The Best Comics & Graphic Novels of 2016

It’s been said that the only trouble with reading comics and graphic novels these days is that there’s way too much great stuff to choose from. This past year offered any number of quality books telling captivating stories in a wide variety of styles. Here are 30 of them that we rank among the most popular, beloved, and buzzed-about books of the year.

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1, by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze
Graphic novels written by people from outside the world of comics aren’t entirely uncommon. It’s rarer for the writer to do a totally amazing job. Ta-Nehisi Coates (social commentator and author of National Book Award-winner Between the World and Me) perfectly marries his own concerns and style with superhero action and afrofuturism in the tale of a terrorist group that challenges T’Challa’s rule and beliefs. Brian Stelfreeze’s art is bright and cinematic, making the book great on its own and perfectly timed for fans looking to learn more about Black Panther before his cinematic solo outing.

Paper Girls, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Anything by either member of this creative team is worth checking out, and a collaboration, only doubly so. Paper Girls is, in many ways, an homage to Spielberg-style adventures circa the ’80s as well as a great book for fans of TV’s Stranger Things. It actually does the show one better, though: instead of the traditional group of boys facing down aliens and the like, it’s about a group of girls with chips on their shoulders and old-school punk-rock style encountering a world of suburban weirdness (aliens and vanishings, for starters) while delivering newspapers in 1988 (and beyond). These girls are tough, smart, and resourceful.

Faith, Vol. 1: Hollywood and Vine, by Jody Houser, Francis Portela, and Marguerite Sauvage
Valiant’s hero Zephyr finally went solo in 2016, and we’ve never needed her more. She’s not just any hero…she’s a legit fangirl who creates listicles and posts cat videos by day while fighting crime by night in her new home of Los Angeles. Faith herself is funny, quippy, and real, while the book is charming and body-positive. (Oh, but there’s an alien invasion in the works, so not everything goes Faith’s way.) It’s a west-coast-flavored ray of sunshine in a sometimes dark superhero world, and also reminds us that heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

Doctor Strange, Vol. 1: The Way of the Weird, by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo
It’s been a Strange year all-around (see what I did?), with the good doctor getting his own Benedict Cumberbatch-flavored blockbuster and Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo channeling old-school Sorcerer Supreme action in this book. On the page, Jason Aaron is sending Dr. Strange on a series of dark adventures through the mystical realms and headlong into a world where magic no longer works in the ways it always has. Much as in the trippy days of Strange’s classic adventures, Chris Bachalo’s art perfectly captures the weird and scary nature of the Doctor’s otherworldly haunts.

Omega Men: The Complete Series, by Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda
One of the year’s sleeper hits stars a decidedly B-list (to be polite) team of DC heroes, which is probably a big part of the reason that it flew under the radar for as long as it did. The critical and fan favorite treats the team with respect, telling a tale rife with political commentary, as the team captures White Lantern Kyle Rayner in order to enlist his help in saving the sector. Lots of action, great characters, and real consequences —it’s a unique take on DC’s space heroes. Bgenda’s art is perfect, and Tom King is on fire this year, with this book, a new Batman series, and Vision (see below) under his belt.

Vision, Vol. 1: Little Worse Than A Man, by Tom King and Gabriel Walta
Another of King’s critical favorites, his and Walta’s series reads like no other superhero book on the stands—with a strong flavors of science fiction and noir. Starting out as something of a suburban domestic drama involving the synthezoid Vision and the family that he (literally) created for himself, the story quickly takes a chilling turn as a murder and ensuing cover-up lead the family deeper and deeper into the darkness. It’s creepy, poignant, and a big departure from typical superhero action.

Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening, by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda
Liu and Takeda create a stunningly beautiful alternate Asia as a background to the story of Maika Halfwolf, a woman in a necromantic conflict with the Cumea, a coven of dark witches who want Maika’s life energy to fuel their spells. Her hope, or doom, comes from the psychic link that she shares with a monster of incredible power. Luckily, her cat Master Ren is on hand to provide wisdom in this very dark, incredibly lovely book.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 1: BFF, by Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare, and Natacha Bustos
Marvel’s been doing a pretty darned good job of creating and/or showcasing young female heroes lately, while simultaneously letting things get weird in grand comic book style. This book introduces Lunella Lafayette, a super-smart preteen who discovers she harbors the life-changing, potentially superpower-granting Inhuman gene. She’s not at all happy about it, but finds herself on the adventure of a lifetime anyway when one of her gadgets opens a portal to another realm: Dinosaur World. Who wouldn’t want a dinosaur pal?

