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Adventure Time, Explained

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Adventure Time is the source of much of my happiness. Considering the rabid fans out there, you’d think I wouldn’t even have to explain Adventure Time.

Five years, six seasons and countless comic and game adaptations later, Adventure Time still commands a powerful (and creative!) fan community. You either get it or you don’t. You like cute animations and silly adventures, or you don’t. The quirky humor jibes with you or it doesn’t.


Or maybe this show just needs a little bit of explaining. Let’s do this.

Ok. So it’s a cartoon about a boy and his dog, right?

On the surface, yes. It’s a Cartoon Network show about Finn the Human and Jake the Dog, who can morph into all sorts of helpful shapes and sizes.


Any shape or size?

Yes, truly. Jake is a magical, mutating machine, and he’s creative to boot. So you see a lot of wacky Jake-creations throughout the show.

Ok, so what do they do on this show?

They live in the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo, amongst various magical kingdoms, like the Candy Kingdom or the Fire Kingdom. Each day Finn and Jake manage to land themselves on some kind of adventure, usually rescuing someone who needs rescuing and defeating someone (or something) that needs defeating.


So they’re adventurers? Comrades? Companions?

They are all those things. They’re also roommates and adoptive brothers. They’re insanely in tune with one another, which is a joy on its own to watch.


I gather there’s some kind of special bond between these two?

Quite. Finn and Jake are always on the same page. They’re playful, but have each other’s backs, too. If Finn is feeling particularly curious about exploring a creepy dungeon, Jake is always right there with him, extending his limbs in all manners to help him on the adventure.


They enjoy indulging in snacks and sweets, and understand each other on both the fundamental, brotherly level but also in ways that involve aspects of their personality. They’re both romantics in their own way, crack silly jokes, make silly faces. When they’re on screen together, it often feels like the show doesn’t even need anything else to be as warm and charming as it is. As Finn once said, it’s nice when they have their alone, bro time.


So I should like them because they are down-to-earth dudes?

Well, they’re also huge gamers, if that helps. Several episodes feature Finn and Jake playing with BMO, their live-in handheld gaming device (who also performs many, many other functions for the duo, like cooking). There’s even an episode where Finn and Jake are transported into one of their own games and they have to play their way out.

Card Wars, a card game featured in yet another episode, is also now a real game you can play on your iDevice, and it’s actually one of the better games inspired by the show.


Are they the best characters?


That depends on your taste. I like BMO and Marceline the Vampire Queen best (my affection for the latter of which is in no small part due to people telling me I look like her). BMO is innocent and adorable, and Marceline might be the opposite. She’s devilish, but ultimately has a good heart. She sings beautifully and shreds on her axe-guitar like a pro.

A lot of people gravitate towards Lumpy Space Princess (voiced by series creator Pen Ward himself). She’s a bit of a drama queen and narcissist, but she’s got a no-bullshit attitude, too. Tree Trunks is a thing in some corners of the Internet, but I’ve never understood her. Must be something about all the delicious pies she likes to make Finn and Jake.


There are so many characters spanning so many kingdoms that it’s easy to like and dislike a bunch of them. Some of them aren’t even supposed to be very likable.

Lemongrab is a pretty divisive character, and I’m sure you can see why here:

Though he would likely find your disinterest unacceptable.

This sounds cute and all, but aren’t cartoons for kids?

On the surface, maybe. But how many “cartoons” can you think of that have hinted at adult themes or hidden more complex and mature ideas underneath the surface stuff? This is definitely one of those. Its themes and its entertainment value are both universal.

Advertisement you need to be stoned to enjoy this show?

No, but it certainly does help.

Did you write this article while stoned?

No. I’m a professional.

Aren’t some episodes just really fucking weird though?

Yes, they can be very fucking weird. But it’s always either in an adorable or hilariously terrifying way.


I mean…

There are entire realms that are pretty fucked up, too. Take the Nightosphere, the hell-like domain of demons and its devil ruler known as Hunson Abadeer (who is also Marceline’s dad).

There are actually a surprising number of episodes with straight up guts and organs hanging out for Finn and Jake to navigate. It’s similar to Invader Zim, in that sense. There is some truly disturbing imagery, but it’s all wrapped in a cartoon so it still looks adorable?


