The Best Comics of 2023

Check out this list of the absolute best comics of 2023, and some of the trends and highlights that could set the tone for 2024.

The Best Comics of 2023
Images of some of the best comics of the year: Tongues, Tenement, Detective Comics, and Bolsaro.

As was true across all literary properties, 2023 was a notable year as our Local Comic Stores. This list includes some of the best that were released across 2023, a mix of continuous stories, miniseries, and graphic novels, and I necessarily had to leave a lot of stellar books off the list. Several only had a single issue released this year and, because of this, feel more like something to watch for next year. Jeff Lemire and James Tynion IV remain towards the top of my creators list, particularly as we continue the horror comics renaissance. 

One trend that was obvious this year was, alongside the growth of horror comics, the one-shot began to dominate. I left these largely off the list this year (except for the single one that accompanies Vacuum Decay), not because they lacked quality but because their brevity doesn’t fit comfortably in the month-to-month model of comics reading. There were certainly stand outs, however, The Devil’s Cut by DSTLRY, but there were also rather unfortunate pivots, such as Archie Horror turning almost entirely to one-shot anthologies instead of the series that gave it a stellar reputation, like Sabrina and Afterlife With Archie. Horror anthologies are an important part of this new landscape, but when you rely on that format you end up with largely funny and ironic tidbits rather than the kind of horror storytelling that builds characters and narrative across time. There were also disappointments this year, such as Jeff Lemire’s Swamp Thing: Green Hell, which failed catastrophically to reach the promise of such a property to a horror book, as we as Earthdivers, which, while not terrible, has not lived up the reputation that author Stephen Graham Jones rightful deservers. This list has more superheroes than are typically on my lists, which is likely a testament to some series’ stepping out of their comfort zones, but no Marvel books were added.

Below are some of the great books for 2023, and stay tuned for a list of new horror comics (which might be turned over to TikTok for the video-minded in the audience). You can also find this list at Goodreads, as well as other reading lists and book recommendations, and you can check out everything I read this year at my Reading Challenge page or my Currently Reading list. The Goodreads list will include even more recommendations from this year that simply couldn’t make it onto this list.

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Image Anthology - Multiple Contributors (Image Comics)

Bringing us back to Image’s classic model of creator driven stories that were intended to break the mold, the Image Anthology was a twelve-issue maxi-series that offered a range of short stories serialized over the life of the series. Some were one-and-done eight page tales, others ran over a few issues, with some spanning all twelve. Some were funny cartooning in the vein of the Sunday Funnies, such as Skottie Young and Nate Piekos “Stupid Fresh Mess.” Others were a well received return of an established series, teasing its return, such as Jeff Lemire’s Royal City, Tim Seekey’s Hack/Slash, and Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips’ Criminal. There were especially great long-running segments, like Geoff Johns’ “The Blizzard,” which are worth the cover price all on their own. But, more than everything, this is classic anthology comics built in a similar mode to the much-missed Dark Horse Presents, something that rewards monthly reading and reminds readers of exactly how diverse creator-driven comics have become. 

Monica - Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)

It’s hard to pin down what is actually happening in Monica, just like it is with most of Clowes tragicomedies: it ostensibly tells the story of Monica, a woman whose life holds a foundational rift formed by the exit of her mother. Really, it's a precariously emotive portrait of a woman piecing together who own unique existence, mixing in hysterical laughter, classic haunting horror, cult weirdness, and, as can be expected from Clowes, and oddball protagonist that becomes more and more familiar as the pages turn. This late-career entry from Clowes is surprising in that it is one of his best, a profound look at the creative endeavor that building a life can become. 

Danger Street - Tom King and Jorge Fornes (DC Black Label)

It’s best to save most of the plot points for Tom King’s twelve-issue Black Label effort, largely revealing anything will uncover its most essential surprises, but suffice it to say Danger Street is a narrative including intertwining stories about the existential and absurdist world of our lesser superheroes. Really built in the model of similar efforts from King like Mister Miracle, The Vision and Strange Adventures, Danger Street takes a certain amount of commitment from the reader as this complicated mess of characters and plotting requires a few issues to come into focus. That is why, now a year down, we have hit perhaps the best moment to read the series in its entirety. Danger Street is exactly the kind of revisionist, adult-oriented re-invention of the DC canon that we lost when Vertigo abandoned its properties to become exclusively creator controlled stories. King seems to remember just what made books like Doom Patrol, Animal Man, and Swamp Thing work so well and he is continuing to mobilize super heroes for their implicit capacity for surreal performance. I am aware I have told you nothing about the book, but, alas, there may be nothing to tell. I just suggest you read it.

