The best comics not about superheroes

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We might as well start with arguably the single best non-superhero comic of all time: Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. And honestly? You could take “non-superhero” out of that sentence and still make a pretty good case for it. Since it debuted in 1984, Usagi‘s had over 200 issues written, drawn, and lettered by Sakai, and there’s never been a bad one. It’s at the point where the next issue could quite literally be the worst comic I’d ever read in my life, and Sakai would still average out to a better track record than anyone else in comics.

But even though it’s coming up on 35 years, it’s also one of the most accessible comics you’re likely to find. There’s a rich and well-crafted continuity there, full of recurring characters and plotlines that occasionally take years to wrap up, but those things are never an obstacle for getting into a new story. You can pick it up anywhere—Sakai even defines the word “ronin” every time it comes up, just in case you’re somehow encountering the word for the very first time when it’s being used to describe this particular rabbit.

Ah, right, the premise: Usagi Yojimbo stars Miyamoto Usagi, a ronin (masterless samurai) loosely based on Miyamoto Musashi, the legendary 17th century swordsman. I say “loosely” because Musashi was not, to my knowledge, a rabbit, but he did once show up to a duel without his sword and beat his opponent senseless with a wooden oar instead. Usagi wanders around a fictionalized but meticulously researched version of feudal Japan full of cartoon animals, wandering from one adventure to the next.

And it’s a comic that has everything. There’s obviously plenty of adventure and samurai sword-fighting, but there’s also drama, romance, and one of the best incorporations of horror elements into an action story that I’ve ever read. I am honestly a little embarrassed at how long it took me to realize the joke of an unkillable supernatural slasher named Jei-san. If you’re looking to jump on, most readers would agree that the Eisner award-winning Grasscutter, Book 12, is one of the better starting points.

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