How did Adventure Time become better than most live-action TV shows?

Seriously. I can't stop thinking about Monday's episode of Adventure Time, which was one of the most intense things I've seen in ages. The final scene, where Marceline and Ice King have this weird duet, made me lose my shit and keeps popping into my head. It's rare that any television show gets its hooks into your brain like that, but especially a kid's cartoon. It's kind of nuts.

Somehow, Adventure Time has gotten to be better than most live-action TV shows. To celebrate, here are some amazing fan-created T-shirts, which you can glimpse above. Spoilers ahead...

The T-shirts are via We Love Fine, which had an Adventure Time T-shirt contest, judged by creator Pendleton Ward among others. Check out some first looks at a few of the best designs below.

I kind of don't want to reveal quite what happens in Monday's episode of Adventure Time, since it only just aired and this isn't a recap. Suffice to say, we learned some stuff that made us see the Ice King in a brand new way, and revealed that he and Marceline shared a really important connection from the past. In the Christmas episode "Holly, Jolly Secrets," we had learned that the Ice King used to be an ordinary person named Simon Petrikov, who bought a strange crown from a dock worker and found it changing him into a weird monster with blue skin and a tendency to behave inappropriately. And now we know that Simon knew Marceline back then, and that one reason why he embraced his transformation into the Ice King was so that he could watch over her.

There is already a mountain of amazing Simon/Marceline fan art out there — check out this Tumblr set and especially this and this and this. The final images of "I Remember You" pack a huge emotional punch — but they also open up a huge host of questions about what happened to both of these characters, while giving us just enough hints to allow us to imagine the painful, complicated story for ourselves.

Adventure Time has been going for four seasons of ultra-short episodes, and in that time its major characters have gotten a lot more complicated, with relationships that defy easy description. Marceline and Ice King, particularly, started out as two pretty one-note villains. Marceline drives Finn and Jake out of their home and later on turns Finn into her minion, before turning out to be a lot nicer than we realized. Meanwhile, Ice King is constantly trying to kidnap princesses to force them to marry him, and he's sort of a stereotypical pathetic creeper who lives alone in his ice fortress with Gunter, his devoted penguin.

By the time we got to last night's episode, we'd already learned enough about both Marceline and Ice King to think of them as people we sort of knew. We'd glimpsed Ice King's past in the aforementioned Christmas episode, and glimpsed the last traces of his humanity here and there. We'd seen Marceline's dysfunctional relationship with her ex-boyfriend, who tried to mindwipe her, and we'd met Marceline's evil dad, Hunson Abadeer.

And meanwhile, the mythology of Adventure Time has kept getting more complicated too — eagle-eyed viewers noticed that one of Ice King's newspaper clippings showed that he had found the Enchiridion, the mystical hero handbook that Finn won back in season one and later lost to the Lich.

One reason why the ending of "I Remember You" is so powerful: we glimpse the immediate aftermath of the Mushroom War, the apocalyptic conflagration that left the world in ruins. The shadow of the apocalypse often hangs over Adventure Time, as carefree and silly as it gets. The combination of post-apocalyptic settings and epic fantasy is not new, but what's special about Adventure Time is the way it places zaniness and whimsy, and all of the fantasy tropes like evil wizards and princesses, against a jarring post-nuclear wasteland. A lot of the best episodes have dealt with Finn and Jake trying to figure out what it means to be heroes — should heroes be pacifists? Should heroes help people they don't like? — and Finn dealing with growing up and learning about romance, while holding on to his best friend. The fact that these stories happen in a world that's screamingly weird, and full of reminders of the destruction of our world, is just the extra bonus.

Until this past week, I would have said Adventure Time was one of the best shows out there, purely because of:

1) The frequently insane, hilarious, trippy imagery and weird humor, like that one episode where Finn is held prisoner by mole people but Jake is too busy dancing and then partying on a cloud with the devil dog to rescue him.

2) The frequently sophisticated humor, which works on multiple levels, with fart jokes and sight gags alongside pretty clever satire and in-jokes.

3) The incredibly rich and frequently nonsensical world-building, which at this point includes dozens of fan-favorite characters and a ton of recurring settings.

4) Lumpy Space Princess.

But after Monday's episode, I'm realizing quite how much I've connected with the characters on this show on an emotional level, and how deep it's capable of getting into themes like the costs of magic. And the way Marceline's personal loss mirrors the wider loss of the end of the entire world. There have been plenty of other TV shows this past week, but none of them have knocked me on ass the way Adventure Time did — enough that I'm now remembering a lot of earlier episodes with a new appreciation.

With that out of the way, here are some kick-ass contest-winning T-shirts:

How did Adventure Time become better than most live-action TV shows?S

GRAND PRIZE WINNER ($2,500 cash prize!):
"BMO Innards" by Justin Edwards

How did Adventure Time become better than most live-action TV shows?S

JUDGES' PICK (Selected by Pendleton Ward) ($400 cash):
"Monster's Belly!" by Patsy Chen

How did Adventure Time become better than most live-action TV shows?S

RUNNER UP ($150 WeLoveFine Gift Certificate)
"I Need You" by Kevin Fagaragan

How did Adventure Time become better than most live-action TV shows?S

HONORABLE MENTION ($50 WeLoveFine Gift Certificate Each)
"Bunny Ears" by Venetta Butcher

How did Adventure Time become better than most live-action TV shows?S

HONORABLE MENTION ($50 WeLoveFine Gift Certificate Each)
"Marceline Band Tee" by Penelope Barbalios

If you order $50 or more worth of stuff through WeLoveFine, and it includes at least one Adventure Time item, you get a free copy of the Marceline and the Scream Queens #3 comic book, and some of those free copies will be the variant "Lemongrab" cover.