Comic book publishers, both independent and internationally famous, have made huge strides in their depictions of gender. When Marvel and DC began experimenting with gender-flipped heroes several years ago, it was obvious that the market demanded a feminine presence; Jane Seymour as Thor sold out her male counterpart in mere days, and the all-female Avengers team A-Force still flies off the shelves.

Now that the comic book pantheon is filled with female and male characters, it stands to reason that some of them may want to have sex. That’s a tough issue for many publishers, who are embarking on issues of sexuality no longer suited to the adolescent male stereotype they once catered to. Everyone, despite age or gender, craves realistic sex scenes — because they further an emotional plot, or because they demonstrate sensations we’ve all felt: longing, self-doubt, desire, and the rush of physical intimacy.

We’ve compiled a list of ongoing comics that represent sexuality well on paper — although a couple now-defunct titles snuck into the ranking too.

Gina Wynbrandt's 'Someone Please Have Sex with Me'
Gina Wynbrandt's 'Someone Please Have Sex with Me'

Someone Please Have Sex with Me

Gina Wynbrandt’s indie comic took the market by storm in 2016, skewering adult women who still lust after stars like Justin Bieber and Harry Styles while giving a nuanced look at the sex lives of people who don’t have partners. Gina, the protagonist, is consumed by sexual feelings she wants to explore but hasn’t found a partner yet, and watching her cope with this disconnect is both sexy and hilarious.

Sex Criminals

Sex Criminals, created by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky and distributed by Image, has one of the purest and most perfect conceits on the market. Two characters, one man and one woman, discover that they share the ability to stop time upon orgasming. After having some fun with their newfound superpowers, they decide to rob a bank together, and everything gets absolutely nutso from there.

What Sex Criminals does for sex and intimacy in comics is tremendous. The comic is not just about shock value and gimmick; its central relationship experiences turbulence when things go awry, and watching both characters relay their sexual experiences to each other, some private and adolescent, feels like eavesdropping on secrets we’re not sure we should be hearing. Reading Sex Criminals is tantalizing not just because of its frank imagery, but because it has serious fun with its subject. Issue 15 is due out later this month, after a long hiatus, and the comic is in talks for a TV adaptation.

Oglaf

Oglaf is the only web comic on this list, primarily because it’s inventive and deliciously, weirdly NSFW. For those willing to experiment with sexual imagery, this comic is a ridiculous ride.

Saga

Yes, okay, we all know and love Image’s Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. It’s a sweeping, funny sci-fi epic on par with Star Wars and The Fifth Element, but it’s also notable for its innovative framing of sexuality, particularly within a monogamous marriage.

Saga’s leads, Alana and Marko, have angry sex to blow off steam as often as they, for lack of a better phrase, “make love”. They remain believably, furiously attracted to each other despite being under immense stress — and part of the comic’s appeal is rooting for the lovebirds to make it through. Sex isn’t just domestic in Saga, though: A masculine archetype The Will rescues a young prostitute from a planet called Sextillion, and we watch that young character cope with her trauma. In one heartbreaking panel, she admits that she believes she is ugly and bad because of what men have done to her, and fan-favorite character Lying Cat shushes her, assuring her that it isn’t true.

In recent issues, we’ve watched intrepid journalists Upsher and Doff discuss their careers while having sex. They use the physical act as a way to work out their issues, together, communicating on two levels simultaneously, as Alana and Marko do.

The Cute Girl Network

The Cute Girl Network, written by Greg Means and MK Reed and illustrated by Joe Flood, is a gem because it devotes entire panels to the comical in-between movements during sex: the awkward pulling off of pants, and the fumbled move from bed to floor.

This comic is a fun look at casual intimacy, but it’s, more importantly, an examination of communication between young women. When the book’s central character Jane meets Jack, she is attracted to him immediately. She consults the women in Jack’s city who have dated him before, building a long narrative of Jack’s missteps and bad behavior. The comic asks an important question of young, sexually liberated readers: who are we to each new partner, an amalgamation of the people they’ve been with before? Does your initial impression of a person matter more than what his exes have to say?

Wonder Woman: Earth One

We’ve already written at length about the sweet relief of reading a funny, sexy Wonder Woman comic, in this case one written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Yanick Paquette, but Diana is worth mentioning here too. In “Earth One”, readers are treated to a frank look at what attracts Diana, warrior princess of the Amazons, to human man Steve Trevor. Further, we watch her in dialogue with her lovers from Paradise Island, who don’t understand her sudden preoccupation with men.

Earth One experiments with Wonder Woman’s sexuality in both plot and through visual rhetoric. That is, she’s depicted in bondage several times in the comic, though her reaction to the scenario varies depending on who’s involved. Earth One is a hopeful, triumphant testament to what superhero sex could be: unabashed, dangerous, and celebratory.

Starfire

Oh, Starfire. What a long and problematic history you’ve had, you naive alien sex queen. In her current version, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner and illustrated by the venerable Emanuela Lupacchino, Starfire is allowed to be playful again. Her world is rendered in glossy neon, and male characters struggle comically to control their raging hormones as she searches for the best in everyone.

Sex, though Starfire doesn’t always realize it, is a valuable tool for some female superheroes, and in this instance, it’s played for comedy without feeling exploitative.

Concrete Park

Alas, Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander’s Concrete Park is no more, but we can’t talk about sex in comics without mentioning Dark Horse’s gorgeous, multi-ethnic series. The citizens of Scare City have detailed, dynamic bodies that come in all sizes and colors, and when they meet in bed, the sex scenes are poetic and full of genuine affection.

Optic Nerve

Now, Optic Nerve isn’t where creator Adrian Tomine’s focus has been lately, but one could reach randomly into a pile of his work and retrieve a compelling look at sexuality. Tomine is responsible for some of the most beautiful, and haunting, images ever rendered regarding women, and frank desire. His male characters are quiet observers, almost vibrating with their intense longing. Every time they fail to make a connection, we feel that emotional impact in our guts.

Sex according to Tomine is full of clean lines and minute details: his women are lightly sprinkled with freckles, or their tan lines are laid bare to the reader. We view them through his masculine gaze, though each comic feels hesitant and shy, as opposed to demanding or entitled. There’s a sense, reading Tomine, that his male characters simply can’t look away, and it makes every one of his works compulsively readable.


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