And now we reach the end, my Top 10 picks for the best comics that came out in 2015. Hopefully, you like my choices or at least understand why I would pick them.
Quick Disclaimer before we begin: This is all just personal opinion and what I think is good may not reflect or match up with what you think is good. So if a favorite comic of yours is not on the list (like Bitch Planet, Fade Out, or Nameless), there’s no reason to get upset. Also, this list is based on what I ENJOYED the most this year. There are comics out there, or even some on this list, which may be better than some of my choices here, but that’s not how I decided things.
Emma: Victorian Romance (Yen Press): Besides Sunstone, this has to be one of the best romance series I read in 2015. It has a familiar setup that we’ve all seen before: a guy from a higher class family and a maid fall in love, but society doesn’t see them as fit for one another. However, the slow-burn of the romance, the execution, the well-rounded, developed characters, and the painstaking attention to detail that brings to life this late 1800’s England setting makes this series work so well. This is Top 10 material in my humble opinion, but alas… it does not make it. You see, Emma was originally published by a defunct manga publisher many years ago and Yen Press recently got the license to it. So, this title had already come to America (even has the same translation job and everything) and thus it just barely misses out. However, it’s still strong enough to be worth mentioning on this countdown and also be worth your time.
The Vision (Marvel Comics): If there was one writer who seemingly came out of nowhere in 2015, it would be Tom King. While he got some attention teaming up with Tim Seeley and writing Grayson, he truly exploded with popularity with the release of Omega Men, The Sheriff of Babylon, and the Marvel series, The Vision. The series only has released two issues and it’s still setting things up (which is why it missed making the list), but the comic is just too good not to mention it. This sci-fi, sort of suburban horror series is about the Vision creating his own family and them trying to adapt to their new surroundings despite the problems that arise. It’s really hard to describe this one without revealing any of the big surprises, but trust me… this is a series to keep your eye on.
And with that, let’s get back to the countdown…
10. Southern Bastards (Image Comics)
Looking back on 2015, Jason Aaron’s Southern Bastards didn’t really progress much in terms of story or plot. We didn’t get any new developments with Earl Tubb’s daughter coming home, which is a bit of a shame. Instead, the year was mostly dedicated to looking at the backstory of Coach Boss and learning a bit more about the various citizens of Craw County. And you know what? It turned out great.
In terms of pure characterization and development, Southern Bastards blew most of the competition away in that department. Even if most of the characters are bastards in their own unique way as the title suggests, almost everyone is nuanced and has layers. There’s motivation, personality, dreams—either realized or shattered—that they cling to, regrets, worries, and drama in every one of them. You can’t help but get wrapped up in everyone’s story, wondering what they’ll do next or how they’ll react to the next situation they get into (it’s a series that’s very unpredictable in the best of ways). Points especially go the fantastic ending to Coach Boss’ own story arc and the fill-in issue where Jason Latour, the fantastically gritty artist of the series, took the reins. The next issue of the series is leading us directly into this big Homecoming game that has been building to throughout 2015 and with the way things are going, it’s going to be bloody and brutal. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together.
9. Batgirl (DC Comics)
Despite its unpopularity in certain circles, I absolutely loved Batgirl in 2015. Sure, it meandered a bit and had some shaky points (though what series hasn’t?), but it had so much fun, joy, and style that it more than made up for it. 2015 saw Barbara Gordon finally figure out who/what was aggressively causing her grief and problems (a computer program surprisingly enough), came face-to-face with her dad as Batman, took down Livewire, met an old flame who’s still alive, teamed up with Spoiler… twice, started dating, and attended a wedding (the last two really brought out the anger in the Internet). Not something you might see in most superhero comics, but in a good way for the most part.
People say Barbara’s character regressed, but honestly, it felt very relatable and natural. After acting way too old for her age and being a stick in the mud, this year we’ve seen her loosen up… around her friends at least (too loose on the streets fighting crime caused some problems that she did learn from). Plus, the cast expanded greatly, the sense of humor and light-hearted nature kept the comic pleasant and set it apart from the rest of the Bat-titles (sans Harley Quinn), Babs Tarr’s artwork kept the series bright and colorful, and the comic did some things you don’t really see often. I mean, how often do you see a wedding-focused issue? Not often and frankly, it was enjoyable to read and different to experience. I get people having problems with the series, since there are issues to be had with it, but Batgirl was just a lot of fun and get to read. Ignore the grumpy people complaining and at least give it a try for yourself.
