Adventure Time, Explained

Adventure Time, Explained

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 humour 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.

Adventure Time, Explained

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.

Adventure Time, Explained

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?

Adventure Time, Explained

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. 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?

Adventure Time, Explained

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 realises a princess might be in danger, he gets…

Adventure Time, Explained

...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 favourite 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:

Adventure Time, Explained

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 [email protected] or find her on Twitter at @tinaamini.


    I too am an avid fan of this show...a mid-20's fan.

    I heard a rumour that Finn is actually a kid stuck in a fantasy land due to being in a coma in real life. Any validity to this?

      I think not, considering that's a pretty common fan theory for anything fantasy and animated. The Pokemon/Ash one is pretty silly

    This, Regular Show and Gumball. My, I mean my boys favourites!

      Gumball doesn't get the attention it deserves I reckon!


        My kids also love Happy Tree Friends so yeah, dey be kerazy.

    I'm a recent newcomer to the Adventure Time fraternity. A friends bought me the first season on DVD for Christmas and I've been loving it ever since. Time constraints have meant that I've only just worked my way to the beginning of season 4 but it is quickly becoming, in my eyes, one of my favourite shows for all of the reasons mentioned by the author. It's mixture of lighthearted humour, insanity, utter ridiculousness and zany characters who suck you in and then there's a steady realisation of the depth within the show that hooks you.

    Finn is my favourite character followed by Marceline and I have a soft spot for Ice King.

    Last edited 12/05/15 1:31 pm

    What's actually happening in Adventure Time:

      Please, that's been a theory for everything, from Pokemon (Boththe show and every videogame) to things like Calvin an Hobbes. There's nothing to it.

        Fuck people can't take a joke can they?

          Your post has nothing to signify it as being a joke, not to mention the very first comment in the article is someone asking if the rumour is true.

    I've seen a few, disjointed episodes here and there, and dispite the simple dialogue and morals, Finn's world DID appear to have an inexplicable weight pressing down on it. His situation seemed sad.

    I also liked the "felix the cat" animation style which comes off as disturbing through its fluid handling of reality.

    Last edited 12/05/15 2:38 pm

    still wish Simon and Marcy would get a survival game spinoff - like in so many things it's the villains and anti-heroes who have so much more character and character development ..though Finn did start to mature a bit more around the Flame Princess arc

      I would play the crap out of that game. I adore Simon and Marcy's arc.

        I also think it could be something spectacularly moving if it basically turns around the whole skill tree design - I could imagine it starting out like a more urban Don't Starve, but where every point you put into your ice magic abilities removes things like conversational skills or other equipment abilities until you're functionally an NPC boss monster ...or co-op where Simon becomes the broken monster and Marcy has to grow into his former guardian role!

      A game just like Last of us. Just replace Joel with Simon and Ellie with Marcy

    I like Gunter.

    And PB.

    And lemongrab freaks me out.

    Watchign it stoned is one thing, On Lucy is a whole new ballgame.
    I'm surprised they can get away with half of the jokes in this "kids show" - Oh wait, its really well written and you need to read between the lines.

    I found I couldn't grasp this show for the life of me to begin with, until I stopped trying to figure out what the hell was going on and just enjoy it. I think it's the single most appealing thing about it to me, it doesn't make any sense. It doesn't need to either.

    Yeh good to watch but the underlying morals its teaching kids are bad. He just goes round punching everyone in the face.

    Watching the first season through for the first time, then hitting Holly Jolly Secrets. It's a real surprise gut-punch.

    Love all the characters except one- LSP. Cannot stand her to the point where i must remind myself that setting fire to the tv when she is on is probably not a good idea (the urge is strong tho). It bums me out that Pen Ward voices her cuz its her voice n persona that makes me see red mist. Would pay big bucks to watch BMO beat her to death!

    It's nice that there's a proverbial kids show out there that takes blood, guts, killing, death etc head on like the good ol' days instead of pretending those things don't exist like almost every other show. Kids need exposure to these themes to toughen them up a bit.

    To be fair about the weirdness of the show, I have a feeling that now in this new season they are trying out some new things and even I as an avid AT fan am wondering where they were going with some of that stuff. Nevertheless, I love EVERY episode with Magic Man in them.
    Time Sandwich is probably my favourite of those, and he is the most random foe Finn and Jake have ever faced. He's not evil or anything, he just likes to mess with everyone.
    My 16 month old son totally ignores the tv when Adventure Time is on, but laughs when he sees Jake The Dog's funny face, and just goes nuts on the end credit music.

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