After decades of chain-mail bikinis, fighting in high heels, and women in refrigerators, comics are turning a corner. Well, OK, there are still plenty of women in high heels and bikinis getting shoved into uncomfortable death traps, but in recent years, feminist comics of all sorts have been garnering fans. Happily, most of these great feminist comics are also just great comics (fancy that), perfect for everyone who likes the genre, whether you devoured Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix and are actively on the lookout for more tough girls fighting crime or just hoping to while away the afternoon with a great story. Here are 25 essential feminist comics, both online and in print. Feel free to add to this list in the comments.
Hark! A Vagrant , Kate Beaton
If you aren’t a Hark! A Vagrant obsessive already, get ready to become one. Beaton makes hilarious one- (or two- or three- or four-) offs that comment on and reimagine characters from history, literature, or (in the case of her Straw Feminists) our collective cultural consciousness. Also just her own stuff. Beaton comments often on gender and the way men and women are treated, but for Super Feminist Action, check out her hilarious Strong Female Characters.
Dykes to Watch Out For , Alison Bechdel
Bechdel’s legendary strip following the exploits of a group of lesbians (Bechdel called it “half op-ed column and half endlessly serialized Victorian novel”) ran from 1983 to 2008, and is now available in book form for binging. Hilarious, smart, and definitely, definitely passes the Bechdel test (which originated in the episode above).
Lumberjanes, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen
You’ve heard of this, right? Five kick-ass best friends at camp (and not just any camp: Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types) encountering supernatural mysteries and saying things like, “What the Joan Jett are you doing?” It’s all highly adorable and empowering.
Nimona , Noelle Stevenson
Another gem from Stevenson, a onetime webcomic that now lives in print-land (although you can read the beginning here). Nimona is the rebellious, shapeshifting, weirdly bloodthirsty squire to the baddest villain in town, and they get up to all sorts of fun adventures together. I just love her.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Hayao Miyazaki
Before Studio Ghibli, and only a couple of years after directing his first real film, Miyazaki created this serialized manga about an eco-warrior princess in a post-apocalyptic future. Curious, intelligent, and determined, Nausicaä is a fantastic female character — but the really feminist thing is that, at least in my memory, her gender is never really remarked on. There’s no love story, no gender norms — just someone who happens to be a girl saving the world.
The Adventures of Gyno Star , Rebecca Cohen
Like your feminism a little more, er, explicit? Go for Gyno Star, who fights battles you’ll probably recognize from your day-to-day life. After all, the comic’s tagline is, “Fighting the forces of evil and male chauvinism.” It helps if you’ve got super strength and “the power to make people experience the pain of childbirth.” Also not to be ignored: Cohen’s various standalone comics on feminism, which are nearly always brilliant, and her awesome portrait of Bree Newsome as our very own modern Wonder Woman.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Joss Whedon
I mean, Buffy’s a feminist icon whether she’s in living color or just occupying some color panels. If you were devastated at the end of Buffy (because of the extreme tragic peril of living with, um, no more Buffy), don’t forget about Season 8 (and Season 9), the canonical continuation of the show. Just as weird and spunky and clever as ever.
Fray, Joss Whedon
Aaand since we’re on the Whedonverse, you may also be interested in Fray, which imagines a futuristic New York City and the future Slayer, Melaka Fray, who fights evil there. We must have more of her.
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
Satrapi’s excellent graphic memoir details her coming-of-age and young adulthood before, during, and after the revolution in Iran. While Satrapi has publicly spoken of identifying as a humanist rather than a feminist, there is still much in her book that relates to feminist principles: her portrayal of the gendered freedoms in Iran, the close relationships between women, a young girl fighting for her own liberation, etc. Worth reading no matter what kind of -ist you are.
Rat Queens, Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch, Ed Brisson
Four kick-ass lady adventurers are on a mission to kill — well, whatever anyone’s willing to pay them to kill. The author calls the series “a blend of Tank Girl, Bridesmaids, and Lord of the Rings,” and it’s basically the perfect thing for anyone who goes out of their way to make all-female parties in Baldur’s Gate. Or, you know, anyone who likes comedy and fantasy and cool warrior women.
