It’s always the right time for another Steven Universe rewatch.
The Cartoon Network show ended for realsies in March 2020, with a 10-episode epilogue series. In its run, Steven Universe was praised for its unapologetic sincerity, gorgeous visuals, and epic science-fiction story. The show follows a young boy named Steven, who lives with a group of aliens known as the Crystal Gems. Steven himself is half-gem, and he assists the Crystal Gems on various intergalactic missions, while learning more about his mysterious mother and the world she came from. Eventually, he must save the world from impending alien invasions.
While some of Steven Universe’s best episodes are full of big revelations or kick off large plots, a lot of them are more subdued, focusing on emotional connections between the characters and adding color to the world. After all, we need to know what’s at stake before the bad guys come in. At its heart, Steven Universe is about love, family, and friendship. The show’s best episodes blend the action and the emotion.
Season 1, episode 36
“Alone Together” marks the first appearance of Stevonnie, the fusion of Steven and his friend Connie. It is a cool expansion of Steven’s own powers, showcasing that it is indeed possible for him to fuse, and also dives more into Steven and Connie’s relationship. Stevonnie is one of the first non-binary characters in all-ages animation and much of the episode revolves around them learning more about their existence and introducing themselves to their friends and family. Additionally, this episode explores the issue of consent, as a cocky teenager insists on dancing with Stevonnie, despite their protests. But ultimately, it is a triumphant episode, as Steven and Connie fall apart from Stevonnie and get back to dancing.
Season 1, episode 53
I did my best not to structure this list based around songs (that’s for another list), but there was no way I could pass up the “Stronger Than You” episode. Amazing, empowering song aside, “Jail Break” also brings the big “Garnet is a fusion” revelation and is a beautiful culmination of everything the first season laid out. It is the perfect season finale, bringing just enough closure while still leaving a lot unanswered for future episodes. Also, it has an epic fight on a spaceship, and really that’s reason enough to earn a place on this list.
We Need to Talk
Season 2, episode 8
I am putting this here because of the very sexy duet between Rose Quartz and Greg Universe — and the resulting fusion between Rose and Pearl. The backstory episodes about young Greg and Rose falling in love are all their own types of special, but this one is particularly memorable because it’s about one of their big relationship hiccups. Steven Universe emphasizes the importance of communication in all relationships, and Greg and Rose’s relationship is no exception. Greg feels insecure that he cannot fuse with Rose the way that the other gems can, and wonders if she will eventually grow tired of him. Certainly an important conversation in any relationship, but especially one between an immortal being and a human!
Season 2, episode 16
Steven and the Crystal Gems are definitely vibrant characters, but the colorful cast of Beach City is not to be forgotten. “Sadie’s Song” focuses on donut shop employee Sadie, as she tries out for the town talent show with an infectiously catchy pop song. The human side of Steven Universe is just as important as the gem side, especially considering how much of the show emphasizes humanity’s beautiful imperfections. “Sadie’s Song” teaches Steven some valuable lessons about friendship, and plants the seeds of Sadie’s ultimate arc.
Season 2, episode 21
Another episode that looks toward a past romantic relationship, “The Answer” focuses on Ruby and Sapphire and their taboo relationship. It feels like a fairy tale, as the privileged and sheltered Sapphire is saved by a lowly Ruby guard. They accidentally fuse and while the rest of Gem society is disgusted by their appearance as Garnet, they eventually fall in love. Sapphire defies Blue Diamond in order to be with Ruby. It’s a sweeping romantic tale, with the perfect amount of shy awkwardness and soft sweetness.
Season 3, episode 8
Hey, shake a leg! It’s Mr. Greg! Yes, many Steven Universe episodes feature music, but this one is the only “musical episode” of the bunch. It starts off as a fun time, as Greg Universe suddenly gets a lot of cash and brings Steven on a vacation to Empire City — and Steven decides to bring Pearl along, because he senses a lot of tension between Greg and Pearl. Amid the catchy songs comes the poignant relationship between Greg and Pearl, neither of whom want to speak to the other about losing the person they both loved. Pearl’s mournful ballad, where she laments losing Rose to Greg, is perhaps the best song of the entire show, but the episode’s finale song, “Both of You,” is particularly bittersweet and heartwarming.
Season 4, episode 4
Steven Universe has been praised for actually examining the emotional ramifications of being a kid hero. In “Mindful Education,” Stevonnie sits down with Garnet to meditate, after Connie and Steven’s separate anxieties and refusal to deal with their problems end up affecting the stability of their fusion. Steven has a very “let’s keep positive!” mentality when it comes to bigger problems (something that the sequel series really dismantles), and “Mindful Education” helps him realize that it is not the healthiest approach to take to feelings of guilt. And, not to bring up a killer song again, but the “Here Comes a Thought” sequence is gorgeous and also incredibly soothing.
Last One Out of Beach City
Season 4, episode 6
In this episode, Pearl experiences gay panic and Steven and Amethyst try to unhelpfully wingman her. It is fantastic. “Last One Out of Beach City” sees Pearl join Steven and Amethyst as they head out to a rock concert. Along the way, they run into a girl with flowing pink hair who looks a lot like Rose Quartz (Pearl clearly has a type). It’s fun shenanigans, with wonderful little character relationship moments, and also ends with a different set of closing credits than the usual Steven Universe episode, featuring “15 Minutes” by Mike Krol.
A Single Pale Rose
Season 5, episode 18
Looking back, it’s hard to believe the revelation that Rose Quartz is actually Pink Diamond didn’t happen earlier. Steven Universe was intricately plotted from the very beginning, and all those loose pieces across four and a half seasons culminated in this satisfying reveal. It is the sort of thing that many people saw coming — but in the best way possible, with all the clues there, looking back. It is also the groundbreaking revelation that eventually ushers in the end of the show, bringing the adventures of Steven and the Crystal Gems to a natural ending point (with a movie and sequel series to interrogate the larger emotional ramifications). “A Single Pale Rose” is a masterclass in a show finally revealing its hand and we, the audience, realizing that yes, we had all the clues this whole dang time. A wonderful revelation and an even more compelling setup, as the characters scramble to pick up the shattered (ha) pieces.
Season 5, episodes 23+24
The back half of Steven Universe’s final season is understandably jam-packed with tension and action in order to resolve the series. But before the epic adventure to Homeworld and the final confrontation with the Diamonds comes this brief moment of respite and celebration. As the episode’s opening song repeatedly emphasizes, amidst the sweeping revelations, the trauma of the past, and the potential war on the horizon, it is important to take a moment to remember love and friendship. The episode does end up kicking off the ultimate part of the show’s finale, but it also is a joyous celebration of what makes Steven Universe so special. Also, we have to give it props for showing one of the first queer weddings in all-ages animation television.
All 5 seasons of Steven Universe are available to watch on HBO Max, as are Steven Universe Future and Steven Universe: The Movie.