The 15 Best Dark, Violent Comic Books With Gritty Action

These dark comic books are so gritty, brutal, and violent, you might need to clean them off before you start reading!
The 15 Best Dark, Violent Comic Books With Gritty Action

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Are you looking for something dark, gritty, and violent to read? Something with lots of action, violence, and conflict? Maybe something like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad in graphic novel format?

Look no further than comic books!

Comics are way more than just superheroes and newspaper gags. There are plenty of comic books and graphic novels written and drawn for adults, featuring all kinds of R-rated scenes and plots.

Here are our picks for the best dark comic books that are so violent, brutal, and gritty that your stomach will turn!

15. The Black Hood

Authored by Duane Swierczynski

First published in 2015

3.44 on Goodreads

The 2015 take on The Black Hood by Archie Comics takes a darker turn at the character. When Officer Greg Hettinger accidentally kills the previous Black Hood and becomes the new Black Hood, he looks to clean up the streets of Philadelphia and its dangerous gangs.

There's no shortage of blood and violence in this mature run of The Black Hood, and writer Duane Swierczynski isn't afraid to tackle gritty subjects like painkiller addiction, vigilantism, and defenestration.

14. Invincible

Authored by Robert Kirkman

First published in 2003

4.30 on Goodreads

Let's start with a bloody, twisted take on superheroes: Invincible, one of the many magnificent creations of Robert Kirkman.

Taking place in the Image Universe, this comic book series is the coming-of-age tale of Mark Grayson, who learns to navigate both his high school life and his life as the hero Invincible.

While this is far from the most subversive take on superheroes, Invincible sets an intimate focus on Mark and his relationships with his friends, his mother, and his father Nolan (also known as the superhero Omni-Man).

That latter relationship delivers one of the most shocking storylines in comic history. Invincible is a strong series that's relentlessly violent.

13. Kick-Ass

Authored by Mark Millar

First published in 2008

4.06 on Goodreads

Mark Millar's bloody creation Kick-Ass dissects the concept of vigilantism and violence with the story of Dave Lizewski, a teenager who dons a wetsuit to become the vigilante Kick-Ass.

Soon, his actions catch the attention of fans, enemies, and fellow heroes Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. Daved Lizewski is surrounded by an eclectic group of supporting characters, with Hit-Girl as the most memorable among them (for better or worse).

The comic book series is both fun and gory. From The Dave Lizewski Years to the Hit-Girl spin-offs, Kick-Ass is an awesome read.

12. Punisher MAX

Authored by Garth Ennis

First published in 2010

4.26 on Goodreads

The Punisher is Marvel's anti-hero who defined the anti-hero archetype. Much of his impact is rooted in his grounded character and his relentless pursuit of vengeance.

While most of his appearances have him interacting with other heroes in the Marvel Universe, Punisher MAX gives agency to more violent and character-based storylines, and it's never afraid to bring several of its darkest narratives to life.

In this one, Frank Castle/The Punisher faces off against the mob and several MAX versions of supervillains, like Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin.

11. Kill or Be Killed

Authored by Ed Brubaker

First published in 2016

4.11 on Goodreads

Kill or Be Killed follows a depressed college student who attempts to take his own life. He survives because a demon intervenes, and that demon offers him an extra month of life for every person he kills.

He takes the offer and turns to vigilante justice for his kills. The ending may be somewhat polarizing, but the dark journey toward that end is worth taking regardless.

Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser are the potent team behind this gritty comic book series, and the 20-issue run received generally positive reviews.

10. Deadly Class

Authored by Rick Remender

First published in 2015

3.96 on Goodreads

Deadly Class is set in the 1980s and centers on the King's Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts, an American boarding school for crime families who send their kids to become deadly assassins.

This series is no stranger to death—as expected of a series based on assassins, hired killers, and organized crime.

There's a wide cast of characters at this school, but don't get too attached! You never know when the next one is going to bite the bullet.

The series has been running for over 40 issues, and is still ongoing as of this writing with monthly releases.

9. Northlanders

Authored by Brian Wood

First published in 2008

3.80 on Goodreads

Set in 980 AD during the Viking Age, Northlanders centers on Sven, an exiled Viking prince who returns to his homeland to claim his inheritance after the death of his father.

The stories in Northlanders are fictional, but they're based on and inspired by real events and real history. It's the kind of action-packed violence-heavy comic series that fits alongside Viking TV shows like The Last Kingdom and Viking manga/anime series like Vinland Saga.

The Viking Age is a rich setting to explore, and Northlanders does it justice without being too locked down by verisimilitude.

8. Über

Authored by Kieron Gillen

First published in 2014

3.72 on Goodreads

Über is a dark comic series that centers on an alternate history's version of World War II in which the Nazis discovered a way to create superhuman soldiers. This discovery then forced the Allied nations to create superhuman soldiers of their own.

There's a ton of violence in this series, and it prominently features alternate versions of important WW2 figures, including Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, and Alan Turing.

While Über is technically still ongoing, no new issues have been released since 2018. Still, there's plenty to read if the series is new to you!