Tank Girl, Alan Martin, Jamie Hewlett
Speaking of Tank Girl, you can’t ignore this absurdist classic of punk-rock comics and female empowerment, featuring a tough-as-nails, booze-swilling, back-talking, lascivious young lady living in a tank. Really, you can’t beat it.
I Kill Giants, Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura
This coming-of-age story follows a socially estranged little girl with dreams of giant-slaying and some possibly real monsters in her life. An excellent portrayal of the way our inner lives can take control of the entire world.
Bitch Planet, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine Delandro
This awesome comic, lauded as “Margaret Atwood meets Inglorious Basterds,” is set in a world where any female who is deemed “non-compliant” — from criminals to ladies who disrespect their husbands — is sent to the “Auxiliary Compliance Outpost,” aka Bitch Planet, where it’s not only the sadistic guards who watch. Overtly political, perhaps, but also extremely fun and terrifying and deeply readable.
Stumptown, Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth
A contemporary noir set in Portland and starring Dex Parios, a flawed female PI with a gambling problem who also happens to be bisexual. The art is way cool.
Princeless, Jeremy Whitley
The tagline for Princeless #1? Save yourself. And Princess Adrienne does just that — enlisting the help of the dragon that was supposed to guard her until some worthy suitor happened by — and then heads off to save her sisters, too. Possibly the best rebel princess since Cimorene.
ODY-C, Matt Fraction, Christian Ward
A psychedelic version of Homer’s Odyssey. In space. Gender-swapped (and not only gender-swapped, but written imagining a society that almost entirely excludes men, the norm of femininity reflected even in language the way the norm of masculinity is today). Also, the art. Is. Insane. Forward, Odyssia!
Ms. Marvel, G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona
YES, comics: Kamala Khan, the teenage, shapeshifting, Muslim superhero from Jersey, is awesome. Plus, the story is great (what else would you expect from G. Willow Wilson?) and generally charming. Don’t just take it from me: the first volume of the series won the Hugo Award for best graphic story this year.
Captain Marvel, Kelly Sue DeConnick (now to be taken over by Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas)
And while we’re on lady marvels, we might as well give a shout out to Kamala’s heroine and namesake, the longtime Ms. Marvel, and now Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers. It’s nice to see ladies getting promoted, you know?
Witchy , Ariel Ries
Enter a land where your power is determined by the length of your hair. If you’re deemed strong enough, you can become a soldier. But if your hair is too long, you get burned at the stake. Yeah, that seems right.
Through the Woods, Emily Carroll
But really, read all of Emily Carroll’s horrifying, gorgeous comics. They’re rooted in fairy tales, but they’re fairy tales in which the little girl lost in the woods has all the agency. That doesn’t mean she gets out alive, though.
Pretty Deadly, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Ríos
OK, so, it’s clear by now that I love Kelly Sue DeConnick. What of it? Pretty Deadly is a myth-tinged western that tells the tale of Sissy, a girl in a vulture cloak, and her blind guardian Fox, on the run from Death’s daughter. Wild and weird and beautiful and almost entirely run by women.
Strong Female Protagonist , Brennan Lee Mulligan, Molly Ostertag
An awesome webcomic about a normal, middle-class American student — who used to be Mega Girl.
Thor: Goddess of Thunder, Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman
I’m not usually into straight-up girl-versions of longtime characters just for the sake of it (why not make up freestanding female characters instead of creating something like Linkle?). But you know what? I can’t really help but love the fact that Thor’s a lady now. And also the fact that since Thor became a lady, Thor comics have been selling 30% more. Just saying.
Oh Joy Sex Toy , Erika Moen, Matthew Nolan
You know what’s super feminist? Sex-positivity. You know what’s super fun? Sex-toy reviews as comics (and other sexy comics… this is definitely NSFW).
Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston
Sure, there’s some problematic bondage, and WW has had her ups and downs (depending on who was writing and drawing her over the years), but all of that has added up to making her one of the most resilient feminist icons we’ve got. Wonder Woman forever.