I’ve done two recommendation lists for science fiction comics, but none for fantasy? How is that fair? Let’s get caught up. Here’s a list of my favorite fantasy graphic novels – from urban to high fantasy. If you love magic, I’m betting you’ll find at least one intriguing pick here.
Before we jump in:
- All comics here can be bought as graphic novels/collections, not only as single issues. Your library may own many of these!
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Entertaining new adult urban fantasy with intermittent sides of romantic complication. Contrary to rumor, our heroine Kay is not a witch, and she does not talk to dead people. Just her invisible skeleton companion, P. He’s been with her since she was a child, though she’s (mostly) learned to stop drawing attention to him these days. He makes life complicated sometimes. But he’s also her best friend.
There are four volumes out so far, and the webcomic is ongoing, so I expect more in the future. I’m totally down, because I love Musto’s art style, and I love how she writes Kay as both flawed and sympathetic. I’m a sucker for characters with amazing hair, and they are legion here. Our only complaint is we would wish for a bit more proofreading before going to print, but that’s a minor quibble.
Give it a whirl online, and if you like, order the first volume! Three have been printed so far.
Diversity notes: Kay is bi or pan (I don’t remember if the text ever specifies.) The cast is realistically multi-racial.
Doyle describes Knights-Errant as a “queer revenge thriller,” and I can’t do better than that. It starts by following Wilfrid, who’s imprisoned in a besieged city, and his escape with the help of a guard. What follows is a mix of political and religious conspiracy with a side of ethnic discrimination, long-running personal vendettas, and quite a lot of swordfighting. Very few people are as they seem, lovers are forced to make terrible choices, and that all works for me quite well thankyouverymuch.
As with Kay and P, it’s a webcomic, so you can try it online for free! The Sparkler shop sells both paperbacks and ebooks. So far, only the first volume is collected, but the webcomic is ongoing, so I expect more in the future.
Diversity note: Doyle uses they/them pronouns.
I wish I had smarter things to say about this book, because I’m quite taken with it. To be honest, I really pre-ordered this just to support more diverse comics. I thought it would be, y’know, fine? But then it totally swept me away. Political intrigue and the paranormal! A dark plot full of tortured people and strong, interesting female characters! Rich colors and the masterful use of panels! (If you’ve read it too, can we geek out together about the page with the bird falling out of the sky? Okay thanks!)
Why doesn’t this book have more buzz around it? The line art is maybe a bit weak, but the colors and panel design more than make up for it, and it’s such a refreshing change to read a fantasy world not based on Europe and full of white people.
There is one collected edition, which contains issues 1-6, and so far that’s all. Since issue #6 came out in 2016, I’m worried that the originally planned 12-ish issue story won’t get completed, but even if that comes to pass I won’t regret reading this volume.
Diversity note: Leong is multi-racial.
Lush, gorgeously detailed fantasy set in a winter landscape, with possibly the cutest protagonist in comics ever. Bali, a boy from the Nuru tribe, ends up with a legendary sword while trying to prove he’s old enough to take care of himself. Unfortunately for Bali, all kinds of men and creatures want the sword. Szabla clearly put in time to nail down the mythology, culture, and world Bali lives in, giving his story an epic feel from the very first pages. The storytelling is slow, but even the pages “without plot” are these gorgeous vistas of snow and ice. She’s leaving room for the story to breathe, getting you completely grounded before things start happening.
Two volumes are out so far, and the webcomic is ongoing, so I’m looking forward to more. This is one of those “all ages” comics that’s truly all-ages, as satisfying for adults as for children.
The Legend of Bold Riley (Amazon / Comixology / Goodreads) By Leia Weathington, with art by Weathington, Marco Aidala, Vanessa Gillings, Kelly McClellan, Konstantin Pogorelov, and Jason Thompson. Selected colors by Chloe Dalquist.
Rilavashana SanParite, of the ruling family of Ankhala in the nation of Parakkalore, was restless. Raised to be a monarch, she instead preferred hunting, bedding pretty girls, and telling inappropriate stories at fancy dinner parties. Her father gave her a choice: act with respect for her family and heritage, or travel. She chose travel. This book shares five of her adventures, drawn and colored by the various artists listed above. It’s a swashbuckling, magical, epic set of stories. Rilavashana, now called Bold Riley, outfights and outsmarts her adversaries, continues with the bedding, and even falls in love. Though the artists change from story to story, they all capture Bold Riley’s personality. Weathington knows how to pace a short story so it’s the right length for the action and emotion she’s trying to share.
When I finally got this, I wondered why I’d waited so long!
As far as I know, The Legend of Bold Riley is complete in one volume.
Court intrigue, assassination plots, magical cursed soldiers, gorgeous lush art, tender but possibly doomed romance… this is so good! Centered on Lady Pyppenia, known as Poppy, the illegitimate daughter of the recently deceased king, as she finds herself in a precarious political position with the new king, her uncle. Her protector Cyrenic is one of the Sleepless, knights who accept a magical curse that allows them to stay awake twenty-four hours a day, but with a cost of eventual mental collapse or coma. Poppy is increasingly hedged in by her uncle’s demands, Cyrenic and Poppy’s feelings for each other are starting to hit the no-more-pretending zone, neither of them know who to trust, eek! I cannot WAIT for a next volume of this, especially given the cliffhanger at the end. Perfect medieval-esque fantasy, with delicious pining.
