Five Best Graphic Novels


Cup of Jo has been running for 13 years, so every week, we’ll be highlighting one of the most popular posts from the past. Here’s one of our favorites, originally published on August 10, 2011…

Have you guys ever read graphic novels or memoirs? 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 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 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.

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  1. Maus is the only graphic novel I have read and I loved it – I will have to check out these! Thanks!

  2. Fun Home was my first and only graphic novel I’ve read (actually a graphic memoir), but I quickly realized that I should look into the genre a bit more because it was really enjoyable. Great recommendations!

  3. Epileptic, by David B. is the first graphic novel I fell in love with. It’s beautiful, which helps, and it’s scary to watch his brother’s epilepsy take over their family. The book is much more about family and sibling relationships than the illness they try so hard to deal with. (Another product of France!”

  4. These are all great suggestions!

    I recently fell in love with Laika by Nick Abadzis. It is based on Laika, the first dog in space, who was launched in the Soviet space program’s Sputnik 2.. It’s a very endearing, tearful and captivating story.

  5. It looks like a few people have beat me to it but I’d also recommend Blankets, it’s really beautiful and poignant.

  6. I’d also place a vote for Blankets. It was sad and beautiful.

  7. I love Marjane Satrapi, and as Sarah said the film is also amazing… Do you know “the rabbi’s cat” by Joann Sfar ? It’s a very good graphic novel, and has been adapted as a film too. I love it, I think it’s my favorite one, lots of laugh of wisdom in it !

  8. Anonymous says...

    I love Marjane Satrapi, and as Sarah said the film is also amazing… Do you know “the rabbi’s cat” by Joann Sfar ? It’s a very good graphic novel, and has been adapted as a film too. I love it, I think it’s my favorite one, lots of laugh of wisdom in it !

  9. French Milk looks amazing! What a great idea….need to have a purchase me thinks! Thanks for the constant inspirationX

  10. Rafaela says...

    MAUS: A survivor’s tale by Art Spiegelman.
    Really, you have to read it. The only book EVER that made me shed a tear. Actually it’s my favorite book.

  11. Blankets – by Craig thompson. A cominf of age story that deals with love and religion and has STUNNING artwork! Wish I could frame it!

  12. Great choices! I’m also really fond of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

  13. as a persian woman, persepolis is an all time favorite of mine. it is hilarious, honest, gut wrenching, and beautiful.

  14. I love the persepolis comic and movie :)
    Shortcomings made me a little sad

  15. I just heard David Small talk this past weekend about his memoir, “Stitches.” Here is a Youtube video to the trailers for the graphic novel:

    I read the novel today and love it. So honest and touching!

  16. Stack says...

    Teenagers from Mars!

  17. Anonymous says...

    city of glass by paul auster

  18. “Blankets” and “Carnet De Voyage” by Craig Thompson are MUST READS for sure! Blankets might seem intimidating, because it’s HUGE but I swear I got so sucked into that book I read it all in an afternoon. Another good one is “Mr. Wonderful” by Daniel Clowes.


  19. No can’t say I’ve read a lot of graphic novels. No particular reason – just none have found their way into my hands. But after reading this I’d love to give ‘Ghost World’ and ‘French Milk’ a go ..

  20. this picture is really interesting! love your posts! thanks for sharing!

  21. Oh my goodness- I LOVE when you do these lists. I just ordered “Crazy Vixen” and I can’t wait. I’m also about to watch “Stranded”- listed on your “Ten best documentaries.”

    Ok, so will you consider coming up with a ” favorite restaurants in NYC list”? I know it doesn’t apply to everyone…but I am SO curious to hear!!

  22. I actually have the French Milk one:) Bought it years ago and read the whole thing in an afternoon. It was pretty cute. Mostly because I love Paris.

  23. anything by Alan Moore. ANYTHING. And the Sandman series is amazing.

  24. Blankets is my favorite too!

  25. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Series is my all time favorite!! and i also enjoyed Persepolis and Maus (i see a few other commenters loved them too!)

  26. I’m really surprised nobody’s mentioned DAYTRIPPER.

    My boyfriend, who’s pretty well-versed in comics and graphic novel, told me to check it out even though he hadn’t read it himself but had heard great things. The idea is simple: One man’s journey through life and how unexpectedly that can come to an end. But the execution is splendid! It’s a beautiful story that will touch you repeatedly. :)

    Didn’t think I could be so moved by a graphic novel…

  27. i looooooved persepolis. the story, the history. it was superb. makes me want to read more graphic novels.

  28. I’ve only read one graphic novel in my life and I’m glad you’ve recommended these!

  29. I haven’t read a graphic novel recently, but think I’ll give one of these a try. Thanks for sharing! I’m excited to pick one of these up.


  30. Elizabeth says...

    KILL ME. Ghost World is not Daniel Clowes best work and comic nerds don’t like comics to be referred to as “graphic novels.”

  31. definitely maus…still one of my favs….


