Updated on July 23, 2022
Things have continued to change in the streaming world in 2021, since last year’s post about recommended streaming services for cartoons. One reason these posts have pretty much become annual. Since the last post, DC Universe stopped carrying non-comics material, while CBS All Access revamped itself as Paramount+.
At this point, all of the major American media conglomerates have launched streaming services, so I suspect the future will see which ones last and don’t get merged/shuttered. (See: Quibi.) In the meanwhile, here’s a look at my recommended streaming services for cartoons in 2021.
Here’s my usual criteria for these recommendations:
- 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. (I’m also not covering regular YouTube, though it carries some officially uploaded cartoons.)
- Also not covered here are “TV Everywhere” apps that require a cable TV subscription to fully use.
- Piracy isn’t covered here.
- I’m mostly looking at paid on demand services.
- Check to see which services carry the shows you’re looking for. JustWatch is one site I use that tracks which services carry an entered show (say, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”). Since streaming service rights to shows can and do often change, this is a useful tool.
- 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, or setting a streaming budget. Despite complaints claiming multiple streaming subscriptions are “no cheaper than cable,” you don’t need to pay for every streaming service that comes along.
One option that can help is looking for discounts or bundles. Spotify offers Hulu and Showtime as a bundled package at $5/month for college students. Meanwhile, Disney offers Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ as a bundled package for $14/month, what Netflix’s most popular tier costs.
Don’t pay for an ongoing service for just one show
I’d try to avoid subscribing 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 as a reminder.
Major animation-related streaming services
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon’s Prime Video service carries some animated fare, including:
- Full seasons of some older PBS Kids shows, including “Wild Kratts,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” and “Cyberchase.”
- Some DreamWorks programming, including a new “Rocky and Bullwinkle” revival.
- Some seasons of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” However, Nickelodeon fans are better served by looking into Paramount+.
Prime Video costs $9/month by itself, or $13/month as part of Amazon Prime.
Apple TV+ doesn’t have as large a selection as other streaming services, but it does have a few cartoons, including:
- The “Peanuts” specials catalog, as well as a few new spin-off series such as “Snoopy in Space.”
- “Central Park,” an adult-oriented sitcom.
Apple TV+ costs $5/month.
Boomerang offers a deep dive into the classic Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera, and MGM (“Tom and Jerry,” “Droopy”) libraries. There’s also a few older Cartoon Network series available (“Courage the Cowardly Dog,” “Camp Lazlo”). Boomerang costs $5/month, or $40/year.
For more on Boomerang, see my previous review.
Crunchyroll offers a large library of anime programming, as well as some manga. One of its appeals is specializing in subtitled anime. Crunchyroll also carries new episodes an hour after initially airing in Japan.
While some material is available for free (with ads), the full service runs at $8/month. A handful of Crunchyroll’s library is available (as its own dedicated tab) under HBO Max, as well as the minor streaming service VRV. Crunchyroll also offers some manga.
Some popular shows available on Crunchyroll include:
- “My Hero Academia.”
- “Attack on Titan.”
- “One Piece.”
Disney+ offers the bulk of the Disney library of animated material, as well as programming 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,” “The Owl House,” etc.).
- Disney animated features.
- Star Wars.
- Disney+ original programming.
- The entire run of “The Simpsons.”
Disney+ costs $8/month, or $80/year. I’ve written a review of Disney+ here.
Funimation’s the other dominant name in dedicated anime streaming services. It also carries some of the same programming as Crunchyroll (including “My Hero Academia”), but seems to favor dubbed versions. The streaming service starts at $6/month.
In August 2021, Funimation (which is owned by Sony) completed a buyout of Crunchyroll (which was sold by previous owner AT&T as part of paring down their debt). How this will affect both services (or the Crunchyroll content on HBO Max) in the future remains to be seen.
One of HBO Max’s 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 the classic Looney Tunes and Popeye shorts. Adult Swim programming such as “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” is also available, along with other adult-oriented cartoons such as the “Harley Quinn” series and (ViacomCBS’) “South Park.” On the anime side, Crunchyroll has some material on HBO Max, plus the service has exclusive rights to stream Studio Ghibli’s films.
HBO Max costs $15/month for the standard ad-free version; an ad-support version’s also available for $10/month.
See my previous review for more thoughts on HBO Max.
Hulu carries a variety of cable and broadcast network programming, and has long served as a “catch-all” service. That said, it’s lost some of its animated material to other companies starting their own streaming services (such as HBO Max or Paramount+). Thus, hardcore fans of certain studios or shows might look into those services. Hulu costs $6/month (or $60/year) 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 episodes from the most recent season of “The Simpsons.”
- “Rick and Morty” is available (as of this writing), but most 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.”
- Cartoon Network fare, including: “Steven Universe” and “Regular Show,” the original and rebooted “PowerPuff Girls,” “Teen Titans Go,” and “Clarence.” Some CN material is only available on HBO Max, such as “Craig of the Creek.”
- Hulu originals. These include “The Bravest Knight,” the “Animaniacs” reboot, and a new “Where’s Waldo?” series.
- A few Nickelodeon shows, including the original “Rugrats,” “Hey Arnold,” and the 2012 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (TMNT) series.
- A fairly strong selection of anime (dubbed and subtitled), including “Sailor Moon,” “Black Butler,” “My Hero Academia,” and “Cowboy Bebop.”
