Shows Like Over The Garden Wall That Adventure Fans Need To See
Despite being one of the most unique animated series of the past decade, the premise of “Over the Garden Wall” is as familiar and well-established as folklore itself: two brothers, lost in the woods, attempting to find their way home. As anxious elder brother Wirt (Elijah Wood) and wide-eyed younger brother Greg (Collin Dean) make their way through the Unknown, they encounter all manner of strangers, each one more odd and unexpected than the last. In their travels, the duo join forces with a sly, secretive bluebird (Melanie Lynskey) and continue to cross paths with a wiry-nerved woodsman (Christopher Lloyd), who repeatedly warns the boys about an evil presence called “The Beast” that stalks the woods.
The ten-episode series aired in 2014, marking Cartoon Network’s first-ever limited series. Created by “Adventure Time” Alumnus Patrick McHale, “Over the Garden Wall” was one of a kind, spinning together eclectic inspirations, while still feeling wholly and refreshingly unique. Drawing on brassy, nostalgia-rich Americana, the cartoons of Fleischer Studios, Germanic folklore, and a spooky but thoroughly enchanting autumnal vibe, “Over the Garden Wall” was a mystery-filled pleasure from start to finish.
Given that the mini-series’ runtime clocked in at around two and a half hours, the “finish” was reminiscent of a good movie — a captivating story that could be digested in one sitting. So, if you’ve finished checking out the series and are hankering for more of the same, stay tuned for shows to watch if you liked “Over the Garden Wall.”
Gravity Falls (2012 – 2016)
Created by Alex Hirsch for Disney Channel and Disney XD, “Gravity Falls” followed the fantastical (frequently surreal) adventures of 12-year-old Dipper Pines and his twin sister Mabel.
Sent to ride out the summer in Oregon with their great-uncle Stan (who runs a tourist trap called “The Mystery Shack),” the twins quickly catch on that their cranky great-uncle’s business is a hoax, and also that the remote town of Gravity Falls is absolutely teeming with genuine strangeness. Armed with a mysterious journal packed with cryptic scribblings about the town, the twins brace themselves for a summer filled with cryptids and conspiracies.
If you liked the complex, resonant sibling relationship of “Over the Garden Wall,” “Gravity Falls” has your number. Both shows ground their wackiness around a core sibling relationship which, in the case of “Gravity Falls,” was inspired by Hirsch’s own memorable summers with his twin sister. Drawing inspiration from “The X Files” and “Twin Peaks,” it’s safe to say that “Gravity Falls” lands on the paranormal side of things, whereas “Over the Garden Wall” dabbles more explicitly in folklore. But the two shows share more than enough similarities to entice a similar crowd. And hey, if brevity is your thing, it’s only two seasons!
Infinity Train (2019 – 2021)
Set on a gigantic, apparently never-ending train traveling through a desolate landscape, this Cartoon Network series began life as a miniseries before continuing on as an anthology. Created by Owen Dennis (who keen-eyed readers might recognize as a writer on “Regular Show”), each of the cars on the titular “Infinity Train” contains a unique, frequently impossible-to-navigate environment. All of the passengers on the train suffer from some kind of unresolved trauma or emotional hurdle, and as they make their way through the cars, they are forced to confront whatever ails them. Successfully resolving a mental block lowers the glowing number on each passenger’s hand — which, when it reaches zero, permits them to leave the train and return home.
While its predilection for darker subject matter has jeopardized the long-term survival of the series (it’s fourth season is believe to be the last), the show’s bold thematic swings and rejection of black-and-white morality make it a worthy bedfellow of “Over the Garden Wall.” Both shows are ample proof that animated series are capable of being mature without being raunchy or edgy. Also, while decidedly indebted to a sci-fi sensibility (its inspirations include the work of Philip K. Dick and “The Matrix,” as well as a probable affinity for “Snowpiercer”), “Infinity Train” still scratches that ooky spooky itch. After all, Dennis once described the show on Twitter as “Saw” for kids, and if that doesn’t get you to give the show a look, what will?
Hilda (2018 – 2020)
Based on the graphic novel of the same name by showrunner Luke Pearson, “Hilda” follows the adventures of a brave, blue-haired pre-teen. Along with her deer-fox hybrid Twig, Hilda and her mother Johanna are forced to move to the city of Trolberg after their woodland home is threatened by small, invisible elves. After settling into their new home, Hilda sets about conquering (read: befriending) even the most dangerous of monsters.
