It's time for my annual guide to streaming services for animation fans.
The biggest changes since I wrote my 2019 guide include the debuts of HBO Max and Disney+, and the ongoing (as of this writing) coronavirus pandemic. The latter's seen streaming services gain a large influx of new customers.
As usual, my criteria:
- I'm only looking at on demand streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, etc.), not live streaming services that're cable TV replacements, such as YouTube TV.
- Also not covered here are "TV Everywhere" apps that require a cable TV subscription to fully use.
- Piracy also isn't covered here.
- Finally, this post largely just applies to the United States, since that's where I live.
General streaming advice
Limit the number of paid streaming services
I still advise limiting the number of streaming services one pays for to several or so tops. Contrary to some complaints claiming subscribing to such services is "no cheaper than cable," you don't need to pay for every streaming service that comes along.
One option that can help are some services available as bundling options or at a discount. Spotify offers Hulu and Showtime at a discount for students, and at one point offered Hulu for free to paying non-student Spotify customers. Meanwhile, Disney offers Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ as a bundled package ($13/month, the same as what the most popular Netflix tier runs).
Don't pay for an ongoing service for just one show
Also, don't subscribe to a service on an ongoing basis for just one show. That said, one option's paying for just one month's service (or use a free trial), binge watch the show's episodes all at once, and then cancel. Just be sure to mark in your calendar the date the trial/first month's payment expires.
Comparing streaming services
Netflix is the most famous and popular streaming service, and for good reason. Besides how long it's been around, Netflix's catalog is quite large. They've also invested in original programming, especially with the loss of most Disney material to Disney+ (and some Warner Bros. shows to HBO Max).
Netflix costs $9 for the basic standard definition-only service, $13 for the usual HD service, and $16 for 4K viewing. Most will want the mid-tier HD service.
Netflix's major animated fare includes:
- DreamWorks Animation. Probably the main studio providing Netflix's animated programming. “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” “She-Ra,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” and “Trolls.” There's also newer programming such as "Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts."
- Several Nickelodeon-produced shows, such as "Glitch Techs."
- Netflix originals, such as "BoJack Horseman" and "The Dragon Prince."
- Non-US imported programming. This includes cartoons imported from Canada (“Johnny Test”), Ireland (“Puffin Rock”), and Australia (“The Deep”).
- A sizable amount of anime, including shows like "Black Butler."
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon’s Prime Video service carries some animated fare, including:
- PBS Kids. Full seasons of various PBS Kids shows are available for Prime subscribers, including “Wild Kratts,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” and “Cyberchase.”
- Some DreamWorks programming, including a new "Rocky and Bullwinkle" revival.
- Some Viacom programming, including some seasons of "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Rugrats."
- A few one-off or imported shows, such as Canada's "16 Hudson."
Prime Video costs $9/month by itself, or $13/month as part of Amazon Prime.
While HBO Max has problems in some areas (such as device availability), one of its strengths is it carries a library of the most popular Warner Bros.-owned cartoons. Full seasons of the original runs of "The Flintstones," "The Jetsons," and "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" are available, as well as a decent selection of Looney Tunes and Popeye shorts. Adult Swim programming's also available.
HBO Max costs $15/month.
See my previous review for more thoughts on HBO Max.
DC Universe DC Universe carries a mix of originals, classic DC Comics-based fare, and digital comics (akin to Marvel Unlimited). The service runs $8/month. Most of the entire animated DC Comics library is available here, from the 40s Fleischer Superman shorts to “Young Justice.” (“Teen Titans Go” fans will need to turn to Hulu.) That said, AT&T's recent layoffs suggest DC Universe may not be long for this world, as much of its current animated and live-action programming's shifted to HBO Max (or the CW network).
(Update 9/22/20) Big news came not long after I wrote the above: DC Universe will become a comics-only service starting January 21, 2021. Renamed "DC Universe Infinite" (instead of, well, keeping its original and less awkward name for some reason), the service will cost the same as before, but carry a variety of DC Comics up through ones released six months ago. Basically, DCUI is going head-to-head against Marvel Unlimited, Marvel's similar longtime digital comics service.
