We’ll start with a mild disclaimer: Best-of lists are, by definition, the kinds of things that are guaranteed to upset people who are angry their favorites didn’t make the cut. It’s possible that your favorites aren’t going to make the list below. I’m sorry.
The issue is, of course, that best-of lists are — to some degree, at least — subjective, especially in an era filled with a lot of great work, and the past decade of comics has undoubtedly been filled with an abundance of great work. That’s why there are actually two lists below: my Top 10 Best Comics of the last decade, and then a second list of honorable mentions, because… well, otherwise, there’s a whole lot of comics that would go unheralded, and that would be a terrible waste.
One last thing before we get started: The criteria for selection here is simply that the work must have been published between Jan. 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2019 — and, in at least one case, must have been majoritively published during that period (there’s a manga series called Pluto that technically qualifies, as the last two volumes came out in the right time frame, but I couldn’t bring myself to add it to the list because there were six earlier volumes from the previous decade and it felt like cheating to include it, despite Pluto being one of the best comics ever published). For those who suspect that I mention this as a sneaky way of including it without including it… congratulations on your perceptiveness.
Let’s talk about the best comics of the past 10 years, shall we? Presented in no particular order…
The River at Night by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly, 2019)
Combining formal experimentation and a deep emotional resonance in a way that few other creators are capable of, Kevin Huizenga has been one of comics’ best-kept secrets for two decades now, first through self-published releases like Supermonster and later indie comics like Or Else or Ganges. The River at Night, Huizenga’s latest release, is his most high-profile to date and also his most complete — at once a very personal story of the thoughts in one man’s head when he can’t sleep at night, and surprisingly universal in its exploration of those thoughts and where they go. Ironically, in terms of its beauty and insight, it’s something that could keep you up at night.
The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis (Drawn & Quarterly, 2019)
Simultaneously a story explicitly born of the world we live in today and something that feels as if it will be read and understood at any point in the future, Davis’ tale is of a couple struggling to find hope and peace in turbulent times while staying involved in the political struggle and the world at large. It’s a messy, complicated and ultimately rewarding work that speaks to Davis’ talent and warmth as a creator and is the kind of effort that is likely to leave the reader changed, and certainly reflective, upon completion.
Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads (DC, 2017-2018)
Writer Tom King has had an amazing few years, with titles like The Sheriff of Babylon, The Vision and Batman topping critics’ lists and, at least in terms of the latter, sales charts alike. His creative peak to date is likely Mister Miracle, a reinvention, and extension, of Jack Kirby’s 1970s “Fourth World” mythology that doubles as a story about anxiety, depression and PTSD and how it impacts everyday life. If that sounds quite heady, thank the fates for artist Mitch Gerads, whose endlessly inventive approach to each page manages to both ground the book and transform it into a visual masterpiece.
The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics, 2018)
Hernandez has been creating comics starring the same characters for three decades at this point, following them as they get older and finding new things to say about their lives. It’s a rare approach that allows for work with the depth of feeling that only comes from a long-term, intimate engagement, exemplified in Love Bunglers, an investigation into Maggie’s relationships with two men throughout her life and the way in which they echo and parallel each other. The story, already beautiful and affecting, is helped by the fact that Hernandez is also one of the most talented cartoonists alive, making the book look as amazing as it reads.
The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (Image, 2014-2019)
Gillen is another writer who’s had an impressive decade, with titles including Young Avengers, Star Wars and his current projects Once and Future and Die, to name just a few. But it’s The Wicked + The Divine that feels like his flagship title in many ways, and not just because it sees him working with longtime collaborator Jamie McKelvie — it’s a comic like they literally don’t make anymore, a grand statement in long form about fantasy, fandom and the power and excitement of youth, all wrapped up in metaphors involving reincarnation, gods and pop music. It feels timeless and effortlessly contemporary, helped to a great degree not only by the character acting of McKelvie’s art but by Matt Wilson’s astonishing color work.
The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon (Abrams, 2012)
Written and drawn by Star Wars costume designer Dillon, Nao is a gentle story told in lush watercolors about a woman whose life is derailed by violent fantasies and obsessive-compulsive disorder and whose search for peace finds answers in the least likely of places. Kind, quiet and filled with empathy and understanding, it’s a book that remains underrated years after its original release.
Goodnight Punpun by Inio Asano (Viz Media, 2016-2017)
Describing Goodnight Punpun is a difficult task. On one level, it’s a slice-of-life story that follows Onodera Punpun from elementary school through his early adulthood, focusing on how he interacts with the world. But that’s dramatically underselling the strangeness of it; the execution — which includes Punpun and his family only ever being seen as cartoon birds in a world that is otherwise photorealistic, or a literal pop-up God available on demand, or an omniscient narrator who at times evoked Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide — is truly the appeal of this, transforming what could otherwise be a rote coming-of-age tale into something that feels as if David Lynch got hold of The Wonder Years and decided to make it weird. It’s unlike anything else you’ve read, in a great way.
Giant Days by John Allison, Max Darin and Lissa Treiman (BOOM! Studios, 2015-2019)
If Goodnight Punpun is a surreal and, at times, creepy coming-of-age story, Giant Days is the coming-of-age idea as the perfect sitcom. Writer/creator John Allison and artists Lissa Treiman and Max Sarin transformed the story of three friends in college in the U.K. into something universal, charming and endlessly amusing. There are few things as enjoyable as a comedy that never fails to make you laugh out loud, and Giant Days managed to maintain that quality for every single issue of its run.
Hark! A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton (Online, 2010-2018)
Irregularly published only until 2018 — and collected into two print collections from Drawn & Quarterly — Hark! A Vagrant! remains a high point of webcomics and also of comedy comics this century. Beaton’s sense of the absurd was applied to anything from pop culture to historical figures and classical literature as she saw fit, and the result was a comic that was never less than hilarious, and often deeply insightful and curiously educational.
Smile (A Dental Drama) by Raina Telegmeier (Scholastic, 2010)
Telegmeier is, simply put, likely the most important figure in comics of the last decade. After a string of adaptations of the Babysitters Club novels for Scholastic, she has spent the last 10 years creating more comic readers than arguably any other creator with a series of graphic novels for publisher Graphix that mix autobiography with pure fiction, combining clear, easy-to-understand visuals with writing that’s accessible and consistently smart and (perhaps most importantly) respectful of its target audience. Smile, Telegmeier’s first book this decade, remains perhaps the finest example of her work, with her story of dental problems as a kid able to win over any audience.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples (Image); Thor: God of Thunder, Thor, The Mighty Thor, The Unworthy Thor, King Thor by Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic, Russell Dauterman et al. (Marvel); The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Erica Henderson and Derek Charm, et al. (Marvel); What Is Left by Rosemary Valero O’Connell (Short Box); The Multiversity by Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis, Frank Quitely et al. (DC); Zombo by Al Ewing and Henry Flint (2000 AD/Rebellion); My Brother’s Husband by Gengroh Tagame (Viz); My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Kai Nagata (Seven Seas Entertainment); Tokyo Tarareba Girls by Akiko Higashimura (Kodansha USA); Berlin by Jason Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly); This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (First Second); Oh Joy Sex Toy by Erika Moen, Matthew Nolan et al (Online); The Flintstones by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh (DC); Judge Dredd by Rob Williams, Henry Flint, et al (2000 AD/Rebellion); Relish by Lucy Knisley (First Second).