When it comes to comic books, independent really only means one thing: not Marvel or DC. And that’s great, because there’s a whole lot of indie imprints out there generating some really awesome indie comic content.
All of the indie comics on this list should definitely be a lot more widely read. Fans may recognize the most popular titles like Fables and Preacher, but may be missing out big time on books like Lumberjanes and Scalped. Even if Batman is your favorite, these underrated indie comics will guarantee you fall in love thanks to suspenseful writing, brilliant world building, and dedicated writers and illustrators.
This list will help you discover all the amazing indie comic books that have been hiding under your nose, just waiting to be read.
Preacher might be the most well-known comic on this list, as it was adapted into a television series in 2016. However, few fans have experienced the comics, which differ pretty substantially from the show. Preacher has a fantastic creative team of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, and a concept straight from the depths of hell: Preacher stars a Texan good ol’ boy, forced into a life of preaching.
He receives god-like powers and sets out to kick God’s ass for doing a bad job of running the world. Oh, and his best friend is an Irish vampire. Preacher is a true gem.
Y: The Last Man is nothing less than an emotional rollercoaster. Another high-concept creation of legendary writer Brian K. Vaughan, Y: The Last Man stars Yorick, the last man on Earth. A mysterious virus has killed all of the male mammals save for Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand. Civilization collapses when half of the population suddenly dies, and Yorick must traverse the country in what begins as a search for his girlfriend, but ends up as a quest to save the world. This series asks – and answers – some pretty uncomfortable questions about society.
The success of Bill Willingham’s Fables, which ran for 150 issues, helped usher in a new wave of fairy tale re-imaginings. Fables is one of the first series to toy with using classic children’s characters in more adult situations, and the results are spectacular. Characters like Snow White, Boy Blue, and Bigby Wolf experience drama that is well beyond what would be appropriate for pre-school audiences, but their nostalgic nature helps give the entire series an instant depth and importance.
The series inspired more than a few excellent spin-offs, and finally concluded its 13-year run in 2015.
The setting of Southern Bastards sounds relatively boring. It centers around a small, southern town with a passion for football and a domineering high school coach. Luckily, creators Jason Aaron and Jason Latour have a thing for drawing the absolute most out of any concept, and they’ve turned Southern Bastards into a complex drama that constantly keeps its readers on the edge of their seat.
Every new development in the plot is so shocking that reading each issue is truly exhilarating. And whether you care about small football towns or not, you’ll want to keep checking in to see what the characters are up to.
Starring FDA agent Tony Chu, Chew features one of the most unique “superpowers” in all of comics: Chu solves crime by receiving psychic impressions from his food. The story takes place in a world where bird meat is illegal due to a previous outbreak of avian flu, and a vibrant black market for chickens exists. Chu eventually encounters Poyo, a cybernetic cockfighting champion, and that’s just one of many ridiculous characters the protagonist meets.
Among the others are countless individuals with food-related superpowers, making this read like a Food Network adaptation of the X-Men.
Rick Remender wrote one of the best Marvel series of all-time with his Uncanny X-Force run, and then moved on to something best described as “Xavier’s School for Assassins.” Deadly Class takes place at a high school for killers, with students that are the descendents of legendary hit-men. Set in the 1980s, none of the characters in Deadly Class are particularly good or honorable, but their high-stakes high school drama makes for interesting reading and extreme, Game of Thrones-style tension.
Paper Girls is one of those comics that seems like it has a metaphorical title, but doesn’t. It’s actually about a group of paper girls. However, the presence of legendary indie writer Brian K. Vaughan indicates that there is something much deeper at play. Vaughan always hits his projects out of the park, and Paper Girls is no exception. Nostalgia plays a big part in this groundbreaking comic set in the late 1980s. The series follows a group of well-rounded 12 year olds that uncover a newsworthy story of their own.
Transmetropolitan is a staple of the comic counterculture. Created by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson, it features the fantastically named Spider Jerusalem, a gonzo journalist in a cyberpunk American future. Chock full of transhumanist ideas, Transmetropolitan focuses on more real-world conflict than the average comic book, such as corruption and propaganda – and Jerusalem even takes on multiple corrupt presidents.
If you’re looking for high concept comic books, Jonathan Hickman is your guy. Hickman always puts more effort into his plotting than the average writer, and that’s definitely true of East of West. The series has been running since 2013, and features a dystopian future where the Civil War never ended. The United States is split into seven factions: the Union, the Confederates, Native Americans, former African slaves, Chinese exiles, and Texan separatists. That concept alone should be enough to hook anyone, but Hickman’s long-term storytelling style ensures payoff after payoff the longer the series continues.
Running over 10 years and 100 issues, 100 Bullets is a masterpiece from writer Brian Azzarello. The basic conceit of the series revolves around the mysterious Agent Graves, who travels about the country giving people the opportunity to take consequence-free revenge for terrible wrongs committed against them. This vengeance starter pack consists of a gun, information on the target, and exactly 100 untraceable bullets, which will help the would-be vigilante exact their vengeance. Each arc is essentially a case study in human nature and our natural desires for cold-blooded revenge.
Jason Aaron has gone on to become a star writer for Marvel, but he first broke out with an innovative series named Scalped. The comic is set in one of the most dramatic, yet often ignored, locales in modern America, a Native American reservation. This series takes fans on an emotional rollercoaster with conflicts that involve organized crime, poverty, addiction, and cultural identity, all real-life issues faced by native people in the modern age. And Aaron finds a way to make these important life stories as compelling as anything else on the shelves.
