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Best Comics of 2021
Credit: Illustration by EW

2021 may not have been the comeback from COVID-19 we were all hoping for when the vaccines first arrived back in spring, but at least the comics industry got up and running again. This year brought many surprising new comics, as well as long-awaited conclusions to longer epics.

Below, listed alphabetically, check out EW's picks for the 10 best comics of 2021. If you're surprised to see Far Sector and Strange Adventures missing, that's because we covered them on last year's list (and you can read interviews with the creators here and here).

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The 10 best comics of 2021
Credit: Vault Comics

Barbaric (Vault)

Michael Moreci (writer), Nathan Gooden (artist), Addison Duke (colorist)

Violent fantasy is a classic comic book genre; just ask Conan the Barbarian. To make a new mark on that storied history, you'll need an inventive hook — and the Barbaric creators did just that. Their protagonist, Owen the Barbarian, is as battle-hardened as any pulp warrior…too bad he's been cursed to only do good. Further complicating Owen's life is his axe, which not only talks but also thirsts for blood and literally gets drunk on it. These are already rich ingredients for a rip-roaring fantasy story, but add in some witches and you'll see how Barbaric took only three issues to establish itself as a first-rate comic.

May Comics
Credit: Fantagraphics

Chartwell Manor (Fantagraphics)

Glenn Head (writer/artist)

A bundle of Christmas cheer this comic is not. But to paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, every unhappy family has its own story, and this one is very much worth reading. Chartwell Manor is writer/artist Glenn Head's memoir of the two years he spent at a New Jersey private school for boys in the 1970s that was run by a serial physical and sexual harasser, and the many years afterward he spent trying to make sense of his experience (including his parents' role in sending him there). Illustrated in the underground comic style that Head has perfected for years, and its vivid depictions of drug trips and sexual experiences are as entertaining as they are sobering. Chartwell Manor is a staggering work about reckoning with the truth of your past and learning to live with it. That's no easy task, but as Head told EW years ago about his previous comic memoir Chicago, "there's a genuine catharsis that happens when working with material that is, in many ways, traumatic."

The best comics of August 2021
Credit: Fantagraphics

Crisis Zone (Fantagraphics)

Simon Hanselmann (writer/artist)

Originally published on Instagram in day-by-day installments throughout 2020, Crisis Zone is writer/artist Simon Hanselmann's chronicle of his monster characters (including the witch Megg, her cat boyfriend Moog, their uptight friend Owl, the unstoppably horny Werewolf Jones, and more) surviving the maddening twists and turns of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here you will find references to everything from last spring's Animal Crossing craze to last summer's urban protests, but a Saturday Night Live cold open this is not: Owl, Jones, and the rest take these ripped-from-the-headlines scenarios and interact with them in the wildest ways imaginable (which probably makes this a good time to emphasize that Crisis Zone is definitely intended for mature readers). Though it probably won't remind readers of their own experiences, it's definitely a great transport to the way last year felt.

The 10 best comics of 2021
Credit: Image Comics

The Department of Truth (Image)

James Tynion IV (writer), Martin Simmonds (artist), Elsa Charretier & Tyler Boss (guest artists)

Conspiracy theories abound these days. The brilliance of The Department of Truth comes from its acknowledgement that any conspiracy can essentially become real if enough people believe in it, and its framework (in the form of the titular government agency tasked with relegating this process) that allows creators James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds to address each of the most prominent theories in a thought-provoking way.

After starting off the series last year with classics like Flat Earth and the JFK assassination, The Department of Truth hit a new peak this year with its two-issue sequence about Bigfoot. Told mostly in the form of letters from an old Bigfoot hunter to his estranged son, these issues found The Department of Truth mixing heart-rending human emotion with its big-brained ideas about the nature of subjective reality. Some conspiracies are urgent reminders to ask who benefits from spreading nonsense, but others are testaments to the beautiful, unknowable mysteries of the world. 

May Comics
Credit: Image Comics

The Good Asian (Image)

Pornsak Pichetshote (writer), Lee Loughridge (artist), Alexandre Tefenkgi (artists)

Immigration is a perpetual topic of debate in U.S. politics, but The Good Asian is set during the time of America's very first immigrant ban: The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and its 1924 follow-up the Johnson-Reed Act. Protagonist Edison Hark is a rare Chinese cop in San Francisco's Chinatown, who uses his position of privilege (having been adopted by a rich white oilman at a young age) and his hard-earned cynicism to investigate a strange new series of gang killings that might very well point to the truth of his own mother's death so many years ago. There are, as you might expect, powerful resonances with Chinatown and other classic noir films, but The Good Asian mixes its many influences with its very modern stakes to create a unique brew.

