Adventure Time just might be one of my favorite TV shows of all time. In terms of writing, creativity, imagination and evolution, I don’t think I’ve seen any show, cartoon or otherwise, in the last decade or so that rivals it. It’s one of those rare shows that kids and adults alike can enjoy on different levels. Kids can enjoy the colorful animation and the zany scenarios the characters are put into, while adults can appreciate its limitless imagination and surprisingly well developed characters. It follows a boy and his dog who go on adventures in the land of Ooo, a magical world full of strange places, strange things, and strange creatures; a fairly simple premise with near infinite possibilities.
Now I made a list similar to this a year ago back when I was a member of Man In Black Reviews, but I’ve been meaning to make a follow-up since the last one needed a serious upgrade. (The show was in the middle of the third season when it was written.) So to commemorate me becoming a new member of That Ruled, I thought this would be a great place to start off. So join me as I take a look at the many adventures of Jake the dog and Finn the human and see which ones were the best written, the funniest, the most imaginative, the most adventurous. Come on and grab your friends, these are the Top 15 episodes of Adventure Time (in my opinion).
15. Ocean of Fear
Finn discovers that he has a crippling fear of the ocean, and Jake decides to help him overcome it.
This is definitely one of the most underrated episodes the show has to offer, and one that I think exemplifies the tone of the first season, which had some great episodes, but was still finding its identity. Ocean of Fear is a great forbearer to what Adventure Time would eventually evolve into. It still adheres to the silly nature and sandbox logic that the show always abides to, but what really took me by surprise was that this was the first episode that hinted at the Land of Ooo’s secret apocalyptic past. Plus this was a big step in Finn’s development as a hero overcoming his fears, which is saying a lot for a kid willing to brazenly charge against giant monsters without a second thought.
14. No One Can Hear You
Finn is knocked unconscious after a wild deer gets into the Candy Kingdom. After he wakes up from a coma, he finds that both his legs are broken, the whole Candy Kingdom is completely deserted (no pun intended), and Jake has gone insane.
This episode is brick-shartingly terrifying! While the show is largely focused on adventures, the writers know how to balance a lot of different kinds of atmosphere. There have been a few freaky episodes like Death In Bloom and Return to the Nightosphere, but this one easily tops the rest. I guess what makes this one so special is not just the tone and atmosphere, but the big reveal at the end, which kind of reminds me of something you’d expect from Courage the Cowardly Dog. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the writers previously worked on that show. I won’t give too much away since the ending is a real creeper, but let’s just say you’ll never look at deer the same way again.
13. Princess Cookie
Things get heated in the Candy Kingdom after a rogue cookie (voiced by Donald Faison) holds a bunch of candy people hostage and demands that Princess Bubblegum relinquish her crown to him in exchange. . When PB sends Jake to negotiate, he finds out he’s not such a bad cookie after all.
There are tons of episodes that focus on one-off characters who leave a surprising impact, like the one where Finn and Jake teach an ogre to stop being a bully without realizing the ecological ramifications he had, or when they met a wizard whose powers were only evil because he only had negative thoughts. Princess Cookie sticks out to me more on a personal level because a lot like some other characters in the show, he’s just misunderstood, and circumstances have driven an otherwise decent guy to do bad things out of desperation. It’s actually a very bleak situation for a kid’s show, but I think the were able to get away with it since most of the characters in this one are all candy people, which kind of makes for some interesting contrast. But that kind of thing is the show’s bread and butter, and it’s certainly a formula they mastered well.
12. Susan Strong
Finn and Jake discover an underground city inhabited by what appears to be a tribe of humans. Finn takes a particular liking to a human named Susan, who he brings to the surface world. But things become problematic when Susan becomes addicted to candy and tries to bring her friends over to eat the Candy Kingdom.
