Most people expect kids cartoons to be pretty lighthearted, focused on silly comedy, and filled with life lessons that kids can use in their own lives. And many are like that. But then there are shows that decided to push some limits and play around with tone and style. And they can get downright creepy sometimes.
There’s also times when a show decides to do an episode that’s definitely out there. Whether it was for a Halloween special, or the series just decided to go a little darker, many cartoon series will have one or two episodes that ended up being rather dark, disturbing, or just plain creepy. How these episodes got greenlit is sometimes a mystery; maybe the creators just wanted to try something new. But regardless of how they came about, these episodes have often stuck with us since they were so different and crazy.
I actually like it when a show that generally isn’t dark is allowed to go to some darker places. You usually end up gaining some new insight to the characters as they’re pushed far beyond what you would normally see them do. I think those types of episodes make the whole show more interesting, though there have been times when it went a little too far.
So here are 20 episodes in kids cartoons that got surprisingly dark. Some of these you’ll probably guess, while a few may surprise you. Think we missed some particularly dark ones? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!
20 This Future Doesn’t Look Very Bright At All
The PowerPuff Girls is a pretty lighthearted series, considering the three main characters are superpowered little girls that fight crime. But the series can do dark when they want to. And a good example is the episode “Speed Demon.”
This episode is one of the classic post-apocalyptic episodes where everything goes wrong, and it does get pretty disturbing. Due to a superspeed race, the Powerpuff Girls find themselves in an alternate future where, without them, the world has descended into chaos and evil has taken over. And when people see the Powerpuff Girls, they blame them, asking them why they weren’t there. It’s a kind of horrifying episode that goes to some pretty creepy places. I would be surprised if our superhero girls weren’t a little scarred by it.
19 Pretty Sure This Is Brainwashing
In general, Phineas and Ferb is a fun series that’s always bending the laws of physics and has a great combination of slapstick and witty humor. The series, in general, doesn’t get that dark or creepy, except for one particular episode.
In “Phineas and Ferb Get Busted,” Candace finally succeeds in busting her brothers to their mom, who is rather angry at their recklessness. As a result, the two boys are sent off to a reformatory school, where creativity is forbidden. Eventually, Candace realizes her mistake and moves to get her brothers out of there. What’s creepy about this episode is how the two main characters are essentially brainwashed and have all the creativity sucked out of them. It's disconcerting to see a character who was always pushing things beyond the limits to suddenly not care anymore.
18 What Was Up With This Guy?
Seriously, where did this episode even come from? I’m pretty sure one of the animators have a horrifying nightmare and decided, “Hey, this would make a great cartoon!” So basically, in “The Mad Doctor,” Pluto gets captured by this crazy doctor who intends to do horrible experiments on him, and it’s up to Mickey to infiltrate the doctor’s lair and save his dog.
Seriously, everything about this cartoon is incredibly creepy. The story, Pluto’s howls of terror, and the whole design of the lair and the doctor is so terrifying. And there’s a scene where Mickey is nearly cut in half, so there’s that. If people think old cartoons aren’t scary, they clearly haven’t seen “The Mad Doctor.” Check it out if you want to see Disney get super creepy.
17 It’s The End Of The World (And Sanity) As We Know It
Gravity Falls was a breath of fresh air for Disney Channel. In a world full of dumb sitcoms, this strange, yet very charming cartoon quickly gained popularity, and for a good reason. It was funny, clever, and had incredibly likable characters. But the series could also get pretty dark too, especially during season 2. And it all leads up to the season finale, “Weirdmageddon.”
This three-part finale is definitely the culmination of craziness. Bill, the dream demon has now taken over Gravity Falls and has transformed it into a terrifying world of insanity and fear. These episodes do have some horrifying imagery that will stick with you, plus it’s the closest that our main characters come to dying. Combine that with Grunkle Stan’s sacrifice, and you get a story arc that’s dark, sad, and pretty intense. Not bad for Disney, huh?
16 Wow, This Show Is Not Playing Around
SpongeBob Squarepants isn’t exactly known for its darkness and known more for its kind of stupid humor and odd group of characters. But it can get a little dark sometimes, and they will go in a direction you may not have expected. This is the case in the episode “One Coarse Meal.”
In this episode, Mr. Krabs finds out that Plankton is terrified of whales, so he dresses up as his adopted daughter Pearl to scare Plankton. Apparently, this affects Plankton more than anyone expects, because the guy is then ready to end his life via laying down on a road to get hit by a bus. The episode does end on a more light-hearted note with Plankton paying Mr. Krabs back by tormenting him with a mime. But that episode did go to a rather dark place there.
15 This Zombie Gerbil Has A Serious Grudge
Fairly OddParents is an interesting comedy that revolves around a boy making crazy wishes to his fairy godparents and then him dealing with the consequences of those wishes, which often have unexpected results. One episode does take a bit of a dark turn when Timmy wishes that his mother’s garden was full of life. This then brings his dead gerbil back to life.
