Do You Need HBO Max?: Animated TV edition

There are a LOT of streaming platforms now. Some would even argue too many. As the industry becomes more fragmented, there’s no longer a clear winner in terms of where your streaming dollars get the best bang for your buck. Wednesday’s launch of HBO Max only makes the waters more muddy. So I’ve taken it upon myself to analyze what platforms have the best offerings for different kinds of TV and movies, and I will try my very best to update it often enough that these resources remain useful. Hopefully, this series will help you answer the most important question of our age: What streaming services do you actually need?

And yes, I said series. After I started this project, it became clear that this was too big to be contained to one blog post, so I’m happy to introduce not one, but a whole series of “Do you Need HBO Max?” content.

In this first edition, we’ll be taking on animated television. I’m focusing on western animation as anime is its own world that I am not remotely qualified to write about. If you are an anime fan, please feel free to check out this guide to anime streaming from TechRadar, published in February 2020. We’ll also be focusing on animated shows that will appeal to adult audiences, as I don’t have kids and thus haven’t kept up with what platforms are best suited to keep small children entertained (maybe Disney+ though? I guess?). However, I DID consider programs made for kids that have older fans, such as Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, The Regular Show, etc.

Netflix’s Bojack Horseman ended earlier this year after 6 seasons as one of the most popular adult animation shows of its era.

As I started looking into adult animation, it became clear that the current race comes down to Netflix and Hulu. It’s hard to pick a winner because those two offer different things to the adult animation fan. Hulu offers all the big names that most fans of this genre have loved for years: American Dad, Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers, Rick and Morty, Archer, Daria, and South Park all currently reside at Hulu with hundreds of hours of content between them. But when it comes to exclusive animated content made specifically for that platform, it’s hard to argue that anyone has a better track record than Netflix. I’ve already dedicated an entire post to the amazingness that is Bojack Horseman, and other originals such as Big Mouth, Disenchantment, Aggretsuko, Tuca and Bertie, and Paradise P.D. have their fans as well. The drawback is that most of these shows have relatively few episodes compared to their network and cable television counterparts. The ones that are still in production get roughly 6 hours worth of new episodes per series per year. While I’m confident that Netflix can do this genre quite well when it wants to, it’s a little bit of a bummer that they’re not offering adult animation fans other shows to kill time between new seasons of their originals.

HBO Max is a bit of a wild card in this arena, but it could eventually become the best of both worlds. It’s hard to say before anyone sees their animated originals, but they do have a few on their slate, including a revival of The Boondocks and another called Close Enough from Regular Show creator J.G. Quintel. Plus, they’ll have The Boondocks, Rick and Morty, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force available on Day 1, with South Park arriving on June 24. HBO Max also has secured exclusive rights, which means South Park will be leaving Hulu, though it’s still unclear when. But until HBO Max has a little bit more time to develop their catalog, their adult animation offerings are decent, but not necessarily The Best.

South Park will leave Hulu for to live exclusively on HBO Max.

But right when I was ready to declare Netflix the winner when it comes to adult animated originals and Hulu the winner when it comes to time-tested, super popular content that you won’t burn through too quickly, something pretty crazy happened. Netflix’s top streaming show became Avatar: The Last Airbender. Suddenly it seemed unfair to ONLY consider programming specifically intended for adults, as there are plenty of shows intended for younger children that are enjoyed by adults. So now the question becomes what it always was. Yes, the most important question AFTER “what streaming services do you actually need?”

Are you a Disney person, a Cartoon Network person, or a Nickelodeon person?

While it’s not an exact science and I highly recommend checking on the specific shows you care about before making any commitments ( is a great tool for this) the rough breakdown in summer 2020 goes like this:

  • If you’re a Disney person, Disney+ is the winner (no shit)
  • If you’re a Cartoon Network person, HBO Max squeaks out a narrow win over Hulu
  • If you’re a Nickelodeon person, go with Hulu (well, sort of… Amazon Prime is the only one with Spongebob)

Disney+ is self-explanatory so I won’t dwell on that. When it comes to HBO Max vs. Hulu, nether is completely PERFECT in consistently bringing you one particular network’s shows. Both have similar selections of Cartoon Network originals: The Powerpuff Girls, The Regular Show, Adventure Time, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and Steven Universe are all currently available on both platforms. However, HBO Max also has Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Teen Titans which is why they technically “win” the Cartoon Network category. (Again, this was only considering Cartoon Network shows that I though people in their 20s or older would be interested in, not every single Cartoon Network original). One other non-Cartoon Network factor in HBO Max’s favor is that they have 31 seasons of classic Looney Tunes, plus have announced plans to make more Looney Tunes exclusively for Max.

Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of Netflix’s most streamed shows in May 2020

But if shows like Rugrats or Hey Arnold! are more up your alley, no one can really compete with Hulu, at least not yet. While many Nickelodeon favorites like Rocket Power, Fairly Oddparents, Ren and Stimpy, Catdog, and Rocko’s Modern Life still aren’t streaming anywhere, the bulk of what IS available is on Hulu which also offers Doug, Danny Phantom and Jimmy Neutron in addition to Rugrats and Hey Arnold!. By far, Hulu is the closest thing we have to a central hub of popular NickToons, even if there are glaring gaps such as the aforementioned Avatar: The Last Airbender (Netflix) or Spongebob Squarepants (Amazon Prime). Netflix also struck a deal with Nickelodeon last year. However, this deal has more to do with producing more Netflix exclusive content using Nickelodeon characters and isn’t necessarily going to mean that the original runs of those shows are coming to Netflix anytime soon.

So at least for now, there’s no obvious winner in the Animated TV category. It’s going to come down to what kind of animated shows you like to watch, and also whether or not your priority is animated originals, or animated shows from the past you want to catch up on. Let me know what shows you’ve been binging and where you’ve been binging them, and stay tuned as we venture further into The Streaming Jungle together.

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