Fables - Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham (DC Black Label)

Instead of doing a hard relaunch of framing itself as a miniseries (as the Batman/Fables crossover did), Willingham decided to just pick Fables back up where it left off for another twelve-issue run (issues 151-162), beginning in 2022 but publishing mostly in 2023, leaving off from its extra-sized finale from a few years back. What is most interesting about this Fables incarnation is not the attempts at reinvention, or even to deal with the pandora’s box that was revealed in to the Mundy world in issue #150, but to just do what Fables always did best: tell fables. And in the world of increasing miniseries and dramatic character reinventions, “more of the same” actually read as a profoundly creative act. The series was incredibly successful (and has the sales numbers to prove it), and hopefully we can see Buckingham and Willingham returning again with Fables #163 in the near future. Nothing they write here seems to preclude another comeback.

Blue Book Vol. 1: 1961 - James Tynion IV and Michael Oeming (Dark Horse Comics)

Continuing Tynion’s total reinvention of the horror genre and depending heavily on Oeming’s trademark style (not to mention Oeming’s dramatic coloring), Blue Book is one of the most engrossing titles of the year and, despite not reaching the top charts, has likely created the following necessary to keep further volumes on the shelf. Each miniseries in what will become a repeating series of entries takes different stories from Project Blue Book, the government research files on UFO encounters, and tells the tales as they appear in the records. The sparse prose allows for Oeming’s interpretation to act as a kind of inspired direction, illustrating the dramatic fractures that can be created from just a single forgotten trauma. Each issue also includes a “strange, but true” story at the back worth the cover price themselves and add to the sense of mystery the book is desperately trying to invoke. I will be hungrily waiting for Vol. 2, which is slated to begin in 2024.

Hairball - Mat Kindt, Tyler Jenkins, and Hilary Jenkins (Dark Horse Comics)

This brief, four-issue miniseries presents us with a cat who, despite the apprehensions of its schoolgirl owner, takes retribution on two parents who have no business in raising a child. This leads to a fractured mytho-poetic story where feline divinity comes at a lethal cost. This is pure Kindt, but set into a clearly defined narrative with cat-scratch inflected art by Tyler and Hilary Jenkins. This is an incredibly fun rendition of the mythic horror comic, part of our current horror and mythos renaissance, and it lives up to its horrifying promise. This is not likely to see a sequel, but more in its model would certainly be welcome.

The Department of Truth - James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds (Image Comics)

James Tynion and Martin Simmonds’ masterpiece The Department of Truth remains just as cutting edge now as it did when it started in 2020. The book takes on perhaps the biggest cultural crisis of the 21st century, the fracturing narratives and the split way our world now views basic facts. Existing as a masterclass in creative commentary, its complex and painterly visual style is completely redefining what a comic book can look like and how it can tell a story. And now, four years in, it's surprising to see that, even with its full worldview on the table, it has never failed to keep its audience captivated. Hopefully this ensures that this book experiences a long life, and uses its angle as an opportunity to critique the shifts we have coming with the 2024 election and the dire political situation abroad. 

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Tongues - Anders Nilsen

This year we finally got the final issue of Swedish artist Anders Nilsen’s stunning re-imagining of the myth of Prometheus, taking place across Central Asia and Africa and tapping into intertwining stories of people, soldiers, Gods, and their regrets. Each 48-page issue is oversized and beautifully rendered on premium card stock, sold to Local Comic Shops by the artist himself (or available on his website) and ran from $15-18 a piece with no collected edition. Reading this series was quite an investment, but it ends up as one of the biggest multi-year achievements in independent comics, similar to Jason Lutes’ Berlin. Now that it has been fully released readers have a great chance to read it as one, complete work, even if it will cost you about $100 to do so. 

