10 Comics Everybody Should Read

Comic books can seem intimidating. If you go into a comic book store, you’re confronted with walls and walls of paper and no road map that tells you where to start. If you’ve never read a comic before and want to dip your toe in the ink-filled waters, here’s a few recommendations that blend excellent storytelling and incredible illustration.

But first, some advice: comic books have long histories, confusing continuities, alternate universes and multiple personalities that use the same name. If you’re looking to read comics a bit more, it’s best to look for a synopsis that captures your eye.

You should always take recommendations from people that enjoy the same sort of things that you do. I can recommend all sorts of strange comics that I've loved reading, but I also get really excited by science fiction and fantasy tales that tell great stories about people. I might not have the same tastes as you! That's totally cool!

With that in mind, here's 10 comics everybody should absolutely read.

Sandman

Image: Vertigo Comics

If you’ve never heard the name Neil Gaiman before, I feel slightly sorry for you. The now-revered fantasy author published his Sandman series all the way back in 1989 and it remains one of the most fascinating series of comics I’ve ever read. Gaiman has an innate ability to weave the fantastical and mythological into his stories and Sandman, which tells the story of the lord of dreams, showcases that talent. I don’t think Sandman is for everyone but don’t let that scare you off, start with Preludes and Nocturnes and go from there.

[Get it here]

Chew

Image: Image Comics

Chew reeled me in because my favourite protein is chicken. In the world of Chew, an avian flu outbreak ends up making eating chicken illegal and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) come down hard on anyone eating poultry. It centres around one of the FDA agents who has the ability to see everything that has happened to whatever he puts in his mouth. Actually, most of the series is about a whole bunch of people with strange food-related ‘superpowers’. It’s really quite a ride and it made me dislike chicken, if only just a little.

[Grab it here]

Transmetropolitan

Image: Vertigo Comics

Transmetropolitan is a cyberpunk comic written and published in 1997 that's set about twenty years into the future and now, in 2017, it seems like some of the things it had to say about politics are coming true. It tells the tale of slightly- insane gonzo journalist, Spider Jerusalem, who goes after a corrupt president he calls The Smiler.

Did I say slightly insane? Spider is a menace and definitely doesn't fit the typical comic book protagonist mould, but there's something redeeming about his character that keeps the pages turning. I won't lie, if you haven't read a comic book ever before, it may be a little jarring to jump straight into Transmetropolitan, but the dialogue is so biting and entertaining, that it has to go on a list like this.

[Get it here]

Ms Marvel

Image: Marvel Comics

There have been a number of iterations of the Ms Marvel character but the standout is Kamala Khan, the first Muslim character to headline her own comic book. Credit must go to G Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona for creating an origin story that doesn’t feel derivative or old and for making Kamala relatable. The first volume went on to win the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2015, and it’s one of the easiest ‘superhero’ comics to get into. You’ll know pretty quickly if you like Kamala or not, and that will decide whether or not you continue with this series.

[Grab it here]

The Wicked And The Divine

Image: Image Comics

Mythological beings as Pop Idols. That’s the strap for this one. Created by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Jamie McKelvie, the central idea is that every 90 years, a group of 12 gods incarnate as human beings – the key being that the people they incarnate as only live for two years after merging with the deities. It’s an interesting concept, apparently conceived as a result of Gillen’s father being diagnosed with terminal illness, and one that warrants your time if you’re looking for something that really drills down on the themes of reincarnation, life, death and the experience of being a teenager.

[Get it here]

Kingdom Come

Image: DC Comics

This is an ideal jumping off point if you want to read a comic that will get you excited about superhero comics. Kingdom Come is a short series about the Justice League - you know, Superman, Wonder Woman etc - and a battle of superheroes v superheroes. Because of the sheer amount of characters, it may seem overwhelming at first, but the illustrations by Alex Ross are distinct and beautiful and the story chugs along at such an excellent pace that it rocketed Kingdom Come to the top of my list. I'm really not the biggest Justice League fan, but this is an absolute gem.

