Reading comics is a rewarding hobby, but it’s also an expensive one. Whether you buy single issues every week or wait to pick up complete stories as collected editions, keeping up with comics can quickly burn a hole in your wallet. This is true of even relatively low-cost subscription services like Marvel Unlimited, DC Universe Infinite, and Comixology Unlimited, which start to add up after a while. Fortunately, there are plenty of terrific titles available right now that won’t cost you a cent – and we’ve pulled them all together for you in this handy round-up of the best free comics.
There’s something here for everyone, whether you’re a fan of traditional comics, webcomics, or both. To help you decide where to start, we’ve even ranked each entry according to three key criteria. First and foremost is quality – is the standard of writing and artwork the same as you’d expect from a comic you paid for? Then there’s variety – does the story keep things interesting, or can it get a little repetitive at times? Lastly, there’s completeness – if there’s an ongoing narrative, is it finished (or looking like it one day will be), or has it stalled? And now, with that out of the way, all that’s left for you to do is pick a free comic and start reading.
The Best Free Comics
10. Penny Arcade
Penny Arcade is one of the most popular and long-running webcomics of all time, not to mention one of the most influential. Centred around the couch-based exploits of geeks Gabe and Tycho – fictionalised stand-ins for creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik – this comedy comic strip has poked fun at video games and gamer culture since 1998.
Admittedly, Penny Arcade isn’t the most artistically ambitious series on this list. Even so, Holkins’ scripts are unfailingly witty, while Krahulik’s cartoony art style looks suitably slick and suits the satirical tone of the series. That said, some of this webcomic’s earlier content, such as 2010 strip “The Sixth Slave”, betrays Penny Arcade’s roots in the more male-dominated gaming culture of 20 years ago – so bear that in mind before diving in.
Holkins and Krahulik don’t do much to shake up Penny Arcade’s basic storytelling structure, either. Strips rarely deviate from the webcomic’s standard three-panel layout, and it’s even rarer for a set-up to run across more than one strip. Yet the strip remains consistently fresh, simply because the video game industry gives Holkins and Krahulik a constant stream of new topics to riff on.
That probably explains why Penny Arcade is showing no signs of slowing down. New comic strips continue to drop three times a week, which suggests a sudden hiatus isn’t likely, although thanks to Penny Arcade’s continuity-lite nature, even this wouldn’t be a major problem.
9. Lavender Jack
The first of several WEBTOON digital comics on this list, Dan Schkade’s Lavender Jack is the perfect book for anyone looking for a superhero comic with a fresh slant. It’s the story of a smartly dressed vigilante who battles the City of Gallery’s corrupt ruling class at the turn of the 20th century, and it is amazing.
Schkade’s writing and artwork across Lavender Jack’s 100+ episodes to date are both as good as anything you’d find in a conventional, mainstream comic book. Not only does Schkade populate Gallery with a cast of compelling, three-dimensional characters, but he also has a knack for devising fight scenes with a surprising amount of emotional subtext. Schkade constantly expands Lavender Jack’s fictional universe, too, and his talent for world-building means you’ll never get bored exploring Gallery and meeting more of its inhabitants.
Now for the bad news: Lavender Jack is currently on hiatus, and has been since December 2021. Schkade insists the comic will be back sometime this year, once the remaining scripts for Season 3 are polished (and he’s finished recovering from some recent health issues). At this stage, there’s no reason to believe that new episodes of Lavender Jack won’t arrive soon – but the series’ current intermission is nevertheless worth noting.
8. Love Everlasting
Love Everlasting is the only comic from Substack’s highly-publicised foray into comic book distribution to make this list of the best comics you can read for free. This is at least partly because it’s the only title on that platform that’s both available to non-paying subscribers and that comes packaged as complete issues. Every other free Substack comic we’ve seen drip feeds pages across multiple newsletters, resulting in a reading experience that, frankly, sucks.
But that’s not the only reason Love Everlasting made the cut – it also earned its slot by being an inspired mash-up of classic romance comics and contemporary fantasy/horror books. What’s more, the series’ high concept premise – Joan Peterson fights to break free from an endless cycle of different cliched love stories – is executed with the level of craft you’d expect from writer Tom King and artist Elsa Charretier.
