I grew up watching Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Blake’s 7. Spaceships, epic battles, robots, time travel, the stars! Exciting people doing exciting things on exciting other planets! What’s not to love? So here’s a list of my fave sci-fi graphic novels I’ve stumbled across in my comics reading journey. I hope you’ll find something to enjoy here! (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
Any book or series on this list I loved at the time I read it, whether I had a chance to write a review or not. Obviously a re-read years later might reveal a problematic aspect I didn’t pick up on back then. Please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.
“Dustbowl cyberpunk” is apparently my jam, which I didn’t know before reading this comic set on Earth 2235, two hundred years after most plant life on the planet died. Markesha Nin lives with her father and works as a courier in the city-state of Trinity, which is ruled by various corporate factions. Unfortunately for Markesha and her father’s safety, she gets entangled in a revolutionary plot to bring down the ruling class. This has huge sci-fi world building, thrilling action, and a biracial woman protagonist, so I’m not sure what else I could want.
Two volumes of Kamikaze have been produced so far, and it’s an ongoing webcomic, with the third volume apparently coming soon as of July 2023.
Dicebox follows Molly and Griffen, itinerant space station workers, as they bounce from one job to the next. Molly is the level-headed one who has strange visions, Griffen is the tempestuous one with a complicated past that, by the end of this first book, may be coming back to haunt her. Lee slowly builds a complex world out of characters of various genders, pasts, and interests. It’s working class lives set in space, very queer (including use of various pronouns), with female characters who have complex and interesting personalities.
Book 1 came out a looong time ago. Book 2 was completed in webcomic version in February 2022. Book 3 is being posted to Lee’s Patreon before it will go to the webcomic.
What it’s about, because I can’t possibly explain it better: “DRIVE tells the story of a second Spanish empire, a galactic empire, and its looming war with a race called ‘The Continuum of Makers’. Humanity has built their empire using technology stolen from the Makers — and these creatures want it back with an almost religious fervor. In the brewing war, it’s clear that humanity will lose, and lose badly, unless they can find some advantage in battle. That hope arrives in the form of a tiny, mysterious creature who can drive a starship like no one’s ever seen. Now all humanity needs to do… is find 10,000 more pilots just like him. But no one knows where he’s from. We follow the crew of the scout ship Machito, who have been press-ganged into a unique mission by an Emperor they despise: Find this mysterious race, or the empire… ends.”
If you couldn’t tell from the summary, this comic is freakin’ funny. It’s not a gag comic, and not a joke a minute, but the interactions between some of the characters just about kill me. The captain is my favorite tough old broad in comics, and her exasperation is the absolute best. Mix in some serious double-crossing, secret identities, and galaxy-wide conspiracies, plus some really touching moments, and you have yourself a good space adventure.
Books 1-3 are already out, and the webcomic is ongoing, with 2 more books planned. Kellett runs very well-organized Kickstarters for the books so I recommend getting in on those if you enjoy the comic.
100% of the comics-reading adults in my household regularly lament the dearth of hard/military sci-fi in comics, so we were excited to find this space colonization survival book.
Venus is set in 2150, during a race between the U.S. and the “Pan Pacific Alliance” to settle Venus and exploit its natural resources. (Apparently and unsurprisingly, humanity hasn’t learned much by 2150.) The story follows a U.S. ship as it crashes on Venus. There’s a stark contrast in the first pages between the too-real crash and the shiny, patriotic political speech about the expedition, as given back on Earth. That contrast sets an appropriately grim tone for the book. Commander Pauline Manashe assumes command during the crash due to the Captain’s death and has to deal with a damaged ship, injured and dead crew, environmental hazards, sabotage, and unclear loyalties among the surviving crew. It’s one completely believable disaster after another. If you like a tale where every 15 minutes you say “Holy sh–, what NOW?! These people are SO DEAD!” then this book is for you.
Characters are fully developed, the atmosphere is tense, and the conflicts between them are significant and feel real. Manashe is far from perfect and has to make hard decisions, but I appreciated that neither the story nor the other crew members give her a pass just because she’s the main character and commanding officer. As an illustrator, Danlan is especially strong with body language and perspective. A perfect fit, since this book is like 80% arguments and action scenes. In a good way.
I’m sad that this was a miniseries, because I would have settled in to read an ongoing series, especially with the way it ended. Not a cliffhanger exactly, but plenty of room to keep going.
