The Image Comics Fantasy Guide
January 29, 2019
Bring your wand as we cast a spell with this full list of our current fantasy offerings.
The fantasy genre is undergoing a startling renaissance as a surge of comics evolve sword-and-steed tropes into brazen new directions. Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans' Die dissects the bones of the genre, questioning whether escaping to far-off lands and rushing into churning battles is chivalrous or paralyzingly traumatic. Likewise, Skottie Young and Jorge Corona's Middlewest tackles the contrast between childhood nostalgia and domestic abuse through a lens of surreal adventure. Even genre hybrids like Mike Norton's Battlepug merge meta hilarity with barbarian excess, while Self/Made shifts tones at a panel's notice.
These examples prove how fantasy is one of the most malleable sandboxes to channel old ideas and harsh realities through new perspectives. The following titles show the sheer range and imagination of one of the most fertile genres in fiction.
In Battlepug, Mike Norton recognizes the one deficiency that has hampered all barbarian epics from achieving greatness: lacking the snorting companionship of the derpiest dogs in the canine kingdom. The Compugdium collects Norton’s entire online comic in one glorious, oversized hardback festooned with pinups from the likes of Daniel Warren Johnson and Katie Cook, as well as curated process art. The laughs come fast and furious, but Battlepug also maintains a white-knuckle, galloping pace as one warrior and his wrinkly steed hunt a nefarious beast mage. Also: characters based on some of your favorite Image creators, including “The Dead Walker” and a goateed, fruit-chewing mage named Leighmin.
Starting as a fantasy bildungsroman before evolving into something truly unique, Birthright subverts fantasy tropes as each story arc stacks. Writer Joshua Williamson and artist Andrei Bressan follow every-kid Mikey Rhodes as he’s abducted from Earth to Terrenos, a war-torn realm filled with towering beasts, demonic parasite kings, and gallons of bloodshed. But the plot pivots from convention to focus on a far more disturbing reality: the suffering of a family searching for their missing son. When Mikey returns a year later as an ax-swinging barbarian adult, the Rhodes clan struggles to reconcile their loss with their bewilderment, even as a malicious force threatens to corrupt the foundation of two worlds.
Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott bewitch the police procedural in Black Magick, a series that dives into Wiccan rituals and brutal murders in a tightly woven narrative that casts an absorbing spell. The plot ignites when Rowan Black, a detective celebrating the fall equinox with her coven, foils a hostage situation with a perpetrator who knows a startling amount about Black's personal life. The event reveals a minefield of warring groups vying for control of a spiritual framework. Scott works primarily in soft, lush black-and-white ink washes, using selective splashes of yellow, blue, and orange to convey elemental power. The resulting experience is both primal and measured, and a unique fiction mashup that's impossible to ignore.
Nina Rodriguez finds herself in quarter-life crisis purgatory, bartending at a Los Angeles dive and reeling from her mother’s death. After a towering leonine demon abducts her sister, Rodriguez slowly unearths a neon world under the City of Angels, where cabals of powerful magicians called paragons war over turf. The art team of Jen Bartel, Paul Reinwand, and Triona Farrell cast a singular aura, ebbing the palm-tree urban sprawl of LA into a fashion-forward millennial metropolis teaming with beautiful people and magenta-drenched decadence. That inspired design roots a captivating story of loss and discovery, where one woman uncovers the magic inside of her and hidden under the surface of 20-something boredom.
Artist Adrian Smith honed his singular style on Warhammer and Magic: The Gathering, crafting ominous visions of wizards, warriors, and abominations wreaking chaos in vicious battlescapes. Chronicles of Hate expands those portraits of ruin into oversized pages, linked by the sparsely worded saga of a three-legged grunt attempting to free a chained goddess. The journey is brutal and stark—its desperation matched in the monochrome palette, building to grandiose (and grim) sequences of annihilation between mad warlords, decaying swamp zombies, and woodland mystics. Chronicles of Hate is painstakingly rendered escapism shoved into a nihilistic meat grinder.
