The comics medium is a beautiful and interconnected ecosystem, and nowhere is that better represented than in Polygon’s list of the best comics of 2022. From Marvel and DC’s blockbuster series to alternative indies and the highlights of a year in manga, comics culture remains rooted in the books that inspire it all.
The comics on this list are already in paperback form for your eager hands — no worries for trade-waiters. Comics were considered eligible if they were collected for the first time, or published their final collection, in 2022.
By Kyle Starks and Chris Schweizer
Many of this year’s best comics are heavy and measured or beautiful and philosophical, comics that are trying to tell little-heard truths or stories of little-known figures. The Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton exhibits all the same mastery of craft and love of story as the rest of the books here — but funnels all that artistic focus into the best screwball comedy of 2022.
If The Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton were a movie, it would already have a two-sequel Netflix deal. Trigger Keaton, a washed-up martial arts movie star, the most despised asshole in Hollywood, and a clear stand-in for Chuck Norris, has wound up dead. Six people who played opposite him in his biggest wins and flops suspect foul play, and are determined to bring the killer to justice in spite of how they all frrrrrreakin’ despise Trigger Keaton.
This strangers-to-family group of former child actors and working adult thespians sleuth their way through an over-the-top world of Hollywood action-movie making, where crossing a brother stuntman means a STUNTMAN WAR, where the biker gang about to beat you up pauses to give you a pep talk about sticking up for your friends, and where all the catchphrases are the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard. The dialogue is amazing, the pacing is amazing, the layouts are amazing, the fights are amazing, the car chases are amazing, the depressingly plausible fake TV shows are amazing — heck, even the lettering is amazing. —Susana Polo
By Ram V and Filipe Andrade
There are comics that feel more like a poem than plotted panels on a page — comics that leave you not so much with memorable dialogue or dramatic set-pieces, but something more ethereal and less susceptible to description: a mood, a color, a sense of something gained or lost.
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr is that kind of comic. Ram V and Filipe Andrade’s story of an avatar of Death (capital D) fated to spend her days in a mortal life may have the basic form of a myth or fable, but it has the airy quality of a watercolor painting. Andrade’s art is all sketchy lines complemented by pastel colors that blend each panel into the next. And Ram V’s prose doesn’t so much propel the action as circle around it, leading us back and forth along with the lead character as she moves, fitfully and imperfectly, toward some kind of enlightenment.
In the end, we’re left with a meditation on life, death, and the possibility of finding peace between the two that lingers long after the final page, and invites us to begin the cycle all over again. —Zach Rabiroff
By Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith
It’s no surprise that Wash Day Diaries has found a place on our year-end list. One of 2022’s most powerful, delightful, and beautifully illustrated reads, this slice-of-life graphic novel follows four Black women and best friends in the Bronx — Kim, Tanisha, Davene, and Cookie — as they experience life, love, and work through the lens of hair care.
There’s a radical softness in both Rowser’s charming writing and Smith’s pastel-hued illustration. Expanding on Black Josei Press’ gorgeous and award-winning comic Wash Day, the graphic novel is made up of five interconnected short stories — so you’re really getting five of the best comics of the year in one — each of which centers a different character and their hair routine as an entry point into their day and the friendship they share. Rowser and Smith are a creative force to be reckoned with and have made a truly timeless and vital comic that will continue to delight readers for years to come. —Rosie Knight
By Lewis Hancox
Cartoonist Lewis Hancox’s memoir guides us through his experience of trying to survive high school while struggling with gender dysphoria. Every teen (cis and trans alike) can appreciate the frustration, awkwardness, and heartache here, even if it’s not identical to their own life. At the same time, Hancox pokes fun at his emo-loving, skateboarding, dramatic teen past, and his art style allows for things to be silly in parts.
Lewis the Author cleverly breaks the fourth wall throughout the story, popping in as narrator and sometimes even speaking directly to his past self. During some of the roughest moments when his loved ones react badly or say the wrong thing, Author Lewis pulls his present-day persona into the book. The reader learns how his parents and the few close friends he had during that time worked on themselves and ultimately embraced Lewis for who he is. Even when things seem hopeless in the story, adult Lewis keeps popping in to let us know that, like the saying goes, it indeed gets better. —Katie Schenkel
By Tom King and Bilquis Evely
Tom King is so synonymous with his particular brand of introspective, self-contained superhero comics, it’s become something of a goof. Which obscure character has he picked to make a sad 12-issue miniseries about this time? It’s funny because it’s accurate, but it does make it easy to forget that King’s writing, in which Mister Miracle brings a grocery store veggie platter to a meeting with Darkseid, is also really funny.
So yes, Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, in which a precocious alien girl ropes Supergirl into serving as her guardian as she travels the universe hunting for the wanton murderer who killed her father, technically belongs in his canon of sad 12-issue minis. Deep down, it’s a story about separating what feels good from what feels right, and how and why we should pick ourselves up and move forward when doing so feels impossible. But up on top, it’s an episodic odd-couple travelogue, a True Grit but in space, with the Jeff Bridges/John Wayne role played to a T by Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El.
