Where to Start Reading Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Comics?

I recently came across a post of a Ninja Turtles fan asking where to get started with the comics — They had been a fan of the cartoons and movies, but with there being SO MANY DIFFERENT TMNT comics and reprintings of everything, they didn’t know where to begin. And that’s understandable, as there have been MANY interpretations of the Turtles over the last 40 years.

The EASIEST way to get into TMNT now is by purchasing trade paperbacks/graphic novel reprints by IDW. They are available both in print AND digitally. I’ve included Amazon links (WHICH MAY BE BROKEN BECAUSE AMAZON IS BEING DUMB AND I CAN’T CONTROL THEIR WEBSITE) because Amazon is the easiest online retailer, and they have both print and digital versions. However, if you’re going the print route, I will ALWAYS recommend checking with your local comic shops and asking if they have stuff in print, or if they’re willing to special order things for you — Comic shops are always struggling for money, and any money you spend there stays in your community and helps out a small busines.

Check ComicShopLocator.com or call 1-888-COMIC-BOOK to find the stores in your area.

A note about publishers: The first series of TMNT comics were printed by Mirage Studios from 1984-1995. Then, series 3 was published by Image Comics, before series 4 went back to Mirage. The TMNT Adventures series was originally published by Archie Comics. Currently, since 2011, IDW Publishing has held the rights to pretty much all TMNT comic printings and re-printings.

Note for my fellow long-time TMNT comics fans reading this: while we’ve all been calling the original Mirage comics runs “Vol 1” and “Vol 2” for decades, please understand that I decided to refer to these runs a “Series,” rather than a “Volume.” It’s confusing for new readers to understand the difference between a run being a “volume” and a “volume” being part of a collection of graphic novels. And, since IDW literally prints “vol.” on their graphic novels, that decided which “volume” gets to be referred to as a “volume.” This is for new readers to be able to join us in the least-confusing way possible, and even *I* have trouble understanding this paragraph, and I just wrote it!

TMNT Series 1 (Mirage Comics):

I generally recommend people read the Eastman & Laird issues of the original, black-and-white Mirage Comics run. It’s the basis of all of TMNT, and you’ll see a lot of the concepts in their stories repeated in nearly every iteration of the franchise. Unfortunately, some of those early issues are INCREDIBLY expensive now. However, fortunately, IDW has reprinted all of the Eastman & Laird stories into six “Ultimate Collection” editions. The Ultimate Collections all contain exclusive commentary by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. It’s a fun extra, but I didn’t think they were consequential enough to re-buy all of this content that I already own AGAIN. But if this is your first time buying the old comics, it’s be a fun look into what the creators were thinking.

There was debate for years about which issues in the Mirage run were considered “canon.” Some could slot in just fine and work coherently, but others just didn’t. It was eventually decided that issues directly worked on by TMNT co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were “true” TMNT issues, and those are the ones IDW has collected into the Ultimate Collections.

You’ll notice that it looks like Ultimate Collection volume 3 has some issues “missing,” and that there’s a huge gape between what’s collected in volume 3 and volume 4. That’s on purpose — After TMNT issue #11 came out, the toy line and cartoon got started and the licensing deals came rolling in. Suddenly, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird couldn’t spend their days passing comics pages back-and-forth to make funnybooks the way they had been doing for the last couple of years. They needed to manage their new empire! So it was initially decided that they would alternate issues, with issue #12, Survivalists, being written and drawn by Peter Laird. Issue #13 was supposed to be done by Kevin Eastman, except THAT ended up taking so long, that they had a friend do a fill-in for issue #13, and Kev’s The Unmentionables story got bumped to issue #14. Laird did #15, Dome Doom!, and then some of their other indy comics-making friends did issues #16, #17, and #18. Eastman and Laird returned to write the Return to New York storyline from issues #19-21, and then had to get back to the empire. While they were involved and gave approvals, neither of them directly worked on an issue again until #48.

Okay, enough preamble. Onto the comics!

TMNT Ultimate Collection Volume 1 collects issues #1-7, plus the Raphael one-shot. It’s temporarily(?) out-of-print, so online prices may be artificially inflated depending on the retailer. Definitely check local comic shops for this one before buying it online. The paperback should be $29.99 USD.

TMNT Ultimate Collection Volume 2 collects issues #8-11 plus the Leonardo, Donatello, and Michaelangelo one-shots. The contents of the 15 issues collected in the first two volumes are the basis for EVERYTHING TMNT, and you’ll recognize a LOT of what’s in these stories. Makes sense, since they’re the only issues directly worked on by BOTH of the creators, without anyone else’s input (outside of lettering).

TMNT Ultimate Collection Volume 3 collects issues 12 and 15 by Laird (Survivalists and Dome Doom!), issue 14 by Eastman (The Unmentionables), and 19-21 (Return to New York) which were written by E&L, with art by Jim Lawson.

Just released in late 2022 is the TMNT Compendium Vol 1, which includes TMNT Series 1 #1-7, 9-14, the Leo, Don, Mike and Raph one-shots, Fugitoid #1, and Tales of the TMNT (series 1) #1-5. (Issue 8 is probably missing because it includes indy comics legend Dave Sim’s character Cerebus the Aardvark, and there’s always rights and royalties issues when it comes to reprinting that story.) This is a $150 USD, 832-page hardcover containing 24 comics. Definitely the easiest way to get started with a BIG chunk, but maybe not the most cost-effective.

IDW has also reprinted and collected all of the above in color as TMNT: Color Classics (link to vol 1), if you’re the type who is completely opposed to black-and-white comics. I’m not really a fan of the color jobs, but your mileage may vary.

TMNT Ultimate Collection Volume 4 collects issues 48-55. Issues 48+49 are the Shades of Grey story that leads directly into City At War, which begins with issue 50.