Detective Comics - Ram V. and Stefano Rafael

Batman may be one of the easiest major superhero characters to inject with a creative re-invention, mostly because of the dark noir and horror elements that are implicit to the mythology, but creators also have a challenge ahead once they acknowledge that it's hard to offer anything new to these characters. That is why Ram V.’s extended “Gotham Nocturne” storyline, told in multiple parts and across the entire year, is such a bold effort. Unlike many of the “Elderworld” or DC Black Label stories that take a genre approach to Batman, V. does so while remaining in the continuity: he brings a horror story not just to these characters, but the entire convoluted DC universe of ongoing plots, crossovers, and relationships. This gothic horror revival owes much to earlier genre pioneers and seems tied to the larger interest in gothic literature of the past two years. While Chip Zdarsky’s Batman is getting all the attention (and is a worthwhile book on its own), Detective Comics often has more leeway for experimentation since it falls lower on the sales numbers. In that way, this is likely the Batman arc that will be most remembered from this year and is establishing V. not just as an important voice in mainstream comics, but a distinct voice.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Graphic Novels

This is a bit of a cheat, but, as has been in the past, there are several fantastic Ed Brubaker collaborative graphic novels that can be seen as one singular, stand-out entry. We did not get any new Criminal, except for the small run we saw in the Image Anthology, or Reckless (or Friday, for that matter) released this year, but we got two unrelated graphic novels from his collaboration with Sean Philips. First, and perhaps most importantly, was the December 13th release of Where the Body Was, a murder mystery that is centered on the complex emotional lives of the people living in the suburban neighborhood where the body of a dead private investigator was found. The style is told sort of as a documentary or from the perspective of a journalist writing about the past, with each character narrating their story from the future, and we are able to meet them in the present and see how their lives, ultimately, panned out. Second was their “mistaken identity” crime thriller, Night Party, a quick-paced crime chase that, while familiar to their work, made good use of its European urban setting and created a particularly empathetic “midlife crisis” story. Both books are worth their (hardcover) cost and help to ensure that their collaborations are becoming a genre all their own.

Saga - Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

How can Saga be this good after so many years? The space opera that brought a whole generation of readers into the comic stores is back and had another six-issue arc that was worth reading issue-to-issue. Now we are seeing Alana as a single mom, raising two children (including one she was compelled to adopt) and struggling to meet even the basic necessities. The story has evolved alongside the aging characters and Vaughn and Staples have been smart enough to allow the story and its themes and subtext to change along with it. Because of this, the new “season” of Saga feels incredibly fresh even though the plot still hinges on our central chase. It will be nice to see how they redirect things in the next arc as we are starting to turn a corner, and the series seems to have no intention of ending anytime soon.

Nightmare Country: The Glass House - James Tynion IV and Lisandro Estherren

The second arc of Nightmare Country, The Glass House, met the high bar established by the first arc, introducing us to a compelling set of new characters and establishing continuity without the earlier storyline without becoming redundant. It has a tie-in with the Thessaly one-shot that adds to the entire universe, and we are starting to see what a shared future for Sandman stories could be. What Tynion is achieving here is to make Nightmare Country a significant horror series in its own right, but also establishes a working relationship with the other books in a fashion that hasn’t been sustainable since Vertigo’s prime in the 1990s. The third arc will be released in 2024 and will hopefully maintain the quality established over the past two years.

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Bone Orchard Mythos: Ten Thousand Black Feathers and Tenament - Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino

We got two miniseries from Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s new shared cosmic mythos, Bone Orchard, which each interact through a shared mythology and underlying cosmological reality. Each picks up the themes established by their earlier partnership in Gideon Falls, but is doing so with a keener eye towards world building. These are two legitimately frightening comics and, while distinct series themselves, feel simply like a new approach to ongoing comics storytelling. The conclusion of Tenement in January is perhaps the first highlight to come in 2024, and this hopefully will see a longer life than Gideon Falls did. 

Poison Ivy - G. Willow Wilson and Marcio Takara

Poison Ivy was a surprise when it launched in 2022 in the remnants of that year’s DC Batman crossover event, and has gone on to be one of the most important and dynamic superhero books on the shelves. Part of its popularity is its striking queer relationships featured in its pages, which go beyond simple orientation and drive deep into the character’s identities and loves, but its radical stand on ecological themes and its commentary on the state of consumer culture is likewise groundbreaking. This is the best major superhero book that was published in 2023, which is not that much of a surprise for anyone who followed Wilson’s historic run on Ms. Marvel

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Vacuum Decay - Ed. Harry Norlinger

As horror anthologies become the current comics de jure, Vacuum Decay has stood out as being perhaps the most significant voice in existential horror. Creator Harry Norlinger has pulled together a book that does what few comics can, it drives at the deepest fears and paranoid delusions of its readers by featuring a slate of indie cartoonists attempting to “overheat” what comics can do. Because of this, the irony, pastiche, exaggeration, neo-realism, and other techniques break down the barriers that exist in the comics medium and that often stop the books from becoming sincerely frightful. Vacuum Decay sticks with you and ensures that you never see the same story twice. It also seems to be built around reading comics as comics rather than simply in collected editions, and while each issue runs $10, because they are released so sparsely they become a prize when they are. I am also going to add Henry Norlinger’s one-shot Night Cruising to this slot since it feels as though it is simply an extended Vacuum Decay story and is a perfect accompaniment to the anthology. Of any book on this list, this is the one to support financially since it depends on readers shelling out the dollars to keep it afloat and ensure its longevity. 

