Blog – Posted on Friday, Mar 13
The 100 Best Graphic Novels of All Time
Since they first rose to popularity in the 1930s, comics have been a staple of the literary landscape. They were once considered an indulgence for children, a cheap, meaningless entertainment meant to be grown out of. But these days, more and more people are realizing the rich potential found within the pages of a good comic.
With their inventive blend of visuals and writing, comics are a powerful exploration of the depth of storytelling.And graphic novels, bound together in a larger, sturdier form than the flimsy comic book, have made it even easier for people to explore and enjoy this rich blend of truth and fiction.
Below, we’ve gathered the 100 best graphic novels published to date. Featuring everything from superheroes to memoirs, from manga to skillful adaptations of classic works of literature, these stories will delight fans of all ages — and demonstrate this form of storytelling’s enormous range.
1. Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
The antics of this psychopathic criminal mastermind have never really vanished from pop culture discourse. But the Joker is enjoying a particularly strong resurgence lately as the titular focus of the the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning 2019 film Joker, starring the also Oscar and Golden Globe-winning Joaquin Phoenix.
If you enjoyed that particularly dark and gritty take on the Joker’s descent into madness, you will surely also enjoy Batman: The Killing Joke, as it provided the foundation for writer/director Todd Phillips’ film adaptation. The graphic novel is considered the definitive Joker origin story, one which also starts with an engineer who quits his job at a chemical company to pursue his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian — only to fail miserably. After reaching his breaking point and turning into the Joker we know today, he sets out on a mission to prove that all humans can be pushed to their mental breaking point and turn into a lawless killer just like him. And in this story, he’s set his sights on Commissioner Gordon as the subject of his social experiment.
2. Miles Morales: Straight out of Brooklyn by Saladin Ahmed and Javier Garron
Here’s a history lesson for you: Marvel Comics is the publisher of all Marvel stories. The Avengers movies and the mainstream Marvel comic books all take place within the Marvel Universe — the central Marvel storyline. However, under the Marvel Comics umbrella are various smaller imprints, with timelines and storylines that can differ from that of the Marvel Universe.
Miles Morales, aka Spider-Man (yes, there are multiple!), started out as a character in the Ultimate Marvel imprint. But when the imprint closed in 2015, he became part of the Marvel Universe, and many rejoiced at the diversity that the Afro-Latino teenager represented.
Now to Straight out of Brooklyn. In this first installment of the Miles-Morales-as-Spider-Man series, the protagonist is trying to balance being a “normal” teenager with his superhero duties. This becomes a lot more complicated when a crew of mysterious criminals start wreaking havoc in Brooklyn. Before Miles has a chance of taking them down, he has to get to the bottom of what they want — and why they’re really here.
3. All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and Jamie Grant
Just like the Marvel Universe is the primary story universe of Marvel Comics, the DC Universe is the primary universe of DC Comics — where the canon stories of characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman take place. All Star was a DC Comics imprint that ran from 2005-2008, with the goal of providing acclaimed writers and artists with the opportunity to reinterpret the stories of popular DC characters for a modern audience.
All-Star Superman is a twelve-issue comic book series that does exactly that. As DC claimed, the book “strip[s] down the Man of Steel to his timeless, essential elements.” If you’re looking to see Superman reimagined for a 21st century audience, look no further than here!
4. Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Javier Pulido
Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon was published in 2013, hot on the heels of the 2012 summer blockbuster Avengers film — of which Hawkeye is a breakout star. In this novel, self-made hero Hawkeye is recruited by SHIELD to intercept a package of incriminating evidence. It’s a mission he needs to complete quickly, however, as his low profile is at risk of blowing up. In fact, he might just become the most wanted man in the world.
5. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
You can find references to this four-issue comic book miniseries in all the most popular Batman film adaptations, from Batman Forever to The Dark Knight to Batman v Superman. Which is to say, there’s a lot of Caped Crusader action to enjoy in Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
In this graphic novel, a middle-aged Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to do what he does best: fight crime on the mean streets of Gotham City. But not everyone is happy about his return to action, including the Gotham City Police and the United States government. Old favorite foes feature, such as The Joker and Two-Face, while new faces emerge, like the violent street gang who call themselves The Mutants. To tie it all off is a confrontation with the man in red, gold, and blue himself: Superman.
6. Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze
National Book Award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates brings us this first brilliant installment in the recent six-part Black Panther series. A Nation Under Our Feet sees Wakanda face one of its greatest threats yet as a superhuman terrorist group known as “The People” drum up a violent uprising. Naturally, it’s up to the Black Panther, king of Wakanda, to rally his people if they have a hope of surviving. Mirroring a certain present-day British monarchy, the Wakandan monarchy quickly realizes that their only path to survival may be adaptation.
7. Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
You’ve probably heard of Ms. Marvel and that she represents a historic moment for Marvel Comics. Here’s your chance to start from the beginning and learn all there is to know about this Muslim superheroine.
In No Normal, we meet Kamala Khan, a seemingly average teenager living in New Jersey. As the story usually goes, one day she suddenly possesses superhuman powers. But as the old saying goes: with great power comes great responsibility. And “great” is an understatement when it comes to Kamala’s gifts. Suddenly, this teenager finds herself struggling to control not only her new powers, but the pressure of becoming the focal point of an age-old legacy.
8. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
If you’re looking for a graphic novel that deconstructs and even satirizes the popular notion of “superheroes,” then Watchmen is for you. It’s a Hugo winner and perennial bestseller that revolves around the very human moral struggles of its protagonist superheroes — and asks how such heroes would fare in a “normal” world.
In this alternate history, superheroes began emerging between the 1940-60s, and their appearance led to some mind-boggling changes to the timeline: the United States won the Vietnam War and the Watergate Scandal never came to light. But by the time the 1980s roll around and the U.S. finds itself on the brink of a Third World War with the Soviet Union, it is illegal for superheroes to use their powers unless they are government-sponsored. So they roam among us, no different from your mailman or next-door neighbour. Except, that is, for a few vigilantes who are about to don their capes and come out of retirement to investigate the murder of one of their own — and an assassin that appears to be lurking in the shadows.
9. Hellboy: Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola
If you think mixing superheroes and World War Two history sounds like a recipe for gripping stakes and successful entertainment, you’ll be a fan of Mike Magnola’s uber-popular Hellboy series, starting with Seed of Destruction.
In this story, the world is in danger (again!), and Hellboy is the man of the hour: he’s been called upon to investigate a mysterious and supernatural threat. Along the way, he discovers more than just the secrets of this new villain, as he also begins to learn more about his own murky origins — involving a link to Nazi occultists and Hitler’s attempts to win the war with a demonic incarnation.
10. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
The birthplace of the famous line “Remember, remember the fifth of November...", V for Vendetta is a dystopian post-apocalyptic series that takes place in a frighteningly familiar alternate version of the United Kingdom. Specifically, the setting of Alan Moore’s iconic graphic novel is a world that has been ravaged by nuclear war. The U.K. has become a police state run by the neo-fascist Norsefire Party, who rule with an iron fist that’s intent on squeezing out any drop of individuality of its citizens.
The story’s protagonist is V, a Guy Fawkes mask-wearing revolutionary who has anarchical plans to bring down the government. At its core, V for Vendetta is about the enduring strength of the human spirit and a rallying cry to fight back when your freedoms are encroached upon, a message that’s become even more important in recent years.
11. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
Thanks to Alan Moore, we’re sticking around jolly old England a little longer — but this time with a distinctly less-dark tale.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen takes us back to the turn of the 20th century. As the curtains begin to fall on the Victorian Era, London enters a bit of an awkward phase. So much is changing, and yet it's not changing fast enough. The departure of long-held traditions is causing feelings of chaos, even while order seems to reign supreme. Turmoil and violence are beginning to brew, and no one’s quite sure how to handle it.
