Design

Five Best Graphic Novels

ghost-world

Have you guys ever read graphic novels? They’re full-length comic strips for grown-ups that often tell hilarious and touching stories. They’re entertaining and compelling—it’s almost like reading a movie. And you’ll notice clever little things in the pictures that add to the story (like a flirty sideways glance or a suspicious bead of sweat). Here are my five favorites…

1. Ghost World, above, follows the adventures of two moody teenage girls, Enid and Becky, after high-school graduation, as they grow up and drift apart. (Did you see the film?) I find it mindblowing how a middle-aged male cartoonist–the hilarious Dan Clowes–managed to portray two listless young women so realistically. (He nailed it.) Ghost World won approximately one million awards for being the best graphic novel ever.

French Milk graphic novel

2. French Milk is a funny memoir of a 22-year-old’s six-week stay in Paris with her mother–complete with drawings of croissants, striped shirts, the Eiffel Towel and some crankiness (which just makes her more charming). Really sweet to see the mother-daughter relationship.

persepolis_inside

Persepolis graphic novel

3. Persepolis tells the story of the author’s childhood under the Islamic Revolution. Her neighbors’ homes are bombed, and her once-wealthy parents now struggle to educate her. Her father considers fleeing to America, but then asks to his wife, “I can become a taxi driver and you a cleaning lady?” As she grows up, the girl’s rebellious streak puts her in danger. Touching that the story is told through a child’s eyes.

Shortcomings graphic novel

4. Shortcomings follows Ben, a cynical Japanese-American guy in his twenties, on his search for contentment–and the perfect girl. He’s kind of a jerk but you grow to love him, or, at least, understand him. (The genius author Adrian Tomine also illustrates for the New Yorker; I once spotted him in an East Village record store and creepily trailed him around, but was too shy to say hello!)

cancer-vixen-book

Cancer Vixen graphic novel

5. Cancer Vixen has an intense cover, but I promise you, this book is a-maz-ing. Written by a New Yorker and Glamour cartoonist, the novel tells Marisa’s true story of finding a lump in her breast right after meeting the love of her life. This book made me laugh out loud and shed tears, and I couldn’t put it town.

Have you ever read graphic novels? Do you have any favorites?

P.S. Ten best documentaries and my favorite book of all time.

  1. Hannah says...

    Is there any chance you could do a new post of fave graphic novels?

  2. witloof says...

    My two favorite graphic novels are Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Over Easy by Mimi Pond.

    • Claire says...

      THANK YOU for mentioning Mimi Pond! I’d been going crazy trying to remember the comic strip I’d read as a child in one of my older sister’s teen magazines…couldn’t find any info anywhere, but once I saw her name in your comment & googled the images, I found it!

  3. Michael says...

    How could she POSSIBLY not mention “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant” and “Arab of the Future” (not to mention “Arab of the Future 2”?!?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thanks for your note — those two actually came out after this post was written (2011) but i loved both!

  4. Olivia Rose says...

    Not sure if anyone mentioned this yet… but the graphic novel “My Friend Dahmer” by Derf Backderf is a chilling yet fascinating tale of Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer, in his early years. It was illustrated by someone who actually went to school with him (and was about as close to a friend as Dahmer would get).

  5. Kelly says...

    Thanks for this post. “Cancer Vixen” should actually fall into the category of graphic memoir, versus graphic novel.
    Other great graphic memoirs like this include:

    “Cancer made me a shallower person” by Miriam Engelberg
    “Marbles: Mania, Depression, and Michelangelo ” by Ellen Forney
    “Mom’s Cancer” by Brian Fies
    “Seven Miles a Second” by David Wojnarowicz and James Romberger
    “Can we talk about something more pleasant?” by Roz Chast
    “Stitches” by David Small
    “Billy, me & you” by Nicola Streeten
    “Blue Pills” by Frederick Peeters

    All of these come highly recommended. Truly great.

  6. Love French Milk and Relish by Lucy Knisely and Drawing from Memory by Allen Say is excellent!

  7. You must check out the New York Four and the New York Five … as well as the Shutterbug Follies!

  8. I read Persepolis last year, and I included it in my list of favorite books read in 2013. It was just such an eye opener, and I love that she put it in graphic novel form, because it just WORKS! Awesome read. I am going to check out Cancer Vixen Thanks for the recommendations!

  9. Has anyone mentioned Chris Ware’s “Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth”. The crisp and mind boggling art and the tri generational story leave it in my mind as one of my fav books period.

