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2024’s Online Animation Boom: The Midst of a Golden Age

Wondering what online animation is? Read this to dive into the world of web animation, and check out what’s popular in the sphere right now!

Stills from Helluva Boss, The Amazing Digital Circus, and Natural Habitat Shorts. (Credit: Youtube/@SpindleHorse, @GLITCH, and @NaturalHabitatShorts respectively)

Animation has always been a powerful medium of creative expression since its inception. But now, many individuals and small groups of creatives have come together to make massive headway within the frontier of online animation as opposed to the usual Hollywood or mainstream productions.

What is Online Animation?

The term ‘online animation’ (sometimes referred to as web or indie animation) is primarily used to describe projects that are released by small teams. This is in contrast to the large studios that we’re used to seeing on TV or in theatrical films. For example, Disney, DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, and more. Online animated projects allow creatives to visualize and tell the stories that they want to without corporate mandates.

This trend of creatives making animated content online is not a new one, far from it in fact. Many pioneers of web animation primarily congregated on platforms such as YouTube (which I’m sure many of us are already familiar with), and Newgrounds (an online entertainment site started in 1995 that still operates to this day).

In the early days of web animation, many projects would rise to modest success through online circles, gathering cult followings. A notable product of early online animation would be David Firth’s Salad Fingers, a short adult horror series from Newgrounds that eventually migrated to YouTube. The YouTube release from 2007 has since amassed over forty-six million views!

An early example of a successful web animation, that being, Salad Fingers.
The first scene of the web series Salad Fingers, which was first published in 2004 to Newgrounds before re-releasing on YouTube in 2007. (Credit: YouTube/@davidfirth)

But something changed since then. For one, many online animations have adopted TV-like qualities, such as bigger lengths, costs, and teams. Yet, in the midst of these changes, others have leaned into the short format of prior works.

Additionally, the demand has grown alongside the animations themselves. For example, episode one of The Amazing Digital Circus has gained three-hundred-twenty million views at the time of writing! The episode achieved this with an October 2023 release. This is a fraction of the time it took for predecessors like Salad Fingers to gain their impressive view counts. This puts things into perspective and brings us comfortably into the question at hand.

Are We In A Golden Age?

Many creators would argue that we are. With the online animation space having exploded in popularity there is a real chance that we’re in the midst of a wonderful time for the medium to flourish and grow.

Despite the smaller teams compared to mainstream productions, online releases that we’ve seen from late 2023 until now in 2024 have been of amazing quality. In some cases, they’ve rivaled big Hollywood studios in popularity with new and original content. This comes at a time when mainstream animation and entertainment at large is more focused on churning out sequels, reboots, and remakes of existing properties.

Arguably the most popular series in the sphere right now is The Amazing Digital Circus, which happens to be an exploration of existential dread masquerading as a whimsical wonderland. But if you’d want something spicier, the rated-R dramatic comedy of Helluva Boss may be more your style. And for something bite-sized, with a more down-to-Earth concept, the humorous and relatable Natural Habitat Shorts may strike a chord.

These are only a few of many examples, so its fair to say that the space of online animation might just have something for everyone. And here’s the kicker. This content is completely free to watch right now on platforms we may already use in our day-to-day online lives. No streaming services. No paid subscriptions.

Even with the multitude of streaming services dominating at-home entertainment, online animation has gained a strong foothold in both longer episodic formats, and as easily sharable short-form content. Firstly, I’ll cover the bigger projects.

The Heavy-Hitters of Indie Animation

Here, I’m referring to projects that have become similar to things that directly rival mainstream animation. These usually boast impressive visuals, and longer runtimes at the cost of higher budgets and much slower outputs.

Firstly, I’ll begin with the first of these series that I’ve watched in-full. That being Helluva Boss, which began its run with Vivziepop’s late 2019 pilot. The show is currently airing its second season with the most recent episode as of now coming out on May 31st of 2024.

Helluva Boss is an R-rated comedy following Blitzø (yes, the cross in the ‘o’ is canon). He’s an imp living in the depths of Hell who runs an assassination business alongside a cast of fun characters. This all culminates in a funny, yet dramatic setup for Blitzø to explore his place in the world, and his place alongside those around him.

