The Top 20 Comics of 2016

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on December 30, 2016 in 2 parts.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: 2016 was a great year for comics. It seemed that no matter where you looked, at any variety of publishers, genres, or creators, everyone was seeking to top themselves and one another. Looking at what was released throughout the world of comics in 2016, it’s nothing short of an embarrassment of riches.

Now comes the difficult take of narrowing it down and selecting the absolute best of the best to recommend to readers looking to catch up. Just like in 2014 and 2015, comics critic Chase Magnett has selected the 20 best comics of 2016. This list pulls from mainstream fare, manga, indie publishing, and everything in between. It’s a diverse compilation of all that the comics medium has to offer. We hope you enjoy it and find a few more great reads to end this year with.

So without any further ado, here are our selections for 2016:

20-best-comics-mooncop

  1. Mooncop

Created by Tom Gauld

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Mooncop’s simple aesthetic belies its complex themes. This quiet comic turns the charming narrative of the last cop on the moon, patrolling an almost deserted colony, into a study on the nature of work and solitude. Long vistas shaded with cool blues and grays make the cartooning a delight to behold, but the greatest moments come in the small human interactions. Uncomfortable goodbyes, conversations with machines, and a well-earned moment of shared silence provide plenty to reflect on during the cold, dark winter.

19-best-comics-black-widow

  1. Black Widow

Created by Chris Samnee (writer/artist), Mark Waid (writer), and Matthew Wilson (colorist)

Published by Marvel Comics

Samnee and Waid became a revered collaborative quantity in comics for their run on Daredevil, but have somehow still managed to up the ante in Black Widow. Each issue shows the pair pushing the nature of their superhero-spy mashup in new directions with a debut that declared a focus on the most difficult aspects of superhero comics. Non-verbal communication, chases, and quick observations are all central to this thrilling adventure filled with intrigue and history. Although it’s often just as thrilling to see what Samnee accomplishes on each page as it is to observe Natasha’s own story.

18-best-comics-southern-bastards

  1. Southern Bastards

Created by Jason Aaron (writer) and Jason Latour (artist)

Published by Image Comics

In spite of some bumps in the schedule, Southern Bastards remains one of the most impressive serialized comics coming out today. This year saw the story continue to grow both the setting and characters of Craw County. It became a truly ensemble narrative, one defined by a central aesthetic. Jason Latour’s art is as brash and brutal as ever, with a color scheme that defines the animalistic nature of this world. Southern Bastards is as potent of a commentary on small town America and the flaws that twist it into something to be feared.

17-best-comics-ad-after-death

  1. A.D.: After Death

Created by Scott Snyder (writer) and Jeff Lemire (artist)

Published by Image Comics

While both Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire are well-respected creators in comics, their collaboration on A.D. showed how much further they could still push themselves and one another. Experimenting with form and style, both artists are revealing unseen qualities of their work and ambitions only hinted at in previous stories. At two-thirds complete this comic is truly something beautiful to behold with watercolors and design that support the reveries inside. In spite of its globe-spanning high concept, A.D. is a deeply human narrative and its quest into a single man’s soul makes it something more than just interesting.

16-best-comics-ghosts

  1. Ghosts

Created by Raina Telgemeier

Published by Scholastic Inc.

Raina Telgemeier’s popularity is not based purely on her seemingly effortless cartooning and keen eye for layouts, but in how she manages to present complex subject matter to an all-ages audience. Ghosts contains fantastica elements, but where it really soars is in address chronic illness and the inevitability of death from an adolescent perspective. The comic portrays conflicts between perceived and real issues in a manner that is striking even as an adult reader, and will likely leave most with tears in their eyes. We’ve spent too long declaring comics aren’t for kids; Ghosts most certainly is and what it accomplishes is not diminished by that at all.

15-best-comics-ruble

  1. Rumble

Created by John Arcudi (writer), James Harren (artist), and Dave Stewart (colorist)

Published by Image Comics

Rumble has remained one of the most consistent Image comics on the stands since it debuted at the end of 2014. Its aesthetic is a perfectly potent blend of kineticism, peculiarity, and unexpected pathos that forms an absolute roller coaster of a comic. In the course of only a few pages it delivers tremendous monster designs, some of the best action in American comics, and a romance with real human warmth. There’s no doubt that Rumble is one of the most overlooked comics on the scene today, and that’s a real tragedy.

