The medium of comic books has experienced a massive resurgence in recent years so, in addition to getting a lot of great new stories featuring our favourite long-standing superheroes and villains, publishers have also been willing to take more risks by bringing us fantastically unique and original titles that might not have had much of an audience five or six years ago.
But despite receiving a lot of critical acclaim, many of these smaller titles still don’t make nearly as big a splash as the latest re-re-re-release of Spider-Man. But don’t be fooled by their lack of popularity, they’re absolutely worth checking out, and, if you do, they’ll probably become some of your new favorite titles.
Here are 20 of the most underrated series out there right now that deserve more attention.
20. Y: the Last Man
Published by Vertigo comics in 2002, Y: The Last Man is a post-apocalyptic comic book series written by Brian K. Vaughan. The story follows the unlikely journey of Yorick Brown and his pet monkey (Ampersand), the only two mammals with a Y chromosome to survive an unknown global androcide. Unaware of how or why, Yorick hits the road in search of his girlfriend, but with the world in complete chaos, finding her becomes the least of his worries.
While some might not consider Y: The Last Man underrated, Vertigo isn’t as well known as the other publishing titans, so it’s worth mentioning to those that might have missed this gem.
Written by John Layman and illustrated by Rob Guillory, Chew is a sixty-issue series that tells the story of Tony Chu, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agent with the ability to receive psychic impressions from anything he consumes. As you might imagine, these unique abilities allow agent Chu to solve crimes with such a high rate of success, he begins to attract the attention of both home and foreign government agencies looking to exploit his gifts.
The story takes place in the aftermath of a deadly avian flu that wiped out millions of Americans. As a precaution, all bird meat is deemed illegal, giving birth to something I never thought I’d say – black market chicken.
18. The Boys
Written by Garth Ennis and co-created/illustrated by Darick Robertson, The Boys is a 72-issue comic series that’s use of extreme violence and sexuality make it practically impossible to read anywhere other than the comfort of your own home. That said, the series is extremely entertaining.
Imagine a world were superheroes exist, but rather than helping people, they’re treated like celebrities, driven by power and greed. It really turns the whole superhero notion on its head. In an effort to keep the superheroes in check, the CIA organizes a secret superpowered team, known as The Boys – a group of individuals handpicked to do the CIA’s dirty work (literally).
Oh, and did I mention the main character, Hughie Campbell, is a spitting image of Simon Pegg?
17. East of West
East of West is an ongoing comic book series that was published by Image Comic in 2013. Created by Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta, the story is set in a dystopian future of present-day United States, during timeline in which Civil War never ended. Following a massive comet colliding with Earth, the people take this as a sign to stop fighting and divided the country into seven independently governed nations. Almost a century later, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse arise, signaling that the end might be closer than they thought.
While the writing is excellent, it’s Dragotta’s detailed panels that will really win you over. He does such a wonderful job at depicting the level of emotion East of West needs to be successful.
16. Joe the Barbarian
Written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Sean Murphy, Joe the Barbarian tells the beautiful tale of an imaginative 11-year old boy named Joe, who suffers from type 1 diabetes. One day after his Mom leaves for work, Joe notices his blood sugar dropping, causing him to hallucinate, making a routine trip to the kitchen for more insulin a lot more challenging.
Joe the Barbarian might only be limited series consisting of eight issues, but as the saying goes, good things come in small packages. If you’re a fan of fantasy, or simply looking for something new, I’d highly suggest picking this one up.
15. Black Science
Published in 2003 by Image Comics, the creator-owned comic series Black Science follows the story of Grant McKay, a former member of the Anarchist League of Scientists. With his family and team of “Dimensionauts” at his side, McKay travels through dimensions attempting to learn the secrets of the universe. Unfortunately, when the device responsible for their inter-dimensional travel, ‘the Pillar’, is damaged, McKay and his team seem destined to live out the rest of their living between denominations.
Black Science is a vibrant and entertaining science fiction series that will leave you clamoring for more.
14. Cowboy Ninja Viking
Cowboy Ninja Viking is highly entertaining comic series that revolves around a counter-intelligence unit that transforms patients with multiple personality disorder, using various experimental and psychotropic treatments, into government agents known as Triplets. After the program is disbanded, Duncan, the titular Triplet, capable of channeling the skills of a cowboy, ninja, and viking, is asked to track down and stop rogue Triplets.
Created by A.J. Lieberman and Riley Rossmo, Cowboy Ninja Viking is only ten issues, which makes it ideal for someone looking for a series that doesn’t require a huge commitment in terms of time or money.
Set in the late 1950s, in a world of anthropomorphic characters, Badsad follows a cyclical private detective named John Blacksad – a black cat with a nose for corruption. Developed by Spanish authors Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido, Blacksad was originally intended for the French and Spanish markets, but due to growing demand, has been translated in over 20 different languages.
