Reading Comics: A Beginner’s Guide & FAQ

Hi, my name is Vin (@vinwriteswords on X/Twitter), and I’m the resident comics expert here at The Cosmic Circus. I’m so excited you’re interested in learning more about reading comics!

Before we get started, here’s a quick FAQ outline:

Most people are introduced to comics through superheroes, and they’re introduced to superheroes through movies, TV shows, and games. Once you fall in love with a character, comics are a great way to go further with their stories. Most comics characters have decades of past stories waiting to be read. But instead of waiting years for a new movie, comics have new adventures every month!

Comics bridge the gap between written prose and animation. Like prose, comics feature text and stories are limited only by the imagination of the creators. However, like animation, comics have the distinct visual appeal of handcrafted images. Artistic choice affects every detail on the page, including the penciling, coloring, lettering, inking, and even the layout of panels. A single comic could be the end result of hundreds of hours of work from several writers and artists, or even the singular vision of one talented writer-artist. It’s a beautiful artform.

Multiversity: Pax Americana #1 by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC Comics)


Issues, Trades, and Omnibuses: “How are comics organized?”

Most comics start as monthly magazines called issues. Issues are like individual chapters of a story, published one at a time. Every few months, the latest magazine issues are collected together as a book, called trades (4-8 issues). And every few years, the most popular book trades are collected as deluxe large-size book called an omnibus (20-50 issues). Issues are the original chapters, trades are multiple chapters together in one book, and omnibuses are entire sagas in one complete volume.

Some of the other most popular terms are:

      • Runs – Complete story by a creator, e.g. Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil
      • Ongoing series – Unlimited number of issues, e.g. Batman
      • Limited series – Finite number of issues, e.g. Watchmen #1-12

There are many special terms, but you’ll pick them up naturally as you chat with other fans through Reddit, Discord, Twitter, your local comic shop, and in-person meetups. Comics communities are a great way to make friends, share opinions, get new recommendations, and learn the lingo. Join the Cosmic Circus Discord! We’re always happy to talk comics.


Reading superhero comics: “Where do I start?”

Getting into comics is daunting. “Overwhelmingness” is the #1 barrier to starting superhero comics. There are just too many characters, multiverses, reboots, retcons, and rebirths. It’s terrifying, and everyone knows it. Even “starter guides” are overwhelming. But in my opinion, there are two secret tricks to make it easier.

The first secret to reading superhero comics: forget about the larger universe.

Just focus on one story at a time. You wouldn’t start the MCU with Endgame, so don’t start comics with a big event like Secret Wars or Crisis on Infinite Earths. Instead, pick your favorite character and read their best stories. We have tons of recs at the bottom of this page. Start with something character-based like Batman: The Court of Owls or Ms. Marvel: No Normal. Don’t worry about labels like Earth-1610 or New 52 or anything like that. Just focus on reading each story on its own.

The second secret to reading superhero comics: follow your favorite writers.

After reading a bit, hopefully you’ll find something you like. Great! See who wrote it, then look for more comics by the same writer. Comics are a series of stories by different writers, so every writer brings something different. When you find a writer you like, go read their other stuff. Even if you don’t know the characters, you should be able to follow the story comfortably if you start from the beginning of that writer’s run.

For example, if you like Kingdom Come by Mark Waid, then you’ll probably like Mark Waid’s run on Fantastic Four. Luckily, Marvel has a big omnibus called Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo with everything you need. You might notice that it starts with “Fantastic Four (1998) #60”. Don’t panic! #60 is the first chapter with a new writer, and a new writer means a new storyline, so it’s still an easy starting point. You don’t need to know the history of The Fantastic Four before it because everything is explained within the story itself.

After this, you can continue with Fantastic Four by another writer like Jonathan Hickman, or check out Mark Waid’s other work like Daredevil and Captain America. Once you understand the universe better, you can build towards the bigger, more complicated events. If you have questions about comics numbering, you can check this post I made a few years ago.

Comics by Mark Waid (DC, Marvel, Archie)


Price: “Where can I find cheap comics?”

Comics are notoriously expensive. Thankfully, there are a number of solutions for cheap, or even free comics!

The most expensive option is buying monthly single issues one at a time. If you like to read month to month and want to save money, I recommend a digital subscription service like DC Universe Infinite (DC only), Marvel Unlimited (Marvel only), or Comixology (DC, Marvel, and indie). These cost about $10 per month, and you get access to almost everything from the history of those publishers.

To borrow comics for free, check your local library and digital library services like Hoopla and Overdrive. If your library doesn’t have what you want, you can make a purchase request. Most libraries with small comics collections simply don’t know what to buy, so they’ll be happy to purchase whatever you ask for (even a brand new $100 Animal Man omnibus!). In the United States, you can also make an Inter-Library Loan (ILL), which lets you borrow books from libraries in different cities. I have read thousands of comics for FREE thanks to purchase requests and ILLs.