The 10 best comics of 2021
Credit: Marvel Comics

Hellions (Marvel)

Zeb Wells (writer), Stephen Segovia (artist), Ze Carlos (artist), Roge Antonio (artist)

In case you still haven't heard, Marvel's X-Men comics have been enjoying a new golden age since writer Jonathan Hickman reinvented their status quo with 2019's House of X, which introduced the new mutant island utopia of Krakoa. Of all the X-comics that have flourished since then, the most compelling was definitely Hellions, which assembled the weirdest, most misfit mutants (such as the emotional manipulator Empath and the bizarre duo of Nanny and Orphanmaker) and tried to find a place for them in paradise. From team leader Mr. Sinister's constant backstabbing to Psylocke's psychic swordplay, Hellions delivered one entertaining story after another until this month's 18th and final issue, which managed to wrap up all of its plot threads and put a cathartic capper on its various characters' quests for redemption.

The 10 best comics of 2021
Credit: Marvel Comics

Immortal Hulk (Marvel)

Al Ewing (writer), Joe Bennett (artist)

It's always hard to stick the landing, but Immortal Hulk managed to bring its three-year, 50-issue run to a satisfying conclusion. Undoubtedly the most creatively dynamic superhero comic of the past several years, Immortal Hulk delved into body horror, religious fantasy, and even anti-capitalist politics over the course of its epic saga. The super-sized final issue delivered on one of the series' most thought-provoking questions ("does God have a Hulk?") but was also remarkable for its focus on forgiveness as the best response to evil, rather than endlessly smashing everything. This is a new landmark of the superhero comic format (not least because a Disney adaptation is absolutely unthinkable) and will deserve returning to again and again in the years to come.

March Comics
Credit: Oni Press

Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters (Oni Press)

Laura Samnee (writer), Chris Samnee (writer/artist), Matt D. Wilson (colorist)

Comics are a visual medium first, and Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters wants to remind us of that. The world-building in this series from the husband/wife team of Chris and Laura Samnee is relatively simple: Sisters Jonna and Rainbow are just trying to survive in a world plagued by giant monsters. Jonna, luckily, is blessed with superhuman strength, and is herself capable of taking down these behemoths with only a well-placed punch or two. It is in those breathtaking moments, when the sparse dialogue drops away for a gigantic wordless image of Jonna leaping across an abyss to save her sister or sock a kaiju in the face, that Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters reminds us what comic art is capable of.

The 10 best comics of 2021
Credit: BOOM! Studios

The Many Deaths of Laila Starr (Boom! Studios)

Ram V (writer), Filipe Andrade (artist)

What is death, anyway? Is it a tragic accident, an annoying inconvenience, or the guaranteed finale that makes life worth living in the first place? The Many Deaths of Laila Starr tackles these questions by making Death its main character and then forcing her to experience it herself, over and over. In the opening pages, Death is called into her boss' office and told that she's out of a job now that humans are on the brink of discovering the secret to immortality (even Hindu gods have to deal with bureaucracy and downsizing, it seems). Put into the body of a human named Laila Starr, Death sets out to find the man who will make her obsolete. But every issue ends with her own death (as in Daytripper, one of the last decade's best comics) only for her to resurrect some years later. Imbued with a fantastic premise, heady ideas, and absorbing art, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr will leave readers thinking about what it really means to be alive.

The 10 best comics of 2021
Credit: DC Comics

Nightwing (DC Comics)

Tom Taylor (writer), Bruno Redondo (artist), Adriano Lucas (colorist)

Batman's ubiquity in pop culture has led several people to ask over the years: Might Bruce Wayne's fortune be better spent funding social programs for Gotham City's poor, rather than beating criminals bloody? When Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo took over DC's ongoing Nightwing comic this year, they decided to try answering this question — using Bruce's original protege as their vehicle. Endowed with a new fortune following Alfred Pennyworth's tragic death in Tom King's Batman run, Dick Grayson decides to try making Blüdhaven (Gotham's even more crime-infested neighbor) a better place. But don't worry: In addition to putting his money where his mouth is, Dick is still fighting crime using his trusty escrima sticks. Redondo's kinetic art is a perfect match for this acrobatic hero's joyful movement, as proven in this month's issue #87 — a whole story told as one flowing image as Nightwing traverses the city looking for his missing dog.

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