It’s a hard thing to end a show. So many shows get it wrong that it’s become something of an inevitablility to expect weak endings to popular shows, especially the longer they go on. After all, the longer your show is, the harder it becomes to end and the higher the expectations are.
Animated shows are no different, and with the nature of animation as a fluid medium you also run the added bonus of ending a show that may have a distinct status quo that is almost never broken. While many shows have been able to end on high notes – like Steven Universe and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – these are 10 that stand out as the best of the best in the crowd.
Adventure Time – Come Along with Me
10 seasons of content is hard enough to end and wrap up, but Adventure Time had the added issue of being a serialized, ongoing narrative. With dozens of characters, storylines, and themes to tie together, “Come Along with Me” had a lot to prove. At 44 minutes, it’s the longest episode of the show by a significant margin and follows the “Gum War” that had been building throughout the tenth season.
What follows is a massive affair that ends every character arc in sublime fashion – Finn manages to say goodbye to Fern, Marceline and Bubblegum get together, and the Ice King confronts his baggage. But most of all, it’s a definitive, conclusive end, one that one ends how the story starts: with a boy and a dog finding a magical sword. It’s a poetic final image that ties the themes of the show together beautifully.
Amphibia – The Hardest Thing
When Amphibia premiered in July 2019, the series became mostly popular for its witty, fast-paced humor, unique setting, and likable characters. Over the course of it’s three season run, however, the show quickly (and quietly) developed into one of the best shows on TV with complex, three-dimensional character writing, engaging storytelling, and pushing the boundaries of what can be shown on children’s television with some of the darkest moments in Disney Channel history.
To be expected, the finale of Amphibia did something similar, going against expectations and delivering a finale that was both satisfying yet thought-provoking. The three girls – Anne, Sasha, and Marcy – all had various baggage going into the final season and the finale manages to allow all of them to confront it while also teaming up to fully take down the Core. And while there is a bittersweet nature to their departure, it has maturity unlike other shows and allows our characters to have lives away from each other.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – Sozin’s Comet
A two-hour event unlike anything else ever shown on Nickelodeon, “Sozin’s Comet” comes off on the heels of the third and final season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the best season of one of the best shows ever on television. While some fans still debate on a couple of small details in the finale and whether they take away from it, most fans agree it was worth the wait.
And what a spectacle to behold! With the necessary character development already laid out, “Sozin’s Comet” is mainly a big, final action blowout, and it’s the best action the show has. Azula and Zuko’s duel in particular is a striking piece of animated beauty – the cello and violin that wails over the image of two siblings in a duel to the death is a powerful, emotionally charged scene, and the final moments of the show are some of the most satisfying on television.
Bojack Horseman – Nice While It Lasted
What’s fascinating about Bojack Horseman as a show is how much it refuses to be like any other adult animated comedy show. Where one show would take the subject and satirize it, Bojack looks inward and truly deconstructs, refusing to play by the rules of the medium and doing something completely new and unique.
The finale of Bojack Horseman is the same way. Bojack spends the finale on furlough from his time in prison and meets with the major members of the cast one by one, talking about their own relationship to him and with him. It’s almost a self-psychoanalysis of where these characters end up, and the quiet beauty of the episode is punctuated by a possibly career best performance from Alison Brie as Diane.
Futurama – Meanwhile
A show that ended two times prior, Futurama thankfully saved the best for last when it came to its final episodes. While “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings” is satisfying on its own, and “Into the Wild Green Yonder” is fun if a bit too bombastic, “Meanwhile” is a genuinely thoughtful, bittersweet conclusion that focuses on the main relationship between Fry and Leela.
Fry and Leela getting to spend their life together in frozen time is powerful enough, but the message of the episode, which basically comes down to “life is worth living” is a simple yet thoughtful one that encapsulates the best of the show. The small stakes of the episode is a nice change from what could have been a huge finale, and ends up working in its favor as a satisfying conclusion.
Gravity Falls – Weirdmaggedon
“Weirdmaggedon” represents the culmination of two seasons of mystery buildup and setup for Gravity Falls‘ shockingly complex narrative. And while the clues were all there from the first episode onward, it’s a testament to how strong the storytelling of the show is that the ending both makes perfect sense in the long run while also being a genuine shocker in many regards.
Showcasing the final battle against series antagonist Bill Cipher and his minions as he attempts to end the world, the three-part, two hour finale wraps up each character arc in satisfying ways while also giving a strong emotional pull for our leads in regard to their relationship. In the end, Gravity Falls is a story about siblings, and the ending focuses on both pairs (Dipper and Mabel, Stan and Stan) equally to parallel them.
King of the Hill – To Sirloin with Love
The last couple of years of King of the Hill had a rough go, particularly as the series began running on fumes in terms of storyline ideas. Creator Mike Judge clearly thought so too, but episodic, laid back nature of King of the Hill meant to wrap up it had to do something different from most shows.
So, King of the Hill opted for a conclusion that only this show could have done: a small, everyday episode that follows Hank and Bobby trying to find common ground. It’s a sweet, heartwarming episode that reminds you why you loved King of the Hill in the first place.
Phineas and Ferb – Last Day of Summer
Despite being an episodic show, Phineas and Ferb‘s winning formula for over 129 full length episodes (not counting each individual segments plus two movies) has managed to win the hearts of viewers all over the world thanks to its stellar humor, great characters, and creative storylines that get more and more inventive as the show goes on. And as Disney’s most popular cartoon by a significant mile, it was going to be no easy task to end it.
But the genius of “Last Day of Summer”, one of the show’s best episodes, and it’s pitch perfect finale, is that it realized the title characters aren’t the leads at all. Instead, it’s their sister Candace and the bumbling Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, and the finale focuses solely on them as it gives their characters arcs one last hurrah. Oh, and the music is incredible too, but audiences expected that.
Samurai Jack – CI
After being canceled initially by Cartoon Network in its fourth season, Samurai Jack was given the chance for one final season to wrap up the story for fans. And as the show’s audience grew up, it got a TV-MA rating to boot with an extra amount of blood and violence to emphasize its darker, more serialized tone.
“CI”, the finale to Samurai Jack, finally gives a fitting conclusion to the saga, albeit a more bittersweet one than one initially assumed. After finally defeating Aku, Jack and Ashi get married right before Ashi disappears due to the timeline reset. While having finally found peace, Jack is unable to enjoy it as he is once again alone. And while it’s not the happiest ending for our beloved samurai, it’s the perfect one, perfectly emulating the classic lonely samurais that Jack was originally based on.
Star Wars Rebels – Family Reunion and Farewell
While both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Resistance have managed to end their shows on relatively high notes, none of them come close to the closure and overall personal stakes of Star Wars Rebels‘ finale. The final showdown against Grand Admiral Thrawn in their attempt to save Lothal is both an emotional high point for the series while also explaining away some key elements that tie into Rogue One and A New Hope.
But what really makes the finale so good is that, while it has connections to other Star Wars stories and leads into future shows at the same time, it still manages to stand on it’s own as a fulfilling narrative for these characters. If we never saw them again after this point, the audience would still feel satisfied, which is the mark of a great show in this franchise.