Adventure Time

Despite what you may have heard about Cartoon Network’s wildly popular animated cartoon Adventure Time, this show is definitely not just for kids. With an all-ages fanbase, and a ever growing fandom, Adventure Time is one of the biggest television shows on air today. Drawing in an impressive number of 3 million viewers for each episode, the animated show’s fans flock each week to see just what predicaments the lovable knucklehead adventurers of Finn the Human and Jake the shape-shifting Dog, have gotten themselves into. Drawing on classic adventure game tropes, bizzarely entertaining Sponge Bob-esque humor and a cast of colorful kawaii infused characters, Adventure Time is a show with lots of laughs and even more heart.

Adventure Time! Pilot Short (2006)

A viral foundation
The humble beginnings of Cartoon Network’s popular series are also responsible for its success. Created by Pendleton Ward, a talented graduate of the CalArts program in 2006, Adventure Time was originally released as an animated short for Random! Cartoons, the animation incubator of Frederator’s Nicktoons Network. Released on the net amongst communities of animation and gamer fans, the featurette quickly went viral. It was then, that famed animation and kids television giant, Cartoon Network, saw promise and potential in the Dungeon and Dragons inspired creation and commissioned it for a full series, delighting an established fan base and fanning an already massive internet buzz.

A show with heart
But what makes the show so popular? Watch a single episode and it’s not hard to find out why. Each episode begins with a delightfully catchy folk-inspired ukulele theme tune that frames a quick tour through the post-apocalyptic, yet colorful Land of Ooo. Each episode features the lovable heroes Finn and Jake adventuring around saving the world’s occupants (a mixture of mutant candy people, forest animals and fantastical beings) from peril with the enthusiasm and bravado of an adolescent bro. The humor, while sophomoric, is never crass, and a fine balance is established between their naïve sense of justice and duty and their refreshingly real personal vulnerabilities and heart. More often than not, Finn and Jake are willing to forgive trouble makers, like the lovelorn, princess stealing Ice King and the lonely and socially awkward Lemon Drop, because they understand that underneath their misdeeds is the desire to be loved. Another great example of the show’s appeal is the deep friendship between Finn and Jake. Adopted by Jake’s parents, Finn and Jake are the greatest of friends, supporting each other through all their ups and downs and always willing to follow along on each other’s wacky whims.

Chock full of fun nerdy references
Although Adventure Time can be enjoyed on many different levels, fans praise the show’s creator and writing team for its nerdy pop culture references, as it offers another cord of connection between the show’s creators and viewers. While Finn and Jake live in a post-apocalyptic world, the creators made sure that the artifacts that did survive are reflective of the team’s love of video games, Dungeons and Dragons, pop culture and indie comics. For example B-Mo, Jake and Finn’s sentient video game console and honorary third roommate, looks like a Gameboy color, comes complete with retro controllers and displays retro games. When not out saving princesses or their friends from themselves, Jake and Finn can be found sitting on their sofa playing video games. In fact Adventure Time’s first video game for the Nintendo 3DS ‘Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?!e’ is heavily inspired by Zelda 2 for Nintendo. In other episodes Adventure Time, references Dungeon and Dragons, table top strategy games, sci-fi movies, and pop music building a sense of shared-interest and camaraderie between creator and fan.

Progressive approach to gender and sexuality
Despite the boyish charms of Finn and Jake, Adventure Time has a solid cast of diverse characters each with their own admirable personalities, making it easy for viewers to identify with. Adventure time is also very flexible and progressive with its approach to gender and society. For example, in Princess Bubblegum, one of the show’s main female characters and ruler of the Candy Kingdom, we have a competent and intelligent political leader, who not only manages her kingdom of candy subjects but finds time to conduct science experiments, and help save Finn and Jake when they get in over their heads– all refreshing female attributes that are traditionally viewed as male. In addition we have Lumpy Space Princess, who despite her teen-centric view of her life, illustrates that she is proud of her lumpy body and does not need the approval of boys to be happy. Marceline, the Vampire Queen, is a modern day tomboy who lives for pulling practical jokes and writing epic indie rock songs. Rounding things off we have B-Mo, an adorable gender-neutral game console, whose lack of gender conformity is never questioned.