Remember what I said about Adventure Time being set in a post-apocalyptic world? Well, Finn is apparently the last human. That means finding another human to him must be like Superman finding out that there are other surviving Kryptonians. It seems that way at first until Finn learns the humans are actually hyoomans, except for Susan, whose real race is left ambiguous. I’ve actually heard a few interesting theories about Susan. Some people believe she’s Fionna, some believe she’s Finn’s mother. I can’t say for sure who she really is, but I’m sure she’ll play a more important role as the show progresses.
After Finn is rejected by Princess Bubblegum (again), Jake decides to introduce him to a new girl to get his mind off of her. He journeys to the Fire Kingdom where he meets Flame Princess, thinking they’d make a perfect couple, but not realizing what an unstable force of nature she really is.
At this point in the series it’s pretty apparent to Finn that Princess Bubblegum is never going to love him back, which is inevitable since rejection is something all adolescents have to deal with at some point in their lives. I thought that the writers handled it pretty well, and I thought the introduction of Flame Princess as a new love interest was an excellent solution. (I know there are people who like to pair Finn and Marceline, but that would be kind of weird since Marceline is over 1,000 years old and Finn is only 14.) After seeing follow-up episodes that feature her, I’m starting to think that the love between Finn and Flame Princess is kind of a doomed relationship since her passion can be very, how do I say this?… destructive. Another interesting thing about Incendium is that it’s actually both the first half of a two-parter, and the season 3 finale. So Finn’s realization that he has a crush on Flame Princess (which literally happens at the last second) is how the season ends. Now that’s what I call a cliffhanger.
10. Holly Jolly Secrets
Finn and Jake find the Ice King burying some video tapes. Suspicious, they dig them up and bring them back home to watch them and see what he’s up to. When the Ice King find out the tapes have gone missing, he frantically does everything he can to prevent his enemies from watching them and finding his darkest secrets.
Ice King is an… interesting character to say the least. He’s perceived as the series’ main villain, and while he certainly does some dastardly things like kidnap princesses and constantly try to thwart Finn and Jake’s fun, he’s actually the most tragic and sympathetic character in the whole show. In reality he’s very lonely and only really wants some friends, but keeps scaring people away because of his general insanity. Most of the tapes that Finn and Jake watch are just Ice King goofing off and generally being, well, the Ice King, but the last video is a real shocker. I won’t give too much away, but it explains everything about him, from his manic nature, to the source of his powers, to why he’s so fixated on kidnapping princesses. And if you thought that was crazy, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
9. Memory of a Memory
Finn and Jake are called to rescue their friend Marceline after she casts a sleeping spell on herself. Once they enter her mind and retrieve one of her memories, they find out it was all a trick devised by her evil ex-boyfriend to get them back together.
Marceline is without a doubt my favorite character in the series. She’s the character I’d like to hang out with the most in real life, and like the Ice King, there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. In fact they have a lot more in common than you’d think, but we’ll get to that in a minute. As for Marceline herself, much like Holly Jolly Secrets, Memory of a Memory is literally a dive into the labyrinth of her psyche, where we learn about herself, her past, and by extension, more details about the Mushroom War. This episode takes a lot of cues from movies like Inception, Being John Malcovich, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and like those movies, uses the concept to play around with some interesting visuals.
8. Mortal Folly/Mortal Recoil
With the fate of the world at stake, Finn and Jake are called to take on the Lich, an evil sorcerer hell bent on total destruction. He is defeat through the power of liking someone a lot, but things quickly go from bad to worse when, thanks to a slip-up by the Ice King, Princess Bubblegum is possessed by the Lich’s spirit.