8. Assassination Classroom (Viz Media)
December 2014 saw the first volume released in America for Assassination Classroom. It took a kind of familiar premise—a special teacher coming in and helping a class of underperforming students become successes despite their peers bringing them down. However, you add in the fact that teacher is some strange creature that plans on destroying the world at the end of the school semester and the class must find a way to kill him before the end, and now you have something really special. A real funny, messed-up action school dramedy. It showed promise with its first volume and thankfully, the released volumes in 2015 definitely lived up to expectations.
A whole crap-ton happened in 2015 for Class E, including mid-terms, a forced softball game meant to humiliate them, new transfer students, new teachers, class trips, and even closing things out with a summer vacation to an island with a shady background. We also really expanded and developed almost every single character within the class on some level, showing their own unique personalities and failings. The antagonists were a lot of fun, the humor is hilarious with how strange it can be, and Koro-Sensei (our strange teacher) is fantastically characterized.
Though, what I find to be one of the series’ strongest points is its tone. The series has this dark undercurrent with the threat of global annihilation hanging over the characters’ heads, alongside these terrible threats from other forces as well. The manga never lets you forget about it, but the series also has a very funny and goofy vibe to it when the characters interact with each other and Koro-Sensei. The creator does a great job balancing these two moods, never letting one ruin the vibe of the other in any way. Outside of some iffy parts when it comes to a few female characters, Assassination Classroom is amazing and easily the best manga comedy I read this year.
7. A Silent Voice (Kodansha Comics)
However, the best drama, and one of the most important mangas to come out this year in general goes to A Silent Voice. It’s a story about a former bully trying to set things right before committing suicide, having nothing left to live for after several horrible years in school and seeing no future. However, when he meets with a deaf girl who he used to bully in elementary school, things change and he may see some things are worth living for. It’s a story about redemption and trying to fix mistakes you’ve made in the past, but more than that, it’s a story about bullying and the effect it can have on a person… whether it was the victim or the bully him/herself.
A Silent Voice pulls no punches whenever it comes to its story. It takes a very realistic approach to its characters and how it portrays bullying, showing how it can start and where it can stem from. You see how it affects characters, how little is done to stop it, and some of its devastating consequences. As someone who was bullied before, this is painfully accurate but done in a mature way. You end up hating most of the characters at first because of this, especially the main character since he started it all.
However, the genius of it comes in how the writer is capable of making you sympathize with this former bully. You see his struggles internally and externally, how bad it was for him, and the lengths he goes to fix things. You see other characters and how they have grown (or sadly haven’t), especially the deaf girl who is our other lead character in the book. While we don’t get chapters from her point of view, at least so far, this manga is as much about her as it is the former bully and what she has gone through. It’s a hard manga to read, but it’s so rewarding as well and certainly deserves everyone’s time. As such, A Silent Voice easily earned its spot in the Top 10.
6. Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics)
The only Marvel comic on this best-of list and also one of two books that’s still in the top 10 from last year, Ms. Marvel is back and is just as good as always. This year she finally took down the Inventor, met up with more Inhumans, got dragged into the Secret Wars event, and eventually got a relaunch series seeing her dealing with evil relators wanting to mess up her neighborhood. It’s been a long and wild ride, but a real fun and upbeat one at that.
G. Willow Wilson gives us a series with so much heart, soul, personality, emotion, and character. The main lead is still so likeable and enjoyable to read about, seeing what craziness she gets wrapped up in and how she handles it. The supporting cast is great and equally well-characterized. The stories are fun, but also know how to be serious and get you invested in their drama. The artwork is lovely and fits the tone of the series perfectly (no matter who is drawing it). It’s easily one of the best superhero comics out there that could be great for young girls since it features a great role model. There’s so much to enjoy and get wrapped up in that I wish I could put it in my top 5 spot. However, there were just five better comics out there this year.
