Spider-Man is one of those fiction characters that transcended through the medium and now he is a worldwide brand that everybody is familiar with–everybody knows who Spider-Man is and he has a connection with the audience that very characters can brag about.
Peter Parker’s story from a selfish teenager to a hero that has learned the concept of heroism and responsibility is one of the most emotional and symbolic hero’s journeys that we have ever seen in comics, transmitting a humanity that has become timeless. But of course, there is a question that needs to be asked: Where to start with the character? Which are the best Spider-man comics that I must read to understand the character?
When it comes to comics, there are multiple Spider-Man comics to choose from and many that are going to appeal to a wide variety of readers–contrary to popular belief, Spider-Man is a much more flexible character in terms of stories than you may think.
So here I have prepared what I consider to be the 15 best Spider-Man comics you must read!
Best Spider-Man Comics that you MUST read!
15. Torment. Spider-Man #1-5 (1990).
I’m going to be honest here and say that while I don’t think Torment is anywhere near to the next fourteen comics in terms of storytelling, it’s still a very fascinating look to Todd McFarlane’s growth as not only an artist, but also as an artist and power figure in the comic book industry.
Back in 1990, Todd McFarlane was the biggest comic book artist in the industry and his run with writer David Michelinie on the Amazing Spider-Man took the wall-crawler back to his rightful place in the top of the pecking order (albeit with the X-Men at the time). He gave Spider-Man a more modern and detailed style, highlighting the spider elements of his persona and making every page much more bombastic, over the top and unique.
So when he decided that he wanted to tell his own stories with the character, Marvel obliged and gave him his own Spider-Man title, which sold more than two million copies and became, at the time, the highest selling comic book of all time.
The story itself? It’s a gritty confrontation of Spider-Man against the Lizard, who has been brainwashed by Calypso, one of our hero’s longtime foes. It’s a very simple story and while it drags on a bit too much, I always found it very interesting that McFarlane wrote this is an horror story and gave a degree of grittiness that we don’t often find in a Spider-Man comic.
Peter finds himself in a conflict he doesn’t know much about and gets drugged to the point he is afraid of not seeing his wife Mary Jane again–that’s a pretty good that while it misses the mark a bit, it still works well enough to entertain and it’s a fun entry point for new readers that want to get into Spider-Man.
Of course, McFarlane’s art here is stronger than ever and I would dare to say that this is the best drawn Spider-Man comic of all time, with a lot of detail, a fascinating horror-story feel to it and every page feeling important and aggressive, which is only the result of an artist truly committed to his craft.
14. Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man #1-3 (1999).
The recent Spider-Man film, Far From Home, put the villain Mysterio on the spotlight after a long time and I while I’m not the biggest the fan of that movie, it gave me the opportunity to bring to the table this J.M. DeMatteis storyline from the Webspinners series from the late 90s, where some of Marvel’s top talents would do a few Spider-Man stories.
Here we have a seasoned Peter Parker looking back on his college years and how he was still adapting to that life, having no friends and spending most of his free time watching films on the movie theater, mirroring the experience of loser Quentin Beck who puts on the suit and appearance of Mysterio to find the freedom and power he doesn’t have as his normal self.
DeMatteis is one of the finest Spider-Man in the entire history of the character and he understands Peter Parker like very few do, which makes this story very emotional, heartfelt and actually makes a connection between Peter and Quentin that no other story, including the film, does–it shows how they are both mirror versions of one another. It’s also interesting to see an adult, married Peter Parker looking back on his life and dropping one of the best speeches about why he does what he does near the end of the story.
If you enjoyed the film and want to know more about Mysterio, then this story is going to be very good for you.
13. The Origin of the Hobgoblin. Amazing Spider-Man #238-239, 244-245, 249-251 and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #43, #47-#48 (1983-1985).
The Roger Stern era of Spider-Man left a lot of great story to enjoy, but it was definitely the appearance of the new villain, the Hobgoblin, what made a monumental difference in Stern’s run.
The classic Spider-Man villain, the Green Goblin (also known as Norman Osborn), was killed almost a decade before and a lot of fans wanted him back, but Stern did something more interesting and created a new version of the Goblin that found Norman’s equipment and decided to take a new identity to create chaos on New York City–that was how the Hobgoblin was born.
