Little White Lies magazine

Magazine covers of the year 2023

The power of the magazine cover was highlighted once again this year, with evocative and entertaining designs addressing everything from the future of work to the cult of Jennifer Coolidge

It’s been a year of ups and downs in the world of magazines, marked by a series of closures including Gal-Dem, the hugely popular platform and print mag written by and for people of colour, and literary magazine the White Review. On a more uplifting note, titles such as Courier and The Wire invested in redesigns, while prolific designer and magazine-maker Richard Turley seemingly couldn’t be stopped, launching a stylish new zine for Selfridges along with his own editorial endeavour Nuts.

While the nature of running an independent magazine means it will always remain a fight for survival, there have also been a number of success stories this year, including indie mag royalty Little White Lies celebrating its 100th issue (more on the cover designs later). And as MagCulture Live marked its tenth anniversary, founder Jeremy Leslie spoke to CR about the re-empowerment of print.

“At the first conference we were definitely talking about this thing – the end of print – ain’t happening. The whole project is coming from a position of an alternative point of view, but it’s becoming hard to sustain it as an alternative now. To a lot of people in the creative industries, it’s quite a central point of view,” said Leslie. On that note, delve into CR’s top ten magazine covers of 2023 here.

W Magazine, The Directors Issue

The long-awaited return of Jennifer Coolidge has seen the comedy legend give standout performances in recent series including The White Lotus and The Watcher. To celebrate the Jenaissance, W enlisted the help of one of the entertainment world’s other talents of the moment, the Daniels – otherwise known as the director duo behind the Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once.

The viral cover shoot, which was photographed by Lenne Chai, stars the ever-brilliant Coolidge in various scenes that pay tribute to tokusatsu, a genre of campy Japanese cinema that birthed such legendary creatures as Godzilla.

Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Schön Unheimlich

While there has been a degree of doom and gloom in the debate around AI this year, some creatives are embracing the technology with open arms, often with delightfully weird and wonderful results.

Charlie Engman – best known for his offbeat collaboration with his mother/muse – is one of the few photographers to have leant into the alien logic of AI and found a way to make something that feels new. His cover story for German newspaper supplement SZ Magazin exemplifies that with surrealistic scenes of people and plant-creature hybrids, including a radish that resembles a rabbit.

The New York Times Magazine, Future of Work Issue

It wouldn’t be a best mag covers of the year list without a look at what Gail Bichler and the rest of the NYT Magazine design team have been up to lately. The future of work has been a recurring theme for the magazine over the years. In the post-Covid era, where views on the office and work/life balance become more nuanced once again, this year’s issue attempts to answer the question ‘What even is a workday anymore?’

The subject is brought to life with a brilliantly chaotic piece of illustration by Brian Rea, which highlights the increasingly blurred lines between our professional and personal selves.

The Paper, Issue One

Founded earlier this year, The Paper, or Y Papur, uses a nihilistic sense of humour to explore contemporary Welsh culture. The first issue offered a deep dive into the brain drain, or “the idea that everyone worth listening to has fucked off to England, leaving this magazine as the crude handiwork of the unambitious mutants still cutting about here,” its founders told CR.

Surrounding the tear-stained face on the cover are eccentric, shouty coverlines that knowingly reference gossip magazines, and perhaps unwittingly, the more obscure end of Wales Online.

Empire, Napoleon

As part of an issue that journeyed into the new Napoleon film with director Ridley Scott, plus his two lead stars Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby, Empire revealed not one but two cover designs for readers to get stuck into. The subscriber exclusive cover stars a striking geometric interpretation of one of history’s wildest warmongers, illustrated by Noma Bar in his signature style.

Little White Lies, Issue 100

Little White Lies’ eye-catching covers are designed to be a dual showcase of both its house style and the style of the commissioned artist. The indie mag’s 100th issue is no exception, with four collectible covers and a specially designed slip case. The illustrated covers feature hidden references to all 99 back issues of the magazine (one for the film nerds!) and, when combined, also create a single image of a party in an apartment block.

The New Yorker, The Race for Office

Barry Blitt has become well known for his cartoons and illustrations that lampoon political figures and take a satirical slant on the world. Since 1992, Blitt has created more than 100 covers for the New Yorker. One of his most recent features a particularly amusing illustration of Biden and Trump jockeying for position with zimmer frames in tow, highlighting the irony and absurdity of the advanced-age politicians currently vying for top office.

Port, Issue 33

A masthead on the front of a magazine usually acts as a signpost to readers passing by the newsstand. Port’s recent redesign, led by Uncommon’s Matt Curtis, eschews that logic, but in freeing itself from traditional constraints has actually resulted in covers that leap out from the shelf.

Doing away with a consistent wordmark, the magazine’s name has instead been scrawled in the unique handwriting of each cover star – ranging from actor Franz Rogowski’s staccato version to Taika Waititi’s unevenly sized lettering that expands and contracts across the cover.

Objectiv, A Stain That Will Remain

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come into sharp focus in light of recent events, with thousands of people across the world taking to the streets to call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and a mutual hostage exchange.

Newspapers and magazines have also been addressing the conflict in their coverage; this cover for Slovenian newspaper Dnevnik’s weekly supplement illustrates the power of a single image, with a blood-coloured stain that starts on the front but runs through the entire issue.

The Face, Issue 17

Celeb cover shoots often have a tendency to veer towards the formulaic, but the Face’s recent shoot with Olivia Rodrigo is arguably equally as delightful as W’s Jennifer Coolidge cover mentioned earlier. The magazine enlisted the help of legendary American photographer Jim Goldberg and his experimental approach – which combines documentary style imagery with handwritten scribbles – to show a different side of a pop star whose picture already adorns teenagers’ bedroom walls around the world.