In the midst of these strange times emerges (what else?) a league of extraordinary gentlemen. Comprised of fictional characters such as Captain Nemo and Dr. Jekyll, it's time for these literary figures to band together and determine how to save the British Empire.
Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror
12. Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang
Erin, KJ, Tiffany, and MacKenzie are all twelve-year-olds who deliver newspapers in Stony Stream, a fictional Ohio suburb. One day when they’re out on a routine paper run, the girls find themselves in the basement of an under-construction house, discover what appears to be a time machine — and are struck by a mysterious energy force! What started out as a normal day in Stony Stream quickly turns into the girls’ embroilment in a time-traveling war.
13. Skyward: My Low-G Life by Joe Henderson, Lee Garbett, Antonio Fabela
In the adventurous world of Skyward, “G-Day” is the name given to the day that Earth suddenly lost a great deal of gravity. The generations born before G-Day were forced to adapt to an entirely new life, where flight is now possible and things (and people) have a tendency to float away. But for Willa Fowler, who was only a baby when G-Day happened, this “lighter” existence is all she’s ever known — and she’s pretty fond of the ability to jump up and soar. So when she accidentally discovers a potentially lethal plan having to do with gravity’s restoration, she knows something must be done to stop the baddies in their tracks.
14. I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young
If you’re looking for a graphic novel that plays around with different genres, themes, and tropes, you’re in for a treat with I Hate Fairyland. It’s a dark comedy fantasy with all the whimsy of Alice in Wonderland, the colorful illustrations of Adventure Time, and the in-your-face violence of Deadpool. (In other words, it’ll give you whiplash in the best way possible.)
This kaleidoscopic comic revolves around Gertrude, a woman who was transported to the magical world of Fairyland as a child. Ever since, she’s been trying to find her way back to the real world, and she’s not afraid to literally bring out the big guns to get what she wants.
15. Ladycastle by Delilah S. Dawson, Ashley A. Woods, and Rebecca Farrow
The King and his men are dead. The castle they left behind has been cursed and is constantly under attack by monsters. But all is not lost, because the women are still there, and they’re armouring up to protect their home. For a fantasy adventure full of diverse women who kick serious ass, do yourself a favor and pick up Delilah S. Dawson’s first original graphic series, Ladycastle.
16. On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
The name of the On a Sunbeam game is: recovering what’s been lost. To that end, a “restoration crew” travels through space to preserve what’s left of times gone by. Mia is one member of that crew, but she’s interested in more than just looking after the universe’s history. There’s another member of the crew who might just be from Mia’s own past. Someone she’s never forgotten. Someone she’s never stopped loving… and whom she hopes still loves her too.
17. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Both hauntingly beautiful and sinister, the five graphic stories that comprise Through the Woods will stick with you long after you put the book down. Each twisted fairy tale takes place in the woods, but they all deliver their own unique brand of spook — such as “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold,” which features a young bride in a haunted house, or “The Nesting Place,” in which an in-law turns out to be carrying a terrible secret.
18. Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido
Ever wished that the Redwall books were a little more modern, a lot more noir, and illustrated in a sumptuous watercolor style? If the answer’s no, Blacksad will change your mind. This long-running Franco-Spanish mystery series takes place in a shadowy, crime-ridden version of 50s America, where anthropomorphic animals walk the mean streets and there’s nary a human in sight.
Our hardboiled hero, the PI John Blacksad, is a trenchcoated war vet with a turbulent love life and a distrust for cops — who also happens to be a black cat. You might be tempted to laugh when you see his fuzzy, bewhiskered muzzle clenched around a cigarette, but Blacksad’s story is no cutesy tale. Within its beautifully rendered pages, you’ll find a grimly realistic mystery with intricate worldbuilding and a strong sense of history.
19. Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
This ambitious steampunk saga is as gruesome as it is gorgeous. Artist Sana Takeda lavishes her talent on lush, Mucha-inflected scenes of garnish, while writer Marjorie Liu — an epic fantasist worthy of Tolkien — weaves a spellbinding story of violence, sacrifice, and revenge. Set in a matriarchal, Asian-inspired world, Monstress centers on a teenager called Maika Halfwolf, whose body plays host to a monster: a tentacled beast who appears suddenly from the stump of Maika’s severed arm.
Monster aside, Maika looks human enough. But she’s actually an Arcanic — a magical being locked in a bloody conflict with the Cumaea, the wicked sorceresses who subsist off their life force. An inveterate survivor with an iron will and a ruthless intelligence, she’s a worthy guide through Liu and Takeda’s brutal, beautiful world.
20. The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie Mckelvie, Matthew Wilson, and Clayton Cowles
Helmed by a team of Marvel alums, The Wicked + The Divine combines old myths and new media in a deliciously irreverent, dark fantasy package. As series writer Kieron Gillen puts it, its setting presents “gods as pop stars, and pop stars as gods.”
Meet Laura Wilson, a seventeen-year-old, biracial Londoner with a passion for pop. Laura is a fangirl, but the object of her devotion isn’t any ordinary music group, it’s the Pantheon — twelve gods who merge with mortal hosts every ninety years, to walk the world as beloved cultural icons. “Mortals,” incidentally, is the operative term here: the (un)lucky divine vessels can only live for two more years after they join with the gods. Still, Laura desperately wants to be one of them. What follows is a dazzling tale of life, death, and the high price of fame.
21. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, et al
The AMC horror series might have drawn more than 17 million viewers at its peak, but this celebrated comic book series is the OG version of The Walking Dead. In the first of nearly 200 issues, Rick Grimes arises from a coma to find himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Talk about bad timing….
Of course, in the time before the dead walked the land, Rick was a government employee, a sheriff’s deputy who worked to keep the peace in the state of Kentucky. Now, the government no longer exists, and Rick, his family, and their fellow survivors have to fend for themselves against the zombie hordes. With society in ruins around them, can they hang onto hope, love — and their lives?
22. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Based on a quirky, cult-hit webcomic, Nimona is the perfect epic fantasy for the social media age. Millennial comic artist Noelle Stevenson started the series on Tumblr, and it shows — Nimona’s deadpan, memeable humor is sure to wring a few chuckles from the Highly Online. But for all its sly subversiveness, this remains dazzling science fantasy, full of genre tropes done right, from mad science to shapeshifting magic.
Our titular hero is, in fact, really more of an antihero. A talented shapeshifter, she also happens to be the sidekick of the villainous knight-turned-mad scientist Lord Ballister Blackheart. Nimona’s boss has sworn to oppose the powerful Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, helmed by his nemesis Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. It’s a simple, effective tale of good versus evil with just one complication: Goldenloin and his heroes aren’t as noble as they seem either.
23. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
This sprawling space opera draws from a range of canonical influences, from the bombastic heroism of Star Wars to the grim Realpolitik of Game of Thrones. Throw in a dash of star-crossed love à la Romeo and Juliet, and you’ve got the makings of a modern classic.
Saga takes place amidst a conflict that spans galaxies, but it’s also a story about a single family. Alana and Marko were once enemies, soldiers deployed in a war between their worlds: the scientifically advanced Landfall, inhabited by winged beings, and its satellite of Wreath, whose own denizens wield magic and have horns. But they fell in love almost at first sight and got married. When the series kicks off, Alana has given birth to their daughter, who has both wings and horns. Now, the young family must go on the run from Landfallians and Wreathers alike.
