How Indie Animators Are Making Their Mark in the 2020s

Animation's more driven by popular demand than ever.

hazbin hotel

With the second season of the indie animated show The Wingfeather Saga having just premiered last April 5th, it’s pretty incredible to consider how well indie animation has been doing in the 2020s. It’s gotten to the point where it’s especially hard to keep track of the many indie animated shows that are coming out, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of one or two of these shows, even if you don’t follow indie animation.

Perhaps the most recognizable indie animation show of the decade so far is Hazbin Hotel, an adult musical comedy show about the princess of Hell having to deal with Hell’s overpopulation. It’s debatable whether the show is even indie anymore, considering A24, Bento Box Entertainment, and Amazon MGM Studios are now among its production companies.

Nevertheless, the pilot episode was very much indie, as most of the funding came from creator Vivienne Medrano’s Patreon. This pilot was released on YouTube in October 2019, and became so popular, it garnered over 41 million views in less than a year, and A24 picked it up for a full show in August 2020.

On January 18, 2024, Hazbin Hotel’s first season premiered on Amazon Prime Video and quickly gained the highest global viewership for a new animated title on the streaming service. Deservedly so, too, as the show boasts a Certified Fresh 79% on RottenTomatoes, with an audience score of 87%. Cultured Vultures’s own Charlie Ceates called the show “hellishly brilliant”, writing that the first season was “a wonderful Frankenstein creation of different genres coming together to create something truly memorable.”

helluva boss indie

Hazbin Hotel’s spin-off show, Helluva Boss, takes place in the same universe but follows an organization called I.M.P. (Immediate Murder Professionals) who offer hitman services in the world of the living. Yet another musical comedy, Helluva Boss is currently on its second season but remains on YouTube, where its first episode has reached over 67 million views.

Much like Hazbin Hotel, Helluva Boss has received high praise, with CBR calling it “a helluva strange ride, but well worth your time,” and Comicon writing that “other animated adult comedies should take notes.” Medrano has stated that she plans on keeping Helluva Boss independent of Hazbin Hotel, “as long as the audience wants to keep seeing it” — and apparently they do, since the episodes have consistently gotten tens of millions of views.

If we’re talking view counts, though, the most impressive has to be The Amazing Digital Circus, whose pilot has amassed over 300 million views on YouTube in only five months. Following a group of characters trapped inside a circus-themed VR game, The Amazing Digital Circus’s pilot has also gained over 4 million likes, and its first season, comprising nine episodes in total, is currently in production, with the second episode slated to release this May. The pilot was even nominated for Best Character Animation – TV/Media at the 2024 Annie Awards, and its overall popularity has bewildered the show’s creators.

“We knew Digital Circus was something special, but we had no idea how popular it would become,” lead animator Kevin Temmer said. “We celebrate each milestone, meme, and news article because no matter how big it gets, we remain in a perpetual state of bewilderment.”

the amazing digital circus indie

Lackadaisy is another indie animated pilot with a strong fandom, but this fandom has been building for quite some time now. The show started as a webcomic in 2006, centered around anthropomorphic cats living in a Prohibition-era St. Louis. As the comic became more and more popular, a short film was announced in March 2020 and was released on YouTube in March 2023.

This pilot only increased and strengthened the franchise’s fan base, so much so that a crowdfunding campaign in July 2023 raised over $2 million in one month when it only had a goal of $125,000. With this, Iron Circus Animation is now able to produce a five-episode season with three mini-episodes.

“I’m so grateful to the people who saw something special in the comic then, because they made it possible to springboard into funding a pilot,” Lackadaisy creator Tracy Butler said. “Now we’ve advanced to making a full animated first season!”

Finally, there’s The Wingfeather Saga, my personal favorite of the recent indie animation boom. Based on the popular children’s books by Andrew Peterson, The Wingfeather Saga is a high fantasy show following three young siblings living in a world filled with evil lizards, trolls, and dragons. Every episode is available for free on the Angel Studios app, and the show has amassed over 18 million views on the streaming service.

wingfeather saga

With gorgeous visuals and incredibly likable characters, this adaptation is kids’ high fantasy at its sweetest and most nostalgic. Often while watching, you’ll be transported back to your grade school days of reading books like Redwall, Eragon, and of course, The Wingfeather Saga, while waiting for class to begin.

The Wingfeather Saga was made possible because of a successful Kickstarter campaign, and its first season was even lucky enough to receive a Blu-ray release. Jodi Benson, best known for being the voice of Ariel from The Little Mermaid, is the voice of one of the show’s main characters, and the singer for one of the songs of the show’s soundtrack.

I say ‘finally’ for The Wingfeather Saga, but in reality there are so many other titles that continue to break barriers of what indie animation can accomplish. Among them are Ollie & Scoops, a show about a 9-year-old girl who can communicate with cats, Murder Drones, a show about murderous robots set in a dystopian future, and Long Gone Gulch, a pilot which combines elements of the genres Western, adventure, and fantasy. Artists and writers of today are truly carving out their own paths and their efforts and talents are being greatly rewarded.

Of course, it’s important to remember that these shows are only made possible because of people like us who support them, even by just us merely watching and adding to the view count. If any of these shows interest you, I highly recommend you give them a shot, as all of these shows are clear products of love, inspiration, and passion for the medium.

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