King’s blessing is that he consistently gets the best artists in the industry to work with him, and Woman of Tomorrow is a superlative example. Bilquis Evely’s work is almost indescribably beautiful here, her pacing emphatic, her compositions breathtaking, her expressions electric; the sheer creativity of the alien environments on display is phenomenal. Add in Matheus Lopes’ color work, and the book delivers multiple pages of wall-worthy art every issue.
The result of all this together is a True Grit tune, played on Superman musical instruments, in the style of The Sandman. I have never liked a version of Supergirl more than here, where King, Evely, and Lopes set her to answering the first and best question of the superhero genre: What does it mean to use power well? —SP
By Hitoshi Ashinano
Imagine the world has ended. Climate catastrophe has struck; whole cities and towns are now submerged. Life itself has fundamentally changed. It’s a new world. It’s a dying world.
Now imagine a cafe in that world, run by an immortal android named Alpha, an undying caretaker in that dying world. A classic of Japanese sci-fi comics and seinen manga, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is a remarkable breath of fresh air from most of the postapocalyptic comics people are likely used to. It’s a breezy, atmospheric work all about reveling in the beauty of life and nature. It’s a book of breathtaking snapshots, capturing the little moments that make life so joyous. Hitoshi Ashinano’s cartooning is just a gorgeous celebration of the celestial skies, the serene seas, the wondrous wilds of the world, and all that lurks between them. It’s a book about the human act of looking around the world in wonder. It’s small people living in a gargantuan universe, far beyond their grasp, finding comfort and meaning in their community.
This year, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou finally became available in English for the very first time, and the five lovely deluxe editions are not to be missed. —Ritesh Babu
By Kate Beaton
This year, Kate Beaton, of Hark! A Vagrant fame, delivered a raw graphic memoir about her time working in the Alberta oil sands in 2005 at the age of 22. Beaton’s art has always been wonderful, but her use of empty space in Ducks sublimely emphasizes the loneliness of living so far from home, the frigid winters, and the quiet beauty at night.
There are many moments of positivity and kindhearted co-workers in Ducks. But so much more of her memories are consumed by experiences of workplace sexual harassment. When she relates experiences of sexual violence (first by a stranger and later by a co-worker), her work perfectly encapsulates the trauma, memory lapse, and disassociation of that violation. It’s eerie and jarring, as it should be.
This graphic memoir is about a lot of things: isolation, sexism, racism, environmental damage, class divides. But the throughline of it all is negligence and carelessness with people’s lives, the casual indifference of people in power. It is not an easy read. I can’t recommend it enough. —KS
By Tatsuki Fujimoto
Chainsaw Man is everywhere, putting global attention on its esteemed creator. Rightfully, too, because Tatsuki Fujimoto is one of the best and most exciting mangaka of our era. And Chainsaw Man isn’t all he has to offer.
While digitally published last year, this unforgettable one-shot by Fujimoto has now finally been collected in an English volume this year. Here he showcases his incredible artistry, crafting a moving portrait of two young artists and their journey across time in a small town. It’s a coming-of-age story about dreams, connections, loss, and heartache, as ultimately the path of the duo takes a turn neither of them could’ve ever expected. It’s visceral, brutal, and one of the best comics of the past few years.
Following in its footsteps, Fujimoto put out a second one-shot this year, Goodbye, Eri, that was also terrific (but remains uncollected as of yet). This is clearly something he’s going to be doing a lot of from now on, so if you’d like to follow his ambitious vision and career, Look Back is a must-have. —RB
By Pornsak Pichetshote and Alexandre Tefenkgi
A good noir is hard to find. The best of the genre, the stories that stand the test of time, need to do three things: Tell an intriguing and original mystery; convey the tone and texture of gritty urban uncertainty; and, most challengingly, expose something troubling and insoluble about the society the story portrays.
The Good Asian proves itself worthy on all three counts. The story of Edison Hark, a Chinese American police detective following an unknown killer in 1930s San Francisco, works on the most basic level as a compelling whodunit. But the plot is overshadowed, literally and figuratively, by the mood of darkness and corruption that writer Pornsak Pichetshote and artist Alexandre Tefenkgi convey.
More than anything, the story’s genius is in its subtle, relentless exposure of the brokenness of its world: the racism of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the violence and bigotry of the police, the ultimate impossibility of really knowing what’s true and what’s a lie. It all combines to make The Good Asian as unsettling a work of commentary for today as it is an excavation of our dirty past. —ZR
By Reimena Yee
This heartwarming story is about a young blind girl named Safia who moves to live with her eccentric aunt after the death of her parents. It also happens to be one of the most inventively laid out and original comics of the year.
Reimena Yee has already carved out a space as a vibrant comics talent with her epic, Eisner-nominated graphic novel duology The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya and her lovely middle grade story Séance Tea Party. But My Aunt Is a Monster is easily her best book yet. Saifa’s tale is brought to life through beautiful, vibrant color, experimental page layouts, and enchanting art. Just like her previous middle grade effort, My Aunt Is a Monster is a fantasy story with depth that always treats its audience with respect and kindness as readers follow Safia on the adventure of a lifetime. No matter your age, this is a must-read. —RK