Best comic book apps for iphone and ipad

Dive into dig­i­tal comics with our top picks.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY EAMMON JA­COBS

Phys­i­cal is­sues and an­tholo­gies of comic book se­ries don’t al­ways fit neatly into lim­ited shelf space or travel well—but that’s where dig­i­tal comics come in. Grow­ing sup­port for the for­mat means you can col­lect to your heart’s con­tent and take the en­tirety of it any­where you go. All you need is your iphone or ipad.

Key to the ex­pe­ri­ence is a good app. While a dig­i­tal comic may not please the senses as pa­per is­sues do, hav­ing an app that of­fers ac­cess to a wide va­ri­ety of con­tent or broad sup­port for com­mon file for­mats (PDF, EPUB, CBR, and CBZ) can ease the tran­si­tion.

In gen­eral, the bet­ter apps of­fer one of two paths: Straight­for­ward pur­chase (or

rental) of con­tent from ma­jor pub­lish­ers like Marvel, DC, Image Comics, and Dark Horse, or an easy way to read com­mon file for­mats (PDF, EPUB, CBR, and CBZ). If they want to have even wider ap­peal, it’s in their in­ter­est to of­fer Viz and Ko­dan­sha ti­tles for manga fans, as well as or­ga­ni­za­tion of is­sues in an easy-tonav­i­gate for­mat.

We’ve pulled to­gether a list of the best comic book reader apps for IOS here—a mix of pub­lisher-based op­tions, as well as in­de­pen­dent third-party apps that can read what­ever you’ve al­ready got in your stash.

COMIXOLOGY

Comixology ( go.mac­world.com/cmix) is an Ama­zon-owned com­pany that lets comic book fans buy and read ti­tles from a wide range of pub­lish­ers, not just Marvel and Dc—its vast li­brary in­cludes sin­gle is­sues and graphic nov­els from Image, IDW, BOOM! Stu­dios, and many indie pub­lish­ers.

An­noy­ingly, the app doesn’t let you im­port comic files that you may have down­loaded from else­where. Nor can you buy is­sues through the app it­self. In­stead, you have to down­load them through the Comixology web­site. Pur­chases do ap­pear im­me­di­ately in the app af­ter you’ve bought them on­line, though, as long as your de­vice is con­nected to the in­ter­net.

Tap­ping through an is­sue al­most feels like an an­i­mated story, due to the fluid move­ment across the page. It’s an en­tirely dif­fer­ent read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence from flick­ing through a book. Flow­ing tran­si­tions from panel to panel gen­tly move you through the story, with the op­tion to cus­tom­ize read­ing set­tings. There’s also a let­ter­box op­tion, which makes just a sin­gle panel vis­i­ble across the page in­stead of mul­ti­ple pan­els.

As Comixology starts to rec­og­nize pat­terns in sto­ries, char­ac­ters, and pub­lish­ers you’re in­ter­ested in, it’ll gen­er­ate “smart lists” of sug­gested is­sues, se­ries and vol­umes that it thinks you should try. If you’d rather strike it out on your own, you can in­stead pe­ruse the wide range of free is­sues

avail­able from both ma­jor pub­lish­ers and smaller com­pa­nies—some go all the way back to the ’60s. Un­like with paid is­sues, you can down­load this gratis con­tent with­out hav­ing to first go through the web­site.

MARVEL UN­LIM­ITED

Marvel’s of­fi­cial app ( go.mac­world.com/ mvun) is a great start­ing point for peo­ple look­ing to get into comics, es­pe­cially if they’re al­ready fans of the in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse movies. Marvel Un­lim­ited has 77 free is­sues across a num­ber of dif­fer­ent se­ries avail­able to read: Some of these are tie-ins with the movies, while oth­ers are stand­alone sto­ries. Of course, Marvel isn’t of­fer­ing these purely out of the kind­ness of its heart. Once you’re hooked, gain­ing ac­cess to the full li­brary of 20,000 comics re­quires sign­ing up for a $9.99 per month sub­scrip­tion ser­vice. New users are given a one week free trial, though.