A screenshot from Helluva Boss, one of the most popular Online Animation series to date.
Blitzø chewing out his employee Moxxie in episode 1 of the series. (YouTube/@SpindleHorse)

The series is not at all for the faint of heart though. It takes pride in excessive swearing and sex jokes, violent action sequences, and plenty of dark topics such as abuse. That and the stunning animation makes this series worth a watch. Especially if you enjoy crass comedies or the angsty drama that eventually bubbles up to the surface.

Next up, we have The Amazing Digital Circus, the rising star of 2023. As mentioned earlier, the show aims to tackle ideas of existential dread. All within a colorful wonderland, reminiscent of old computer games from the 90s and 2000s. The main character, Pomni is the newest addition to the lineup of lost and weary people, trapped in this world.

An expressive screenshot from Episode 2 of hit online animation series, The Amazing Digital Circus.
In episode 2, the characters engage in a truck chase, during which the expressiveness of the animation really shines. (Credit: YouTube/@GLITCH)

The 3D animation was undoubtedly the main appeal of this show to me, the character models are amazingly expressive. This is despite their strange geometric forms at times. So far there are two episodes, both extremely popular with massive view counts.

The creator of the series, Gooseworx, has worked with GLITCH Productions to truly catch lightning in a bottle here. But this isn’t GLITCH’s first rodeo with a popular creator-driven show. Far from it, with this being their fourth series overall and second outing with a creator-driven show.

That brings us to Murder Drones. GLITCH’s next most popular show, created by Liam Vickers. This series predates The Amazing Digital Circus, releasing the pilot in late 2021. However, it has seen sporadic releases making up a first season until March of 2024. The season finale is also slated to come out sometime this year.

A screenshot from episode 1 of Murder Drones depicting an action scene.
One of the titular Murder Drones finds the protagonist Uzi and prepares to well… murder her. (Credit: YouTube/@GLITCH)

The series also uses 3D animation as is GLITCH’s specialty, to bring fun robot characters to life. These range from edgy tweens like the protagonist Uzi, to the deadly but wholesome N.

These characters inhabit a bleak setting. Copper 9, an extraterrestrial planet devoid of humanity as eldritch technological entities seek to destroy whatever they can. Murder Drones is one of those lore-heavy shows that gets even better on subsequent re-watches. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in eldritch horror, or robots destroying one another in increasingly cool or brutal ways.

Speaking of extraterrestrial settings, the final series I want to discuss isn’t nearly as popular as any I’ve mentioned before. But it happens to be my personal favorite of the bunch. That being, Zeurel’s Monkey Wrench.

The story follows two space-faring mercenaries, the rash and abrasive Shrike Sanchez and his burly, but kind friend, Beebs. The two engage in missions which usually end in chaotically fun battles.

A screenshot showcasing the two protagonists of the Web Animation series Monkey Wrench
Shrike Sanchez and Beebs pose with their preferred weaponry. (Credit: YouTube/@MonkeyWrenchSeries)

This series is animated in a comic-like 2D style, using color and lighting to great effect, making every scene into delicious eye-candy. The guitar-centric soundtrack, and grungy sci-fi aesthetic also really spoke to me as a viewer. Not to mention, the friendship between Beebs and Shrike is really fun to watch develop.

The series began in June of 2023, with a fourth episode currently in production. However, the show’s staying power is sometimes tenuous, as it was unable to capture a massive audience like its contemporaries. Totally worth a watch though if anything mentioned thus far sounds interesting.

There are so many amazing projects I haven’t been able to mention here, but they all share some things in common. Impressive visuals, easy accessibility, and creative freedom unburdened by corporate meddling. But with all these big productions making waves, where are all the little guys? That is where we get into the wealth of short-form animated content.

Short-Form Superstars

When I discovered the ongoing boom in online animation, a topic that remained absent from many conversations was that of shorter animations. And on paper, one can see why.

Longer productions that directly compete with mainstream animated releases may appear flashier, and more impressive. Yet some of the most popular online animations of this current year are those dominating short-form content ecosystems.