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 studios pulling their content to start their own rival services.
Netflix costs $9 for the basic standard definition-only service, $14 for the HD tier service (the most popular tier, for obvious reasons), and $18 for 4K viewing.
Netflix’s major animated fare includes:
- DreamWorks Animation, probably the main studio providing Netflix’s animated programming. “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” “She-Ra,” “Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts,” and a “Boss Baby” series are a few examples.
- A few 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 (the original “Johnny Test” run), Ireland (“Puffin Rock”), and Australia (“The Deep”).
- A sizable amount of anime, including shows like “Black Butler.”
The traditional main selling point of Paramount+ (the renamed CBS All Access) is its various ”Star Trek” series, including several revivals such as “Picard.” However, ViacomCBS has committed to offering a bigger variety of material from across its holdings. As such, it’s improved its animation offerings.
Cartoons available on Paramount+ include:
- Nickelodeon’s back catalog. One of the service’s strongest points, this includes the entire runs (to date) of major hits like “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Rugrats,” “The Fairly OddParents,” and “The Loud House.” Older shows, such as “Rocko’s Modern Life” and “The Angry Beavers,” are also available.
- The 2000s TMNT and “Rise of the TMNT” series. (But oddly not the 2012 series? The 80s one also isn’t streaming anywhere.)
- “Star Trek: Lower Decks,” a comedic take on the “Star Trek” franchise.
- Classic MTV fare such as “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “Daria.”
Paramount+ costs $5/month (with ads) or $10/month (without ads). I did a more in-depth look at Paramount+ here.
PBS Kids is a free streaming service with a rotating selection of episodes of each of its shows. Among the shows offered include:
- “Molly of Denali.”
- “Hero Elementary.”
- “Clifford the Big Red Dog.”
There’s also a free live stream of the PBS Kids broadcast network.
I’ve written a review of PBS Kids here.
Peacock, Comcast’s attempt at getting into streaming, has a handful of animated cartoons, mostly either older shows, third party acquired ones, 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 novels.
- The 90s “Woody Woodpecker” revival.
- “Supa Strikas,” a South African cartoon about soccer players.
Peacock offers a basic tier for free, plus two premium tiers at $5/month (for the full library) and $10/month (without ads).
My recommended streaming services for cartoons (2021)
Here’s my recommended streaming services for cartoons in 2021, both overall and by specific interest categories.
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/genres/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 or -owned. For those who want to watch Disney/Pixar animated films, “Star Wars”‘s animated spin-offs like “The Clone Wars,” or classic and new Marvel cartoons (such as “What If?” or the 90s “Spider-Man” series), 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 fare (like Adult Swim’s “Rick and Morty”) might want to consider the Disney+ bundle, which includes Hulu and ESPN+.
DC Comics, Cartoon Network, Looney Tunes, and Hanna-Barbera fans: HBO Max, Boomerang
WarnerMedia makes their streaming situation more complicated than Disney, as AT&T owns multiple streaming services that somewhat overlap.
HBO Max is recommended for:
- DC Comics animation fans.
- Fans of current Cartoon Network material (“Craig of the Creek,” etc.).
- Fans of HBO Max’s originals, such as “Looney Tunes Cartoons” or “Jellystone.”
- Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera fans who also like HBO Max’s other fare.
Boomerang is recommended for:
- Those that want a deeper dive into the Hanna-Barbera library.
- Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera fans who don’t like, or want to pay for, HBO Max.
Nickelodeon fans: Paramount+
Fans of anything on Nickelodeon will definitely want to get Paramount+. The major current series are carried by the streaming service, including “SpongeBob,” “The Loud House,” and “Paw Patrol.” Classics like “The Angry Beavers,” “Dora the Explorer,” “Rocko’s Modern Life,” and “Rugrats” are also available. There’s also made-for-Paramount+ spin-offs of “SpongeBob” (such as “Kamp Koral”), plus a reboot of “Rugrats.”
Paramount+ is also inexpensive, which makes keeping up with the Loud family or Bikini Bottom’s denizens easy.
Adult animation fans: Hulu, HBO Max
Fans of adult animation will want to get Hulu, which carries a variety of such shows: 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.”
HBO Max is also a strong source of adult animation, including: the Adult Swim lineup (which has its own category tab); some adult-oriented DC Comics superhero animated films; the “Harley Quinn” animated series; and “South Park.”
Educational cartoons: PBS Kids
Since PBS Kids is free, there’s no reason not to add this one if you have young children. PBS offers a strong roster of educational programming aimed at children, plus it’s commercial-free. You also get free access to live streaming of the PBS Kids broadcast network.
Anime: Crunchyroll, Funimation (hardcore fans); Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max (casual fans)
Hardcore anime fans will want to consider Crunchyroll and/or Funimation (depending on preference for subtitles versus dubbing). Both offer large libraries of content, and should appeal to dedicated fans.
Casual anime fans (or fans of specific shows not carried by Crunchyroll or Funimation) will be satisfied with Netflix, Hulu, and/or HBO Max’s offerings.
That wraps up my recommended streaming services for cartoons in 2021. Again, things can and do change rapidly in the streaming landscape, so don’t be surprised if by this time next year, some or all of the above has changed again.
Image by Andrés Rodríguez from Pixabay