(Note that Marvel Un­lim­ited doesn’t give read­ers ac­cess to Marvel’s full back cat­a­log. In­stead, read­ers are given a ro­tat­ing list of con­tent. If you’re look­ing for re­cent is­sues, they get added around 6 months af­ter the ini­tial re­lease—so un­for­tu­nately that does mean stay­ing away from spoil­ers on Twit­ter! But Marvel does at least fre­quently add plenty of full sto­ries to the app.)

Read­ing comics in the app is mostly smooth re­gard­less of whether you choose to

swipe through pages and man­u­ally zoom in on pan­els, or in­stead tap on the bot­tom right of the screen and al­low the app to flow through each speech bub­ble and panel. We did run into one is­sue where the app re­quires you to tap in just the right spot; oth­er­wise, it won’t ex­e­cute the de­sired ac­tion and in­stead zooms out, show­ing you the full page.

Bal­anc­ing out this quirk, how­ever, is Marvel Un­lim­ited’s off­line mode: Users who want to read a full story while away from Wi-fi ac­cess can keep up to 12 is­sues stored on their de­vice.

DARK HORSE

The Dark Horse app ( go.mac­world.com/ dkhs) makes stray­ing from well-known se­ries full of tights and capes easy: It gives read­ers ac­cess to over 5,000 in­di­vid­ual comics from Dark Horse and over 1,600 is­sues from indie pub­lisher Dy­na­mite En­ter­tain­ment, with new ti­tles added to the li­brary ev­ery week.

The flow from page to page is seam­less when read­ing an is­sue. The app takes the time to show­case the full page and the di­rec­tion of the story that’ll be shown be­fore zoom­ing in on in­di­vid­ual pan­els and speech bub­bles. Dark Horse also of­fers more cus­tomiza­tion of its read­ing set­tings com­pared to other apps’ sim­ple scroll and swipe op­tions. You can choose how the app zooms in on the pan­els as you turn the page, or in­stead opt for an en­tirely dif­fer­ent view style. The app can show the full page be­fore

or af­ter tran­si­tion­ing through the pan­els, or dis­play a let­ter­box view that dark­ens the rest of the page as each panel is read.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, down­load­ing an is­sue can slow the app down, mak­ing it un­re­spon­sive un­til the is­sue is on your book­shelf. The book­shelf can be or­ga­nized in a num­ber of ways: by re­lease date, down­load date, or when each is­sue was last read. It can also show only down­loaded books avail­able for off­line read­ing and hide books that are stored on­line from view. (One of the Dark Horse app’s strengths is the abil­ity to use cloud storage for is­sues, though the fea­ture is lim­ited to just the com­pany’s servers and not ser­vices like Drop­box, Google Drive, or icloud.)

ICOMIX

If you have all of your dig­i­tal comics stored on your com­puter or in the cloud, an app de­signed just for one pub­lisher’s comics (or sub­scrip­tion ser­vice) won’t be of much use. In­stead, you’ll want an app like icomix ( go.mac­world.com/icmx), which han­dles com­mon file for­mats and dis­plays your en­tire col­lec­tion on a sin­gle dig­i­tal shelf.

With­out an ex­ten­sive menu or store to pur­chase ti­tles from, icomix is re­fresh­ingly stream­lined. It shows your EPUB, PDF, CBR, and CBZ files on a sin­gle page, with the op­tion to or­ga­nize your is­sues into lists—you can sep­a­rate is­sues by pub­lisher, au­thor, or an­other la­bel. How­ever, since sort­ing is­sues in this way has to be done man­u­ally, it can be te­dious, es­pe­cially if you have a huge col­lec­tion.

