The Best Non-Superhero, But No Less Fantastical Comics You Need to Read

Whenever people think about comic books, superheroes often come to mind. Comic juggernauts Marvel and DC have long since monopolised the comic market, injecting an endless slew of superheroes into the mainstream, from household names like Iron Man and Superman to their lesser-known, darker counterparts like Moon Knight and Animal Man. It’s hard to look at a movie release schedule without being bombarded with films from Marvel Studios or DC Entertainment, and a visit to any comic store is an invitation to browse through shelf after shelf from both publishers.

But what if you’re a fan of the graphic novel (or trade) format who isn’t into caped crusaders and vigilante justice? Your options may seem few and far between these days, but fear not, this is the list for you. Here are 25 of some of the best comics out there today that you need to read – and no, none of what’s listed below involve capes or really muscular men in tight spandex, though almost all are just as fantastical.

Scott Pilgrim

Published by: Oni Press

Volumes/Issues: 6 volumes (completed)

Head over heels in love with mysterious Amazon delivery girl Ramona Flowers, the titular Scott Pilgrim embarks on an epic quest to win her hand in courtship by defeating all seven of her evil exes – a quest that proves much harder than expected for a broke, down-on-his-luck bassist with next to no redeeming features. Perhaps one of the most beloved comic series to be released in the last decade, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series won the hearts of committed comic book fans and casual readers alike, with its kitschy blend of retro video game aesthetics, plenty of rip-roaring humour, and one of the cutest love stories of all time.

Saga

Published by: Image Comics

Volumes/Issues: 44 issues (ongoing)

The name Saga isn’t to be taken lightly. Created by powerhouse writer Brian K. Vaughan (who has worked on numerous other series and also has writing credits on Lost) and renowned artist Fiona Staples, Saga is a next-level romp through space. Following lovers Alana and Marko, aliens from different races who have long since been at war, the series focuses on their intergalactic exploits as they attempt to raise their newborn daughter Hazel along the way. With ghostly babysitters, a ridiculously cute seal, a planet populated entirely by human heads standing on two legs, and best, the Lying Cat, Saga is never a boring ride, and looks set to remain that way as its epic odyssey across galaxies continues.

Fables

Published by: Vertigo Comics

Volumes/Issues: 150 issues (completed) and 10 spin-off series (ongoing)

What could be a better replacement for superheroes than fairy tales gone wild? Boasting a fictional universe large enough to rival even Marvel and DC, Fables transports your favourite fairy tales from childhood into modern day New York, where the Big Bad Wolf now struggles to survive as a chronically angry, alcoholic private investigator, Cinderella is a secret agent femme fatale, and Snow White is now the mayor of the ragtag band of ‘fables’ that have gathered in the Big Apple. Exiled from their magical hometown by a mysterious, evil force known only as The Adversary, the gang must now fight, con, and/or charm their way through modern life, all while struggling to keep themselves under control. Expect plenty of references to just about every myth or story you were told as a child, complete with frogs jumping over the moon. No, seriously. That happens.

Tank Girl

Published by: Dark Horse Comics / Titan Comics

Volumes/Issues: 3 volumes (completed), 14 spin-off miniseries (completed)

Incepted by writer Alan C. Martin and artist Jamie Hewlett (prior to his rise to fame after founding Gorillaz with Damon Albarn), Tank Girl is the outrageous, bombastic embodiment of ‘90s punk culture in Britain. Drinking, smoking, and fighting her way into oblivion, Rebecca Buck aka Tank Girl lives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland reminiscent of the Mad Max films, where she drives a tank around and conducts dalliances with her anthropomorphic kangaroo boyfriend (who also happens to be a habitual underwear thief). Hewlett’s early, hard-edged black-and-white art is a simple, refreshing break from the carefully-rendered comics of today, and Alan C. Martin is a master of writing ridiculous escapades that never contain a boring moment.

Descender

Published by: Image Comics

Volumes/Issues: 21 issues, ongoing

The hype surrounding Descender was real before the first issue was even published. Several major Hollywood studios were already fighting for the rights to adapt the series into a movie as soon as its synopsis alone was announced in 2014, and as of today, the series is only 21 issues young. Revolving around an android boy struggling to survive in a world where all robots are illegal and bounty hunters roam the universe, the series is a heart-warming space opera greatly complemented by Dustin Nguyen’s brilliant watercolour illustrations. The status of comic books as high art may be considered a controversial topic today, but Descender is high art in itself.

