Update 1.3.23: Comic Book Herald is now updated with a simpler guide for starting with Marvel Comics in 2023. There’s still plenty of good info below about how to get into comics for brand new readers.
So you’re new to Marvel comics in 2016. Welcome. Whether you used to be a fan and dropped off for years (curse you, Clone Saga!) or you just watched Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time and want more, this guide will help you choose starting places that are fun, excellent, and most importantly, accessible. Jumping into Marvel comics, with 75 years of celebrated continuity, can be a bit intimidating. This guide is designed to help get you rolling and to fall in love with the books!
Starting With The Best of Marvel Comics
Most “where should I start with Marvel Comics” lists quickly escalate into a “best of Marvel Comics” post. While these are always entertaining, and certainly not a bad approach, they tend to miss out on any contextual relevance new fans are going to want now. And by now, I mean related to culture in 2016.
For example, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita Jr’s original first 102 issues of Amazing Spider-Man are probably my favorite comic books of all time. I would highly recommend that readers both young and old seek out these comics and experience the adventures and growth of Peter Parker for themselves.
That said, do you need to read 102 issues of Amazing Spider-Man created in the 1960s to best enjoy the character in 2016? Does that material most closely relate to films like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (kind of), or comic book events like Spider-Verse? (Absolutely not.) And what about Ultimate Spider-Man, which has received mainstream press for the first African-American Spider-Man. Might these issues actually serve as a better launching pad for new readers? (Sometimes.)
Obviously this is only one character, and you can see how the discussion can quickly devolve into a personal and overwhelmingly lengthy guide.
So here’s the deal: If you’re looking for a more comprehensive guide to the best books Marvel has ever published, well my best of Marvel Unlimited guide or best 100 modern Marvel stories fits the bill. Here you’ll find a detailed list of all the greatest Marvel stories ever told (that just so happen to be included in Marvel’s digital subscription service, Marvel Unlimited). Which brings us to our next point…
What’s the Best Way to Read Marvel Comics in 2016?
Reading comics can be as simple as walking into a comic shop (assuming you can find one), picking an issue you want (assuming you know what to pick), and enjoying the story (assuming you’re not baffled by its place in an elaborate Marvel Universe continuity).
Ok… it’s not necessarily all that simple.
Fortunately, digital comics and e-commerce (and these newfangled interwebs!) have increased the ease of comic book consumption tremendously. I’m going to highlight three options that will work for different types of readers.
1) Trade Paperbacks
Most comic readers are very familiar with Trade Paperbacks, or TPBs, but for new readers, here’s how this works.
Comic Books are published as single issue “floppy” paper originals, and are sold in local comic shops. These are the collectibles you see people finding in dry wall and selling for millions (well at least sometimes).
Often, a single numbered issue – let’s say Uncanny Avengers #16 – will form one part of a larger narrative. Comic book story arcs (think of them as chapters in an ongoing narrative) are frequently completed in 5 or 6 individual issues.
A trade paperback collects one of these story arcs (chapters) all in one place, for a cohesive full story read. So, in the example above, Uncanny Avengers #16 is a part of a six issue story titled “Ragnarok Now” which runs issue #12 – #17.
As you can guess, Uncanny Avengers issues #12 – #17 are a part of a longer sequence that begins back in Uncanny Avengers #1. As a result, this is volume 3 of collected trade paperbacks. Volume 1 collects issues #1 – #5 and tells the first chapter of the story.
Generally speaking, Trade Paperbacks are the best option for purchasing a full story and reading and owning the material. Some comic book readers like to actually hunt down all the individual print issues at comic book shops, but this can be a challenging (albeit fun) scavenger hunt for older issues.
You can find trade paperbacks at your local comic book shop, a Barnes and Noble, and your local library (always my favorite free option). Likewise, there are a large number of online retailers including Amazon, TFAW, and Cheap Graphic Novels (all of which often offer deals you will not be able to beat at a physical location).
2) Marvel Unlimited
I’ve written extensively all over Comic Book Herald about my thoughts (and love) for Marvel Unlimited. In short, the service allows you to pay for a monthly or annual subscription to a digital comics library containing over 15,000 Marvel Comics. The most frequent comparison is Netflix or Spotify for Marvel Comics, although there are notable differences.
