Philosophy in popular adult animation

Philosophy in popular adult animation

If you’ve ever lived in a house with parents or older siblings when you’re over 18 and have started to develop taste in particular programming, you’ll know what it’s like to be told that your favourite shows are “rubbish”, “nonsense”, “stupid”, or anything in between.

That’s my experience at least. I’d settle down to watch The Simpsons, a critically acclaimed television show or be halfway through an episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine, which has won over even the harshest critics in its run time, and the same thing always happened, my mother would enter and say “it’s time for Coronation Street, turn this rubbish off.”

Now, my mother is of fine taste in other areas, ballet, classical music, major animated movies, critically acclaimed movies, even politically to an extent, but with TV, historically, she didn’t budge. Recently, after getting involved with Netflix, her openness to new series has grown somewhat, given that Netflix’s library of content is huge, there’s a good chance everyone will find something they like, even if they don’t like everything on the platform.

The thing is, I think a lot of people were raised like my parents and grandparents, and I believe that once they have a certain idea in their head about the quality of a particular TV show, they become unable to change their opinion without hearing a valid solidified argument. So, here I am offering the argument for adult oriented animated shows and how they often carry a profound and meaningful philosophy behind them.

For this article, I’m focusing solely on animation (not anime which is of itself a specific genre) and I will revisit adult shows with deeper meanings in a later article.


Call me a pondering existentialist with a difficulty in understanding the consolidation between purpose and meaning, but I’m a huge fan of the Netflix series, BoJack Horseman.

Admittedly, the show doesn’t get off to the most promising start and the first two or three episodes are really just a setup of the show’s world building. After episode two, we start to see a more complex dynamic of a floundering, washed up actor who having had no stable parental figures in his life, struggles to be a stable figure to those around him, despite playing an adoptive father in the 90’s sitcom, “Horsin’ Around,” for which he amassed his fame.

The series then starts to take much darker turns and explores the in depth struggles of an individual with severe existential crises. Of course, everyone’s experience of existence is completely and utterly different to the next person’s, but some are innately programmed to be more questioning whereas others are quite happy to just plod on through the daily routine, until it reaches its inevitable end.

There are two opposing overarching types of existentialism apparent in the show. Meaningful/purposeful existentialism which comes from BoJack himself and can be summed up in the quote “I feel like I was born with a leak and any goodness I had to begin with has gone.”

The other type of existentialism which could be called ignorant existentialism comes from BoJack’s long time rival, who considers himself BoJack’s best friend, Mr. Peanutbutter. His optimistic outlook on life is reminiscent of a middle aged man who is still overly eccentric and spends much of his time involved in nonsensical schemes. We can sum up this type of philosophy in the quote “The key to being happy isn’t to search for meaning; it’s just to keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense and eventually you’ll be dead.” This type of philosophy is so poignant in our everyday lives and our society that you simply have to look around at the droves of people staring at their phones on the commute to work (or well, wandering around the park now). Perhaps most of us follow this ignorant existentialism and I’m sure for most of us, it works out well.

As someone who often suffers from existential problems, I’ve found BoJack to be of great solace. Granted, I’m not a misogynist, alcoholic, lazy, drug abusing, washed up actor, but I am prone to overthink things and constantly search for meaning in an unforgiving and unmeaning world. So, perhaps with the idea that their children, of adult age, may take solace and comfort from these types of shows, parents may be more open to the idea of acknowledging them as positive outlets, instead of condemning them as complete rubbish.


Nihilism is a type of existential philosophy and it’s represented across a variety of different animated series, perhaps none more so than the now infamous Rick and Morty.

The titular character Rick is an ageing scientist who lives with his daughter, son-in-law, grandson and granddaughter. While not much is known about Rick’s backstory in detail, we do get the impression that he doesn’t really care too much about what happens to himself over the course of each episode.

He quite willingly enters dangerous situations with no regard for his life or those around him. He rarely even acknowledges the chaos that he has caused and occasionally just moves universes to avoid the result, which sometimes comes back to haunt him.

His reckless and uncaring ideology eventually trickles into the minds of his grandson and granddaughter, specifically the former, Morty.

In one episode, Morty tells his sister Summer; “nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna’ die, come watch TV,” highlighting the fact that Morty now believes in his grandfather’s nihilistic philosophy too.

You may be thinking that this seems similar to Mr Peanutbutter’s philosophy in BoJack Horseman, but there is a fundamental difference between nihilism and ignorant existentialism. In nihilism, one is quite certain that there is no meaning or purpose to life, that life and death are just results of random universal timelines, all of which can go one of a thousand different ways. The results are different depending on actions, but regardless of the outcomes of one’s actions, meaning and purpose remain the same, completely non-existent.

Ignorant existentialism on the other hand, requires the individual to acknowledge that there is some possibility of a meaningful outcome, but it’s much better if we keep ourselves busy and as pure as possible until the inevitable comes. They are from the same branch of philosophy, but should not be treated as the same point since they have vastly different parts.

Now, I believe that Rick and Morty carries some importance in the fact in the absence of meaning and purpose, specific issues should theoretically become inane, however, these problems such as racism, sexism, rape, sexual assault, alcoholism, murder and abuse still occur even in a world without a higher being or purpose.

That tells me a lot about human psychology and that we really need to be careful with where and why we draw the lines. I’ve met a lot of people in my time who have taken the word of one book as sacred and the only true way to live, when in actuality, we have as a society historically used beliefs to laud our positions over others within our sociological hierarchy. When this is put into perspective and one looks at it from the outside in, it becomes much easier to figure out what is morally correct and what is morally wrong. Of course, we are never going to be 100% moral at all times and even the purest of people will fall off the bandwagon at some point or other, but at least with this type of ideology, we are able to take a step back and figure out some issues for ourselves.

So, thank you Rick and Morty for showing me that with some aspects, we cannot be black and white and that personal balance is theoretically much more beneficial for society as a whole than universal balance.

What do you think? Do you enjoy animated shows? Why not discuss this with your language exchange pals?

Written by: Jordan Benyon, Staff Writer

TV & Film