This episode is a molotov cocktail of high-stakes epicness mixed with a heavy dose of high octane nightmare fuel. In a show chock full of evil dudes like Hunson Abadeer, Gunther (don’t ask) and Peppermint Butler (again, don’t ask), the Lich is evil incarnate; an unstoppable force whose sole purpose is to bring about the complete and utter destruction of all life and existence. Also, he’s crazy nasty ugly. There are not one, but two epic battles against the Lich, the sight of a possessed Bubblegum is one guaranteed to haunt your nightmares, and the ending has one of my favorite lines in the entire show. (“She’s thirteen now.” “Aw, dang it! Well, that’s it for me. Good night everybody.”) The Lich would return later for the three punch knockout of The Lich, Finn the Human, and Jake the Dog, which takes all the elements of this episode and cranks them up to 11, but this one left a bigger impact on me. Plus the ending coincides with my next pick.
7. Too Young
The now 13-year-old Peebles (after having the Lich exorcised from her, they didn’t have enough gum to completely restore her body) is usurped by her heir to the throne, The Earl of Lemongrab. Realizing what a lousy ruler he is, PB and Finn devise a plan to bring her back to her regular age and get her throne back.
I got a lot of comments on my original list asking why I didn’t put this one on it. Well now I’m remedying that minor mistake, not to appease the fans, but because they’re actually right. Lemongrab is certifiably insane, but instead of being tragic like the Ice King, he’s an experiment by PB gone horribly, horribly wrong. I also like that they follow up on PB still being 13 after her surgery. This leads her and Finn to connect more now that they’re the same age, and engage in Home Alone style antics in an attempt to drive the irritable earl out of their estate. It’s also a nice return to the show’s fun loving status quo after the fate of the world frenzy in Mortal Folly/Mortal Recoil.
6. It Came From the Nightosphere
While jamming with Marceline, Finn learns that she has an estranged relationship with her dad. Determined to reunite father and daughter, he brings them back together, not realizing that her dad is actually a soul sucking demon, and that he just unleashed the ultimate evil onto Ooo.
I think what I like most about Marceline is that we all know girls like her: someone who acts cool and seems like bad news, but has a vulnerable side and isn’t so bad once you get to know them. In the first season she’s portrayed as a typical bad girl who likes messing with Finn’s head, but here, the vulnerable side that would go on to define her for the rest of the season is introduced in full swing. The relationship between her and her father is actually quite compelling, and getting a good look at her dad explains a lot about where she gets her evil tendencies from. In the end they do have a tender moment before Finn glubs it up, and the ending with Jake’s only appearance caught me by surprise.
After her brush with death at the hands of the Lich and her failed experiment with Lemongrab, Princess Bubblegum creates an immortal candy sphinx named Goliad to take her place when she’s gone. Since she’s still young and has a lot to learn, PB sends her with Finn and Jake to learn a few things while while she gets some rest. After seeing Jake discipline some rowdy kids, Goliad’s gets a wrong idea of authority, and quickly turns into a ruthless tyrant.
Goliad is a prime example of one of those episodes that introduces one-off characters that leave lasting impressions. Another one of this show’s strengths is its understanding of children. They understand that even though they’re easily impressionable, they’re also smarter than most adults give them credit for. They definitely use this philosophy when writing Goliad, who due to practically being a baby is kind of a blank slate, even if she is an immortal, psychic sphinx with the brain of a supercomputer. This is exemplified when we see her go from childlike innocence to a full-blown dictator in a manner of seconds. This episode is a philosopher’s dream. It offers a lot of analysis on the powers of the mind and the will of good and evil, and offers a shockingly grim perspective on the nature of life and humanity, especially for a kid’s cartoon. I’ve met people who dismiss Adventure Time as a stupid kid’s show, to which I respond with this, a surprisingly deep story that teaches an important message for both kids and adults.
4. Fionna & Cake
The story behind this episode is actually kind of interesting. Fionna and Cake are female counterparts to Finn and Jake created by character designer Natasha Allergi, who also created gender-bent versions of the rest of the cast. She posted pictures of them on Tumblr to tremendous fanfare. Pendleton Ward, who was already impressed by Natasha’s creations, took notice and decided to make an episode starring them. To this day, Fionna and Cake remains Adventure Time’s highest rated episode.
