Adventure Time’s influence on our modern crop of animated TV cannot be understated. Both as an incubator of talent — from its storyboarding room sprang the folks behind equally influential shows like Steven Universe and Over the Garden Wall — and an ever-mutating epic that used its success to experiment wildly. In many ways, the many creatives working on Adventure Time were inventing the modern serialized, long-form comedy/puzzle box/fantasy animated series for kids as they went along.
Adventure Time even lit the fuse on what’s snowballed into a genuine explosion of kids cartoons with queer romance plots or subplots — though like everything else in the show, it was produced of the slow accumulation of “yes, and”-style world-building, and like many shows after it, was hampered by network rules on queer content.
Fans that eagerly awaited tension of the next “Wait... do they have history?” moment between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen were eventually rewarded with their relationship becoming an indelible part of Adventure Time canon. But fans of more recent queer YA animation who are interested in following the path worn by fandoms come before may find Adventure Time as a whole difficult to get sucked into.
I know, because when I mentioned that I’d put together a Bubbline watch/skip list of just the Marceline and Bubblegum episodes of Adventure Time for some friends, no less than two co-workers immediately asked me if they could see it too. They love animated TV, but Finn and Jake — especially in the show’s early seasons — couldn’t quite maintain their interest.
It’s an understandable problem! By the time Adventure Time really starts leaning into the Bubbline subtext with consistency, the lore is impenetrably dense for a new viewer. And thanks to Adventure Time’s laissez-faire approach to taking one-off episodes and retconning them into load-bearing plot pillars, you can’t just skip back a few episodes from seasons 6 or 7 to figure out why Finn has a robot arm.
So we’ve decided to share this list with the world.
How to use this Bubbline watch/skip list
Start with season 1 of Adventure Time on HBO Max, and watch each episode on this list! Marceline and Princess Bubblegum are not the main characters of Adventure Time, so following their appearances and only their appearances will exempt you from a lot of moving and shaking in the show’s main plot. For your convenience, we’ve summarized that lore here, under the heading of the episode where you’ll need to know it. Read the note before you watch the episode, unless directed otherwise.
We’ve also offered commentary on the repeated motifs of Adventure Time that you’re missing out on by watching it in this way, just to create a more complete experience. Adventure Time is not a fully plotted-out long-form story like many of the shows that came in its wake, like Steven Universe, Gravity Falls, or The Owl House, and a lot of its themes come out in repetition, not single installments.
[Ed. note: From this point forward, this post contains big, big spoilers for Adventure Time.]
Welcome to the world of Ooo
It is an era of wizard magic, candy science, and legendary heroism! The Cosmic Owl swoops through the dreamscape, his presence marking the difference between dreams and prophecy. Prismo the Wish Master sleeps at the center of the cosmos. The four-faced deity Grob Gob Glob Grod watches over the fields of Mars, and we never talk about their fearsome brother GOLB, whose last worshippers were surely eradicated during the ancient Mushroom Wars… but I’m getting off track.
Our heroes are brothers, Finn the Human and Jake the Dog (Finn was adopted). As far as anyone knows, Finn is the only human! Jake’s magical powers come from an encounter his parents had with a blue, shapeshifting alien while his mom was pregnant (although nobody finds that out until very late in the series).
Their main adventures often involve battling the odious Ice King, who is constantly kidnapping princesses and trying to force them to marry him. (Ooo is riddled with princesses). Princess Bubblegum, monarch of the Candy Kingdom, also often sends them on quests (Finn has a huge crush on her). And that’s really all you need to know!
7: “Ricardio the Heart Guy”
12: “Evicted!” — Don’t worry about the worm; it comes back in a later episode that doesn’t have much to do with this one.
23: “Rainy Day Daydream”
1: “It Came From the Nightosphere” — You should know, just for the proper appreciation of Lumpy Space Princess as a concept, that she is voiced by Pendleton Ward, creator of Adventure Time.
17: “Death in Bloom”
20: “Go With Me” — Jake’s girlfriend is Lady Rainicorn, Princess Bubblegum’s best friend and steed.
24: “Mortal Folly” — There’s a whole episode that introduces you to Billy but it’s not that great, so for your reference, the first 40 seconds of this video contains all you need to know about Billy.
