Over the past few decades we’ve seen hundreds of hit cartoon shows. The best have their own unique art styles and most also have their own art books.
I’ve covered bunch of books for animated movies and Japanese anime artbooks but haven’t delved much into TV shows. So that’s exactly my goal with this post—to offer a huge collection of production art books from all the best cartoons.
Looney Tunes: The Ultimate Visual Guide
First on the list is a classic from one of the best cartoon series of all time. Looney Tunes: The Ultimate Visual Guide spans the gamut of all your favorite Looney Tunes characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Roadrunner, Porky Pig, and so much more.
With a total of 144 pages this book curates a ton of rare production art from the golden years of Looney Tunes animation. You’ll find original sketches and cel artwork from legends like Chuck Jones and Tex Avery.
This is a really fun read and perfect for aspiring illustrators/animators who want to see how these cartoons were made.
Each character has their own section which includes a small bio about their design and personality. You get to peek behind the scenes at Warner Bros. and see exactly how these classic cartoons came about.
An excellent book for animators and Looney Tunes lovers alike.
The SpongeBob SquarePants Experience
There’s no denying that SpongeBob changed the face of animation forever. It seems like everybody from every country knows about SpongeBob and his wacky antics that first began in 1999 on Nickelodeon.
The SpongeBob SquarePants Experience is a gorgeous coffee table art book and time capsule with info + artwork from the series’ inception. This features dozens of rare never-before-seen production pieces with concept art from creator Stephen Hillenburg.
There’s also a ton of interviews with team members who worked as background painters, color stylists, storyboard artists, and even some of the voice crew.
These visuals are beyond incredible as they take you through your favorite character designs and locations in Bikini Bottom. You’ll also find a ton of rare storyboards from classic SpongeBob episodes along with explanations for how the episodes were made.
By far one of the best TV cartoon artbooks from a modern classic of animation.
The Hanna-Barbera Treasury
When I think about old-school animation I always picture the same two people: William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. They’re responsible for some of the most iconic cartoon characters like Scooby Doo, Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, and Yogi Bear(among many others).
The Hanna-Barbera Treasury is a compilation of artwork from all of their shows dating back to the 1950s-1960s. The book is 150 pages long with a ton of information packed into each chapter.
You get to learn about the characters and the artists who designed them with interviews from team members who worked at the studio. You’ll also find a ton of old production artwork like storyboards, character sketches, model sheets, and other production materials.
If you grew up on Hanna-Barbera cartoons then you’ll recognize a lot of your childhood in this book. If you’re a fan of animation then you’ll be drooling over all the rare artwork from bygone decades.
Either way this book is a beautiful piece of animation history with a fun look into some of TV’s most iconic cartoons.
You may take one look at the Adventure Time art style and figure it’s just a bunch of scribbles. But a lot of work and planning went into the show to make every episode a smash hit.
This book spans over 350 pages which is absolutely humongous compared to most art books. One reason it’s so thick is because it’s extremely thorough and publishes a ton of custom artwork from the show’s production.
Naturally you’ll find all the typical stuff like storyboards and background designs. But this book also includes the original pitch bible from the show and various art tests taken by aspiring animators looking to get onto the show.
Anyone hoping to break into the animation industry should have a copy of this art book. You’ll learn so much just reading through these pages and it’s something you’ll come back to many times over.
The Art of Rick and Morty
Another newer and wildly popular show is Rick & Morty on Adult Swim. This also has it’s own unique-yet-simplistic art style that has grown on a lot of fans.
The Art of Rick and Morty covers 224 pages of rare production art from dozens of episodes in the show’s first two seasons. Alongside all the artwork you’ll find a few interviews and behind-the-scenes Q&As with the show’s creators who discuss the writing process.
But most artists will buy this book for the artwork and I promise it won’t disappoint.
Character sketches, concept art, backgrounds, and storyboards litter the pages of this massive art book. It’s a must own for any fan of the show, plus animators who have never seen it can still learn a lot about the industry too.
The Art of Over the Garden Wall
Cartoon Network ran a short miniseries in 2014 called Over The Garden Wall. It was well received by kids and pro animators alike who loved the story, the characters, and the very strange art direction.
The Art of Over the Garden Wall offers a complete visual collection of all the production artwork used for this miniseries. It’s a fairly lengthy book with 180 pages and a few chapters split by characters, scenery, and different stages of animation.
Inside you’ll find rare never-before-seen concept art, character sketches, background paintings, and storyboards used by the Cartoon Network Studios production team.
There’s also a bunch of commentary from the series creator along with writers, musicians, and some of the voice actors too.
Really neat book if you liked the miniseries and want to learn more about the animation process.
The Art of Regular Show
Cartoon Network has two major hits on their network: Adventure Time and Regular Show. These two cartoons have been on the air for quite a few years and have extremely passionate fans.
The Art of Regular Show is a gorgeous art book that all fans will want to own. It’s 160 pages long with a strong hardcover making this work nicely as a coffee table book too. This shows you how the entire show is created with concept sketches and storyboards detailing every episode.
Creator JG Quintel shares his experience working on the show and how they typically take an episode from idea/script to storyboard and final animation.
Any serious aspiring animator will want a copy of this book. It covers so much ground on the creation of a TV show that it’ll give you a solid leg up trying to get into the industry.
Steven Universe: Art & Origins
Another rising show on Cartoon Network is the wild world of Steven Universe. And this series also has its own beautiful art book tailor-made for fans and animators alike.