Pantheon

Published by: Nobrow Press

Volumes/Issues: 1 graphic novel

Ever wanted to learn about Ancient Egyptian gods and myths? Fancy a fun, humorous way to learn about ancient history that isn’t in a Rick Riordan novel for once? Hamish Steele’s newest graphic novel has just what you need. The Deadendia comic artist and author has taken his cute, Adventure Time-esque art style to Old Egypt, illustrating the complete story of the Egyptian gods from their creation myths to the end times, with plenty of jokes thrown in for good measure. Not many graphic novels are as entertaining as they are informative, but Pantheon is a more-than-worthy mix of both.

New Romancer

Published by: Vertigo Comics

Volumes/Issues: 6 part miniseries (complete)

Tinder meets modern history in this zany mashup of romance across the ages. After Lexy is fired from her Silicon Valley programming job, she takes up a post coding for New Romancer, an Internet dating website on the brink of failure. But an arcane coding accident brought about by Lexy’s own convoluted family history takes a wrong turn, and Romantic poet Lord Byron returns from the grave to wreak sweet, amorous havoc in Lexy’s life – along with a whole host of other now-undead historical figures. Combining the talent of Tank Girl alumni Peter Milligan (also a veteran Vertigo Comics writer with hundreds of titles under his belt) and artist Brett Parson, New Romancer is guaranteed to charm the pants off any reader (though perhaps not literally).

Injection

Published by: Image Comics

Volumes/Issues: 13 issues (ongoing)

The creative team behind Marvel’s previous, highly acclaimed Moon Knight run, writer Warren Ellis and artist Declan Shalvey, have joined forces once more to create an eldritch techno-thriller far removed from the world of capes and masks. Injection is set in the aftermath of five genius individuals, each with their own very unique set of skills, unleashing a feral artificial intelligence known only as The Injection on the world. Now, it is changing the world beyond recognition; bringing our universe closer and closer to a mysterious otherworldly dimension and the creatures that inhabit it. Split up across Britain, these five individuals must work together once again to clean up the paranormal mess they made all those years ago. Don’t be misled by the premise, though – Injection is more than just a ghost story. Introducing high-octane action sequences and strange new technology into the mix, it is a highly ambitious series that combines the surreal with the futuristic into one thrilling mix.

The Wicked + The Divine

Published by: Image Comics

Volumes/Issues: 28 issues (ongoing), 2 one-shots

If Pantheon‘s reinterpretation of Egyptian mythology isn’t a wide enough scope for you, how about gods from just about every ancient religion out there as main characters instead? The Wicked + The Divine transposes ancient myth and belief into the modern age, reincarnating twelve different deities as pop stars who ascend to the height of fame, only to die within two years. Ardent music fan Laura, who wants nothing more than to be like the gods, is soon dragged into the thick of a divine conspiracy theory that threatens to rip the pantheon apart before their time is up. Author Kieron Gillen (whose credits include the Young Avengers series and the critically-acclaimed Phonogram) and artist Jamie McKelvie (a frequent collaborator with Gillen who has also worked on animated music videos for the likes of CHVRCHES) pull no punches in this explosive series.

Suiciders

Published by: Vertigo Comics

Volumes/Issues: 6 issues (complete), 6-part spinoff (complete)

With its incredibly graphic content and a spot-on depiction of a post-apocalyptic California, Lee Bermejo’s critically-acclaimed Suiciders makes Gladiator look like an episode of Barney. Out of the quake-destroyed ashes of Los Angeles, the independent city of New Angeles has been born, and its poverty-stricken inhabitants resort to watching physically-modified fighters battle for their entertainment. At the top of the food chain is a charismatic but secretive man known only as The Saint; and at the bottom of the food chain, a nameless illegal immigrant to New Angeles is about to make a name for himself in the arena – and he appears to have it in for the man at the very top. Suiciders is blood-soaked action at its very best, with Bermejo’s brilliantly detailed old-school art style set to take you on the ride of your life.

