Pop culture “comfort food” for difficult times

Considering how many people are in need of comfort now, below are some of the pop culture — television, movies, music, books, video games, and more — that TLF contributors and editors find comforting. These are both long-held-to “blankies” and newer discoveries, both items for kids and those for adults. Whether you are in need of comfort now — or in the future, these suggestions are here for you.

Hayao Miyazaki movies

There’s something very soothing about the majority of Miyazaki movies, with strong tough girls — and frequently no true villains. Whenever I truly need comfort, there is nothing that feels more “blankie” than My Neighbor Totoro or Ponyo — including for kids of all ages that need rest.



The first time I saw the trailer for Creed I laughed out loud because I couldn’t believe it was serious. But after seeing the film it quickly became a go-to for me, whenever I want to lift my spirits or have a good cry. It’s basicially the best Rocky fic ever made into a film, while also having a lot of meaningful things to say about family – by birth and by choice – and fighting for your dreams even when they seem far away.  Ryan Coogler’s epic but tender film is a perfect balm for a wearying year; it never fails to give me the inspiration to keep fighting.


Animal Crossing

In recent days, I’ve returned to my village on Animal Crossing: New Leaf. There’s something that’s comforting about being able to make changes to the village, or to my own home. Watching the village and shopping district grow is so rewarding.

There’s also the generally upbeat and kindly nature of your villagers and the special characters — Kapp’n singing about his wife and daughter; Isabelle’s encouragement and perpetual cheer; the Able Sisters warming to you; getting badges from Phineas; villagers clapping for you when you catch a fish. It’s all good!

With the recent update — “Welcome Amiibo” — additional content is now available, as well. Various amiibo characters can visit the campsite, and special furniture can be bought from them. Just going about activities in the village gains special coupons for the campsite shop too.

  • Fiona Conn

Steven Universe

There’s been a lot of comfort media in my life lately. As a mom of two kids, I’m kind of limited in what I can watch and as an adult, I’m pretty tired of anything that has the words, “antihero,” “dark,” “gritty”, or “edgy.” Hard pass on that. Life is hard enough, I need something that puts my faith back in people.

There’s quiet moments in Steven Universe which remind me of Miyazaki and silly cartoonish moments, but they all have this sense of hope and wonder.  And it’s wonderfully diverse, but not in the ham-handed message way.

Not to mention, the music is really sweet and good. I’ve found “Here Comes a Thought” to be absolutely essential as a guide to mindful meditation. My eldest daughter and I will sing that song together when anxiety tries to attack us. Steven and the Crystal Gems remind me that there’s still small joys worth fighting for in this world.

— Vivian

The Original Star Wars Trilogy

This is such a Gen X cliche, but I turn to the original Star Wars trilogy for comfort. It was such a large, beloved part of my childhood. As an adult, I cringe at how trite and saccharine it can be sometimes (especially in the cheesy dialog), but at its heart it is about hope, love, bravery and fighting for a better future.


Harry Potter

I was drawn to and finally decided to buy the entire Harry Potter movie series. I’ve been watching almost a movie a day and just getting lost in the fantasy of flying hippogriffs and ridiculousness of whomping willows. However, I’m certain that what I need the most right now is the underlying theme of love conquering evil and the wise words of Dumbledore. After all, “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”


Over the top and bad teen Asian dramas

Generally, I don’t like the super-long style of Asian dramas, ones that have more than fifty episodes, because they are truly a commitment and frequently go off the rails. But when one’s mood is already somber and re-watching/re-listening/re-reading isn’t yet possible, watching these epic dramas is perfect. If you grew up watching American style soaps, there are plenty of rich people who are related in a company that all hate each other type shows. And some of the best campy shows are like Ice Fantasy, basically an Asian Lord of the Rings style show that goes on forever — and was so addicting that the airing was halted in mainland China for weeks by government censors.

But if you are with a group of adults that need to talk through everything, then hate-watching shows with focused on teens and young adults that can’t make up their minds can be cathartic. These shows won’t work with those actually in these age ranges, but if you are older, just try not to yell at the screen about the stupidness of those on standbys like Boys Before Flowers, Goong S, and Heirs.

This fall has also “blessed” us with two shows that start out strong, but then flatline — for your yelling pleasure: Cinderella and Four Knights & Scarlet Heart Ryeo. There are many actually really good teen/young adult K-dramas, but I don’t watch those for comfort!


Mass Effect Trilogy

I’ve totally gone back to playing the ME series, but not in my usual way. I have my “canon” Shepard (femShep) who is mostly Paragon and is the character I’ve always used in the past to play through, every time I play through. This time, I’m playing as manShep and I’m making a lot of Renegade choices. My “comfort” reaction is pretty angry. I don’t want to escape into a happy world, I want to destroy things, work out anger and aggression. This play-through I’m not at all interested in helping everybody get along; I am interested in a zero-tolerance approach toward bigotry and xenophobia (toward actual aliens from other planets), and I have no compunctions about it.