This graphic novel about magic and murder took a bit to hook me, but now that it has, I’m anxiously awaiting the next volume. Anna and her sister Kat travel with a circus. Anna’s a practical engineer, Kat’s a more free-spirited performer. When Kat is killed and appears to Anna as a ghost, Anna has to swallow her skepticism about the paranormal and investigate her sister’s death. The art style is less refined than the cover, but I adjusted, and ended up loving it. (Probably because I’m a sucker for great hair in comics and Anna’s is gorgeous.) The characters are fascinating, there’s plenty of spooky, and the mystery is properly wound up with Anna’s complicated but very real love for her sister.
High-action, high-violence graphic novel about immortal warriors that has already been optioned for film, and yes please, especially if they keep the diversity. It stars a small team of mercenaries in current times, all hundreds of years old, who come back to life when killed – until they don’t, and they won’t get any warning that this end is the last one. Andy, one of the two female leads, is bi or pan. Nile, the other, is African-American. Two of the male team members, Nicky and Joe (formerly Yusuf), are lovers who were on opposing sides during the Crusades.
The main plot is that a powerful billionaire has discovered their secret, and wants to replicate it, so they have to run and/or fight to avoid becoming lab rats. The deeper issue laced throughout is that immortality means losing everyone you care about, over and over and over. There’s a lot of history brought out through in various characters’ memories, and substantial character development even for the secondary characters.
It’s found family, queer, and things blow up, which pretty much makes it perfect for me. And maybe you? So far there is one collected edition, which includes existing issues 1-5, but it’s fairly recent so I have hope there will be more. Rucka can be very slow with his creator-owned projects.
Diversity note: Fernández is Argentinian. Miwa is Brazilian.
Rascal is a girl thief in the city of Strakhelm, where horrible monsters called Umbral murder the royal family and assume their identities, then start working their way through other powerful citizens. (There’s a LOT of blood!) Rascal got into the middle of it by stealing the Oculus gem from the palace while the Umbral were starting their spree, and now they’re after her!
I am sooooo happy that Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten got back together to work on this! They’re the creative team that launched Wasteland, one of my favorite post-apocalyptic comics. Seeing Mitten’s art colored by such amazing painters is like a dream. Also, Rascal’s hair is FANTASTIC. Sadly, this series was discontinued after two volumes due to poor sales. Such is comics sometimes. Even without a narrative end, though, I recommend this if you want some spooky, violent, dark fantasy.
Jay Hosler is a college biology professor AND a gifted cartoonist AND a fabulous storyteller. Combine all of that and you get Last of the Sandwalkers, an adventure mixed with political conspiracy populated by bugs. Bugs that live in New Coleopolis, a beetle city with a theocratic government and institutions of higher learning. Beyond New Coleopolis is a wasteland… or at least, so they’ve been taught. Lucy, a scientist in New Coleopolis, isn’t so sure. Overcoming the skepticism of her colleagues, she mounts an expedition to explore the world beyond the city. She soon discovers that both the world and the loyalties of her teammates aren’t always what she’s been led to believe.
I didn’t know I could care about bugs so much. The personalities, backstories, and relationships of this group of explorers captivated me. Hosler draws them with distinct facial expressions and body language. (My guess is that is took 7,000 years to draw this incredibly detailed book.) Lucy and her friends are fighting for reason over superstition and greed, fueled by a passionate curiosity about the world. They’re a great team. I’m looking forward to reading more of Hosler’s work!
Last of the Sandwalkers is a standalone graphic novel.
Digger is a PERFECT fantasy adventure about a female atheist wombat who meets a statue that speaks for the god Ganesha, a priest living with mental illness, and a solitary artist. It’s an amazing story about the strength of women that also includes wonderful male characters. It’s one of the funniest comics I’ve read. C-Man says it’s one of the best books he’s ever read, not even just one of the best graphic novels. If you’re at all intrigued by stories about fantasy, adventure, religion, or culture, you have to pick this up. Digger the wombat, Murai the traumatized priest, and Ed the exiled hyena painter are some of my new favorite characters in comics.
The volume linked above collects the entire run of the webcomic.
One of the best all-ages comics ever. And by “all ages” I really do mean from 5 years old through 95 years old. And if you know any 105 year olds, I’d hand it to them too. Petersen’s art is gorgeous, and his stories impeccable in plot, character, and emotion. The mice of Mouse Guard are people, and they are also heroes and epic figures.
Even if you’re not into the epic fantasy genre or talking animals, the characters are what make this series so compelling. (See how all three mice above look totally different? How does he do it?! They are mice!) Petersen puts out books really slowly, though: so far since 2009, we have just Fall 1152 linked above, Winter 1152, and The Black Axe. You can supplement with the Legends of the Guard anthologies set in the same universe if you catch up and then get antsy waiting. You probably won’t love every story because that’s the nature of anthologies, and we didn’t much care for the third one overall, but there are some real gems.
That concludes today’s roundup of fantasy comics that I love and recommend! If you have any suggestions for me, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing this post on social media or with friends.