This is all sounding pretty...mature. And kind of graphic.

Yup. And it’s not just the guts stuff that can be mature. There are tons of mature themes to unfold in a bunch of episodes. Adventure Time deals with concepts that are complicated, real and relatable.


Like what?

There’s suicide.


Yes, suicide. There’s betrayal. There are alternate realities. There are issues with abandonment in families, and in turn forging new families. There’s real romance, and the very real heartbreak that often follows it:

You see multiple characters struggle to grow and struggle to deal with that. They’re cute in the way they go about it, and you’ll often laugh at or with them, but underneath it all it’s tragic in a beautiful way. Finn is a teenage boy, and he makes mistakes like one. You watch him go through relationships, fuck up, learn, evolve. It’s all very genuine and real.


It’s not immediately apparent that Adventure Time takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, too. Under pink skies and cute songs, it’s easy to forget all about the violence and death that set the stage. When the show decides to remind you of that fact, it hits even harder. It’s that constant juxtaposition—of light and dark, of happiness and tragedy—that is at the soul of Adventure Time.

Jeez, that’s pretty dark. How is all this appealing to kids?

It comes down to how it’s all represented. When Finn or Jake (or any of the show’s characters, really) show emotions—even sad emotions—it’s always a little bit amusing and cute. Facial expressions, the way the actors play things, and the way the characters are animated all make a huge difference in the tone of the show and the tone of the very serious matters it portrays.


When Finn realizes a princess might be in danger, he gets…


...pretty mad. It’s even funnier if you listen to him, at about 7 minutes and 53 seconds in:

Wow. I can’t tell if he’s mad or being playful.

That’s kind of the point. It’s both, in a sense.

Finn is genuinely concerned at a genuine risk, but it’s his demonic whisper and blacked-out eyes that add a sense of comedy to it. And that’s Adventure Time in a nutshell. You understand the gravity of the situation, but you can’t help but laugh at it anyway. It’s a mirror to what the show is at its heart: part silly, part serious.


As series creator Pen Ward describes it to the LA Times, Adventure Time is “candyland on the surface and dark underneath.”

That’s a lot to unravel. This all happens in the span of six seasons?

Yep, but not all at once. That’s part of the other appeal of Adventure Time. It’s deceptively deep, and it unravels slowly. For the first few episodes, it seems like some goofy show with goofy characters who say goofy things. And then you learn more about the characters. You go back in time. You’re told stories from before the war that led to the apocalypse. You meet characters’ parents. You see how things have changed, and how characters have changed.


There is a long story arc to follow in Adventure Time. It changes your perception of these characters, and makes them feel real. It’s a lot more than just a cartoon. It’s a magical representation of very real concepts and life situations. You start to get the idea of a bigger picture, with clues dropped intermittently between episodes, until eventually, all of a sudden, it’s not all cute animated faces and butt jokes. It’s a complex weaving of real-life struggles and real-life triumphs, carefully constructed over a whole bunch of episodes.

Struggles are a good thing?

One of my favorite things about anime is how much depth there is to the characters and their experiences. Those shows—like Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist or Attack on Titan—often center around children, but they deal with adult issues and exhibit real-life values that even some real-life people struggle to incorporate into their lives. Under the surface of magic or battles or drama, there’s something inspiring.


Ugh. This doesn’t sound fun anymore. This sounds too real.

Nah, ultimately Adventure Time is still a quirky animated show celebrating friendship and adventure. Its darker aspects are more subtle.


There seems to be a lot of singing on this show, too.

Yes, and this is the best remix of one of the songs:

There’s also a cameo or two by Donald Glover, doing what he does best:

Who even comes up with this stuff?

Pen Ward is the series creator, as I mentioned earlier, but it’s important to remember that he has a team of storyboard writers and artists who handle a lot of the work behind the show. Though he is certainly the face and name behind it.


It’s also important to remember that he drew this for me:


Very important.

Very important.

Anything else?

Well, I mean, Hugh Jackman is a fan…



Say no more.


To contact the author of this post, write to or find her on Twitter at @tinaamini.