A Definitive List of the Best Graphic Novels of All Time
Okay, “best” is ~relative~, but here’s ~our~ list of the best graphic novels of all time
When all things are closed (or you’re paranoid about safety, as you should be), you turn to other ways to pass the time and entertain yourself. You watch more movies, you listen to more music and you read more books.
Literature, after all, is something you can get lost in for days at a time. And one of the best things about literature, I’ve found, is that it has so many formats to get lost in; there is virtually something for everyone. Short stories? Poetry? Novels? Comics? Graphic Novels? Manga? Take your pick, have a seat and figuratively get lost.
But today is about the graphic novel—of which the definition has been debated on endlessly. So for the sake of clarity and uniformity, let’s go with:
Now “best graphic novels of all time” is a high claim to make and this list is likely not to please everyone. Some favorites won’t make it; some might not even be familiar to the most well-read. But oh well, because “best” is relative; and I don’t think I should be sorry for my limited knowledge. I’m trying here; help a girl out.
The story: Thirty-one years after the Japanese government drops an atomic bomb on Tokyo, a bike gang leader by the name of Kaneda tries to save his friend, Tetsuo, from another secret project. When Tetsuo’s supernatural powers start to manifest, a final battle must be fought.
Why we love it: For its complex and multi-layered plot, for its portrayal of society and politics.
The story: An award-winning architect, who’s never actually built a building, is in the middle of a spiritual crisis. When his own life starts to fall apart, he runs away to try and (figuratively) rebuild.
Why we love it: There are very few stories out there like Asterios Polyp and there’s a lot to learn about perspective and self-awareness.
Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido
The story: Portrayed in noir style, the characters here are anthropomorphic animals whose species reflect their personality. Think canines are policemen and underworld characters are reptiles.
Why we love it: Noir. Watercolor art. Animals. Heavy subject matters presented through fluffy animals.
The story: An autobiographical graphic novel, the story follows the adolescence and young adulthood of Craig. With a mix of the present and flashbacks, we see him grow in a strictly Christian family as he maneuvers around first love, abuse, spirituality and relationships.
Why we love it: Because it tackles religion without being too preachy. And in a country like ours (with families like ours), there are personal experiences to be shared.
Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
The story: Brás de Oliva Domingos is the child of a famous Brazilian writer. While he dreams of becoming an author himself, he spends his days writing people’s obituaries. And in writing about others’ ends, he asks: When will his life really begin?
Why we love it: The hauntingly beautiful stories—both from the pen and experiences of Brás. And the lesson that life offers spaces filled with love.
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth
The story: A meek man in his mid-30’s, Jimmy Corrigan agrees to meet his father for the first time behind his mother’s back. Socially awkward and barely able to communicate with anyone other than his overbearing mother, the two men barely do anything.
Why we love it: Unlike most graphic novels, this one is quieter and all about introspection.
The story: Set during and after the Islamic Revolution, this graphic autobiography is a heartbreaking yet humorous story that follows the formative years of a young girl growing up in revolutionary Iran. As if childhood and adolescence weren’t enough of an issue, she grows amidst suffering and chaos.
Why we love it: It reminds us of empathy for the moments we can’t see beyond our worlds.
The story: Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium (once Delight) and Destruction: seven brothers and sisters who have been responsible since the beginning of time. Each one is responsible for the realms that their names describe. Years ago, a coven attempted to take Death captive (in order to end death), but got their hands on Dream instead—who, once he escapes, must face the changes of his disappearance.
Why we love it: A good entry point to graphic novels, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is a modern classic that incorporates different mythologies with tragic sentiment.
Brian K. Vaughan
The story: Alana and Marko are husband and wife, each one representing opposing races engaged in a long war. Together, the two struggle to care for their daughter (who is also sometimes our unseen narrator).
Why we love it: It portrays endless races and the endless possibilities of hatred and discrimination—and the benefits of opposing them. Plus, it’s a Romeo-Juliet story set in a space opera.
The story: In the fictional Japanese town of Kurôzu-cho, supernatural events surrounding spirals start spreading. While the locals become obsessed and paranoid about the shapes appearing left and right, several gruesome deaths start occurring.
Why we love it: It’s visually stunning, in a strange can’t-help-but-look-at-it way.
Did your greatest of all time make it to our list of the best graphic novels of all time? We apologize if it didn’t, but we’re willing to talk—let’s just be healthy about it, okay? We could all use some more worlds to escape to.
Art Alexandra Lara