With comic book IP seeping into everything from TV to movies, video games and beyond, it’s no wonder the actual comic book market has seen major growth in the last two years. While that’s translated into more sales of paper-made comic books, not everyone wants the chore, clutter and cost of keeping them around. Digital sales still make up a small portion of the overall comic book market but their popularity among casual readers and collectors alike is on the rise.
Depending on the kind of material you like to read, there are a number of different sites that you’ll want to check out. For casual collectors, it’s important that if you’re going to sign up for a service that charges a subscription fee, you know what you’re buying into and what kind of comics you want to read. For instance, if you loved Spider-Man: No Way Home and want to learn more about Dr. Strange, you’re going to be very sad if you sign up for DC Universe Infinite.
It’s also important to distinguish whether you want to buy and keep digital copies of said comic books. In some cases, picking a comic book reader is almost akin to choosing Spotify or Apple Music to listen to and download your favorite albums. While some of these apps come with a whole library of options to choose from others require you have your own collection already. To help you break down the difference between services, Paste has compiled 15 options to read comic books digitally.
Available for free at your local library, Hoopla offers a wide variety of new and old comic books, manga and much more. That includes eBooks, TV, Movies and audiobooks, so it’s more like a book-heavy Netflix than it is a casual reader. You can find new issues of indie books like Saga, but Marvel and DC books are released via trade collection only. This option is free and perfect if you’re a casual fan just looking to get caught up. The in-app reader for comics is user-friendly and Hoopla’s catalog is fairly easy to browse.
Libby is very much like a digital version of your local library in that it allows users to freely ‘borrow’ digital copies of comic books, newspapers and e-books via your library card. Once you have a card from your library you can use a certain number of ‘borrows’ per month which expire after a few weeks. Some libraries offer both Libby and Hoopla, while others choose just one depending on overall cost as they have to pay per checkout and that can add up. While the UI for Libby is a little more clunky than Hoopla, it’s also free and easy to navigate. If you’re looking for somewhere to start reading online, Libby is a great point of entry.
Together, DC and Marvel command around 70 percent of the comic book market, including digital. While both offer a company-specific comic book reader app, they differ greatly. Marvel got the jump on digital comics way back in 2007 with the launch of Marvel Unlimited. While the app was slow to add back issues at first, it’s caught up on the backlog over the past couple of years and now hosts full runs of comics as well as offering new issues within three months of hitting shelves.
DC launched its platform in 2018 as a combination streaming service and comic reader app to mixed results. The DC Universe Infinite app boasts an expanding archive of comic books, but new books take six months to reach the app. Both services feature app-only comics, stories and extras. If you live, breathe and eat Marvel or DC content, both act as interactive digital encyclopedias for their respective fandom. Each starts at $9.99 for a monthly subscription with exclusive plans going up to $99.99.
Comixology was great until it wasn’t. In February, the app rolled out an update that confused long-time users, seemingly deleted large swaths of collections and generally caused havoc. Last week, the company issued an update on updates to the update, including improved book resolution and resolved issues with New Releases filters but ‘improvements continue.’
Comixology is great in that, much like Amazon, you can find pretty much anything there. From tiny publishers to indie runs of oddball one-shots, there’s a lot to choose from. The service also lets you collect New Comic Book Day titles from the Big Two the moment they drop into comic book stores. Yes, you can buy and store comics from pretty much any publisher (Image, Dark Horse, Archie Comics, BOOM!, Valiant, Oni Press, and IDW Publishing) to create your perfect digital library here but at the end of the day, Amazon owns it all. That said, subscription plans start at $6 and come with a wide array of available comics upon sign up.
Launched in 2015, both IDW and 2000 AD’s reader apps work similarly in that they offer a good amount of free content for new readers and up-to-date runs of current titles. Dark Horse, which launched its app last year, is playing catch up but isn’t far out. These three apps are fantastic in that you can simply download them and read free comic books right away, no sign up required.
Over at IDW, you can check out the ongoing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers and G.I. Joe series in addition to an ever-growing number of horror and all-ages titles. Dark Horse has a limited selection at the moment but it does include a ton of Black Hammer, Umbrella Academy and Hellboy. It’s refreshing to see 2000 AD available for free (with paid options of course) and continuing to publish science fiction comics in the digital age. In addition to the magazine, 2000 AD has a huge back stock of graphic novels from spin-off characters.
If you already have a nice stash of digital comic books or graphic novels and you’re just looking for a nice interface to use them, there are a number of great options. If you’re looking for something slick that has everything you’ll ever need in a reader, Chunky for iPad is a great place to start. While it may not be as slick as Panels, it has everything Panels does, looks great and it’s free. Chunky is only available on iPad at the moment, so if you’re looking for a mobile app, move along.
You can load in your books from iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Transporter, Google Drive, OneDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive, Box or even Pogoplug, and the library self-organizes alphabetically. Chunky also supports all of the formats Panels does, including CBZ, CBR, and PDF. The app also understands ComicRack and ComicBookLover and includes parental controls in the free version. Chunky’s “tap to pan” feature which guides the app’s “eye” from panel to panel with a quick touch, a popular feature on many readers now.
Although it’s not specifically set up for manga, CrunchyRoll, the massive anime company based out of Japan has plenty of it on their app. CrunchyRoll requires a subscription to buy content and looks more like Netflix in that it hosts anime TV and movies for the most part, but you can find free shows and manga on the app fairly easily. If you’re already on the service, it’s a good source for manga especially if you’re just getting started.
Viz Manga and Shonen Jump, owned by the same company, offer an alternative to Crunchy Roll in that they focus solely on manga. Shonen Jump, specifically, is incredibly user-friendly, especially to new readers. It offers a healthy mix of free content alongside options to buy specific manga issues. At $1.99, it’s one of the lowest paid options and well worth the money if you’re looking to jump headfirst into the manga genre. If you sign up for Shonen Jump, you also get access to the parent app, Viz, which is the official distributor for most manga in North America.
What happens if you don’t have an iPad or iPhone and still want to read comics. There are a ton of apps on the Google Play Store for Android devices, but the best two we tried were Astonishing Comic Reader and the old, reliable CDisplayEx. Both apps are great if you’ve amassed a collection of digital comics and want something free and easy to use.
Astonishing Comic Reader and CDisplayEx also have versions for Windows if you simply want to read comics on your laptop. ACR debuted in 2015 and since then has amassed more than one million downloads. The app supports CBR, PDF, and JPG files and can even stream to your TV. CDisplayEx works much like ACR, but it’s certainly more stripped down if you don’t care for frills and just want to read a book quickly.