The world is struggling right now to deal with the global COVID-19 pandemic. For many, the most frustrating part is that the most helpful thing they can do is simply state at home. In order to not dwell on the situation, those folks are looking for distractions in the form of streaming content, games, or wherever else. Those people who can afford it should consider digital comics services like Marvel Unlimited. It costs less than $10 for a month and offers access to thousands of comics to read, some as new as six months old. While its ideal on tablets, it works well with phones and computer web browsers too.
But once you're in, what do you read? As we said, there are thousands of comics to choose from. That's where we come in. We've selected 15 great stories to dig into. In addition to quality, we also looked for lengthier runs, sometimes spanning multiple series, to give you something you can lose yourself in over a long period during these frustrating times. We've also selected from a variety of eras and stories mostly focusing on different characters.
Keep reading to see our recommendations for binge-worthy Marvel Unlimited reading. Also, if you have some suggestions of your own, be sure to leave them in the comments section.
Fantastic Four by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee
Why not start at the beginning? In 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four and, by extension, the Marvel universe. Lee and Kirby worked together on the series for 102 issues (a record that stood for decades until another series on this list broke it). Through those issues, Lee and Kirby not only told the amazing adventures of Marvel's first family but introduced many more of Marvel's most popular characters, from Doctor Doom to the Inhumans to Black Panther.
The entire 102 issue run is well worth any Marvel fans' time and is a perfect example of why Kirby is still considered the king of comics. But if you find Lee's wordy writing style in those early issues is more than you can handle, jump ahead to Fantastic Four #48, the beginning of the iconic "Galactus Trilogy," which is where the series starts firing on a whole new level of greatness.
The Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita
While the Fantastic Four gave birth to the Marvel Universe, Spider-Man soon became its most popular hero. Stan Lee co-created the character with Steve Ditko, and the Ditko-drawn early issues remain a high mark in superhero storytelling.
When Ditko parted ways with Lee and Marvel, John Romita stepped in as the new artist on Amazing Spider-Man. He had a drastically different style, but a no-less definitive one. Spider-Man's earliest adventures remain some of his best and are well worth your time.
X-Men by Chris Claremont
During the early days of the Marvel Universe, the X-Men were Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's least-successful creations. After 66 issues, the title stopped publishing new stories and instead resorted to reprinting old stories. Then, in 1975, writer/editor Len Wein got together with Dave Cockrum. They repurposed some of Cockrum's unused Legion of Super-Heroes character concepts, brought over Wein's one-off Wolverine character from an issue of The Incredible Hulk, added a few old favorites, and a new generation of X-Men was born.
With his schedule already full, Wein couldn't continue writing this new group's adventures. He handed the X-Men off to Chris Claremont, who stayed on the book for 16 years. With the help of a non-stop parade of comics' most talented artists — Cockrum, John Byrne, Paul Smith, John Romita Jr., Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee — Claremont took X-Men from bi-monthly underdog to the best-selling comic on the stands for a decade. For a generation, this is the definitive superhero comic. With stories like "The Dark Phoenix Sagas," "Days of Future Past," and others, it deserves all of that recognition.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Daredevil is another silver age Marvel character that seemed doomed to obscurity. Then Frank Miller came along and changed everything. Miller took Daredevil from "scarlet swashbuckler" to the gritty, noir hero that inspired the popular Netflix television series, introducing some of Matt Murdock's most important supporting characters and antagonists — including Elektra and Bullseye — along the way.
Miller was on the main Daredevil book for 33 issues, a relatively short run compared to others on this list. He returned to the title later on for the "Born Again" storyline, considered one of the greatest superhero stories of the era. He also teamed with John Romita Jr. for the character-redefining Man Without Fear miniseries, and revisited Elektra in the stories Elektra Lives Again and Elektra: Assassin, which all are worth reading.
Thor by Walt Simonson
Another character-defining run by a single writer-artist is Walt Simonson's time on Thor. He wrote and drew the series from 1983 through 1986, taking Thor away from his magical origins and more into the cosmic realm.
The run introduces some beloved character, like Beta Ray Bill and Malekith the Accursed. This is the Thor run that all others are measured against and a can't-miss series for anyone who dug Thor: Ragnarok. or just likes epic, high adventure storytelling.
