Animated films have been underestimated in the film industry and classified as a ‘children’s genre’ for years. Although the majority of animated films are created for children, there are also animation genres created exclusively for the enjoyment of adults.
Animation has also been described as a film genre itself, but this simply isn’t true as it is rather regarded as a film technique. Animation constitutes a category of film and has several animation genres that fall under it. Just like mainstream films, animated films can be categorized into comedy, action, horror, romance, and many more.
Like any live-action film, animation can touch on serious and adult themes, in addition to making use of excellent work in photography, sound, design, and acting. Animation can also be understood as a branch of cinematographic language that transcends the notion of the film genre since it predates cinema in many ways.
There are also some more niche animation genres that freelance animators can be a part of. You can check out a list of animation niches on our blog and learn how to become a successful animation specialist.
These blogs list some of the more popular niches like courtroom animation, educational animation, and medical animation, and discuss secrets to becoming a successful animation specialist.
As an animator, there are unique career opportunities available to you that are specific to certain industries. These opportunities come in the form of animation niches and these are specialized animation branches used in specific industries.
Because there exists so many options for genres to animate, many freelance animators often feel overwhelmed and don’t know what the best animation genre is to choose. This is made even more complicated when considering that there really isn't a “best genre.”
In reality, the best animation genre to choose will be the one you are most passionate about animating. This can be anything from fantasy characters to recreating high-speed chases as a courtroom animator, or even things like how a specific plant grows as a scientific animator.
If you’re struggling to find that passion, keep reading for a list of animation genres and niches you can explore as a freelance animator. In this blog, we go over some of the most popular animation genres and niches in the industry to give you a better idea of your options as a freelance animator and to help you find your genre of passion.
Animation Genres for Freelance Animators
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Animation is often described as a film technique rather than a genre but animated films and shows often contain genre-like elements. Many animators and industry veterans like Guillermo Del Toro agree that animation should not be considered a genre but rather a type of cinema with a set of sub-genres just like mainstream films.
Animation is also often considered only appropriate for children, but again, this is a very narrow-minded way of thinking about animation. Just like mainstream films, some genres appeal to children, while others are created to be enjoyed by people of all ages, and other animations are specifically created for adult consumption.
Animation, fairy tales, and stop-motion films often appeal to children, but they are enjoyed by people of all ages. But besides children’s animation, there are several different animation genres that freelance animators can go into.
These include things like adult animation that have more serious and dark themes and that range in genre from comedy (usually dark humor), action, horror, adventure, and drama. There are also animation genres created for the enjoyment of all ages.
The three key animated sub-genres – children’s animation, adult animated comedy, and anime – are among the most in-demand globally. It’s also important to note that while there are core animation genres, these often overlap. For example, a children’s animation can be a part of the western genre, or an anime series can also be a horror animation.
With that in mind, here is a list of some of the most popular animation genres you can get into as a freelance animator.
1. Children’s Animation
GIF by Disney Pixar via Giphy
Children’s animation is by far the most popular animation genre in the world. Children’s animated film is a sub-genre that caters to a young and specific age demographic. This sub-genre usually explores a fantastical world with vivid animation.
Animated children's films cover a wide range of topics and can fall into multiple genres – such as adventure and musicals. The tone of these films is light and fun, and musical numbers are often incorporated into the plot. The story usually centers on a protagonist who must battle in a “good-over-evil” scenario.
Most often, this animation genre incorporates fantasy elements and plays on the possibility that imagination holds and many films in this animation genre also serve an educational purpose.
The most popular children’s animation studios are Disney and Pixar, but there are also freelance animators that specialize in this genre. For example, Sarah Steenland is a freelance animator who creates cartoons and animations for her clients. Her website is also a great example of what an ideal animation website should look like.
Popular examples of children’s animated films include “Turning Red” (2021), “Ice Age” (2002), “Up” (2009), and “Brave” (2012).
2. Adult Animation
Image by minecraftman1000 via Deviant Art
Adult animation is an animation genre that uses animation to appeal to an older audience. Adult animation is any type of animated motion work that is catered specifically to adult interests and is mainly targeted and marketed toward adults and adolescents.
The storyline of the film may be more sophisticated than in traditionally animated films. It may be considered an adult animated film because of the portrayal of adult topics. Adult animation is usually considered cutting-edge and risqué.
However, some children’s animation might also contain adult jokes that children might not understand or grasp, arguably making these films more enjoyable for parents. Interestingly, films that are considered children’s animation today, like some of the first Disney films or Looney Tune cartoons, were originally created for adults and children alike.
Examples of adult animated films and television shows include “Family Guy” (1999 -), “Love Death + Robots” (2019 -), and “The House” (2022).
GIF via IceGif
Anime is a form of animation originating from Japan. Anime gained popularity in East and Southeast Asia, before becoming popular throughout the world. This animation genre can consist of both hand-drawn or computer-generated animation.
Anime films are usually based on successful television series, video games, or manga (Japanese illustrated novels). Many fans consider Anime an art form, as it emphasizes stylized visual cues. The influence of Japanese painting and calligraphy can often be seen throughout these films and shows.
Some examples of popular anime include “Spirited Away” (2001), “Violet Evergarden” (2018), and “Yasuke” (2021).
4. Documentary Animation
Image by Elisa Guimarães via Collider
The past decade has seen a boom in non-fiction films that use animation to tell their stories, either as short illustrative interludes or as the main selling point of the entire picture. Animated documentaries form part of this style and can be described as films that combine the technique of animation and the genre of documentary films.
