Supergirls: Female Friendly Comic BooksMeghan O'Keefe

It’s true that comic books haven’t always represented women well. (Google: “Women in Refrigerators” if you want to get depressed or inspired because its author, Gail Simone, is now a top notch comic book writer who is turning things around.) However, there are a ton of titles out there right now that are brilliantly written, beautifully drawn and feature fantastic female characters. You just have to know how to find them. Or at the very least, have a jumping off title.

Alias by Brian Michael Bendis This series has nothing to do with the Jennifer Garner show of the same name. Ironically, though, if you were a fan of that show, you’d probably also like this. The series follows Jessica Jones, a jaded former superhero who now runs her own private detective firm and is trying to distance herself from a traumatic past. It’s dark, it’s gritty, it’s sexy and it’s emotional. Also, you get to see superheroes like Luke Cage (he’s an Avenger–he was created in the 1970′s–he says “Sweet Christmas”–his skin is impenetrable) outside of the uniforms and from the perspective of a woman who’s dated them. It’s a really brilliant read and has been optioned as a TV show.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and art by Pia Guerra You know the age old curse, “Not if you were the last man on Earth?” Well, hapless twenty-something Yorick Brown is the last man on earth in this absolutely brilliant coming of age story that deftly juggles sexual politics, emotional drama and Twilight Zone-style science fiction. Vaughan’s work is known for being intelligent, witty and filled with multi-dimensional female characters. He’s also responsible for Runaways (side note: give Runaways to the preteen girl in your life now!), Ex Machina and a number of the more brilliant later episodes of Lost.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi This isn’t a superhero story. There’s no murder mystery, no magic and no handsome man in disguise. This is an autobiography of an Iranian artist who had to leave her homeland. Satrapi has a gorgeous artistic style and her writing is full of both deep emotion and whimsy. This isn’t a fun escapist story; it’s a compelling portrait and a must read if you have any interest at all in learning more about what is happening in Iran right now.

Fables by Bill Willingham Imagine if all your favorite fairy tale characters lived in modern day New York. Beauty and the Beast are in couples’ therapy, the Big Bad Wolf is a smoldering detective and Prince Charming has to awkwardly juggle running into his three ex-wives (Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty) at the same fancy events. The series starts off with a murder mystery and twists into an epic soap opera that features romance, war, tragedy, comedy, and a version of Little Boy Blue that will make you swoon. It’s a must read for anyone who likes modern fairy tale adaptations.

X-Men (various titles) The reason why X-Men stories are so female friendly is because there are literally hundreds of female characters within the X-Universe. Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon wrote a great series called Astonishing X-Men that focuses on Kitty Pryde and features complex female characters like Emma Frost and Agent Brand. If you liked X-Men First Class, then check out one of Marvel’s collections of the original comics. It’s really interesting to see how the characters changed from the very first issue and how much they stayed the same. Also, vintage Jean Grey is kind of amazing. The first thing she does when she puts on her X-Man uniform is to comment that Christian Dior could have designed it. Frivolous? Yes. Fun? Also, yes.

Birds of Prey by Gail Simone Alan Moore, who’s responsible for the graphic novel masterpiece Watchmen, wrote a really dark Batman story called The Killing Joke in which the Joker shoots Batgirl in the back and she becomes paralyzed from the waist down. Though it was not the greatest moment for feminism in comic books, publishing house DC committed to Moore’s artistic choice (until recently, but we won’t get into the complicated subject of reboots and retcons right now). Barbara Gordon could no longer physically be Batgirl, but that didn’t mean she could fight crime. In Birds of Prey, Batgirl is reborn as Oracle, a wheelchair bound computer hacker, and she teams up with the Black Canary and Huntress to fight crime in Gotham. It’s a cool girl power series because it shows how women can overcome personal tragedies, band together and still kick ass. 

Manga Most female visitors to comic book shops are in there to buy manga, or Japanese comics. Just like Western comics, Manga runs the gamut from adventure series to drama to romance to science fiction to humor. For whatever reason, Manga is more popular with female audiences. That’s probably because there are more female protagonists, more romances and more humor titles in Manga. There are also way more female writers and artists working in Japan than in America, which is interesting to think about. Some great titles to start with are Fruits Basket (humor/romance), Fushugi Yugi (romance), Battle Royale (which is like The Hunger Games as imagined by Quentin Tarantino), and of course, Sailor Moon, which is set for English publication this year.

Manhwa  The South Korean version of Manga is called Manhua. The art has more feminine flair and the stories are usually more historic or romantic. There’s typically also less humor than in Manga. My personal favorite is Bride of the Water God, it’s about a young woman who’s village offers her up as a bride to a tempestuous water god. If you’re into the Daenerys storyline on HBO’s Game of Thrones, you’d probably also like this.