  10. I loved Ghost world, Persepolis and Cancer Vixen!

    I’m also a big fan of these graphic novels:
    – most of Alex Robinson’s graphic novels,
    – “why I hate Saturn” by Kyle Baker (it could be a mix between Sex & the city and Girls, if compared to tv series, but very caustic and crazy),
    – two graphic novels inspired by the childhood of the authors : Marzi, by Marzena Sowa, about growing up in Poland in the communist era, and Aya of Yop city, from Marguerite Abouet, who’s from Ivory Coast.

  11. I’ve seen the Dvd Persepolis before reading the book and they are both amazing. I’ve seen Marjan Satrapi in Cannes (i think she lives in Paris) I would also recommend Maus and any graphic novel by TANIGUCHI, all so subtle with a dreamlike quality.

    (I’m French and there are a lot of French or Belgian authors that are really good, but I don’t know if they are translated into English. )

  12. My husband turned me onto graphic novels, and I absolutely loved Persepolis. It was gripping, and I think I finished it in one sitting!

  13. I saw that others mention this, but seriously… Chris Ware is genius. His ability to tap into the subtleties of people, his pathos… he’s amazing. I love Building Stories, the protagonist is a woman and he really gets it, but his others are just as brilliant.

  14. Maus and Blankets as others have mentioned. I’ve been meaning to pick up Habibi as Carol C mentioned. I recently finished Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and loved it!

    And though not a graphic novel, the descriptions were more than enough for me. If you like anything zombies one bit, I highly recommend World War Z.

  15. definitely Maus, Blankets, Habibi, and Bone by Jeff Smith and currently in love with The Abomniable Charles Christopher http://www.abominable.cc/

  16. Oh I love graphic novels. My favorite is V for Vendetta. Every time I read it Moore amazes me with his word selection. Plus I love the message(s).

  17. Oh I love graphic novels. My favorite is V for Vendetta. I love the movie but there is so much in the book and every time I read it Moore amazes me with his word selection.

  18. Graphic novels are lovely. Gabrielle Bell is one of my favorites.

  19. Maus, as others mentioned, is so powerful.

    I’ve read Huhn mit Pflaumen and really want to read Persepolis too.

    Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens by Ulli Lust isn’t available in English (yet?) but absolutely blew my mind. What a crazy story! And so well told. (Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life would be the English title…)

    The best part about learning German is that so many graphic novels are only released in French and German and seem never to make it into an English translation, so there’s a whole other world of reading material to discover!

  20. My absolute favorite is ‘Goodbye Chunky Rice’ by Craig Thompson.

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  22. Anonymous says...

    Robot Dreams is a wordless graphic, it’s very heartbreaking at the end, and is very touching. You have to read it multiple times to get all of the full meanings in the book. It’s fantastic.

  23. I frickin LOVED the series by Guy Delisle (“Shenzhen” was my favorite!) and absolutely recommend Marguerite Abouet’s series “Aya”.

    Of course, everyone has mentioned the fabulous graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi and the Maus series by Art Spiegelman.

    For some fun-from-a-young-woman’s-perspective-sexual-awakening:

    la très girly série by Aude Picault: “Moi, Je” and “Chicou, Chicou”

    and

    Aurelia Aurita: Fraise et Chocolat

    For more serious stuff: “Le Photographe” by Guibert LeFevre/LeMercier and Shaun Tan’s graphic novel had me in tears: http://www.shauntan.net/books/the-arrival.html

    A french guy living in Japan: “manabe shima” by florent chavouet

    I will defintely check out “Blankets” and “Fun Home”!

    Thanks so much!

  24. Thanks for your article, quite effective info.

  25. I ordered a few of these you suggested and they just arrived in the mail! I’m so excited to read them! Thanks for the recommendations!

  26. i shall have to pick up french milk.
    i LOVE grahpic novels! fabulous post about them ;D
    WOW, Blankets has gotten a lot of love, and it, of course, deserves to, its amazing. a beautiful heartbreaking tale of love and finding yourself. And gorgeous artwork to boot!

    ANd additionaly, I dont think anyone has mentioned these yet, but my first graphic novel love was called The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg. Its about this girl named Jane who moves from NYC after a bomb fell and really affects her life to a suburban town. There she forms a club called P.L.A.I.N, people loving art in neighborhoods. They go out at night a create some pretty sweet ‘art’ annonymously. Honestly, how cool is filling a water fountain in the city full with soap & bubbles? ANd there’s a sequel called Jane in Love which is awsome too!
    definatly check them out ;D

  27. Have you ever read Blankets by Craig Thompson? It’s this really beautiful book about first love, family and spirituality in the setting of rural Wisconsin and Michigan in the winter. It covers a lot of heavy issues, but it’s just so beautifully illustrated that it’s heartbreakingly good.

  28. Even thought I love books and I love illustration, I’ve never been a graphic novel person. Your descriptions really have me wanting to read these, though… especially French Milk!