7. The Goddamned

Authored by Jason Aaron

First published in 2016

3.63 on Goodreads

The Goddamned provides a dark and interesting take on the times of the biblical character of Noah.

Image Comics, the company behind the story, says it's perfect for fans who want a Bible story that can be described as "violent, grim, filth-flarn-filth, and raw skulduggery." Those definitely sound like descriptors that'll appeal to fans of dark and gritty stories.

There are only five issues of this comic, so there isn't a lot to read. However, it's definitely worth checking out as it'll challenge you in the same way that, say, A Song of Ice and Fire does.

6. Red Sonja

Authored by Gail Simone

First published in 2014

3.92 on Goodreads

Red Sonja is based on a character created by Robert E. Howard, the same person who was responsible for creating Conan.

It has a fantasy setting, lots of almost-nude characters, and plenty of violence, which means it ticks just about all of the boxes for fans of dark, gritty comics.If you enjoyed Conan, you're going to love Red Sonja—and the two characters even work together quite frequently.

Marvel published the comics from 1973 to 1986. From there, the character went away for a while, eventually coming back through Dynamite Entertainment from 2005 to present.

The run isn't super complicated, but there are a few spin-offs and side stories. If you only focus on the main runs, it's not too daunting.

5. East of West

Authored by Jonathan Hickman

First published in 2013

3.91 on Goodreads

While East of West doesn't have the dragons-and-magic style of fantasy that fans of gritty fantasy might expect, it does deliver its own sci-fi/fantasy/Western spin on a dark, gritty, dystopian United States.

The story centers around the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which is always an interesting way to start a story.

This comic ran from 2013 to 2019 under the Image Comics banner as a monthly comic. A total of 45 issues were printed, so you can read through them pretty quickly—and you'll definitely want to.

4. Fables

Authored by Bill Willingham

First published in 2002

3.98 on Goodreads

The premise of Fables is fascinating: characters from all of the beloved characters from fairy tales are forced to live in our world. Each of them is forced to hide in plain sight amongst the humans in Manhattan.

Fables isn't super bloody or violent, but what it lacks in violence is made up for by its interesting fantasy setting, plenty of political storylines, and overall gritty darkness that pervades every page.

Thankfully, there aren't multiple series of Fables that you'll need to read, though it ran from 2002 to 2015. There are 150 issues, but since it isn't actively running anymore, you'll be able to catch up in short order.

3. Conan the Barbarian

Authored by Jason Aaron

First published in 2019

4.04 on Goodreads

There have been quite a few different rewrites of Conan over the years by various writers and artists, so there's a lot of bloody dark fantasy out there for you to read in this franchise.

The beloved barbarian was first brought to comics all the way back in 1952, then Marvel published Conan comics in the 1970s, then Dark Horse Comics took over until 2018, at which point Marvel reacquired the rights and published stories until 2022.

Now, as of this writing, the rights are in the hands of Titan Comics. If that was too confusing, here's a quick breakdown of the main Conan series:

  • Conan the Barbarian (Marvel, 1970–1993)
  • Savage Sword of Conan (Marvel, 1974–1995)
  • Conan the King (Marvel, 1980–1989)
  • Conan (Dark Horse, 2003–2008)
  • Conan the Cimmerian (Dark Horse, 2008–2010)
  • Conan the Barbarian (Dark Horse, 2012–2014)
  • Conan the Avenger (Dark Horse, 2014–2016)
  • Conan the Slayer (Dark Horse, 2016–2017)
  • Conan the Barbarian (Marvel, 2019–2021)
  • Savage Sword of Conan (Marvel, 2019)
  • King Conan (Marvel, 2021–2022)

Obviously, that's a lot to read and it can be quite intimidating to see that many issues in front of you. But with the new Marvel series now wrapped up, you can start wherever you want or even wait for Titan Comics to start coming out with their own take on Conan.

2. Sin City

Authored by Frank Miller

First published in 1991

4.16 on Goodreads

It would be a disservice for any list of gritty comic books to not acknowledge Frank Miller, for better or worse. His role in popularizing neo-noir comics cannot be understated, and nowhere is this more relevant than in his magnum opus, Sin City.

Across the many "yarns" set in Basin City, Miller jumps from one character to another as he explores the nature of morality and violence through a stylish, neo-noir lens.

He makes great use of the black-and-white contrasts to bring Basin City to life along with its gritty action and emotional moments.

1. Crossed

Authored by Garth Ennis

First published in 2006

3.65 on Goodreads

Finally, the darkest comic book series with the darkest takes, the grittiest action, and the most violence—the one that sits at the very top of our list—is one that isn't for the faint of heart.

But if your jam involves gory visuals, post-apocalyptic stories, and a twisted take on zombies, then Crossed is the comic for you.

From the warped mind of Garth Ennis, Crossed centers on a group of pandemic survivors who have to evade zombies (referred to as "the crossed"), which are infected people with cross marks on their faces who are driven to carrying out their most depraved desires.

Ennis leaves nothing safe here. With gore, violence, and depravity in graphic detail, Crossed is a truly shocking read.