Arguably no character has had such a long string of stellar creative runs as Daredevil. His ongoing series was relaunched in the late 1990s with Kevin Smith writing the "Guardian Devil" storyline. He was followed by celebrated writer/artist David Mack, who then handed the title over to Brian Michael Bendis. It was Bendis' long run, primarily with artist Alex Maleev, that set the tone for Daredevil in the 21st century.
Bendis and Maleev were succeeded by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark, who used the previous era as a jumping-off point to take the character in some surprising new directions. The Shadowland event that followed was less exciting, but then Mark Waid took over writing duties with an incredible lineup of artists including Marcos Martin and Chris Samnee that brought Daredevil out of the darkness and back to his swashbuckling roots. He was followed by Charles Soule, who made the character gritty again, and now Chip Zdarsky is doing exciting, introspective work with the character in the current ongoing series.
Like we said, years of stellar creators doing stellar work. If you find one era isn't clicking, just jump to the next. There's a Daredevil adventure out there that's right for you.
While the original Spider-Man adventures remain as brilliant as ever, they're also very much of their era. If you're looking for a more modern take on the web-slinger, look no further than Ultimate Spider-Man.
Set in another timeline, Ultimate Spider-Man reimagines Peter Parker's earliest days as if he were a child of the 21st century instead of one of the 1960s. Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley launched the series and remained together for 108 issues, breaking the record set by Lee and Kirby's Fantastic Four. Bagley was followed by the amazing Stuart Immonen and other as the series was relaunched and transformed, eventually introducing Miles Morales as a new Spider-Man. This series is essential Spider-Man reading and will keep you busy for a while.
Once part of Marvel's short-lived, Manga-inspired Tsunami imprint, Runaways outlived its original home to become one of Marvel's most beloved cult hits. Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona created a group of relatable teenagers and asked the question, "What if their parents were evil?" And that's when they started to run.
Vaughan and Alphona's original run on the series is brilliant. The first follow-ups were… less brilliant, leading to the series' cancellation. But with the Hulu television series, Marvel revived the series with writer Rainbow Rowell and artist Kris Anka and it is an absolute return to form. Get to know these fantastic characters. You won't regret it.
Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis
Issues: Avengers (1963) #500-503; New Avengers (2004) #1-64; Mighty Avengers (2007) #1-20; Dark Avengers (2009) #1-16, Avengers (2010) #1-34; New Avengers (2010) #1-34, Avengers Prime (2010) #1-5, Avengers Assemble (2012) #1-8
Brian Michael Bendis became the definitive voice of Marvel Comics when he took over the Avengers franchise in the mid-aughts. It started with Avengers: Disassembled. Then he put together the New Avengers in an attempt to make a version of the team that could truly rival the DC's Justice League. He broke some unspoken rules in the process, adding perpetual loner Spider-Man and the X-Men's Wolverine to the group while also bringing in more obscure characters like Luke Cage and Spider-Woman.
It worked. The Avengers became the biggest thing in comics and expanded from there. Bendis wound up writing Avengers, New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Dark Avengers, Avengers Prime, and Avengers Assemble. His Avengers books were often the cornerstone of whatever big event was happening in the Marvel Universe at the time, from House of M to Secret Invasion, Dark Reign to Siege, so reading this massive run of comics can also serve as a crash course on the modern history of the Marvel Universe.
X-Factor by Peter David
If you're looking for fun, character-centric shenanigans involving mutants in the Marvel Universe, Peter David's X-Factor is your jam. I've always described the series as the Angel to the flagship X-Men books' Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It involves b-list characters — Multiple Man, Wolfsbane, Strong Guy, M, Rictor, Siyrn — setting up a mutant detective agency called X-Factor Investigations and solving cases in Mutant Town.
The series spun out of the events of House of M, with the team investigates the reason why most mutants lost their powers all at once. As the series goes on, it leaves the mutant stories behind and starts dealing more and more with the wider Marvel Universe.
While X-Factor #1 is a fine place to start, you may want to check out the Madrox miniseries, which serves as a kind of pilot episode for the series. It has a different town — a little more "adult" — but is still solid. You can also check oout David's original run on X-Factor (X-Factor Vol. 1, #76-89), a fan-favorite from the 1990s, which was less noir and more screwball comedy.
