Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series is an epic 10-volume work, soon to be adapted for the small screen by Netflix and Warner Bros. It fuses elements from mythology, history and folklore to tell the story of Morpheus, who rules over the realm of the Dreaming- his reclamation of power following his imprisonment and his tragic downfall.
Of course, Morpheus is known by a different title as well: the Prince of Stories.
So naturally, the volumes are packed with self-connected stories that are nevertheless still a part of a larger narrative. In fact, although it's advisable to read the volumes in order, you can easily pick up some of them such as World's End or Fables and Recollections and enjoy them as short story anthologies in comic form.
And if you're looking to get a taste for the wide variety of styles that comprises the Sandman, take a look at some of the best stories that Gaiman has ever penned.
10 A Dream of a Thousand Cats (Issue #18)
Even if you aren't a cat lover, you'll definitely find something to appreciate in this wry and thought-provoking tale, that feature...you guessed it, cats!
A cat listens to Dream's story that imagines an alternate reality where cats rule the world and humans are their playthings. However one day everything changes when a man tells them that their dreams have power to shape reality- and the humans believed it enough to have the world changed.
The cat then preaches to all housecats, hoping that if enough cats believed in it, their reality would change and they would be restored to their position of power, once again.
Well, that sure explains how cats have taken over social media!
9 The Hunt (Issue #38)
The stories in The Sandman draw from a wide variety of cultural traditions, which makes the series both eclectic and diverse. In fact, in Season of Mists, there's a scene where the entire mythological pantheon is represented, as deities of all kinds come to Dream with the hope of gaining the keys to Hell.
This short story, in particular takes on an Eastern European flavor and features werewolves and Baba Yaga and makes for a short and engaging read.
8 The Sandman: Dream Hunters
This short story, published as a standalone, isn't part of the official Sandman volumes, but takes place in the same universe, and features Dream and his raven in a cameo role.
It was adapted from a prose novella that Gaiman wrote and illustrated by the brilliant artist Yoshitaka Amano. It is presented in the form of a traditional Japanese folktale with a fox spirit and a monk as the central characters.
7 The Golden Boy (Issue #54)
One of the more original and utterly unique stories, "The Golden Boy" offers an alternate history of America.
Nixon is replaced by the seemingly perfect "Prez Richard" who in his first term, solves the energy crisis, prevents wars and brings justice and peace to America. However, a mysterious politician called "Bob Smiley" looms over him and his second term is marked by personal tragedy. Eventually, Dream offers Prez a deal, which he takes. He becomes a form of a Messiah, traveling to alternate versions of America and trying to fix things.
Gaiman takes the myth of the American Dream quite literally, by creating a mythological figure around it, and thereby making the reader realize how illusory it all really is.
6 Calliope (Issue #17)
This is a dark and grisly tale that stars one of the Greek Muses. Richard Madoc is struck down with writer's block after the success of his first book and in his desperation, he has Calliope imprisoned and rapes her for inspiration for his stories.
Calliope calls upon the Furies who redirects her to Dream. Dream comes to her rescue and punishes Madoc by giving him what he most desired: a never-ending source of ideas, that drives him insane.
5 The Sound Of Her Wings (Issue #8)
This isn't a short story in the strictest sense of the term, but it's a seminal issue that gave the series a unique voice. It is quiet and meditative and marks the first appearance of Death, in the series.
This Death is unlike the skeletal Grim Reaper that haunted popular imagination. In stead Gaiman's Death is an empathetic and cheerful teenager, who dresses like a punk-goth and wears an ankh necklace.
The episode is quiet, peaceful and meditative and shows the two siblings-Dream and Death- together feeding pigeons and talking.
4 A Tale of Two Cities (Issue #51)
A very surreal tale, "A Tale of Two Cities" experiments with a fluid art style- instead of well-defined panels, the words and the illustrations seem to flow with and dissolve into each other.
The story too, is vaguely Lovecraftian, where an individual finds himself in the "dream" of the city and unable to escape to reality. He wanders frantically for a long time, before he finally returns to "reality" and is shaken for life after that strange encounter.
3 Cerements (Issue #55)
Russian-doll narratives, that features stories within a story, have always been appreciated, and "Cerements" deserves special applause for masterfully reworking that style.
It might be a bit too morbid for some readers, but that's part of its appeal. Set in the necropolis of "Litharge" where the inhabitants are responsible for the proper burial of the dead, different people take turn to narrate their tales, and the characters in their tales, also have stories of their own, forming a chain of nearly-infinite interconnected loops.
It's nothing like you've read before.
2 A Midsummer Night's Dream (Issue #19)
Often regarded as the best and most important issue in the Sandman, this story features William Shakespeare as a character and revolves around the premiere of his famous play to an audience of fae creatures. Titantia, Auberon, Puck and the like watch human actors take on their roles and tell a story involving them and Puck in the end, gets up on the stage and plays himself.
It questions just how "real" or "true" fictional stories can be and it's no surprise that this is the only comic to have won the World Fantasy Award for short fiction in 1991.
1 Ramadan (Issue #50)
The premise of "Ramadan" is this: the Baghdad that actually exists in reality is only a dreary copy of the real city which is preserved in all its legendary glory inside a bottle by Morpheus.
Drawn in the style of an Arabic manuscript, Ramadan is a visually gorgeous and colorful exploration of the nature of legends and stories that underscores one of the central themes of the Sandman, that stories are more real and truthful than everything else.