What’s creepy about this episode is that not only did Timmy’s gerbil die of starvation due to his parents’ neglect, but this gerbil comes back to life full of hate and ready to take vengeance on the people who killed him. The rest of the episode is Timmy trying to stop the homicidal rodent from killing his parents and even him. Plus, the design of the zombie gerbil is pretty grotesque.
14 It’s A Fight For Your Soul
You’d be surprised how many cartoons talk about the whole concept of heaven and hell, which can get pretty dark, especially since these revolve around death. But this episode of Tom and Jerry definitely goes to some interesting places.
“Heavenly Puss” involves Tom kicking the bucket for real, but he can’t go to Heaven due to the fact that he tormented Jerry so much. If he doesn’t get Jerry to sign a certificate of forgiveness, Tom is going to Hell. And Tom almost succeeds but runs out of time and is sent to be tormented by a type of devil dog. But it turns out the whole thing was a bad dream. There’s a lot of implications in this episode, especially when Tom meets other cats who have died (including a sack of three drowned kittens. Seriously, they went there.) While not super creepy, this episode is a pretty disturbing.
13 This Is Pretty Deep
Ever wonder why in Dexter’s Laboratory Dexter spends so much time in his lab? Well apparently, Dee Dee wondered too, and in one episode she tries to get him to follow her way of being happy. What follows is Dexter learning a new way of life, and embracing it a little too wholeheartedly. He eventually ends up destroying his lab, which then causes him to freak out when it hit him what he’s done. He shouts at Dee Dee, who leaves in tears. The episode ends with him slowly repairing his lab, all alone.
This episode is definitely strange, but it’s the ending that really makes it rather dark. The idea that Dexter may not be able to really find happiness outside of his lab is a sobering thought, and the idea that he may be doomed to be alone forever is pretty depressing.
12 The Story Behind These Two Is Tragic
Adventure Time is definitely a trip, and not for the faint-hearted. It’s a great combination of silly humor, strange scenarios, and even stranger imagery. But the show can get serious, and it can even get pretty depressing. This is the case with the episode “I Remember You.”
The episode goes more into the backstory behind the Ice King and his daughter Marceline. It shows how he was a good father before he lost his memories to the crown. The episode consists of Marceline wishing her father would remember her and longing for things to go back to the way they were. It’s a surprisingly mature tone to the show, and the arc doesn’t have a happy ending. The idea of your father being alive but not remembering you is a pretty scary thought. Poor Marceline.
11 This Lady Was Absolutely Terrifying
Avatar: The Last Airbender is arguably one of the best cartoons to come out of the 2000s; it had everything: an interesting story, complex characters, fantastic animation, and great themes. But it could also get really creepy when it wanted to. This is the case with the episode “The Puppet Master.”
In this episode, Aang and his friends find a waterbender named Hama hiding in the Fire Nation, and she’s one of the last water benders of the Southern Water Tribe. But they soon find out that Hama is not as nice as she seems. During her imprisonment, she developed a terrifying technique called bloodbending, which allows you to bend the blood in a person, controlling their movements. She eventually forces Katara to learn it, which horrifies her. Everything about this episode was very dark, from Hama to just the atmosphere.
10 It’s Surprising How Creepy This Was
This episode of Ed Edd, and Eddy was more of a homage to various horror movies, but the concept behind it is a little creepy. In “The Day the Ed Stood Still,” Ed decides he wants to become a monster like off the monster movies. Edd makes Ed a costume, but then Ed starts taking the monster thing a little too seriously. The episode continues with the kids being hunted down one by one by Ed the monster.
What makes this episode work rather well as a horror one is that it uses all the tricks you see in horror movies. You also don’t see what Ed the monster even looks like until the very end. The different angle shots, the reactions of the kids being hunted down, and just the overall feel of this episode make it a surprisingly dark one, even though the premise isn’t all that scary.
9 This Skin Wants Your Life (And Maybe Your Soul)
My Life as a Teenage Robot was interesting in its premise and made for some fun scenarios and battles. But the episode “The Return of Raggedy Android” got really creepy. Jenny tries on a new exo-skin in order to look more human. But things get more dangerous when the skin refuses to let Jenny take it off and it decides to take over Jenny and her life.
The idea of possession and losing control of your own body is always a pretty terrifying concept, and the fact that it’s used fairly often in kids shows is a little concerning. Plus the way this skin whispers to her is so disturbing, and how it talks about how normal girls don’t do this and normal girls don’t do that. It’s so manipulative and creepy.
8 I Don’t Know How To Explain This One
CatDog had a lot of strange and kind of creepy episodes. Even the whole concept of the show is weird since it revolves around a cat and a dog that are bonded together. But the episode “Teeth for Two” really takes the cake in creepy and gross.
The episode has Cat and Dog finding out that their own personal hygiene affects not their own teeth but each other’s. So, Dog has really great teeth from Cat’s habits, but Cat has poor teeth from Dog’s lack of hygiene. The episode involves Cat trying to get Dog to be better about taking care of his teeth, and things get. . . drastic. The imagery in this episode is creepy, and the moment where Cat is trying to clean Dog’s mouth from the inside while he’s sleeping is just nightmare-inducing.