Archie (relaunch)

Published by: Archie Comics

Volumes/Issues: 22 issues (ongoing)

Can’t get enough of Riverdale on Netflix? Need another fix of the lovable ginger miscreant and his friends? Why not read the original Archie comics, now rebooted and re-suited with all new storylines tailor-made for the current generation? The characters may no longer boast big, expressive eyes, and Jughead may not eat as many burgers as he used to in the original, but the all new Archie series is a welcome middle ground between its predecessor’s relentlessly camp façade and Riverdale‘s darker, murder-mystery premise. If you want to read something light-hearted, fun, and chock-full of teen romance drama, look no further.

Sandman

Published by: Vertigo Comics

Volumes/Issues: 75 issues (complete), two spin-off miniseries (complete)

You may know Neil Gaiman best from his Starz-adapted novel, American Gods, but if you’re looking to truly delve into the writer’s work at its strangest and most esoteric, then give Sandman a try. Testament to Sandman’s excellence is its position as the Vertigo flagship series, and its sizeable fanbase (which includes horror fiction mogul Stephen King). Sandman is also possibly the biggest hallmark in Neil Gaiman’s own career – his horror-edged fantasy epic telling the story of Morpheus the Sandman introduced him to the literary mainstream, and set him well on his way to becoming one of the current generation’s best fantasy authors. With dreamlike art from a number of renowned artists and an equally mesmerising storyline about time and change, Sandman is not an experience to be missed.

Snotgirl

Published by: Image Comics

Volumes/Issues: 5 issues (ongoing)

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s other series Scott Pilgrim is also on this list, but Snotgirl tells an altogether different story, and also has fellow friend and artist Leslie Hung sharing the helm this time. The titular character, also known as Lottie Person, is a vain and self-absorbed fashion blogger who suffers from a slew of allergies, is in a love-hate relationship with all her ‘friends’, and is taking her recent breakup from first boyfriend Sunny Day very, very badly. Just as she is about to hit rock bottom, she meets ‘Cool Girl’ Caroline, who sets Lottie’s cold heart on fire and turns her whole life around. But one night, a shocking sequence of events in a club shows that Caroline is not all that she seems, and so begins a romance shrouded in mystery unlike most other series out there today.

The Walking Dead

Published by: Image Comics

Volumes/Issues: 168 issues (ongoing)

Who hasn’t heard of The Walking Dead in this day and age? The series probably needs no introduction – the AMC network’s TV series adaptation has long since received rave reviews (until Season 7’s ratings plummeted, of course) and Telltale Games has even created three seasons and one miniseries of a story-driven video game based on the comic’s premise. Centred around jaded sheriff Rick Grimes, his hat-wearing son Carl, and a whole host of other survivors of the zombie apocalypse, The Walking Dead is already a modern classic in the world of comics, and is a must-read for anyone who is into old-school black-and-white comics. A bit of warning though, it’s far more unforgiving in its unrelenting bleakness than its TV adaptation.

Lucifer (Vol. 2)

Published by: Vertigo Comics

Volumes/Issues: 19 issues (ongoing)

This iteration of the Devil – who first made his debut in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (also mentioned above) – got a full series of his own in 2000 written by author Mike Carey (The Girl with All the Gifts), which you should start with, really. Assuming you had though, his story is relaunched with writer Holly Black (known for children’s fantasy series The Spiderwick Chronicles) and artist Lee Garbett (of Marvel series Loki) on board for Volume 2, of which Richard Kadrey is currently continuing the run. Lucifer is now a snarky, suave businessman in charge of a piano bar, Lux, who he runs with friend and sometimes-lover, the demon Mazikeen. But now God is dead, and Lucifer is (of course) being accused of his murder. Along with fellow fallen angel Gabriel (who lost his wings and heart in Volume 1), the two unlikely allies must set out to clear Lucifer’s name. With a TV series from Fox already on Season 3 and a listing on of IGN’s Top Villains of All Time list, Lucifer really is the devil you know – so go on and read his series!