5. March Book Two (Top Shelf Productions)
When it comes to American history, I’m absolutely fascinated and enjoy learning about the Civil Rights Movement. It’s hard to explain why, but it’s a topic that I just want to learn all I can on. So with a series of books about the life of U.S. Representative John Lewis, focusing particularly on his involvement in the movement, I had to read it. Book One was good, but in my honest opinion, March Book Two was much better and quite possibly one of the most powerful and moving comics I have ever read in my life.
I am nowhere near articulate enough to discuss or talk about this book to do it justice, but it’s really something else. Learning more and seeing these events unfold, especially the opening scene, shocked me to my very core. Seeing what happened, how the artwork brings it all to life, and how Lewis narrated it… I just don’t have the words. It’s eye opening and the artwork gives it a bit more power behind it than most regular books I’ve read about this time period. As such, I’ll simply say this: Even though I liked and enjoyed four comics more this year, March Book Two is probably the best comic of the year in terms of pure quality and importance. Especially given the current climate in America, there’s no comic more important to be reading than this one.
4. Outcast (Image Comics)
When people talk about Image Comics and what they love, you usually hear them talk about Saga, Deadly Class, Lazarus, Chew, or other very popular titles. If a person mentions Robert Kirkman, it’s either The Walking Dead or Invincible. However, Outcast feels like it is being left out or not being talked about much and that’s a big shame. Outcast is quite possibly one of the best comics Image has been publishing and is also my favorite Image comic of the year.
Last year, we saw our protagonist, Kyle Barnes, make some small progression towards confronting his dark past with strange entities and his mother’s own possession. This year, we see him and Reverend Anderson try and figure out if any of these past exorcisms they did actually worked. Also, this mysterious figure starts making his move and hits Kyle right in vulnerable area. It’s been another slow-burn, but effectively creepy and unsettling year for this title. The whole comic, now that it is really taking off, just oozes this intense feeling of dread and discomfort in every issue. You never know what will happen next and you are slowly figuring out the rules just as the other characters are. The characters feel real and you like them, even with all of their personal demons and issues that they have. Paul Azaceta’s art is equally moody with the line work and inking he does. Outcast is incredibly engaging and quite possibly the best horror series I read in 2015. There’s not a whole lot to say without spoiling too much. It was great and I hope more people check it out.
3. Prez (DC Comics)
Speaking of comics that are worth reading given the time we live in: Prez. Quite possibly the strangest and most unusual comic to come out of DC’s new DCYou line, Prez is a social and political satire of our time taken to the extreme, but frighteningly not too far out of the realm of possibility. In the distant future, the American political system has gotten completely out of wack (even more so than it currently is) and big business pretty much runs everything. As such, in a strange and rather funny move, an unintentional Internet celebrity by the name of Beth Ross becomes the newest president. With no real experience playing the game and walking blindfold into a wolves’ den, she has to figure out how to run the country and improve it in the right ways… despite the ugliness and self-serving figures in Washington and the faceless industry leaders.
Prez takes a shotgun approach to its satire and commentary. It hits and comments on almost every topic in one way or another. Politics, celebrity status, social media, Anonymous, the drone program, artificial intelligence, new age movements, reality programs, ridiculousness of some religions, the second amendment, and more. It’s a bit all over the map and sometimes a tad shallow in areas, but it’s both really funny and makes you think at times. Plus, some of the topics it touches on, especially their analogue for drones, can be really heavy and powerful with how it is depicted and how it affects Beth.
But besides the satire, the rest of the comic is equally great. The main character is wonderfully characterized and easy to sympathize with given everything that happens to her. The supporting characters and villains are all memorable in their own ways due to their quirks and attitudes (I especially love how nasty and threatening yet silly the business tycoons are). The writing is strong and even the comedy not involved in the commentary is really strong and effective. Plus, the artwork looks wonderful and helps sell a lot of the humor and also power in the scenes. Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell have put together something really impressive and nothing like anything else you’ve seen from DC Comics. I absolutely loved this comic from start to finish in 2015, even handing down a 10 out of 10 to the sixth issue. Hopefully the second half of the series is just as good as the first.
