In the mid-1980s, the very first webcomics were shared with the world, changing the comics world forever. Since then, the market has never stopped growing, and with the integration of crowdfunding, webcomic artists/writers are now able to make a living off of their work. Most of us know of the classics — sites like XKCD and Penny Arcade still run strong today — but there are so many more comics out there now, both in the form of one-shot strips and long-arcing epic stories. Webcomics are a fantastic place for creators to get their work out there, and most of them end up going to print with support of the fans.
Webcomics nowadays range from parody to slice-of-life and supernatural mystery to progressive superhero stories. There's really no limit to what can be done with webcomics, as the format allows creators to do what they wish with their ideas without publisher interference. In many ways, it's the next step for comic books, a successor to the creator-owned format/model of Image Comics. Perhaps the only downside to so many webcomics is that it's hard to choose which ones to read and follow. But worry not, for CBR is here to give you 15 of the coolest webcomics you need to be reading (though you should always keep exploring).
Mark Waid has a rather successful comics career under his belt, both with the big two publishers and with his own personal works. One of Waid's projects is a website called Thrillbent, an online showcase for comic creators. The comics are in a rather unique format and fully incorporate the use of the digital medium. Most of the comics repeat panels for different speech bubbles and sometimes change slightly for character movements; it's a format that is still unique to the Thrillbent website.
Some of the comics featured are Mark Waid's Insufferable — the story of a jerky superhero and former sidekick to his superhero father working together once more — and a sequel to his cult hit Empire. Other popular Thrillbent comics include Albert the Alien and The House in the Wall, as well as The Eighth Seal (pictured above).
14 CYANIDE & HAPPINESS
We're sure we don't have to tell people about this one, since its hilarious and often disturbing strips are oft seen being shared and liked on all social medias. Updating daily, Cyanide & Happiness features one-off joke strips that use a lot of black comedy, satire and wordplay. There are some recurring characters amongst the thousands of strips — like the lovable purple-shirted eye stabber — but for the most part, the comics are one and done.
Cyanide & Happiness is one of the most successful webcomics on the internet, garnering an animated series, the second-most-funded card game in Kickstarter history and countless T-shirts and other merchandise. If you haven't heard of Cyanide & Happiness, then you need to crawl out from under that rock you've been living under and get in on the horrific hilarity.
13 RADIO SILENCE
Created by Vanessa Stefaniuk, Radio Silence follows a British pop/rock band as they deal with new-found fame and success while touring across Europe. The comic, which started under a year ago, goes beyond the basic webcomic format by featuring music with each post as well as giving each character their own Spotify playlist on the site's "cast" page.
Speaking of the cast, the members of Radio Silence are Matt on lead vocals, Colbie on guitar and backing vocals, Brent on bass, Wren on drums and Shy on keyboard. Each member has gotten hir or her own time in the limelight and the comic itself is a great peak into the workings of the musical culture of Europe. Stefanuik has a great animated style about her art, which alone is enough to draw in readers. Radio Silence currently updates on Tuesdays and Fridays.
12 LIGHTER THAN HEIR
Taking place in a Germanic fantasy world, Lighter Than Heir is about Zeppelin Von Schultheiss, a 19-year-old girl with the ability to fly. Zeppelin inherited this ability from her father, the great war hero Hemmel Von Schultheiss. Not wanting to live forever in her "flawless" father's shadow, Zeppelin enlists in the military on her birthday so that she can make a name for herself.
Unfortunately, the military isn't a place for the kind of self-centered brat that Zeppelin is. Not only does she find it to be harder than she thought, but also the world is on the verge of another war. Zeppelin must overcome her selfishness in order to serve her country and uncover mysteries about her powers. Lighter Than Heir is drawn by Melissa Albino and the writer is simply known as Spanio. LTH updates on Tuesdays and Fridays.
