The introduction of Apple's iPad excited comic book readers around the world. Its large 10-inch color display was well suited to reading digital versions of their favorite comics, and hopes were high that new comic reader apps would become available. So far, a number of excellent titles have hit the app store. I've ranked my favorites by category. (Note: iPad versions of the app are listed; in most cases, an iPhone/iPod touch version is also available.)
Marvel was the first publisher on the scene with an excellent entry, followed closely by IDW Publishing, Boom Studios, and DC Comics. There are also title-specific apps, so if you're a fan of any specific series you may find an app tailored to your own favorite comic book.
Marvel Comics and DC Comics rule the publisher-specific roost
Both of these apps were developed by ComixOlogy—with excellent results. With a solid selection of free and paid digital comic books, they are ensured a significant lead in the digital arena. Navigation is intuitive and easily accessed; a double tap allows you to enter and exit frame-by-frame panel flow mode, which sequentially displays each panel on a page, zoomed in for maximum viewing.
A tap or a swipe will move you from one panel or page to the next, while other options allow you to easily customize the app. Sadly, Marvel's digital online comic subscription ($59.88 per year or $9.99 for a single month) does NOT work with the Marvel app. While some of the older titles are free, the newer and more popular titles cost you $1.99 each. Just like Marvel, some of DC's comics are free, but others will cost you $1.99-$2.99.
The Marvel and DC apps provide the user with the best experience. And they are backed by the two major comic book publishing companies, each with an incredibly large catalog of comics.
Multi-publisher store apps
If you read a variety of comic books from different publishers, an app that more closely mimics the concept of a local comic book store may be more your speed. The same company that developed the Marvel and DC Comics apps has a generic app that lets you access a variety of publishers.
Comics—best multi-publisher app
ComixOlogy offers a generic reader called Comics. In addition to Marvel and DC comics, it lets you download and read comics from a continually growing roster of indie publishers, including Boom! Studios, Dark Horse, Image, Dynamite, and more. The app also allows you to find comic stores close to you so you can purchase print version of issues you choose. Their Guided View Technology zooms in on each frame for easy viewing, just like the Marvel and DC Apps. This technology is what the big boys use and will be available for all books purchased through this app.
The newest contender in this genre is Comics + (free, app2.me/2578) by iVerse. This app not only lets you buy comics from the in-app storefront, it lets you read the latest comics-related headlines on its News screen. Comics + uses a bookshelf interface to display the comics you've downloaded. In addition, it offers IDW books in its store. The interface on Comics + is responsive but does not include the panel flow mode found in the ComixOlogy apps. This keeps me from using it too much.
Both of these apps allow users to connect to online stores and permit multi-device downloading and reading of books purchased. So, for example, you can purchase a comic on your iPhone and read it later on your iPad!
Read your own comics apps
Many comic collectors scan and electronically store their comic books in archive files. There are now a number of apps that let you view those files.
ComicZeal Comic Reader—Top read-your-own app
The gold standard among read-your-own-comics apps, ComicZeal is available for both the iPhone and iPad. The iPad version closely resembles the slick user interface of the previously mentioned apps but does not have a frame-by-frame panel flow viewing mode.
ComicZeal's developer, Bitolithic, included an experimental feature in the latest update of the program. "Assisted Panning" causes the app to automatically display portions of the page. The app starts in the upper left corner and slowly moves across the page, from left to right. When it's finished with the top third of the page, it does the same for the middle and then the bottom third. This feature attempts to reduce the amount of manual panning users need to do when reading a scanned book. This is a good first step but doesn't feel quite as magical as the Guided View Technology described earlier.
ComicBook Lover (free, app2.me/2582) is a newcomer to the comic reader niche but shows promise. It supports the following comic archive formats: CBZ, CBR, and PDF as well as a folder of image files. It is simple, intuitive, and responsive. You can pan and zoom on pages; read comics by genre, publisher, and title; and lock viewing orientation. The app doesn't have as many options as ComicZeal, but it's free.
Both ComicZeal and ComicBook Lover let you transfer comics via Wi-Fi, a dedicated app on a Mac OS X, an FTP app on a PC or Linux computer, or the iTunes File Sharing feature.
A gold mine for comic lovers
With these apps installed, the iPad is a gold mine for comic lovers. Whether you want to download and read new releases or scan and view your existing collection of comics, you can't go wrong with any of these apps.