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Summary:

There are a lot of comic book readers out there. Here are the best tablet apps I’ve found for reading them, both commercial readers (apps that let you buy comics as well as read them), and an app that supports CBZ and CBR files.

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Comic books have always been a source of solace for me. During a lengthy hospital stay a few years ago I couldn’t concentrate on words, so I had my Calvin and Hobbes collection brought in. Even a few weeks ago when I was sick, curling up in bed with a comic on my iPad helped me feel better. Maybe it reminded me of being a little kid, reading comics, and having my mom bring me some soup.

There are a lot of comic book readers out there, so I’m going to share with you the comic reading apps that I use the most, both commercial readers that allow you to read comics purchased from their store, and one that lets you read comic book files.

Commercial Readers

Comixology: Comixology (free) is the Amazon Kindle service for buying comics. Almost every digital publisher (sadly, no Dark Horse, but Marvel, DC Comics, and IDW are present) is in Comixology, and many of them make digital versions available the same day they become available in print. With the release of the third-generation iPad earlier this year, Comixology introduced the CMX-HD, which are high-resolution files that take full advantage of the Retina display. They look amazing; even small text is quite readable. On the iPad 2, I had to use the panel-by-panel view (a view that zooms in so each panel takes up the full screen). Now, I rarely need to. While you can purchase and read comics via the app, if you create an account on Comixology’s website, you can also read your comics on non-iOS devices. One nice feature is that I can define alerts for when new issues of my favorite series are released.

Dark Horse: Dark Horse (free) as you’d imagine, is dedicated solely to Dark Horse’s catalogue. Yeah, I wish they’d partner up with Comixology, too. Unlike Comixology, Dark Horse requires an account on its site to purchase comics, although it can use your iTunes billing information to purchase the comic; I don’t have a credit card on file with Dark Horse.

The Dark Horse app is well-done. Downloaded comics show up on the bookshelf tab, and the Store is easy to navigate and search. One oddity, though, in that I can’t find a way to see comics I’ve purchased, but not downloaded; I had to search the store and note that there was a Download button next to the title I had purchased.

Reading comics is likewise very easy, utilizing a panel-by-panel view similar to Comixology. I’m not sure if the comics are hi-res, but they look fine on my iPad 3.

Reader Apps

The standard file format for comics is either a CBR or a CBZ file, which is essentially a RAR file with the images in it. I will let you use your own moral compass on how to obtain the files, but for full disclosure, as part of my research for this article I only downloaded a few comics I had purchased digital versions of already. While CBR readers are a dime a dozen on the iOS App Store, for me, there’s only one app I really like: Comic Zeal. Previously, I had enjoyed Comic Reader Mobi, but sadly the developer was banned from the App Store. One free app I looked at, ComicFlow, didn’t seem to have an easy way to delete files.

Comic Zeal: At $4.99, this is a great app. It takes advantage of the Retina display, and while it doesn’t have a form of panel-by-panel reading that I could find, it is easy to pinch and zoom in. Again, like all the apps, it looks amazing on the Retina display.

While individual comics are easy to navigate, there is a learning curve on the Library interface. Rather than dragging and dropping comics into a folder, instead you swipe the comic to the right and then paste it into a folder. After a little bit, I got used to it.

Getting comics into Comic Zeal is pretty easy: you can just drag and drop them via the App tab in iTunes. An easier way I found was to use Google Drive to store the file. I then opened the file with the Google Drive app, and when it told me it couldn’t read the file, I had it “Open in” Comic Zeal.

The Last Page

The iPad has really reinvigorated my interest in comics. When I was reading them a long time ago, if I missed some of a series, or if I became interested in a series in the middle of the run, I’d have a hard time catching up. These days, I just set an alert in Comixology for the next issue of a series, and it’s relatively easy (although expensive when you buy 20 issues at once –oy, my wallet) to come into a series late. The cloud-based nature of both Comixology and Dark Horse also makes it easy to read my comics on alternate devices, like my Nexus 7.

It’s a shame, though, that I have little reason to go into my local comics store anymore.

  1. I use Comic Zeal as I think it’s the best of a bad lot, but like most “vanity apps” created primarily by one person, it’s quirky and the options are not for everyone. When you look through a folder of comics for instance, it places a bookmark at the end of each as you finish it meaning you can never view that comic again until you manually reset the bookmark. It’s also terribly slow at almost everything when you have more than a handful of comics in it and while viewing the individual comics is snappy, scrolling through the library is always a jerky-jerky experience (probably due to the roll-your-own interface choices.

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  2. +1 on the Comic Zeal recommendation and here’s a tip on how I use it.

    On the iPad, I find that by having the comic zoomed to full width of the comic, it shows 80% or so of the page, which is the most comfortable viewing size for me.

    In Comic Zeal, with “Assisted Panning” turned on, tapping once on the right side of the screen will show the rest of the page. Turning the page leaves the screen with the same zoom factor, making for navigation through a comic fast, easy and highly viewable.

    I wish the Comixology app would adopt something like this as I find pane by pane viewing tedious.

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  3. Greg Naughton Sunday, August 12, 2012

    CloudReader. It’s free, super super simple, and very fast. Best reader I have on iPad — ebooks included. Just tap to get next page. much better than dragging.

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    1. Yes I used it too and guess what after downloading there is a prompt to open it in.

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  4. I love reading comic books eversince and i love it even more when I discovered that Ican download it through ipad and also on my iphone. Comic zealis is so fun to use because it can organize my comics by series,
    and whats more nice about using ipad or iphone is that i can zoom it w/out seeing the borders and i can share it through dropbox or usb:)

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  5. I concur about CloudReader. A hidden gem.

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  6. I echo your disappointment in Dark Horse’s refusal to join in with Comixology. I guess it must be a case of their not wanting to split their profit with yet another middleman (Apple being so greedy with their 30% and all), but it’s frustrating. Dark Horse has a great catalogue and some heavy talent; I just don’t like their app as much as Comixology’s and I don’t like having to buy in two different apps.

    This was a good overview. Thanks.

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  7. Matthew Levine Saturday, August 18, 2012

    I agree with David on this one. Biased as I may be, the comixology app is by far the best one available, personally. not just as a reader or store but the fact that it also catalogues all your downloads and stores your books and various other “library” type functions for your digital comics. plus to be able to take your book from the web to your iphone to your ipad is priceless.

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  8. “Fanfiction” – Awesome tool for Reading Stories on iOS
    Fanfiction is a diversified app covered with thousands of different stories in many different languages. Through this you can read the subject of your own interest.
    iTunes Link:
    http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/fanfiction/id457484628?mt=8

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  9. I’d recommend ComicGlass.

    Easy to set up controls. (left side next page, bottem menu, top close book, …)
    Fast & good quality

    Easy transfer:
    Go to their website and install their media server application.
    Start up media server, point to your comic/manga storage folder.
    Download straight from the media server on to your device, no more computer actions required.
    Only downside is you have to manually order them into seperate folders. (Hoping it’ll be a new feature soon)

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