Spidey had faced many great villains until that point, but the Hobgoblin proved to be a tremendous foe, challenging on a tactical and intellectual level and Peter many times struggled to even get a stalemate.
In terms of hero-villain rivalries, the 80s was a particularly prolific era for the wall-crawler and The Origin of the Hobgoblin is a big highlight in that regard.
12. Spider-Man: Blue (2002-2003).
The death of Peter’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, was a very difficult moment in the character’s life and a story that changed the way comic books worked, giving way to darker, more realistic plots, which is why that when writer Jeph Loeb decided to look back on this era of the character’s life with Spider-Man: Blue, the prospect was actually quite interesting.
I think that Spider-Man: Blue is objectively a great story, but I have to say that I always had a soft spot for this story because I loved how Loeb puts Peter to look back on his relationship with Gwen in hindsight and the sense of impending doom that lurks in their lives.
It’s also a refreshing look of genuine young love, with all the stupid actions and mistakes that one makes along the way. Artist Tim Sale, Loeb’s longtime partner, also helps with some of the best art of his entire career.
Spider-Man has always been defined by one of the most realistic and human characters in Peter Parker, so this miniseries really hits what makes him work so well: we see a little bit of us in him.
11. Ultimate Spider-Man: Power and Responsibility. Ultimate Spider-Man #1-7 (2000-2001).
When Marvel created the Ultimate Universe in the early 2000s, an alternate universe where they could give their new readers a starting point with modernized and slightly changed versions of their classic characters, they gave writer Brian Michael Bendis a chance to update Spider-Man for the modern era and while I personally have some gripes with the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, I can’t deny that his initial storylines were really good.
Teaming up with legendary Spider-Man artist Mark Bagley, Bendis does a few changes to Peter Parker’s origin story in Power and Responsibility, quickly showing that things are the same but still different enough to keep people curious and interested of what’s going to happen. This is a Peter that is a bit angrier and edgier, with an emotional curve that perhaps would sit well with readers or not, but makes for some interesting drama while staying true to the character’s ethos.
Even though I think that Bendis is already past his peak these days, no one can deny that from the early to mid-2000s he penned some really great stuff and Power and Responsibility is one of his best stories.
10. Venom. Amazing Spider-Man #300 (1988).
Venom is one of the most popular and enduring Spider-Man villains of all time, so it’s only understandable that his first appearance, the legendary Amazing Spider-Man #300 written by the great team of David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane, is part of this list.
The alien suit that had been such a problem to Peter’s life has joined with disgraced journalist Eddie Brock who has a personal vendetta to Spider-Man after ruining his career. With the knowledge of Peter’s secret identity thanks to the symbiote, Venom goes on a rampage to mess with Spider-Man, through his friends, his wife, knowing how he thinks and one of the major threats to our hero: the fact that his spider-sense cannot detect Venom’s presence, which puts him in a corner.
This issue starts with everything from the moment we see that McFarlane page where Mary Jane is scared in a corner, with Venom’s presence looming–it’s a powerful and threatening image that shows you that this new villain means business. We also get a solid explanation for those readers that perhaps are not familiar with the alien suit saga and a confrontation that not only demands the best of Peter on a physical level, but also on a mental level.
A classic storyline and rivalry that has been adapted in multiple media many times, so you better check out this one-issue masterpiece.
9. How Green Was My Goblin! Amazing Spider-Man #39-40 (1966).
I often say that Stan Lee’s run on the Amazing Spider-Man has still aged quite well and they are worth your time and money, which this story being one of the first to establish the Green Goblin as one of Spider-Man’s biggest foes and the first one to truly make their feud a personal one.
In this storyline we get the big revelation that Norman Osborn is the Green Goblin and that changes everything in the way Peter handles the conflict, unsure on how to deal with his best friend’s father. And now that Norman is aware that Peter is Spider-Man, he tries to ruin his personal life as well.
