Comic Books

For nearly as long as they've been around, comic books have existed in shared universes, with characters repeatedly crossing over with each other and referencing these past adventures in future ones. By the 1980s, this expansive continuity became very tangled, with a multitude of series all sharing the same past events. However, this does not mean that every single published issue needs to be read in order to understand the story. These lists seek to compile the best stories, usually focused around runs of different writers, instead of tracking every single appearance of a character. Hopefully, this will allow these comics to be read to reveal some awesome stories and characters while sidestepping the tangled mess of continuity that comes with modern comic books.

With some of these series as massive as they are, a good starting point and reading order isn't always simple to find, so I'm here to try and determine to perfect reading order for the best reading experience, prioritizing story and cohesive flow over featuring ever single appearance. In general, I will try to put multiple issues of a series together before jumping to another series, but there are some cases where this is not feasible, in which case I will go issue-by-issue with as much specificity for each series as possible. These reading orders will not feature every issue of a series, some of which span hundreds of issues, but will show complete stories and character arcs.

Reading Orders

After entering the Marvel Universe through Guardians of the Galaxy in 2013, Angela would properly find her place as a character in Thor's world thanks to 2014's Original Sin. After that, Angela sustained her own storyline for a few years, taking place across multiple series and all written by Marguerite Bennett with support from Kieron Gillen. This storyline sees Angela find her place in this new world and reckon with the love of her life and best friend, Sera.

With the cosmic side of the Marvel universe floundering in comic-book limbo for the better part of a decade, editor Andy Schmidt brought together a super-team of writers, initially led by Keith Giffen, to revamp Marvel's cosmic cast of characters with an all-encompassing event. This became Annihilation, a smash hit about a rag-tag band of cosmic heroes like Nova, Drax, and Quasar leading the Skrull and Kree Empires in a war against the all-consuming Annihilation Wave. Out of that spun Dan Abnett's and Andy Lanning's Nova series, which immediately spawned another crossover, Annihilation: Conquest, that brought together even more cosmic heroes to save the Kree Empire from a devastating conquest.

A set of six one-shots masterminded by Matthew Rosenberg that tell the return of the Cancerverse, following up on events from Annihilation, The Thanos Imperative, and Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four series. However, this is less of a conclusion to those stories and more of an individual follow-up that ties elements of them together for its own standalone story of cosmic proportions. To sum up, the Cancerverse has invaded the Negative Zone, and its up to Nova, the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, and Beta Ray Bill to stop it.

After the conclusion of hit television series Avatar: The Last Airbender in 2008, the creators of the show decided to continue the show's plots, worldbuilding, and character arcs in a series of comic books. Written primarily by Gene Luen Yang and drawn by Gurihiru, the comics show the aftermath of the series finale and generally tell one interconnected story that is broken into smaller, still complete stories. These comics also serve as a bridge between Avatar and its sequel show, Legend of Korra, which began airing the same year as the first big comic, The Promise. While not an official Season 4 for the show, it basically functions as one.

In December of 1997, writer Kurt Busiek brought the heroic Avengers back to the main Marvel universe after a year-long absence, reinvigorating the team's classic members with fresh faces and a sense of heart. Along with a host of spectacular artists and a few guest writers, Busiek would go on to write a 4-year epic about why the world needs the Avengers, even as pressures from within and without seek to topple them. Highlights of this great series include the robotic Ultron decimating a small country in Ultron Unlimited, a seemingly-benign self-help group known as the Triune Understanding trying to discredit the Avengers, and the time-travelling Kang the Conquerer finally setting out in full force to conquer the 21st century in Kang Dynasty.

In 2012, writer Jonathan Hickman moved right from his stellar Fantastic Four run to a three year run on Marvel's flagship title, Avengers. Partnering it with a second poorly-titled series called New Avengers (it really stars the Illuminati, Marvel's superhero world leaders) the two series see the Avengers expand to new heights as the end of the universe slowly looms in the background. The run is split into two parts, the first of which climaxes with the Infinity event and the second of which concludes with Secret Wars.

Following Secret Wars in 2015, Marvel decided to revamp the Avengers, focusing not on one storyline starring key players, but on multiple separate storylines starring the next generation of heroes, including Sunspot, Squirrel Girl, Kamala Khan aka Ms Marvel, Sam Wilson aka Captain America, Deadpool, and Rogue. This era is split into two main parts, separated by Civil War II, and unified by their themes of the next generation working to be better than the old. The three main storylines are headed by Al Ewing (New Avengers and then U.S.Avengers), Mark Waid (All-New, All-Different (ANAD) Avengers and then Avengers and Champions), and Gerry Duggan followed by Jim Zub (Uncanny Avengers). While these three runs are disconnected plot-wise, they are connected thematically and all interact with the same big events in different, interesting ways.