The recipient of two consecutive Annie Awards for “Best Children’s Series,” this animated Netflix show tackles the aches and pains of growing up with a whimsical pep in your step. Pearson’s inspirations include Icelandic folktales, and like “Over the Garden Wall,” Hilda digs deeper than most of its peers into lore and legends. Featuring everything from draugr (nordic zombies) to witches and trolls, “Hilda” is a semi-Scandinavian reality that feels utterly enchanted and indebted to the world of myth. It is decidedly less menacing than the Unknown of “Over the Garden Wall,” but if you want to ease your autumnal vibes into something a little more wintery, “Hilda” could make for a marvelously charming follow-up.
Adventure Time (2010 – 2018)
If you were to flip between “Over the Garden Wall” and “Adventure Time,” there’s a good chance the color contrast might do permanent damage to your retinas — but don’t let the sudden shift from muddy earth tones to a candy-colored cavalcade throw you off.
“Adventure Time” followed the adventures of Finn the Human and Jake the Dog on their wacky, magic-filled adventures through the Land of Ooo, a fictional world filled with whimsical and sometimes freakish scenarios. Sure, “Adventure Time” was an action-packed comedy. But don’t let its bright aesthetic and round edges fool you. Between the surreal imagery and dreamy world building, there was always plenty of uncanny eccentricity to go around.
“Over the Garden Wall” may be visually darker, but “Adventure Time” holds its own. In the episode “No One Can Hear You” (Season 3, Episode 15) for instance, Finn wanders a seemingly raptured kingdom. There’s also “Red Starved” (Season 5, Episode 38), where Marceline The Vampire Queen slowly descends into a feeding frenzy while the gang is trapped in an underground city made of sand. And let’s not forget about “Blank-Eyed Girl” (Season 7, Episode 19), which dives headlong into a spine-tingling urban legend about wide-eyed, plaid children. Yet, for all its nightmare fuel, “Adventure Time” (much like “Garden Wall”) couches its horrific moments in the solace that if your friends stay close, everything will be okay.
Steven Universe (2013 – 2020)
Yet another heavy-hitter from Cartoon Network graces this list. Created by Rebecca Sugar, “Steven Universe” told the story of a young boy living with three magical, humanoid aliens known as the Crystal Gems. The show followed their adventures, hangouts, and life lessons in the town of Beach City.
Part superhero sci-fi epic, part hangout sitcom, “Steven Universe” is the warm, pastel-colored flipside to the crisp, forbidding menace of “Over the Garden Wall.” And yet, the two shows have a lot in common.
While their tonal approaches may be different, both series are fundamentally interested in the importance of family, found or otherwise. And where the overarching emotional arc of “Over the Garden Wall” is Wirt taking action and standing up for his younger brother, “Steven Universe” is similarly focused on the power of radical kindness. Likewise, while both shows have wildly different musical tastes, if the song-filled stylings of “Over the Garden Wall” did it for you, you may be amenable to the toe-tapping numbers in “Steven Universe” (which tend to be about things like anxiety and grief, despite the ukuleles). And yeah, they don’t have drunken brass sections or a Tom Waits-like sway, but few things in the 21st Century do.
The Midnight Gospel (2020 – Present)
Created by “Adventure Time” show runner Pendleton Ward and comedian Duncan Trussell, “The Midnight Gospel” was released on Netflix in the Spring of 2020 and is unlike any other series on this list. Was it released or did it escape? It’s hard to say. In a list of surreal competitors, “The Midnight Gospel” is in a whole other weight class.
Set on a tape-like planet known as the Chromatic Ribbon, a spacecaster (think podcaster but in space) named Clancy Gilroy uses an unlicensed multiverse simulator to travel through strange, often unsettling worlds on the precipice of disaster, interviewing their residents. The interviews themselves are based on real interviews between Trussell and various guests on his podcast, “The Duncan Trussell Family Hour.” The genesis of the show, Trussell has explained, was to see what would happen “if we took these podcast conversations and made them the dialogue that was happening during the various forms of the apocalypse.”