“To survive after crash landing on an alien planet, a vacationer must battle against a hostile environment, killer lizards, corporate bureaucracy, and the pessimism of her sole companion, the drug-addled captain of the ship.”
She just wants a nice trip with her husband! But she can’t have that because of bad luck but also because of who she ends up stranded with. I was rooting for her 100% all the way, and I also honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d broken the fourth wall to look at the reader and said “Can you *believe* this nonsense??” I loved watching her find her inner badass and make survival happen. The epilogue made me laugh with delight, it was perfect.
This is an ongoing series I look forward to so much, with the fourth book due out in August 2023.
“2140. To escape a world with no future, many turn to the Syndicate, a criminal organization who, for the right price, will smuggle you back in time to the promise of a better yesterday. Tatsuo — a smuggler for the Syndicate– wants to leave his life of crime behind, but when an FBI agent disrupts his plan to steal a time machine, they both find themselves hunted across time by his former employers.
[…] a sci-fi crime tale that shows the one thing you can never escape is your past.”
The corporate evil / mad scientist / body horror mashup of my dreams. It’s a survival thriller dark comedy about repairman Logan Ibarra, who’s in the wrong place at the wrong-est time and gets trapped in a corporate lab with several others when an experiment gone horribly wrong is unleashed. The cast is predominantly people of color, the art is exuberant and has plenty of cartoony creepiness and splatter, and having read Books 1 and 2 I would really like to know what happens next now please and thank you.
Note: Some previous book covers may reflect a deadname for Stone.
I didn’t know if I was going to like this “cyber-dystopian noir” series, because the main character has such a giant chin. Look at that cover! It’s preposterous. But one does get used to it, and this first volume of an ongoing series turned out to be really good. It’s 2024, and someone broke the internet so there is absolutely no online privacy. Jack, our large-chinned hero, works as a courier for secrets, which travel on paper in a briefcase cuffed to his wrist. What happens to people who have valuable secrets? They get dragged into power struggles between various bad people, what else?
It’s a bit lighter and wittier than what I was expecting given the “noir” label, but I could definitely see how this dude could be doomed. I was left wanting to know more about his role in the downfall of online privacy, the A.I. who has questions about that exact topic, and how much worse things are going to get for Jack.
[Update: I read the second volume, which concludes the story, and it was satisfying on all those counts.]
In a small British town populated by anthropomorphic animals, the town drunks see a falling star and head through the woods to investigate. Retired military officer Clive Slipaway, a newcomer, attends a town meeting the next day. It’s interrupted by one of those drunks, who claims the town is being invaded. Clive decides to investigate, and what he and other townsfolk find is terrifying.
C-Man called the book “The War of the Wind in the Willows” (seems to be a common reaction) and he’s not wrong. But the characters make this book a must read. Clive, the quiet tactician whose past causes him deep pain. Susan, the reclusive writer with the sharp tongue. Gilbert, the town solicitor and jolly busybody. Fawkes, the formerly drunk layabout called to action. You start to care about them, even knowing that Bad Things Will Happen. I’ve rarely felt such a building sense of dread while reading as in the first volume, especially in the nighttime scenes.
Abnett and Culbard are more ambitious with storytelling format in the second volume. Some sections are written materials authored by the characters, such as journal entries and even fiction, which is where Abnett’s wife probably helped out (she’s credited in the second volume). Culbard’s art, as always, is perfect, maybe even better than in the first volume. There’s nothing like seeing an anthropomorphized dog tilt his head exactly right while listening to a sound in the distance.
There are amazing moments in the second book as well. The inscription on Clive’s watch. Helena’s letter to her father, which just about broke my heart into pieces. Susan’s elegy for those lost to the invasion. Fawkes’s continued evolution. And it’s amazing how tense everything still is, from the beginning to the end. Almost moreso than in the first book, which had more immediate physical danger.
[Update: The third and final volume came out, and it’s wonderful. Availability of the three volumes can be dodgy in print, but there is a combined edition coming out in January 2024. A second series has also begun, and I’m really looking forward to it once the single issues are collected.]
The series Concrete Park, co-created by artist and writer Tony Puryear, writer Erika Alexander, and Robert Alexander, with color assistance from Alicia Burstein and Alexandra Quimby (Amazon / Goodreads)
In the near future, criminals from poor communities are deported to a “correctional colony” on a desert planet where they work in mines and then try to survive after release in gang-controlled neighborhoods. The story roughly follows the intersection of two main characters: Isaac, a young Black man who is transported, and Lena, a brown queer woman who’s been living on the planet for some time and whose gang controls a section of the only city there. Gangs come into conflict, characters struggle for power, and by the end of the second volume, a Big Secret is revealed.