Issues: Annihilation: Nova #1-4; Nova (2007) #1-35; Annihilation: Conquest #1-6; The Thanos Imperative #1-6; Annihilators #1-4; Annihilators: Earthfall #1-4 (This reading order should help.)
If you prefer the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe, then look to the Annihilation sagas. This is the storyline — written chiefly by Andy Lanning and Dan Abnett — that brought about the formation of the modern Guardians of the Galaxy and restored Ultron and Thanos to their place as top tier Marvel bad guys.
The series begins with some character-specific Annihilation miniseries but soon expands to encompass multiple event series, like Annihilation: Conquest and The Thanos Imperative, as well as ongoing series such as Nova setting up Guardians of the Galaxy. If you want Marvel space opera, this is for you.
Jonathan Hickman's Secret Wars Saga
Jonathan Hickman is now Marvel's Head of X, but he made his name at the House of Ideas with much talked about runs on Fantastic Four and Avengers.
While ostensibly too separate runs, the storylines from Fantastic Four and FF bleed over into Hickman's New Avengers and Avengers, culminating in the epic Secret Wars event. It goes further than that, as elements from both Hickman's Fantastic Four and Avengers runs have begun to appear in Hickman's X-Men comics.
If you dig this stuff, you can also check out Secret Warriors, Hickman's story about teen heroes caught in the war between Hydra and SHIELD, and the SHIELD miniseries, which rewrites the organization' entire history and purpose in unexpected ways.
Uncanny X-Force and Uncanny Avengers by Rick Remender
If you like your stories dark and with a touch of the old ultraviolence, then Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force may be a book for you. Working with artists like Jerome Opena and Phil Noto, Remender tells stories about Wolverine's motley mutant kill squad as it performs missions even Cyclops and the X-Men don't know about. Their first mission is to assassinate Apocalypse, which does not go how anyone expects, and things only get more wild from there, culminating in the epic "Dark Angel Saga."
Remender followed up his Uncanny X-Force run by launching Uncanny Avengers, a book about the Avengers Unity Squad, which formed after the Avengers went to war with the X-Men. The series features artists like John Cassaday and Daniel Acuna and a completely different cast of characters. The series is now somewhat infamous for Havok's "M-word" speech (you'll see), but it picks up several story threads left hanging at the end of Uncanny X-Force. You may want to jump off the book when it reaches the AXIS event though. That story is… not great
Thor by Jason Aaron
Issues: Thor: God of Thunder (2012) #1–25; Thor (2014) #1-8; Thors (2015) #1-5; The Mighty Thor (2015) #1–30; The Unworthy Thor #1-5; Thor (2018) #1-16; The War of the Realms #1-6; King Thor (2019) #1-4
For more than seven years, Jason Aaron told the tales of Thor, God of Thunder, and he crafted a saga worthy of the gods. Aaron didn't shy away from controversial choices, like making Thor unworthy of Mjolnir and turning Jane Foster into the new Thor, but those choices paid off at every turn. This story is equal parts mythological action and meditation on what makes someone "worthy."
When we say this is a saga, we mean it. It spans a handful of ongoing titles, three miniseries, and the War of the Realms event, but it is all worth it. The final chapter, the King Thor miniseries, is just now appearing on Marvel Unlimited. It's a long journey, but you'll be happy to be on it.
Do you prefer stories in a galaxy far, far away to ones set in the Marvel Universe? Well, Marvel publishes Star Wars comics too, so Marvel Unlimited has you covered.
You'll want to start with the flagship Star Wars series, written by Jason Aaron with a revolving door of top tier artists. The series acts like Star Wars: The Clone Wars for the original trilogy, bridging the gap between the relative lightness of A New Hope and the darkness of The Empire Strikes Back with exciting adventures featuring the characters from the films and exciting new additions like Han Solo's wife Sana Solo.
If you like walking the dark side, the Darth Vader series by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca is also well worth your time. It acts as a companion to the flagship Star Wars story, keeping up with the Dark Lord of the Sith during the same between-films period and sometimes crossing over for stories like Vader Down. There's never been a better look at the interior life of Darth Vader than this series, which shows how he went from the Emperor's loyal attack dog to someone with the idea to rule the galaxy himself with his son by his side.
Disclosure: ComicBook is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.