Jason Aaron brought together a team of the Avengers' greatest hits (plus Ghost Rider and Blade) for Marvel's Fresh Start initiative in 2018. He revitalizes the Avengers by sending them on a years-long battle against their greatest foes, including Namor, the Winter Guard, and the Squadron Supreme, all seemingly masterminded by one man with insidious plans for a battle that will transcend time and space.

Beta Ray Bill had been a supporting Thor character for years before finally getting his own series in 2005. Written variously by David Burman, Michael Avon Oeming, Matt Fraction, and Kieron Gillen, Beta Ray Bill undergoes a 5-year story arc that puts him to the test as he grapples with what it means to be a god when his people's planet is targeted by Galactus.

For the Man-Thing's 50th anniversary, Marvel brought in guest writer Steve Orlando and three separate art teams to celebrate Man-Thing, bringing in the Avengers, Spider-Man, and Magik to do so.

A set of five one-shots masterminded by Al Ewing that reunites Marvel's original Defenders line-up of Hulk, Doctor Strange, Namor, and Silver Surfer to unravel a cosmic mystery and save the Earth. The crossover begins with a set of one-shots highlighting each character and tying into the larger mystery at hand, although the characters don't fully meet up until the finale one-shot. What this leaves is four uneven issues that don't feel cohesive until the end, and even then the plot feels a bit scattershot.

Hit writer-artist Peach Momoko takes the Marvel universe and twists it into mythological Japan, taking beloved characters like the X-Men and Hulk and turning them into samurai, oni, and Shinto gods to tell a concise tale about a young girl named Mariko as she learns about her troubled and fantastical past.

From 2009 to 2012, writer Jonathan Hickman wrote a pair of series focused on the Fantastic Four, Marvel's first family. These series reinvigorated a waning franchise by telling a single massive story across both series and 60 issues, divided into arcs for good stopping points along the way. This storyline brings together prophecies, time travel, the multiverse, aliens, Dr Doom, and Galactus for a heart-warming epic.

In the comic that inspired the show, Hawkeye finally comes into his own in this acclaimed run by Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Annie Wu, taking it upon himself to protect an apartment of people from the mafia. He is joined by his protege Kate Bishop, the new Hawkeye, who finally comes into her own after years as a Young Avenger. This run was followed up by a similarly down-to-earth run by Jeff Lemire, who further develops the two Hawkeyes into their own breakout heroes.

Following Kate Bishop's breakout role in 2012's Hawkeye series, she was finally given her own book as the singular Hawkeye in 2016. Written by Kelly Thompson with a variety of artists, this new Hawkeye series sees Kate try to establish herself as her very own superhero out in L.A., complete with new companions and her very own archnemesis in Madame Mask. The series is really good, with a fun, action-packed tone that still takes itself seriously when it needs to.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Hulk and Thor, Marvel commissioned writer Donny Cates and artist Martin Coccolo to create an epic battle between the two. While the fight itself is pretty intense and engaging, it relies heavily on the status quos as depicted in Cates' concurrent runs on the characters. Of course, this just means that relevant issues of those runs are listed here as well, and don't take away from the awesome smack-down.

Following Wolverine's death in 2014, Marvel decided to bring him back from the dead in the Hunt for Wolverine crossover. Headed by Charles Soule with assistance from Tom Taylor, Mariko Tamaki, and Jim Zub, this event sees Wolverine's allies and enemies split up to try and figure out how he returned.

The Inhumans have existed for a long time in Marvel Comics, existing as an isolated society and only rarely interacting with the outside world. However, starting in 2006, the Inhuman Royal Family of Black Bolt, Medusa, Crystal, Gorgon, Triton, and Maximus moved their city of Attilan out into the public. This brought attention to the Inhumans and began a long-running story arc across multiple writers about the Inhumans finding their place in this new world. However, the Inhumans have always been supporting characters, and a large number of these stories star Marvel mainstays like the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and Spider-Man. Despite this, they all serve to advance the central Inhuman story, with things really coming into focus for two periods in 2009 and 2014: War of Kings, and Inhumanity.

Following her transformation into the last Valkyrie during the War of the Realms, Jane Foster would star in her own ongoing series that nicely tied together her lives as a doctor and a Valkyrie. That series would be followed by a set of miniseries, all of which touch on the supporting Asgardian cast and what it means to be a Valkyrie. While primarily written by Jason Aaron, Valkyrie: Jane Foster was partially written by Al Ewing, with Torunn Gronbekk taking over for Ewing starting with issue #8 and continuing to co-write with Aaron for the next two series before taking over completely.