This book just about crackles with electricity. The art is bold and striking, the colors are rich, and it’s full of action and even a little magic. Only two volumes were produced, which leaves the story incomplete, but well worth reading anyway.
When Alastair Sterling wakes up, his last memory is of collapsing while coughing up blood. Where is he? When is he? And most importantly, what is he? He’s a robotics genius who has awakened as a robot, it turns out, though no one seems to know how it happened. He tries to reconnect with his lover and colleague Brendan, but it’s complicated. Their relationship was secret when Sterling was alive, and he’s been dead for 16 years. It’s a science fiction setting, but at its core, O Human Star is about humans (and robots) doing the best they can to relate to each other. The art is grounded and confident. Humans (and robots) are solid and real.
C-Man had low expectations of the first volume because it started as a webcomic; this was back when we didn’t know much about webcomics. He declared it one of the best books he’d read that year. (And as you may have noticed, we read a lot of books.) I adore it too, and the second volume was just as thoughtful and emotional as the first.
[Update: The third and final book came out, we backed the Kickstarter, and I really enjoyed it.]
Incredible book. By the last page, The Spire had become one of my fave science fiction comics, fave fantasy comics, and fave queer comics all rolled into one. It’s part police procedural, part political conspiracy, and has significant commentary on discrimination, so there is possibly no way it could be any better for me. It follows Sha, a queer woman (and the last of her species) who’s Commander of the City Watch in The Spire, as she tries to solve a series of murders while a new leader of the city is about to take control. But of course Sha finds so! many! secrets!
I fall more in love with Spurrier’s writing every time I read one of his books. Stokely’s art is appropriately weird, and someone wrote a blog post about the lettering by Steve Wands because it’s that good.
How bad could one last train robbery be, even if you got tricked into it because of a high-stakes poker game and your ex-boyfriend is the town sheriff? Um, maybe don’t answer that. Super-cool mashup of western and sci-fi, kinda steampunky, with a female gunslinger trying to make an honest living against her own nature and plenty of robots. Kibuishi is a master storyteller, and he uses Western tropes effectively here while making something that feels unique.
Quiet, thoughtful, initially slice-of-life manga about Mitsu, a young man who takes a job washing the windows of a station in near-Earth orbit. All humans live there, having abandoned the Earth to keep it as a nature preserve. Mitsu’s father died doing the same job, and the story (so far) mostly revolves around Mitsu’s attempts to learn more about his father by following his vocation.
Saturn Apartments is kind of like Makoto Yukimura’s Planetes (see below), in that it focuses on the lives of working class people in a science fiction setting. It’s more about characters than human colonization of space, though, especially as Mitsu begins to interact more with his coworkers and their families, and upper-class clients of his window-washing company.
The art is a little funny, with characters of all ages drawn with toddler proportions, i.e. big heads, small bodies. Older characters do look a little less toddler-y than junior high graduate Mitsu, so I adjusted pretty quickly. It’s more than made up for by the amazing perspective work with rooms, both large and small, and the exterior of the station during work shifts. Several times I had to stop just to gawk at a specific panel.
The personal growth, relationships, and vignettes about people on the station are so intriguing that I would have been happy reading this series just for that for more than its seven books. However, a larger plot started emerging later in the series where some working-class people on the station began a project to drop a manned craft down to Earth. Without spoiling, I can say that this project ends up intersecting with the class tensions on the station in an interesting and dramatic way that involves every character we got to know over the series. Every bit of character development for them was important to the series conclusion, which was was 100% satisfying. Very skillfully told.
The series Federal Bureau of Physics, co-created by writer Simon Oliver and artist Robbi Rodriguez, art by Alberto Ponticelli with Nathan Fox, colors by Rico Renzi and Michael Wiggam, lettering by Steve Wands with Jared K. Fletcher (Amazon / Goodreads)
Recommended for those who enjoy WTF moments, reality-within-reality sci-fi, and cranky reluctant heroes.
In the near future, you can call 911 for police, fire, ambulance… or physics emergencies, since the “laws” of reality intermittently break. Adam Hardy is an agent with the Bureau, responding to these emergency calls. Or not, or possibly two hours late, since he’s kind of a slacker. Things are about to get serious, though, and Hardy’s right in the middle of it. Will reality continue warping until it collapses, or can someone stop it?