Clancy’s adventures take him from other-Earths in the grips of a zombie apocalypse to a medieval-themed planet full of witches and monstrous princes. Explicitly trippy, with themes as eclectic as its interview subjects, one through-line that unites the disparate wriggling threads of “The Midnight Gospel” is the question of what Clancy is searching for, exactly, in witnessing the never-ending process of life and death. If nightmarish, animated existentialism is your thing, good news: They made a show just for you!
Summer Camp Island (2018 – Present)
Created by “Adventure Time” staff writer Julia Pott, “Summer Camp Island” takes place in a world populated by anthropomorphic animals dropped off at a magical summer camp. Two childhood best pals, Oscar (an elephant) and Hedgehog (a hedgehog) must survive all manner of spooky occurrences (haunted cabins, inter-dimensional post-it notes) while also surviving their first experience at an overnight camp.
Striking a strange but consistently wonderful tone, “Summer Camp Island” thrives on the unexpected and welcomes freshness with open arms. Despite all its many (many) ghoulish moments, “Over the Garden Wall” has an undeniable comfort food factor. The show’s vision of “the unknown” is patently familiar, drawing on nostalgic Americana and Germanic fairy tales to make the nightmarish feel recognizable and well-worn. In its own way, “Summer Camp Island” is the syndicated equivalent of a warm cup of tea, with an almost serene quality that makes its more creative and unusual subjects feel genuine and unpretentious.
The Owl House (2020 – Present)
Did you know there’s a Disney animated show inspired by the nightmarish art of Hieronymus Bosch? Well, there is, and guess what? It won a Peabody Award.
The series follows Luz, a teenage girl who accidentally stumbles into a mystical threshold on her way to a juvie summer camp. She finds herself on an archipelago made out of the corpse of a dead Titan and quickly befriends a rebellious witch named Eda. Not letting her lack of magic get her down, Luz signs on as Eda’s apprentice at the Owl House, in the hopes of becoming a witch and figuring out where she truly belongs.
Boasting an otherworld-ness that will satisfy fans of “Gravity Falls” and “Steven Universe,” the Disney series hits the ground running with its world-building, opening doors for all manner of animated gothic beasties (including a giant bat lady, voiced by Isabella Rossellini). If the show’s scope seems a little intimidating, fear not. The series consists of two seasons, with three incoming hour-long specials capping off the story. A self-contained spooky animated series that ticked off an evangelical religious network for trying to “make witchcraft look positive”? Consider us enchanted.
Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999 – 2002)
They just don’t make existential, nightmare-fueling “kids” cartoons like they used to. This legendarily terrifying Cartoon Network horror comedy centered on an anxious anthropomorphic dog, ironically named Courage, who lives with an elderly couple in a farmhouse in the middle of “Nowhere.” In each episode, the trio was dragged (kicking and screaming, more often than not) into disturbing, paranormal, surreally humorous situations that would test the titular pooch.
Far and away the most terrifying show on this list, “Courage the Cowardly Dog” was responsible for some of the most intense imagery to ever grace the animated small screen. The gang was hounded (pun intended) by flesh-eating mer-people, their own shadows, and a hypnotic ad-man selling flan. If the idea of an animated kids show based on vaudeville, body horror, and a Chaplin-esque pink dog sounds like your kind of nightmare, “Courage the Cowardly Dog” is certainly one of a kind. To boot, surveying the history of Cartoon Network’s roster, it is arguably the only true horror-inclined precedent to have aired on the channel, paving the way for “Over the Garden Wall” to get weird a decade down the road.
The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy (2001 – 2007)
In this early 2000s series, the Grim Reaper stalked the mortal realm in search of a soul — more specifically, the soul of an ailing hamster. When his efforts are thwarted by two children (the titular Billy and Mandy) who challenge the reaper to a limbo contest to save the hamster’s life, the Reaper is forced to be the kids’ new best friend (read: slave). Reluctantly forced to serve as a boney, scythe-wielding Mary Poppins, this Cartoon Network show followed the unlikely trio as the kids indulged in their every stupid, self-profiting wish and “Grim” desperately searched for a way to shake them for good.
