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Must-Haves

The best apps for taking your comic collection digital

Music, movies, and books have all gone digital and we've embraced them whole-heartedly -- who hasn't put several gigs of music on their phone, streamed a show or movie via Netflix, or downloaded a 900-page bestseller to read on their Kindle? So why not replace those mouldering longboxes of comics with something cleaner and more portable that your mom (dad, girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband, or roommate) won't be tempted to throw out?


Storefronts



ComiXology

If you're going for mainstream and legal, you're going to end up at ComiXology eventually. ComiXology is the big name when it comes to digital comics, with most of the larger publishers putting their inventory on ComiXology. Marvel, DC, Image, and a few other companies may appear to have their own apps, but they're all just running on the ComiXology engine.

That's for a good reason; it's a good program, fairly clean and well-organized. The store can be browsed a number of ways -- via publisher, series, genre, or creator. Your comics have their own tab, though like Kindle and Nook, you have to download books to your device before you can read them.

What makes ComiXology stand apart is its use of "Guided View", which zooms in on individual panels, taking you through the comic shot-by-shot so you don't have to worry about where to go, or pinching and zooming to see parts of the page better. If you don't like Guided View, though, it can easily be turned off by double-tapping the screen. But it's handy when you only have one hand available, or don't know which way to follow the action. They also now offer the ability to sync your reading experience across devices, so you can always be on the right page if you use multiple phones, tablets, or computers to access ComiXology.

Many publishers or properties (like the Simpsons) have their own branded ComiXology apps, but aside from some layout tweaks they're not offering anything you can't find through the main ComiXology app. You use the same login, and purchases are all grouped into the same common pool. But each branded app helps spotlight that company's content, and you won't be able to browse or read comics from the competitors. It should also be noted that even if they draw from the same common account, each separate ComiXology-based app will need to re-download the file, as the different apps do not share storage space on your device. So you're better off just sticking with the main ComiXology app, as it will cover all your needs.
ComiXology (Free for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows 8, web)

Dark Horse

One major publisher that eschews ComiXology is Dark Horse, offering their own app that works pretty well. You'll need to create a new account, of course, and you won't have as many platform options or syncing. Dark Horse's app allows you to browse by featured, new, free, and series, but the basic layout is familiar. They also have their own version of guided view called "panel zoom", which pans along the page to zoom in on individual panels. Overall, it's a decent app, but the reason to download it is for the content offered: Dark Horse publishes titles like Hellboy, Axe Cop, and The Goon, along with licensed material like Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Avatar the Last Airbender.
Dark Horse (Free for iOS, Android)

Readers



Not all comics are going to be sold through an app; whether they're sold through a website or downloaded from a file sharing website (shh), you may end up with some comics in PDF, CBR, or CBZ format. If those last two don't look familiar don't worry -- they're really just ZIP and RAR files under a different name. However, a dedicated comic reader app will know what to do with them, allowing you to swipe and pinch your way through each image file in a smooth and enjoyable reading experience comparable to the company apps mentioned above.

Comic Zeal

Comic Zeal is the go-to app for reading comics on your iPad (sadly, not available for Android). It's built for your inner collector, letting you organize comics into boxes and even tag them. There are also multiple ways to get comics on your device; comics can be loaded into Comic Zeal directly from Dropbox, or you can sync content via iTunes over USB (which is what Comic Zeal recommends as the easiest way). The actual reading experience is smooth sailing: swipe or tap to turn the page, hold the gesture when you zoom in and the reader will keep that level of zoom for the rest of the comic (rather than resetting each page); they also offer assisted panning. Unlike the other apps on this list, Comic Zeal isn't free, but if you've got a huge digital collection the price is worth it to sort through the (virtual) mess.
Comic Zeal ($4.99 for iOS)

Yet Another Comic Reader

Don't be fooled by the name -- while there are plenty of fish in the sea, the YACReader actually rises above the waves. For starters, it offers an unattractive-but-functional desktop app, and you sync your files to the mobile app by adding them to the desktop version first (Dropbox and iTunes syncing are also available). It may be ugly, but it works, and once you've got your comics on your device you get to view them on the much-more-attractive iOS app, which gives you a tidy shelf of covers to browse, and a pretty standard reader interface that also lets you lock your zoom level like Comic Zeal does, but with incredibly smooth page turning. It's cheaper than Comic Zeal too, so if you want plentiful syncing options and an excellent reading experience, but don't need a plethora of organization options, spend your dough here instead.
Yet Another Comic Reader ($1.99 for iOS; free desktop apps for Windows, OSX, Linux)

Perfect Viewer

To get comic files onto your iDevice requires working through iTunes; with the Android version you can drag and drop them directly onto the device. Just make sure you remember which folder you put them in, because you're going to have to find it when you load up Perfect Viewer. It may not have any kind of guided or assisted view, but Perfect Viewer has a plethora of customization options, from what areas of the screen being touched will activate which actions, to adjusting the color and sharpness of individual images in the file. The menus are a little complicated and not particularly touch-friendly (they're a little small depending on the device), but once you have the reader set up the way you like it's smooth sailing.
Perfect Viewer (Free for Android)

A Comic Viewer

A Comic Viewer, or ACV for short, is simple where Perfect Viewer is complex. Though you can't, say, change the sharpness or coloration of a single page, the options it does have are plentiful enough, and easy to access. The settings menu offers the basics and then some, with customization options for the touchscreen actions and scaling for the images. But you may not need it, as the first screen prompts you to open a file, and the touch settings are intuitive. Drag and drop some CBR or CBZ files onto your Android device, start the app, and you'll be reading in seconds. It's easy and fast. The only caveat is that some files may not work properly in the reader, especially larger ones. But those that do, work beautifully.
A Comic Viewer (Free for Android)

Ebook stores



Maybe you don't want to have to sign up for yet another account, so you don't want to sign up for ComiXology, or you don't want to fuss with dragging files around and messing with settings. If you read ebooks, it's worth noting that some major online book retailers take the "book" part of "comic book" to heart, and that many popular titles are available through them.

Kindle

It was a big deal two years ago when DC Comics signed a deal to make their comics available on the Kindle Fire, but now you can download books from a number of publishers, including majors like Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, and Image, and lots of smaller companies as well. The reading experience is what you're used to from the Kindle app, but fares poorly compared to dedicated comic readers because it can't zoom and has no form of assisted/guided view, making it hard to examine small details or read tiny text bubbles. This isn't as much of a problem on a larger tablet like the iPad, but you should steer clear of reading on your phone.
Kindle (Free for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Mac, Windows, Windows 8, web)

Nook

Barnes and Noble was pretty angry when DC Comics signed a deal with Amazon to offer certain DC books exclusive on the Kindle Fire, but now they happily offer comics from DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Top Shelf, Dynamite, and Archie; they even prominently feature a number of manga publishers on their site like Viz and Yen Press. In addition to having a cleaner web interface, the Nook app itself has one major advantage over the Kindle app when it comes to reading comics: you can zoom.
Nook (Free for iOS, Android, Windows 8, web)

Ultimately, your choice of reader will be determined by your choice of reading material and the file format; if you download comics in PDF format, you may find a standard PDF reader works just fine for you. But if you're serious about your comics reading, you might want a serious comics reader.