(Lifehacker editor Chris Jager wouldn't let me write about this one without mentioning Ross's work on Marvels as well. He suggests you check that out too.)

[Get it here]

Saga

Image: Image Comics

This is, in my humble, unbiased and totally-not-trying-to-fanboy opinion, the best comic book series going right now. It’s a science fiction slash space opera slash fantasy series that features winged humans, horned humans, anthropomorphic snow seals and a race of aliens that have TV sets for heads. Yeah, exactly. It sounds insane and it often is.

Yet somehow, it manages to tell the most human stories you’ll find – about growing up, about parenting, about diversity and about love. It’s often described as Star Wars meets Game of Thrones and somehow, that actually does it a disservice. I haven’t even mentioned the illustrations, drawn and coloured by Fiona Staples, which leap off the page and assault your eyeballs. She manages to humanise utterly-not-human characters with ease.

Absolutely read this, even if you’ve never enjoyed a comic book before.

[Get it here]

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

Image: Marvel Comics

Some people love Squirrel Girl, some people hate Squirrel Girl, but I think it’s one of those comics that, if you’ve never read a comic book series before, it’s worth giving this a shot just to see if it sticks. In a way, it kind of gives a huge middle finger to comic books and just says ‘hey, let’s have fun with this thing’ and some people just do not enjoy that at all. It’s often silly, kind of irreverent at times and can be a little grating because of how often it points out that it’s clever, but it’s definitely one of those titles that non-comic book readers have to give a go. It’s a whole different jumping in point.

[Get it here]

Sex Criminals

Image: Image Comics

If freezing time after you orgasm sounds like something that excites you, then Sex Criminals is where you should start. The reason this makes the list, even though I wasn't the biggest fan of its art style, is because the story is exceptional. It may seem like it would be all about naked bodies but it often rewards the reader with these deep, emotional points that appeal to anyone who has ever experienced love and lust. It's just wonderfully written, and wonderfully written stories are the easiest to get into, no matter what medium you're using.

[Get it here]

Batman: The Court Of Owls

Image: DC Comics

Everyone knows who Batman is and you don’t need to trawl through years and year of history to enjoy a Batman comic. This series, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, launched when DC rebooted their franchises and, though it’s not an origin story, as long as you have just a faint idea of who Batman is, this is an excellent run. Personally, I didn’t get through a lot of the major Batman stories before this besides Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, but the first arc Snyder served up The Court of Owls provides some Bruce Wayne introspection I still think about to this day.

Sidenote re. Batman: there are hundreds of Batman comics and a lot of them are really good. Gizmodo journalist and Wonder Woman, Rae Johnston immediately recommended Jeph Loeb's Hush, and then everyone in the office started rattling off other Batman comics to read. Court of Owls is by no means The Best, but I loved it.

[Get it here]


Comments

    No Monstress? Boo.

      Actually, Hayley said this EXACT same thing when I sent her the list. I like Monstress, and it certainly is on the list of comics to read, I just... I don't know. Look. It could very well be on here instead of something like Squirrel Girl, but I think if you've never read a comic before Monstress can be intimidating.

    Watchmen should really make an appearance here.

    Obvious choice? Maybe, but it's obvious for a reason. Also ongoing series are something that I'd never want to try - not because I think I wouldn't like it, but because I think I might - I'm never going to try an MMORPG for similar reasons, buying comics as a finished package (often called a graphic novel thereafter) is far more appealing for the stingy or financially anxious among us.

      I think Watchmen is a bit stiff and it's certainly worth mentioning! There's about 25 different novels I struggled with putting in or out. That's the nature of '10' instead of '100'

      Yeah, I expected Watchmen to be on the list myself. Its just one of those stories that appear near the top of many peoples lists, and its for good reason.

      The fact theres a good movie version someone can directly compare to makes it an even easier choice for me. As a jumping in point, the movie helps to hold the hand a little more than something out there like Squirrel Girl would.