While Wirt and Gregory’s dynamic in “Over the Garden Wall” is far more grounded and endearing, they represent an elemental childhood dynamic: a goof and a flawed over-thinker. Billy and Mandy were the chaotic, over-the-top version of this pairing; with Billy’s blissful ignorance forming the perfect foil to Mandy’s cynical edge. Lacking continuity and keeping things on the lighthearted side, “Grim” trailed the trio as the kids used Grim’s nightmarish abilities to fulfill their every whim. It’s ghoulish with a side of goofy. What’s not to love?
Amphibia (2019 – present)
We have not one, but two Disney Channel animated series on this list where a fearless young girl falls through a magical portal into another world. When 13-year-old Anne is peer pressured into stealing a mysterious music box, it zaps her and her two friends into the swampy world of Amphibia. It’s up to Anne and company to navigate the marshland, befriend the local frog-people, and find a way to get back to her home in Los Angeles.
Talking frogs? Children in a strange land trying their best to find their way home? These dots practically connect themselves. And sure, this swamp might be a lot less forbidding than the one Wirt and Gregory travel through in “Over The Garden Wall.” But at the end of the day, you can’t take the uncanny, mud-caked vibes out of the swamp. Much like its unofficial sister show “The Owl House,” Amphibia is a show with more of a traditionally grand fantastical scope. So if you’re looking for a weirder, less traditional spin on the magical coming of age adventure format, fear not: that particular story arc comes in frog-flavor.
We Bare Bears (2014 – 2019)
“We Bare Bears” is just so darn cute, we had to recommend it. The Cartoon Network show followed three adoptive brothers (who just so happen to be bears), Grizzly, Panda, and Ice Bear, as they do their best to integrate into the human world in the San Francisco Bay Area. Based on Daniel Chong’s webcomic of the same name, “We Bare Bears” combined woodland “Winnie the Pooh”-like whimsy with the relatable modern horrors of trying to find your footing in a big city.
Charming, breezy, and ridiculously adorable, the series put a fantastical spin on the mundane, from the unavoidable awkwardness of online dating (Season 1, Episode 21: “Video Date”) to the stress of being the only person in a friend group with a driver’s license (Season 3, Episode 16: “Road Trip”).
Much like “Over the Garden Wall,” viewers of “We Bare Bears” will be treated to an impressively star-studded voice cast, including voice work from comedy faves like Patton Oswalt, Ellie Kemper, Jason Lee, and Bo Burnham. If “Over the Garden Wall” dabbles in the darker side of folklore and fantasy, “We Bare Bears” offers something decidedly lighter — something we all need from time to time.
Redwall (1999 – 2022)
Based on Brian Jacques’ children’s novels of the same name, this short-lived Canadian animated fantasy epic followed the adventures of the animal inhabitants of Redwall Abbey and its surrounding forest.
As the series unfolds, characteristically unassuming animals (mice, hares, moles) must answer the call to defend their home from marauding “vermin.” Comprised of three seasons, each focusing on a different protagonist, “Redwall” enjoyed a brief, but memorable original run between 1999 and 2002. But, if you’ve been keeping an eye on “Over the Garden Wall” creator Patrick McHale’s career, you might know that the classic, woodland fantasy series is coming back.
While “Over the Garden Wall” fans eagerly await McHale’s interpretation of Jacques’ sprawling world, die-hard fans would do well to check out the original, three-season small screen run. Contrasting its Beatrix Potter-like anthropomorphism, “Redwall” carries a harsh, medieval edge that’s sure to entice those compelled by the dark overtones of “Garden Wall.” Filled with myth-making and forest-bound fantasy, “Redwall” is a perfect match for McHale’s talents, and fans of his work would do well to seek out the original show.
The Hollow (2018 – 2020)
Three teens named Adam, Mira, and Kai wake up in a room with no memory of their past selves, or their relationship to one another. The only way they know their names is thanks to small slips of paper hidden within their pockets. After emerging from the bunker, the kids find themselves in a dark, menacing forest. As they attempt to find their way home, the trio discovers that each of them has super powers … and that they aren’t the only trio of confused kids wandering around in the woods. As they work together to find a way out of the forest (which involves appeasing a large, talking tree), the gang attempts to piece together the mystery.
This great hook leads to spooky woods, dangling mysteries, and a fervent search to find the way back home. “The Hollow” makes for an action-packed (and more sci-fi indebted) companion to “Garden Wall,” one comprised of two compact Netflix seasons. It also feels like the closest anyone could ever come to a “Lost” for tweens.