Adventure Time for Adults: Why or Why Not?

Here’s why Adventure Time is or isn’t for adults:

Adventure Time is definitively a cartoon that was made for a young audience.

Despite that, it has many elements that cater to adult viewers, and that is why many adults have enjoyed the show for more than two decades now.

It is for adults, but it’s even more for kids, and the kids’ elements do turn away some adults.

So if you want to learn all about the reasons why Adventure Time can or can’t be enjoyed by adults, then this article is for you.

Let’s jump right in!

Adventure Time for Adults: Why or Why Not? (All the Info)

What Is Adventure Time?

Friends, we have a lot to talk about today.

Adventure Time is a cult favorite.

A lot of people love it.

A lot more people have never watched it.

In order to do justice to the true fans and give you (a presumably uninformed individual) a fair answer, we have to cover a lot of ground.

Is Adventure Time really for adults or not? 

In order to answer that question, I need to tell you a lot about the show.

For starters, it’s a cartoon that aired on the Cartoon Network from 2010 through 2018.

That’s a long run for a cartoon show, in case you were wondering.

The show is about a kid named Finn the Human.

He goes on adventures with his best friend Jake the Dog.

Jake has magic powers, and the two come across all kinds of zany experiences throughout the show.

The show is set in a post-apocalyptic world, giving it a bit of a grim setting.

Despite that, there are plenty of light-hearted and funny moments in the series.

One thing to note is that Adventure Time has a unique art style.

It’s not designed to dazzle you with the most impressive visual expressions you’ve ever seen.

Instead, the show features a more toned-down art style that helps it juxtapose heavy adult themes with kid-friendly content.

Is Adventure Time for Kids? (3 Elements)

With the background set, we can really get into the nuts and bolts of this conversation.

The truth is that Adventure Time is a kids’ show with a lot to offer adults.

That’s really the best way to say it.

But to help you really understand that, we can talk about the elements that really cater to kids and the reasons we can definitely call it a kids’ show.

After that, we’ll discuss the adult elements, and then you can decide if you think it’s really for adults or not.

#1 The Rating

Adventure Time aired on cable television.

Because of that, it was subjected to TV Parental Guidelines.

This is an official rating system that is designed to help parents determine what content is or is not appropriate for their kids.

It’s pretty straightforward stuff, and Adventure Time was rated as TV-PG.

If you’re already familiar with these ratings, feel free to skip ahead, but if you’re not clear on what this means, here’s the breakdown.

TV-PG formally means that the content is “not appropriate for young kids.”

It’s still deemed appropriate for most kids.

If you’re looking for a general cutoff, the consensus is that TV-PG is fine for kids over the age of 10.

Naturally, the decision is ultimately up to the parents.

This is just supposed to be a general guideline that helps parents make a decision with content they haven’t seen at all.

And, in case this isn’t perfectly clear, this rating strongly suggests that Adventure Time is a kids’ show.

#2 How It Was Broadcast

There’s another strong clue as to whether or not Adventure Time is for adults, and that is the way it was marketed and broadcast.

For the entire run, the show aired on Cartoon Network. 

Now, that might lead you to believe that Adventure Time is definitely a kids’ show.

After all, it aired on a network that specialized in showing cartoons for kids.

But, Cartoon Network actually had segments that were very clearly built for adult audiences.

The most notable of those was Adult Swim, and to keep a long story short, Adult Swim content is definitely NOT for kids.

All of that considered, Adventure Time was not aired on Adult Swim or any other adult segment.

It was very much in the kids’ block of content, so once again, we have a strong indicator that this is totally a kids’ show.

#3 What the Production Team Said

We’re not done yet, though.

There’s one factor above all others that really points to Adventure Time being for kids, and that’s the philosophy behind the production team.

After all, a group of people made the show, and they made it on purpose.

They knew who their target audience was the whole time.

If that target audience was children, then it pretty much answers the question, right?

To gain insight into the production philosophy, we can turn to a quote from the show’s creator, Pendleton Ward.

According to Ward, “We don’t like stuff that’s overly gross. We like cute stuff and nice things.”

We’ll talk about adult themes and elements in the show in a bit, but one thing is clear.

The creators of the show never wanted it to be too adult or gross for children.

Kids were the target audience from the beginning, and that did not change through the show’s years on the air.

What Are Things Adults Like About Adventure Time? (3 Things)

This is settled, right?

I just showed you several different ways that Adventure Time is clearly, uncontestedly a show for children.

Is there anything left to say?

Actually, there’s a ton left to say.

You already know this, but a TV show can actually appeal to a wide audience.

You can make something for kids but include elements that appeal to adults.

You’ve surely seen that in various kids’ movies or shows in your own time.

So, to skip a lot of wondering, Adventure Time definitely lives up to this idea.

It is very much a kids’ show, but there are more than a few elements that make it appealing to adults, and that’s precisely why so many adults have loved the show over the years.

In short, I’m saying that even though Adventure Time is for kids, it’s also for adults, and there’s a good chance that you, as an adult, would enjoy watching it (assuming the humor is up your alley).