TMNT Ultimate Collection Volume 5 collects issues 56-62, which is the second half of City At War, and the end of the original Mirage run

Shades of Grey and City at War were reprinted in single issue Color Classics, but I haven’t been able to find any collections of these.

And then there’s TMNT: The Works, which are oversized hardcovers that look like pizza boxes. The five volumes of that contain the same comics as the Ultimate Collections, but, y’know, in color. These got ONE print run starting in 2013, and are now EXTREMELY expensive. Good luck if you go this route.

TMNT Ultimate Collection Volume 6 collects all the E&L short stories that were originally published outside of the main series — Some were in anthology comics like, some were in second printings of TMNT issues, some were in TMNT collections, just all kinds of random places. These stories were originally collected in a book called Shell Shock back in late 1989, in a completely different order. Shell Shock was released to help get money for work against illiteracy in America, and Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman donated their profits to Literacy Volunteers of Chicago, Inc.

If you want to check out the rest of TMNT Series 1, IDW did collect and reprint them (in color!) as TMNT Classics vol 1-7. Here’s a link to volume 1 of TMNT Classics. All 7 volumes are currnetly out of print, and from around decade ago, so they can be tricky to find at a decent price.

TMNT Series 2 (Mirage Comics)

TMNT Series 2 from 1993 picks up after the events of City At War. It was the first thing TMNT stories that Mirage printed in full color, and ran for 13 issues. All the issues were written and drawn by Jim Lawson, who drew both Return to New York and City at War. These issues were collected in TMNT Classics volume 8, vol 9 and vol 10. However, at this point, it might actually be cheaper to track down all 13 original issues than those three collections.

TMNT Series 3 (Image Comics)

TMNT Series 3 was published by Erik Larsen via Image Comics in the mid-1990s. It ran for 23 black-and-white issues, and ended mid-storyline. It picks up after TMNT Series 2, but I you don’t need too much specific knowledge — They wanted it to be easy for new readers to start, as they knew MOST people would be familiar with the 1987 cartoon and 1990s movies. As long as you know who the TMNT are, you shoudl be able to read this in isolation.

IDW Publishing recently re-published this run in color as “TMNT: Urban Legends,” and brought back the creative team to write and draw an additional 3 issues to finish the run. That version has been collected in two trade paperbacks: Urban Legends vol 1vol 2

TMNT Series 4 (Mirage Comics)

TMNT Series 4 in 2001 saw a return to Mirage, and was written by Peter Laird with art Jim Lawson. It has never been collected, and the single issues are all WAY too expensive now. Issues #1-28 were released through traditional comic stories. It’s INCREIDBLY weird, and sales dropped off pretty harshly towards the end. Issues #29-32 were available via mail-order only. There are only about 1,000 copies of each of those four issues, which now demand prices in the thousands of dollars.

Series 4 skips the Image series, and picks up some time after Series 2. If you’re just starting with TMNT comics, just forget about this volume entirely until IDW decides to collect and reprint them. It’s honestly not worth the hassle.

Tales of the TMNT

Tales of the TMNT was a second series that was running concurrently with Mirage Series 1. Each issue is completely self-containted, and opens with a framing sequence of one of the turtle saying, “Let me tell you a story…” Tales is actually two different series: There was a 7-issue series published in the 1980s, and a 70-issue series released in the 2000s.

IDW reprinted all of the first Tales series, and up to issue 25 of the second series, in eight (colorized!) trade paperbacks (link to vol 1). But those are now long out of print but are easier to find than TMNT Classics and TMNT Adventures. There wasTales Omnibus Vol 1 released in 2018, but I’m unaware of any further volumes. For new readers, I don’t recommend reading Tales without also reading Mirage Series 1, 2, and 4, since the Tales issues tend to slot between events of the other series.

TMNT Adventures (Archie Comics)

There’s also the Archie series, TMNT Adventures. This started as a 3-issue mini series and then kept going as a 72-issue ongoing, plus a number of spin-off miniseries and one-shots. IDW also reprinted the main series about a decade ago (minus a few issues that are currently considered a little questionable that took place in the Middle East), but those TPBs can be pretty tough to track down now, at-or-near cover price. While the first handful of issues were direct adaptations of the 1987 cartoon, this series quickly ends up going off on its own direction and becoming a really cool story in its own right. New readers can pick up Adventures completely on its own, without having to know ANYTHING about the Ninja Turtles at all.

TMNT 2011 (IDW)

In 2011, shortly after Nickelodeon bought the TMNT franchise from Mirage, IDW Publishing picked up the comic book license. In 2011, they started a complete reboot series that contains elements from EVERY previous iteration of the franchise: The comics, the cartoons, the movies, everything and anything. However, as IDW is wont to do, they also printed a bunch of minis and one-shots so that they could have more than one comic for the franchise on the shelf at a time. These have ALL been collected in “suggested reading order” in hardcovers known as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The IDW Collection.” As of the time of this writing, there are currently 14 TMNT IDW Collection hardcovers, beginning with TMNT: The IDW Collection Volume 1. You can read the IDW Collections without having ANY prior TMNT knowledge.

Final Words:

If you’re new to TMNT comics, I hope this helps!

There was ALSO a comic series by IDW based on the 2012 Nickeldeon CGI cartoon, a series based on the 2018 Rise of the TMNT cartoon, countless one-shots and spin-offs by Mirage and Archie during the late 1980s and early 1990s, FOUR volumes of Batman/TMNT co-published by IDW and DC, the second volume of a TMNT/Mighty Morphin Power Rangers crossover has just started, and all kinds of other fun stuff if you REALLY want to get deep in the weeds of the comic side of the TMNT franchise.

Cowabunga!