In the world of comics, the horror genre contains some of the absolute best series you’ll ever have the pleasure of reading. Maybe it’s because of how catch-all the title “horror” is, or how extensively some of the medium’s best writers (Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Robert Kirkman) have all explored the horror genre, but whatever the reason, we can remain thankful that there’s so many great horror series out there in the world. From campy 1950s horror anthologies introduced by over-the-top ghoulish hosts to post-apocalyptic zombie stories, there’s no shortage of reading material essential to any self-respecting comic book fan’s reading list.
With Halloween nearly here, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the most famous horror series out there, and put together a definitive list of the greatest horror comic books that make for great reading this October season.
“The Sandman” by Neil Gaiman
It seems completely wrong to try and pigeonhole Neil Gaiman’s legendary Sandman series into just one genre — throughout its 75-issue run, it touches upon pretty much every genre out there, ranging from horror to fantasy and mystery to science fiction. However, if it means having it appear on this list just so we can talk about how great it is, we’ll go ahead and say it’s horror.
Originally conceived as a dark fantasy/horror comic centered around the Lord of Dreams, Morpheus, the series details Morpheus’s various travels after a 70-year long absence from his realm, the Dreaming, as well as focusing on the numerous strange characters that he meets from famous myths to well-known superheroes.
While the series may have originally been conceived as a horror comic, Gaiman managed to move beyond simple boundaries and classification of the genre in the course of the series, instead using his comic to tell fantastic stories full of imagination that covered the entire scope of DC comics. Some issues are firmly set within the horror genre, while others are more fantasy-based. The series even has issues that are framed as fairy tales, pirate stories, and ancient mythological fables.
It’s an incredibly fun series to read, and completely engulfs you throughout its numerous story arcs and highly creative and imaginative issues. Literally, everything and anything you could ever dream of appearing in a comic book shows up in Gaiman’s incredible series. There are just not enough words to describe how amazing it is.
Of course, now you can see an excellent adaptation of the first story arc on Netflix, with hopefully more to come. But it’s still not quite as good as reading it for yourself.
Buy The Sandman.
“Afterlife With Archie” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla
Afterlife with Archie might be one of the best original projects that Archie Comics has released within the past decade (although, if you ask some people, that honor goes to Riverdale). Written by Archie Comics’ CCO Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and drawn by the immensely talented Francesco Francavilla, Afterlife with Archie completely reimagines the fictional town of Riverdale during a zombie apocalypse.
When famous town resident Jughead Jones asks Riverdale’s resident teenage witch, Sabrina Spellman, to resurrect his beloved deceased cat, he gets more than he bargains for and accidentally triggers a massive zombie outbreak. It’s now up to some of Archie Comics’ most famous characters — including Betty, Veronica, and Archie Andrews himself — to survive and find a way to escape from their zombie-infested hometown.
Archie Comics has long been associated with some lighthearted, family-friendly entertainment, closely abiding by the Comics Code, and with a specific audience of young children in mind for its stories. Afterlife with Archie completely changes that, however, targeting a notably more mature audience, and exploring some unsettling themes like realistic violence, occultism, more adult language, and slight gore — things you wouldn’t otherwise expect to find in an Archie comic book.
The first title launched under the new Archie Horror comic book line (which also includes other horror-based titles like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Vampironica), it’s a really fun, imaginative comic to read, and one that is able to be understood and appreciated by regular Archie fans and those unfamiliar with the series as well (personally speaking, I’d never read an Archie Comic before this one, but was still able to understand and enjoy everything that was going on).
Buy the Afterlife with Archie.
“Locke & Key” by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
As ambitious and far-reaching a story as any of his father’s (horror icon Stephen King) Joe Hill‘s Locke & Key might be one of the most popular horror comics of the past two decades, becoming the basis for a Netflix series and also serving as one of the scariest comic books you’ll probably ever pick up. The basis for Locke & Key revolves around the Lockes, an upper-mid-class family from California who move into their father’s former mansion in Lovecraft, Massachusetts after a personal tragedy completely changes their lives.