FBP is complete in four volumes’ worth of investigations, bizarre scientific inventions, secrets, lies, growing friendships, and heroic sacrifices. The end… felt like the only way, and I was satisfied even though my heart had wanted something different. Rodriguez and Renzi together created a look that I wouldn’t call attractive, really, but instead dynamic, expressive, and totally appropriate to a story about the warping of reality.
Content warning: Hardy does make multiple ableist comments, mostly within the first volume.
Set in the far future, Planetes is working-class sci-fi that follows the crew of a sanitation ship. Basically, space garbage collectors dealing with all the junk that humans have let accumulate in Earth’s orbit. I didn’t completely bond with it until the second volume, but then I fell in love – and I enjoyed the entire thing on re-reading recently.
Initially it’s a slice of life comic following these folks through their work and family lives, but a larger arc emerges as crew member Hachimaki trains to apply for a deep-space exploratory mission to Venus. The series is by turns hilarious, touching, suspenseful, and political. It’s such a nice change in science fiction to focus on characters who aren’t explorers, soldiers, or scientists – just folks getting their regular day-to-day work done. Well worth the time, especially since Yukimura’s art is, as always, crisp and expressive.
Planetes is complete in two Omnibus editions, which are fairly large, but don’t take as long to read as you might think.
A high school student discovers, after dying in a traffic accident, that he’s basically immortal. So-called “demi-humans” are a known thing, but Kei Nagai didn’t know he was one. The population hates and fears them, the government captures and experiments on them, and a rogue independent cell of demi-humans aren’t so amused by any of this.
This has all the mayhem and violence you’d expect from a dystopian manga where most of the protagonists and antagonists can’t die, but that’s not what’s keeping me riveted. I think it’s the combo of (1) various characters/groups in various shades of black, white, and grey pushing on each other’s choices and (2) the increasingly fascinating tactical use of the abilities demi-humans manifest beyond invulnerability. As I was reading, I literally had no clue how “regular” humans were supposed to fight back against the demi-humans.
I don’t understand why there’s only a token one or two female demi-humans in the cast, and that’s a constant annoyance. But the rest is compelling enough to override that or I wouldn’t have finished the series. Which I did, and I thought the entire series was stellar. Especially the ending.
Long but well worth it, a space-based sci-fi journey about a young woman finding her lost love. Mia signs on with a ship that travels to sites and renovates/restores them. She makes friends with the crew – one nonbinary person and the rest are women – and eventually enlists them to travel to a forbidden planet so she can say goodbye to the girl she loved.
It’s told in a combination of present events and flashbacks to Mia’s school romance, and I felt like both parts were in good balance. The secondary characters are well developed. There’s so much lovely queer rep. This was my next Tillie Walden read after Spinning and it didn’t disappoint. It’s just so warm, and a gorgeous affirmation of the value of friendship.
A quietly wonderful social justice robot freedom romance comic. Alex’s rich grandmother thinks he’s still moping from a breakup, so she buys him a top of the line android companion that he didn’t want. As Alex tries to get to know Ada, he starts to suspect that she could be more than the company that made her will admit. His investigation leads him into contact with an underground robot rights movement, but it also stirs up questions among people close to him who might be more dangerous than he imagines.
Alex is a fundamentally decent person. His struggle is to figure out what the right thing is, not whether to do that right thing. So when he learns more about Ada’s potential, he simply does what needs doing. Luna’s reserved art style is a perfect match for the subdued personalities of Alex and Ada, and the story provides good contrast between them and some of the more expressive characters (notably Alex’s grandmother, who seems to delight in sharing TMI with Alex about her relationship with her own android).
A couple of my friends observed that Alex’s affect and behavior at the beginning of this series strongly suggest depression, and I’m inclined to agree, though I think it’s situational rather than biological/ongoing. Watching him come out of his shell because he needs to protect Ada makes my heart all melty.
Alex + Ada is complete either in four small volumes, or one large collected edition.
If you got a letter from your future self, would you believe it? What if everything the letter predicted came true? What if it asked you to save one of your classmates from a terrible fate… and you start falling in love with him?
Time-traveling letters, possible parallel universes, friends who deeply care for each other… there is no way I could have resisted this manga, even if I wanted to. It’s possibly the cutest/saddest comic I have ever read and I loved the first “Complete Collection” volume.