24. Elfquest by Wendy Pini and Richard Pini
On an earth-like world called Abode where two moons hang in the sky, humans must live alongside elves. These mysterious beings were descended from an advanced alien civilization called the High Ones. But by the time Elfquest begins, they’ve left their spacefaring ways far behind, splitting off into several, culturally distinct tribes.
As you can imagine, this gorgeous science fantasy is rich in worldbuilding. Abode and its many elven civilizations — from the fierce Wolfriders to the peaceful Sun Folk — are all remarkably well-drawn... literally. With this treasure chest of a setting, it’s little wonder that Elfquest ran for forty years.
25. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, et al
When it comes to speculative fiction, Neil Gaiman has written it all: from brooding urban fantasy to poignant magical realism. With The Sandman, he adds “cult hit comic series” to the mix. As intricate and imaginative as anything in his literary oeuvre, this 75-volume fantasy combines grownup superheroics with a richly realized, mythologically inflected world.
The titular Sandman has one job, but many names. He is known as Morpheus, the Shaper, and Lord L’Zoril, among other sobriquets. He’s a personification of dreams — the mysterious being who rules over the realm of sleep. But when the series begins, things aren’t going so well for Morpheus: he’s been imprisoned for the past seven decades, thanks to a ritual performed by an occultist hoping to strike a deal with Death. Now Morpheus has escaped, and he’s ready to take his revenge. But how has his kingdom fared in his long absence?
26. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
It’s 2002, and every mammal carrying a Y chromosome has been struck dead by some unseen force — with two exceptions. Amateur escape artist Yorick Brown and his trusty (male) monkey sidekick Ampersand are, somehow, still kicking around. As society descends into chaos around them, what are the only two males in the world to do?
Y: The Last Man has one hell of a premise. But with its colorful protagonist and tongue-in-cheek delivery, it manages to keep the darkness at bay — painting a post-apocalyptic world that’s completely plausible and unlike anything else you’ve seen before.
27. Black Hole by Charles Burns
This is hardly the only creative work to mine the specter of sexually transmitted disease for horror, but Charles Burns manages to pull it off in a way that’s deft and moving instead of heavy-handed. Set in the suburban Washington of the 1970s, Black Hole combines the mundane and the uncanny in a way that’ll give you chills.
Narrated by two characters with almost nothing in common — queen bee Chris and lonesome stoner Keith — this moving, chilling graphic novel centers on a horrifying illness called the Bug. Transmitted by sexual contact, the Bug gives those who contract it bizarre, socially devastating mutations, from facial sores to lizard-like scabs. Worst of all, most of its victims seem to be teens. If getting through high school wasn’t hard enough, try adding a pair of horns into the mix…
28. Blackbird by Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel
Nina Rodriguez knows she isn’t crazy. Magic is real, but it’s also dangerous — a weapon in the hands of the ruthless powers who rule LA from behind a curtain of shadows. The problem is, no one believes Nina when she tries to tell them this. She may be struggling with mental health, but her belief in magic isn’t a symptom, and she’s determined to prove it.
Helmed by a DC veteran who’s written for the likes of Nightwing and Harley Quinn, Blackbird is both an incisive look at mental illness and a gorgeously rendered visual dream. Sam Humphries’s gritty, neo-noir storytelling combines with Jen Bartel’s searing, neon palette to create an experience you can’t look away from.
29. From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
Comic book superstar Alan Moore followed up his critically acclaimed one-two for DC comics (Watchmen and Batman: The Killing Joke) with From Hell, an ambitious comic book take on the Victorian-era murders of Jack the Ripper. At nearly 600 pages long, this isn’t exactly a beach read. But Moore rewards readers with impeccable pacing, gorgeous artwork, and a story that will keep you up all night.
From Hell dramatizes an old conspiracy theory about the infamous Ripper killings. In Moore’s brutal telling, the unsolved London murders, which primarily targeted sex workers, were used to cover up an illegitimate baby born to Queen Victoria’s grandson. Cue royal blackmail, police corruption, and — of course — horrifying violence.
30. The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Jean Giraud
Hard-boiled noir meets vintage space opera in this wry French genre-bender, where maximalist art drenched in sunny yellows captures a cynical, dystopian world. For struggling PI John Difool, things could be better. He’s somehow come into possession of a mystical artifact called the Incal, and now his life seems perpetually at risk. Corrupt bureaucrats and cultic terrorists alike seem determined to get their hands on it — even if that means tossing Difool into a lake of acid.
Visually stunning and bold in its storytelling, The Incal was a product of the 80s — which just might explain its sheer bombast. But rest assured, it’s just as much of a delight today.
Memoirs and Nonfiction
31. Stitches: A Memoir by David Small
Giving off vibes of Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, Small’s memoir Stitches is a gothic tale made all the more frightening by the fact that it’s based on real life.
You can’t always say that a family drama will leave your jaw on the floor — but this might be the exception. This intense, I-want-to-look-away-but-can’t-stop-reading story begins with a fourteen-year-old Small waking up after an operation to find his vocal chords have been removed, transformed him into a mute. On top of that, Small’s father has anger issues (among other far more worrying issues), and his mother is cruelly cold and closed off.
So why would you want to read such a bleak tale? Well, Small’s retrospective is ultimately an exploration of humanity’s ability to survive and thrive under even the most dire of circumstances. You will flinch at Small’s upbringing, but you will also root for him as he goes about reclaiming himself outside of the destructive influence of his family.
32. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
While lush and colorful illustrations are incredibly engaging, there’s something about a well-contextualized black-and-white graphic novel that’s very powerful. And that’s the case with Satrapi’s memoir, Persepolis, which details her coming-of-age during Iran’s Islamic Revolution.
As the child of two Marxist parents and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Satrapi’s story is like no other. In her memoir, we see the expanse between her home life and public life, of daily routines and revolutionary moments. Profound, personal, and political, Satrapi is generous in her retelling of her adolescence — thanks to this, it’s a book you won’t want to put down.
33. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is a graphic memoir that details Bechdel’s complicated relationship with her late father, an English teacher and the director of a local funeral home — which Bechel referred to as the “Fun Home.”
Her father was distant and quiet, and their relationship was not one for spilling secrets or having heart-to-hearts. So when Bechdel comes out as a lesbian in college and finds out that her father is also gay, she is stunned to say the least. What other secrets did he have? Unfortunately, Bechdel doesn’t have the chance to ask her father questions about this revelation because a few weeks after, he passes away. So Bechdel attempts to learn about her father on her own, putting together puzzle pieces that build out not just her father’s past, but her’s as well.
34. Run For It: Stories of Slaves Who Fought for Their Freedom by Marcelo D'salete
In this important account of Brazilian slavery, we follow the lives of four enslaved individuals across four different stories of resistance. Make no mistake: this book does not shy away from the realities of what slavery and slave owners did to people. The visuals, which carry most of the stories, are brutal, honest, and gruesome, even as the artistry itself has much to be admired. But if you can take the honest approach to the dark subject matter, Run For It is not a title to be missed. It’s a necessary, unabashed book — one that shows the many different shapes, both big and small, that resistance can take — and it will surely be part of the graphic novel landscape for many years to come.
35. Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition by Julia Kaye
The comics in Super Late Bloomer started as a kind of self-therapy: a way for Julia Kaye to work through her emotions as she came out as trans and started the process of living as her authentic self. Each slice-of-life comic in this collection documents the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a day in Julia’s early transition. We follow her as she comes out in a society that doesn't always understand, and we root for her as she deals with everything from insecurities and self-doubt to the daily realities of what it means to transition — all told with a keen eye for observation and the perfect blend of humor and compassion. Even readers unfamiliar with trans culture will be moved by this honest, eye-opening, and deeply human account of one woman’s journey to live her best life.
36. Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash
Like many children, Maggie Trash grew up attending summer camp. Everything was the perfect picture of childhood, until the year that she’s fifteen and an innocent moment of physical contact sends Maggie headfirst into a shocking crush on an older girl.
What follows is a sweetly-rendered account of Maggie and Erin’s budding relationship, and the self-discovery and social fallout that accompany their newfound feelings. Honor Girl tells a universally recognizable story of what it feels like to be fifteen — the shifting perspectives, the innocence lending way to maturity, the act of tumbling headfirst into a first love — while wrapping it in the nostalgic pull of summer and sunshine.
37. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker
You may know him as a human rights activist or Star Trek’s Sulu, but before he could grow up to do any of those things, George Takei was a Japanese-American boy whose family was imprisoned in an American concentration camp during World War II.
This intensely personal memoir follows George and his family through one of the more shameful periods of American history — opening with the terrifying morning when his family is rushed from their house, and continuing on through the next few years as the Takeis struggle with their relationship to the country that imprisoned them after making it their home. They Called Us Enemy lays it all out with unflinching honesty, bringing an oft-overlooked moment of our past to light.
38. Maus by Art Spiegelman
One of the most iconic graphic novels in history, Maus tells the harrowing true story of a family’s survival of the Holocaust, and the lingering trauma that impacted them for decades afterward. The book is presented in two timelines: the first, an account of the author’s Jewish father as he goes through WWII, from the early tensions straight to how he survives the concentration camps; the second, the creation of Maus itself, as Spiegelman deals with the difficult relationship he has with his father, even as he interviews him and begins to document the horrors of his past. It’s an intense, deeply moving account of a shameful time in history, and lays out the long reach the past can have, even as we try to move beyond it. Told with unflinching authenticity, it’s easy to see why this became the first (and so far, only) graphic novel to ever win a Pulitzer Prize.
39. March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Congressman John Lewis has been at the forefront of the civil rights movement since the beginning — in fact, he was considered one of the “Big Six” who organized the famous march on Washington where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Now he’s taken his lifetime of experiences and collaborated with writer Andrew Aydin and award-winning artist Nate Powell to bring history of life in this graphic novel memoir, March. Spanning all the way from his childhood in rural Alabama to the inauguration of the first black President, this visually engaging account brings the past to the forefront, giving us an inside look at the lives that shaped the world we live in. It demonstrates both how far we’ve come — and how much left we still have to go.
40. Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley
Lucy Knisley always knew she wanted to be a mother, but life doesn’t always make our dreams easy. Kid Gloves is the account of her relationship with babies and childbirth, from her perceptions of the process as a kid to the exhaustive effort she once put into preventing pregnancy before she was ready and the way that she struggled with her feelings when the person she wanted to spend her life with wasn’t interested in being a parent. Her art style, as well as her experiences, are grounded and deeply relatable — whether you’re interested in parenthood or not — and the book is sprinkled with facts about reproduction, gestation, and childbirth that are both fascinating and important. You’ll feel each step of Lucy’s tangled emotions as she processes everything from miscarriage and a chilling account of the birth that almost kills her, to the deep fulfillment of a lifelong wish.
41. Blankets by Craig Thompson
In this unflinchingly honest memoir, we follow Craig Thompson through his teenage years as a quiet, ‘90s grunge kid. Awkward, unsure, bullied by teachers, students, and parents alike, Craig struggles to stay true to himself and his faith as he navigates life in his small Midwestern town. And then he goes to winter church camp, and everything gets even more complicated when he falls in love for the first time.
Equal parts painful and sweet, Blankets is a tender look at what it means to be young, deftly exploring the experiences that become the defining moments of our lives — all with the softness of a new blanket of snow.
42. Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green
Sometimes picky eating is harmless — a phrase you’ll soon grow out of — but other times, with the wrong push and mental shift, it can turn into something much darker.
Lighter Than My Shadow is Green’s account of what happens when her pickiness manifests into disordered eating. From her early struggles with bulimia to hospitalization and therapy, it’s impossible to look away from this intimate examination of an illness that affects young girls all over the world. Illustrated with stark, clean lines and the scribbled shadow of her own inner turmoil, this memoir immediately captures Green’s troubled mental state, as well as the strength it will take her to come out the other side.
43. Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
Gender wasn’t easy for Maia when e was growing up. E didn’t feel like a girl, but also didn’t want to be a boy — but those were the only options… right?
It may have seemed that way during Maia’s youth, but in today’s age a whole new wave of understanding and language is inching into common knowledge. And Gender Queer is a wonderful example of the representation coming onto the scene. By laying out eir memories with such unwavering honesty, Maia opens our eyes to what it’s like to experience gender and sexuality outside the binary we’ve always been taught. It’s both a masterclass in empathy for gender-conforming readers, as well as a love letter and a ray of hope for those who may still be struggling to find their place around it — in other words, a big sibling sitting you down and saying, It’s okay, I understand, you’ll figure it out. Packed with examinations of both the non-binary and asexual experience, this memoir is a much-needed light shined onto a pair of identities held too long in the dark.
44. Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince
For as long as she can remember, Liz Prince has been a Tomboy — eschewing the socially-imposed ideas of femininity, and reacting to the prospect of wearing a dress like a vampire draped in garlic leis. All her earliest friends are boys, and she’d much rather have imagined being a hero than a princess.
But Prince eventually realizes that it’s not that she isn’t a girl, it’s that the narrow definition of “girlhood” she’s been fed her whole life is too restrictive. This memoir is a tender examination of the roles we’re thrust into, and a joyful embrace of what it looks like to decide for ourselves exactly what “boy” and “girl” — and “man” and “woman” — mean for each of us.
45. Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Jarrett Krosoczka didn’t grow up in the Typical American Family with a mom and a dad, two siblings, and a dog. Instead, he had his grandparents, a heroin-addicted mother often in rehab, and no sign of his father.
It’s not the easiest set of circumstances, but Jarrett does his best, with the support of his grandparents, and the world of drawing as an escape. Hey, Kiddo follows him along as he learns how to accept this face of what family can look like, as he comes to terms with his mother’s addiction, and even attempts to track down his long-absent father. It’s a warm, honest look into the past that shaped him, and a story that is deeply relatable even if your own relations weren’t anything like his.
46. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
In this iconic and highly meta comic about comics, Scott McCloud takes us through the history, purpose, and functions of sequential art. Broken down into easy-to-follow explanations that touch on everything from color theory to art history to the tricks of the trade in layout and design, Understanding Comics is a fascinating, informative read that will delight both those interested in pursuing the art form, as well as anyone who’s ever had a passing interest in what makes comics so endlessly appealing.
Children’s Graphic Novels
47. Sheets by Brenna Thummler
In the charmingly-rendered Sheets, thirteen-year-old Marjorie has a lot going on: her mother is dead, her father has depression, and she has to take care of her younger brother and the family laundromat, all while juggling the nightmare of high school. People don’t seem to really see her, and so she often feels like a ghost.
That is, until she meets a real one. Wendell, a boy who died before his time, has started haunting her laundromat, wearing a sheet in order to be seen. But will his presence disrupt the careful balance Marjorie is hoping to maintain, or will the two of them learn to cope with their respective losses and find friendship in the most unlikely place?
48. Phoebe and her Unicorn by Dana Simpson
When 9-year-old Phoebe skips a stone across a pond (four times!), she has no idea that she’s about to accidentally strike a unicorn! It’s okay, though — far from being hurt, the unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, is grateful that she was interrupted. For, you see, she sometimes gets caught up for days staring in her own beautiful reflection. In gratitude, she grants Phoebe one wish, and Phoebe chooses for Marigold to be her best friend.