Meanwhile, the DC TV shows and movies will be folded into HBO Max. Or at least the newer productions; no word on whether the same will apply to DCU's back catalog.
From my online observations, comic fans seem pleased by news of DCUI, while non-comic-reading superhero fans (i.e. most of the general public) have mixed reactions to DCU's demise.
Boomerang offers a deeper dive into the classic Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera, and MGM ("Tom and Jerry," "Droopy") libraries than HBO Max. It's also cheaper than HBO Max; Boomerang costs $5/month, or $40/year.
For more on Boomerang, see my previous review.
Hulu carries a variety of cable and broadcast network programming. That said, it's lost some of its animated material to other companies starting their own streaming services (such as HBO Max or fellow Disney-owned service Disney+). Hulu costs $6/month for the basic level of service, or $12/month for the no-ads tier.
Major animated fare on Hulu includes:
- The Fox Sunday animated lineup of shows, including the entire runs of “Bob’s Burgers” and “Family Guy.” Hulu also carries the most recent season of “The Simpsons."
- "Rick and Morty" is available (as of this writing), but most of Adult Swim fare's migrated to HBO Max.
- A few Disney Channel shows are available, including “Doc McStuffins,” “Gravity Falls,” and “Star vs. the Forces of Evil.”
- Some Cartoon Network fare. This includes "Steven Universe" and "Regular Show," the original and rebooted "PowerPuff Girls," "Teen Titans Go," and "Clarence." Some material is only available on HBO Max, such as "Craig of the Creek."
- Some Hulu originals. These include "The Bravest Knight" and a new "Where's Waldo?" series.
- Some Nickelodeon fare, including "Jimmy Neutron," "Rugrats," and the 2010s "Alvin and the Chipmunks." Nick's biggest show, "SpongeBob," isn't available.
- Some anime, including "Naruto" and "My Hero Academia."
Disney+ offers the bulk of the Disney library of animated material, as well as from other studios they've bought (such as Marvel or Fox). Programming includes the more kid- or family-friendly fare Disney owns, including:
- Disney Channel programs ("Kim Possible," etc.).
- Disney animated features.
- Star Wars.
- Disney+ original programming.
- The entire run of “The Simpsons.”
Disney+ costs $7/month, or $70/year.
PBS Kids offers its own free service, which offers a rotating selection of episodes of each of its shows. Among the shows offered include:
- "Molly of Denali."
- "Hero Elementary."
- A reboot of "Clifford the Big Red Dog."
There’s also a free live stream of the PBS Kids broadcast network (available on PBS digital subchannels nationwide).
CBS All Access
CBS All Access' traditional main selling point was for "Star Trek" fans. However, ViacomCBS has committed to offering a bigger variety of material from across its holdings. As such, it's improved its animation offerings. CBS All Access runs $6/month (with ads) or $10/month (without ads).
Major cartoons on CBS All Access include:
- Most classic Nickelodeon fare, including what looks like the entire runs of "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Rugrats," "The Fairly OddParents," and "The Loud House."
- "Star Trek: Lower Decks," a comedic take on the "Star Trek" franchise.
- Some classic MTV fare such as "Beavis and Butt-Head." ("Daria" is over on Hulu, however.)
Peacock, Comcast's attempt at getting into streaming, has a handful of animated cartoons, mostly either older reruns or DreamWorks-made shows that were once on other services. Programs of note include:
- "Curious George" (from its PBS run).
- "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" (the Filmation series).
- The "Where's Waldo" reboot.
- An original series, "Cleopatra in Space," based on the graphic novel series.
Peacock offers a basic tier for free, plus two premium tiers at $5/month (for the full library) and $10/month (without ads).
Apple TV+ doesn't have as large a selection as other streaming services, but it does have a few cartoons, including:
- "Snoopy in Space," a "Peanuts" miniseries about Snoopy as an astronaut.
- "Central Park."
Apple TV+ costs $5/month.
Crunchyroll seems to be the most popular anime-specific streaming service. The service runs at $8/month, and includes a large library of programming.
Some popular shows available on Crunchyroll include:
- “My Hero Academia."
- “One Piece.”