Rick Remender has a reputation for dramatic storytelling with well-crafted worlds and long-term arcs, and that skill is on full display when it comes to Black Science. The series stars Grant McKay, a scientist who invents a technology known as the pillar, which lets him travel through dimensions. Black Science feels deeply personal, and the protagonist is horribly flawed, essentially screwing everything up wherever he goes. Half of the series focuses on exploration through increasingly bizarre sci-fi worlds, and the other half features McKay cleaning up his own messes and trying to reclaim his self-confidence.
The Wicked + The Divine relies heavily on modern pop culture, particularly social media and celebrity fascination. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie both have well-earned reputations in the industry, and they’ve used them to craft an amazing tale of reincarnated deities that exist in our modern world.
The pantheon of gods all have fantastic powers, but a two-year lifespan, giving the entire series an intense sense of urgency.
Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky might just be the funniest people in comics, and Sex Criminals is their magnum opus. The conceit of the series is amazing: two lovers meet and just so happen to share an interesting superpower. Suzie and Jon both stop time whenever they orgasm, and can freely move around the frozen world for a while thereafter. After previously thinking they were alone in the world, the couple decides to use their amazing power to commit crimes, namely bank robberies.
When they encounter a police force made up of others with sex-related superpowers, things start to get weird, and it only gets more bizarre from there. If you like sex jokes of both the mature and immature variety, Sex Criminals is for you.
Lazarus, an Image series by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark can best be described as The Hunger Games for adults. Set in a dystopian future ruled by 16 wealthy families, Lazarus stars Forever Carlyle, a young woman trained in the art of kicking ass with guns and swords.
Carlyle adventures through a brutal feudal society that sorts people into families, serfs, and waste. She finds plenty of violence and intrigue to keep her busy along the way.
There are countless horror comics out there, but few are as unsettling as Revival. Set in a cold, rural, Wisconsin town, Revival features a cool twist on the classic “dead rising” trope. The dead in this series come back to life not as brain-eating simpletons, but stay essentially the same as they were before death. The moral, religious, and societal implications of this play out in front of Officer Dana Cypress, who still manages to find a murder mystery to solve in all the chaos.
Lumberjanes is a series that seeks to empower young women by giving them the kind of content that normally wouldn’t be aimed at them. The series, obviously enough, features some woodsy girls who go on the kind of summer camp adventures that are typically limited to boy characters. Full of progressive characterization and positive messages, Lumberjanes has enough supernatural content to keep comic book fans interested, and has gained a well-earned cult following.
The Sheriff of Babylon is written by former CIA counterterrorism officer and rising star Tom King, which gives it a real sense of authenticity. It stars a former police officer contracted to train a new Iraqi police force in Baghdad, which soon leads into a murder mystery. Rife with conflict, tension, and real-world relevance, The Sheriff of Babylon feels much more authentic than the average comic fare.
Rat Queens is part of the vanguard of comics that are claiming new territory for female characters and readers. The Rat Queens are like a fantastical version of the group from Bridesmaids; they are rude, crude, and independent women. This foul-mouthed and bawdy tale has plenty of familiar fantasy elements, but somehow the characterization makes everything in Rat Queens feel fresh and original. Most of all, this series is just plain fun to read.
Grant Morrison is definitely one of the most unique personalities in comic books. The Scottish-born writer believes in magic and openly experiments with drugs – and his bizarre ideas have always made it into his work. The Invisibles features Morrison at his most unrestrained, and the results are truly odd. The titular Invisibles are a team of former assassins made up of societal outsiders, and Morrison taps into his personal interests by finding them a litany of metaphorical and metaphysical foes to take on.
Like most Morrison projects, you’re never meant to know exactly what is going on in The Invisibles, and the ride is thrilling and suspenseful as a result.
The three-man team of Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire moved their act over from Marvel’s Moon Knight to start up Injection at Image Comics. Like most Ellis projects, Injection has a whole lot going on at once. The basic concept is that the 21st century has been “poisoned,” and must be fixed so that it can once again support human life. A mix of multiple genres, including science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and ghost story, Injection provides its creators an opportunity to comment on the sheer weirdness of the world we live in by making it look even weirder.
As one can discern from the title, Mind MGMT is a high-concept comic book that was started in 2012 by writer-artist Matt Kindt, and concluded in 2015. Mind MGMT stars true crime writer Meru as she uncovers a world-wide conspiracy. Tipped off by a missing flight, Meru discovers a secret organization of psychic super-spies and gets sucked into a crazy world of super-powered espionage.
The plot continues to thicken from there with layer upon layer of twists and turns, all of which are designed to keep the reader both intrigued and disoriented.
When it comes to all-star creators, it doesn’t get much better than Mark Millar and Greg Capullo teaming up to write Reborn. The story features an elderly woman who dies and finds herself reborn in a magical land as a young woman, but thrust immediately into a vicious conflict with fantastical monsters. She meets her long-deceased father and dog while there, but cannot find her husband, which leads her on a quest throughout this strange and dangerous afterlife.
The Other Dead is a comic that has some weaknesses. However, it does include one of the most insane concepts found in any form of fiction. The Other Dead puts a twist on the classic zombie genre by having animals come back from the dead instead of humans. The series opens with an undead deer taking revenge on former Vice President Dick Cheney, and eventually features Barack Obama as a main character who takes up arms in the deep south to combat the furry horde. That’s right, Obama fights zombie animals.