In a sense, these shorter projects harken back to the roots of online animation. Where individuals or very small teams would make short, but still engaging content. A great example of this is the Natural Habitat Shorts series, which has gained massive success through social media and video-sharing platforms.

These shorts consist of colorful animal characters going through funny but relatable situations. For example, one has an opossum having to empty its pockets to get through TSA at the airport. Except those pockets are full of its babies. Another may be about an axolotl child chopping off regenerative appendages the same way a kid would cut their own hair while unsupervised. These animations have fit right in on TikTok and YouTube Shorts, with each episode gaining millions of views without fail.

@naturalhabitok

Fun fact: Axolotls are able to completely regrow their limbs, tail, gills, brain and heart in just a few weeks. 🦎✂️🦵Thank you @Chelsea Low for voicing the mom! #naturalhabitatshorts #naturalhabitat #naturalhabitok

♬ original sound – Natural Habitat Shorts

Another massively popular short-form series is Rabbert, which follows the day to day antics of two animated characters and their creator. These two animated characters, Rabbert and Nestor, are animated in 2D, but interact with a live-action setting.

Some of the episodes are also augmented by 3D animation or gameplay footage. This style cuts down on having to animate elaborate backgrounds, and allows the animated characters to feel more grounded in reality.

Rabbert is a charming series that usually relies on slapstick, and the occasional reference or joke about trends such as mobile game ads or food challenges.

On both TikTok and YouTube Shorts, episodes range from millions of views on the low end, and several tens of millions on the higher end. The simple premise and style appears to have really connected with the audience.

Lastly for short-form animation, one creator that caught my eye was TheOdd1sOut, most recognizable for his YouTube content in the “story-time animation” genre. Little did I know, influencers such as him are also producing short-form animations similar to the others I’ve discussed thus far.

In this particular case, his shorts follow a similar style to his longer content, but more chaotic. When watching a few, I found them to be more zany and unpredictable than others like Natural Habitat Shorts. So if you want short-form animation that’s more out there with the humor, that collection might be the one for you.

It’s been pretty exciting to see well-established creators and newcomers alike gain success through animation in recent times. But this all leaves another question to be addressed.

Can This Golden Age Last?

The answer to this question remains unclear. The answer is both a yes and no. For some larger projects, like the aforementioned Helluva Boss or the many short-form animations that continue to dominate social media, the answer is a resounding yes.

This is in no small part due to the massive audiences and support garnered by them. As for more niche projects, the future remains uncertain.

For every Amazing Digital Circus or Rabbert that hits the ground running in popularity, there are several cases closer to that of Monkey Wrench. Amazing projects, dripping with potential and quality that still struggle to stay afloat, let alone take the internet by storm. For them, the answer is not a confident “yes” but rather, an optimistic yet bleak “hopefully” which is a real shame.

Animation is not cheap. The sustainability of online animation has always been a big issue, and an important talking point. Some projects like Monkey Wrench constantly struggle with raising enough money to even fully animate their episodes.

A screenshot showing one way web animations garner funding, in this case, an announcement to advertise themed merchandise.
Scratch from Monkey Wrench hosting an in-universe advert for merchandise that will help fund future episodes of the series. (Credit: YouTube/@MonkeyWrenchSeries)

YouTube’s ad-revenue is often hardly enough to support a solo influencer, let alone a whole team of talented artists. As such, many projects (even the big ones), have to rely on alternative means to make a profit, ranging from merchandise, sponsorships, crowdfunding, and donation platforms like Patreon.

So if you’re ever looking for something new to watch, do consider any of the projects I’ve mentioned here. And there are plenty more that I wasn’t able to talk about that are likely just as entertaining. They’re free to watch, and appreciate all the support or attention they can get. In this golden age, online animation has potential to continue being a win-win for both creatives and consumers.

Written By

I'm an English Major and Writing Minor who wishes to write engaging, entertaining, and thoughtful works about the topics I am passionate about. At the moment, I am especially interested in topics such as the medium of writing itself, web/indie animation, video games, literary criticism, and prehistory/paleontology.

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