Steven Universe: Art & Origins delivers exactly what the title promises. Over 220 pages you’ll find hundreds of rare production artwork from the early days of this show’s creation.
This includes a ton of character sketches along with rough storyboards from early episodes and background designs from the production pipeline.
Creator Rebecca Sugar talks about the origins of this show and how the idea came about. Other crew members from writers to board artists also share their experiences working on this hit cartoon series.
If you’re a fan of Steven Universe then absolutely grab a copy. You’ll be surprised how much is in here and how much you can learn by skimming through all this rare animation art.
The Art of Archer
Adam Reed’s FX series Archer follows a secret agent with one hell of an ego trip. It’s probably the funniest animated comedy on cable and it’s also got one of the strangest animation styles I’ve ever seen.
The Art of Archer spans 240 pages with exclusive artwork and interviews with the crew. This book is definitely a collection of rare artwork, but it’s also a deep look behind the scenes at how Archer episodes are made.
You’ll find a ton of excerpts from the scripts and storyboards used for iconic scenes in the show. Plus there’s a section with snippets from the pitch bible that was pitched to get this show on the air.
From background paintings to unique photo references and snapshots of the team hard at work, this book offers a look behind the curtain at Archer’s production team and how they make this cartoon so damn funny.
Art of He-Man
The original He-Man dates back to the mid 80s but another newer show came out in the early 2000s. This is one of America’s treasured cartoon icons and the show really did leave a mark on the animation world.
Art of He-Man covers artwork from both series and offers an inside look into the creation of this show. It’s published by Mattel so there’s a ton of rare toys and games featured through the book as well.
This thing is absolutely massive totaling 320+ pages with artwork from everything you could imagine. Storyboards for animation, toy designs, rough character sketches, and even retro artwork from the original toy packaging.
Anyone who loves the He-Man series should treat themselves to a copy of this art book. It goes far beyond the world of animation for a deeper look into the origins and popularity of He-Man.
Art of Avatar: The Last Airbender
When it comes to unique animation styles there isn’t much comparable to Avatar. This first aired on Nickelodeon in 2005 and has gone on to become one of the highest-rated animated shows for kids.
You’ll find a ton of rare concept art, storyboards, character sketches, and animation designs used during the production of each episode. Sketches range from rough pencil sketches to fully-fleshed backgrounds with everything in between.
Animators can learn a lot from this book just by studying the quality of Avatar’s concept art. Of course the TV show is beautiful, but the production design work is also worth ogling.
The Legend of Korra Art Book
The Legend of Korra Art Book was basically the follow-up show to Avatar and was created by the same people Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.
This art book is just as detailed with just as much rare production artwork. You’ll find dozens(if not hundreds) of pencil sketches, character designs, storyboards, and full background paintings illustrating the work that went into each episode.
You get a small peek into the creation process for everything on the show from environments to vehicles, props to character outfits. Various animation production art appears across every page and there are plenty of interviews to keep you busy as well.
If you loved Avatar then you’ll love Korra and both of these art books would be a great addition to any artist’s bookshelf.
The Art of Winnie the Pooh
We can trace the origins of Winnie the Pooh back to the 1920s created by English author A. A. Milne. Disney has since adapted Pooh and created their own version of the lovable honey addict.
The Art of Winnie the Pooh is a somewhat older art book with a ton of inspiring pieces. It’s 180 pages long with a huge variety of art styles from many Disney artists.
Print quality is impeccable so you’ll have no distortion or color issues. This book should hold up for a lifetime and it makes a great gift to pass down to your kids or grandkids.
Just note this isn’t really a concept art book per-se. It’s more of a curated gallery of illustrations and designs made by professional artists working at Disney.
Still a cute artistic resource and great for inspiration if you love Pooh Bear and his woodland friends.
My Little Pony: The Art of Equestria
Some artists may not get the fascination with MLP. It seems to be a show that you either get or you don’t.
And if you’re one of the people that gets it you’ll absolutely want a copy of My Little Pony: The Art of Equestria. This massive art book spans 220+ pages with hundreds of rare concept sketches and storyboards from the show.
Early chapters start with the premiere and showcase artwork from the early days of MLP. You’ll find rare illustrations and character sketches that led to the show being greenlit and shared with the world.
The backgrounds and storyboards are incredibly intricate with extremely high-quality printing. If you’re big into Equestria then you’ll find so much here to inspire your own artwork.
And even if you’ve never seen the show you can still learn a lot about the animation process just by skimming through this book.
Not Just Cartoons: Nicktoons!
The original Nicktoons were the classic Nickelodeon cartoons that helped the network rise to its current status among kids & teens.
Jerry Beck’s Not Just Cartoons: Nicktoons! takes a deeper look into all 30+ cartoons that were part of the Nicktoons lineup. It’s a pretty large book with 290 pages full of rare production artwork and interviews from various animators.
You get to peek behind the animation process and learn how the writers, board artists, and background painters all came together to create some of Nickelodeon’s most iconic shows.
These cartoons include Hey Arnold!, Ren & Stimpy, SpongeBob, Rugrats, CatDog, and quite a few more.
Any child of the 80s and 90s will find some nostalgia in this book. Not to mention it’s a super valuable resource for animators who want to learn more about the production of Nickelodeon’s classic cartoons.
Regardless of when you grew up or what kinds of cartoons you like there’s bound to be a few artbooks here that you’ll love.
I always suggest that every animator should keep their favorite art books nearby for inspiration while working. And if you grew up watching TV then you’ll find plenty of inspiration in these rare cartoon art books.