14-best-comics-assassination-classroom

  1. Assassination Classroom

Created by Yūsei Matsui

Published by VIZ Media

As Assassination Classroom rolled past its midway point in English translations this year, it became clear this series would be considered a modern classic. Matsui’s comic has always been an incredible thrill ride packed with plots, plans, and pitfalls that come as quickly as the turns on a roller coaster. What has really set it apart is the often not-so-subtle commentary on classist divides and pre-judgement of students. It’s a set of themes and ideas that have bridged the cultural divide to strike home both in Japan and America.

13-best-comics-prophet-earth-war

  1. Prophet: Earth War

Created by Brandon Graham (writer), Simon Roy (writer/artist), Giannis Milonogiannis (artist), Grim Wilkins (artist), Joseph Bergin (colorist), and Lin Visel (colorist)

Published by Image Comics

From its very first issue the revitalization of Rob Liefeld’s Prophet character was defined by its ambition. It took place in a universe as detailed and well-realized as Frank Herbert’s Dune. This year saw the story come to a close with a six-issue mini-series that was every bit as good as the build to it. Each character received a proper, if often quick, apotheosis and the grandiose nature of the narrative itself led to places so bizarre they could only be contained on a comics page. Behold this work and one of the greatest collaborative efforts in comics of this decade.

12-best-comics-tetris

  1. Tetris: The Games People Play

Created by Box Brown

Published by First Second

Box Brown’s second history, following 2014’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, examines a less linear and much broader subject, and is rewarded for that ambition. Starting with a brief definition and history of gaming, Brown weaves a web of real life characters whose messy combined story provides a fascinating window into the 20th Century. It’s a tale of Cold War politics, love of art, and capitalism that reveals nothing is ever simply just a game.

11-best-comics-big-kids

  1. Big Kids

Created by Michael DeForge

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

DeForge outdoes himself in one of his longest comics narratives to date. The combination of his unique visual aesthetic and an extended visual metaphor regarding maturity and growth provides the perfect entry point to his comics oeuvre. Big Kids is the sort of story that sticks with you, growing and branching the more it is considered. As both a statement of artistic intent and memoir-like narrative it succeeds in ways that will continue to surprise long after the cover is closed.

10-best-comics-hot-dog-taste-test

  1. Hot Dog Taste Test

Created by Lisa Hanawalt

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Lisa Hanawalt’s brief visual essays, observations, and gags come together in a volume that provides ample laughter between brief moments of idiosyncratic insight. The use of food as a shared societal connective tissue takes turn in appetizing and horrifying based on the feeling of any given page. Hot Dog Taste Test reads like stream of consciousness cartooning, offering unexpected insight into a stranger’s mind and making our own thoughts seem a little more normal in their strangeness.

9-best-comics-saga

  1. Saga

Created by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)

Published by Image Comics

Saga is a mainstay in discussions of quality comics for a good reason. The craft of Vaughan and Staples as a collaborative team is almost without peer and they deliver the same high standard of quality together even after 40 issues. What keeps Saga relevant though is the combination of timeless themes of family with the observation and specifically crafted metaphors for modern fears. In addressing refugee crises and imprisonment within their own universe, this pair has ensured Saga will remain relevant even as its characters have become familiar in every comics-loving household.

8-best-comics-a-girl-on-the-shore

  1. A Girl On The Shore

Created by Inio Asano

Published by Vertical Comics

Sexual maturation in adolescence is a difficult subject to tackle in any form, but especially comics. That makes Inio Asano’s accomplishments in A Girl On The Shore all the more impressive. His typically stunning attention to detail helps craft a delicate and precise portrait of two teenagers and their complex internal lives in a relationship where so much often remains unspoken. It is a well-observed and perfectly realistic depiction of the unique humanity that lies within all of us, no matter our age or experiences.

7-best-comics-rolling-blackouts

  1. Rolling Blackouts

Created by Sarah Glidden

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Questions surrounding the nature of journalism are more important than ever today, and one of the best explorations of this complex subject has arrived in comics form. Glidden’s account of travels to the Middle East with several other journalists provide both insight into modern conflicts and the struggles faced in reporting on them. It is the rare sort of modern story that will prove to be timeless, as the depictions on the page and philosophical issues raised will remain poignant for decades after these moments have passed.