      But its a list of 10, not 100, so good stories are going to miss out. I'd consider Red Son for example, as a good example of the alternate stories possible for well known figures, or maybe Flashpoint for a bunch of other reasons. Those big name stories are popular for a reason, and those reasons make it easy for a newcomer to get into them.

      But again, easy options, that don't really expand on what people would already know even as non-comic readers.

    You missed three:

    Planetary
    Planetary
    Planetary

      One of Ellis' best. Worth checking out!

    The one that got me into comics was 'Y The Last Man'.
    It took me from thinking that comics had to be superheroes into realising that they could tell real stories. And damn good stories at that.
    I'd also argue that 'Preacher' should be on that list.

      Preacher hasn't aged well. Ennis' war comics are much better.

      Oh, and The Boys is amazing. Some of his best, and most demented, work.

    I'd also add the hugely under rated and under mentioned Locke & key. I'm doing a re read of Locke & key at the moment after seeing the casting for the pilot has begun, had forgotten how much I liked this series and no one ever seems to give it love.

    Y: the last man and preacher could be on there too.

    If you want to go super hero I always think ultimate spider-man was a great intro comic and a really consistent run. I also just recently got turned on to ms marvel and read through all Kamala's book, really good stuff my favourite recent marvel stuff is around their younger cast miles morales as spider-man is great too.

    Bone should get a mention too.

    Last edited 28/08/17 1:15 pm

      I could have made a list just from Brian K Vaughan stuff - I love basically everything he's ever done. But I think Y is one of his weaker - Paper Girls was the one I regret not putting on here. SAGA is the obvious choice, but Paper Girls is quality.

        That is true. I haven't read paper girls but I agree Saga is my favourite current on going so if you were looking to just pick one book from him you did a good job.

        Have you read Pride of Baghdad? It's like adult Disney. So good.

          Pride of Baghdad is so brilliant. I would never put it on an Everybody Should Read list but I definitely think those that read and enjoy Saga or Y or Paper Girls should go back and read POB. It's not inherently 'Vaughany' I don't think, but it's really impressive.

      Locke and key was bloody amazing. It had such great king family vibes to it and the lad can actually write a good ending too. Can recommend. Also I think people should check out the books from Rick Remender like Black Science and Tokyo Ghost. His writing style can be overblown but he has a ton of cool ideas and there is always excellent art. His uncanny x force run was fantastic too, seek it out for superhero stuff that is much darker than the norm

        I've got some black science books here just haven't read them yet.

          I really enjoy it and it reminds me I must catch up on it again soon

    Aww. Was hoping for one I hadn't tried already.

      I guess for comic book readers these are pretty obvious choices. I could recommend some indies in another list perhaps....

        One indie title I am currently enjoying is Kaijumax from Oni Press. It's basically Godzilla meets HBO's Oz.

        I didn't even consider myself a huge comic book reader. It's just the guy who runs my local must have very similar tastes to you.

        I'd definitely be keen for more suggestions from anyone.

          What sort of stuff do you like? I could recommend shit all day ;)

            see above list. I'll read just about anything so long as the art is interesting and the story is well written. I would prefer a completed story, and I read in collected volumes rather than single issues.
            as a rule I generally steer clear of superhero comics, though I've been lured back to them on occasion. Currently waiting for the current Mighty Thor arc to end so I can get the collected volumes.

              Check out 100 Bullets. One of the greatest crime dramas in any medium.

                Just finished that. Got bloody confusing by the end , but was a really great book

                  Haha yeah, it does get a bit serpentine with its plot-lines. Definitely worth a re-read!

                  Check out the Brother Lono mini-series if you haven't already, too.

                thanks mate, I'd heard good things about it but it wasn't on my immediate list. I'll pick it up next time I'm on a comic book run.

    I hesitate to say "OMG! What about...", since it is difficult for me to differentiate between the comics I love and the ones "everyone should read"

    I love The Tick and Watchmen (among many others), so would encourage people to read them.

