Here’s the thing about comic books: they’re an irreplaceable art form. It’s a bold statement, given the conversations surrounding physical formats and the nondescript future of literature, but whether you’re a lifelong Marvel dork, an unapologetic indiehead, or a mix of both, you won't find the kinds of narratives being portrayed in this graphic format anywhere else -- at least, until they're made into movies. Writers, artists, and colorists continue to upend traditional storytelling norms; they’ve found a way to blur genres and pin the world’s greatest heroes to more accurate representations of love, heartache, loss, mental health, and diversity. Their stories are still some of the best forms of pure escapism there is, and below are the books from 2019 that have done it to the ultimate degree.
Thrillist's Best (and the Rest): The Truth Behind the Saddest Cookbook Ever
Release date: July 10 (Ongoing) Cullen Bunn and Kyle Strahm's Unearth is a paralyzing take on what a beautiful horror should be. It follows the narrative of a flesh-warping disease in Mexico and the scientific task force that is assigned to investigate the contamination. While that's inherently spooky in itself, it free falls down a rabbit hole full of eco-terrors and the supernatural. It's several shades of weird as it alternates between Chernobyl, Alien: Isolation, and a demobilizing hiss of claustrophobia, and illustrator Baldemar Rivas fills the void with the sort of colors and details you can only find in nightmares. There's still issues to be had, but there's nothing else like it on the shelves. Buy Issue #1 here.
22. Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Release date: January 9 (Ongoing) Buffy Summers is back and she’s tired of all the bullshit: high school grades, her small-town routine, and the difficulties that come with making friends "when you are not honest about who you are." But every single glimpse into her vulnerabilities is what makes her BOOM! Studios reimagining such a brilliant piece of graphic fiction. Writer Jordan Bellaire (Redlands) and artist Dan Mora (Hexed, Power Rangers) capture the voices of the beloved characters you remember and use their chemistry to expertly structure plot threads, pacing, and an endless reserve of eye candy. Every frame amplifies the source material without making Buffy and her big bads a tacky True Blood spinoff, and it sticks by a collective passion to use pop culture to shape our lives in immeasurable ways. As the BOOM! staff put it themselves: Jenny Calendar deserved better. Buy Issue #1 here.
21. I Moved To Los Angeles To Work In Animation
Release date: January 1 As one beloved indie band from Nebraska once noted: "Art is hard." The act of cornering your own dreams and shaping them into realities can be a tiring process, and Natalie Nourigat’s I Moved To Los Angeles To Work In Animation is a highly amusing op-ed on why the headache of making art is totally worth it. The cartoonist’s journey from Portland to the semi-metropolitan weirdness of Southern California is standard Neustadter fare, but her analysis of the highs and lows that come with a creative mind is what sorts it into a class of its own. Nourigat’s illustrative seminars on storyboards and story tests go hand in hand with her memories of $2 PBRs and what it’s like to not be able to afford tacos and yoga pants, and she fills in the blanks with a kind of passion that can only come from someone who views time management as a superpower. Freelancing, road trips, and the 24/7 steel cage match that is financial stability all come with their own anxieties, but I Moved To LA is an instant classic that explains why artists put up with art to make the world a better place. Buy it here.
Release date: January 29 Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau's heart-melting diagram of baking and unexpected love is a dizzying piece of fiction. It's a snapshot of a cute romance: It follows Ari, a high schooler who is dead set on moving to the big city with his ultra-hip band, only to be interposed by Hector, a down-to-earth college student who just moved to town to pack up his late grandmother's home. The pair fall in love, hard, and do so amidst a sunset blue palette and a family bakery. Like any good summer fling, it's pressed with the rush of emotions that come with immediate connections and how they intertwine with our hopes and dreams. Buy it here.
19. Goddess Mode
Release date: December 12, 2018 (Ongoing) Even though Goddess Mode is a sci-fi anomaly that binds superpowered women and daemons to a "secret war for the cheat codes to reality," it excels because it’s actually written by a giant cyberpunk nerd. Zoe Quinn's (Crash Override, Heart Machine) debut for DC Vertigo fastens together oracles, girl gangs, dive bars, and megacorp conspiracies, and it continually augments a deeply personal story to underline the minute, but important, differences between "garbage" and "trash" or question where the future is going versus where it's been. Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi's affinity for striking colors that pop off the page (see: Spider-Gwen, Federal Bureau Of Physics) is intact, but the team’s desire to turn World-Building 101 into an evolving concept is what makes this title's potential so limitless. Goddess Mode is unequivocally smart, stylish, and neon to the freakin’ core. Buy Issue #1 here.