With a Marvel Unlimited subscription these digital comics are perpetually at your fingertips. So those first 100 issues of Amazing Spider-Man that I mentioned? All that’s stopping you from reading them are things like “time,” “seeing the outdoors,” and “earning a living.”
I highly, highly recommend Marvel Unlimited for new Marvel fans, albeit with some caveats. The first is that this is ALL digital. You 100% have to read on a tablet, smartphone, or laptop / desktop computer to enjoy these comics.
Marvel Unlimited works best on a full size tablet. Even then, there are differences between the iPad app and the Android app. Both have improved significantly since launch, but be aware that not everyone has a 100% smooth experience. You may want to consider a monthly trail before you commit to the $70 annual subscription.
3) Ongoing Print & Digital Comics
Ongoing comics are probably the most challenging entrance point, simply because, as the name would suggest, ongoing comics are immersed in continuity and ongoing story lines. If you walk into a comic book shop and pick up Uncanny Avengers #16 because you like the cover, you’re picking up a story in the middle of a very long arc from writer Rick Remender that actually dates all the way back to another series entirely, Uncanny X-Force. It can be confusing.
When I first started getting into ongoing comics, I obtained a groupon for 3 free comics (or something like that). I excitedly visited an LCS, only to realize I had virtually no idea what comics to get. I wound up with a Flash “Brightest Day” tie-in that featured Captain Boomerang and (as I remember) no Flash, and a Martian Manhunter “Brightest Day” tie-in in which he possibly has sex with a woman on Mars who he then turns into? The details aren’t all that memorable, but the feeling of “well, that sucked” remains.
To avoid that, I’ll help in this guide with plausible starting places. Marvel in particular has gotten a lot better in recent years about new #1 issues. A lot of longtime comic fans see this as a cash-hungry scheme, but personally I’m all for it. It’s a lot easier to start at #1 than it is #616. That’s just science.
I’d mention here as well, that nearly all ongoing comics come out once a week, and new comic books are released every Wednesday (new comic book day). This is exciting, but it also represents a serious glut of possible material. Today, you can also purchase these same new comics on the day of their release digitally, either through the Marvel Comics app or Comixology. The digital prices are the same as the print books, so keep that in mind when getting your money’s worth.
The Best Marvel Comics to Start Reading in 2016
The 10 Best Marvel Comics Starting Places For New Fans
1) Amazing Fantasy #15 + Amazing Spider-Man #1 to #10 (1963 to 1998 series in Marvel Unlimited)
I’d actually recommend any Marvel fanatic read Amazing Spider-Man #1 to #123 at least once, but that’s a pretty intimidating way to start the conversation. Reading the first 10 issues (plus Spidey’s origins in Amazing Fantasy) will give you a good sense how you feel about Marvel’s beginnings in the early 1960’s.
For the most part, I’m not going to recommend you go way back in Marvel history in this list. This isn’t to say I don’t recommend these comics, there are just more modern starting places for new readers.
If you do think you want to dive deeper into Marvel’s history and greatest hits, or you’re the type of fan who simply has to start from the beginning, I recommend:
My Marvelous Year Reading Club (We’re reading from 1961 to 2010 in one year!)
2) Uncanny X-Men – Issues #94 to #119 (1963 to 2011 in Marvel Unlimited)
This is another lengthy run that could quite easily extend to Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975) where it all begins and Uncanny X-Men #94 to #142 (and beyond). Again, for sampling and starting sake, I cap it with the first “essential” collection of 25 issues.
This is going to be a great starting place for any former/lifetime fans of the 1990’s X-Men animated series. If you enjoy this and want more, check out my Chris Claremont era X-Men reading order!
3) Frank Miller Daredevil #168 to #191 (1964 to 1998 in Marvel Unlimited)
Want to check out the inspiration that makes Netflix Daredevil so great? It’s all here, and even better, in Frank Miller’s time on the devil of Hell’s Kitchen.
You could conceivably stop after issue #181, but I can’t think for the life of me why you would want to. If you want more, try the Daredevil reading order.
