Adventure Time had a lot of things going for it, even more so the longer it aired and more serialized it became. Characters who were not just great, but who were deep and hard to categorize.
A post-apocalyptic setting that was mysterious and entertaining, yet tragic at the same time. And writing that was on-point, frequently swinging from hysterical to poignant and back in the span of a single eleven-minute episode.
While there was plenty of soul-searching done in The Land of Ooh (even Lumpy Space Princess had her moments), for the most part the characters on Adventure Time knew who they were and what they were about, and, as such, most of AT’s main characters uttered a line that completely summed up their roles in the show at some point.
Many even got autobiographical songs.
“I’ll slay anything that’s evil. That’s my deal.”
- Episode 1.5 “The Enchiridion”
BAM. There it is. The task of slaying evil to which Finn’s referring here is posed to him in his quest for The Enchiridion – the hero’s handbook. But it doesn’t matter when Finn is asked.
This truly is his deal, and his main role in Adventure Time. He’s the hero, and slaying evil is kind of the whole bag.
Runner-up: “I can’t help it, Man. I’m all about stupid!”
- Episode 2.15 “The Real You”
Hero though he may be, Finn is also just a kid when the show starts, so he’s a whole lot stupid a lot of the time too. At least, he realizes it.
Song: “Baby Finn Song”
- Episode 3.3 “Memory of a Memory”
One could argue “The Hero Boy Named Finn” from season 1 is Finn’s most self-descriptive song, and it WAS a contender. But we all know deep down Finn is still just that baby from Boom Boom Mountain determined to help anyone in need, and puncha bad guys’ buns.
“I’m coming with you… if only to be disruptive and obnoxious.”
- Episode 3.14 “Beautopia”
We can’t call Jake out too much. He’s a hero too (when he feels like it), and his magic has gotten Finn out of plenty of scrapes and pickles.
But Jake also freely admits he’s less invested in being a hero than Finn. This is him owning his part in the hero process.
Runner-up: “I didn’t know it was wrong.”
Jake’s running refrain for a while. Though it doesn’t really capture who he is when the series begins, it does allude to his sketchy past.
He’s a good dude now, but he’s still learning. And in the City of Thieves he still can’t resist those red boots.
Song: “My Name is Jake”
- Episode 7.25 “Flute Spell”
In season 7, Jake literally gets a short auto-bio set to music. It’s current, it’s snappy, it sounds a lot like a diary entry. But at least it’s (largely) happy in a season that often wasn’t.
3. ICE KING
“Why don’t people like me? Is it because I’m a magic user?”
- Episode 1.3 “Prisoners of Love”
Damn. What a gut punch this turned out to be, eh? When first uttered, in episode three of season one, it’s pretty ridiculous.
Ice King just kidnapped and imprisoned a bunch of princesses, after all, and is surprised no one wants to stay and hang out.
Then, nearly three seasons later, AT’s writers start to unravel Ice King’s story, who he was – Simon Petrikov – and how he came to be such a tool.
The answer to his question is “yes,” the magic is why no one likes him. He isn’t the show’s villain. He’s its most tragic hero.
Runner-up: “I just wanna be loved!”
- Episode 4.25 “I Remember You”
Another kick in the teeth. And from the episode that probably made you sob ugly tears. In the beginning, Ice King does all the bad things.
Princess-knapping. Death threats. Weird magic that made Ricardio, possibly Adventure Time’s least appealing character.
But even before we know who he really is, everything Ice King does comes back to this.
Song: “Remember You”
- Episode 4.25 “I Remember You”
Marceline helps sing it, but these are Ice King’s (well, Simon’s) words. And they capture the essence of who he really is – a good man corrupted by magic.
If you hadn’t cried yet, this song was written to goose it right out of you.
4. PRINCESS BUBBLEGUM
“We’ve got science!”
- Episode 4.19 “Lady & Peebles”
Princess Bubblegum may have been introduced as Finn’s main love interest for the first couple of seasons of Adventure Time, but that was never all she was. Or even the main thing that she was.
PB was a lot of things, but she was a science nerd first and foremost. I mean, the show literally began with her performing an experiment.
Bonus for the explosive diarrhea.
Runner-up: “The answer was so simple, I was too smart to see it.”
- Episode 1.1 “Slumber Party Panic”
On its surface, it’s a similar line to “We’ve got science!” – PB’s a brainiac, we get it – but this line really sums up one of Princess Bubblegum’s other major personality traits, her often total obtuseness when it comes to dealing with normal interactions and regular people stuff.
She’s a bit too smart for her own good, and it comes to a head in later seasons when she admits to feeling alienated and overwhelmed by all the responsibility she’s created for herself.