While exploring their new home, they soon discover numerous magical keys that allow them to travel to new dimensions and otherworldly realms, soon learning that some keys unlock doors that aren’t ever meant to be opened.
Hill’s already impressive penchant for horror stories and detailed prose and dialogue translated brilliantly into the comic medium, with artist Gabriel Rodriguez able to perfectly illustrate all of Hill’s signature macabre imagery. Over its 30-issue run, the two managed to explore various timelines, historical periods, and sub-genres of horror, ranging from the cosmic, otherworldly horror reminiscent of Lovecraft to real-world violence (people pointlessly, methodically, and maliciously killing other people for no apparent reason) that often seems more horrifying than any kind of scares you’d find in fiction.
There’s something in Locke & Key that will scare every reader, all the while providing further proof as to why Joe Hill is and continues to be one of the best minds currently working in horror (for further proof, read any of his novels — they’re all equally great and just as scary as this one).
This is yet another property that you can also stream on Netflix, but their three seasons are far less interesting and scary as Hill’s graphic novels.
Buy Locke & Key.
“Torso” by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko
In the past, famed comic writer Brian Michael Bendis has made a name for himself working with Marvel superheroes, writing now-classic Marvel comics like the “House of M,” “Secret Invasion,” “Age of Ultron,” and “Secret War” storylines.
While his superhero work may be more widely known, Bendis’ work on comics outside the superhero genre remains extremely interesting to read as well, such as his 1998 comic series, Torso, written in collaboration with Marc Andreyko. Torso explores a dramatized account of the infamous serial killer, the Cleveland Torso Murderer (also known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run) in the mid-1930s’, and the efforts of law enforcement — including celebrity lawman Elliot Ness (the man who brought down Al Capone) — to find him.
In essence, Torso is basically David Fincher’s Zodiac meets The Untouchables, with a little bit of Alan Moore’s comic, From Hell thrown in for good measure. Though the main narrative is largely a fictional account of the killings and the police efforts to stop the killer, many of the key details of the case and the persons involved remain the same, making for a largely factual, chilling look into one of the most notorious unsolved cases in American history.
“Ice Cream Man” by W. Maxwell Prince and Martín Morazzo
Not to be confused with the 1995 slasher of the same name starring Clint Howard (a movie so weird, you’ll find yourself thinking “What the hell was that?” at pretty much every scene), this vastly underrated Image horror series is unlike anything you’ll ever read. The premise is fairly simple: it’s an anthology comic following different characters every issue, who all share one common thread: they’ve all had some sort of unusual encounter with an omnipotent ice cream man, who may be a god, a demon, an alien, or a monster disguised as a human being.
That premise alone, however, doesn’t do this amazing series nearly enough justice. Each comic is told in a largely experimental manner — some issues feature no dialogue whatsoever, some are written primarily through prose, some move backwards, some are told through three different alternate storylines all at once — and feature stories that are as depressing as they are terrifying. Prince’s characters manage to cover a wide array of broken, disheartened individuals — from drug addicts, to unstable, substance-abusing EMT squad members, to a man slowly losing all of his memories to dementia (one of the more heartbreaking issues of a comic you’ll ever read) — all brilliantly brought to light through Morazzo’s incredible art.
Anthology comics nearly always make for great reading material, but Ice Cream Man offers more than that, exploring many of the existential issues that plague us in life, such as our estranged relationship with those closest to us and our individual hopes, fears, and weaknesses. It’s a comic that will both scare you and have you questioning your life choices —which I guess is a good thing? Well, even if it isn’t, we still highly recommend this comic.
Buy Ice Cream Man.