You can ac­cess your is­sues by load­ing them on your de­vice or log­ging in to a cloud ser­vice from within the app—icomix sup­ports Drop­box, Onedrive, Google Drive, and Box. For the most part, this works seam­lessly, though we did run into an is­sue where freshly down­loaded is­sues would oc­ca­sion­ally not ap­pear on the home­screen un­til af­ter quit­ting the app and open­ing it again.

Func­tions for read­ing is­sues are

very sim­ple. You just swipe through the pages of the book and zoom in us­ing two fin­gers to read the text. No op­tion for au­to­matic flow from panel to panel ex­ists. Read­ing cus­tomiza­tion op­tions are avail­able, though: the app lets you choose to have each page be next to each other, or to stack them on top of the pre­vi­ous page. It’s clear that the app was built to be a ba­sic but ef­fi­cient reader—and it suc­ceeds in that goal. Swip­ing through an is­sue was a smooth tran­si­tion from page to page.

MADEFIRE

Madefire ( go.mac­world.com/mdfr) is an up-and-com­ing best-seller when it comes to read­ing comics on your iphone or ipad. With an in­ter­nal store stock­ing a wide range of con­tent from Marvel, DC, IDW,

Top Cow, Valiant, Archie Comics, and Dark Horse, Madefire has some­thing for ev­ery­one. And although there aren’t huge li­braries of con­tent from each pub­lisher, the var­ied amount of ti­tles and gen­res make it worth­while.

The cost of in­di­vid­ual comics is sim­i­lar to the price of phys­i­cal is­sues from shops, with prices cir­cling the $3.99 range. But if you’re just look­ing for free sto­ries to read, IDW has 101 free is­sues avail­able right now. You can also grab 24 is­sues from Valiant, all be­gin­ning at the start of a va­ri­ety of se­ries, as well as a select few is­sues from Madefire and DC. You won’t find any

brand-new re­leases for free, but still there are some fan­tas­tic en­tries from pub­lish­ers across the board.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion of the li­brary is fairly stan­dard. Is­sues can be sorted ei­ther al­pha­bet­i­cally or by the orig­i­nal date of down­load. The nor­mal reader is sim­ple to use: A dis­play of each page runs along the bot­tom of the screen, and swip­ing or tap­ping on ei­ther side of the page ei­ther pro­gresses the story or moves back through it. The one big op­tion miss­ing is cus­tom­iz­a­ble read­ing set­tings, though, which is a dis­ap­point­ment.

Mak­ing up for that lack, how­ever, is a fea­ture ex­clu­sive to Madefire—one that helps it stand above com­peti­tors.

Madefire’s mo­tion comics are a new way of be­ing sub­mersed into a story: Char­ac­ters, scenery, weapons, and more are slightly an­i­mated. If a hero leaps off a build­ing, you’ll see them move through the art­work; like­wise, if an alarm rings out, you’ll hear it. (So wear head­phones if you’re plan­ning on read­ing one in a pub­lic place!) While the speech isn’t al­ways dic­tated, the sound ef­fects match the ac­tion in the pan­els as the story pro­gresses in a fluid mo­tion. Some scenes in par­tic­u­lar al­low read­ers to drag the view­point around to see more within an image. Over­all, the sounds and mo­tion-ac­com­pa­nied pan­els don’t feel like the comic is rushing ahead; you have full con­trol over when you tap through a page or swipe back­ward.

Madefire has even be­gun creat­ing orig­i­nal con­tent for both its Mo­tion Comics and nor­mal is­sues by part­ner­ing with some of the big­gest names in the comic in­dus­try, like Stan Lee, Dave Gib­bons, and Bill Sienkiewic­z. Given Madefire’s unique con­tent, we rec­om­mend us­ing it even if you have a dif­fer­ent pre­ferred comic book app—you don’t want to miss out on this cre­ative flair. ■

Comixology.

Marvel Un­lim­ited.

Dark Horse.

icomix.

Madefire.

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