I am a huge fan of Bill Willingham and his Fables series. I started reading it in 2009 and quickly caught up. It is now like Christmas every time something new in the series is released. The writing and the artwork combine to make it easily one of my favourite series ever. In 2012, though, I found it hard to find a post that explained a suitable reading order. When I started the series it was relatively small, but I can understand how overwhelming it would be for someone to start fresh and have no idea where to go. This lead me to create my own post. I was doing well keeping it updated for a while there, but got a bit behind. I thought I would repost today with all the additions.
F= Fables and J = Jack of Fables.
It starts off easily enough:
F - Volume 2: Animal Farm (Issues 6-10)
F - Volume 3: Storybook Love (Issues 11-18)
F - Volume 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers (Issues 19-21; 23-27)
F - Volume 5: The Mean Seasons (Issues 22; 28-33)
F - Volume 6: Homelands (Issues 34-41)
NOTE: Congrats, you are now safe to start Jack of Fables. The events in this book pick-up after issues 34 and 35 of Fables contained in Homelands. You do not have to start now, but if you want to it is now safe. It didn't actually release until after Volume 8 of Fables.
F - Volume 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) (Issues 42-27)
F - Volume 8: Wolves (Issues 48-51)
STOP!! If you haven't all ready, you should read 1001 Nights of Snowfall. I did not, but it ties into Volume 9 of Fables. (I don't think you lack if you just read it whenever. It is technically a prequel.)
F - Volume 9: Sons of Empire (Issues 52-59)
F - Volume 10: The Good Prince (Issues 60-69)
F - Volume 11: War and Pieces (Issues 70-75)
F - Volume 12: The Dark Ages (Issues 76-82)
STOP!! You are now on a Fables vacation. In order to read Volume 13 you have to read Jack of Fables because this is a Crossover edition.
J - Volume 1: The (Nearly) Great Escape (Issues 1-5)
J - Volume 2: Jack of Hearts (Issues 6-11)
J - Volume 3: The Bad Prince (Issues 12-16)
J - Volume 4: Americana (Issues 17-21)
J - Volume 5: Turning Pages (Issues 22-27)
J - Volume 6: The Big Book of War (Issues 28-32)
STOP!! It is now time for a Jack of Fables vacation. Sort of. When released as individual issues Volume 13 actually contains Fables, Jack of Fables, and The Literals. When they released it as a trade paperback they put everything together and called it Fables.
F - Volume 13: The Great Fables Crossover (Fables: Issues 83-85; Jack of Fables: Issues 33-35; The Literals: Issues 1-3)
Note: If you are worried about any possible spoilers it is now save to read Cinderella: Fables are Forever. (More about this spin-off below). You can do what you want for the rest of the Fables and Jack of Fables. A suggested order is such (this is how they were released and I read them):
J - Volume 7: The New Adventures of Jack and Jack (Issues 36-40)
F - Volume 14: Witches (Issues 86-93)
J - Volume 8: The Fulminate Blade (Issues 41-45)
F - Volume 15: Rose Red (Issues 94-100)
J - Volume 9: The End (Issues 46-50) - This concludes Jack of Fables.
F - Volume 16: Super Team (Issues 101-107)
Note: If you are worried about possible spoilers after this comic it is safe to read Werewolves of the Heartland and the first Fairest. (More on these comics below.)
F - Volume 17: Inherit the Wind (Issues 108-113)
F - Volume 18: Cubs in Toyland (Issues 114-123)
F - Volume 19: Snow White (Issues 114-123 (back-up stories only) and issues 124-129 (December 24, 2013)
F - Volume 20: Camelot (Issues 131-136)
F - Volume 21: (Issues 141-149) (March 3, 2015)
Note: I am not sure at this point if there are going to be any possible spoilers in the The Unwritten crossover, that I talk about more below, but just going by release dates lets assume you should read up to here before reading it. Once the comic is released I will correct this note if necessary.
The Spin-offs and Standalones:
There is also the standalone comic Werewolves of the Heartland. The comic is a chance to see Bigby all by himself. It is technically a good introduction to the series; but if you are worried about any possible spoilers it was originally set to be released around the same time as Super Team and follows events from that comic.
Then, there is Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love (Issues 1-6) and Cinderella: Fables are Forever (Issues 1-6). From Fabletown with Love doesn't have many spoilers, but you are best to wait and read it until at least after Volume 11. Fables are Forever, though, does talk about events from later in the series. If you want to avoid possible spoilers do not read it until after Fables: Volume 13. Also, the two collections are entirely unrelated. There is no need to read one right after the other.
The newest spin-off to the Fables series is Fairest. On the one hand it is an excellent introduction to the series and is a possible starting point if you are new to the series. On the other hand, if you are interested in keeping things in order and not having any spoilers at all (even minor ones), I recommend starting this series after you read Volume 16 of Fables.
Fairest - Volume 1: Wide Awake (Issues 1-7)
Fairest - Volume 2: Hidden Kingdom (Issues 8-14)
Fairest - Volume 3: The Return of the Maharaja (Issues 15-20)
Fairest in all the Land
Fairest - Volume 4: Of Mice and Men (October 7, 2014)
Then, Jess Nevins released Fables Encyclopaedia. It is essentially the annotated version of Fables. It is something worth having wherever you are in the series. I have been warned that it does contain spoilers up until Volume 18 of the main series, though. (I sadly haven't had a chance to read it yet!)
Lastly, there is the novel Peter & Max. This is an original novel that also can be read as an introduction to the series. I don't remember any spoilers for the series, so I wouldn't worry about a reading order. If you are in the mood for a Fables novel instead of graphic novel, pick this one up!
One thing I was remiss in mentioning before is the video game The Wolf Among Us. I am not a big gamer, but I am tempted! Anyway, from what I have researched the game is a prequel to the series and will not spoil anything if you play it first and then decide to read them later.
Now this is where things get interesting... Fables is doing a crossover with another Vertigo comic, The Unwritten. If you have never read The Unwritten before, it is another literary graphic novel where the main character travels through various fictional worlds. It works really well for a crossover. The crossover is going to occur in a collected The Unwritten graphic novel and take place in Fables. It is set to be released next year. So, for the sake of having all the information available here is the reading order if you are interested in the crossover.
Volume 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity (Issues 1-5)
Volume 2: Inside Man (Issues 6-12)
Volume 3: Dead Man's Knock (Issues 13-18)
Volume 4: Leviathan (Issues 19-24)
Volume 5: On to Genesis (Issues 25-30)
Volume 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words (Issues 31-35)
Volume 7: The Wound (Issues 36-41)
Volume 8: Orpheus in the Underworlds (Issues 42-49) (February 4, 2014)
This all leads up to the crossover...
Volume 9: The Unwritten Fables (Issues 50-54)
And, because I am a bit of a completest, I would also mention that there is a standalone volume in The Unwritten series called Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice.
And, if you enjoyed The Unwritten, Volume 10 is called War Stories and will be out October 14, 2014.
Lastly, just because for some this might be the easiest way to get the Fables series, here is a list of what the Deluxe editions contain:
Volume 1: Fables 1-10
Volume 2: Fables 11-18
Volume 3: Fables 19-27
Volume 4: Fables 28-33 (1001 Nights of Snowfall)
Volume 5: Fables 34-45
Volume 6: Fables 46-51
Volume 7: Fables 52-59 and 64
Volume 8: Fables 60-63, 65-69
Volume 9: Fables 70-82 (October 7, 2014)