to no pop culture knowledge and a terrible trivia partner). But as my brother grew up, he began roping me into his love of flashy and colorful cartoons, brought to our screen by the magic of Netflix. He didn’t care what they were about or how old the cartoons were — this kid was a cartoon binge-watching machine. “Ben 10,” some random “Spiderman” cartoons (including the series that the meme of all the Spidermen pointing at each other is from) and literally every single season of “Pokémon” — if it was animated, he would watch it. And by “he,” I also mean me. I would sit in the chair in the corner, obnoxiously pretending to have absolutely no interest in my baby brother’s little kid shows. But with each episode, I would inch closer and closer to the TV, letting the animated action pull me in until before I knew it, I found myself actually interested in some ’60s cartoon, or in Ben 10’s alien-fighting escapades.
From then on, I was on a cartoon mission. I delighted in going on vacation, not for the beach or the family outings, but for the opportunity to finally watch Cartoon Network, exploring all these shows I had never seen outside of our hotel room (and that I’m sure everyone else had seen already). As I got older, I was still able to satisfy my cartoon craving at home with odd PBS shows, which were always so ridiculous and educational that they were practically something out of a fever dream. For a while, though, I was permanently on a cartoon hiatus. High school me was a woman on a different mission — I was too busy working, keeping my GPA up and cramming AP classes into my schedule to make time for little kid shows. I didn’t know how badly I needed cartoons — until I did.
Winter semester, 2021. I was a second-semester freshman, home from the worst (and first) semester of my life and working two jobs on top of a full course load. Every day I would wake up for my virtual 10 a.m. class, eat a quick lunch, and speed off to my nannying job (that I was always late for) where I would take my final two classes while trying to make sure a kindergartener and a third-grader attended their own Zoom classes. As I helped the 5-year-old cut up shapes for his school project while trying desperately to listen to my political science lecture, I realized: I am so goddamn tired.
The best part of my day came at 3:30. The kids would log off of Zoom, race rambunctiously to the couch and start watching — you guessed it — cartoons. The world may have progressed past the Netflix monopoly on streaming services, but their cartoons still live on. I would find myself in a trance, mindlessly watching their shows from across the room as I gradually paid less and less attention to my (probably very important) homework until I eventually found myself enraptured by their giant smart TV, reminiscent of the way I let myself fall in love with those cartoons I had watched so begrudgingly with my little brother. Those 3:30 cartoons became my solace, my one little break from thinking about classes, the pandemic or my weekend work shift. I was able to find one sliver of peace in my otherwise chaotic day that really made me happy. And so, I’m taking it upon myself to share that little bit of light and happiness with you. Here are five cartoons to bring you some of your own happiness during our worst week of the year.
- Adventure Time
We’re starting this list off right with some nostalgia. I don’t think this show even needs an introduction; I could just stick it on the list and leave it at that (there’s a reason it’s number one). Of all the brief moments I was able to steal on family vacations to watch cartoons on hotel televisions, “Adventure Time” would always make me happiest. Something about that show is just so unbelievably wholesome that if I watch too many episodes, I’ll start to cry happy tears. They’re all so perfect and cute! Plus, let’s be honest, we all probably need a really good cry this time of year. So, give the adorable animation and heart-wrenching familiarity of “Adventure Time” a go.
- Star vs. the Forces of Evil
This is just another one of those absolutely adorable shows that I cannot help but love. Actually, maybe the adorableness is why I watch cartoons. Either way, “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” is unbelievably endearing, and it’s a great opportunity for you to throw yourself into a world of adventures. Star (Eden Sher, “The Middle”) is the magical heir to the throne of another dimension who gets sent to a human high school as punishment for causing trouble. Sounds about right. She and her new best friend, Marco (Adam McArthur, “Shadows House”), tackle school and other dimensions, jumping from crazy place to crazier place, fighting (duh) the forces of evil. With a super cute animation style and two (two!) fun adventures per episode, “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” is the Disney Channel show I wish I could’ve gotten to watch as it aired for the first time. So heal your inner child with me, and watch it now.
- She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Magical rebellion of mystical power-wielding princesses against an evil, tyrannical government? Yes, please. Think of it as “Star Wars,” but with a lot more pastels and a lot more Princess Leias. The story follows a spirited cadet, Adora (Aimee Carrero, “Elena of Avalor”), who’s thrown into the ethereal world of powerful princesses when she finds out that she herself has magical powers. “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” is a vibrant, compelling story, and while its themes and plot may seem a little intense for finals-escapism material, its colorful and beautiful fantasy world makes all the problems seem far away — and it’ll make all your exams and essays seem far away too.
- My Hero Academia
Yes, we’ve arrived at the secret agenda (of making people watch an anime) portion of the list. Seeing as my original plan for this piece was completely anime-centric, you guys are getting off easy. Underhanded tactics aside, “My Hero Academia” is cartoon perfection. The setting is literally a high school for training superheroes, and it’s adorable. Plus, there are a lot of super fun fight scenes with cool hero powers and a dynamic cast of characters. So don’t let the stigma keep you away from “My Hero.” Let the action scenes and the creative and enigmatic villains distract you from the real-life villain of final exams.
When the kids I nannied would turn on their daily cartoons, I would curse under my breath whenever they passed up “Pokémon” for something 100% more boring and totally irrelevant. But maybe I’m a bit biased. Anyway, I decided to save the best for last on this cartoon survival-guide, because whether you know it or not, you need a little Pikachu in your life. What I wouldn’t give to be a 12-year-old traveling across the country, going on little quests and collective little fantastical animals. I guess I’ll just have to limit my adventures to Pokémon Go. Do you even need me to explain “Pokémon” to you? The only reason you haven’t watched it recently is because it never actually occurred to you that you could. Well, you can. So go watch it. Grades are temporary, people, but Pikachu is forever. All jokes aside, “Pokémon” is just the right combination of inspiration, nostalgia and adventure that I know you’ve been missing. And if Ash and Pikachu can take on Team Rocket, you can take on your statistics exam.
Everyone knows that final exams are the worst. So take time to take care of yourself during this ridiculously stressful week. Go make that feel-good moment happen for yourself, whether it’s with regime-toppling rebel princesses or a hero high-school anime — you deserve it. I believe in you guys, and everything is going to be fine.
Daily Arts Writer Annabel Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.