Forget Live-Action, The Future of the Superhero Genre Belongs to Animation

Caped Crusader, Invincible, and then X-Men '97

In a time before superheroes thrived in live-action, they played a prominent role in early morning television programming. Before visual effects caught up with displaying character abilities in all their glory, animation allowed for more accurate depictions seen in the comics. Shows like the 1940s Superman film serials, Batman: The Animated SeriesX-Men, Justice LeagueSpider-Man and so many others have delivered some of the strongest interpretations of the characters on the screen and were at the forefront before the wave of live-action success that followed.

Despite superheroes’ great success in live-action, animation is still going strong with MarvelDCSony, and Amazon still committed to telling stories in the medium. Like live-action, animated stories have also evolved and become far more unique than ever. Superhero fatigue has been a major topic, with the box office performances of live-action Marvel and DC films failing to live up to the guaranteed success they once had. At this moment, there’s a compelling case that animated superhero projects have been stronger than recent live-action projects and it could carry the genre into its next phase of evolution.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Earned an Oscar

Miles Morales in his blended civilian and superhero costume from Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse

Superhero films have struggled to earn the respect of the Academy for many years. Some find it hard to classify them as art, but perceptions have finally turned. The Dark Knight‘s groundbreaking success initially opened critics’ eyes, and films like Black Panther and Joker earned Best Picture nominations. However, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ultimately became the first superhero film to win an Oscar for best animated film in 2018.

The Oscar win was a monumental achievement for the superhero genre, and it was an animated feature that got it there. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse followed up on Into the Spider-Verse‘s success with another Oscar nomination in the animation category. With major Oscar wins under their belts, the Spider-Verse films have now set the bar for what superhero movies can accomplish during the awards season.

X-Men ’97 Might’ve Saved the MCU

Cyclops, Storm and Rogue from X-Men '97 with Colossus and Cable in the background

X-Men ’97 was Marvel Studios’ first true X-Men project and successfully revived the animated ’90s series.
Two more seasons of X-Men ’97 are already in the works from Marvel Studios.
Some consider X-Men ’97 the best mutant-based project ever made because of its comic book accuracy and the rich lore from the comics.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has stumbled in recent years, with projects such as The Marvels and Secret Invasion missing the mark critically and financially. This year, Marvel Studios doesn’t have as much output as it has had as of late in the Disney+ era, with X-Men ’97 kicking things off as a revival of the beloved animated series from the ’90s. Because of X-Men ’97, there is now hope the MCU can get the franchise back on track. X-Men ’97 might not occur in the MCU, but it was a Marvel Studios production and is currently its highest-rated project on Rotten Tomatoes.

The animated series reached a major milestone by improving the ’90s animated series for modern times with its sleek style and compelling storyline. Marvel Studios needed a project to get fans engaged again. Instead of a live-action film doing it, it was an animated X-Men series that has given the MCU the momentum it needs to return to prominence. Part of that could easily be due to its animation fans now crave more and more. If the MCU makes its big comeback, it will be important to look back at X-Men ’97 as the true turning point for the franchise, and it could lead to more of a focus on animation from Marvel Studios in the future.

Invincible Shook Up the Superhero Genre With Its Brutality

Invincible Season 2 - Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun)

Image Comics published Invincible from 2003 to 2018 with 144 issues.
The animated series featured a star-studded voice cast featuring the likes of Steven Yeun, J.K. Simmons, Sandra Oh, Zazie Beetz, Walton Goggins, Mark Hamill, Clancy Brown, Seth Rogen and countless others.

Invincible was a superhero series that surprised many when it debuted on Amazon Prime Video years ago. For those unfamiliar with the comic book series from The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, the animated series is now one of the biggest ongoing superhero shows, with audiences eager for more after a long wait for season two.

Invincible‘s dark story, engaging action, and high-profile voice acting talent gave viewers a superhero project unlike any seen prior. Like the Spider-Verse films, Invincible is another prime example of a superhero story that can only be told in animation with a level of violence that could never be produced in live-action. With plenty of stories left, Invincible will continue to serve a major role in the superhero genre for years as another project that has set the bar for translating comic book panels to the screen.

More Exciting Animated Projects Are on the Way

Batman: Caped Crusader debuted its trailer

The entire season of Batman: Caped Crusader will drop on August 1st on Amazon Prime Video.
In addition to Eyes of Wakanda, Spider-Man: Freshman Year, and more seasons of X-Men ’97, Marvel Studios also has Marvel Zombies one more season of What If…? in the pipeline.
DC Studios is developing a Blue Beetle animated series that will bring back the cast of the 2023 film.

There are also no signs of superhero animation slowing down anytime soon, marking another reason why the medium might be the future of the superhero genre. My Adventures of Superman provides a fresh and modern take on the Man of Steel with twists on the mythos in each episode. Batman: Caped Crusader will take the character back to its noir roots and set the story in the ’40s with Bruce TimmMatt Reeves, and J.J. Abrams‘ involvement.

Creature Commandos is also about to make animated superhero stories more important than ever, with major connections to the upcoming DCU and a star-studded cast in the vein of InvincibleThe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise is a comic book franchise that has also recently thrived in animation. Mutant Mayhem has earned the best reviews for any film in the franchise, with a spin-off series and a sequel coming. Marvel Studios also has a promising animation slate with Eyes of Wakanda set to expand the world of Black Panther and Spider-Man: Freshman Yearlooking to live up to the legacy of Spider-Man’s rich history in the medium. The future of superhero projects in animation is bright, with plenty of projects in the works from the major studios.

These superhero projects accomplish visuals live-action can’t, resulting in an adaptation that’s even more authentic to comic books. Animation has no restrictions, allowing creators to experiment with iconic characters like Batman or Spider-Man and breathe new life into them with stylistic choices unavailable to live-action projects, resulting in projects of higher quality than live-action as of late.

From Spider-Man to the Hulk, visual effects in the early 2000s pushed live-action superhero projects forward because audiences could finally see their favorite heroes come to life. With so much superhero output in live-action, these experiences can no longer blow away audiences like they used to. On the other hand, animated superhero shows and films have reached a new level that makes the superhero genre refreshing again with their bold visuals and serious storytelling. Superhero fatigue might be a reality in live-action, but on the animation side, the projects have never been better, and it could be the future of it.

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