Release date: May 14 The best moments in Waves are the ones you never see coming. The debut graphic novel from French writer Ingrid Chabbert is an autobiographical tale about two women and the emotional impact of a surprise pregnancy. Here, the upfront joy is shattered into unforeseen heartbreak and crushingly real moments of love, sorrow, and renewal. Chabbert’s portraiture of motherhood creates connections and underlines the bliss that comes with regaining a sense of hope during an exploration of pain, but artist Carole Maurel brings every finer detail to life. Her own attachment to minimalist art styles accelerates the emotional sting at hand and her use of color is a truly remarkable tool that’s used to create a deeply personal, 100-page masterpiece. Buy it here.
Release date: April 18, 2018 (Ongoing) Joe Henderson’s take on the post-apocalyptic genre -- living in a world that has lost most of its gravity -- is what makes Skyward such a breathtaking piece of work. It focuses on a young woman's journey to find her place in a low-G reality, appropriately never feeling content to stick to the ground and dotting each issue with strong characterization and a personal take on a father-daughter relationship that explores love, pain, and loss. The trio of Lee Garbett (art), Antonio Fabela (colors), and Simon Bowland (letters) don't pull punches when it comes to setting a mood or establishing a sense of immersion, and their full-page illustrations remain an anomaly in today's medium. They excel at bringing every little detail to life in every new issue, which helps Skyward balance its emotional highs with an unimaginable dose of adventure. Buy Volume #1 here.
16. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me
Release date: May 7 Mariko Tamaki’s latest is a far cry from Marvel’s X-23 and those berserker moments that involve blood and sisterly bonds, but it’s a smart and visually stunning read that will absolutely floor you. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is about 17-year-old Freddy Riley, a high schooler who is comfortable with her sexuality but not so cozy about the cycle she finds herself in with her girlfriend that you can discern from the title. It’s edgy, delightful, and acutely framed through shades of black and white and late-summer pink, but what follows is Tamaki and artist Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s take on the toxic side of love and how it’s tied to labels, friendships, and communities. It pins itself to a larger conversation involving a sexually and racially diverse cast, and it goes to lengths to emphasize the importance of writing about characters who have already come out. Buy it here.
15. The Unstoppable Wasp
Release date: October 17, 2018 (Ongoing) Jeremy Whitley deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award for: A) relaunching The Unstoppable Wasp, and B) turning it into a neurotic obsession. The series from Whitley and Gurihiru (The Unbelievable Gwenpool) follows Nadia van Dyne and the Agents of G.I.R.L. as they investigate a connection between her father and the super scientists of A.I.M., but here it’s crammed with quirky nerd jokes, nods to Tegan And Sara, and henchmen who’d prefer to avoid jail time as they still have tickets to see Dazzler in concert. It’s a remarkable reboot that bridges together science and a personal discussion of trauma, and it doesn’t shy from discussing mental health and the importance of support networks. Wasp will make you laugh, cry, and hold onto your heartstrings for dear life, and it uses its platform and social thematics to crystallize the fact that the future of comics is young, female, and queer. Buy Issue #1 here.
14. Sabrina The Teenage Witch
Release date: March 27 (Ongoing) Kelly Thompson’s work has flirted with modernizing fictional characters to the point where their conversations and insecurities are ripped from our own 3am text threads (see Captain Marvel, Rogue & Gambit), and her work on Sabrina The Teenage Witch is no different. The Archie Comics reboot tasks Sabrina Spellman with trying to find her place in Greendale, but instead of being a brooding Hot Topic pull, it recalls Teen Witch and Practical Magic for a script that’s all about spells, cat butts, secret Pop-Tarts, and lifeless American History classes (also, cute boys). It’s a promising start -- what with Thompson’s playful humor and Veronica and Andy Fish’s habit of paralyzing you with colors -- and Harvey Kinkle be damned, it’s a must-read that is poised to be something special. Buy Issue #1 here.
13. The Batman Who Laughs
Release date: December 12, 2018 (Ongoing) Let’s be real here: Batman has seen some shit. He’s been openly traumatized by soap-opera levels of heartbreak and paranoia, but Scott Snyder’s The Batman Who Laughs is a genre-shattering take on an old paragon. Why? It's a psychological rush that doesn't quit, even when it knows it probably should have. Snyder and Jock’s follow-up to Dark Nights: Metal and the evil within staples The Batman Who Laughs to a clinically insane multiverse plot that forces Bruce Wayne to cope with the dark matter in his inner demons and fears. It’s jagged, visceral, and inherently horrifying, and while their depiction of The Joker is a corrosive nightmare that finds elegance in death, it’s a can't-miss series due to its ability to stick out in a decade full of creative reinvention. Buy Issue #1 here.