7 Even Jack Is A Little Freaked Out
While Samurai Jack is known for being a bit more of an intense show, with a lot more violence, it doesn’t necessarily get creepy very often. But when it does, it goes all out. The episode “Jack and the Haunted House” is excellent proof of that.
In this episode, Jack comes across a very old house that seems to be haunted. He then must save the family that’s trapped inside the house, without being consumed himself by the monster. This episode has some fantastically creepy imagery that you’d see in a type of horror movie: creepy visions, possession, and a whole building that seems to want you dead. The story and animation for this episode are done very well, but it’s also very disturbing, especially for a kids’ show.
6 This Is Not Like Any Zombie Outbreak You’ve Seen
The Amazing World of Gumball took the world by storm with its off-the-wall humor and its unique style of animation. So, it would make sense that it would approach a zombie infestation in a rather interesting way. And the episode “The Joy” does a great job of giving you a really creepy vibe, without actually showing blood that you would normally see in zombie movies.
The school nurse becomes convinced that Gumball and Darwin are infected with an illness called The Joy, which quickly spreads to other students. Those infected get this creepy, goofy grin on their faces while they drool rainbows. The rest of the episode follows the nurse as she navigates the school, trying to avoid the zombie students and stop the outbreak. It’s a pretty clever episode that’s just unnerving enough to make you feel uncomfortable.
5 He Really Is His Own Worst Enemy
Danny Phantom is the hero of Amity Park. But what would happen if he became the villain? This idea is covered in the arc “The Ultimate Enemy,” where Danny ends up becoming his own worst nightmare. The show, despite its premise, isn’t really all that dark or scary, but this episode definitely goes there.
After losing his entire family and friends in a freak accident, Danny attempts to separate his ghost half from his human half in order to stop the pain. But in the process, his ghost half goes evil and kills his human half, then takes over the city. It’s only through a time-traveling ghost and a Danny from the past that Dan Phantom is stopped. This episode gets pretty dark with all the death and a once good character going completely evil. It’s kind of crazy.
4 I May Be Crazy
Teen Titans was a great show, especially since it knew how to balance its more serious stories with some pretty light-hearted fun. But that doesn’t mean the show couldn’t get downright scary at times. And the best example of this is the episode “Haunted.”
Robin is convinced that Slade is back and causing havoc. But it seems like he’s the only one who can see, hear, and feel him. As he keeps fighting Slade, he gets more injured and more freaked out, while his friends begin to wonder if he has finally lost it. What’s so dark about this episode is the fact that Slade brutally beats Robin, almost killing him, and yet everything ends up being in his mind. It does a great job of showing someone going through a psychosis and hallucinating. Even though Robin does win in the end, there’s a moment where we aren’t sure he’s going to make it.
3 This Mascot Will Haunt Your Nightmares
Steven Universe does tackle quite a few tough topics that many other cartoons wouldn’t. It also does a good job of showing the struggles the characters have, making them pretty relatable. But there is one episode that was just downright creepy, and that was “Frybo.”
This mascot for the hamburger place somehow gets possessed and starts terrorizing the town. This mascot is just plain terrifying with its creepy grin. What makes it so creepy is its subtleness. It’s not some spiky horror from the deep; it’s just a grinning mascot that has gone rogue, and for some reason, that’s more terrifying. Also, it gushes ketchup when it “bleeds,” so that’s not horrifying at all. Seriously, this episode was just all kinds of messed up and had quite a different tone from the rest of the series. Frybo will haunt my nightmares for years.
2 Who Came Up With This Episode?
To be honest, Invader Zim is a pretty dark cartoon series in general, and it’s not afraid to go to a few extremes to disturb its audience. But there’s one episode in particular that stands out from the rest, and that’s “Dark Harvest.”
Zim decides that he needs more human organs if he wants to appear more human, so he starts stealing organs from his classmates and replacing them with other objects. In the end, he’s full of all of these organs, and his classmates are groaning, sick. This episode is so creepy in the premise, the way it’s handled, and the fact that Zim pretty much gets away with this. It’s so disturbing in such an overt and yet subtle way. Just keep Zim away from my organs, please.
1 Well, That Escalated Quickly
Looney Tunes, in general, isn’t that dark. Some concepts are a little more disturbing than others, and slapstick humor does tend to carry a darker tone sometimes, but in general, the series is pretty light-hearted. Then there’s the episode “Life with Feathers.”
In this one, a lovebird has been kicked out of his home. According to him, lovebirds can’t live without love, so he decides to end his life. Yeah, he just says that he’s going to end it all. The rest of the show involves him trying to get eaten by Sylvester the Cat, who refuses to eat him, thinking he’s poison. While the episode is done for comedic effect, the fact that this bird is trying so desperately to die is kind of disturbing. It gives the whole scenario a much darker tone than you would expect from a Looney Tunes cartoon.