“When I became a vampire, I was just a messed-up kid. Now it’s a thousand years later and I’m still messed up. I don’t want to spend eternity like this, with this emptiness. I want to grow up.”
- Episode 7.6 “Stakes Part 1: Marceline the Vampire Queen”
Of the major characters on Adventure Time, it could be argued Marceline had the most intense character arc. When she first comes on the scene, she’s kinda of a brat, taking Finn and Jake’s house, making trouble just to make trouble.
It’s what you might expect of someone who never got the chance to grow up and has been alone (i.e. selfish) a long time. But, by the series end, she’s exactly what she wants to be – grown-up – and the only one brave enough to try to whisper sense into PB’s ear.
Runner-up: “I’ve seen some stuff that would really make you say ‘like what’?”
- Episode 1.12 “Evicted!”
When first said, this line is a one-off from a chick who’s been traveling around Ooo and just wants to tell the tale. Which Marceline does, foreshadowing some of the places and events we have yet to see.
But, in an utterly sublime layering of meaning, this line also recalls the past. We don’t know it yet, but Marceline is our only main character who lived through the Mushroom War AND remembers it. That’s a helluva burden to bear alone.
Song: “Journal Song”
- Episode 3.21 “Marceline’s Closet”
As the singer-songwriter on the show, nobody gets more introspective songs than Marceline. But none of them capture the core essence of who she is better than this one. It’s hard to be a thousand-year-old vampire no one understands.
6. LUMPY SPACE PRINCESS
“I guess at the end of the day, it’s all about the lumps.”
- Episode 4.12 “Gotcha!”
Throughout the entire run of Adventure Time, Lumpy Space Princess had one major interest – herself. She was all about her lumps, and was pretty sure everyone else was about them too.
Spoiler: They weren’t.
Runner-up: “Everybody get ready to pay attention to me.”
- Episode 5.44 “Apple Wedding”
Girl, LSP was a handful.
Song: My Lumps
- Episode 4.2 “Five Short Graybles”
Combing the two autobiographic lines above, LSP did the most LSP thing she could do. She wrote a song about her lumps, and entered a talent show with it. Because of course she did.
“BMO is so pretty and smart!”
- Episode 5.39 “We Fixed a Truck”
BMO is exceptional, and BMO knows it. No self-esteem issues here, it’s exactly the kind of confidence a MO who would one day be King of Ooo, but would also pretend to help friends just to make an epic skateboarding video, requires.
Runner-up: “Who wants to play video games?”
- Episode 1.23 “Rainy Day Daydream”
It’s on the nose, but that’s kind of the point. BMO is literally a computer, and this is BMO’s prime role.
8. TREE TRUNKS
“I’m the sexiest adventurer in the world.”
- Episode 1.4 “Tree Trunks”
During Tree Trunks first major appearance on Adventure Time, Finn describes her as old and bonkers. And she certainly seems to be when she declares herself the sexiest adventurer, while trying to seduce and use stickers to pacify monsters.
But then… some backstory later, we learn that Tree Trunks was actually a damn pirate and collector of ex-husbands, so apparently she was exactly who she said she was.
Runner-up: “If you want a taste of my juicy apple pie you better be nice.”
- Episode 5.8 Mystery Dungeon
Tree Trunks is Ooo’s source for apple pie. Everyone wants it. Everyone’s welcome to it. And very seldom does it sound like Tree Trunks is actually talking about apple pie.
Song: “Apple Pie”
- Episode 2.8 “Crystals Have Power’
This is not technically Tree Trunks song, as she neither sings nor writes it. It’s just a musical interlude as Finn, Jake and Tree Trunks fly out of the Crystal Dimension and back to Ooo.
But it’s lyrics –
Apple pie in the oven
Tell me can you taste lovin’?
– do capture the euphemistic nature of TT’s “apple pie.”
9. FLAME PRINCESS
“You should not toy with the emotions of a fire elemental.”
- Episode 4.1 “Hot to the Touch”
This here? Good advice. Flame Princess, am I right? The girl is hot. So hot she can set fire to the world if she gets overly emotional.
She really IS a fire elemental who should NOT be toyed with.
Runner-up: “The power of destruction.”
- Episode 5.12 “Vault of Bones”
FP is made of fire, so this is pretty much a given. She was also sent away from her kingdom as a baby, then held captive inside a lantern, because she had more of that power than her father.
Ah, Adventure Time is just full of happy stories like that.
Song: “Flame Princess Experience Rap”
- Episode 10.3 “Son of Rap Bear”
It’s not until season 10 that Flame Princess gets a chance to lay her life story down in verse. But, when she does, she’s a straight-up baller on the rap battle circuit.
So, how’d we do? Have a better line that sums up an Adventure Time character? Shout it out in the comments below.