If you would like to buy comics cheaply, you have a number of options as well. Local comic shops are great but they often charge full price for new books, so ask if they have a discount section. For pre-owned comics, you can check used bookstores, second-hand stores, and websites like eBay and Amazon. For new comics, has low prices, and regularly has Buy 2 Get 1 sales. You can also check sites specifically for comics, like,, and Some sellers also have membership programs so you can save even more. I usually buy older comics from my local used bookstore (55% off), and newer comics from Barnes & Noble’s online sales (33% off). Check your options and see what works for you!

barnes-noble-sale-heartstopper-1000-recolored sale, Spring 2024


Audience: “Are comics for adults?”

Being seen with comics might feel a little embarrassing. But why? We’ve all enjoyed the billion-dollar movies, so it’s natural to dive deeper into the original stories. Like any medium, comics explore a wide breadth of tones and experiences. Marvel and DC (the “Big Two”) specialize in popular superhero action comics, but even their material comes with a dozen subgenre variations for different audiences. Comics aren’t just for kids!

The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke are two famous superhero stories for adult readers, and the further you step away from core action comics, the more genre possibilities you open yourself up to. For example, Gotham Central focuses on a corrupt police department dealing with Gotham’s most demented villains. The gruesome plot, noir narration, and moody art style create a rugged, hard-boiled detective comic that feels more mature than most live-action Batman adaptations.

In fact, the main audience for superhero comics right now is the adults who grew up in a golden age of comic adaptations. Adult superhero comics are so popular that DC launched a “Black Label” line in 2018, designed specifically for older readers. Black Label has led to some of DC’s best work in decades, like Wonder Woman Historia, Human Target, and Harleen. Featuring a higher caliber of artistic attention, these are deeper, more thought-provoking stories designed for adults. Just like the movies, superhero comics have a limitless spectrum of possibilities, for all audiences.

Even outside of the Big Two superhero universes, many of the best comics feature a strong 18+ rating as well. The most famous is Watchmen, a gritty deconstructionist story that uses an alternate universe to lambaste the superhero genre (see also The Boys, or even Invincible). Beyond superheroes, all-time popular comics like Saga, The Walking Dead, and Sex Criminals are definitely not for kids either!

Some of my recent indie favorites, like Monsters, It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth, Ducks, and Shubeik Lubeik are emotional stories inspired by the real world. These modern masterpieces take a very adult look at the struggle for hope through situations like war, depression, and the corruption of authority. There are even journalistic and historical fiction comics like Palestine and Maus which present unique perspectives on the most heartbreaking humanitarian crises in history. Indie comics catered to adults can open you up to whole universes of stories for every audience imaginable, covering any tone and topic imaginable.

The range of comic books is especially true outside of American comics. We can’t forget the exquisite French bande dessinées nor the dynamic artistry of Japanese manga, which deserve an appreciation post all to themselves.

Vagabond #99 by Takehiko Inoue (Viz Media)


Comics Starting Recommendations

Now that you’re ready to dive in, here are some of our favorite comics to start with. Enjoy reading!

Quick jumps: Marvel  DC  Indie

Marvel Comics

      • Something different: Loki Sorcerer Supreme


DC Comics

Justice League

      • Kingdom Come
      • DC: The New Frontier
      • JLA: Year One



      • Batman: The Court of Owls
      • Batman: The Long Halloween
      • Batman: Hush
      • Batman: Year One
      • Something different: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
      • Something different: Batman: The Black Mirror
      • Something different: Gotham Central



      • Something different: Superman: Secret Identity
      • Something different: Superman: Red Son


The Flash

      • Flash: Year One
      • Flash: Dastardly Death Of The Rogues
      • Flash by Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Jeremy Adams


Green Lantern

      • Green Lantern by Geoff Johns + Green Lantern Corps by Peter Tomasi
      • Green Lantern: Emerald Twilight
      • Green Lanterns by Sam Humpries
      • Something different: Far Sector
      • Something different: Green Lantern: Earth One
      • Something different: Sinestro by Cullen Bunn


Wonder Woman

      • Wonder Woman: Historia
      • Wonder Woman Year One
      • Wonder Woman by George Perez, Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, Phil Jimenez

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons


Indie Comics


      • Ducks
      • Shubeik Lubeik
      • It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth



      • Deadly Class
      • Do a Powerbomb


Science fiction

      • Saga
      • Paper Girls
      • East of West
      • We3
      • Descender/Ascender
      • Letter 44
      • Universal War One


Historical fiction

      • Maus
      • Monsters
      • Persepolis
      • From Hell
      • Palestine
      • The Arab of the Future



      • Invincible
      • Radiant Black
      • Astro City
      • Black Hammer
      • Umbrella Academy



      • Hellboy
      • These Savage Shores
      • Wytches
      • The Walking Dead
      • Something is Killing the Children



      • Heartstopper
      • On a Sunbeam
      • are you listening?
      • Nimona
      • Love & Rockets
      • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me
      • Gender Queer: A Memoir
      • Thieves



      • Beserk
      • Vagabond
      • Monster
      • Slam Dunk
      • Dungeon Meshi
      • One Piece
      • Fullmetal Alchemist


Bande dessinées

      • Tintin
      • Asterix
      • Thorgal
      • Blueberry, The Incal
      • Persepolis
      • Snowpiercer
      • Valérian and Laureline