“Hellboy” by Mike Mignola
With the exception of a few select characters, new superheroes aren’t really able to become as well-known as already-established household names like Superman, Spider-Man, or Batman. With the in-depth horror-based world of his fictional universe, however, Mike Mignola managed to overcome that obstacle, establishing his most famous creation, Hellboy, firmly in the world of pop culture, and elevating Mignola to near iconic status in the comics field.
Mignola’s hit horror series follows Hellboy, a (more or less) kind-spirited demon from Hell and an agent of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, a government organization tasked with fighting off supernatural monsters that threaten mankind’s existence. Partnering with hyper-intelligent fish-human hybrids, unstable pyrokinetics, were-jaguars, and ectoplasmic spirits, Hellboy and his fellow agents at the BPRD battle demons, Nazis, witches, and other folkloric, otherworldly, and occult-based creatures attempting to destroy the world.
Through Guillermo del Toro‘s later film adaptations starring Ron Perlman (and to a lesser extent the underwhelming 2019 movie starring David Harbour), the character of Hellboy has managed to become increasingly well-known among large-scale audiences. However, his original appearance in Mignola’s first series remains a modern-day classic among comic book fans, with fantastic stories rooted in folklore, 1940s’ pulp adventure magazines, and Lovecraftian cosmic horror.
“The Tomb of Dracula”
The basis for this 1970s’ Marvel series follows the descendant of Dracula, Frank Drake, and his companions unknowingly resurrecting his ancient ancestor, unleashing the Count’s evil into the world of the 1970s’, and Drake’s subsequent efforts to stop him.
There’s no single easy description for Marvel’s horror series, The Tomb of Dracula. Some issues of the comic are good, some are very good, and some are just decent, with notably dated dialogue or panel descriptions that make for some pretty stiff reading (although, given the time that it came out, that flaw is perfectly understandable and definitely worth looking past). The quality of the comic largely depends on the particular issue’s writer.
However, if you’re looking for a cheat code of sorts to get your hands on the best stories The Tomb of Dracula offers, look for any of the many issues written by comics legend, Marv Wolfman, with his Tomb stories commonly seen as the best the comic ever put out. Before Wolfman, the series was pretty inconsistent and choppy (although the artwork remained great throughout, with plenty of bright colors bursting off the page, making each panel look like a piece of pop art). When Wolfman took over, however, he managed to steer the series into a clear direction, crafting a story that perfectly built and developed the gothic tone of Stoker’s original novel and managed to introduce some new elements to the story as well (such as his famed expert vampire-hunter, Blade).
It’s a fascinating series to read, especially given the fact that the series coexists with other Marvel characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men, as well as for its old-school approach to classic horror in a newer, more modern fashion.
Buy The Tomb of Dracula.
“The Walking Dead” by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard
It may be an exaggeration to say Robert Kirkman’s fan-favorite series, The Walking Dead, is one of the most successful comic series ever published — although that’s probably not that big of an exaggeration at all. Kirkman’s groundbreaking comic served as the basis for the award-winning AMC adaptation, two spinoff series so far (Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead: World Beyond), a universally acclaimed video game, four webisode series, and multiple novel tie-ins. With an influence like that, it’s no wonder the original horror series is as well-known and popular as it is and continues to be.
Over the course of nearly 200 issues, The Walking Dead follows a diverse group of survivors battling the hordes of the undead after a zombie apocalypse and the various other groups they encounter in their travels. In its main storyline and through its black-and-white presentation, it basically reads like one long George A. Romero film, but Kirkman still manages to craft a fully-realized story that is distinctly his own, with his zombie-infested America about as extensive and fleshed-out as any post-apocalyptic world out there.
The genius of this series might be its ambition: throughout the dozens of story arcs, the characters are continuously uprooted and forced to move all across America, with the focus turning less on the dangers from the zombies, but rather from the other survivors they face off against, as well as their own devolving humanity as they all commit unspeakable acts in order to survive. It’s a stark, often brutal series to read, full of memorable characters and both Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard’s wonderful artwork.