Crunchyroll also offers some access to manga.
As for which ones I recommend? It depends on one's tastes, but here goes...
General viewing: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video
Netflix carries a pretty large variety of animation, and isn't tied to one particular studio or media conglomerate. Hulu and Amazon Prime Video also carry a fair amount of cartoons, though I prefer Netflix and Hulu over Prime Video.
Still, if you just want cartoons and don't care about specific studios/networks/etc., the traditional "Big Three" catch-all streaming services should work fine.
Disney, Pixar, "Star Wars," Marvel, and/or "Simpsons" fans: Disney+
Disney+ has pretty much cemented itself as the streaming home of anything Disney-related, as well as "The Simpsons." For those who want to watch Disney/Pixar animated films, "Star Wars"'s animated spin-offs like "The Clone Wars," or the various Marvel cartoons from over the decades, they're all here.
Despite its more adult oriented nature, the entire run of "The Simpsons" is on Disney+ as well. Those who also want the rest of the Fox Sunday lineup and other adult oriented cartoons (like Adult Swim's "Rick and Morty") might want to consider the Disney+ bundle, which includes Hulu and ESPN+ for $13/month.
DC Comics fans and casual Cartoon Network/Looney Tunes fans who like HBO: HBO Max; hardcore CN/LT fans (or casual ones who aren't HBO fans): Boomerang
WarnerMedia makes their animation material more complicated than Disney, given AT&T owns multiple streaming services.
Broadly, I'd suggest HBO Max for DC Comics fans, as well as casual Cartoon Network, Hanna-Barbera and Looney Tunes fans who also like HBO.
For Cartoon Network/Looney Tunes fans who aren't HBO fans (or want a deeper dive into such material), they'll want to check out Boomerang. It's also cheaper than HBO Max, as a bonus.
As of this writing, HBO Max still doesn't run on Roku or Fire devices. HBO Max subscribers with those devices might want to get used to watching on their iPads or laptops instead.
Nickelodeon fans: CBS All Access
When I wrote last year's post on animation streaming services, Viacom still treated streaming mostly as an afterthought (possibly out of fear of eating into their numerous cable channels' viewership). Thus, finding Nick shows like "SpongeBob" or "The Loud House" online wasn't easy. In recent months, however, ViacomCBS has decided to put more effort into beefing up CBS All Access to appeal to more than just "Star Trek" fans. As such, the service is now the main home for Mr. SquarePants, plus other popular Nick fare.
That said, CBS All Access' Nick Jr. side seems a bit sparse; from what I can find, "Paw Patrol" fans are better off either A) paying for Noggin as an Amazon channel add-on (at $6/month), B) subscribing to Philo TV (a live streaming cable replacement service for $20/month, but carries Nickelodeon), or C) just buy the DVDs/digital videos.
Adult TV animation fans: Hulu
Hulu carries a great deal of adult oriented TV animation, including: the Fox Sunday lineup (outside of "The Simpsons," which is on Disney+); "American Dad"; "Rick and Morty"; and "Archer." As I said earlier, the Disney+ bundle includes Hulu and ESPN+, which is one way to also cover "The Simpsons."
Fans of "South Park" will want to look into HBO Max, which has the rights to that show.
Educational cartoons: PBS Kids
For younger children, PBS Kids offers its entire lineup of animated programming (plus "Sesame Street") for free. Each show carries 4-6 episodes each, with new ones added (and old ones swapped out) once a week. The app also carries the live streaming/over-the-air digital subchannel network version of PBS Kids.
Since PBS Kids is free, there's no reason not to add this one if you have young children.
Anime fans: Crunchyroll
Anime fans will be interested in Crunchyroll. It carries a large variety of material, including new episodes of some shows shortly after they air in Japan. Crunchyroll also offers some manga as a bonus.
Crunchyroll's shows are largely subtitled. For those that prefer dubbed anime, there's rival service Funimation. However, from what I can find, Crunchyroll's the more popular of the two services?
Netflix and Hulu also carry a sizable amount of anime.
That sums things up. If there's anything I've overlooked, or any questions, please list them in the comments below.
Image by Morning Brew (Unsplash)