To this day, I’m amazed at how Stan Lee was capable of adding so much content in a story that was only two-issues long and made it flow so well; you will have a fun time reading these stories and you also get enjoy John Romita Sr’s artwork, which is as solid as it has ever been.
8. Back in Black. Amazing Spider-Man #539-543 (2007).
Spider-Man is an optimistic, uplifting and inspirational character, but that hasn’t stopped him from being in some dark stories and Back in Black is one of the best stories that have come out of that particular style.
Right after the events of Civil War, Peter is dealing with the aftermath of revealing his identity to the world and betraying Tony Stark, which results in many villains going after his head. It is Wilson Fisk, also known as the Kingpin, who sends a shooter to kill him, but ends up shooting Aunt May, resulting in Peter donning his iconic black suit and going aftr his enemies, looking for revenge.
Writer J. Michael Straczynski penned some really good stories in his run with the web-head and this one is certainly one of the high points. Rarely has Spider-Man gotten darker and more aggressive, so if you want to see how Peter is when he doesn’t hold back, Back in Black is the story for you.
7. Best of Enemies. Spectacular Spider-Man #200 (1993).
Another J.M. DeMatteis story, Harry Osborn has taken up the mantle of the Green Goblin after discovering who he his father was and decided to avenge him by killing Peter, but just as he is close to doing so, the better nature of his character comes back and decides to save him and a lot of people while also slowly doing due to the Goblin Formula he has been taken. The final pages are an emotional goodbye between Peter and his best friend when the latter passes away.
Best of Enemies is a worthy ending to a very complex relationship between Harry and Peter; they had gone through a lot for many years and this resolution is both dramatic and fitting, with Peter sitting next to his best friend in his deathbed. DeMatteis thrives in emotional stories of this nature and pens a very powerful issue that puts an end (for the moment) to the Osborn in Spider-Man’s life.
6. The Conversation. Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 2 #38 (2002).
As I said before, J. Michael Straczynski produced some of the best Spider-Man stories of this century and The Conversation is a heartfelt issue where Aunt May finally discovers that his nephew is Spider-Man after seeing his awful injuries causes by his fight against new villain Morlun.
I’m sure that this story was something very challenging for Straczynski given that this is a pivotal moment in Peter’s life and he had to do it justice, which he does with flying colors. You as a reader can feel the emotion connection between these two when they talk about Uncle Ben and what it meant for both of them–this is a moment that feels really important and it reminds you how significant both Ben and May are to Peter’s life.
One of the best single issues in the history of Spider-Man, without a shadow of a doubt.
5. Maximum Carnage. Spider-Man Unlimited #1-2, Web of Spider-Man #101-102-103, The Amazing Spider-Man #378-379-380, Spider-Man #35-36-37, The Spectacular Spider-Man #201-202-203 (1993).
A monumental Spider-Man crossover among his various titles in the early 90s, this storyline was a great comment on the values and moral codes of the classic superheroes at a time where the antihero was very popular and killing bad guys was established as the right thing to do. Regardless of your stand on that particular topic, Maximum Carnage is a great debate of moral stands and Spider-Man is put in the thick of it, which makes for a great story.
Carnage is loose and he has gathered a band of villains to create havoc on New York City, which leads Spider-Man to team up with many different characters, such as Venom, Black Cat, Morbius the Vampire, Iron Fist, Firestar, Captain America, among others. It’s packed with a lot of action and it’s a delightful entertainment at a time where comic books were enjoying a lot of mainstream success, which led to productions like this one.
You also count with some of the best Spider-Man writers at the time in this crossover event, such DeMatteis and Michelinie, so you know you’re going to get something really good off this.
4. The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man. Amazing Spider-Man #248 (1984).
Very few stories in Spider-Man’s bibliography have the emotionality of Roger Stern’s The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man, where a little kid who is terminally ill has only one wish: to meet his idol, the Amazing Spider-Man.
The issue is Spider-Man talking with this kid and sharing stories, ending with taking off his mask and telling him how he became a superhero, including the death of his Uncle Ben. They share an emotional hug and the story with a very powerful conclusion.