Windsor McCay was the first to create an animated documentary. Created in 1918, the film is only 12-minutes long and it is titled “The Sinking of the Lusitania.” The film pioneered an animation genre of filmmaking that has been used to vividly depict historical events and tragedies ever since.
Artists and writers working for major companies like Disney, Warner Bros, and UPA used their expertise to educate and inspire by creating films aimed at audiences of all ages.
Some of the most notable animated documentaries include “Nuts!” (2016), “25 April” (2015), and “Flee” (2021). “Flee” is a particularly impactful film as it documents the life of a refugee.
5. War Animation
Image by Sam Byford via The Verge
Animated war films aren’t very popular because of the somber nature of this animation genre. But using animation to depict such a heavy topic can be quite effective. Something about the illustration of combat makes these films seem all the more surreal and nightmarish.
There have been several exceptional animated war films made throughout the years, including “Waltz With Bashir” (2008), “The Wind Rises” (2013) which is also an anime film, and “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero” (2018) also a children’s animated film.
While not one of the most popular genres, war animation can be quite effective at drawing in audiences because of the macabre nature of the subject matter. This is definitely a good choice if you’re a big fan of history.
6. Western Animations
GIF via Giphy
While most animated western films have been flops in the past, it remains a foundational animation genre in the industry. Even so, if you have a passion for western films and feel that you can translate that passion into animated films, this genre is perfect for you.
Examples of animated western films that did relatively well are “Rango” (2011), “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” (2002), and “Home on the Range” (2004).
7. Animated Horror Films
Image by Brad Miska via Bloody Disgusting
When we think of animation, horror isn’t something associated with the usually bright and cheerful cinema technique. But animated horror films have been popular for years and many people seem to enjoy them more than traditional horror films. What’s more, these animated films are often just as scary, if not more, as traditional horror films.
Animation allows you to take the horror genre and make it even more outrageous, gory, and otherworldly. In contrast to traditional films, animation has no physical limits, and the only thing preventing you from creating the greatest horror film ever made is your imagination.
Animated horror can range from child-friendly family films to all-out nightmares. Some popular examples include “Seoul Station” (2016), “Coraline” (2009), and “Fears of the Dark” (2007).
Image via Start a Studio
Now that you have an idea of the basic animation genres you can go into as a freelancer, we can discuss the benefit of finding an animation niche to combine with your genre of choice.
Animation niches separate themselves from genres in the sense that they are specialized areas of interest that you can pursue within your freelance animation career. Animation niches can be used in conjunction with an animation genre to create a unique style and animation service.
Besides the positive impact finding your animation niche will have on your career, there are some great personal benefits for you to experience. You want a career that fulfills you both in your work and your personal life and your animation niche helps you do just that.
Not only that, but an animation niche will allow you to establish your authority in the specialty you choose to pursue. You will be at the forefront of that animation niche, and you can dominate a specific industry through animation while growing your animation portfolio.
But choosing an animation niche can be difficult since animations drastically range in style and technique and even the software used is different for each person. Choosing which of these to specialize in can be overwhelming because many people might find more than one of these fascinating or fun to do and use.
If you want to find your niche, it’s important to focus on one thing at a time. This will make it easier for you to become an expert on that one thing by perfecting your animation skills. Not only that, but you will also become an authority over that certain niche in the industry.
Your niche is typically the center point between your passion, expertise, and market need. If you can find this sweet spot, you’ve found your niche. All three of these facets are important as they play a role in developing a niche that not only suits your lifestyle and interests but also fulfills the need for a specific animation specialist in the industry.
An example of combining your skills, interests, and the market need for your animation environment might include becoming a courtroom animator. This would be ideal if you’re interested in true crime, are good at creating 2D or 3D animations, and the industry in your city or state is lacking such a unique animation job role.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help identify your niche:
- What are you interested in?
- What are you good at?
- Is there a gap in the industry?
For more questions to help you find your niche, check out this blog listing 7 questions to ask when trying to find your animation niche. The blog details the importance of carving a place for yourself in the animation industry and how you can go about it.
There are many types of freelance animation specialists depending on the industry in a specific area, what market needs there are in that area, and what animators find interesting. Many animators have integrated unconventional themes and professions into their projects to create a personal niche in which they work and create animations.
Examples of animation specialists include sports animators, crime scene animators, medical animators, courtroom animators, engineering animators, and educational animators, just to name a few. There are even entire animation businesses dedicated to creating these specialized reconstructions and simulations.
Why There is No “Best Animation Genre” For Freelance Animators
While animated films have been grossly underestimated and considered a ‘children’s genre’ for years, there are countless animation genres and niches for freelance animators to jump into. Children’s animation may be the most popular worldwide, but other genres like adult animations, horror animation, and documentary animation also have their place in the industry.
When choosing an animation genre to work in, it might be to your benefit as a freelancer to try to appeal to adult audiences as these types of animations aren’t as popular. Things like horror animations and more adult-themed anime can be to your benefit if you find these animation genres appealing.
Other than the typical animation genres, you can also try finding an animation niche to work in. This will help you become an authority in the animation industry and also help attract animation clients with your specialized services.
While we’ve listed a few options for animation genres for you to explore it’s important to remember that there is no “best genre” and that the best genre for you is one you are passionate about animating. Following your passion will bring you success in the animation industry in the long run.
If you’re looking to grow your animation skills, check out our free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!