The internet has forever changed the way that creators interact with their fans, and this episode (along with the Derpy Hooves cameo in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic) is a testament to how much that interaction can influence the show itself. Not only are we introduced to Fionna and Cake, but also the Ice Queen, Marshal Lee, Lord Monochromicorn, and Prince Gumball (and voiced by Neil Patrick Harris). Everything about it just works, especially the ending where they reveal just where these characters came from. Like I said, this remains one of the show’s most popular episodes, so much so that they made another one recently, and will probably make more in the future. If you ask me, there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
3. What Was Missing
Finn, Jake, Princess Bubblegum, Marceline and BMO are all robbed by a door lord. In order to open his last door and get their stuff back, they must form a band and play a song that will make the door open.
One important thing I haven’t talked about yet is the show’s music. Adventure Time has always had great songs, most of which were written by storyboard artist Rebecca Sugar, who also wrote the songs in It Came from the Nightosphere, Susan Strong, and Incendium, but this one features some of her best. Aside from the songs that the gang ends up making together being really good, the characters themselves bounce off each other in a way that they never had before. We learn that Marceline and Princess Bubblegum used to be friends until something caused a rift between them, and we see Finn’s torment at seeing two of his best friends fight, and seeing him bare his soul to them in song form is one of the crowning achievements of the entire show.
2. I Remember You
Hoping to write a new song in order to bag some princesses, Ice King tracks down Marceline to ask her for help. Marceline insists that they have a long past, but is emotionally frustrated when Ice King doesn’t remember any of it.
One of the things I admire the most about Adventure Time is its consistency. Not just with its tone, but also with continuity. Despite the show’s seemingly random nature, everything there does have a purpose and eventually comes back into play. In this case the show’s post-apocalyptic past is brought up to ask a question about the show’s two oldest and most developed characters; are they somehow related? Seeing how both Ice King and Marceline were alive before the Mushroom War, it would make sense that they had some kind of connection, even if they never really interacted at all at this point. What we get is one of the most emotionally invested episodes of the entire series with some real convincing drama, with Ice King’s mood swings and Marceline’s frustration with his inability to remember anything. In a way, it’s like a less depressing version of watching someone deal with someone with dementia. Couple that with some of Rebecca Sugar’s best songs and you got yourself one heck of a tearjerker.
1. Thank You
While Finn and Jake try to get their stolen sandwiches back from the Ice King, a snow golem finds a lost fire wolf pup, takes care of him and tries to bring him back home.
When making this list, I knew the #1 spot had to either go to I Remember You or Thank You. As great as I Remember You is, it kind of needs some context to be fully appreciated. That certainly wasn’t the case with Thank You. Thank You is actually different from every other episode of Adventure Time in a lot of ways. Finn and Jake are barely in it, there isn’t a lot of action, and there’s barely any dialogue. It’s more like a Pixar short film than a typical cartoon. And I’m not the only one who noticed this. The creators actually submitted it as a non-competitive animated short at the Sundance Film Festival, and was even considered for an Oscar nomination sense it was shown in theaters before certain movies. The emotional intensity here is potent. Without saying a single word, the Snow Golem has won himself into the hearts of many, and we genuinely care about his determination to bring his fire wolf friend home, even if it kills him. This episode proves that the writers of Adventure Time aren’t just a bunch of over-imaginative man-children, but brilliant storytellers who understand the power of animation. Heartwarming, unique, and brilliantly executed, Thank You is a perfect episode for a near perfect show.
Honorable mentions: My Two Favorite People, Memories of Boom Boom Mountain, Rainy Day Daydream, To Cut A Woman’s Hair, Death In Bloom, Belly of the Beast, Five Short Graybles, Dad’s Dungeon, Return to the Nightosphere, Gotcha, Burning Low, Lady and Peebles, Reign of Gunthers, All The Little People, Mystery Dungeon