To really understand that, let’s look at the adult elements that are clearly apparent throughout the series.

#1 Adult Themes

Let’s start with themes.

Adventure Time was on for 10 seasons across 8 years.

That’s a lot of time to run through different plots and ideas.

Plenty of individual episodes catered to children’s themes and ideas.

You could learn about friendship or being nice or whatever.

But, the show was never shy about exploring more mature themes.

I’m not talking about explicit content, but the show definitely entered into gray morality, decisions with no clear right answers, and more adult feelings (more on that in a bit).

As an adult watching the show, there were plenty of winks and nods that most kids missed and adults could regularly enjoy.

This included subtle adult humor, references to real-world themes (like political and pop culture jokes), and tons of other little moments that you’ll enjoy more as an adult than a 10-year-old kid.

The themes are abundant and regularly present, all without taking the show out of the kids’ realm.

I mean, the show is set in a post-apocalyptic future after a nuclear holocaust, yet it has a lot of fun and funny moments.

That alone probably tells you what you need to know.

#2 Cohesive World Building

One thing that really sells Adventure Time to a lot of fans is the world-building.

The showrunners did their best to make everything in the show as cohesive and consistent as possible.

This is not something that is necessary for a lot of kids’ shows.

Kids are often forgiving of inconsistencies across 10 seasons of a show.

Yet, the creators kept to this determination.

As a result, a journey through Adventure Time is a richer, more rewarding experience that is filled with references and consistencies that feel good to an adult mind.

In some sense, watching Adventure Time feels a bit like reading Tolkien.

You can really feel the internal consistency with the magic and science fiction across the series, and that allows you to recognize and understand new items or ideas that are introduced as you go through the content. 

This makes Adventure Time feel much more intellectually stimulating than a lot of kids’ shows that don’t work so hard to maintain internal consistency.

#3 Complex Emotions

If you watched and enjoyed Adventure Time, you might not have ever been able to articulate this point.

It’s not an obvious or overt aspect of the show, but it’s definitely there, and it definitely held a lot of appeal for older viewers.

Despite being a kids’ show, Adventure Time really tried to explore complex emotions.

If you think of typical programming for young audiences, the show might explore some emotions, but things are usually simple.

Characters are happy, sad, angry, or otherwise.

They experience one emotion at a time, they wear their emotions on their sleeves, and the entire process is very obvious.

Adventure Time wasn’t about that.

Instead, the show was constantly exploring simultaneous, conflicting emotions.

As the showrunners put it, they loved to dig deeply into ambivalent emotions.

As an example, feeling happy and sad at the same time would be an ambivalent set of emotions.

The show was rife with this idea and its presentation, and it never stopped at a “kid level” of emotional representation.

The characters are often feeling multiple things at a time for multiple reasons, and by proxy, the audience is drawn into those same complex feelings.

This emotional complexity is rare for a kids’ show.

It’s rare for any show, honestly, and it’s a major part of the draw for many adult viewers.

You can walk away from an episode of Adventure Time feeling more emotionally stimulated than you might from many other TV shows.

And at the same time, you might not ever fully realize that this is one of the things you love about the show because it is subtle and consistently executed.

What Are Things Adults Don’t Like About Adventure Time?

I showed you how and why Adventure Time is a kids’ show. Then, I explained some of the things adults really enjoy about the show.

There’s one more important thing to cover.

What might turn adults off of Adventure Time?

Well, being a kids’ show, Adventure Time is going to feature a lot of moments that really are geared toward young audiences.

If you’re not in the mood for such themes and moments, then they might take you right out of enjoying the show.

What do I mean by that?

Well, kids’ level toilet humor is a common example.

Every kid needs a few fart jokes here and there, and plenty of adults don’t mind.

But, toilet humor for kids looks a lot different from toilet humor for adults.

There’s a lot less cleverness in a lot of the kids’ jokes in the show, and they might not be fun for some adults.

That extends well beyond toilet humor too.

A lot of the dialogue is simplified.

Storylines and plots are ultimately aimed at kids.

The show is sometimes a little loud and obnoxious—something that seems to hold appeal in many kids’ shows (looking at you SpongeBob).

If any of those things bother you, then they could cut into your enjoyment of Adventure Time.

This is a kids’ show. It resonates with a lot of adults because it transcends the limitations of a childrens’ cartoon in many ways, but it’s still a kids’ show.

Is Adventure Time for Adults?

With all of that said, let’s review the original question one more time. Is this show for adults or not?

As you now know, there are elements that are definitely in the show for the sake of mature watchers.

There are also elements that clearly aim at kids.

Whether or not you think the show is for adults is really up to you.

It all boils down to weighing the adult elements against the kids’ elements.

There is nothing in the show that is clearly for adults and only adults, but you’ll find plenty of jokes and references that soar right over the heads of the average 10-year-old viewer.

So, do you find the little nods, complex emotions, and other adult themes worth sitting through childish humor and silly moments?

If the answer is yes, then you think that Adventure Time is for adults.

If not, then for you, it’s a kids’ show, and you should probably treat it as such.

In either case, you’re probably going to have to watch a few episodes to make up your mind.