The Red Riding Hood fairy tale receives a biting update in Coyotes, writer Sean Lewis and artist Caitlin Yarsky’s surreal horror fantasy. The plot revolves around a detective exploring the disappearances of young girls in an isolated desert city, and the mysterious figure, Red, who’s addressing the monstrous source of these crimes with a katana. A searing marriage of sociopolitical commentary and drive-thru violence, Coyotes is an empowering exploration of feminism through myth, articulated through Yarksy’s vivid line work and inspired panel layouts.
Curse Words is your typical fantasy comic—no talking koalas, no sexy buff bearded wizards, no pigs with cannons strapped to their backs. There’s definitely not a moment when somebody gets turned into a chair, face still intact, only to be sat on by aforementioned sexy buff wizard. In their tale of a (sexy, buff) wizard repenting for decades of cosmic domination, Charles Soule and Ryan Browne are making one of the most bonkers comics out there, and it just keeps ramping up.
Die is a revelation. What starts with a group of adults reliving teenage horrors at the hands of a renegade dungeon master turns into a full-blown dissection of fantasy and why people need it. It’s an obsessive love letter to all of the RPG classics Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans grew up consuming, but it’s told with melancholic distance—a far cry from nostalgia. As the series progresses, an adult group dives deep into their pasts, facing their former abduction into a living board game. It’s like a team coming upon the egg they were hatched from, looking at the pieces and realizing just how fragile everything is, partly wanting to preserve it, but partly wanting to crack it more. Hans’ painterly style is the stuff of legends and matches the devastating emotions felt by everybody involved.
Wild, nearly lawless lands thrum with danger, and Norgal (an epic hero more commonly known as Head Lopper) thrums right back, lopping off the heads of monsters and humans and human-shaped monsters alike. With the maddeningly mouthy head of Agatha Blue Witch—who’s simply too stubborn to die—along for the ride, Norgal meets his many challenges with the calm, rugged stoicism of a man who’s seen—and decapitated—it all.
Queen Olwyn of Maar has been brought low. Not by weakness, foolishness, or feebleness, but by treachery. A wicked curse has trapped her in a tiger’s body, and her country is imperiled in her absence. Only her Captain of the Guard, Rook, remains by her side and seeks to reverse the spell. Together they journey to a land known only in myth: Isola, the Land of the Dead—and their last, desperate hope for Olwyn’s cure.
Tom Parkinson-Morgan’s feverish webcomic, Kill Six Billion Demons, made the transition to print a few years back, ushering his hyper-detailed sprites and dense cityscapes to the tangible page. Even without Parkinson-Morgan’s heady mythology and in-fiction texts about evil gods and struggling angels, his pages practically bleed sweat and toil. Adopting Eastern religious iconography, KSBD tells the story of a shanghaied sorority sister forced to battle a deity divided into seven villains. This is a grand psychedelic fantasy mind-melt designed for readers who want to avoid the familiarity of dragons and knights and go spelunking into a creative vision so intense it requires a comedown. Fortunately, it takes a long time to kill six billion demons, and the third volume is slated to come out in March.
The journey that Matt Wagner started in 1984 approaches its brutal climax. Kevin Matchstick is the Pendragon of Arthurian legend, but instead of wielding a sword, the shirt-and-jeans-clad everyman strikes malicious sprites and primal monsters with a baseball bat. Now aged with a family to protect, Matchstick contends with his legacy and what responsibilities—personal or trans-dimensional—he should prioritize. An epic decades in the making, this 15-issue maxi-series concludes one of the most ambitious efforts in urban fantasy.
In The Magic Order, writer Mark Millar proves himself to be a lord of misdirection as much as his spell-slinging characters—the Scottish scribe is full of endless plot twists, turns, and red herrings, a skill that proves especially appropriate for this miniseries. Drawn by Olivier Coipel and colored by Dave Stewart, the plot revolves around the Moonstone family of cosmically powerful wizards. A mysterious assailant begins to assassinate the clan one by one, and the revelations are as surprising as they are emotionally devastating. Like an unholy union between a Scorsese mob movie and a silent genre film, The Magic Order doesn’t stop surprising—any illusion it casts finds something far more enchanting and bizarre underneath.
