I’ve been a fan of Adventure Time since 2006, when it was just a short on the internet and my pipedream was for it to become a show. It debuted on Cartoon Network in April 2010 and, after six seasons, there are 200 shorts. Wow.
This list is a tribute to the top quartile of Adventure Time episodes, mostly meant for fans who have already experienced its wonders. A few of the episodes not present are completely wonderful, and narrowing this down to just 50 was painful. Please comment below on how wrong you think I am.
If you’re new to Adventure Time, this is a good demonstration of its many qualities and a fine introduction to its appeal. But you should know there are spoilers. So beware.
One note: I consider two-part episodes to be one only if they share the same name, such as both parts of “Lemonhope.” Adventure Time changes storyboard teams for differently-titled two-part episodes, so I think this is doubly appropriate.[/tps_header]
50. “The Duke”
Season 1, Episode 19
“The Duke” is filled with little morsels of hilarity and Adventure Time‘s first true bit of wisdom: “People make mistakes. It’s all part of growing up, and you never truly stop growing.”
“The Duke” is a wonderful reflection on the fallibility of authority and, more obviously, the virtue of telling the truth. It’s Adventure Time in its purest children’s show mode while never forgetting the off-the-wall humor, like the still-unnamed red squirrel, that draws the greater audience. It’s among the show’s simplest pleasures.
Funniest line: “I’ll kill you and raise your children as my own!”
49. “James Baxter the Horse”
Season 5, Episode 19
BMO sings a song about being impregnated by an electrical presence. Finn and Jake try to cheer up a funeral by saying their names in horse voices from the bushes. A horse on a beach ball named James Baxter is the most popular presence in all the land. That’s the headspace of “James Baxter the Horse,” an oddball among oddballs in the Adventure Time canon.
It’s ultimately a story about the difficulty of the creative process and putting one’s own personality into a work of art. Jake explains: “It’s like he’s shredding on a guitar, and learning how to shred isn’t just copying the exact notes of someone else’s solo. You need to learn how to do your own solo!”
Finn and Jake test drive both the audio and visual aspect of their routine. Finn sounds like he’s holding a focus group when he tells BMO, “Good, good. Happy’s what we want.”
It’s a delightful, hilarious take on the creative process, especially the feeling when, at the end of the day, you probably can’t step to the beat. And in this case, that’s James Baxter. The horse.
Funniest line: “I think we should find an easier person to cheer up. It was a mistake to visit a funeral.”
48. “The New Frontier”
Season 3, Episode 18
The Cosmic Owl made brief appearances in “Prisoners of Love” and “Donny,” but it wasn’t until “The New Frontier” that Adventure Time began to use him as a device, for the first time creating a thread of prophecy and spirituality that would grow and grow from then on.
Here, Finn and Jake see the Banana Man (Weird Al Yankovic) from Jake’s croak dream the morning after. Jake takes the Cosmic Owl immensely seriously and basks in the awesomeness of the universe while upsetting Finn with the idea of his death. Jake’s kind of a jerk about it as Finn chases, and tempts, fate.
And Finn figures it out. He can cheat destiny with his own presence.
And throughout all of this, Banana Man’s well-being, sanity, and property are the only real victims.
Funniest line: “Finn, when I die, my individual earth consciousness is gonna go all over everywhere while Glob tallies my deeds.”
Season 6, Episode 33
Despite their incessant use of “bro,” we almost never have to think about Finn and Jake as (adopted) brothers. The starkest exception is “Jermaine,” when we visit their other brother–Jermaine (Steven Universe‘s Tom Scharpling)–in the house they grew up in.
Jermaine has dedicated his life to protecting the swag Joshua stole from the demons that surround the house. This is a task that so occupies his life that he needs to flip over a tape periodically to keep one of them at bay. Jermaine feels he’s responsible, but to what end? It mostly seems like Joshua was a jerk to a bunch of demons and now Jermaine is just squatting on property that means nothing to the present.
Jermaine’s resentment toward his brothers is a bit like Kim Kil Whan’s, except Jermaine’s responsibility is a prison he keeps himself in. “You got to be Dad’s favorite, but I got stuck with his mess!” But Joshua is gone.
He only feels free after they burn their childhood house down.
Funniest line: “How dare you use tacks on my poster!”
46. “Something Big”
Season 6, Episode 10
In “Sky Witch,” Maja (Jill Talley) said she was working on “something big.” And here we are. It’s so big that Chief of Police Root Beer Guy has to die offscreen, before the episode even starts.
The excellent opening battle sequence is just a buildup to reveal how big its deciding factor, Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant (nickname “Ele”), is. And once these grand events and the ancient Darren (Allen Oppenheimer) are over, what does such a large presence do? Ele’s master, Finn, orders him to be free, but Ele doesn’t really know how to do that. Steve Agee turns in a fantastic performance as Ele, who, like Darren, is from a time when feelings don’t matter because life and death are so much at the fore.
Then, perhaps hallucinating, Ele hears the sun: “What was and what will be is meaningless. Meanwhile, you should wonder: Are you just a two-headed pile of meat on a crash course with the cosmic dump, or do you contain the soul memory of a million dead stars? How do you light a candle without a match?”