After Loki's death and rebirth, he begins a redemption arc under the direction of writers Kieron Gillen and Al Ewing, going from a full-blown villain into something of a trickster anti-hero while remediating his relationship with Thor and embracing the power of story.

Following their work on Annihilation: Conquest, Abnett and Lanning continued to expand Marvel's cosmic side, introducing the new Guardians of the Galaxy to save the universe alongside Nova before bringing in the X-Men, Inhumans, Shi'ar, and Darkhawk for the sprawling War of Kings event. This massive crossover would put little focus on the Guardians and Nova, but they would take center stage for the fallout in Realm of Kings and The Thanos Imperative. Then, every plot thread since Annihilation comes to a conclusion in the two Annihilators miniseries. It makes for a great character-driven, plot-heavy, and thematic read all the way through.

The Silver Surfer is one of Marvel's most prolific cosmic heroes, debuting in the pages of Fantastic Four as the Herald of Galactus. He would quickly be trapped on Earth, and became a recurring character until he finally received his own solo series in 1968. While none of these arcs are strictly connected, they all follow the Surfer as he adapts to being trapped on Earth and contends with the brutality and insanity of humanity.

After having died in Ragnarok in 2004, Marvel decided that it was time to resurrect Thor in 2007, under the direction of J Michael Straczynski. Straczynski would bring back Thor and his supporting cast with a new status quo as they tried to find their place in a new Marvel universe after Civil War. Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction would then take the reins from Straczynski, tying Thor into line-wide crossovers like Siege and Fear Itself, as well as launching a second series starring Loki. Everything that's been set up since the start of Straczynski's run would conclude with the Thor/Loki crossover Everything Burns.

From 2012 to 2019, writer Jason Aaron teamed up with superstar artists Esad Ribic, Russel Dauterman and Mike del Mundo to tell a massive Thor epic, featuring five Thors and a war involving all nine Norse Realms, plus one more. This character-driven story is a great starting point, requiring minimal previous knowledge of Thor stories while still building on the character and demonstrating what Thor stands for.

Following the death and rebirth of the Marvel universe in Secret Wars, writer Al Ewing and a host of amazing artists set about to explore the cosmic ramifications of that event, as well as the history of the multiverse. Gathering a host of some of Marvel's most powerful beings, these so-called Ultimates would fight to protect Infinity itself. Ultimately, this series is not a sequel to Marvel's other series called Ultimates, but instead stands on its own.

Venom got his biggest relaunch yet in 2018 when Donny Cates took over writing duties. Introducing a four-year arc alongside primary artist Ryan Stegman, Cates pushed Venom farther than ever before by combining a deeply persona story about Eddie Brock with the cosmic invasion of the Symbiote God. As ludicrous as that may sound, the story totally works, with Eddie's journey grounding the incredible cosmic threat. The story is punctuated by two crossovers, Absolute Carnage and King in Black.

Writer Len Wein reinvigorated the waning X-Men franchise in 1975, but his short run was followed by a massive and stellar run by Chris Claremont, who made the X-Men Marvel's premier series. Claremont does an excellent job of weaving together the mystical with the mundane, and the political with the paranormal, to create a superb series that never loses sight of its characters or overarching storylines. Starring Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, and Cyclops, among others, and featuring foes such as Magneto, the Hellfire Club, and Mystique, this is a must read series for X-Men fans.

Chris Claremont was in the middle of his massive X-Men run when X-Factor was first released in 1986. Originally written by Bob Layton, Louise Simonson soon took over and remained on the book for the rest of Claremont's run. She also took over New Mutants as Claremont started writing two new series, Excalibur and Wolverine. This era also saw the normalization of crossovers between the books, which is how I'm going to be splitting up the sub-eras, as crossovers usually mark major turning points. This order does not cover every X-Men book in this era, but focuses on Claremont's and Simonson's sprawling ongoing story to form a cohesive experience. This half of ends with the massive crossover Inferno and focuses on the X-Men and their spin-off series, New Mutants and X-Factor.

Following Inferno, the X-Men books stretched outwards towards the end of Chris Claremont's run in a tangled mess of ongoing plots that basically lasts until the run is over, with almost no good end points. Plus, Simonson would take her leave from her books as Jim Lee, Robert Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza, and Whilce Portacio began to take over, taking the books in their own direction that is more reminiscent of the later 1990s X-Men than the rest of Claremont's and Simonson's run. This era would also increase the amount of crossovers, with characters regularly guest-starring in each other's books and crossovers happening twice a year. By this era's end, Claremont's massive run would be over and the tangled disasterpiece that is the 1990s will have been ushered in.