Tokyo Ghost, Vol. 1: Atomic Garden, by Rick Remender and Sean Murphy
The dream-team pairing of Rick Remender and Sean Murphy would make this book a must-read regardless of the story. Remender’s sharp sci-fi sensibilities made the Uncanny X-Force a prestige book for Marvel, and Low has been a much-loved of late. Murphy’s hard-edged style has been a highlight of books like The Wake and Punk Rock Jesus. In addition to the all-star roster, the book has a great, and cynical, hook: in Los Angeles of 2089, we’ve been overwhelmed by technology, living for the pings and pops and our screens. A law-enforcement duo that’s been torn apart by tech finds itself with one last job in the last place on earth that still does things the old-fashioned way: Tokyo.

Doom Patrol, by Grant Morrison and Richard Case
One of Grant Morrison’s earliest American works is also one of his best (it’s what got me into comics back in the day): just as Alan Moore did with Swamp Thing a few years prior, Morrison took an older property—a book on the verge of cancellation—and breathed new life into it. While he retains Robotman, the race-car driver whose brain was implanted into a robot body following an accident, he also populates the book with unique (meaning bizarre) outsider characters, and adds a heart in the form of ape-faced young girl Dorothy Spinner. This first volume brought the series back into print this year, as the team comes together and faces their first major threat: the reality-destroying Brotherhood of Dada.

Invader Zim, Vol. 1, by Jhonen Vasquez, and Eric Trueheart
Cult favorite Invader Zim is back, and the title character is still intent on conquering the Earth with his malfunctioning robot sidekick GIR. Creator Jhonen Vasquez is on hand, making this a legit continuation of the much-missed show, which left television in 2006. Paranormal researcher Dib has been hiding out in the intervening years, waiting for Zim’s return. Fans who felt like they’ve been doing the same weren’t disappointed with the first book in this new ongoing series.

Star Wars, Vol. 1, by Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, Simone Bianchi, Stuart Immonen
Speaking of comics based on media properties, there’s been none bigger than Marvel’s Star Wars. Rather than simply cashing in, the publisher pulled in a big-name writer in Jason Aaron, pairing him with some of the most talented artists in the business today. The result is a book that feels both retro and fresh, harkening back to the classic days of SW while telling new and surprising stories starring the old gang. This volume gathers together the first two main storylines; the first finds Skywalker confronting Darth Vader following a rebel mission gone wrong, while the second puts him in the Arena of Death on a smuggler’s moon. Boba Fett makes an appearance, and we learn some secrets from ol’ Ben Kenobi. Fun stories, and amazing art.

Star Wars: Darth Vader, Vol. 1, by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca
The Darth Vader series has gone a long way toward correcting some of the damage that the prequel movies did to the Dark Lord’s image, reestablishing him as a master strategist and the smartest, scariest bad guy in the Star Wars Universe. Archaeologist Doctor Aphra and gleefully sadistic droids 0-0-0 and BT-1, his evil sidekicks, have been working alongside Vader to bring him back into the Emperor’s good graces following the destruction of the first Death Star, while each also plays a deeper game. There’s nothing wrong with rooting for the bad guys once in a while.

Spider-Gwen, Vol. 1: Greater Power, by Jason Latour and Robbie Rodriguez
On Earth-65, Gwen Stacy didn’t die in Spider-Man’s arms—it was the other way around: Peter Parker died in spite of the efforts of Spider-Woman. Spider-Verse brought the very-much-alive Gwen into the mainstream Marvel U, and this volume finds her on S.H.I.E.LD.’s most wanted list while she fights battles a whole family of Goblins. What initially sounded like a gimmicky twist on a classic character quickly became one of the year’s breakout characters (the cool and cosplayable costume design haven’t hurt one bit).

All-New Wolverine, Vol. 1: The Four Sisters, by Tom Taylor, and David Lopez
Wolverine is dead. Long live Wolverine. Mentored by Logan, the living weapon formerly known as X-23 is determined to live up to the name and legacy that she’s taken on. She faces the mysterious Four Sisters with help from Dr. Strange and the Wasp. Whether or not Wolverine’s death will stick, the success of the daughter (sort of) who’s taken over for him means that he’ll likely be out of the picture for quite some time, and, frankly, it’s hard to miss him when the adventures of his successor are so much fun. X-23 will be showing up in the forthcoming Logan movie, so there’s another point in her favor.