Buy The Walking Dead.
“The EC Archives: Tales From the Crypt”
There are two things practically synonymous with 1950s horror — Hammer Horror and EC Comics. In the early ’50s, EC Comics underwent a massive transformation from Educational Comics to Entertaining Comics, producing a line of comic book anthologies centered heavily around science fiction, Westerns, war stories, crime, and perhaps their most successful line (apart from Mad magazine): horror stories.
While most comics of the 1940s’ and ‘50s were produced with a younger audience age in mind, EC’s horror comics, presented under the publications Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear, were aimed at a somewhat older audience of preteens, containing horrific tales of terror that were famous for their twist endings. Presented by a ghoulish “host” (either the Crypt Keeper, the Vault-Keeper, or the Old Witch) who introduced each issue, the horror titles produced under EC Comics proved incredibly popular upon release, but ceased publication after increased pressure from “concerned” adults worried about the contents of the comics, eventually resulting in the ultra-restrictive Comics Code (to give you an idea of just how shocking some of the images and stories comics were for their time).
While EC Comics might have died an early death, many of its most famous stories saw wide success and a larger, more appreciative readership status with republished collections like The EC Archives: Tales from the Crypt. These collections feature some of EC’s most well-known writers and artists who produced some of the comic’s best issues, show just how influential EC’s horror titles were — famous writers and directors who claimed they were inspired by EC’s horror stories include Stephen King, George A. Romero, and John Carpenter, to name just a few.
Buy The EC Archives: Tales from the Crypt.
“House of Secrets” and “House of Mystery”
Similar to the above-mentioned EC horror comics, DC Comics — perhaps realizing how popular titles like Tales from the Crypt were growing among younger audiences — launched a similar line of horror-based comics under the names of The House of Secrets and The House of Mysteries. Narrated by a fictionalized, Tom and Jerry-like comedic version of Cain and Abel (similar to the role of the Crypt Keeper and the Old Witch, the sadistic Cain acted as the host of The House of Mystery while the oafish Abel hosted The House of Secrets), the two comic books contained stories within the horror, fantasy, and mystery genres.
Publication of the comic began just before after the implementation of Comics Code, meaning that many of the stories that appeared in Secrets and Mystery might not be as gory or disturbing as some of those that appeared in The Haunt of Fear the Tales from the Crypt, but the two comic lines still boasted some very well-written horror and fantasy stories, with some stories just as good if not superior to some of those that appeared in EC’s horror comics.
Secrets and Mystery continued publication from the 1950s’ to the early 1980s’, and today is notable for introducing fan-favorite superhero, the Swamp Thing. Later, it also earned a distinct place in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, with both the House of Secrets and the House of Mystery becoming physical locations present in the Dreaming, and Cain and Abel becoming recurring supporting characters in Gaiman’s comic series. While older issues of Secrets and Mystery are quite a bit more difficult to find than EC’s reprinted horror comic books, they still make for fantastic and enjoyable horror anthologies if you’re able to find them.
Buy House of Secrets.
Horror comic books offer some of the best, most diverse stories in all of comic book fandom. Some comics are brutal, some are extremely dark and depressing, some are straight-up hilarious (as is the case of John Layman’s Chew), but they are all almost always entertaining in their own right. This October, we highly recommend you check out the above titles we mentioned, all of which offer plenty of creepy stories for you to kick back and read while waiting for the next trick-or-treater to ring your doorbell.
For other comics, we suggest checking out and that very nearly made the list, we also loved the award-winning vampire series, 30 Days of Night by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, Joe Hill, and C. P. Wilson III’s Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland (which acts as a prequel to Hill’s vampire novel, NOS4A2) Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’s critically acclaimed Lovecraftian horror series, Providence, the Prohibition-set backwoods werewolf gangster series, Moonshine, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, and the humorous/very creepy Eric Powell series, The Goon.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).