In my humble opinion, Blacksad is one of the most beautiful comics I’ve ever read. While I have yet to finish the series, the dark nature of the story is complemented perfectly by the breathtaking watercolor drawings that make Blacksad such a unique series.
12. Sex Criminals
In Sex Criminals, Suzie is a librarian and Jon is an actor. One night they meet at a party and, after sleeping together, they discover that they share the ability to freeze time when they orgasm. As they develop their relationship and explore their sexual histories, eventually they come up with a plan to rob the bank when Jon works in order to save Suzie’s endangered library.
The comic pokes fun at how warped society’s messages are about relationships and sex, demonstrating the ridiculous ways they label things and paint people into incoherent corners. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky transform a sexual awakening into pulp fiction. But for all of those concupiscent moments of coitus, there’s an equal number of heartfelt counterpoints addressing how extraordinary and delicate it feels to find another person who makes you feel whole.
At times it might feel a bit like a Paul Rudd rom-com, but as the story progresses it becomes increasingly raw, undressing the characters in ways that are much more purposeful than just getting them naked.
Monstress is a shadowy steampunk fantasy saga set in a matriarchal alternate Asia, where a war is raging between the Arcanics, magical creatures who sometimes can pass for human, and the Cumea, an order of sorceresses who consume Arcanics to fuel their power. Maika is an Arcanic who’s trapped at the centre of the mystic conflict and finds herself inextricably linked to a powerful creature that resides within her.
Monstress is a darkly beautiful and heartbreaking examination of power, slavery, and the inner strength required to withstand constant dehumanization. It’s arguably the best fantasy comic currently in circulation.
10. Omega Men
Omega Men is all about a renegade group of representatives from conquered Vegan worlds ruled by the oppressive Alpha Citadel. After kidnapping former Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, they try to get him to join their seemingly futile quest to overthrow the Alphas and, from there, things start to get pretty interesting.
The political drama of this sci-fi antihero series draws a lot of its appeal from asking one compelling question: How long can you expect to remain in control when your system of government is upheld by acts of atrocity? Through stealing, outrageous killings or psychological manipulation, The Omega Men callously use the lives of others as cover for their actions, all the while claiming that it’s for the greater good. And it’s the fact that their oppressors use exactly the same reasoning and methods that make this comic such an interesting and ethically uncomfortable read.
9. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Squirrel Girl is one of Marvel’s more light-hearted characters. She’s been a babysitter for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and joined some of wackiest superteams in all of comics, but this series is all about her just trying to live out a normal life.
Ryan North and Erica Henderson have made Squirrel Girl into a character who’s able to wonderfully communicate the bewilderment and whimsy of superhero escapism in a humorous playful way that’s rarely seen in popular superhero comics. It might not have too many Earth-shattering situations, but the story arcs deal with much more relatable subject matters that focus on smaller, human-sized conflicts.
Although a lot of people aren’t familiar with him, Miracleman is actually a decades old superhero who’s been brought to life by a number of legendary comic book writers including Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. In the 1980’s Miracleman was seminal in sparking the trend of deconstructing the long-accepted elements associated with heroes in capes and tights — like, exploring the sometimes illogical rationality behind secret identities.
In 2013, Marvel announced that they had secured the rights to Miracleman and that Neil Gaiman would finish the story he had started 25 years earlier. The new comics show protagonist Mick Moran as a scrubby news photographer who is troubled by dreams that reveal that he’s actually the alter ego of a decades-dormant ultra-powerful superhero named Miracleman. But this isn’t your typical Marvel comic, with metahumans fighting heroic battles to save the planet. Miracleman is full of physical and psychological ultraviolence that dramatically demonstrates the disruptive damage that superhero existence can have on the lives of ordinary people. It’s pretty gritty stuff.
7. Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat!
Following the trials and tribulations of Patsy Walker as she tries to balance a normal everyday life with her superhero work, this is a delicious slice-of-life comic that’s arguably not even about superheroes. Sure, there are a lot of characters in tights to be found in Marvel’s New York City, but Patsy is usually seen in her civies hanging out with her flatmate and new best friend Ian.
Brittney L. Williams and Megan Wilson’s art is like a sugary treat for the senses, while Kate Leth’s writing imbues the characters with the unbridled optimism and genuine sense of fun that makes the title such a charmingly irresistible read.
If you love the Marvel universe but are looking for some story arcs with less Earth-shattering implications, Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! provides a nice palette cleanser in the current landscape of superhero comics.
Perhaps this title shouldn’t be on the list, considering the movie rights to it were licensed almost immediately after it was first published. Nevertheless, given that’s still a recently released original title, it’s still flying well under a lot of people’s radar.
The Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen sci-fi series is set in a future where robots have been outlawed following the events of a terrible human/robot war. Tim-21 is a young robot that was originally designed to provide company for children, but is now on the run from humans who hate him simply for existing. It’s a classic tale of man vs machine, but Lemire does an excellent job of finding new philosophical material to examine and explore. Descender is a bleak and beautiful series that’s impossible to stop reading once you start.
5. Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses
A motley crew of wannabes, maniacs, and simpletons collide before splintering off into several different story paths in this brilliant crime comic created by David Lapham.
The latest installment released in 2015 revolves around a callous interloper who manages to rattle a few cages in Baltimore’s criminal underworld by headshotting a major-league mob boss. And it just so happens that the girl he recently started hooking up with is cozy with the dead godfather’s enforcers, including series staples Spanish Scott and Monster. But a lot of the fun of this discrete miniseries is simply seeing how things go from bad to worse with each issue feeling like a wild ride held together by the vile, naive, and thick-headed characters recur throughout the series.
If you’re looking for story that will give you a deep psychological examination of competing criminal minds, you won’t find it here. Stray Bullets is all about horrible people doing terrible things and getting innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.
Though the premise might be a bit strange for an ongoing comic, even one that’s released sporadically, ODY-C’s trippy take on Homer’s ancient Greek epic The Odyssey is a fantastic tale of intergalactic warfare. It’s not only mind-bending, but also gender-bending as the role of Odysseus is now played by a female hero named Odyssia, who are journeying through space on her way home, encountering all sorts of monsters, deities and gorgeously weird sci-fi stuff that looks as though it came from straight from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed version of Dune. Seriously, this comic is mesmerizing. Artist Christian Ward draws on influences from everything from Barbarella and Moebius to Hindu iconography and fetish fashion. While writer Matt Fraction, in a testament to his skill, somehow manages to adhere to the same poetic six-syllable dactylic hexameter that was used in Homer’s original fable.
The first issue of ODY-C came out in 2014 and is reported to be part of a 26 issue series in connection with the number of chapters in The Odyssey. If you’re a fan of sci-fi comics like Saga that take you on an epic adventure to bizarre and uncharted regions of space, you owe to yourself to run out and read this.
3. Paper Girls
Speaking of Saga, the creator of that series, Brian K. Vaughan, is working on another excellent title that hasn’t received nearly as much attention. Paper Girls is about a group of young friends who deliver newspapers in the suburbs of Clevland by day and encounter freakish otherworldly creatures by night. It’s an excellent mashup of everyday teenage life combined with far-out supernatural adventures, and after reading a few issues you start to get the feeling that there’s a surprise waiting for you after every page turn.
Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson’s art also has a unique visual style that layers cool colors with vibrant jolts of orange and yellow that seem to radiate the 80’s tone of the story’s setting. There are very few comic books out there that demonstrate literary and visual harmony as superbly as Paper Girls does.
2. The Vision
Now that the Vision has been featured in both Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, he’s received a major boost in popularity. So much so that Marvel recently decided to give him his own comic book series. In it, the android Avenger creates his own robotic family as a way of fostering meaningful connections in the world he protects. But the Visions’ attempt to live an unobtrusive existence in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. are quickly shattered by a secret act of sudden superhero violence.
This is a pretty far out experience than what you would normally expect to get from a Marvel comic. Tom King’s intense, reflective, and often times unsettling story grips you from the first page and doesn’t let go. While the third-person narration is effectively utilized to build suspense and foreshadow events to come.
The Vision delivers an intriguing take on humanity, superheroism, and life in suburbia while simultaneously providing a disturbing look into one of Marvel’s most unusual and complex characters. It’s truly a thought-provoking comic that’s unlike anything else currently in circulation. And we can’t recommend it highly enough.
1. The Wicked + The Divine
Written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Jamie McKelvie, The Wicked + The Divine follows a young teenage girl named Laura as she interacts with the Pantheon, a group of twelve people who discover that they are reincarnated deities. Knowing this, the Pantheon members acquire pop-star fame and supernatural powers under the arrangement that they will die within two years as part of a 90-year cycle known as the Recurrence.
The series draws a lot of satirical comparisons between celebrity adulation and religious worship, while also providing a charming otherworldly reason for the recycling of pop-star archetypes. It’s easy to get hooked after reading the first few issues and getting introduced to the concept of musical deities. But every new persona you meet just adds to the taletelling provocative feel of the pop/rock opera.
In 2014, The Wicked + The Divine won Best Comic and the British Comic Awards and the next year was nominated for three Eisner Awards, including Best Coloring, Best Cover Artist, and Best New Series.