12. Invisible Kingdom
Release date: March 20 (Ongoing) Here’s the best way you can define G. Willow Wilson’s Invisible Kingdom: it’s a Cartrivision spin on Saga and The Fifth Element that force quits the space odyssey genre as "Dark Side Of The Moon" whirrs in the background. It’s an entirely different extension of A+ world building and how materialism and theologies can connect a young religious acolyte to a hard-nosed freighter pilot, and for the sake of spoiler culture, all we'll say is that it’s some heady space opera stuff. Wilson and artist Christian Ward have crafted a book that laughs in the face of traditional norms and the RGB color model, and being the slow burn that it is, it’s predetermined to explode into a love letter to sci-fi nerds. Buy Issue #1 here.
11. Once & Future
Release date: July 17 (Ongoing) Once & Future is delightfully complicated. It's a Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora gem that trafficks in high fantasy exposition in which a group of nationalists use an artifact to resurrect a powerful villain of Arthurian myth. Here, it's all up to a former monster hunter named Bridgette McGuire to escape her retirement home and reunite with her bumbling grandson Duncan in order to save the world (or at least Britain). Once & Future is firmly rooted in underlining the power of family and it uses a very particular brand of nonsense, involving vampires, beast quests, and awful dinner dates in Bristol, to keep you hanging on by a thread with its snappy dialogue and blistering color palette. Buy Issue #1 here.
10. Something Is Killing The Children
Release date: September 4 (Ongoing) James Tynion IV and Werther Dell'Edera's Something Is Killing The Children is one of the year's biggest surprises. With its unrelenting appetite for horror, the limited BOOM! series sees the children of a midwestern town go missing amidst tales of wraithlike creatures when a mysterious woman named Erica Slaughter steps in to stop the killings. It's a deeply personal concept that binds real emotions to sociopolitical issues and plenty of blood, and it works because it's brutally honest. Every wordless page, onomatopoeia, and splash of crimson gore is interwoven to build an atmosphere that’s immediately compelling. Buy Issue #1 here.
Release date: August 15, 2018 (Ongoing) The premise of Crowded is simple: Charlotte "Charlie" Ellison is an outspoken socialite with a fairly normal life -- outside of the fact that she's suddenly the primary target of a million-dollar campaign on Reapr, a crowdfunding platform for assassinations. She's hired Vita Slatter, the lowest-rated bodyguard that's available on an app called Dfend, to help through a 30-day period of death via desperate civilians. Christopher Sebela's approach to a semi-cyberpunk society mainlining crowdfunding apps is a brilliant idea, but his ability to bind human drama to a lethal dose of cinematic action is why it never ceases to be an emotionally engulfing rollercoaster. Combined with pencils/colors/letters from the likes of Ro Stein (Captain Marvel), Ted Brandt (Captain Marvel), Triona Farrell (West Coast Avengers), and Cardinal Rae (24 Panels), Crowded is a few backers away from being a timeless classic. Buy Issue #1 here.
Release date: May 9, 2018 (Ongoing) Holy shit, has Donny Cates made Venom creepy again? The veteran wordsmith has his share of accolades (Redneck, Doctor Strange), but the way he has webbed up his own post-S.H.I.E.L.D., mid-Morales take on Eddie Brock is incomparable in a startling way. Cates’ first 11 issues sinks its fangs into the expansive history of the symbiotes and gnaws at Brock’s attachment to his mimic, and with Ryan Stegman (She-Hulk, Renew Your Vows) in tow, it wholly embraces its gothic palette and Lovecraftian undertones. Stegman’s propensity to experiment with frames and contextualize a flawless balance of reds and blacks is a MoMA exhibit in itself, and it’s the perfect carrier for Cates’ spiral into psychological horror. It’s Venom done right, and being the beautiful nightmare that it is, it’s a lucid interpretation that will leave you champing at the bit for more issues sooner. Buy Issue #1 here.
7. Coffin Bound
Release date: August 7 (Ongoing) Coffin Bound is, above all, a reflection about life and death. It chronicles the spiritual debilitation of 20-something Izzy Tyburn, whose ongoing flirtation with her own afterlife is etched into a Mad Max-esque world that’s poetic, twisted, and violent. There is a vulture who is an accomplice by nature due to its inclination to circle over the dying; an antagonist who thrives on the reveries of playwrights, Badmotorfinger, and a nightclub that acts as a reminder of mortality; and then there’s the feral EarthEater, a soulless nomad that shovels black dirt into its mouth and wants Izzy dead. It's a surreal mix of horror, crime noir, and '90s grunge, a Watters and Dani epic carved into something beautiful and disturbing. Buy Issue #1 here.
