Western animation is in the middle of a golden age. Shows like BoJack Horseman and Rick and Morty have emerged as the new standard-bearers for a kind of cartoon that’s sharp, funny, and insightful, capable of dealing with startlingly nuanced themes, like BoJack’s honest reflections on the nature of unhappiness. But few efforts in any medium can manage Steven Universe’s trick of exploring topics like intimacy, love, abuse, and the constant threat of annihilation while balancing them with thoughts on the simple joy of eating a hot dog. The series started out as a slice-of-life show about a young boy and his magical family, but it’s emerged as one of the most daring, open-hearted series on television today.
The creative force behind the series is Emmy-nominated writer Rebecca Sugar, Cartoon Network’s first female showrunner. Originally a storyboard revisionist for Adventure Time, she broke out on her own to launch Steven Universe in 2013, blending her love of superheroes and magical-girl anime with a story about a kid not unlike her own little brother, Steven Sugar. Four years later, the show has gotten much more complicated; a recent arc sees Steven abducted by his alien enemies, and being put on trial for his mother’s ancient war crimes. But at its heart, the show is still very much about relationships and family in all their forms.