Frank Miller would go on to write two of the greatest graphic novels of all time in Batman: Year One and the Dark Knight Returns, but his Daredevil holds a special place in my sad, gritty heart.
This is probably the most insane pick on my list, as Age of Apocalypse is an immense X-Universe alternate reality event. If 1990’s excess and X-Men sounds like your kind of party, I do have a complete Age of Apocalypse reading order and guide.
5) Ultimate Spider-Man #1 to #13 (and then keep on trucking as you enjoy!)
I’d also wholeheartedly endorse the entire Ultimate Universe as a great starting place for new Marvel readers. The Ultimate U was Marvel’s year 2000 universe reboot, modernizing the Marvel U to varying degrees of success. Ultimate Spider-Man is an absolute joy, and if you stick with it, will take you to that Miles Morales guy you’re probably hearing so much about (also awesome).
6) Captain America: The Winter Soldier #1 to #21 (2004 to 2011 in Marvel Unlimited)
The entire run by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is well worth your time, and the first twenty one issues will take you through Winter Soldier (the source for Marvel’s finest comic book movie adaptation) and right up to Civil War, the mega event inspiring Marvel’s 2016 Captain America movie.
7) Uncanny X-Force #1 to #18 (2010 to 2012 in Marvel Unlimited )
X-Force is a rogue, dark offshot of the X-Men, flying under the radar and taking care of the dirty problems the X-Men can’t handle. This lineup of Wolverine, Archangel, Psylocke, Fantomax, and Deadpool is as good as it’s ever been.
8) Hawkeye #1 to #22 (2012 to 2015 )
Amazing. Seriously, drop what you’re doing and go check it out.
9) Ms. Marvel #1 to #15 (2014 to 2015)
Ms. Marvel comes closer to rekindling the high school drama and teenage exuberance of superhero powers found in the pages of 1963’s Amazing Spider-Man than anything else in Marvel Comics.
10) Jonathan Hickman’s Marvel Comics
Am I wishing for more wishes with my final pick for comic book starting places? Of course! I love Jonathan Hickman’s entire Marvel Comics output like some people love things like “family” and “life itself.”
Ultimate Comics Ultimates – If you took me up on reading the entire Ultimate Universe above, then you’re good here. If you have zero Ultimate Universe familiarity, either skip this or just stick two sporks in your eyes, the effect will be approximately the same.
While this may seem (rightfully) intimidating, if you read the Hickman-verse you will effectively be caught up on modern Marvel comics through 2015.
Other possible starting places on Comic Book Herald:
Marvel Comics Related to Captain America Movies
If you want to read the story that inspired Cap 2, you should check out Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s relaunch of Captain America. The run begins with an all new #1 issue (easy!) and the first two volumes (chapters) focus on the Winter Soldier (perfect!).
If you like what you read, then I recommend you simply continue on with Brubaker & Epting’s Captain America stories (the 2004 to 2011 run on Marvel Unlimited), which continue to lead up to Marvel’s Civil War through issue #21.
This is a relatively reasonable entrance to check out Marvel’s Civil War using the Comic Book Herald reading guide.
Marvel Comics Related to X-Men Movies
The first entry point for Days of Future past is pretty simple, and also pretty darn different than the movie. The inspiration is the two issue (#141-#142) Days of Future Past story during Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s classic X-Men run in the early 80’s. If you choose to go the Marvel Unlimited route, or grew up enjoying X-Men: The Animated Series on Fox, I highly recommend you simply read the whole Uncanny X-Men reinvention from Claremont and co (start with Giant Size X-Men Annual #1 and then Uncanny X-Men #94). Either way, these two issues are where Days of Future Past originates.
Your next best entry-point is going to be based on the post-credits reveal, in anticipation of the next X-Men movie: The Age of Apocalypse. This is my favorite alternate reality story ever told (aside from probably the Chaos Engine Trilogy novels), one of the main reasons I love comics today, and relatively easy to collect via TPBs in order.
Marvel Comics Related to Guardians of the Galaxy
I’ve covered this one in some detail as well, and would recommend fans of GoTG check out my Where to Start with Guardians of the Galaxy guide.