Release date: November 21, 2018 (Ongoing) As one of the newest additions to Image’s infatuation with the dark arts, Middlewest is a heady scattershot of the ups and downs of the Midwestern United States and its "hidden magics." It’s a kid-on-a-quest narrative that builds off of a talking fox and sequels to Dungeon Days, but Skottie Young’s (Deadpool, I Hate Fairyland) gift for using your emotions like a light switch while dragging you through the mud of a fractured relationship is what sets it apart. It’s heavy stuff that’s more Neon Genesis than Teen Titans, and with artists Jorge Corona, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Nate Piekos, and Mike Huddleston in tow, Middlewest is a visually breathtaking splice of reality and fantasy, and one that doesn't shy away from the complexities of a boy's journey to discover who he really is. Buy Issue #1 here.
5. Little Bird
Release date: March 13 (Ongoing) Every damn thing about Darcy Van Poelgeest and Ian Bertram’s work screams ingenuity: their level of storytelling, approach to world-building, and no-holds-barred rendering of dystopian sci-fi makes Little Bird a breathtaking reinterpretation of fiction and what it can do to your psyche. The new miniseries follows a young resistance fighter who clashes with an oppressive regime and a search for her identity in a world on fire, and it buries itself in an abyss of drama and surrealism to maintain its own identity. It cuts near-future totalitarianism with a big bad with hyper-Christian beliefs, and political or not, it’s committed to pulling you into its big think with violent delights and ends. It’s Image’s answer to Fury Road and it’s an unconventional slice of shock and awe that never stops pummeling you with gorgeously illustrated ideas (and bloodshed). Buy Issue #1 here.
4. House Of X/Powers Of X
Release date: December 11 Jonathan Hickman’s return to the Marvel-verse with House Of X and Powers Of X slingshots the X-Men into a plot that is deservedly sci-fi. The parallel books follow the trials of mutantkind and their endeavors to survive in a society that wants them dead, eventually spiraling into a fever dream involving Krakoa, data pages, and powerful themes of extinction and reincarnation. It all unfolds into a labyrinthine spider web of theories, politics, and prophecies. Hickman thoroughly explores new ideas that feel like old ones, but with R.B. Silva and Pepe Larraz’s art and Marte Gracia’s color boards' ability to make your heart flutter, the dual release is daring, frenetic, and gorgeous by design. It’s X-Men done right. Buy it here.
Release date: September 25 (Ongoing) Stjepan Sejic's Harleen is an intoxicating portrait of psychological horror. It's masterfully written, tragic, and every ink drop and comminuted fracture of frames is used to color in an interpretation of Gotham that is shades of Tim Burton, Chrisopher Nolan, and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke. It's a grim take on Dr. Harleen Quinzel’s origin story, but Sejic wastes no time in fleshing out her transformation, describing a brilliant mind navigating the insecurities of her early 30s and the trials of a relationship that goes from professional to romantically obsessed in a flash. Joker is still Joker -- or, as she puts it, a criminal with a "stupid little story about how a city can create monsters" -- and their dynamic is expertly composed and introspective every step of the way. Buy Issue #1 here.
2. Space Bandits
Release date: July 3 (Ongoing) Space Bandits thrives on the Xs and Os of revenge sagas. Instead of adhering to stereotypical dystopian futures or Image's kink for space and sex stuff, it sticks with Mark Millar's passion for writing big, fun sci-fi stories and sets its phasers to stun. Thena Khole and Cody Blue are two of the universe's most-wanted criminals. They charm halfwits, sip wine, and hijack honeymoon cruises known as The Lionel Richie with pet lizards by their side, but their intergalactic fleecing comes to a halt when they're betrayed by their own band of misfits. It's a narrative that fits the soon-to-be Netflix miniseries tag perfectly, and with artist Matteo Scalera's eye for modular color schemes and full-page phenomenons, Bandits has become one of the big comics obsessions of 2019. Buy Issue #1 here.
Release date: December 5, 2018 (Ongoing) Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans’ new post-The Wicked + The Divine "goth Jumanji" is a special book. It’s a harrowing love letter to D&D diehards that engages with the hypothetical of 40-somethings who have to cope with a paranormal horror they barely survived as teens, and before you know it, it leaps to shocking places. Gillen’s fondness for wringing out character development via traumatic instances of pain, loss, and terror is what makes Die a must-read for fantasy fans. The way Hans’ visualizes the physical and mental sting of those instances is why the series has become an unexpected tour de force in its medium. It’s confident in its weirdness, drama, and twists, and while its take on tabletop RPGs is more rooted in literary horror and Japanese isekai, it’s one that goes from being a slow burn to a complete firestorm in mere seconds. Buy Issue #1 here.