    Everyone should read Bone (which I also love), especially, but by no means limited to, younger readers.

      Bone is good for non comic readers, I bought it for my sister who didn't read comics at all and she loved it.

        Its a gentle, funny, accessible, but surprisingly deep story, with some great characters and lovely, clean artwork.

        I picked the first one up in an op shop as part of mystery fun box, and immediately ordered them all.

        As you say - you don't need to be a comic book reader to enjoy them, so they might be a good gateway for skeptical girlfriends & boyfriends.

      Bone is fantastic, so incredibly accessible, and has a ridiculously broad appeal. It's almost always the first book I mention whenever someone asks me for a recommendation.

        I bought Bone on your Twitter recommendation the other day! I am waiting for it now :)

    AKIRA

    What happened to: The Authority, Planetary, Y the Last Man, Hellblazer, Preacher, Watchmen and The Walking Dead?

      Various reasons for each - already mentioned in comments that Planetary is one of Ellis' best and well worth it but I haven't delved into The Authority, Y the Last Man is one of Vaughan's weaker, especially since SAGA - Paper Girls, I even enjoyed We Stand On Guard more, in the end.

      There's plenty of comics you should read, just not all of them fit in to a '10' comics you should read.

    Saga is fantastic, but I'd contend it's not a title for folks new to comics. Its pace is wild, and it will gleefully leave you behind. There's plenty of other BKV work far more new-reader friendly - I'd pick Y: The Last Man, but Runaways would also do in a pinch.

    My top ten list would have to include at least these five, none of which made the above list:

    Bone - Jeff Smith
    Maus - Art Spiegelman
    Y: The Last Man - BKV
    The Sculptor - Scott McCloud
    Blankets - Craig Thompson

      Y:The Last Man is ... I just can't recommend it over Saga. I just can't. I never will. Do understand that it might be more 'friendly' and think the fact that it's already finished definitely helps its case. I just can't recommend 1 Vaughan other than Saga, which has sort of changed the way I think about storytelling.

      I'm hoping Bone arrives soon! I've ordered it and am keen to read based on your previous recommendations.

        Man, you're gonna love Bone. Check out Smith's RASL when you're done, too.

    Must read:
    Crossed
    Crossed:Badlands
    Crossed:Plus 100

      I'll just add, not for the faint of heart. Ennis likes gore and shock

    I'd throw Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo and Scott McCloud's Zot! into the mix as well. It's telling that when I had to shed my previous dozens-of-titles-a-month comics habit for financial reasons in the mid-90's those were the only two titles I kept.

      Usagi Yojimbo seems right up my alley! Thanks for the rec.

        Read it, then go play the sublime Commodore 64 game of the same title!

      I did a massive binge of usagi yojimbo about 2 years ago. It was great. One of my favourites now.

    As above, I'd also put Watchmen on the list.

    Also, Blankets and Maus. Not many graphic novels have made me cry. These both did that.

    Thoughts on Wicked + Divine compared to Phonogram?

      Also, Powers. Superheroes + police procedural is brilliant.

      Can be uneven, but when Bendis is writing good dialogue, it zings off the page.

      I will never put Watchmen on these lists. It's great, it's just not for everybody IMHO.

      As for Phonogram - the thing is, I think, Gillen sort of perfected the message that he wanted to send with W+D and Phonogram just didn't have that same pull.

      I need to read Blankets.

    Mentioning for the sheer stupid pulp-iness of it: Shirtless Bear Fighter.

    It's ridiculous (see, he's a man who fights bears and...), yet is a heap of goofy fun. Given it's only 3 issues in thus far, good chance the novelty will wear off before too long... but until then!

    Not a bad list at all. I'll second the others and say Maus is compulsory reading. I'll also recommend Lazarus, mainly for sci-fi and dystopia fans; Monstress; and the Black Monday Murders, for fans of murder mysteries and supernatural stories.

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