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The 25 best comic books of 2021
From Barbalien to Superman, these are the best comic books 2021 has to offer.
It's been another great year for the comics medium, whether you love to read superheroes or sci-fi, the Big Two of the indie publishers cranking out ambitious new stories. This year saw some of the best modern superhero tales in quite some time emerge from Marvel and DC, creator-owned books with ambitious new narratives, continued series that stuck their landings, and so much more. There were so many great comics, in fact, that we could be here for weeks simply listing off the best ones.
If you're looking for just 25 of our picks for the very best in the business this year, though, here they are, in alphabetical order.
1. Adora and the Distance (ComiXology Originals)
Part fantasy epic, part deeply personal meditation on a daughter's unique view of the world, Marc Bernardin and Ariela Kristantina's graphic novel is a spellbinding masterwork of emotional storytelling, blending the real and unreal with a sense of warmth and wonder that will sweep you off your feet.
2. Barbalien: Red Planet (Dark Horse)
The world of Black Hammer continues to expand, and with this miniseries from creator Jeff Lemire, writer Tate Brombal, and artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta, it expanded in an intimate, strikingly visceral way. Following the title character as he battles for his life on his home planet while also navigating his past amid the AIDS epidemic in America, Red Planet is a moving blend of superhero narrative and historical fiction, one of those books that really is as good as you've heard.
3. Beta Ray Bill (Marvel)
That Beta Ray Bill got his own comic was entertaining enough on its own. That it turned out this good was almost a bonus. Daniel Warren Johnson's wild ride into the heart of his title character's search for a new destiny was one of the most visually invigorating, fist pump worthy comics on the stands this year, with a sense of constant inventiveness that made it worthy of the character's creator, the great Walt Simonson.
4. The Blue Flame (Vault)
After giving us some of Marvel's best books in recent years, Christopher Cantwell set out to build his own superhero universe this year with artist Adam Gorham, and they didn't disappoint. The story of a small-time superhero who's suddenly called to defend all of humanity amid a kind of galactic trial, The Blue Flame is a staggeringly ambitious superhero saga that asks the big questions about what it really means to be a hero, and comes up with some pretty compelling answers.
5. Captain Marvel (Marvel)
Last year, writer Kelly Thompson launched a run on Black Widow that was one of Marvel's best books of 2020. She's still doing great work on that book, but for me, this year her work on Captain Marvel was even better. Working with artists like Jacopo Camagni and Sergio Fernandez Davila, Thompson has charted a thrilling new course for Carol Danvers this year, giving one of Marvel's most powerful heroes a whole new set of intriguing challenges.
6. Daredevil (Marvel)
Fans have been saying it for two years now, because it's very true: Daredevil is excellent. Writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Marco Checchetto have taken Matt Murdock, Wilson Fisk, and Elektra on one of their most compelling runs of superhero storytelling ever, and they're not done yet. From Elektra in the Daredevil costume to the Kingpin's reign of terror, it's still one of the best superhero books out there.
7. The Department of Truth (Image)
James Tynion IV is among the best writers in comics right now, but if you have to pick just one of his great books to stand above the rest, there's no question it's The Department of Truth, his secret history of conspiracy theories with co-creator and artist Martin Simmonds. Every issue is a poetic, unnerving descent into uniquely American darkness, and the result is one of those books you wait for every month like it's your job.
8. DIE (Image)
Earlier this year, writer Kieron Gillen and artist Stephanie Hans brought their fantasy epic and ode to tabletop RPGs in for a glorious, brutal, bittersweet landing, and now DIE stands as one of the great complete comics runs of the last 10 years that you can just pick and binge for a weekend. From Hans' heartbreakingly beautiful art to Gillen's endlessly clever worldbuilding, it's a special book that will keep finding a new audience.
9. Djeliya (TKO)
Juni Ba's stunning debut graphic novel almost defies description. It's based on West African folklore, and tells the story of a prince and storyteller as they journey to find a dark wizard, and that's easy enough to grasp, but everything else has to be read to be believe. From Ba's mesmerizing art to his incisive ability to meditate within his own narrative on the nature of stories, it's a gem from a bright new voice in comics.
10. Far Sector (DC Comics)
Writer N.K. Jemisin and artist Jamal Campbell's Far Sector made our best-of list last year, and its concluding chapters in 2021 earned it a spot on the list once again. From its opening pages to its final issue, it remained one of the most relevant superhero and sci-fi comics on the stands, and deserves to be read and re-read for years to come.
11. The Good Asian (Image)
The Good Asian is one of those comics that manages to succinctly and brilliantly be several things at once: A period drama, a thrilling noir tale, a hardboiled detective story, and a commentary on past and present racism in America. There's so much packed into writer Pornsak Pichetshote and artist Alexandre Tefenkgi astonishing series, and yet no element ever feels shorted. It's a perfect blend of genres and ideas, and one of the best crime books out there.