6-best-comics-copra

  1. COPRA

Created by Michel Fiffe

Published by Bergen Street Press

In a year where everyone wanted to talk about the decades old property of Suicide Squad, COPRA continued to impress by pushing into new territory. Within the pages of Michel Fiffe’s ongoing opus the exploration of aesthetic, action storytelling, and peculiar worlds was as unique as ever. Yet within the special 25th issue and spinoff series COPRA Versus, he devised new ways to compose pages and relate stories. The beauty of COPRA continues to be a celebration of invention, taking inspiration and transforming it into something previously unimagined.

5-best-comics-demon

  1. Demon

Created by Jason Shiga

Published by First Second

Demon reached its conclusion online and found a second life in the first of four planned volumes at First Second. Whether you’re finishing or starting the story in 2016, it’s a clear testament to exacting and thorough genius of Jason Shiga. Taking the stories incredibly twisted and darkly humorous premise (one best left unspoiled), Shiga carefully walks through the implications and strategies of his central character. Demon is a comic that will gross you out, make you laugh, and surprise you with its intelligence, often in the same panel.

4-best-comics-the-vision

  1. The Vision

Created by Tom King (Writer), Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Artist), Michael Walsh (Artist), and Jordie Bellaire (Colorist)

Published by Marvel Comics

Tom King’s “Trilogy of Good Intentions” was a highlight for 2016, but The Vision stands out from the rest for its incredible combination of superhero genre elements and the quiet suburban tragedy of a Jonathan Franzen story. Each issue built a complete family along with a sense of mounting dread. Now complete and taken as a whole it stands as a novelistic examination upon questions of life, happiness, and the ability to change. Utilizing both Shakespeare and Spider-Man, King and Walta crafted a story that is greater than the many and varied pieces that make up its whole.

3-best-comics-the-art-of-charlie-chan-hock-chye

  1. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

Created by Sonny Liew

Published by Pantheon Graphic Novels

It’s rare that a work as complete and densely layered as The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye come along in any medium. The formalistic leanings, layers of art history, actual historical foundations, and broader philosophical questions all lend themselves to a construct as thoroughly crafted and endlessly examinable as Watchmen. Sonny Liew’s comic is a testament to the potential of the comics form and will surely be studied and taught in English and art classes alike for its incredible accomplishments.

2-best-comics-march-book-three

  1. March: Book Three

Created by Rep. John Lewis (writer), Andrew Aydin (writer), and Nate Powell (artist)

Published by Top Shelf Productions

The climax of this historical narrative manages to exceed the expectations of the previous two installments in the trilogy both narratively and artistically. The largest of the three volumes by far, March: Book Three not only examines the historical narrative of the Civil Rights Movement, but the inevitable cracks and flaws that form within any good cause. It speaks to both the long arc of the moral universe towards justice while acknowledging the slow and steady march required to reach that point. March is not just a commentary on history, but a vital affirmation and reminder to continue fighting for justice today.

1-best-comics-goodnight-punpun

  1. Goodnight Punpun

Created by Inio Asano

Published by VIZ Media

Inio Asano has been an undeniable force within manga for some years and in 2016 he truly arrived on the American comics scene. In addition to A Girl On The Shore, this year also saw the first official translations of Asano’s magnum opus Goodnight Punpun. It is a story of growing up and how we arrive at the answers of who we are and how we define ourselves. Asano challenges himself and readers by juxtaposing the cartoonish Punpun against his perfectly constructed depictions of Japanese settings and people. The combination of these two styles create a statement that is incredibly potent as metaphor and aesthetic statement. It is a work that manages to be intensely personal and surprisingly universal. For all of these reasons and more, Goodnight Punpun stands out as a truly singular artistic achievement, one that already belongs in the comics canon.

_________________________________________________________________

A Brief Note on Accreditation: Many of the comics on this list are a collaborative effort featuring the work of writers, pencillers, inkers, colorists, letterers, designers, and many others. Rather than feature a comprehensive list of all creators involved in the creation of each comic, I have opted to include only the names of the artists, writers, and colorists most associated with the work. Roles are denoted in parentheses as specified in the work. This is not meant to demean the work of the others involved. It is a decision made due to concern for space.

 

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About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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