Beowulf brandishes Hrunting. King Arthur wields Excalibur. Bilbo has Sting. But in the lexicon of legendary fantasy weapons, cabbie Pamela Evans has something far more powerful: one badass magical tire iron. Writer Joe Casey and artist Ian MacEwan pay glorious homage to a pre-gentrified ‘70s Manhattan in MCMLXXV. But instead of carjackers and thieves, Evans protects her riders from an inspired deluge of monsters and warring gangs. The three-issue miniseries offers a potent hero's journey without wind resistance, escorting the reader through a perilous concrete wilderness with a steep fare for those who don’t pay heed. At its core, though, the creative team crafts one of the most unforgettable protagonists in modern fantasy—forged in flame, unbeatable, and able to navigate the BQE in rush hour.
Violent magical winds at his back, a boy is forced to journey beyond his small corner of the world with a mysterious fox at his side. Skottie Young and Jorge Corona are doing something special here. They’ve elevated the coming-of-age genre with Middlewest, a magical adventure story with a heavy emotional foundation—the team balances light and dark so well that a single issue can have you banging your fist in frustration at such an unfair world, and later holding back happy tears upon seeing small friendships blossom to defeat the dark. This comic is absolute bliss.
Grim Wilkins’ nearly wordless graphic novel is a triumph of art and aesthetics, a European-flavored celebration of sequential storytelling. The plot revolves around a woman who’s deceived by a local shaman, resulting in a parasitic demon burrowed deep into her leg. Wilkins weaves complex panel compositions throughout his masterwork; characters’ word balloons contain illustrations, and those illustrations point to other illustrations for deeper context. If that didn't make sense, this is truly a project that needs to be seen to be believed. Mirenda challenges readers, asking them to digest comics through different angles and mechanisms, enriching the unique, engrossing journey through a sprawling wonderland.
Monstress offers a tiered look at the horrors of war and subjugation, and—literally—a race of ancient, terrible beings who storm the souls of others. In 2018, Monstress also stormed every major comics awards’ ceremony, walking away with five Eisners (including Best Continuing Series) and the Harvey Award for Book of the Year. Those hefty accolades shouldn’t be a surprise: for the past four years, writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda have woven an elaborate, melancholic tapestry about one woman’s struggle to deal with demons both metaphorical and literal. Each volume unspools a deeper mythos filled with remorseful gods, broken families, and worlds as dangerous as they are enchanting. This comic invites an exploration into shattered psyches and their potential to heal, and is unforgettable in every way.
Adventure calls at the oddest times, and most often when least expected. For Sibylla, it calls in the form of a gigantic magical bull named Brom, who claims to be her intended groom according to a prophecy she never took seriously. But it’s better than sticking around her village for the goose boy to propose to her again. Her path chosen, she sets off to accompany her future husband on his journey home. But such journeys are rarely simple, easy, or safe, and she may not recognize herself at the end of this one.
Rat Queens, by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Owen Gieni
Kurtis J. Wiebe gave readers more than a sweeping epic when he introduced Rat Queens in 2013; he presented four characters as surly, sarcastic, rambunctious, and (often) inebriated as your favorite undergrad besties. Delilah, Hannah, Violet, Betty, and relative newcomers Braga and Dave, have grown and evolved with their fans, mirroring their readers with a diversity of sexual identifications and quirks—earning a 2015 GLAAD Award in the process. Owen Gieni recently joined on as artist, with the mercenaries exploring faith and godhood in their most recent adventure.
Jeremy Haun and Seth M. Peck warp the definition of escapism in The Realm, a series that asks what would happen if a world of orcs, dragons, and magic invaded the modern 21st century. The blistering result lies somewhere between the works of Cormac McCarthy and J.R.R. Tolkien, contrasting the real-world evils of human trafficking and resource wars with the magical malevolence of an ex-rock star named Johnny Eldritch. This is cinematic adventure at its most passionate, tripping into new dungeons as the world expands. Also: a perpetually masked assassin named Rook whose backstory keeps us wondering into the wee hours of the morning.