A lot of people (myself included) have said many times that Spider-Man is an inspirational character and I think this issue really shows why: I think there are many kids like Tim Harrison, the boy in this story, that have idolized Spidey and would have wished to meet his idol in the circumstances they were in. One can say that these are just fictional characters, but we can’t deny how they bring the best of all of us and inspire us to be a lot more.
I would dare to say that this is not only a great story, but a lesson on humanity and the importance of heroes in society. Really worth your time.
3. The Night Gwen Stacy Died. Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (1973).
Showing the hero failing is something that not everybody writer is willing to do and that was a very groundbreaking decision by Gerry Conway in 1972 with the story The Night Gwen Stacy died, killing the titular character and creating a watershed moment in Peter Parker’s life that has become a landmark scene in the comic book industry.
The Green Goblin and Spider-Man have their final confrontation, with the former kidnapping Gwen Stacy, Peter’s girlfriend, and throwing her from the sky, with Spider-Man using his webs to save Gwen but the whiplash effect results in her snapping her neck and dying in the process, with our hero mourning her death and swearing to avenge her by finally putting an end to Norman Osborn.
The story, even to this day, is extremely poignant and powerful; seeing Peter’s realization that his girlfriend had died and the impact that it has on him (something that would last for many decades) is just breathtaking. It’s one of the most important moments in the history of the character and the definitive battle between the Green Goblin and Spider-Man.
2. If This Be My Destiny…! Amazing Spider-Man #31-33 (1965-1966).
Quite likely Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s crowning achievement with their creation, If This Be My Destiny…! is a testament to everything Spider-Man stands for as a character, as a man and as a symbol for everybody that has gone through a lot of adversity. If you want to understand what makes Spider-Man who he is, don’t think about the powers or the suit, but rather about this one story.
Aunt May is getting very sick due to a blood transfusion that she had with Peter, with the latter’s radioactive blood slowly killing her. In order to save her, Spider-Man has to make the money to pay for the treatment through photographs for J. Jonah Jameson and get the cure for Dr. Connors to prepare the medicine, which results in our hero getting involved with Doctor Octopus in one of their most titanic confrontations.
It’s in this story where we see those iconic Steve Ditko panels of Spider-Man lifting the machinery, quickly establishing as one of the finest pieces of art in the history of comics and one of Ditko’s many great works.
Even to today’s standards, these three issues are extremely brutal to Spider-Man, going beyond the distance to save her Aunt and getting very injured in the process, but never giving up. I would say that Stan Lee’s writing really shines here and the scene with the machinery defines what Spider-Man is as a man, which is why I always say that this story, with its uplifting and motivational message, is more relevant now more than ever.
A masterpiece of classic superhero stories. Get it!
1. Kraven’s Last Hunt. Web of Spider-Man #31-32, Amazing Spider-Man #293-294, and The Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132 (1987).
I’m just going to come up and say it: Kraven’s Last Hunt is only the best Spider-Man story of all time, but also the best Marvel story ever made. Yes, this story is that good and it’s the moment that J.M. DeMatteis cemented his place as one of the definitive writers of the wall-crawler.
Minor Spider-Man villain, Kraven the Hunter, looks back on his life of failures and sadness and decides to finally put an end to our hero, drugging him, seemingly shoot him dead and burying him. Later, he puts on the iconic black suit and goes to the world trying to prove that he is Spider-Man’s superior while Peter is trying to escape from the coffin, motivated by his love for Mary Jane and his desire to protect his loved ones.
The story is simply a masterpiece. DeMatteis gives Kraven a degree of personality and depth that no writer has managed to pull off before or since, showing that he fails at life because he lacks what Peter has: genuine love and care for those he cares about. It’s a beautiful dichotomy that is resolved with a lot of class and it’s a great demonstration of how to write really dark stories while sending a very inspiration, powerful and optimistic message.
Mike Zeck’s artwork is some of the best stuff that I have ever seen in a comic, capturing very powerful moments and adding a degree of gravitas and drama to every page that makes it seem like we’re reading a tragic play. Very few comics can brag about having such a wonderful connection between the writer and the artist and Kraven’s Last Hunt is certainly that.
The highest point in Spider-Man’s wonderful history and a masterful story, regardless of the medium.