What’s the Furthest Place from Here - Matthew Rosenberg and Tyler Boss (Image Comics)

Matthew Rosenberg and Tyler Boss have created one of the most inventive post-apocalyptic speculative fiction stories in any medium this decade. What’s the Furthest Place from Here grew considerably in its second and third arcs, finding its own voice as time went on. Funny, biting, ironic, strangely terrifying, and uncommonly moving, What’s the Furthest Place from Here shows a world inherited by children and is about to be owned by the adults they become. While it operates mostly from a place of satire, these are largely human stories told through bombastic tribes, replications of our current failing institutions and identities, and with an ever expanding list of plots, characters, and masks. While the book has been (correctly) criticized for its often convoluted storytelling that can be difficult to pin down, 2023 was the year that our suspended logic was really rewarded. It’s also worth noting the experimentation that its publication relied on as well, where there is a Spotify playlist to accompany the series and special editions of each issue were released that included a vinyl record to build the theme of the issue. Try listening to the appropriate song with the issue to help set the tone, a fun technique that leans into the multimedia reality that all literature lives with in 2023.

Batman: City of Madness - Christian Ward (DC Black Label)

Like the current run of Detective Comics, City of Madness is an attempt to draw out the explicit horror elements as a way of highlighting what’s already terrifying in Gotham. What stands out, besides the incredible art and writing by Christian Ward, is that they lean into the underutilized elements of cosmic horror. This Lovecraftian take seamlessly melds the comics universe and past villains, this time the Court of Owls, to use the Batman mythos to reveal the dualities of crime and justice in the cityscape. The series will conclude in January, but remains as a perfect example of what can be possible with Black Label series built outside the continuity. This will, hopefully, be a testament of what’s to come as Black Label furthers its search for an identity.  

Bolero - Wyatt Kennedy and Luana Vecchio (Image Comics)

A stand-out effort in New Queer Comics, the book takes us through a character’s life as it falls apart and she demands to start over. Focused mostly on the personal trials of our protagonist and the changes they go through, the supernatural elements are understated enough to simply provide the vessel for a conversation on transformation and identity. Not much can be said without revealing some of the early surprises in the series, but suffice it to say that it is quite a rabbit hole. 

It's Only Teenage Wasteland - Curt Pires, Jacoby Salcedo and Mark Dale (Dark Horse)

This four-issue miniseries fell off a lot of people’s lists because it came, and went, so early in the year, but its concise storytelling and character sketches made this one of the most enjoyable of 2023. Starting with some middling high school students holding their first big “parents aren’t home” party, it ends with some bullies, a punch, and the end of the world. One of the better apocalypse stories of the past few years and a fun and nostalgic view of high school slackers. 

Dead Boy Detectives - Prosnak Pichetshot, Jeff Stokely, and Craig Taillefer (DC Black Label)

This is the best incarnation the Dead Boy Detectives have ever seen, expanding their appeal to a more “YA” flavor with queer and international mythological overtones. This was likely done with the Netflix show on the way, but they struck a perfect chord for these characters as they investigate another horrifying apparition with the help of a plucky band of deceased spirits. 

Honorable Mentions

There are a few more that didn’t quite make the list that are worth checking out, particularly in collected editions. Miracleman would have made the larger list if it had actually released more issues on the promised schedule, and if those stories did not include long-winded reprintings of early Miracleman stories. It is also worth noting that this was a year of incredible re-issues of older collected editions, with wonderful examples of how to do this right with the Sandman Mystery Theatre and Sleeper omnibus/compendium editions.

  • The Riddler: Year One - Paul Dano and Stevan Subic (DC Black Label)
  • The Cull - Kelly Thomas and Mattia de Iulis (Image Comics)
  • Miracleman: The Silver Age - Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham (Marvel Comics)
  • The Hunger and the Dusk - G. Willow Wilson and Chris Wildgoose (IDW)

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