It’s not the wish Marigold was expecting, and at first she doesn’t seem at all sure about this arrangement. But as time — and gentle snarking — goes on, the two of them realize that maybe they have more in common than they first thought.
Told with laugh-out-loud humor and a gentle touch of compassion, this is a story to charm all ages. Phoebe and Her Unicorn is an instant classic; a sparkly, girly successor to the much-loved Calvin and Hobbes.
49. The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
If you’re looking for a story that will warm your heart like a fresh cup of tea, look no further than Katie O’Neill’s The Tea Dragon Society. The book follows Greta, a blacksmith’s apprentice in a small fantasy village. One day she finds a lost tea dragon, and takes it back to its owners, where she learns of the dying art of tea dragon care. This story is soft and charming in every respect, from its loving characters to its gentle plot to its beautifully rendered artwork — a perfect pick-me-up, and an important reminder to practice and value beloved old traditions, lest they be lost forever.
50. Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
Heavily based on the author’s real-life experiences, Be Prepared tells the story of 9-year-old Vera, a Russian immigrant and daughter of divorced parents. Vera finds it awkward to fit in with the rich girls in her town, but thinks she’s found an opportunity to make new friends when she convinces her mother to send her to the one summer camp they can afford — a Russian camp, sponsored by their Orthodox church. Unfortunately for Vera, the summer camp turns out to be less ideal than she imagined: there’s no electricity, no plumbing, and the outhouses are the stuff of nightmares! Worst of all, the rest of the girls are older than her, and have no interest in poor Vera.
Illustrated mainly in summer-camp greens and browns, this graphic novel brilliantly captures the isolation and desperate longing to fit in that colors so many of our childhoods, Russian or otherwise. Young readers will relate to and root for Vera all the way through to the end.
51. The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag
This magical graphic novel tells the story of Aster, a thirteen-year-old boy who’s grown up among female witches and male shapeshifters. Despite this gender binary, Aster feels that witchcraft is his destiny. And when the other boys start disappearing, it’s up to Aster to harness his nonconforming powers and bring them back… but will it mean his friends and family turning on him forever? A brilliantly executed combination of creative fantasy and nuanced coming-of-age fare, The Witch Boy is a must-read tale for parents and children in our age of toxic masculinity and all-too-rigid gender roles.
52. Smile by Raina Telgemeier
Widely hailed as the queen of children’s graphic novels, Raina Telgemeier puts her talents to radiant use in Smile, an autobiographical work about her teenage years. Smile begins with a cartoon version of Telgemeier in sixth grade, undergoing that most dreaded rite of passage (well, one of them, anyway): getting braces. After an accident, her orthodontic troubles go from run-of-the-mill to nightmarish, with four long years of headgear and surgery to follow. Still, this book is about much more than tooth-related trauma, and the lessons our young heroine learns about appearance, insecurity, anxiety, and friendship will be relatable and immensely valuable to any tween — especially those with braces.
53. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
One of the most innovative graphic novels in recent memory, Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese skillfully intertwines three tales of race and culture. The first and most prominent is that of Jin Wang, a Chinese-American boy struggling to assimilate into a new white neighborhood and school. Alongside his narrative are the slightly fantastical stories of the Monkey King — a powerful master of kung-fu who wants people to view him as a god — and another boy, Danny, who lives in fear of being embarrassed by his stereotypical Chinese cousin. However, as this carefully arranged novel unfolds, it emerges that all is not as it seems… and that the characters of each individual story have as much to learn from one another as we readers do.
54. El Deafo by Cece Bell
Another wonderfully personal autobiographical work, El Deafo traces the life of its author — cartoonified as a rabbit in this graphic novel — from losing her hearing at age four to adjusting to life with the Phonic Ear, which helps her partially regain it. The story picks up the pace when Cece transfers to an all-hearing school, where kids avoid her and her Phonic Ear; little do they know that it gives Cece extra-special abilities, like hearing her teacher all the way down the hall. Of course, being “El Deafo” isn’t always easy, but Cece is determined to show her classmates what she’s made of — and through humor and intimate details drawn from real life, Bell shapes a story that’s equal parts entertaining, informative, and deeply moving.
55. Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Priyanka Das is your average California teenager: she’s desperate to get her license, graduate high school, and embark on a career of drawing comics. Yet Pri also feels an inexorable pull toward her Indian roots — not least because her mother has always kept her in the dark about them. Naturally, when Pri discovers a pashmina scarf with the power to transport her to India, she eagerly plunges into a much more colorful world (literally: the pictures shift from black and white, Wizard of Oz-style) and a thrilling quest to rediscover her homeland. Subtly glinting with threads of magical realism, the tapestry of Pashmina is just as rich and intricately woven as its namesake, and will keep readers wrapped up until the final page.
56. New Kid by Jerry Craft
Jordan Banks isn’t like the other kids at Riverdale Academy. For one thing, he doesn’t even want to be there; he would have preferred art school, but his parents deemed him “too smart” to pass up the esteemed Riverdale. And for another, he’s the only black kid in a sea of white faces… which comes with its own set of challenges. In this cool, contemporary graphic novel by Jerry Craft, Jordan must navigate everything from the typical awkwardness of making friends in middle school to the unique obstacle of countering white privilege and microaggressions from every direction — resulting in a sharply real yet highly enjoyable story of adolescent adaptation.
Young Adult Graphic Novels
57. Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Film buffs might know Ghost World as a culty, Oscar-nominated flick from 2001 — a black comedy that saw a young Scarlett Johansson take to the screen as a teenaged outcast. But whether or not you’ve seen the movie, the smart and poignant graphic novel it was based on is worth a read. Lauded as an instant classic after its 1997 release, it’s been called the comic book world’s answer to The Catcher in the Rye.
Best friends Enid Coleslaw and Becky Doppelmeyer are stuck in suburbia, which everyone knows is not the best place to be seventeen. They’ve just finished high school, and they’re not sure what’s next, besides snarking at all the soulless strip malls and franchises that seem to be taking over their hometown. Suffice to say, Daniel Clowes captures the angst of adolescence with broody, pastel perfection.
58. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
You’ve seen fairy tales retold, twisted, and subverted before, but never quite like this. Sebastian is the royal half of The Prince and the Dressmaker: by day he attends to monarchical duties and purportedly searches for a princess to marry. But by night, he’s the beautiful Lady Crystallia, a trendsetter who takes Paris by storm with the help of her loyal dressmaker, Frances. And Frances is fine with keeping herself a secret... until she starts falling for the prince inside the dress. Coupled with charming Disney-esque illustrations by Jen Wang, The Prince and the Dressmaker is both timeless and refreshingly modern, a treat for readers of any age.
59. Goldie Vance by Hope Larson, Jackie Ball, Brittney Williams, Elle Power, and Noah Hayes
From the outside, Marigold “Goldie” Vance might seem like a regular sixteen-year-old living in Florida with her father. But that’s before you realize she’s basically Nancy Drew in cuffed jeans. Or would be, if she ever had the chance to solve any mysteries. So when the resort her father manages comes up against a case that their in-house detective can’t crack, Goldie jumps at the chance to prove herself — and is thrown headfirst into a delightfully ridiculous mission involving drag races, helicopter chases, and a Russian plot to sabotage NASA. (And that’s only the first volume of this fantastically fresh graphic novel series about your new favorite teenage sleuth.)
60. Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, et al.
For all the girls out there who ever dreamt of their very own summer camp squad, this is the book for you! Lumberjanes follows the escapades of Jo, April, Molly, Mel, and Ripley, who bond after bunking together in the Roanoke Cabin. This is in part because of their natural rapport, and also because after you collectively witness a woman transform into a bear and almost get killed by a pack of three-eyed foxes, you’re kinda bonded for life. Needless to say, the Lumberjanes embark on many more supernatural adventures over the course of this series, memorably rendered in Stevenson’s signature style (see also #22 on this list).
61. Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau
Ari Kyrkos, recent high school graduate and keyboardist extraordinaire, knows exactly what he wants: to move to the city with his intrepid bandmates, leaving their sleepy beachside hometown — and his family’s struggling bakery — firmly behind. But as Ari begins training his work replacement, Hector, in the delicate art of Greek baking, he realizes he’s not nearly as certain as he thought about these big life changes. Sparks fly between the boys just as in a wood-fired oven, and love blooms like the sourdough they carefully prepare. But will Ari’s indecision and impulsivity sabotage their relationship before it’s even begun?
62. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Cousins and creative collaborators Mariko and Jillian Tamaki have a true gem on their hands with This One Summer. This graphic novel is a deceptively lightweight, compulsively readable coming-of-age story about two girls, Rose and Windy, who reunite for every summer vacation. However, from the first pages, it’s clear that this summer will be different; from the constant fighting of Rose’s parents to local drama involving an unplanned pregnancy, there’s a lot that our heroines encounter and grapple with in messy, profoundly realistic ways. The story itself is plenty strong, but Jillian Tamaki’s lush illustrations — particularly of the outdoor scenes — will immerse you breathlessly until the end.
63. Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, and Giovanni Rigano
From the team behind the Artemis Fowl graphic novels comes this unexpectedly powerful, timely-yet-perennial tale of a young refugee. Illegal tracks the harrowing journey of Ebo, an African boy who’s forced to flee his country after his parents die and his siblings abandon him. Hoping to find his sister in Europe, he travels across the desolate Sahara and choppy Mediterraneanmi Sea, evading human traffickers while simultaneously enduring the dire physical straits of the trek itself. It’s certainly not an easy read, but it’s one that will stay with you for quite some time, not least because of Rigano’s unforgettable drawings.
64. Heavy Vinyl: Riot on the Radio by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva
If you love LGBT rep, nineties aesthetics, and teen girls crushing the patriarchy, Heavy Vinyl is the graphic novel for you! The year is 1998 and our narrator, Chris, has just landed her dream job at the record store Vinyl Mayhem… and is working alongside her dream girl, Maggie (though Maggie’s Kinsey scale status remains unknown). This premise alone would be great enough, but it kicks into high gear when Chris realizes that her coworkers aren’t just mega-hip music aficionados; they’re also the founding members of an all-girl vigilante group! And when one of their favorite singers disappears under mysterious circumstances, it’s up to Chris and the gang to bring her back — for political and musical riot grrrls everywhere.
65. I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, Stacey Robinson, and John Jennings
This groundbreaking graphic novel embodies the message of Black Lives Matter similarly to 2017’s bestselling The Hate U Give, but makes it even more urgent (if possible) through evocative illustrations. Indeed, I Am Alfonso Jones pulls no punches, with the titular character being killed in an unjust and all-too-familiar way on the very first page. His narration then continues into the afterlife, as he’s guided through the transition by other victims of police shootings, and watches his friends and family reel in the aftershocks of his death. Innovative, illuminating, and utterly important, this book is an unflinching criticism of racism and police brutality and should be required reading for all modern residents of the United States.
66. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Russian-American teenager Anya wants nothing more than to fit in with her peers. You wouldn’t think having a poltergeist pal would help her out there — but lo and behold, when Anya meets the ghost of the long-dead Emily, she finds a new confidante and style consultant. Yet Anya has no idea what she’s gotten herself into, and as Emily reveals more about herself and how she died, it becomes increasingly clear that this isn’t a one-way street… and that Anya may not be able to hold up her end of the bargain. With shades of Tim Burton and Meg Cabot alike, Anya’s Ghost is most definitely a creepy classic in the making.
67. Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu
This much-loved webcomic-turned-graphic-novel series revolves around a closeted gay ice skater, Eric Bittle (aka Bitty), as he attempts to navigate the unique joys, heartbreaks, and challenges of the Samwell University hockey team. Check, Please! is divided into four volumes, each of which corresponds to one of Bitty’s college years, and throughout which he fortunately grows more comfortable with his teammates and himself. Highly praised for the well-developed characters, intricate plotlines, and fantastic artwork — especially for someone who’s never played hockey! — Check, Please! is a superb feat of both artistry and storytelling, not to mention an extremely adorable read.
68. Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya
A quintessential piece of the manga canon, Fruits Basket is difficult to explain, but we’ll give it our best shot. Orphan girl Tohru Honda’s life changes forever when she’s “adopted” into the mysterious Sohma family who have a very unusual secret: each of the twelve Sohmas is cursed with possession of a Chinese zodiac animal (rat, ox, tiger, etc.). When weak or distressed, the Sohmas transform into their animals — but instead of being put off by this revelation, the empathetic Tohru embraces the family and vows to help them in any way she can. But whether or not she can break their curse, you’ll have to read all 23 volumes to see…
69. Dragon Ball Z by Akira Toriyama
If you grew up in the 90s, chances are you’ll have heard of Akira Toriyama’s extraordinarily popular Dragon Ball Z. A legendary show that’s ubiquitous worldwide, Dragon Ball Z tells the epic story of Son Goku, an alien raised as a boy who grows up training to be a martial arts master. Goku is also on a quest to seek the Dragon Balls: seven magical orbs that, when gathered, hold the power to summon dragons that can grant wishes. His journey sees him crossing the land, forming unshakable friendships, getting into trouble — and spawning one of the most iconic manga and anime brands of all time.
70. Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto
Another iconic manga that raised an entire generation, Naruto will introduce you to an unforgettable protagonist: a ninja-in-training… and the most trouble-making kid you’ll find around. But if there’s one thing Naruto is serious about, it’s this: he’s dead-set on becoming the greatest ninja in the world. So, sure, you might come for the awesome battle sequences and the gravity-defying displays of ninja powers. But you’re sure to stay for the incredible character development and powerful storylines that powered Naruto forward for 72 volumes with heart-stopping energy. Naruto is also very popular and accessible online, which makes it a great starter series for anyone who’s new to manga.
71. Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
In the world of Amestris, alchemy is a revered science: alchemists can create almost anything they wish. But there are a few rules that govern their practice of alchemy: first, the Law of Equivalent Exchange must exist — meaning that any alchemist who creates something out of nothing must provide something of equivalent value in exchange. The second rule is that humans and gold are forbidden from the touch of alchemists.
Enter Edward and Alphonse Elric, two brothers who show a precocious talent for alchemy growing up. But when they decide to try to use alchemy to bring their mother back to life, it has horrifying consequences: Edward loses both his left leg and right arm, while Alphonse’s soul becomes entrapped in a metal suit of armor. Thus Edward’s journey to restore Alphonse’s body begins — and so does Fullmetal Alchemist, kickstarting a powerful story about philosophy, friendship, and family.
72. Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
Do yourself a favor and forget Netflix’s adaptation of Death Note. Its questionable (and extremely controversial) white-washing aside, it doesn’t do any justice to the majesty, depth, and sheer drama of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s original manga. Death Note itself is built upon a genius premise: if you stumbled upon a notebook that granted you the ability to kill anyone whose name you write down in its pages, what would you do with it? With Obata’s compelling writing and Obba’s gorgeous illustrations, Death Note is a universally acclaimed series for people who want to get into manga.