Additionally, if you find that Marvel stories in space seem a LOT more interesting (as many fans do), I have an entire detailed Marvel cosmic guide at your fingertips. This will give you all sorts of stories involving Drax the Destroyer, Star-Lord, Rocket, and of course, Thanos the Mad Titan. You’ll also get to meet non Guardians of the Galaxy movie heroes like Richard Rider (the ultimate Nova) and Adam Warlock, who many think we’re likely to see in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
Marvel Comics Related to Agents of SHIELD
This one’s actually a bit tricky historically, as the characters of the show are purely Marvel Cinematic Universe creations (for the most part) meaning they have no comic book counterparts until recently (Phil Coulson has since been added to the Marvel U!).
So, for some recent comics that are the most closely related to Agents of SHIELD, you’ll want to give Secret Avengers a look. This is where Phil Coulson is a recurring character, leading a cool team of actual powered Avengers on secret, covert missions.
If you want to simply gain a better understanding of SHIELD, and why it’s such a mainstay in the Marvel Universe, I recommend Jim Steranko’s Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD. Classic spy stories from one of the most innovative artists in the history of comics, and now one of the most entertaining tweeters in the land (there is really no second).
Marvel Comics Related to the Netflix Shows
Marvel’s Netflix output has been a resound success, and the below comics can help expand your enjoyment of the featured characters.
Daredevil can claim a particularly impressive number of all-time great stories within Marvel comics. My suggested fast track reading order is as follows:
For more, check out the full Daredevil reading order.
Picking a Luke Cage comic was extremely challening for me, largely because I really only know the character from 2004’s New Avengers. Cage has been around since the 70’s of course, as a Hero For Hire, and as Iron Fist’s partner Power Man, but I never really knew anything about the character until Brian Michael Bendis included him in both New Avengers and Secret War. As such, those are my recommended reads for Cage, in addition to the elseworlds tale: Luke Cage – Noir.
Update: Comic Book Herald now has a Luke Cage reading order.
Your best bet is the surprise classic from Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja: The Immortal Iron Fist. Iron Fist undoubtedly has the most at stake in terms of visual style and special effects, with plenty of old school martial arts preferred up front.
Jessica Jones is the feature character of Alias, a Marvel Max series from the early 2000’s that many consider Brian Michael Bendis’ best Marvel work (includes Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers). Although she might be the least well known character for many, Alias paints Jones as the character with perhaps the best comic TV show since 2010.
Marvel Comics Related to Avengers Movies
The first obvious connection here is Marvel’s Age of Ultron comic book event from 2013. While I’m higher on the event than many, it’s worth noting that Avengers 2 was pretty darn different than this alternate reality series. In fact, you’re more likely to find parallel reads in my best of Ultron comics list.
Otherwise, I’d first point you in the direction of my guide on where to start with the Avengers.
2016 Marvel Comic Book Events
Marvel’s mega 2015 event: Secret Wars.
Marvel in the Mainstream
Whether you watch the View on a regular basis or not (or happened to be at the dentist’s office when it was announced), you’ve likely heard Marvel has made Thor a woman. Or… a woman is worthy of holding Thor’s hammer. Or something like that. Regardless, it’s getting a lot of attention and press, and it’s a useful reminder that Marvel has featured several prominent character transformations that led to great stories in their history.
A Black Captain America
If you know your Marvel continuity, you’ll know that there already has been a black Captain America. In fact, the first Captain America was black. During Mark Gruenwald’s “The Captain” story arc, we also saw a black Bucky. Nonetheless, it’s extremely significant that Steve Rogers would now turn his shield over to Sam Wilson, his friend and the hero we know as The Falcon.
Solo Falcon stories are a challenge to come by, which seems like more evidence that this development is a positive one for Marvel (particularly given Anthony Mackie’s charisma as Sam Wilson in Captain America 2). If you want to get caught up on the new Captain America, Rick Remender’s preceding run of Cap #1 – #24 is going to be the most relevant. This is a lot of issues obviously, but the first twelve issues all detail Captain America’s time in Dimension Z.
There you have it. A starter guide for Marvel Comics in 2016. What would you add? Do what feels right to you in the comments.