11 AGENTS OF THE REALM
Ever wonder what it would be like if Sailor Moon was in college instead of high school? Well, Mildred Louis' Agents of the Realm gives us exactly that. Agents of the Realm follows five freshman at Silvermount University as they discover hidden secrets about the college town and learn that they have been chosen as the next guardians of the world, and its sister dimension known as "The Other Realm."
Armed with different elemental powers and weapons, AoTR follows tropes of the "magical girl" genre while giving it a new spin. The agents — Norah, Adele, Kendall, Paige and Jordan — must learn to control these new abilities in order to protect the world from supernatural beasts and an evil inter-dimesional entity. Playing with a lot of tropes and featuring some beautifully colored art, Agents of the Realm is great for fans of Sailor Moon, updating on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
10 TRYING HUMAN
What could be more classic than a love story between a woman and a tall grey alien? If any of that sounds interesting, then Trying Human is for you. The webcomic, created by Emy Bitner, follows the strange life of Rose Williams, an alien abductee who is taken nightly by a species of "grey" aliens, one of which is named Hue and begins to fall in love with her. The comic also has a large web of interconnecting stories, characters, aliens and organizations (both human and alien), all of which get their time in the light as the comic jumps around time periods and locations.
The title, Trying Human, refers to the device that aliens use to walk amongst humans, known as a trying human circuit. Bitner updates her comic every Tuesday and simultaneously works to re-draw previous chapters with updated art for print form.
9 STRONG FEMALE PROTAGONIST
Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertad's Strong Female Protagonist isn't your average superhero comic. SFP follows Alison Green, a former teenage superhero who retired to go to college. Alison used to be known as Mega Girl, but upon realizing the futility of super- heroics, she hung up her mask and cape for good.
The series focuses on Alison's strive to find the right thing to do. This goes beyond punching the bad guys or "saving the day," as Alison is taking classes on morality, society, philosophy and the like to help her understand just how to truly save the world. Strong Female Protagonist is an intensely emotional journey that truly makes you question your own morals as characters argue and try to find the best ways to help the world, all while exploring topics of gender politics, criminal justice, personal growth and redemption for villains. SFP updates on Tuesdays and Fridays.
8 JOHNNY WANDER
Johnny Wander started as a series of autobiographical one-off comics and quickly evolved into a showcase for the work of Yuko Ota and Anath Hirsh. The couple work together as artist and writer respectively and gained a big following for their auto-bio comics before breaking out into personal fiction work.
Johnny Wander's fiction pieces by Ota and Hirsh are Lucky Penny — following the exploits of a 20-something as she tackles getting a job and living in her public storage unit — and most recently Barbarous — a story of an alternate world in which magic is part of modern society, and a witch with "bad magic" as she tries to get back on her feet after dropping out of magic school. Barbarous is currently unfolding on the Johnny Wander site, updating on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
7 DUMBING OF AGE
David Willis has had a pretty long career in webcomics, and is known for using the same characters in different settings across each of his works. His most recent project is called Dumbing of Age — a play on the phrase/genre "coming of age" — and follows a cast of freshmen at an undisclosed university as they experience a taste of adult life.
The main cast is made up of Joyce — a sheltered, religiously raised homeschool graduate — and her new friends Walky, Dorothy and Billie. Each have their own quirks and flaws and face them along the course of the series. The webcomic treats the characters as real and flawed, shifting gears from one-off jokes to hard-hitting, heartstring-tugging moments that explore themes of depression, abuse and sexual assault. All of these these are explored with intelligent responsibility while still being raw and real. Dumbing of Age updates daily.
6 QUESTIONABLE CONTENT
Contrary to what the title might imply, Questionable Content is not about what you think it is, at least not entirely. Jeph Jacques' long-running (since 2003!) webcomic follows Marten Reed, a 20-something with no clue what he wants and a lot of opinions about music. He is joined by friend/roommate/former love-interest Faye Whitaker as they deal with day-to-day life in the modern world. The world itself is one that is "minutes into the future," with A.I. robots walking the streets as members of society and the like.
The rest of the Questionable Content cast is filled with colorful and diverse characters, including members of a fictional symphonic metal band which Jacques himself has recorded albums for. Questionable Content has served as Jacques' full time job since 2004, updating every weekday.