So instead of trying to mediate between the Cerberus (a pro-human faction) characters in ME2 and the aliens, I’m telling the Cerberus characters (humans) to suck it up and put on their big-people panties and deal with the fact that they aren’t the best species in the universe, despite what their leaders and their egos keep telling them. I’m angry, and I don’t want that anger assuaged. I want it to work for me, and, in ME, I can make that happen. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but right now that’s what I need to believe.

–Kristin Bezio

Instagram Therapy

Similar to memes, it’s easy to just look at something and not have to process on multiple levels. @browngirlsdoballet is one of my favorites – literally exactly what it says: brown babes of all ages doing ballet. Sometimes they post videos sent by dance schools of the baby ballerinas and it will melt your damn heart. @theijeoma (Ijeoma Oluo) is a beautiful writer and her Insta is mostly short poems and tweets that inspire me, comfort me and teach me.

  • Alicia Swiz

The Hard Times

In this tire fire of a year, one website has kept me continuouly laughing through the tears (and sometimes laughing to the point of tears). The Hard Times is like a hardcore/punk themed version of The Onion, with headlines like “Slam Poetry Ruined by Tough Guy Hardcore Frontman” and “Speed Metal Band Wired To Explode If They Play Less Than 300 BPM” but they’ve also been spot on about politics and other social issues as well (ex: Trump Appoints Your 8th Grade Bully Secretary of Defense) To me, The Hard Times has the spirit of The Onion from late-90s/early ’00 and frankly I’m gonna need that kind of spirit for the next four years.

  • Keidra

That 70s Show

Talk about comfort food. I have probably consumed as many episodes of this show as I have plates of cheese fries. So, a real, real lot. I love ensemble casts, I love teen culture, I love that setting it in the 70’s allows for tongue in cheek humor. My favorite season as of late is Season 5, mainly because Jackie & Hyde get together and it’s hilarious. Hyde’s a babe. Jackie Burkhart is a work in progress feminist, which I LOVE SEEING ON TV. Overall, it’s a show that celebrates friendship, family and the joys of smoking marijuana. WIN WIN WIN.

  • Alicia Swiz

A Different World

This is the greatest sitcom that ever was, despite its early connections to Bill Cosby. For those of us who grew up in the 80s and who now work on college campuses, this show epitomizes the best of college without glossing over tough topics.

  • Shontavia Johnson

Issa Rae’s Insecure

Awesome original comedy about modern-day black women trying to make it in this world.

-Shontavia Johnson

Over the Rhine

“Maybe if we just tell the truth, it will give others freedom to do so.” For over 25 years, the folk/Americana band Over the Rhine has been writing songs of hope, brokenness, and beauty – for me, their music has long been both a comforting blanket and a cry in the night voicing the grief of all that’s fractured. You’ll find here an expression of warmth, melancholy, pain, and redemption. I especially recommend the albums “Ohio,” “The Long Surrender,” and “Good Dog, Bad Dog.”

-Dawn Xiana Moon

Musicals (Disney and Broadway)

Musicals, be they animated or live action, cinematic or on stage, and everything in between, has continued to be a source of comfort and inspiration. While I have been progressively adding more Little Mermaid clothes to my wardrobe and singing along to the works of Rodgers, Sondheim, Larson, Menken, Lopez, and Miranda, musical theatre and films continue to be a recurring theme in my life and a comfort when the plot in the script takes a sudden turn for the worst.

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow. Be Prepared for When The World Turns Upside Down. We need to Defy Gravity; tell The Story of Tonight. Find Your Ring of Keys in your Corner of the Sky. That’s All I Ask of You.

-Kathryn Utke

Curated Music Playlists

I used to tape music off the radio. Once I filled a tape, I got to know the playlist by heart and often chose my favorites. I continued making more polished “mixtapes” throughout the advances that brought CDs and eventually MP3s. And a few years ago, I discovered Mixcloud. I found an outlet to share music, curated by theme or other factors, and test my ability to hear music in a different way. I eventually turned that outlet into a radio show and focused primarily on introducing new and overlooked music. However, I still turned to my mixtapes and still make playlists I haven’t shared publicly.

Music has been a comfort and a balm all my life, so it’s my first go to when I need soothing. I’ve used it to explore many aspects of my identity including my spirituality, sexuality, race, and gender. I share mixtapes with others because there are two things I can do to show I care about you: feed you or make you a mixtape. In either case, I’m sharing something that means a lot to me. If I can’t feed your body, I’ll feed your soul. This is my comfort food.

-Inda Lauryn

Binge watching favorites

A backlog of my favorites like Jane the Virgin, Once Upon a Time, Agents of SHIELD, and Pitch have been waiting for me. Pop culture with a social conscience is hard these days, but is still comforting. I’ve binged on Agents because I wanted to see some heroes win the day. Of course, in comic book land, the heroes rarely have clean wins. I also keep my favorite Steven Universe episodes on my DVR for emergencies. I also have found that “Buffering the Vampire Slayer” podcast is helping me forget that we all live on the Hellmouth.

-Veronica Arreola

Comments (1)

[…] analytical with The Learned Fangirl. Their latest article keeps things light by discussing fannish ‘comfort food’ to get you through the end of a difficult year. (I strongly agree that Animal Crossing is chicken […]

Leave a comment