Unfollow

Published by: Vertigo Comics

Volumes/Issues: 18 issues (completed)

Imagine The Hunger Games brought into our modern world today, but with 140 people instead of 24, and an entire fortune at stake. This is the premise on which Unfollow stands. Larry Ferrell, dying billionaire and founder of social media network Cheeper (yes, that is a sly allusion to Twitter) leaves his fortune to 140 random users chosen from around the world. The 140, among whom include a desperate Iranian journalist on the brink of losing her faith in humanity, a reclusive Japanese writer, a young African-American man struggling to make ends meet, an eccentric Bible-thumper, and an impulsive heiress, are flown to Ferrell’s private island to “celebrate” their new wealth; but are instead thrown into a dangerous game of survival as the chosen ones begin killing to increase their shares of the money. Unfollow boasts a unique, diverse cast of characters, a suspenseful story arc, and brilliant, rugged art by Michael Dowling and R.M. Guera – it’s a series you definitely won’t want to unfollow once you start reading.

Preacher

Published by: Vertigo Comics

Volumes/Issues: 66 issues (completed), 5 specials and 1 miniseries (completed)

Yet another comic series with its own high-octane TV series, Preacher was brought to you by the great Garth Ennis (writer) and the late Steve Dillon (artist) in the mid ‘90s, and as its ratings on AMC have shown, is still a much beloved franchise today. The comics revolve around reverend (and ex-con) Jesse Custer, who preaches his sermons to the ungrateful and ignorant inhabitants of Annville, a dead-end Texas town. His life seems pointless up until his sudden possession by Genesis, the offspring of an angel and a demon who is made of both pure good and pure evil. Torn between polar mindsets, Jesse begins an epic journey across the United States on a quest to find God, accompanied by his criminal ex-girlfriend Tulip O’Hare and alcoholic Irish vampire Cassidy. With all sorts of characters involved – from a shady organisation protecting a sacred bloodline, to a disfigured suicide-attempt survivor named Arseface, to a soon-to-be literal dickhead of an arcane organisation – Preacher is equal parts funny and frightening, and entirely not to be missed.

Extremity

Published by: Skybound Entertainment

Volumes/Issues: 5 issues (ongoing)

Described as a comic where “Studio Ghibli meets Mad Max,” Extremity is set in a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland where monsters are rife on land, and humans have taken to the skies in scrap metal flight machines. Protagonist Thea lives on the ground in a tribe of scavengers, and enjoys drawing above all else – a peaceful hobby in a land of violence. But her ability to draw is brutally wrenched from her when a rival tribe descends upon her home to assert dominance over them, and a desire for revenge drives her to set out on a quest to destroy those who ruined her tribe; proving herself to her warrior father Jerome. Extremity boasts remarkably complex characters, and heart-wrenchingly blurs the line between good and evil, all while melding monsters, magic, and machinery into one breathtaking universe.

Animosity

Published by: Aftershock Comics

Volumes/Issues: 7 issues (ongoing), one one-shot

There are roughly 20 quintillion animals on this earth at the moment, and only 7 billion humans. When the animals gain human intelligence and start taking revenge on the race that have oppressed them for so long, there is, of course, only endless carnage. Animosity tells the story of a domesticated dog, Sandor, who is hell-bent on protecting his young owner Jesse as they embark on a perilous road-trip from New York to San Francisco to find the only person who can protect her. It’s man versus beast – and even beast versus beast occasionally – as the animals start to talk, minus the saccharine happiness that you’ll find in every Pixar movie about anthropomorphised anything. With huge doses of both heart-wrenching and hilarious scenes – including a panda murder-suicide and two sparrows getting a divorce – Animosity subverts child’s play until it’s all grown up, but hardly boring.

The Unwritten

Published by: Vertigo Comics

Volumes/Issues: 54 issues (completed), 1 spin-off (completed)

Strangely enough, the Harry Potter series never got a graphic novel adaptation (though Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic might as well be Rowling’s inspiration), but The Unwritten could serve as an even better alternative. Tom Taylor, the abandoned son of disappeared author Wilson Taylor, is living it up in the limelight as the man who served as inspiration for the protagonist of a smash hit fantasy series, fictional boy wizard Tommy Taylor. But fiction soon blurs into messy reality as certain revelations leave Tom doubting his own identity, while mysterious happenings taken straight from the Tommy Taylor books whisk him all over the map of famous literary geography. Author Mike Carey cleverly explores the relationship between fiction and the human psyche, accompanied by beautifully stylised art from Peter Gross and covers by Yuko Shimizu. Get ready to be swept away by concepts both familiar and new – if you’re a fan of classic novels as well, this is the series for you.