  29. Yay! French Milk & Persepolis are two of my favorite graphic novels!
    You have great taste!
    Love, Leigh

  30. Anonymous says...

    City of Light, City of Dark by Avi. Fantastic.

  31. Anonymous says...

    I love graphic novels! You HAVE to read Strangers in Paradise too! It is fantastic :D

    / Siri

  32. love this post! haven’t read any of these but i’ve been meaning to see persepolis. i’m a big fan of runaways and the oz based novels. thanks!

  33. Hanna says...

    I agree blankets is amongst the most moving graphic novels i have ever read. I cried like a baby at the end.

  34. 1) Blanket – Craig Thompson (My first graphic novel, almost 700 pages long. His latest work entitled ‘Habibi’, his work progression at blog.dootdootgarden.com)

    2) MAUS – Art Spiegelmen (A biography during Holocaust/ Pulitzer Prize Winner)

    3) Jar of Fools – Jason Lutes

    4) It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken – Seth

    There are many more, but these takes the top because they are too important to be missed out. Would love to read your reviews on these. We can trade too if you want :)

    Best,
    Luna Maurice
    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

  35. the writer of persepolis made another graphic novel, it’s called embroideries – i loved it! it’s about iranian women gathering together to do “embroidery” but really they discuss their sex lives! i heard that this one might be being made into a movie too.

  36. I love The Changers by Ezra Claytan Daniels.

  37. I’ve seen the movie Persepolis and loved it, now I need to read it! Your post inspired me to check out Cancer Vixen from the library this week and I started it last night and am almost through it, thanks for the recommendation! Awesome! :)

  38. My favorite graphic novel is Maus by Art Spiegelman, and it’s quite easily my favorite book, too. I’ve never read anything as powerful and informative as Maus, and I think it’s absolutely brilliant: by turning Jews into mice and the Nazis into Cats, Spiegelman is able to give the readers an even more up-close and personal side of the Holocaust. I’m fascinated.

    On another note, I’m just about to reserve all five at my library now! Thanks for recommendations, I love seeing your documentary and book choices, Joanna!

    • I agree! I am a huge fan of Maus!

  39. I adore graphic novels – so loving this post. Never read French Milk though so may have to go seek that out – thank you x

  40. I was hoping you’d mention Cancer Vixen…It’s my favorite!

  41. I have to throw my hat in for the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. I have always loved his novels, and I read Sandmen 1-10 over the past week (yay summer vacation), and I canNOT stop thinking about them. The man is a masterful, amazing story teller. I love love love him.

  42. Anonymous says...

    I don’t *think* anyone’s mentioned these (I’m a big fan of many of the others mentioned in the comments- Blankets, Fun Home, etc.):

    “Good Eggs: A Memoir” By Phoebe Potts (about struggling w/infertility, but much more than just that)

    “Dragonslippers: This is What an Abusive Relationship Looks Like” By Rosalind B. Penfold (pseudonym). I know the title sounds very heavy, and this isn’t a “ha ha” graphic novel, but it’s a really fascinating, gripping story – and I’ve never been involved in an abusive relationship (thank god). Could see it being very helpful, too, for those who have experienced this horror.

  43. I love 3 of these 5, but have never heard of the other two. Now I’m inspired to hit my neighborhood comic book store. Thanks for the recommendations!

  44. Jo, I love, love, love The Fart Party I & II and Drinking At The Movies, all by Julia Wertz. They are the tales of a young woman from San Francisco growing up, falling in love, breaking up, moving to NYC, becoming an alcoholic, and then cleaning up her life. Very raunchy but also very poignant. As a dear lover of SF, her drawings of places around the city get right at my heart. Highly recommended!

  45. ah! i borrowed french milk from a fellow who grew up with the adorable lucy knisley and absolutely loved it! made me re-live my 7th grade paris trip with my mother years later. xo

  46. Love it! I’m buying some this weekend :)

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  47. i want to say like this:Someone above mentioned Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which I highly, highly recommend. It’s a hilarious and engrossing memoir about, among other things, growing up with a secretly gay dad

  48. Winshluss’s pinocchio is beautiful ( he helped animate Persepolis) The work of Canadian artist Seth pulls you in, he even built models of a fictional town so that he could get the mood right. There are so many that I don’t even know where to begin!

    Jimmy Corrigan
    The arrival
    American splender
    Black hole

    The list goes on and on!

  49. If you like “Blankets,” Craig Thompson has a new novel coming out on September 20th that looks like it will be amazing, it’s called “Habibi.” I love his other books, too.

  50. I must admit, I don’t know a ton about graphic novels. This is more of a graphic memoir – but Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, is fantastic. Absolutely perfect book.

