Nine psychologically-minded animated shows for adults

At Embolden, everything is therapy. I recently asked some clients to speak about the childhood books and shows that were (are) most memorable and striking for them. Graphic novels and animation can reflect and be part of mental health awareness, personal growth, and psychology.  Along those lines, there are some animated series that are particularly psychologically-minded.

The concept of psychological-mindedness means finding the human condition, in all its variety, in oneself and others. It is the capacity to examine yourself with introspection, openness, curiosity, empathy, humor, and a full range of emotions (affect) that subsequently fosters attachment, connection, and growth when employed by a person to understand others. It’s a personality trait that can certainly be developed and practiced.

Certain (animated) shows particularly speak to psychological-mindedness. They may not be for everyone, but if you are interested in psychology and masterful animation, these shows are on point. Please note that these ‘cartoons’ are not for children.

* BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
This is one of the deepest, darkest, and most empathic of shows addressing mental health. It unflinchingly examines depression, substance abuse, mental illness, and feelings of existential angst, along the lines of ‘death of a salesman’ (Arthur Miller). Laugh and cry worthy.

* Cowboy Bebop (Netflix)
The story of Spike, the protagonist, is fundamentally tragic and bittersweet. It examines generational trauma with compassion, humor, and a fantastic jazz score. With clean and tight writing, film noir meets psychology.

*Archer (Hulu)
The sometimes entitled and spoiled protagonist is made likable by his incremental desire to become a better person, with tragicomic setbacks. From his Freudian relationship with the incredible Jessica Walter who played his mother (Superego), to a supporting cast that ranges from the disinhibited Pam (Id) to the vulnerable but pragmatic Lana (Ego), Sigmund would have a field day.

*Invincible (Amazon Prime)
Highlighting the development of the teen son of a superhero who struggles to find his own identity, while coming out from under his father’s shadow and learning about his disturbing family history and long-standing secrets. Coming of age, on steroids.

* Undone (Amazon Prime)
The idea that a gift can also be a curse or hindrance is explored by the main character, Alma, following a tragic accident. The fluidity of time, history, and place is the primary character. Origin stories ARE psychology, and as a bonus, the visuals are stunning.

*Love, Death & Robots (Netflix)
Each short film in the series is from a different writer and director, showcasing their individual creativity, but the theme is sci-fi technology and how it affects humanity. Ranging from the romantic to the hysterically funny and the terrifying, the shorts show how technology is inextricably interwoven into our psyches and mental health.

*King of the Hill (Hulu)
An empathic look at characters with an often limited worldview that is being challenged by ever impinging realities. Their bewilderment and occasional defiant vulnerability in a rapidly changing world they cannot ignore reflects the finesse of the writers who do not allow them to become stereotypes or buffoons. Living in a bubble is not possible; and the show demonstrates this, with kindness and humor.

* Samurai Jack (HBO Max)
“Gotta get back, back to the past, Samurai Jack.” Rapped by will.i.am, the music stays in your head like a personal memory. From creator Genndy Tartakovsky, Samurai Jack combines the poignant yearning to repair past losses with fighting present day and past demons. Literally.  Combining lots of action and remixes from classic samurai films, it remains remarkably emotional. Jack is noble even when he doesn’t want to be. His incredible prowess as a warrior when combined with his humanity and integrity makes him iconic.

*Primal (Adult Swim)
Genndy Tartakovsky at his best. This virtually ‘nonverbal’ show (no spoken words at all in most episodes) presents a bond formed over shared tragedy and the necessity of working together to survive in a perilous world. The development of empathy and cooperation in terrifying circumstances is breathtaking in the series. The nonverbal communication is so nuanced that you literally don’t miss speech. The show may actually reflect the evolution of psychological mindedness.

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Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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