The White Donkey: Terminal Lance, by Maximilian Uriarte
I’m not sure that, in 2016, anyone needs a reminder that comics and graphic novels can tell stories other that aren’t about science fiction or superheroes. Developed from real-life Marine Uriarte’s satirical webcomic and using some of the same characters, White Donkey tells the somewhat more serious story of Abe, who braves drudgery and danger while serving in Iraq. Upon returning home, he faces challenges common to may returning servicemen, chief among them depression and PTSD. It’s an important tale told by a talented artist.

Mockingbird, Vol. 1: I Can Explain, by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk
Bobbi Morse has been a favorite in the Marvel Universe for a long time, her importance rising and falling over the years (she was dead for a while, which doesn’t usually help a character’s page count). Fortunately, a starring role (for a while, anyway) in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D TV show has brought her back to the spotlight. This book was in the news for all the wrong reasons this year (sadly, a female-lead book with female creators is candy for the trolls on social media), but all that aside: it’s pretty great. The titular multitalented former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent goes solo, doing things like saving the Queen of England, even as she remains on call for Maria Hill and her old super-spy team.

Black Widow, Vol. 1: S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted, by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee
Fresh off their redefining run on Daredevil, Waid and Samnee’s new series finds the Widow on the run. The past she’s been fleeing finally catches up to her, and all of her secrets are made public. Now, she’s trying to save S.H.I.E.L.D., even as Marvel’s super-spy organization is hunting her down. At the same time, she’s locked in a confrontation with the Weeping Lion, a criminal operative with ties to her days as an assassin. Two of Marvel’s top creators gave Natasha Romanov the book she deserves this year, even if that Marvel solo movie is still just a dream.

Rick and Morty, Vol. 2, by Zac Gorman, CJ Cannon, Andrew MacLean, Ryan Hill, Marc Ellerby
To watch Rick and Morty is to become obsessed with the weird, funny, frequently disturbing adventures of wild-eyed scientist Rick Sanchez and his grandson, Morty. Unfortunately, there are huge gaps in time between seasons of the show; fortunately, the book fills the void. The team on this book has managed to keep the tone very close to that of the show, meaning: gross and bizarre, but with surprisingly strong sci-fi sensibilities. The two went full-on cyberpunk throughout the multiverse in this latest volume, with a bonus story that took us deeper into the world of hit cross-dimensional action series Ball Fondlers. About time, too.

Saga, Vol. 6, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
What’s left to be said about Vaughan and Staples’ modern masterpiece? The series is about a star-crossed romance between two lovers on opposite sides of a galactic war who struggle to raise a daughter among the chaos. Staples unmistakeable art and brilliantly weird creature designs ensure that the book is one of the best looking on the stands, as well as one of the best written. A new volume is always welcome. This year’s latest moved the action ahead and saw Hazel facing one her greatest challenges yet: kindergarten.

ODY-C: Cycle One, by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward
ODY-C initially tells the story of Odysseia, a warrior returning home to her family in far Ithacaa, victorious following a years-long war. Sound familiar? The series sets the events of Homer’s ages-old epic in space—and eliminates males from the story almost entirely—while retaining the key plot points of the ancient Greek myth, as well as the poetic meter of the text. It’s utterly mad, but also fascinating, and beautifully designed and drawn. It’s challenging in its rule-breaking, as well as being unapologetic in its feminism. It’s also wildly engaging.

March, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
The third and concluding volume of John Lewis’ graphic-novel memoir came out this year, as well as a slipcased collection of the entire run. Lewis is probably among the last people that one would expect to write a graphic novel, especially one as successful as this. One of Lewis’ inspirations as a young activist was a 1958 comic called “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story” (well worth grabbing if you can find an old copy), which he describes as his entry point into comics and this trilogy. In the books, Lewis tells of the civil rights movement from his own perspective, centered around the events of the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965. By talking personally rather than broadly about his life and those years, Lewis and co-author Andrew Aydin go well beyond the standard history lesson. The story is inspiring and the black-and-white art (by Nate Powell) is gorgeous.