Love Everlasting also has plenty to offer in the variety department. Functioning as both an anthology and a continuous narrative, it constantly gives readers something new even as its recurring characters and plot points draw them in further. Really, the only drawback about this series is that there isn’t more of it – so far, only three issues have dropped. Still, seasoned pros like King and Charretier aren’t likely to leave readers in the lurch, especially now that Image Comics is officially onboard to release Love Everlasting in print.
If you’re a fan of Gravity Falls or Stranger Things, you need to check out Paranatural. Zack Morrison’s weekly webcomic predates both of those shows and its tales of superpowered school kids who fight ghosts and investigate supernatural shenanigans are arguably just as good.
Morrison’s writing delivers an expert blend of humor and action, as well as deftly handled character beats – all of which makes hanging out with Max, Isobel and the rest of the Activity Club such a blast. The manga-influenced artwork doesn’t hurt either, its expressive style proving a great fit for the characters and their world.
True, Paranatural doesn’t stretch its storytelling format as much as other entries on this list. However, Morrison’s ability to put a new spin on familiar spooky scenarios compensates for this repetition somewhat, as do more recent experiments like the inclusion of full-prose pages in the most recent story arc.
Paranatural is 12 years old now, and in that time it’s racked up seven complete arcs (collected as chapters). That’s not exactly rapid-fire delivery, but new pages continue to appear most Fridays, so prospective readers needn’t worry Morrison will abandon the series prematurely.
Ashley Cope’s Unsounded is a hard series to categorise. Ostensibly, this webcomic is an epic fantasy, but it often veers into comedy and horror territory, too. This could be a problem, except Cope proves herself as adept at eliciting guffaws and gasps as she is at dreaming up otherworldly adventures. Clearly, variety is not a problem here.
Unsounded’s 16 chapters and counting also demonstrate Cope’s chops when it comes to characterisation. The series’ sprawling cast regularly sidesteps the “good and evil” stereotypes associated with the fantasy genre – and none more so than the series’ morally flexible protagonist Sette Frummagem. Cope is also a more than capable artist, and Unsounded boasts expressive characters and clearly-choreographed action scenes, as well as cleverly deployed animation.
New Unsounded pages go live three times a week, with a month-long gap after a full chapter is complete. Cope has stuck by this publishing schedule since 2010, which indicates she’s planning on seeing this fantasy/horror/comedy webcomic through to the end.
Comics don’t get more professionally made than ElfQuest. In the 44 years since the debut of Wendy and Richard Pini’s fantasy series, it’s been published by both DC and Dark Horse Comics. So, if it’s old-school, quality storytelling you’re looking for from this list of the best free comics, the epic saga of elf Cutter and his tribe of Wolfriders is almost certainly the book for you.
Part of ElfQuest’s enduring appeal over the last four decades and counting is the rich backstory developed by the Pinis and their occasional creative collaborators. This has allowed them to take the narrative in different directions as needed, and also given them a sandbox in which to challenge tired fantasy tropes and comment on real-world issues. So, despite the series’ considerable length, it rarely suffers from any sense of stagnation.
Another thing that sets ElfQuest apart from many comic books (free or otherwise) is that its creators already know how it’s going to end. There’s a catch, though: you won’t get to read that ending for free. Although every issue in the series released up to 2014 is available online, you’ll have to shell out for everything else published from then on. But, hey – that still leaves you with several decade’s worth of comics to read before you have to spend a dime.
4. The Adventures of Dr. McNinja
The Adventures of Doctor McNinja started out as a drawing contest entry by then-aspiring writer/artist Christopher Hastings. As such, this webcomic’s early stories are a little crude in their execution. Readers who stick with the series, which charts the outrageous exploits of a thirty-something doctor who is also a highly trained ninja, are in for a treat, however. The Adventures of Doctor McNinja quickly evolves into a highly polished mash-up of OTT action and laugh out loud absurdist comedy so good that Dark Horse Comics later collected it in print.
Hastings, who has since written for Marvel, Boom! Studios, and Dynamite Entertainment, excels at creating ridiculous characters we can nevertheless root for. He’s also a genius when it comes to pushing illogical concepts to their logical extreme, and he rewards long-time readers with running gags that sometimes take years to fully pay off. He’s also no slouch as an artist, rendering inventive fight scenes and goofy sight gags with equal aplomb, although colourists Carly Monardo and Anthony “Nedroid” Clark deserve a hefty share of the kudos here, too.