Billy is an early example of one of Adventure Time’s most important quiet themes. Finn and Jake are part of an endless cycle of heroes, from the dawn of time to the far future. Some of these adventurer pairings are unconnected people from another time, sometimes they seem like distant descendants or ancestors, sometimes they’re direct reincarnations of their souls.
It’s a way Adventure Time says that every time is a good time to battle evil and protect the innocent. A way it says that heroes — even Finn and Jake themselves — wear all genders, shapes, and guises. And it’s a way to say that the story of Finn and Jake never truly comes to an end, even when the show does. I love kids media that teaches children how to grapple with its own end as a story.
Anyway, meet the Lich. A few Lich stories give a bit of perspective on Marceline and the Ice King, whose arc is a major pillar of the Marceline/Bubblegum storyline, so I’ve included them here.
25: “Mortal Recoil”
3: “Memory of a Memory” — If you watch closely, you can catch a picture of Finn and Jake’s other brother, Jermaine, in part of this episode. He’s a nonmagical talking yellow dog, voiced by Tom Scharpling (Steven Universe).
5: “Too Young”
10: “What Was Missing” — Congratulations, you’ve made it. This is the moment Adventure Time really becomes Adventure Time. It’s also the episode that spawned in earnest the Bubbline ship, for reasons that will be obvious the moment you finish it.
12: “The Creeps”
20: “Holly Jolly Secrets” part 2 — Don’t worry about part 1, it’s just fine and is easily summarized, where part 2 is a load-bearing pillar of Adventure Time lore. Previously on Adventure Time: Finn and Jake found the Ice King’s secret tapes and they want to watch the secrets on them, but the secrets are hidden in hours of really boring home movies. That’s all you really need to know.
21: “Marceline’s Closet”
26: “Incendium” — Not a ton of Marcy and Peebs here, but watching this episode will help you stay abreast of the evolution of Finn’s crush on Princess Bubblegum and will also introduce you to Flame Princess.
5: “Return to the Nightosphere”
6: “Daddy’s Little Monster”
16: “Burning Low”
19: “Lady & Peebles” — Read this AFTER you watch the episode. Jake and Lady have puppies later! They’ve all got weird combos of rainicorn hologram powers and Jake’s shapeshifting and they all grow up very fast in a single episode and then occasionally show up to visit — you won’t really see any more of them on this list, but it’s important to know that they exist.
25: “I Remember You”
26: “The Lich”
1: “Finn the Human”
2: “Jake the Dog”
11: “Bad Little Boy” — You’ll notice that this episode isn’t about Finn and Jake — it’s about some other heroes called Fionna and Cake. F&C are the Ice King’s genderbent fanfiction about Finn and Jake, and the heroes of a whole genderbent version of Ooo. Are they real? Are they in a parallel universe? That’s up to your own interpretation.
This episode, which introduces Marshall Lee (Donald Glover), is the best of the Fionna and Cake installments. (Also featuring Neil Patrick Harris reprising his Prince Gumball.)
14: “Simon & Marcy”
21: “The Suitor”
26: “Wizards Only, Fools”
29: “Sky Witch”
31: “Too Old” — OK, so… Lemongrab has been through some… things… since you last saw him. He blamed Princess Bubblegum for creating him with the desire for companionship and a hatred for all things except that which is like his obnoxious self, so she made a second Lemongrab to be with him. Then the Lemongrabs claimed their kingdom was in famine so they could get foreign aid of lemon drops, which they used to create hundreds of lemon people to enslave. Then the Lemongrabs started having relationship problems, which led to the original Lemongrab partially consuming the second Lemongrab.
Also, between now and the last time we saw her, Finn had a messy breakup with Fire Princess, which was his fault.
32: “Earth & Water”
34: “The Vault”
38: “Red Starved”
44: “Apple Wedding”
48: “Betty” — You’ll notice that in this episode, Finn has a green wrap on his sword-hand wrist. That’s his Grass Sword! It can cut through basically anything and it’s got a sentient curse living inside it that means he can never put it down. But once Finn stopped trying to get rid of the Grass Sword and accepted it, it stopped trying to cut everything in sight. Now it’s just this neat retractable sword and nothing bad ever comes of it until absolutely bad things come of it.