73. One-Punch Man by One
Perhaps the biggest juggernaut manga of the last decade, Yusuke Murata’s One-Punch Man actually got its start as a self-published series on a Japanese manga website before it exploded in popularity. This semi-satirical masterpiece follows an average man named Saitama who trains to become a superhero — but makes the mistake of becoming too strong! He ends up being able to defeat all of his opponents with just a single punch, which leads him to a unique problem: boredom in the fight against evil.
You might think that Tony Stark and Batman would be envious of him, but that’s actually not so. One-Punch Man’s creator, One, explained: "Punching is oftentimes pretty useless against life's problems. But inside One-Punch Man's universe, I made Saitama a sort of guy who was capable of adapting his life to the world that surrounded him, only armed with his immense power. The only obstacles he faces are mundane things, like running short of money."
75. My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi
Published by Shonen Jump, My Hero Academia is becoming the next big thing in manga and quickly making a strong case to be soon mentioned in the same breath alongside classics like Naruto and One Piece. Part of its appeal lies in the twist it gives to the same-old superhero story: what if 80% of the world had superpowers, and only 20% didn’t? Unfortunately, Izuku Midoriya is a part of that unlucky minority who was born “quirkless.” Even worse, he’s shut out of admission to the distinguished U.S. High School for heroes-to-be — until an accidental encounter turns his fortunes around… and gives him a chance to rise from being the butt of a joke to the greatest hero in the world.
76. Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka
When you’re a boy robot created in the image of a distraught scientist’s son and then you’re rejected by said scientist, what can you do? Such is the predicament in which our titular character finds himself — but perhaps there is more adventure and more family out there for Astro to find. Set in a world where robots and humans co-exist, Astro Boy played a major role in popularizing and developing the manga industry back when it was first published in 1952. Don’t be deceived by its cute artwork: underneath is a beloved, moving tale that has charmed readers for nearly a century.
74. One Piece by Eiichiro Oda
It’s impossible to overstate One Piece’s importance, acclaim, or reputation in manga lore — just take a look at its groundbreaking numbers and you’ll see they speak for themselves. Serialized in Shonen Jump since 1997, One Piece today has more than 450 million copies in circulation worldwide (which is in Harry Potter territory, to put that in perspective). It is the best selling manga series in history, and one of the biggest media franchises of all time, grossing $21 billion in total franchise revenue.
But mere numbers can’t capture the heart and humor of this series, which tells the enduring story of Monkey D. Luffy, a young man who sets out in search of “One Piece” — the world’s greatest treasure. But he can hardly succeed on the wild seas without a hardy crew (and a found family), right? To put it simply, this is an absolute must-read for all manga fans. Try it once, and you’ll see why multiple generations call One Piece home and keep returning to Luffy, Nami, Usopp, and Nico Robin over and over again.
77. My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Nagata Kabi
Though the manga industry is incredibly subversive and innovative in many ways, it’s not without some difficult faults — one of which is its overt sexualization of women and frequent fetishization of gay relationships. This is just one of the things that Nagata Kabi’s autobiographical My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness bravely corrects. Gone are the short skirts, questionable depictions of anatomy, and gratuitous art of lesbian fun. Instead, Kabi offers an unflinching, powerful portrait of her struggles with sexual identity, depression, and self-harm — a journey that will take readers into brothels and hospitals alike. Honest and heartfelt, this manga won’t be an easy read, but it is definitely a worthwhile one that may just help open your eyes.
78. My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame, translated by Anne Ishii
If you’re looking for more LGBTQ+ representation in manga, we’ve got you covered with Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband. This touching manga introduces us to three main characters: Yaichi, a single dad who’s just realizing how emotionless his life is; Kana, his inquisitive and irresistible daughter; and Mike Flanagan, the Canadian husband of Yaichi’s estranged — and recently deceased — brother. Heartbroken at losing the love of his life, Mike travels to Japan to meet his brother’s family for the first time — kickstarting an emotional, beautifully sensitive story about prejudice, cultural differences, and the still-misunderstood gay culture in Japan.
79. Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll
Years before #MeToo, Laurie Halse Anderson wrote Speak, a singularly powerful novel for young adults about date rape. At the center of the storm that engulfs Speak’s story is Melinda, a freshman who’s already an outcast because she called the cops on a party. But something else occurred that fateful night… something Melinda can’t think or speak about. Made even more powerful with Emily Caroll’s stark, haunting illustrations, Speak is a crucial staple in the YA canon.
80. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Ray Terciero and Bre Indigo
What’s the one thing that could make Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, Little Women, even better? Why, illustrations that bring everyone’s favorite March sisters to vivid life, of course — and Ray Terciero and Bre Indigo offer just that in the spunky update, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. This is a modern adaptation, one that’s set in Brooklyn and thoughtfully deals with issues such as sexual orientation, contemporary communication, and a multiracial blended family. But the soul of the novel continues to shine through in this highly recommended graphic novel.
81. Kindred: The Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy and John Jennings
Octavia E. Butler’s sci-fi masterpiece is given the treatment that it deserves in Damian Duffy and John Jennings’ exquisite adaptation of Kindred. It tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who unexpectedly becomes a time-traveler: one day, she is inexplicably yanked from 1970s California to antebellum Maryland. In one world, she is a free woman — in the other, she experiences the horrors of slavery firsthand. But how free is she really in either world? Radical and trailblazing when it was first published in 1979, Kindred continues to spark important conversations about race, social history, and gender divides.
82. The Handmaid’s Tale (Graphic Novel) by Margaret Atwood and Renee Nault
Does The Handmaid’s Tale need an introduction? Margaret Atwood’s towering tapestry of a dystopia in which women are subjugated in a patriarchal society has shaken people for 35 years — and it’s more relevant than ever today. If you’ve already read it a hundred times, we suggest turning to Renee Nault’s graphic novel for your hundred-and-one read-through. Her spare and affecting artwork — which leans beautifully on all the shades of red, from orange to rust — makes the story that much more visceral. Most of all, Nault’s interpretation of Atwood’s language is spectacular, living up to The Handmaid’s Tale’s lofty name and stamping it as a classic in the world of graphic novels.
83. The Giver (Graphic Novel) by P. Craig Russell
In Jonas’ utopian community, everything is uniform. Routines are the same every day, everyone is content, and colors are non-existent. Like the people around him, Jonas believes this is just how things are — until he receives his assignment as the Receiver of Memory, and experiences a horrifying realization about his society that will change his community’s fate forever. If you ever read The Giver and wondered what Jonas’ colorless world might look like, here is your answer. P. Craig Russell delivers a stunning rendition of Lowry’s enduring story, breathing new life to it through his brilliant and enigmatic art. A modern classic for people of all ages, both book and graphic novel end up forcing us to confront the hard question: what truly makes an ideal world?
84. Poe: Stories and Poems by Gareth Hinds
If you like horror, heartstopping suspense, and dark humor, you’ll be a fan of Poe: Stories of Poems. The original master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe wrote countless short stories that explored the shadowy corners of our psyches. This graphic novel brings his most famous ones to life, as you’ll find that Hind’s terrifyingly atmospheric illustrations are a pitch-perfect match for Poe’s timeless words. Relive the catacombs in “The Cask of Amontillado,” and look nervously over your shoulder as you read “The Tell-Tale Heart.” It’s a double act that is brilliantly pulled off: if the black magic that Poe weaves isn’t enough to lure you in, Hinds’ graphics surely will.
85. To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel by Fred Fordham
“A graphic novel for To Kill a Mockingbird?” you might wonder. “How can that ever do justice to the original?” We’re here to tell you some good news: Fred Fordham’s gorgeous watercolors loses none of the novel’s strength — and even add a lot of weight to this classic tale about racism, equality, and courage. Thoughtful and brilliantly visualized, Fordham will truly immerse you back in the South and Scout’s fateful summer.