(I also wanted to buy extra copies so I could cut out every panel where there’s a face close-up and make a giant poster, because they are so damn beautiful. And then if there’d been any speech bubbles left, I’d have made a collage of all the different lettering styles and speech bubble decorations, because they are also too freakin’ adorable.)
I was hesitant to read the second volume, because I was afraid the author wouldn’t keep up with the complexity of the feelings and relationships between the characters, especially in what could be viewed as a love triangle between the main POV character, the classmate she’s trying to save, and another boy who’s obviously in love with her. Have no fear, my friends. The ending was just as good as the rest of the story.
NOTE: The second “Complete Collection” volume has an entire volume of another manga in the back, which messed with my perception of where I was in the story arc. Also, since the “Complete Collection” came out, there have been two individual volumes released, -future- and -to you, dear one- that both tell different parts and/or perspectives on the story. Can you see why I always put “Complete Collection” in quotes, now? I did enjoy both of those follow-up volumes, though I liked -to you, dear one- better.
Content warning: Suicide is a major topic.
East of West is a gory alternate history post-apocalyptic science fiction magical epic about averting the apocalypse? Maybe? It’s set on the continent we call North America. The attempted conquest of that continent by Europeans resolved very differently than in our history, leading to a Native American nation, the Kingdom of New Orleans ruled by an African-American dynasty, and a Chinese nation, among others. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are ready to bring about the end of world, except that Death has defected. He had fallen in love, married, had a child, was betrayed and murdered, and rose again to seek vengeance.
Martin’s colors are stunning from the very first page, a gorgeous match for Dragotta’s art. And this is Hickman at his best, telling a multi-layered story made of conspiracy and shifting allegiances, while also communicating the emotional core of each character in a large cast. It does make for a complex reading experience, especially since volumes come out once or twice a year. We’ve generally had to re-read at least the preceding volume each time one has been published just to remember exactly what was happening.
If you’re into intricate plots and backstabbing, though, it’s SO very worth it. Plus, if you start now, you can read seven volumes straight through before having to wait in agony for the next book like the rest of us!
[The series ended with volume 10, and I need to update my review with my overall thoughts when I get a chance!]
Gorgeously illustrated space opera about robots and the legacy of past decisions. Dr. Quon, formerly a stylish and famous robotics genius but now a down-and-out academic, is grabbed by the government because he may have the key to stopping an alien menace – one he failed to stop when they first attacked. Tim, a “young” robot companion who awakes from a too-long sleep to find that everyone he knows is dead – but his design is somehow related to the alien menace.
Nguyen’s painting style lends soft edges and humanity to a futuristic setting and multiple robot characters. His art enriches the story at every turn. Even the paneling changes depending on which characters are interacting. And if there’s an award for comics lettering, Steve Wands should win it. Watch the styles used for each character and how they compare to other characters. It’s a great demonstration of how much lettering can add to visual storytelling.
Descender is so much about how the past influences the present. Lemire is adept at mixing both with clarity, and without slowing down the forward momentum of the story. Even in the second volume which is almost completely character backstory, you can feel how necessary it is to understand where these people came from. The different robots have very different personalities, as do the various humans and aliens. And in the middle, is Tim, who clearly sees them all as just different kinds of people, bridging any gap between biological and machine sentience.
Five volumes into this ongoing series, I’m just as engrossed with Descender as I was after the first volume. Recommended because space opera, cute little robot boy and his robot dog, and a badass space marine type gal with blue skin and something to prove.
[The series ended with volume 6, and I need to update my review with my overall thoughts when I get a chance!]
Paper Girls is a time travel series that begins in 1988 starring a diverse group of teenage girls who all have paper routes. Until most of the people in their town disappear after they find a weird alien device in a basement, at which point there isn’t much call for newspapers, and also they spent most of their time running for their lives, caught between two factions engaged in a time travel war, and trying to figure out what the heck is going on.
The first volume felt a little baffling, even on re-read, though it had plenty of intriguing mystery. But can I say how amazing it felt to read a science fiction comic where teen girls are the stars? The second volume included more answers about the war and deeper character development, so that’s when the series really “clicked” for me. (Yes, someone does meet up with their future self, because time travel.) Paper Girls is a strong sci-fi action series centered around girls and women, with POC, Jewish, and queer rep, and I highly recommend it.
I hate to talk up a comic without discussing the art, but I don’t know what to say about Cliff Chiang’s art except that I always adore it.
And that’s the list! Hope you found something new and interesting for your TBR.