For our gift guide this season, we curated a list of 2019’s finest sequential art, from Marvel and DC collections to manga imports and Young Adult graphic novels. The 10 titles below include everything from quiet queer stories to skin-crawling horror to flashy media tie-ins, and they come in a full array of formats from doorstopper hardcovers to introductory-priced paperbacks. This guide is only a small sliver of the year’s worthy releases, but it should help narrow down your holiday shopping for the comic readers (and potential comic converts) on your list.
Writer: Bryan Edward Hill
Artist: Gleb Melnikov
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Shortly after launching a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer title, BOOM! Studios pulled its own vampiric Beyoncé move by revealing a surprise Angel series just eight days ahead of its first issue. Written by Fallen Angels scribe Bryan Edward Hill and drawn by Saban’s Go Go Power Rangers artist Gleb Melnikov, Angel catches up with Joss Whedon’s vampire with a soul just as he discovers a prophecy: the restoration of his humanity requires him to take the life of…Buffy Summers, Sunnydale’s new Slayer extraordinaire. BOOM!’s new continuity for Buffy and Angel is more of a modern refresh than a full reboot, so longtime franchise fans shouldn’t feel too put off by lore changes, and even those struggling to accept tweaks to the core Scooby Gang should appreciate Hill and Melnikov’s sleek Angel reimagining. Also worth considering from BOOM! Studios this Christmas: recent tie-ins to Firefly and The Magicians, for the respective super-fans in your immediate circle.
Writer/Artist: Tillie Walden
Publisher: First Second
Despite not yet hitting her 25th birthday, cartoonist Tillie Walden has emerged as one of the most promising and prolific talents working in the industry. The autobiographical Spinning made Walden one of the youngest Eisner Award-winners ever, while On a Sunbeam’s mix of sci-fi and quiet introspection proved Walden’s range and wide appeal. Are You Listening?, Walden’s latest, is a road-trip tale that tackles difficult themes like sexual assault and queer belonging through the lens of magical realism. With each new release, Walden builds on her ability to mix and match genres, construct memorable characters and manipulate the tools of graphic storytelling in compelling new ways. Give Are You Listening? to just about any type of reader on your list—especially those who still question the “literary” validity of comics—and watch how fast they become a Walden convert.
Writer/Artist: Kentaro Miura
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Compiling a list of “definitive” manga is a herculean task. The medium has been around as long or longer than American comics, but it’s never been as restricted in subject matter as our own superhero-heavy industry. Still, Kentaro Miura’s dark fantasy Berserk may be one of a handful of titles most manga authorities could agree upon as a must-read entry. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Berserk’s first serialization, Dark Horse Comics kicked off a series of massive deluxe compendiums this year, each clocking in at nearly 700 pages. Boasting a pitch-black tone, a penchant for sexual violence and bountiful gore, Berserk isn’t an easy read by any means, but these hardy new editions make for a perfectly edgy Christmas gift for the fantasy and/or manga fan on your list.
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artists: Trevor Hairsine, James Harren, Others
Publisher: DC Comics
DC’s strongest comic output over the last half-decade has trended toward the out-of-continuity, like the surprise hit video-game tie-in Injustice: Gods Among Us. Australian author Tom Taylor wrote much of that series and is also the madman behind DCeased, a zombie thriller that transcends both its pun title and its played-out undead premise. Taylor, joined by artist Trevor Hairsine, pummels DC’s most iconic heroes with a fast-spreading zombie virus tied into Darkseid’s Anti-Life Equation and transmitted by as little as a glance at an electronic screen. The danger is not just that DC’s pantheon will succumb to the virus, but that their outsized super-abilities will then be turned against the ever-dwindling survivor pool. It’d be easy for DCeased to lapse into gruesome shock tactics, but as with Injustice, Taylor knows how to tap into these characters’ evergreen appeal, reminding readers why these heroes endure even as they fall one by one to the flesh-hungry hordes. This hardcover collection includes the full original mini-series and its spin-off one-shot, priming DC fans for the upcoming, villain-focused companion story.