  32. I’m not a huge graphic novelist person but I loved loved loved ‘goodbye chunky rice’ – it made me cry though.

  33. i LOVE ghost world — both the graphic novel and the movie. thanks for this post, joanna :)

  34. Love this list! Fun Home is my fave.

  35. these all sound fantastic! will definitely put these on my must reads, i love graphic novels!

  36. Anonymous says...

    the storm in the barn by matt phelan. he was inspired by the faces of people in the dust bowl. beautiful sweeping drawings and a liitle boy who harnesses the rain.

  37. I basically survive of Japanese graphic novels. I didn’t know French Milk and it looks really worth of a look. Ghost World has been one of my favourite films ever, I loved the cynicism in there (still I need to grasp the ending which I didn’t understand very much). Cool suggestions, thanks a bunch :) – Barbara

  38. Hi Jo,

    (My wife’s a regular reader and sometimes sends me your way; as a comics guy, I loved this post)

    I’ll forgo recommending all the supernatural/superhero stuff that rocks my world, and instead say that I think that some of your readers might like Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things. It’s not a realist/modern tale like the ones you mention, but it’s not as graphic or gruesome as Sandman or Walking Dead … more of a lighthearted nostalgic look at childhood and girl power. A smarter, more compelling Harry Potter. Great for recovering goths!

  39. Your first four are also my absolute favorites! I also really love “Too Cool To Be Forgotten” and “Fun Home”

  40. So many comments to read through — how do you keep track of them all?!? So, this has probably been mentioned (The Impostor’s Daughter) and I see Fun Home was mentioned above. Both worth a look if you’re into Graphic Novels. :)

    Haven’t read French Milk — but I, apparently, need to add it to my list ASAP, thanks for the rec!

  41. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware! He’s an amazing artist.

  42. persepolis 1 & 2 were amazing. and most recently, marjane satrapi published “el suspiro” – the sigh?? not sure if she’s published it in english or not, but it’s very folksy. it could work well as a children’s book, i think! xo

  43. Anonymous says...

    FUN HOME!!!!

  44. I was going to say ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson as well, but since that’s up here tons of times, I will suggest:

    Elf Quest – Wendy and Richard Pini
    I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s a really cool, grown-up fantasy graphic novel, sort of like the lord of the rings/modern fiction. Plus, it’s entirely drawn and colored by Wendy Pini who is amazing!

    300, and The Dark Knight – Frank Miller does both of these graphic novels and they’re fan-freaking-tastic. He’s the one who gave Batman his dark demeanor as opposed to a purple, cartoonish character.

  45. I love Graphic Novels! I especially love Sin City, but I love the news ones I just found on your blog!

  46. i LOVE this post – and will have to pick up ghost world asap.

  47. darnkitten says...

    It’s a Bird… by Steven Seagle. A look at Superman-as-concept/metaphor/abstraction set against the reality of Huntington’s disease.

  48. This is a great list! Thanks for the suggestions. I will get to reading.

  49. Another vote for Asterios Polyp here. It’s amazing!

  50. Thank you so much for this! I’ve wanted to start reading graphic novels but I didn’t know where to start! I think I will read Ghost World and French Milk first.

  51. I love Ghost World and Persepolis. The others are now on my to-buy list. As many others mentioned above, Fun Home is my favorite.

  52. LOVE Ghost World, French Milk, and Cancer Vixen! I guess that means I’ll have to read all the others on your list. :)

  53. Asterios Polyp is absolutely incredible!

  54. Joanna, I adore you and your blog. I just happened upon Lucy Knisley as well when my friend dropped off the book “Make Yourself Happy” by her (which came after French Milk)–I even wrote about it last week on my blog. I cannot wait to read the rest of her work–her writing style (like yours!) is addicting.

  55. Anonymous says...

    Maus by Art Spiegelman! Absolutely fantastic. I’ve even studied it in univeristy.

    Also, Black Hole by Charles Burns. Very dark, explicit but a great story.

  56. Wow, Joanna! Great post, thanks for getting the word out about this awesome medium. Can’t wait to check out Cancer Girl.

  57. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel blew my mind.

  58. Absolutely love Persepolis (the film’s worth it too). While Maus was written for a slightly younger audience, it’s emotional depiction of the Holocaust is extraordinary – told through cats and mice.

  59. Anonymous says...

    i also second the chris ware recommendations – his style is great!

  60. i rarely read graphic novels, but i will definitely check these out!

  61. I’ve only read Persepolis of the graphic novels you named. It’s fantastic!

    Two of these look particularly terrifc to me: French Milk and Ghost World. Ghost World is a great movie, I’ve seen it several times but had no idea it was based on a graphic novel

  62. I’ve read French Milk and thoroughly enjoyed it, aside from the narrator’s constant complaining. But it was a charming book!

  63. love this post! I’ve read a few, its kinda a must when your boyfriend writes them.ha I really love Neil Youngs Greendale. :)

  64. LOVE graphic novels! Thanks for the ideas!

  65. I love this list! I’m a big fan of creating graphic memoir-y stuff (I have an essay on my blog) and I’m always on the lookout for inspiration. Thanks!

