Comics is a good encompassing term for graphic novels, cartoon comics and manga comics. These remove the descriptive text of books and replaces it with artwork. There are some really good strengths and interesting reads here, although I generally do not read long serials or much superhero based work, thus the list might be a bit limited.
These need better category headings I think, I’ll have to think how best to format it all so you can easily find ones I really, really like, although I’d recommend all of these if you enjoy the topics they cover.
Comics which are story led, thus you need to read the noted archives before leaping in, which can be a barrier – or a worthwhile use of an afternoon!
- Girl Genius by Phil & Kaja Foglio is a steampunk completely-over-the-top adventure story. It makes each update worth reading by packing in jokes per-page (at 3 a week), and has a fun set of characters and a interesting story to tell. I’ve brought most of the volumes too – there are multiple story arcs as it were, and they’re a joy to read. In any case, you can never go wrong with MAD SCIENCE! Start reading here!
- Lackadaisy by Tracy J. Butler is an anthropomorphic cat serial set in prohibition-era America, centred around those working in a Lackadaisy – an underground (obviously illegal) liqueur parlour. Infrequently updates (although the first arc is complete) but I love the art style and expressions on the characters and it is just really fun to read – even if it can tend to clash sometimes where it is comedic characters in a really tough world where guns kill and thugs beat up. Start reading here!
- The Order of the Stick by Rich Burlew charts the progression of a adventuring party in a literal RPG world. From the outset of Dungeons and Dragons jokes it’s made me laugh. The long running story is interesting (and more so by the way the protagonists don’t always win), especially personifying some real evil well. The art style is crisp and simple which helps emphasise the setting well since I’ve still no idea if it is a DM-run adventure game (ala Darths and Droids/DM of the Rings), or just set in a fantasy world where RPG rules govern the mechanics (although it tends to this latter, the amount of out of character points makes you wonder…). Still that matters little when the series progresses through a long story so well and the jokes are funny. The books are good as well, including the prequels. Start reading here!
- The Adventures of Dr McNinja by Christopher Hastings is a comic of pure awesome. Ninjas, Pirates, Dinosaurs, Ghosts, Mexicans, Vampires, and lots of very comedic action. It is also well worth reading since it is generally very funny since it is so absurd. Makes a lot more sense from the beginning (after the first two volumes, reading the original story is also fun).
- FreakAngels by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield is a interesting 4-panel graphic-novel based story, set in post-apocalyptic London where the psychics who caused the apocalypse have to deal with things going on after the event, although it is seemingly leading somewhere interesting and does explain more backstory as it goes on. It also helps that 6 pages are done each week, and so pages by themselves do not need to make sense individually. Start reading from the beginning else it’ll make next to no sense.
- Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo really is a seminal work of art, with a tight action-packed plot revolving around psychics, corruption, power and apocalypses. My post has more details on what it contains, but rest assured it is damn good stuff.
Comics which post non-serial work. You’d not have to read the archives here.
- The Perry Bible Fellowship by Nicholas Gurewitch is a now-very-rarely-updated site (I’ve brought the book which contained everything up to this year, which was a great purchase), but very well worth the read of all the archives (start here). Glorious artwork with quality comedy parodying not just other comics but all sorts of weird things. It is in usually-3-panel newspaper form, but prepare to be surprised 🙂
- Trick Bearing Kibble by Jeremy Kramer & Eric Vaughn is, like The Perry Bible Fellowship, infrequently updated now but is host to a great set of archives. Also like TPBF, it also does good artwork with weird situations or jokes, turning certain assumptions entirely around and making the most out of artwork over words. You can start reading here.
- Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson is an amazing set of timeless comic strips about a boy and his pet tiger (or is it a toy tiger? 😉 ). I love how it could appeal equally to the young and old – and certainly the jokes and philosophising and so forth are very funny, with some great artwork and very imaginative strips that don’t dumb down at all. There is a daily strip available, but I’d highly recommend the complete collection book which I brought, simply because all of them are worth reading and no new strips are being made.
- Penny Arcade by Mike Krahulik (persona; John “Gabe” Gabriel) and Jerry Holkins (persona; Tycho Brahe) nowadays post some good commentary on videogame topics, such as Activision, but also just post general thoughts on games, and other random stuff too. Additionally the blog, especially Jerry’s posts, are insightful and topical and link some of the discussion to the comics they do.