86. A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson
Madeleine L’Engle’s all-time teen lit classic A Wrinkle in Time gets the sparkly graphic treatment in this adaptation from the co-creator of Goldie Vance. Thirteen-year-old Meg is a misfit who, along with her young brother Charles Wallace and classmate Calvin, finds herself transported across the galaxy by a mysterious ‘tesseract’. Confronted with strange new worlds and creatures, they must discover the power within them — and save Meg’s father.
87. Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler
If ever there was a graphic novel to rescue its readers from the “depths of despair,” then it would be this adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Canadian classic, Anne of Green Gables. Brenna Thummler’s artwork brings the pastoral beauty of Avonlea to life, rendering it in pastel shades that will soon have you homesick for Green Gables and Aunt Marilla’s delicious plum puffs. Some modern readers may find its title character, the orphan Anne Shirley, excruciatingly plucky – but to us, she’s the perfect antidote to the antiheroes and misanthropes that populate the comics landscape.
88. Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Ari Folman and David Polonsky
As readers of Art Spiegelman's Maus can attest, there is no limit to the subject matter that can be tackled by the graphic medium. And in the case of this adaptation, Polonsky’s Al Hirschfeld-inspired illustrations accentuate the warmth and humor of Anne Frank’s writing — especially at the start — which makes the inevitable conclusion all the more devastating.
89. The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds
Homer’s classic tale of a man who took ten years to complete a 500-mile journey gets the graphic treatment in this handsome tome from award-winning artist Gareth Hinds. Join Odysseus and his loyal soldiers as they face the long road home after a gruelling victory in the Trojan War. Their journey is made all the more dangerous by encounters with a sheep-loving cyclops, comely sirens, and a witch who turns Odysseus’ crew into pigs. If the thought of reading a 2,800-year-old epic poem feels like too much of a challenge, then this graphic novel adaption of The Odyssey is a perfect inroad to a timeless classic.
90. Prince of Cats by Ron Wimberly
Okay, so it’s Romeo and Juliet told from the perspective of Tybalt, but in 1980s New York. And everyone has Samurai swords. Sure, modern updates of Shakespeare are nothing new — nor are stories told from the POV of side characters. However, writer/artist Ron Wimberley packs each frame of Prince of Cats with remarkable energy, visual nods towards the Gotham city of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, and zippy dialogue that mixes ‘80s street talk with faux Shakespearean cant. It’s an assured piece of work that marked Wimberly as a vital voice in modern comics.
91. The Hobbit by Charles Dixon and David Wenzel
Perhaps not-so-coincidentally published just months before the first Lord of the Rings film, this graphical adaptation of Tolkien’s miniature epic is a delightful entry point to Middle-earth. Bilbo Baggins’ adventure has been abridged into 130 slim pages, with much of Tolkien’s prose retained in the narration. The Hobbit may be a bit wordy for some comics purists, but this is more than made up for by David Wenzel’s distinctive watercolor illustrations.
92. Giant Days by John Allison, et al
In Giant Days, three women become fast friends within the first weeks of university. Daisy is the naive homeschooler, Esther the goth, and Susan the sensible tomboy. Or at least, that’s who they were before they entered the terrifying world of adult-ish life. They encounter enemies (including a gaggle of private school girls), fall in and out of love, and attempt to reinvent themselves — you know, the way every teenager wants to when they leave home. A refreshing look at college life through a predominantly female cast, Allison’s consistently hilarious, Eisner-winning comic can now be enjoyed in 14 collected volumes.
93. Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh
In France, young Clémentine is struggling to understand her sexuality until a chance encounter with a blue-haired woman changes everything. As we know, the course of true love never did run smooth. But with the help of Emma (the blue one) — our heroine begins to feel out her place as a gay woman — and what that means for her familial relationships and political leanings. So far, Blue is the Warmest Color is the only graphic novel to have inspired a Palm d’Or-winning film at the Cannes Festival — though we’re holding out hope for a bonkers Naruto adaption from Takeshi Miike!
94. Here by Richard McGuire
Brashly experimental and stunningly illustrated, McGuire’s one-of-a-kind graphic novel is an adaptation of a six-panel comic strip he created 25 years previously. This enormous gap poetically echoes the book’s obsession with time and context. Each page of Here shows the same corner of the same room at different points in history. One page could show the room undecorated in 2014; another might juxtapose a young girl lying on a rug in 1970 with an overlaid frame of a bison in that very spot 12,000 years before. In another writer’s hands, this concept could have been a perfectly fine set of visual gags but McGuide manages to construct something with structure and flow — something on the edge of great cosmic meaning but without a wisp of pretension.
95. Cages by Dave McKean
A celebrated illustrator goes solo. Best known for his award-winning collaborations with Neil Gaiman (Sandman) and Alan Moore (Arkham Asylum), Dave McKean turned his hand to writing with this 10-issue series. Cages centers on Leo, a young artist who moves into an apartment building populated by other artistic types. Wracked by the pain of artistic constipation, he finds himself entangled in the inner lives of his unusual new neighbors. The artwork is utterly stunning, with its mixed use of paints, collage and ink, but McKean’s metaphysical plot and odd mythical tangents will likely make this a hard entry point for new readers.
96. How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis
Davis’ collection How to be Happy is one of those books for which the term “graphic novel” feels inappropriate — but not in a bad way. The stories packed within its pages run the gamut from sketchy single page vignettes to longer narratives told through woodblock-print style illustrations. The book represents some of Davis’ best early work and is an ideal introduction to this stunning, adorable, and profound graphic artist.
97. A Contract with God by Will Eisner
Perhaps the best-loved title from the most celebrated graphic novelist of all time (the comic industry’s biggest awards are named in his honor, after all). A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories present a series of vignettes set around the New York tenements of Eisner’s Depression-era youth. Playing out like 20th-century updates of Jewish folktales, these stories delve into the myth of the American dream in ways that continue to resonate with readers.
98. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
It’s been a quarter of a century since Bill Watterson inked his final panel — yet his legion of fans have not grown quiet. On the surface, this syndicated newspaper comic followed the adventures of an egomaniacal grade schooler and his imaginary tiger friend. But beneath the well-honed jokes and impeccable artistry is a deep and thoughtful body of work. Through his small cast of beloved characters (shout-out to Susie Derkins!) Watterson was able to delve into spiritual, philosophical, and emotional matters that have since been seen in “the funny pages.”
This hefty compendium includes everything from Calvin and Hobbes’ 10-year run and is must-own for any comics fan.
99. Jane’s World by Paige Braddock
Over a twenty year run, Paige Braddock’s daily strip told the story of a young lesbian making her way in the modern world, three panels at a time. Sometimes surreal, occasionally overcomplicated (and more often than not, featuring Jane’s on-again-off-again bestie/girlfriend), Braddock’s work grows in ambition as it develops, while almost always staying grounded in the neurotic mind of its title character. The first gay-themed comic to receive online syndication, Jane’s World is a groundbreaking, Eisner-nominated piece of work that deserves a spot in the comic book pantheon.
100. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
Debuting in 2007, Kate Beaton’s beloved Hark! A Vagrant came to represent the bleeding edge of the webcomics movement. Blending quirky illustrations and silly gags with intellectual topics and niche nerdy references, her work was precisely the sort of stuff that newspapers would never print — but it found a passionate online fanbase. In the print editions, Beaton’s comics come with annotations, which in some cases are a great excuse for bonus jokes!
Interested in more tales of heroics and derring-do? Check out our lists of the 100 Best Adventure Books and 100 Best Sci-Fi Books. Or, if the memoirs were more your speed, we’ve got you covered there, too!