For readers yearning for a rousing yarn about a handful of rebels striking against overwhelming evil, Rose balances an accessible and spirited tone of classic fantasy adventure. In these pages, the titular spell-slinger faces off against an evil sorceress on a diabolic mission to destroy all magic. Why? Rose is the last of an ancient race of Guardians who telekinetically bond with massive felines—or Khatz—providing artist Ig Guara the space to lay out some truly kinetic set pieces that take full advantage of the ensemble's contrasting body shapes. Written with buoyant fun by Meredith Finch, the ensuing epic evolves familiar tropes with a modern flare—a perfect read for teen fantasy lovers.
Rumble straddles the line between a brutal barbarian showdown and a monster mash creepfest. The comic resurrects Rathraq—a former human conqueror—as a brutal scarecrow god, seeking revenge on the race of otherworldly beings who stole his identity. Along the way, writer John Arcudi introduces a lovable ensemble of humans tripping into the bizarre folds of this clandestine reality, leading to a host of quiet and hilarious moments. Throughout its second volume, David Rubín (Beowulf) has channeled the physical B-movie glee of Ray Harryhausen as the blades and scales continue to clash.
Luvander is no one’s daughter, a treasure-hunter, an adventure-seeker, and a life-saver. And in her starring comic Scales & Scoundrels, she is wildly entertaining. Fresh from his writing stint on Shirtless Bear-Fighter!, Sebastian Girner maintains that same slapstick, breathless pace, this time in a rollicking fantasy landscape perfect for readers of any age. As the series progressed over two volumes, artist Galaad escorted Luvander and the reader through ancient tree house villages and abandoned temples, where a girl with a fiery secret and indomitable will dives into dangerous places to get her gold.
Talking about any detail of Self/Made threatens to spoil its most integral plot points. Just know that every single page is the epitome of beauty and that the story goes places that you definitely...definitely...won’t expect. The first issue alone combines some killer fantasy and giant battles with dense philosophical underpinnings. Before getting comfortable, the second issue completely shifts genres, eras, aesthetics, and environments. Just stop reading this and go see for yourself!
The best fantasy reframes the most penetrating issues humanity faces in the “real” world, and in that endeavor, Seven to Eternity is exemplary. The God of Whispers rules his kingdom with an iron tongue; his armies are rumors and his weapons are secrets. Rick Remender's premise alone encapsulates our modern era of political division, corporate ruthlessness, and institutional manipulation, offering cutting commentary through a lens of breakneck action and foreign landscapes. In this tumult, the terminally ill Adam Osidis finds himself at an ethical crossroads: serve a corrupt god for the safety of his family or die with dignity and leave his loved ones vulnerable. Colorist Matt Hollingsworth pits electric blues and alarming pinks against dryer earth tones and grays, allowing artist Jerome Opeña to render some of the most riveting and ornate action set pieces that also deserve their own think piece.
Times of change are often turbulent, and this is doubly true when it comes to kingdoms. When one king dies, another must take his place, regardless of what that may mean for Lady “Poppy” Pyppenia, a young courtier whose status is tenuous at best—and perilous at worst. But she is by no means without help, guarded by her ever-faithful Sleepless Knight, Cyrenic. Though, when it comes to their feelings for each other, Poppy and Cyrenic have only each other for guidance.
The Wicked + The Divine approaches its final issue. Ups and downs. Puns and... more puns. The series has remained such a staple in the comics world, and it’ll be missed, but the plans have been laid—and with writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie, you know it’s going to be layer upon layer of intrigue, in-fighting, superpowers, and straight-up death. The gods got their 15 minutes of fame, and their two-year lifespan is coming to a close. Join them on their final leg of the journey and see if they can finally break the cycle of rebirth!