14: “Princess Day”
22: “The Cooler”
23: “The Pajama War”
42: “Hot Diggity Doom” — OK, so, there’s a lot of Main Plot stuff going on here, but for our purposes it’s important to clock these developments with the King of Ooo and Princess Bubblegum.
1: “Bonnie & Neddy”
6-13: The “Stakes” miniseries — You may have noticed Finn no longer has his Grass Sword! Between now and the last time we saw Finn, he overextended his Grass Sword, which exploded and took his right forearm with it. He was really messed up about it for a while. Then some other stuff happened, and the remnants of the Grass Sword in Finn’s arm regrew his arm, with no trace of the Grass Sword, except for a green thorn that comes out of his palm sometimes. Yes, all this sword and arm stuff becomes important later.
26: “The Thin Yellow Line”
1: “Broke His Crown” — Remember Betty’s quest to save the Ice King from his madness? Well, so far in the course of her studies she’s determined that all wizardry demands/causes a degree of madness and sadness in the wizard. Between last we saw her and now, she stole the powers of the trickster Magic Man (thereby taking on his rather extreme level of madness, and his yellow pointed hat), and briefly stole the Ice King’s crown, altered it somehow, and gave it back.
17: “High Strangeness”
19: “Jelly Beans Have Power”
11: “Ketchup” — In this episode, BMO and Marceline recap the events of two back-to-back Adventure Time miniseries, “Islands” and “Elements.” Neither of them have much to do with Bubbline so I have not included them, but the gist is:
In “Islands,” Finn, Jake, and BMO went on an adventure across the sea where they found other humans and met Finn’s biological mom! Wow! The other humans are sailing back to the main Ooo landmass but it’s gonna take them a while.
Meanwhile, in “Elements,” Patience St. Pim supercharged the elemental princesses, overriding their personalities with pure elemental impulses and transforming the continent into four elemental quarters. Anyone touching the ground turned elemental too: Princess Bubblegum became a giant gum entity, and in her quarter of Ooo all living things that touched the ground were transformed into creepily cheerful candy versions of themselves (even the ones that weren’t candy). The only thing that winds up having the power to turn everyone back to normal is Lumpy Space Princess, because she’s not from Ooo at all, but rather the extradimensional realm of Lumpy Space.
The most important detail of all that, for those following this list, is that LSP’s powers returned everything and everyone in Ooo not just to the way they were before the elementals transformed them, but to their original forms.
Also important: At the beginning of “Islands,” Finn’s Grass Sword reemerged and came into contact with his Finn-Sword (a sword created by a paradox when Finn went back in time and met himself) and formed an entire new being called Fern. Fern is a tragic character who will feature a lot in the endgame of Adventure Time.
You see, Finn’s late-game character arc is all about confronting bad ways to be a hero by meeting warped reflections of himself — other lives, other timelines, other characters who want to be like him but don’t measure up, his own deadbeat dad... and Fern.
Fern has all of Finn’s memories (it took a lot of lifting to convince Fern he wasn’t Finn when he first came into being). The key difference between them (other than that Fern is 100% made of grass) is that the sentient curse of the Grass Sword lives inside Fern, and gives him evil impulses/instincts that prevent him from his Finn-like dream of being a true hero.
When the Grass Sword left Finn’s body, he was left without a right forearm again, so Princess Bubblegum made him a robot prosthetic.
4: “Bonnibel Bubblegum”
7: “Marcy & Hunson”
13: “The Ultimate Adventure: Come Along With Me” — Betty, still twisted by madness and sadness, has teamed up with Normal Man (formerly Magic Man) to bring back Normal Man’s long-lost love, Margles, and Simon. Also, at the end of “Islands,” Finn had an adventure where he met the Nightmare Princess and traded her some bananas for a red bottle of… something.
You’ll find this long episode under Adventure Time: Distant Lands on HBO Max.
You made it! The first episode of Adventure Time were Marcy and Peebles are full-on girlfriends. We hope you enjoyed this very specific jaunt through the world of Adventure Time. Whether or not it inspires you to go back and watch the full show from the beginning, you’ve gotten a look inside one of the most influential and envelope-pushing animated TV shows of our modern era — and that’s nothing to sneeze at.