Comic book diehards have differing (and strong) opinions on which are the best comics of all time, what’s worth reading, and what’s certified garbage.
The comic industry pumps out dozens of new issues per week, and thousands per year, making it almost impossible for new fans to know where to begin.
Coming fresh from Venom or your trillionth viewing of Black Panther, you’ll quickly find that when it comes to the best comics, it’s important to know their origins, and what came before them, in order for things to make sense. That’s where we come in.
Even without Marvel Comics and DC Comics, there’s plenty of material to choose from, in both the superhero realm and beyond. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the absolute best comic books from over the years, spanning every genre available. This isn’t a “Best Comics of All Time” list—it’s more of a primer course for where to start.
The list of the 10 comic books you need to read before you die is here:
1.City of Glass
A bit of a departure from the typical super-themed comics and graphic novels, this book tells a story that is equally, if not more, strange.
Illustrated by David Mazzucchelli and penned by Paul Auster, City of Glass is an existentialist noir mystery that you really have to read to grasp, but it is well worth trudging through the inevitable confusion for what it delivers.
If you like cerebral stories that will keep you guessing until the end, then City of Glass is for you.
2. The Vision (Marvel Entertainment)
The 2017 Eisner Award-winning series reimagined the tale of The Vision into a dark suburban nightmare.
In this series, Vision, an android, acts upon his wish to have a family by building one. The perfect Vision household is plagued from the jump, which readers are privy to in issue 1, and over the acclaimed 12-issue series, we see Vision’s family descend into madness.
For those of you daring to be “normal,” heed this as a cautionary tale.
3. I Killed Adolf Hitler (Fantagraphics Books)
Sometimes the best comics are also the most simplistic.
In I Killed Adolf Hitler, Norwegian cartoonist Jason brings sci-fi and time travel to his minimalist world in one of the past decade’s best indie books. It’s about a hitman from the future going back in time to kill Hitler before he could ever unleash his wave of hate and violence upon the world.
Of course none of this goes according to plan, and a mishap allows Hitler to escape into our modern world.
That larger plot is coupled with a poignant little love story between the hitman and his girlfriend that adds some heart and quirky humor.
Even though the dialogue and art are fairly simple, I Killed Adolf Hitler is a quirky, fresh read.
Originally created as a series for Dark Horse Comics, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy has been compiled into a multi-volume library of graphic novels, has spawned several notable spin-offs, and also went on to become two feature-length sci-fi fantasy films (directed by none other than Guillermo del Toro).
Each of these hardcover coffee table-level tomes covers two full story arcs (the equivalent of two trade paperbacks) and extended supplementary materials that covers everything from concept art to previously unreleased sketches and designs.
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If you appreciate the artwork of Alex Ross (after all, who doesn’t?), but you’re not a big fan of the DC universe, then you’ll be happy to know they don’t have a monopoly on the artist’s brilliant talents.
Marvels is told through the eyes of Phil Sheldon, a newspaper photographer who has been documenting the exploits and follies of the Marvel universe’s superheroes.
It’s a fresh and incredibly human take on the world of comic book heroes that serves both as a new perspective and a reminder that, at their core, these stories aren’t as much about heroes and villains as they are about the impact they have on mankind as a whole.
6. The Complete Maus
Before you look at the cover of this graphic novel and dismiss it as a cutesy take on an all-too-serious subject, understand that this Art Spiegelman work won a Pulitzer Prize.
In fact, it is actually a retelling of the true story of the artist’s own father – a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe. It also served as a means for Art Spiegelman to chronicle his tortured relationship with his dad and come to terms with the man’s tale of horror and survival.
Maus is a heart-wrenching story, but we believe it is one that needs to be told – and told incredibly well, it is.
7. Fables (DC/Vertigo)
Many people were fearful that Vertigo wouldn’t be able to sustain its success in the 2000s after the creative outburst of two preceding decades. Impressively, Bill Willingham’s Fables proved that when you have a publisher willing to push the envelope of what comics can be, there will always be great books ready to hit the market.
Fables presents the popular folklore that we all grew up with—like Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderlla—and brings them into our modern world, where they live in secret in a community called Fabletown in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Though some stories deal with fantastic action and adventure, Willingham also brings us behind the scenes of the politics of Fabletown by showing readers how these classic fairy tale characters deal with the frustrating nuances of organized government.
8. The Sandman
Neil Gaiman is the writer of a number of critically acclaimed books and comics – including American Gods, now a television show on the Starz network.
He’s also written for the Doctor Who television series and recently released a book on Norse mythology.
But, the Sandman series might just be his best received work of all time. As is the writer’s style
, this saga brilliantly weaves together mythology, folklore, and fairy tales in a new and refreshing manner, while still staying earnestly original and spellbinding.
Not only does Watchmen top a number of ‘best of’ comic book and graphic novel lists, but this Alan Moore story actually graced Time Magazine’s list of the best novels of all time.
Fun fact: this story’s characters were actually inspired by legitimate DC superheroes (like Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and The Question), but the brand didn’t want to feature them due to the sensitive subject matters that encompassed the storyline.
10. The Killing Joke (DC Entertainment)
This is the last comic in the list but definitely not least. In The Killing Joke, Moore explores the relationship between Batman and his most famous foe, The Joker, in a way that informs nearly every interpretation of the two since then.
The plot itself is fairly straightforward: The Joker has escaped from Arkham Asylum and kidnapped Commissioner Gordon in order to lead Batman into a trap at an abandoned amusement park.
In the process, the Joker commits perhaps the most senseless act of violence we’ve ever seen in a comic: He shoots Gordon’s daughter, Barbara, a.k.a. Batgirl, through the stomach, paralyzing her from the waist down.
As the story unfolds, Moore sprinkles in bits of The Joker’s origin so we begin to get an idea of how a seemingly-normal man can turn into a psychotic serial killer with no remorse.
Moore balances The Joker’s anarchic mania with Batman’s cold, logical approach to law and order. But as his crimes begin to mount, even the Dark Knight is tempted to give into his rage.
I hope you enjoyed this little ride of Fantastic world of comics
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