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Publisher: Image Comics
Die, in classic pun-happy Kieron Gillen fashion, refers to both the 20-sided tabletop-gaming die and the very real risk of mortality one might face if one were suddenly transported into a Dungeons & Dragons campaign for real. Fully digitally painted by former Journey into Mystery and The Wicked + The Divine contributor Stephanie Hans, Die quickly jumped to the forefront of Image Comics’ lineup with an irresistible premise: decades ago, a group of nerdy teenage friends were transported into a fantasy gaming world. All but one returned, but none of them could physically say a word about what they had been through. Now, as middle-aged adults, they’ve each received signs that their campaign is far from over. Like Stephen King’s It via Gary Gygax, Die is a heady mix of horror, nostalgia, literary allusion, middle-age anxiety and the sins of youth, brought to life by Hans’ stunning fantasy art. The first collected volume came out this summer and is a perfect gift for fans of Saga, WicDiv, Monstress and other Image favorites.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva
Publisher: Marvel Comics (will be released on December 11th)
If any mainstream comic(s) defined 2019, it was the intertwined punch of House of X and Powers of X (pronounced “Powers of 10”). Written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn, respectively, by Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva with unifying colors from Marte Gracia, HoXPoX redefined the X-status quo after a particularly rocky decade for Marvel’s merry mutants. While HoXPoX is less of a self-contained event and more of a springboard for the curren X-Men publishing line, there’s plenty between these covers to satisfy the lapsed X-Men fan without the need for supplementary reading. The rabid X-fanatics in your life probably read these two six-issue mini-series as they came out this summer and fall, but they’ll still appreciate a hefty hardcover collecting the whole twisty set, as the multilayered plot all but demands rereading.
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Publisher: First Second
It’s not as if Mariko Tamaki has had a bad year in comics since This One Summer came out to appropriately rave reviews in 2014—but 2019 was definitely her year in bold new ways. After wrapping up fan-favorite Marvel series X-23, Tamaki quickly raced to the top of DC’s Young Adult offerings with Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass before announcing that she would serve as curator for an LGBTQ-focused graphic-novel imprint at Abrams. Along the way, Tamaki teamed up with illustrator Rosemary Valero-O’Connell for Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, a nuanced, occasionally swoon-worthy tale of young love and learning to deal with toxic relationships, even when the toxic person is really cute. Protagonist Freddy thought Laura Dean was her dream girl, but her inability to say no to Laura Dean seems to be costing Freddy her friendships and sanity. Queer readers deserve more love stories, sure—but we also deserve love stories that are messy and flawed and complicated. In a year packed with exemplary LGBTQ+ stories for young readers—Kiss Number 8 and Bloom are also great gift options—Laura Dean stands out as a perfect present for the teens (and teens at heart) on your list.
Writers: Osamu Dazai and Junji Ito
Artist: Junji Ito
Publisher: VIZ Media (will be released on December 17th)
It’s hardly appropriate to call horror maestro Junji Ito a cult favorite at this point; the last few years have seen a steady stream of American imports, an anime series, ample licensed apparel and even official Pokémon art commissioned by GameFreak. That doesn’t diminish the excitement of each new English edition of his work, though. Out just before Christmas, No Longer Human is an adaptation of an esteemed, somewhat autobiographical Japanese prose novel written by Osamu Dazai, who took his own life shortly after its publication. The source material may not be an out-and-out horror story, but it grapples with challenging subject matter like social isolation and suicide, which Ito transforms into his trademark tableaus of terror. Also out this year: Smashed, one of Ito’s strongest short story collections to date.
Writer: Ram V
Artist: Sumit Kumar
Publisher: Vault Comics
After years of rumors, DC finally ended the once-legendary Vertigo imprint this year, closing the book on one of the most influential institutions in Western comics. And while it’s reductive to label any one publisher as the “next Vertigo,” it’s also not wrong to apply that honor (and responsibility) to recent upstart Vault Comics, which spent 2019 bringing a diverse array of genre offerings to shelves—from a nearly equally diverse collection of rising creators. These Savage Shores, written by Ram V and drawn by Sumit Kumar, just barely edges out steep competition like Friendo, Wasted Space, Fearscape and Submerged for Vault’s spot on this list. Mingling themes of British imperialism, Indian myth and classic vampirism, These Savage Shores is a sumptuously illustrated, fiercely intelligent read, and the perfect choice for discerning comic readers looking for a self-contained tale of tragic love and duty.
Writer/Artist: Emily Carroll
Publisher: Koyama Press
Emily Carroll has an ability to put things alongside one another that make your skin crawl, which is why she’s so successful in the horror genre. Something that seems traditional has weirdly modern, somewhat ugly lettering, and the way those things rub against one another creates a tectonic plate effect. Her full-bleed pages and limited palette, her incongruous close-ups, her weird shading and her unexpected teeth all surgically peel back your skin. This slim, sexy vampire story from Koyama Press isn’t set at Christmas (at least not explicitly), but brings to mind the old gothic tradition of telling spooky stories beside the fire while awaiting a visit from Old Saint Nick. Give this to your friends and fans of Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier and Mary Shelley. —Hillary Brown & Steve Foxe