12. Home Sick Pilots (Image)
Since its debut late last year, writer Dan Watters and artist Caspar Wijngaard's Home Sick Pilots has remained one of the most imaginative dark tales in comics, from its initial conceptual hooks to the ways in which the creators have since developed the narrative. Part haunted house journey, part coming-of-age story, part punk rock primal scream, it's one of those books that just keeps deepening and darkening with each new chapter.
13. I Breathed a Body (AfterShock)
Zac Thompson's brain has a unique and fascinating way of synergizing many different, often disparate elements into a narrative. With I Breathed a Body, written by Thompson and drawn by Andy MacDonald, those elements included everything from the insidious nature of influencer culture and personal branding to the unique connective biological systems of fungi. The result is one of the most unsettling horror comics you'll find anywhere, and a dark ride well worth taking.
14. Maniac of New York (AfterShock)
What if a classic slasher villain didn't go away at the end of the movie, but remained part of a city like weather, or a disease that just wouldn't fade out? That's the hook of Maniac of New York, the horror series from writer Elliott Kalan and artist Andrea Mutti that starts as a slasher story, then just keeps building its strange and brutal world in striking new ways.
15. The Many Deaths of Laila Starr (BOOM! Studios)
Sometimes a comic comes along that feels like magic from the start, and somehow builds on the magic with each subsequent issue, until you're sure it's a masterpiece. Ram V and Filipe Andrade's The Many Deaths of Laila Starr is one of those comics, an enchanting blend of mythology and humanity that comes together into one of the most moving fantasy comics since Sandman.
16. Monsters (Fantagraphics)
Decades in the making, Barry Windsor-Smith's Monsters is a mammoth work from one of comics' greatest artists that lives up to the hype and then grows beyond it. Part historical meditation on the wounds of war, part horror story, it's a staggering descent into beautiful darkness from one of our finest living artists.
17. Night of the Ghoul (ComiXology Originals)
One of three launch titles from Scott Snyder's Best Jackett Press creator-owned label, Night of the Ghoul hasn't released many issues yet, but Snyder's collaboration with artist Francesco Francavilla already feels like one for the ages. A horror story that's as much about its own scares as it is about why horror endures, it has the potential to be the ultimate comic book monster saga, and already feels very special.
18. November (Image)
Matt Fraction and Elsa Charretier brought their four-part graphic novel crime epic in for a landing this year, and November remained just as fascinating in its final volume as it did in its first. Whether you come to it for a gripping crime narrative following intersecting lives in a strange city, or for a tremendous exercise in comics craft, you will leave this book satisfied.
19. Nuclear Family (AfterShock)
Adapted from Philip K. Dick's short story "Breakfast at Twilight," writer Stephani Phillips and artist Tony Shasteen's Nuclear Family is entertaining, unsettling alternate history storytelling done right. From Shasteen's reimagining of the 1950s and 1960s in America as the Cold War takes a disturbing turn to Phillips' careful, beautifully layered plotting, it's one of the year's most binge-able new genre readers.
20. Reckless (Image)
After a stunning debut last December, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips released two more installments in their Reckless graphic novel series this year, each further cementing their place as the best writer/artist team in comics at the moment. Hardboiled period pieces that crackle with energy, brutality, and pop culture-laden wit, Reckless is a testament to Phillips and Brubaker's collaborative power, and it just keeps getting better.
21. The Silver Coin (Image)
As far as I'm concerned, there are other horror anthologies, and then there's The Silver Coin.
The brainchild of artist Michael Walsh, in collaboration with writers ranging from Ed Brisson to Chip Zdarsky, the book frames each issue as another adventure for the titular cursed object. Stories journey through every conceivable horror subgenre along the way. It's scary-good, even after the initial thrill of its first issues.
22. Static: Season One (DC Comics)
This was the year that Milestone Comics made their glorious return, and while each of the launch titles stemming from this effort was great, I was particularly struck by the power of Static by writer Vita Ayala and artists Nikolas Draper-Ivey and ChrisCross. Infusing new life into the title character while paying tribute to his 1990s roots, Static feels destined to go down as one of the great teen hero books of the era — and it's not over yet.
23. Superman: Son of Kal-El (DC Comics)
Though he's done great work elsewhere, particularly on titles like Nightwing,Tom Taylor's best work this year was his takeover of Superman. His take, told primarily through Jonathan Kent taking over his father's duties as the Superman of Earth, proved to be an exceptional collaboration with artist John Timms. With Son of Kal-El, Taylor has given us a superhero title in which every page crackles with ambition and a sense of hopeful joy, like every great Superman book should.
24. Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts (Simon & Schuster)
If nonfiction is what you're looking for, this graphic novel from writer Rebecca Hall and artist Hugo Martinez is the ideal book. Blending a historian's memoir with the same historian's search for a lost chapter in the history of American slavery, Wake is a devastating and moving piece of art.
25. Witchblood (Vault)
I have rarely had more fun with a comics series than I have with each issue of Witchblood, by writer Matther Erman and artist Lisa Sterle. Part road narrative, part acid Western, part secret history of witches, it's a book that just keeps upping its own ante with every new installment, building a vibrant world that I get happily lost in every single time.