5 ALICE GROVE
Another creation of Jeph Jaques, Alice Grove is a post-apocalyptic journey story about Alice, an immortal "witch" with mysterious powers and the knowledge of thousands of years of human civilization. Alice's peaceful life is interrupted when a blue alien boy named Ardent arrives on earth, bringing his nano-machine-powered sister, his own dangerous nano-machines and all kinds of trouble with him.
The comic is a side-project of Jacques and thus doesn't update as frequently. Regardless, Alice Grove features a lot of surprises, as well as the creator's signature comedic style. The action and adventure of Alice Grove is definitely an experiment for Jacques, but it's one that works well, creating a unique post-apocalyptic future that may in fact be the same timeline as Questionable Content (though that's just our theory). Alice Grove updates twice a week, but has been known to take occasional breaks.
4 OCTOPUS PIE
It's emotional, it's relatable and it's not actually about octopus pie. Running since 2007, Meredith Gran's Octopus Pie has over a thousand pages and has garnered several awards. The webcomic is about Eve Ning, a 20-something hipster living in Brooklyn with her young socialite friends as they navigate the challenges of love, work and growing up.
Eve is joined by her best friend and roommate Hanna Thompson as they walk their respective paths in life. In 2015, Meredith announced that she would be finishing Octopus Pie and moving on to other projects, and the series has recently began showing signs of a forthcoming end. Octopus Pie has recently incorporated color into the strips and it's done so beautifully. Gran is, without a doubt, a master of her craft. Octopus Pie currently updates three times a week
3 GIRLS WITH SLINGSHOTS
On March 13, 2015, the long-running webcomic Girls With Slingshots ended after over ten years with strip #2008. GWS is the project of Danielle Corsetto, which started as a side-project — with a name resulting from the fact that Corsetto couldn't draw guns for commissions and replaced them with slingshots — and eventually became the artist's full-time job. Girls With Slingshots follows Hazel Wellington, a hard-drinking writer navigating the adult world as life throws all kinds of challenges at her.
The webcomic was praised for its depiction of LGBT characters as well as the depiction of an asexual character. Corsetto has stated that she did her research on these characters, using the comments section as a tool to properly adjust the characters to make them more accurate and appropriate. Even though Corsetto has ended the comic, GWS still updates with colored versions of old strips.
2 LEAST I COULD DO
Running for over 14 years, Ryan Sohmer's Least I Could Do follows the exploits of Rayne Summers, a sexually promiscuous protagonist based on Sohmer himself. Rayne is loveably cheeky and surprisingly has a heart of gold under all the smarmy narcissism. While the comic originally focused on Rayne's many "sexual conquests," it has since moved towards the theme of family and growing up, somewhat coinciding with the creator's own family.
Least I Could Do has gone through a few artists, the longest running being current one, Lar deSouza, who also collaborates with Sohmer on Looking for Group. With over a decade under the webcomic's belt, a lot has happened in the strips Least I Could Do, the stories and characters showing impressive capacity for growth. Least I Could Do is still running strong and updates every day of the week.
1 ATOMIC ROBO
At last we come to one of the coolest webcomics out there, though it didn't start as one. Originally published by Red 5 comics, Atomic Robo moved to a free online format after the publishing rights lapsed. The series follows titular character Atomic Robo, the creation of and successor to famed scientist Nikola Tesla. Robo has lived for decades and runs Tesladyne, a combination scientific research facility/science security and adventure team. Robo deals with all kinds of sci-fi shenanigans from steampunk villains to fifth-dimensional monsters, with each new chapter working as a jumping-on point for new readers.
Robo is known for his nigh-invulnerability and tendency to use "almost-curses" when something crazy happens which, along with his "humanity," gives him quite the lovable personality. If you're not reading Atomic Robo, then you're missing out on some incredibly fun sci-fi action stories.
Got any other must-read webcomics we should know about? Let us know which ones in the comments!