Giant Days, Vol. 2, by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, and Whitney Cogar
We loved the first volume of creator John Allison’s quirky coming-of age series, and this year’s second, following the adventures of new friends Susan, Esther, and Daisy during their freshman year at college, has been every bit as fun. Allison’s stuff always has great characters with funny and believable dialogue.

Wonder Woman: Earth One, Vol. 1, by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette
It’s already a bit controversial, but anything from Grant Morrison (whose classic Doom Patrol also makes the list of 2016’s best) is bound to be interesting. Along with superstar artist Paquette, Morrison begins a take on Wonder Woman’s origin that goes back to the character’s roots. WW’s early days involved a lot details that modern writers have been reluctant to emphasize—chains, “loving submission,” and the Holliday Girls of Beta Lambda Sorority—and it was not in any way disappointing seeing what this team did with the trickier aspects of the canon. If you aren’t a fan of (or have never even heard of) Etta Candy, you will be a true devotee after reading this book.

Wonder Woman ’77, Vol. 1, by Marc Andreyko, Drew Johnson, and Matt Haley
DC’s modern Wonder Woman has occasionally tilted to the heavy side, so this trip back to the late ’70s is a welcome break. In the spirit of Batman ’66, it takes its cues from the Lynda Carter-starring TV show, featuring Agent Diana Prince fighting side-by-side with Steve Trevor to save disco (at least in one episode). The stories are light, and sometimes even a little silly, but it’s fun to see a brighter, happier Wonder Woman battling classic enemies (Doctor Psycho, Solomon Grundy, and Cheetah) the show never got around to.

Aquaman, Vol. 7: Exiled, by Cullen Bunn
2016 saw the end of DC’s New 52 branding in favor of a “rebirth,” and Aquaman’s adventures ended in grand style (no worries, he’s back in the new era). Aquaman becomes a pariah when the magic separating Atlantis from the shadowy world of Thule begins to break down. The two kingdoms occupy the same space, and the arrival of the other kingdom means doom for Atlantis. Aquaman refuses to destroy the people of the other world, leaving him branded a traitor by his people, and even his own queen.

Joyride, Vol. 1, by Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, Marcus To, and Irma Kniivila
Uma Akkolyte is tired of being stuck on a future Earth watched over by the World Government Alliance. Even the stars are blacked out, so there’s no point in so much as dreaming of other worlds. Until she comes across an alien spaceship which she quickly jacks in order to take her friends on an adventure that’s both breathtaking and terrifying. The book is a sci-fi story in a classic vein, but with a very modern protagonist and a rebellious vibe.

We(l)come Back Vol. 1, by Christopher Sebela and Jonathan Brandon Sawyer
Sebela and Sawyer’s science fiction breakout tells the story of Mali and Tessa, a pair of immortal assassins who are constantly reborn into new lives to continue the war that began so long ago they’ve forgotten the point. As the series begins, Mali has started on a new life and a new cycle of violence, only to question her purpose for the first time. She’s ready to put an end to the endless war, but a reborn Tessa is already on the hunt. The book’s got action, violence, and a love story at its core.

Blue Monday, Vol. 1: The Kids Are Alright, by Chynna Clugston-Flores
Back and in color for the first time, Blue Monday is the story of Bleu L. Finnegan, a misfit high-schooler who deals with the normal teenage stuff: a crush on her teacher, getting tickets to see Adam Ant, prank wars…it’s a comedy series in a John Hughes vein. But the series has manga influences, as well as strong British mod sensibilities. It’s a fan favorite book that’s continuing in 2017; this is a great time to catch up.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now, by Ryan North, and Erica Henderson
In perhaps the ultimate piece of evidence for the argument that we’ve entered a new era in superhero comics, Doreen Green has been a big hit for Marvel, to the extent that she’ll be headlining a TV series next year, Galactus willing. In 2016, superheroes can be fun and silly without losing any of their heroism. Squirrel Girl (with the proportionate power of a squirrel) is off to college in her current series, while still taking on Doctor Doom, Thanos, and even Galactus with her wits and a little help from her squirrel friends. In her latest volume, she’s teaming up with Howard the Duck and traveling back in time to the 1960s, where she embarks on a trans-temporal team-up.

What was your favorite comic or graphic novel of 2016?

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