Best of all, The Adventures of Doctor McNinja’s unique brand of chaotic storytelling is practically tailor-made to ward off repetition. Hastings’ plots regularly jump between genres, from extended ‘80s action movie riffs to sci-fi and fantasy epics, with even a little (very) light horror added into the mix on occasion. The series also comes equipped with a concrete conclusion, having wrapped up – very satisfactorily, we might add – back in January 2017.
3. Sweet Home
Recently adapted as a live-action Netflix series, Sweet Home was wildly successful throughout its 141-chapter run on WEBTOON. Created by Kim Carnby and Hwang Young-chan, it’s a horror series set in the wake of an apocalyptic event that has transformed people into monsters that mirror their deepest desires.
This is an arresting premise, and it’s one that Carnby and Young-chan milk for all it’s worth. The duo also makes full use of WEBTOON’s vertical scroll format to ensure that Sweet Home builds suspense and releases tension in a way that few other comics can match – even managing to approximate cinema-style jump scares. No, Sweet Home’s at times grotesque imagery won’t be for everyone, however, readers undeterred by this content will find it masks a touching story about friendship and the power of the families we make for ourselves.
These themes are heightened by Carnby and Young-chan’s decision to use WEBTOON’s audio functionality to add music to Sweet Home. This music also gives several episodes – most notably, the series finale – their own distinct identity, avoiding the “same old, same old” trap of other long-running horror titles.
Sweet Home wrapped up in July 2020, but those not ready for the story to end (and that’ll be most readers) can move on to prequel series Shotgun Boy which started in February 2021.
2. Stand Still, Stay Silent
So, you think the post-apocalyptic story is all played out? Stand Still, Stay Silent will make you reconsider that position. Drawing from Norse mythology, creator Minna Sundberg brings a refreshing, fantasy-oriented slice of life slant to this increasingly tired genre that’s downright revelatory.
With Stand Still, Stay Silent, Sundberg offsets her cast of disarmingly everyday characters with a richly-drawn world rendered with sumptuous watercolor artwork. These visuals are a change of pace to what most comic book readers are used to – they wouldn’t look out of place in a battered fantasy hardback or vintage travelogue – and that makes them instantly captivating.
Yet what’s truly special about Stand Still, Stay Silent is the innovative way that Sundberg incorporates maps and other topographical elements into the story. These creative flourishes imbue Sundberg’s vision of end-times Scandinavia with a tangible sense of reality, as do the detailed character profiles littered throughout the series.
Stand Still, Stay Silent began in 2012 and finished in 2022. The upshot of this is that there’s a decent amount of story for new readers to dive into – and better still, a proper finale waiting for them when they reach the end.
1. Lore Olympus
Officially the most popular WEBTOON series of all time, Rachel Smythe’s Lore Olympus updates the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades for modern times. It’s won or been nominated for virtually every prestigious award the comic book industry has to offer, collected as a best-selling hardcover by Del Rey Books, and a TV adaptation is currently in the works. So this isn’t just one of the best free comics out there – it’s one of the best comics you can read, period.
Smythe’s revisionist take on Lore Olympus’ ancient source material feels impressively timely in a way that runs deeper than just adding smartphones and sports cars. She unearths themes buried in the original myth like sexual assault, abuse, and trauma, and recontextualises them so that readers today can relate. And her stunning artwork – with its distinctive, carefully chosen colour palette, animation-inspired character designs, and watercolour textures – only adds to the story’s emotional resonance.
Of course, like many of the long-form narratives on this list, Lore Olympus emphasises strong plot and tonal cohesion. Yet Smythe prevents the story’s intense subject matter from ever becoming monotonous by knowing exactly when to lighten the mood. She’s also experimenting with WEBTOON’s audio capabilities as a way of making certain episodes stand out from the pack. So trust us: this isn’t a free comic series you’ll get sick of easily.
Lore Olympus’ first episode dropped back in 2018 and the series has since finished its first full season. Season 2 is currently underway, with new episodes uploaded on Sundays. Smythe also previously confirmed she has Lore Olympus’ ending already mapped out, which means that when this Greek tragedy finally wraps up, readers won’t be the ones heartbroken.
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