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Top 10 Unexpectedly Dark Episodes in Kids’ Cartoons

VO: Adrian Sousa WRITTEN BY: Sean Aitchison
Written by Sean Aitchison Need to fill up on nightmare fuel? These cartoons have got you covered. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Unexpectedly Dark Episodes in Kids’ Cartoons. For this list, we’ll be looking at episodes of kids’ cartoons with dark elements that were mostly uncharacteristic to the rest of the series. We’re also taking into consideration how messed up the plot of the episode was and will be excluding anime. Just be on the lookout for spoilers.
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Need to fill up on nightmare fuel? These cartoons have got you covered. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Unexpectedly Dark Episodes in Kids’ Cartoons.

For this list, we’ll be looking at episodes of kids’ cartoons with dark elements that were mostly uncharacteristic to the rest of the series. We’re also taking into consideration how messed up the plot of the episode was and will be excluding anime. Just be on the lookout for spoilers.


#10: “The Ultimate Enemy”

“Danny Phantom” (2004-07)




Dark, alternate timelines are a classic trope of superhero comics that “Danny Phantom” executed perfectly in “The Ultimate Enemy.” In fact, some might say it did it too well, since the TV movie had some incredibly dark moments that pushed the envelope of kids’ cartoons. In the episode, The Ultimate Enemy is revealed to be a dark future version of Danny, one who walked down the path of evil after his parents died in a horrific explosion and his ghost half killed his human half. We know this show is about ghosts, but that’s some dark stuff right there.





#9: “Web World Wars”

“ReBoot” (1994-2001)




Sometimes the internet can feel like a black hole that destroys everything it comes into contact with, and for the people of Mainframe, this was literally the case, as seen in this dark episode of “ReBoot.” “World Web Wars” served as the season two finale of the hit show and ended on one of the darkest cliffhangers of all time. Bob was betrayed by Megabyte and launched into the dangerous storm of the world wide web, leaving the question of his fate unanswered until the third season premiered.





#8: “Phineas and Ferb Get Busted!”

“Phineas and Ferb” (2007-15)




Imagination is a wonderful thing to have, though not everyone would agree, as seen in Disney’s hit cartoon, “Phineas and Ferb.” In this episode, Candace finally catches the titular pair in performing their usual dangerous antics, leading them to get sent to reform school. The story takes a dark turn when the pair have their imaginations forcibly removed from their brains through intense brainwashing, a concept that gets even darker considering it serves as a disturbing metaphor for growing up. Though the whole thing turned out to be a dream, that didn’t save the episode from being incredible dark.





#7: “Way of the Dee Dee”

“Dexter’s Laboratory” (1996-99, 2001-03)




Being cooped up in a lab all day is no way to go through life, despite what Dexter might think. Luckily, this boy genius had his sister Dee Dee to free him from the clutches of his stressful work, resulting in his spiritual awakening as he finds inner peace. However, that peace goes as quickly as it came after Dexter destroys his own lab before promptly returning to his life of scientific solitude, resulting in one of the most downbeat endings of any episode in the series.





#6: “Twisted Sister”

“The Powerpuff Girls” (1998-2005)




This episode of the Cartoon Network original series is as memorable as it is heart-wrenching and tragic. When Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup want a new sister to help them fight crime, they haphazardly recreate the professor’s experiment and make Bunny, who comes out a bit off. After Bunny messes up crime-fighting and is sent away by the girls, she eventually returns to beats up every criminal in Townsville before exploding from her body’s instability, saving the day for the first, and final time. Admit it, just the description of this episode was enough to bring a tragic tear to your eye.





#5: “Haunted”

“Teen Titans” (2003-06)




Obsession can drive a person insane, and in “Teen Titans,” Robin was that person. In this episode of the hit series, Robin ponders over Slade’s defeat and wonders if he is truly gone, a question that begins to haunt him as he starts the see the villain everywhere he goes. Robin is driven mad by the hunt for Slade, who turns out to be nothing more than visions caused by a hallucinogenic chemical. The whole affair serves as a metaphor for paranoia and PTSD, which is what made this episode one of the darkest in the series.





#4: “Holly Jolly Secrets”

“Adventure Time” (2010-18)




The Ice King is easily one of the most interesting characters in “Adventure Time,” as well as one of the most tragic, as seen in this two-part episode. After discovering the Ice King’s hidden video tapes, Finn and Jake learn the dark story behind the mad ice wizard: that he was once Simon Petrikov, an antiquarian who discovered the Ice Crown. As the crown corrupted his mind, Simon was driven mad, causing him to drive away the love of his life, leaving him a shadow of his former self. This tragic origin story made “Holly Jolly Secrets” one of the series’ darkest episodes, even more so than “Evergreen.”





#3: “The Puppetmaster”

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” (2005-08)




One of the most dangerous forms of bending in the world of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is bloodbending, the act of bending the water within a person’s blood to control their movements. It was first introduced in “The Puppetmaster,” which told the story of Hama, a former prisoner of the Fire Nation who escaped by developing this dark technique, which she continued to use to harm innocent civilians. Desperate to stop Hama and save her friends, Katara is forced to use bloodbending herself; an act that leaves her in tears. With such a dark premise, a tragic villain, and a horrifying technique, “The Puppetmaster” was perhaps the darkest – and creepiest – episode of “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”





#2: “Failsafe”

“Young Justice” (2010-13, 2018-)




“Failsafe” is easily one of the most relentless and horrific episodes of a kids’ cartoon in recent memory. The episode kicks off with the death of the entire Justice League following an alien attack. To make matters worse, The Team is forced to take League’s place and defend the Earth themselves. But, after Artemis dies, the rest of The Team is picked off one by one, before suddenly waking up and finding that the whole scenario was simulation made real by Miss Martian’s powerful psychic mind, leaving everyone devastated by these real emotions for a fake experience. We know “Young Justice” was supposed to be mature, but not that mature.





Before we get to our number one, here are a few honorable mentions:



“Angelica’s Worst Nightmare”

“Rugrats” (1991-2004)





“Neighbors”

“We Bare Bears” (2015-)





“The Day the Ed Stood Still”

“Ed, Edd n Eddy” (1999-2009)





#1: “Dark Harvest”

“Invader Zim” (2001-06)




This episode is, without a doubt, the most messed up thing ever to be aired on Nickelodeon. When Zim fears that his alien biology will reveal his origins, he attempts to make his body appear more human and the episode quickly devolves into a full-blown horror movie as Zim harvests organs around the school, replacing them with everyday objects, until his hunt finally ends when he steals Dib’s lungs. Seriously, how did this one make it past the big-wigs at Nick? An alien harvesting human organs doesn’t exactly make for great children’s television, but it does make “Dark Harvest” our choice for the number one unexpectedly dark kids’ cartoon episode.

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