Y: The Last Man

Published by: Vertigo Comics

Volumes/Issues: 60 issues (completed)

Another post-apocalyptic gem from Vertigo, Y: The Last Man is one of the more critically popular, albeit lesser-known series out there today (although that may be set to change, with an FX TV series adaptation in the works). In an alternate 2002, every living mammal on earth with a Y chromosome mysteriously dies, save for Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand. With humanity now doomed to extinction, Yorick himself seems to be the key to redeeming the human race, but certain parts of an increasingly militant female society is also out to capture him, each for reasons of their own. An international caper thriller with science, seduction, and subterfuge involved, this masterpiece from Brian K. Vaughan (who also wrote Saga, above) is a title that you can’t skip out on adding to your collection.

Deadly Class

Published by: Image Comics

Volumes/Issues: 28 issues (ongoing)

1987 was a tough time for America, and it is an especially tough time for protagonist Marcus Lopez. Homeless, starving, and destitute after his parents’ sudden deaths, he is saved from his own suicide when he is recruited into an academy for the world’s top assassins by Saya, a teenage member of the yakuza with a double-digit body count. The unknown dark horse in a school hierarchy where every student is a criminal’s heir, Marcus goes out of the frying pan and into the fire as he is forced to come to terms with his dark past, and his equally uncertain future as a ruthless killer. From author Rick Remender (who wrote the equally brutal graphic novel, The Last Days of American Crime), and with Wes Craig’s dynamic art keeping the action going, Deadly Class is a most atypical high school drama for those who like their body counts keeping up with the page numbers as they go by.

The Once and Future Queen

Published by: Dark Horse Comics

Volumes/Issues: 1 volume (cancelled)

The Once And Future Queen prematurely met its unjust end in April earlier this year, when its creators announced that issues 3 to 5 would no longer be published as individual comics – the full trade paperback collecting issues 1 to 5 will be released in November, but that will also be the end of the series. We still think it belongs on this list though, and we’ll be sorry to see it go at the end of the year. When protagonist Rani Arturus, a nineteen-year-old chess prodigy, pulls Excalibur from the stone, she becomes the new Queen of Camelot, and enters the legendary world from the Arthurian tales themselves. With an ethnically diverse cast, and plenty of beloved myths and legends (including the famous court wizard, Merlin), The Once And Future Queen is a kingly story re-hashed for the twenty-first century, in all its glory.

Blue Monday

Published by: Image Comics

Volumes/Issues: 2 volumes (completed)

While set in the ‘90s in America, Blue Monday will appeal to just about anyone who’s ever been at school in any decade or country. Bleu L. Finnegan is obsessed with all things Britpop, and her dreams involve dancing with Paul Weller, the members of Blur, and her ultimate crush, Adam Ant, But real life is hardly as glamorous for Bleu – she’s just another misfit stuck in high school with no boyfriend, and three equally strange kids as friends. Chynna Clugston Flores’ lovable blue-haired rascal, rendered in vibrant colours and an anime-influenced art style, has gained the series legions of adoring fans, including fellow comic author Kieron Gillen who claims the series is “printed on the back of his eyeballs.” Blue Monday is the perfect miniseries for anyone in search of a sweet slice-of-life read, and a healthy dash of nostalgia to go with it.

It’s A Bird…

Published by: Vertigo Comics

Volumes/Issues: 1 graphic novel

Last but not least – and veering dangerously close to breaking the “no superheroes” rule – comes an autobiography from Steven T. Seagle, one of the more prominent American comic book writers responsible for crafting some of Superman’s best story arcs. Seagle was put in charge of writing about an invincible man, when he himself felt nothing less than vulnerable, due to the presence of Huntington’s Disease in his family medical history and his ever-growing fear of death. This graphic novel won artist Teddy Kristiansen an Eisner Award, and has been hailed as wry, genius, and a remarkable feat of genre-bending. It’s A Bird… is a tender, close look at how change and acceptance, especially of one’s own mortality, is painful but nonetheless important. It is also a chronicle of the creators behind one of the most popular characters on Earth, and the struggle that sometimes goes unseen behind the veil of a work of art.

Hankering for more artistic content? Head to our Design section for more.