As someone who has seen just about every superhero TV show and movie, I’ve always been interested in reading comics, but have been too overwhelmed to know where to start. Superman, the first true modern superhero, was created in 1938 by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. The thousands of comic book characters that have been created in the eighty years since Superman was introduced made the endeavor more than a little daunting.
Truthfully, I likely wouldn’t have started reading comics if a friend hadn’t given me an idea of where to start. But once I had a direction, I found that I loved the variety of characters, the range of art styles, and the unbridled imagination.
While at first I stuck to characters I was familiar with through movies and TV, I’ve since come to love characters I’d never even heard of. Once I had found a few characters I liked and understood, it gave me a way to access a whole new way of storytelling in a completely different genre.
For readers who want to try comics but have no clue where to start, here are four series I highly recommend:
Hawkeye: Kate Bishop by Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero
For fans of a character with a take-no-shit attitude
No, this is not Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. This is Kate Bishop, the other Hawkeye. Kate has been around since 2005, but just got her own comic in 2017.
After being attacked in Central Park, Kate begins to train in archery, sword fighting, and other types of combat as way to prevent that happening to her or anyone else. She eventually becomes friends with Clint Barton and features prominently in the Hawkeye series by Matt Fraction and David Aja, where she spends a lot of time saving Barton’s life. This series by Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero picks up immediately after as Kate moves to LA to start a PI agency, serve some justice, and make a little trouble.
As a relatively new character with just two solo volumes in the current run out now, it’s a perfect time for new readers to pick up Kate’s storyline.
Alias: Jessica Jones by Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, and David Mack
For fans of detective stories and books that don’t shy away from the darker parts of life
This is the only character on this list who has a modern adaptation. If you loved the show and haven’t read the Alias comics, stop what you’re doing and read them. Alias has all of the things audiences loved about Jessica Jones and more.
Jessica Jones is a costumed superhero turned functioning alcoholic. She works as a PI while dealing (or not dealing) with her own trauma. Jessica’s story is dark, and that gives it a sense of realness that can sometimes be missing from the fantastic worlds of superheroes.
One of the standout parts of this series is the art style. It’s beautiful in a way that, as a comic newbie, I hadn’t known comic book art could be. This was the first comic that I actually bought for myself, and a large part of that was because I knew I would want to come back to the art over and over again.
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Sara Pichelli
For fans of teen dramas and stories about trying to find your place in the world
Kamala Khan had enough to deal with before she got superpowers. Now she’s trying to balance high school and her family’s expectations with her new shapeshifting abilities and all the weird, ominous things happening in her city.
Kamala made history as the first Muslim character to headline a book at Marvel Comics and has been met with critical acclaim: the first volume of Ms. Marvel won the Hugo Award for best graphic story in 2015.
As an avid fan of superheroes before she gets her powers, Kamala takes the name Ms. Marvel from one of her personal heroes Carol Danvers (who now goes by Captain Marvel). The youngest character on this list, Kamala’s story is particularly entertaining as she deals with the drama of high school while also trying to save the world.
Batgirl by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr
For fans of heroines who have all the brains and all the brawn
Of all the comics my friend gave me, I was most hesitant about Batgirl. She’s been around since 1961—that’s a lot of history and reboots to try to sort through. But this run by Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr picks up with Barbara Gordon moving to a new city and looking for a fresh start. It effectively stands alone and was therefore perfect for a new reader.
This version of Barbara embraces life as a twentysomething college student, complete with social media, relationship drama, and more than a few parties.
It’s a very modern take on an old character, and it does it well. One of my favorite moments is when Batgirl essentially goes viral. It’s humorous and oddly relatable for a story about girl who spends her nights dressed up as a bat to fight crime.
While it’s easy to feel lost if you’re new to the world of comics, the countless characters and worlds also means that there’s something for any reader. And if you’re interested in the history of comics and superheroes, I recommend Slugfest by Reed Tucker, an exploration of the rivalry between Marvel and DC, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, a fictional story set during the golden age of comics.
Alyssa Loebig is the co-founder and publisher at Yellow Taxi Press. She is also the marketing associate at Ploughshares and has interned at Da Capo Press, the Harvard Education Publishing Group, and others. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter (@alyssa_loebig).