All these titles are just jumping off points. The idea is you start with a couple, see what you like, and then try another title that’s similar, or by the same author, or has the same artist, or features the same character. The toughest thing for me was figuring out what that first purchase would be. The world of comic books and graphic novels can be overwhelming, but trust me, it’s not just for boys. Comic books have lent me escape in times of trouble, opened up my mind to new ideas and inspired me to conquer some of my own demons. I personally think they’re more than female-friendly; they’re female-empowering.

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  1. Persepolis is the reason I’m studying to become an illustrator! <3

  2. I read Fables and I LOVE IT. It is very refreshing and I feel you can really get tied up in the stories. Good choice!

  3. I saw that you mentioned Buffy (by way of Joss).

    Buffy is girl power extreme and the Season 8 comic continuation is really good. Joss Whedon still does a lot of the writing. And Season 9 is starting next month. :)

  4. A comic adaptation of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn came out at the beginning of this year. Not only is it a great story, the artwork by Renae Details Liz and Ray Dillon is just beautiful!

    I highly recommend reading it. <3

  5. love this! thank you for sharing!

  6. i read most of the things you’ve mentioned here, I also recommend AIR aslo Marjane Satrapi’s Embroideries, I just finished reading it last week, I had a good laughs after that, Madame Xanadu is also a great read, i think volume 4 is out, and House of Mystery from vertigo also, which features Fig, the main character of the story, I also wanna make one in the future,hehehehe!

  7. Thanks to everyone for all the other suggestions! I will definitely have to check them out. These titles are ones that I was introduced to and consider a good “jumping off point” for ladies who might feel timid or lost in a comic book store–because honestly that’s how I felt when I first started reading them.

  8. Yeah, great- but what about the wealth of frmale-friendly strips and titles to come out of the UK over the past few decades? Even ignoring the surpluss of 60s, 70s and 80s girls’ strip titles (the highpoint of which must surely be Misty), recent years have brought many a Strong Female Character in the pages of 2000AD- from Alan Moore & Ian Gibson’s Halo Jones (available as a Rebellion trade paperback), to Samantha Slade: RoboHunter, Purity Brown and the cast of Nemesis The Warlock, Judge Anderson, etc etc.

    Surely one of the stand-out strips of late must be Simon Fraser’s Lilly Mackenzie?

    British comics have a history of treating a female audience properly- and sure, there may be a definite skew toward steroid-pumped nuckleheaded spandex-clad brooders in the industry as a whole, but why assume the worst based upon a single excess?

    Interestingly Pat Mills (creator of Battle, 2000AD, writer of Charley’s War, amongst much else) is currently trying to get a new UK girls’ comic off the ground. Search for Patrick Mills on Facebook, and wish him luck.

  9. How about the entire Catwoman series? If you want to talk female empowerment comics, then she’s your girl. Not only is hands-down, completely awesome, she’s a twist on the typical heroine. Sure, she’s an anti-hero, but she’s not exactly a villain. She rides a thin line of pseudo-neutrality.

    I still have some of my collection of Catwoman comics…

  10. You really need to check out The Mystery Society. The five-issue miniseries from IDW is a lot of fun, and Fiona Staples is an artist who draws women in an amazing way. No longer are their breasts so large and perky that you can hold up a shelf of books on them… instead, they’re just women. Secret Skull is a strong female character who, by the way, is also ghoul and homicidal vigilante. She is definitely not your stereotypical woman, and she actually looks – real. (Well, as real as a ghoul can be.) I like the fact that the women in this graphic novel aren’t just eye candy. Definitely worth the buy! And if you see Fiona Staples, take the time to say hi – she’s down to Earth and a very welcoming lady!

  11. Is it possible to get comic books online? I’ve never lived near a comic store and would LOVE to get into some of these. Especially Alias–it sounds like my cup of tea. Any ideas?

    • Alias is most definitely available on Amazon.com! I know that some people also read digital comics on iPads and other devices, but I prefer going to a local store more–probably because I met my BFFs at a comic book store in Boston and I would get to see them every week when I got my new books. I am still looking for a local place in NYC, but it’s tough because my life’s so busy now. But yeah…enough about me! Amazon.com has a huge collection of graphic novels!

  12. Pretty shocked that Love and Rockets isn’t on this list. Half of the books involve a pair of bisexual Mexican teen girls who live in a poor area of California and love punk rock. The other half center around a hammer-wielding, sexually promiscuous female mayor of a South American town. I would highly recommend jumping into Love and Rockets by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. I adore their work.

  13. You mentioned four manga. The first two I own and adored, the second I have not read but I LOVE the film, and Sailor Moon is possilbly my favourite anime/TV show. Good picks!