- XKCD by Randall Munroe is a rather geeky webcomic. Apart from some varying good-to-bad humorous comics and thoughts usually on typical geek sterotypes and topics, there’s a great amount of fun fact style comics and stranger activities the author Randall created too. Also, mouse over comics for neat little bonus bits of text which are sometimes more interesting then the comic, and many are very quotable 🙂
- Cyanide & Happiness interestingly is done by four authors; Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Matt Melvin and Dave McElfatrick. Full of dead baby comedy (sometimes quite literally), it is pretty much full of terrible groan-worthy jokes, although a lot of funny comics too, with an inventive snap that is otherwise sometimes hard to find. They also do a great deal of fourth-wall breaking, inventively so at times given the limitations given. They’ve also done some flash animations too in the same style which are fun too.
- minus by Ryan Armand is a brilliantly inventive series of amazing painted comics in large format – unique in itself. Following a fantasy world where the lead character, minus, can change reality at will, it really is a fun foray into going away from punchline comics or story-led things into fantastic imaginary places. A must read!
- Dilbert by Scott Adams still makes me chuckle. A guilty pleasure being one of the only real newspaper comics I read, mainly because it involves tech office work which I can easily relate to. Yes, it’s repetitive and not exactly inventive – but I’ll give it credit for consistency at least.
- Hark, A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton brings together comics and history! I love the nice simple artwork, and more to the point is the actual writing – finding comedic situations for historical characters, especially when it is a rather unknown area of history, and makes you learn too many nuggets of truth. Gives history real personality 🙂 Also contains other things like ponies, teens and her younger self.
- Oglaf! by ??? is best summed up by the tagline “Comics. Often dirty.”, and certainly is not safe for work. You’ll see some of the descriptions on the archive page. It’s got plenty of utterly absurd and totally juvenile themes basically based around just about anything dirty, set in a fantasy setting (although leaping into mythology and weirdness as well), and I love how silly it is. It uses brilliant artwork too, and it is entirely not wasted when it makes me laugh so there! 🙂
- Ozy and Millie by Dana Simpson is a now-completed set of comics based around anthropomorphic characters, such as foxes, dragons and sheep. Initially the main characters (a zen tophat-wearing grey boy fox, and a hyperactive suspenders-wearing red girl fox) were in sort of pre-school, it got later upgraded to primary school level or so. Reminds me a lot of Calvin and Hobbes in the jokes style, although some actual longer-term story arcs and a much larger cast makes it have it’s own brand of funny and silly uniqueness. Since it is finished you can read it from the start.
- Subnormality by the pseudonym Winston Rowntree is an amazing set of usually large-style comics which forgo typical newspaper standards (like the “three panel punchline”), packed full of satire, comedy, and just damn interesting writing and artwork – which is so detailed I’m amazed they are ever finished. There’s a whole host of fascinating tearing-down of standard tropes when doing more typical comics, as well as a lot of good political, cultural and social commentary that really helps you think. Have I mentioned it’s amazing yet? Go read it!
- The Non-Adventures of Wonderella by Justin Pierce is a simple parody of comic book heroes, villains and silly situations. Some of the jokes are hit and miss but generally hit. The lead character being so uncaring is also quite funny in itself. It kind of has some infrequent references to past strips so reading from the start is likely recommended.
- Irregular Webcomic! by David Morgan-Mar has a whole host of themes running daily (thus an ironic name for the strip indeed), usually Lego-minifigs being the cast. It’s not a serial as such (although most themes do have some kind of fun plot), since each strips jokes can stand alone once you know the characters and the amazing comments for many strips leave me much the wiser on the sometimes-terribly-scientific jokes. If you read from the beginning it’s worth your time!
- Tom the Dancing Bug by Ruben Bolling basically echoes full-colour large-sheet Sunday comics, certainly in style, and does it weekly. It is fun for me when it delves into some witty social commentary, but since I am not American the sheer amount of American political comics can spoil my fun reading the archives when there are other great gems in there (like God Man! The Omnipresent superhero!). Also see the mans blog for more odds and longer bits and pieces.
- Ozy And Millie is a long running, non-serial now completed webcomic (the author having ended it on a high note) spanning several years. Colourful anthropomorphic characters, who are a bit Calvin and Hobbes like, go through their own strange world with lots of distractions. Half way through the archive the art style changes after a hiatus although the characters don’t alter much, and it is utterly disarmingly charming.