2. Grayson (DC Comics)
In 2014, my pick of the year was Grayson. Tim Seeley, Tom King, and Mike Janin put together a string of issues that were unrivaled in the amount of quality they had. Every single one was fantastic and a joy to read with little to no problems at all in its storytelling and execution. In 2015, besides one slip up, the same holds true and it again was one of the best series of the year. Plus, it’s still the best portrayal of Dick Grayson since the DC reboot, with a great sense of humor, personal drama, and adventure.
Grayson saw the end of Mr. Minos’ plan, an assassin that was killing other secret agents from other covert groups that put the blame on Dick Grayson, a new foe from higher up the food chain in Spyral, and eventually ended things off with a tie-in to Robin War (the best tie-in as well). It was an amazing ride and admittedly, I fell off the title for a bit towards the end of the summer when I got busy with life and other things. However, the moment I came back to the comic, I was left stunned with how I could do such a thing. The quality of the writing, the mind-bending twists and turns in where the story goes, the wonderful and well-developed cast of characters, and gorgeous artwork… this is a series that just leaves you wanting more and more.
The only slip up that I hinted at was the November issue, which was mostly just an exposition-fest to explain the background of our new villain and the artwork was handled by a fill-in artist. The issue wasn’t as exciting or engaging as past issues, but it was still interesting enough and not many series can say that when they hit a low point. Grayson was wonderful from the beginning to the ending of 2015 and I’m sure it will stay that way for the coming year as well. However, there was still one series better than it that just silently swooped in and dethroned it…
1. My Hero Academia (Viz Media)
If I had to name the series in which I looked forward to every single new issue or chapter of it, it would be My Hero Academia. This is a series that first debuted in 2014 in Japan and started getting released stateside in February of 2015 in Weekly Shonen Jump. Every week since then, besides certain Japanese holidays, the newest chapter of the series comes out and I’m always pumped to read it. This is a series that features familiar tropes and ideas, but the execution is absolutely brilliant.
The manga is about a boy named Izuku Midoriya who lives in a world where almost everyone has some sort of superpower… except for him. He wants to be a superhero so badly, but he just doesn’t have what it takes. However, meeting the incredibly powerful, #1 superhero in the world, All Might, changes everything for him. From there, he gains a superpower and attends an academy for superheroes, where he meets all sorts of interesting students and teachers. In 2015, we saw the school hold its annual sports festival where students can show off their powers, the students get to intern with superheroes in the workplace, the growing threat of a supervillain society, the ultimate mid-term exam, and eventually the start of their summer training program. It was all just incredible and thoroughly engaging to read.
This is probably one of the best series I’ve seen in terms of visible, noticeable character development, whereas other series I’ve listed are more subtle and slow-going (both are good, but in different ways). Midoriya at the beginning of the year is not the same person he is at the end of the year. He’s learning better control over his superpowers, growing smarter and more analytical, and developing quickly out of his weak and wimpy demeanor. However, he’s not the only one. The entire cast, even the villains, are growing and evolving just as much as the main character. You see them desperately try to understand their situations and learn from them, their internal struggles they bring upon themselves, their interactions with one another, and more. It all seems perfectly natural for each individual and the directions they go make sense for them.
Beyond the characterization, the writing and artwork are great. While the drama is good, the sense of humor and personality in the story are very well done and really make you smile. Each chapter feels well paced and there’s always something interesting going on in some capacity. The artwork is great with unique character designs (plus unique powers with their own rules) and solid layouts, and it has the ability to show horrific looking imagery flawlessly. Kōhei Horikoshi, the writer and artist of the series, has provided us with not only one of the best series of 2015, but also one of the best superhero series in recent memory. It understands legacy, the inspirational bits, moments of weakness, the moments of strength, and the heroism. My Hero Academia gets superheroes and gets how to be a fantastic series as well. All in all, this is my pick for the best series of 2015 and more than every other title on the countdown, I eagerly look forward to its future.
And that wraps up my picks for the best of the best comics and manga of 2015. I look forward with great excitement over where these series will go in the future. Hopefully they are just as good or even better when they come out and when we can finally read them.