For reasons we still don’t know, Ele decides that he’s going to be both the candle and the match by befriending Maja, but there’s so much going on in this episode, as is Jesse Moynihan’s signature. Colonel Candy Corn finds new meaning in battle after being widowed. The all-powerful Darren fails to understand Maja’s scheming, with the concept of feelings and uncaring being irrelevant to his ancient ways. Grunts in the Candy Kingdom army begin to make peace with imminent death.
But it’s all prelude to an existential crisis of the being above it all.
Funniest line: “You should be free, boy.” “Free to do what? I need psychic commands.” “Can you help me dice tomatoes for this guac?” “No.”
45. “The Tower”
Season 6, Episode 4
“The Tower,” along with “Breezy,” is a showcase of Finn at his absolute lowest. Sadness consumes him in “Breezy,” but his anger is at play in “The Tower,” when he decides that he really wants to tear his dad’s arm off and use it as his own. So he builds a tower into space.
“The Tower,” though, is actually an argument between two philosophies. Jake is of the mind that Finn needs to gets his feelings out of his system. A cloud person named Carroll (Cameron Esposito) tells him to run away from his old life and keep his painful memories locked in a vault. PB thinks that Finn blindly chasing his rage is dangerous, and at the end of the episode she shows Finn just how unsatisfying his revenge fantasy is.
“The Tower” is a contemplation on what to do with directionless adolescent confusion and aggression, and it concludes that allowing oneself to keep thoughtlessly going forward goes nowhere.
Funniest line: “My melon wants to punch my dad in the face and steal his arm.”
44. “Power Animal”
Season 2, Episode 7
Early seasons of Adventure Time focused so much on Jake’s shortcomings that, even after making episodes strictly dedicated to examining them, they built the ultimate one in “Power Animal,” where Jake is unable to save Finn because he keeps forgetting that he needs to. What ensues is one of the greatest showcases of Jake the Dog to date.
Finn has a great bit being used as a perpetual motion device in the Beneathaverse to power a machine to flip the world upside down so that the gnomes are on top (“the engineering is very sound”), but again, this is about Jake. Jake teaches a dancing bug how to shake it. He tells sexy water nymphs an incredible joke and laughs so hard at his own joke that he blacks out. He meets the awesome power of Party God (Dee Bradley Baker).
It’s pretty funny, because, typical of early Adventure Time, nothing is learned. Jake can only focus when Party God fills him with the power of a thousand partying demons, destroying everything in his path.
Funniest line: “Now it’s time to power up the plasma ball…with sexy, fun dancing!”
43. “Susan Strong”
Season 2, Episode 18
“Susan Strong” marks the first time that Finn’s status as potentially the last man on earth is confronted, with him getting all soul-searchy and weird whenever he thinks about it. His excitement when he meets what appears to be a tribe of humans trapped underground dissipates as it becomes clear that they’re incompatible with today’s world.
Adventure Time‘s first heavy moment comes as the Candy Kingdom burns, Finn learns that the tribe isn’t human after all, and Finn and Susan stare at each other. “Susan, what are you?”
We still don’t know much more about Susan Strong, as she’s only been in two other episodes. But she represents an unlikely hope for kinship that Finn’s constantly missing. And then there’s Jake’s sagely advice: “We’re all wild animals, brother.”
Also, Starchy’s a Beelzebub.
Funniest line: “These people are so terrified. Scared of their own shadows.” “We could rule them. Like gods! Angry gods.”
42. “Jake the Brick”
Season 6, Episode 20
Jake narrates what he sees as a brick in a shack, and the land of Ooo listens in to his nature show about the inspiring resilience of a bunny who keeps losing his home. But Jake insists, “It’s not about the bunny! The bunny is incidental to the brick experiment.”
But as Ooo is captivated by the bunny, so is Jake. There’s something very soothing about Jake leaving his brick form for only a moment, celebrating the bunny, only for the shack to crumble. Jake missed the opportunity for his weird fantasy to play out, but he doesn’t care anymore. He originally cared about the inevitability of a structure’s collapse, but watching an animal finding shelter time and again makes him think again about his fascination with inevitable collapse.
“Who cares about being a brick in a wall of a fallen-down shack? There’s something bigger than that, and the bunny has answers.”
Funniest line: “Finn, ever since I was little, I wanted to see what it’s like to be a brick in a brick shack when the brick shack falls down. And this shack is gonna fall down. Just look at it. Like sandcastles in the sun, baby. You’re too young; you wouldn’t understand.”
41. “The Enchiridion!”
Season 1, Episode 5
Adventure Time was great fun for its first few episodes (plus the teasers of “Business Time” and “Evicted!” we got to see), but it wasn’t until “The Enchiridion!” that it began to put Finn and Jake on quests that felt refreshingly like the pilot. This was the episode that left me feeling really great about the young show’s future.
Like the pilot, it wasn’t so much the adventure, inspired so thickly by Dungeons & Dragons, but the wackiness drenched all over everything. Fairies blowing up old ladies, a giant baby obsessed with his dollar, and a neutral ant. “The Enchiridion!” was the truest realization of the show as promised by its pilot, and its unexpected importance in Adventure Time‘s “The Lich”/”Finn the Human”/”Jake the Dog” triptych echoes just how much it mattered at the time.
Funniest line: “Slay this unaligned ant!”