Comic books and video games are neighbors in the modern entertainment landscape, with considerable fan overlap and many of the same themes and images. But while comics based on games (and vice versa) are easy to find, comic books about games and gaming are few and far between (the exception being on the internet, which is littered with webcomics about gamers). Even half the books listed here take place largely within video games and say little about the experience of gamers. Perhaps with gaming becoming more ubiquitous it will increasingly find itself the the subject of comics. In the meantime, enjoy these 10 comic books that feature video games prominently.
Sword Art Online
Ten-thousand users in a virtual reality MMO (massively multiplayer online game) called Sword Art Online become trapped inside the game and must reach the 100th floor of a castle and defeat its boss in order to escape. Most of the users stick together except for Kirito, one of the game’s beta testers, who opts to go solo. SAO began as a light novel series, and has been adapted into a manga that has had numerous spin-offs, as well as an animated TV series, animated films, and video games.
Haru is a sheepish, unathletic middle-schooler whose superlative virtual gaming skills earns him notice from Kuroyukihime, one of his school’s most popular girls. She invites him to join Brain Burst, an exclusive augmented reality MMO fighting game that boosts users' cognitive abilities. Together they defeat various opponents and progress through the game, hoping to ultimately meet its elusive creator. The manga is adapted from a light novel series, which has also yielded an animated TV series, animated film, and multiple video games.
At the time of an update of the globally popular MMO Elder Tales, thirty-thousand Japanese users become stuck within the game. Nerdy friends Shiroe, Naotsugu, and Akatsuki are among those trapped and are forced the face the game's challenges as though they are real. The four-volume manga was adapted from a series of nine novels, and three of the four focus on specific characters. The series has also been adapted into an animated TV show.
.hack//Legend of the Twilight
The three-volume manga series is part of the .hack franchise, which comprises video games, anime, manga, and novels. The comic centers on twin users of the MMO The World, whose avatars bear resemblance to two legendary players. After one of the two, Shugo, is given the mysterious Twilight Bracelet, he and parter Rena journey to discover its provenance.
Dennis Ouyang wants to spend his days playing video games, but he’s compelled by his parents to attend medical school in Yang and Pham's coming-of-age comic. At the urging of four angels, Dennis begins to make his way through med school, but can’t seem to find his footing. He contemplates dropping out to chase his gaming dreams, while also wondering if he can somehow marry the two career paths. The book has been recognized for its diverse cast and appeal to young readers.
In real life, Dana Stevens is an average delivery girl in a future Los Angeles with scant prospects, but in the MMO Jarvath she's a respected high-leveled character. Both lives become considerably less-average when she inadvertently defeats the in-game character of the wife of a high profile user, while strange happenings begin to occur in the real world involving a lethal robot. Even though only two issues (of six) have been released in the five years since its debut, the comic nonetheless stands out for its subject matter and intricate art style.
Though technically not about video games, O’Malley’s boffo rom-com borrows so much of gaming’s imagery and jargon that it deserves mention. After becoming smitten with Ramona Flowers, Scott Pilgrim must do battle with each of her exes in order to win her heart. The six-volume series has earned both critical and commercial success, and was adapted into a live action film in 2010.
Doctorow explores the vagaries of global online gaming with the story of Anda, an Arizona high-schooler who befriends a player from China in a massively multiplayer online game. She soon learns of his meager livelihood earned through the game, and vows to help him achieve better working conditions. But while her intentions are pure, she discovers that the economic and cultural reality is murkier than it seems.
This prequel to the web series of the same name follows the online and offline lives of group of friends know as the Knights of Good, particularly its priestess Codex (real name Cyd). The comic depicts Cyd’s life before joining The Game, as well as her introduction to it and the other players who would form the titular guild. A second prequel series was also released and focused on the lives of the other guild members.
Chainmail Bikini: An Anthology of Women Gamers
Forty female cartoonists share their gaming experiences in this Kickstarted anthology. Together they explore what it means to play video games (as well as tabletop RPGs, card games, and LARPing) and how it can lead to both social and personal discovery. It also highlights how girls and women navigate the world of gaming, which has traditionally targeted a male demographic.
Bonus: Web Comics
Unlike the dearth of traditional comic books about gaming, there is a plethora of webcomics about gamers and gamer lifestyle, many of which follow a classic gag format. Since the early 2000s, comics such as Penny Arcade, PvP, Ctrl+Alt+Delete, the Gamer Cat, Awkward Zombie, and many more have lampooned video games, the industry, and those who obsess over them. Most can be read in their entirety online, and some have also been collected into print volumes.