  51. The tiny font in graphic novels is too much for me. Gives me a headache. =/

  52. For kids, BABYMOUSE is AWESOME!!!! (More so for girls though)

    And American Born Chinese is good for young adults and adults!

  53. Thanks for the interesting book recommendations! Glad I finally know what a graphic novel is, I’ll definitely be reading some of them soon! I also just bought The History of Love and am so excited to read it now!

    http://afternoonsunlight.blogspot.com/

  54. I’ve never read any graphic novels before, but I’m definitely interested in checking them out now! I’ve heard of Lucy Knisley before, but only through her blog. She just did an awesome illustrated series of every Harry Potter book. It’s here if you’re interested: http://lucylou.livejournal.com/596984.html

  55. love this post! thx

    I watched the Persepolis and didn’t even know there was a book. Same with Ghost Town

  56. Marion says...

    I fell in love with graphic novels reading Alex Robinson’s “Box Office Poison”. It portrays the intertwined lives of a series of characters ranging from students fresh from college to an old comic writer. Tears and laughter on the menu. Once you’ve started it, you can’t put it down.

  57. Love French Milk!!

  58. Blankets, of course, and Craig Thompson’s new graphic novel, Habibi, comes out this fall. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth is by Chris Ware and very well written, and more recently I really enjoyed Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. It’s a great, darkened version of a teen graphic novel.

  59. I’m chiming in for Chris Ware. Dude loves pathos. He’s amazing, his characters are so flawed and human and sometimes pathetic, and so relatable. A very talented author/illustrator.

  60. I’m totally with the two folks that said American Born Chinese. It’s amazing. And I just saw David Small (children’s book illustrator) speak so I’m super excited to read Stitches.

  61. I love hearing about something so fun & interesting that’s utterly brand spankin’ new to me! THANK YOU, can’t wait to try these out.

  62. I read Persepolis and LOVED it. I am half Persian and it was a great way to get in touch with my roots. I’d also recommend the movie!

  63. WOW! I want to read all of these! Thanks Joanna!
    I’ve only read Watchmen. Loved it, but the movie sucked.
    How do you think the movie versions of Persepolis and Ghost World compare to the novels?

  64. Graphic novels make me happy (and sometimes they make me cry).

    Here’s one for happy:

    Babymouse by Jenny Holm

    Here’s one for tears:

    The Arrival by Shaun Tan

    You MUST read these. They may be marketed for kids, but they are written for everyone!

  65. So fun! I just purchased a nook and I will secretly be reading these under my desk at work!

  66. Please check out any and all of Craig Thompson’s work. As mentioned above, “Blankets,” is by far one of the best stories let alone graphic novels that I read. Also his graphic novel, “Goodbye Chunky Rice,” is fantastic.

  67. You have totally inspired me to pick up a graphic novel. I’m gonna do it. Today even. Yeah. That’s right. WOOOOOOOOOOO!

    Seriously, thank you for the recs!

  68. Abbey says...

    I loved the Japanese Manga series entitled Maison Ikkoku by Rumiko Takahashi. A little different than graphic novels, but such a sweet romantic comedy.

  69. American Splendor is my favorite comic book series; a few years ago some compilations were published making it easier to get all issues. It was also made into a movie starring Paul Giamatti. Highly recommended!

  70. Ordinary Victories
    by Manu Larcenet, Patrice Larcenet (Illustrator)
    I read them over a year ago – I think there are a few of them. Really touching stories…

  71. I read Persepolis a year ago. I will never forget the heroine or the story and her struggles. Did you see the film based on the graphic novel? I think I’ll have to read French Milk next. It looks awesome.

  72. I LOVE graphic novels and am trying to get the high school where I teach to start a graphic novel course.
    Persepolis is one of my favorites; Maus is an excellent one too.

  73. You definitely should read Maus [part i and ii]- amazing story. I cried.
    Watchmen is also really good- much better than the movie, but aren’t books always better?

  74. This post made me so happy! I actually took a class on graphic novels last year and wrote my own (I’m in art school in Michigan :). My favorite is called Jar of Fools by Jason Lutes. The plot is really bizarre, but the emotions are incredibly real.

  75. Joanna,
    I read The History of Love under your recommendation, and while it was sweet (I even cried a little) I thought the ending crumbled a bit. Still, I enjoyed.

    That being said, have you read Love in the Time of Cholera? If you like The History of Love, you’ll love this book. No one writes more beautifully than Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

  76. Blankets was a beautiful read. It broke my heart.

    Also love the Sandman series.

  77. ooh! another good one that i had forgotten about is The Imposters Daughter. xo

  78. thanks for all these amazing recommendations; i’m going to buy blankets today :)

  79. joy, GREAT idea about a restaurant round-up! i will get on that! :) thank you!!