And in a nod to Marceline/Princess Bubblegum ‘shippers, Adventure Time approached the possibility of a mutual love between the two when Marceline and Princess BubbleGum collaborated on a song about “how you really despise somebody who is cool, but you admit that you despise them because you really want them to like you and you can’t explain why you want that so bad…” Fans were all aflutter when the official Adventure Time youtube channel published their recap of the episode and confirmed their of affection:

In this episode Marcelline hints that she might like Princess Bubblegum at little more than she’d like to admit. Maybe a little more than Finn? Do you see where I’m going with this? …What do you think about Marcelline and Bubblegum getting together? Does that leave Finn out in the dust? Or is it just adorbz?

Adventure Time has even played with reversing gender roles. Creator Pendleton Ward and writer and illustrator Natasha Allegri created a special gender bender episode where the genders of all of the characters on the show are reversed, encouraging viewers of all ages to ask themselves about whether their expectations for the characters change and if gender is even important at all. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and fans begged for more. In fact, these gender flipped episodes have been so wildly popular with fans, it spun off its comic miniseries by BOOM! Studios.

Brains over brawn
While Finn and Jake may pride themselves in their deft combat skills, the show frequently emphasizes that intelligence; kindness, bravery, and ingenuity are far more powerful than the sword. While Finn and Jake take on foes, they often discover that the problems they face are rarely solved with brute force and instead deal with creating peaceful solutions to zany problems. Adventure Time doesn’t thrive on jokes and pretty animations alone, it succeeds because it appeals to youth’s sense of empowerment. Each episode features believable characters overcoming problems through the strength of their friendship, determination, quick thinking and maybe even an original song or two. In sum, it could be likened to a small-scale version of our human world, real enough for young people to believe in, yet delicate and heart-warming enough to amuse and entertain, rather than alarm. Adventure Time is popular because it finds the perfect medium between humorous nonsense and a well-meaning story.

AT Fans at the New York Comic Con

The Adventure Time fandom
This special formula of animated entertainment has garnered Adventure three nominations for Primetime Emmy awards, and has amassed a giant, ever-increasing fandom. Fans flock to Tumblr, DeviantArt, and to fan fiction writing websites like Archive of Our Own (AO3) and to share their own continuations of Finn and Jake’s adventures. Whilst some make edits of both character based posters and murals, others make animated ‘gifs’. Others put together fan videos, while some channel their creativity into it into fan fiction. But regardless, all of the parts of the Adventure Time fandom bond and come together (usually on micro-blogging site Tumblr) to appreciate the show. For whether it’s those who just love the cutesy, adorableness of Finn and Jake’s friendship, or those who believe in the relationship of Vampire Queen Marceline and Princess Bubblegum, there’s no doubt that Adventure Time fans enjoy building their own colorful Land of Ooo.

Manga Adventure Time fanart by Suihara

And when Adventure Time fans do work together, it’s a marvelous occasion. Examples of joint works are on offer in terms of a writer who has teamed up with an image editor to provide a visual/textual offering that rivals AT itself. Whilst sometimes, a fan might turn to one of the prominent fan art producers and have a piece of art of Finn and Jake high fiving commissioned, just so it can take center stage on their wall. Most commonly, what you see is a beautiful collaboration of minds. Whilst the world of Adventure Time might make it seem like it’s a simple cartoon show, it’s so much more than that, with fans meeting together to analyze the characters and their personalities and behaviors right down to their genetic code. It’s this that keeps the fandom together even in times of hiatus and the varieties of fan works and interactions are just as diverse as the characters on the show itself. In all, the Adventure Time fandom is solely unique because of its diversity. Young people from all walks of life, backgrounds and orientations, participate in this fandom. Just like with every episode of Adventure Time, anyone can be the hero and so whether it’s the sole ‘reblogger’ sharing others original works across their social network, or the prolific fan fiction writer, they’re all vital parts of the show’s fanbase. Every member of the Adventure Time fandom is respected and represented, reflecting the very heart and essence of the show.

Written by Jasmine Henry and Andrea Graham