  66. I love graphic novels!! From this list I’ve read Persepolis, but I really want to read the rest now. Maus is also a classic.

  67. Great post, I love graphic novels! I second the Chris Ware recommendation.

    I also highly recommend Clumsy by Jeffrey Brown. An honest, often hilarious account of a long distance relationship. It’s really great:

  68. Fun Home is not only my favorite graphic novel of all time, but is in my top ten books, period. It is so flipping good. Her attention to detail in each drawing is incredible. The story is at once tragic, hilarious and so human. I’ve read it three times.

    And… everyone mentioned Blankets, but no one mentioned Goodbye, Chunky Rice! Goodbye, Chunky Rice is one of my favorites. So touching! So sweet!

    The Watchmen is also fantastic; don’t be dissuaded by the inferior movie adaptation.

    If you like food or are interested in Japan, I recommend both Oishinbo (a long-running series) as well as A Year in Japan.

    My sweetie and I are both HUGE graphic novel fans.

  69. Wonderful post idea! Loved Ghost World and Persepolis … will try the others, as well. Have you read Blankets? I think that’s the title. A friend gifted it to me several years ago and I found it to be so touching.

  70. *Fun Home* is the title, by Alison Bechel (not love fun home;) I just happen to love it

  71. I’m repeating what everyone else said but only because they are my absolute favorites. Blankets by craig thompson is a MUST. My hubs gave it to me when we were dating. Go to Forbidden Planet (best comic book shop in nyc in union sq) and buy it along with anything by Jeffrey Brown, reads like art school boy & his love escapades memoir. Also, maybe not considered graphic novel, but At A Crossroads by Kate T. Williamsom so clever and funny.

  72. Love Fun Home, about an adolescent girl growing up in a funeral home in the ’70s. Sounds dark, but actually beautiful portrait of her and her dad. Also would echo the love for Persepolis and Maus. I’ve heard great things about Epilepsy, too… they teach graphic novel classes for first year writing seminars, now!

  73. Ghost World is one of my favorite movies! Too bad the only movies ScarJo does now involve her being the vixen character :/

  74. I loved Persepolis but French Milk fell a little flat for me. As someone else mentioned, Fun Home is a good read and I would also recommend Rent Girl. I love an autobiography and this one is about Tea’s time as a prostitute. Good read if you’re into a little grit!

  75. When I first moved to France, a friend of mine gave me Persepolis (4 series of graphic novels) and it was AMAZING!! It’s a true story of Marjane Satrapi. She is the illustrator of the novel too. (Its movie is excellent too!)
    I’m reading graphic novels a lot here in France, since it’s very common here. You can find loads of them in the libraries. But my favorite is Persepolis!

  76. As a longtime comic book fan I have plenty of suggestions. If you like HBO programming, look toward DC’s imprint Vertigo. I always tell people to start with the Neil Gaiman “Sandman” series (Think of each graphic novel like a television season, and each individual serialized comic in the collection as an episode.) From there, try Brian K. Vaughn’s “Y: The Last Man,” Garth Ennis’s “Preacher,” Mike Carey’s “Unwritten,” and of course, all things Alan Moore. His “Watchmen” is the only graphic novel to make it to the best novel list. I have so many more.

  77. ali says...

    i’m surprised no one mentioned preacher by garth ennis & steve dillon. it’s one of the very best and a real page turner. i’ll throw my hat in the ring for maus by art spiegelman. and lighter, but not nearly as mind-blowingly epic as the first 2: strangers in paradise by terry moore.

  78. loved this post! have read some of them and look forward to reading the others.

    as for some other favourites to check out:

    Mail Order Bride by Mark Kalesniko

    and anything else by Jeffrey Brown (though my favourite is probably Clumsy)


  79. I’ve never read one before, but I will now. I especially Cancer Vixen, I’m going to find a copy now

  80. One of my favorite graphic novels is Blankets by Craig Thompson. I also loved the challenging language in Moving Pictures by Kathryn Immonen. Other favorites: That Salty Air by Tim Sievert, Breakfast After Noon by Andi Watson and Harvey by Herve Bouchard and Janice Nadeau.

  81. Stitches, A Memoir by David Small is quite good. I agree with the Blanket recommendation too.

    Transmetropolitan is *great* series that you can buy collected. Violent, filthy, political… I loved it.

    Habibi is Craig Thompson’s — of Blanket fame — new work.

  82. I was initiated via The Watchmen and then read American Born Chinese, which are two very different types of graphic novels. Thanks for delving into this genre and your suggestions

  83. i read persepolis in my freshman english writing and literature course in college. and i read shortcomings which was recommended by a friend last year. i loved both of them, now i’m off to get the others you’ve mentioned. graphic novels are so much fun!!!

  84. Persepolis is a movie too! Saw it a few years ago, it was really good, I should probably read the graphic novel version.

  85. I was going to add Blankets but I am beat to the punch. Read it at once. Love your blog!

  86. I always thought the genre was for the young until I read “Special Exits” by Joyce Farmer. She is one of the original underground-comics artists and writes about her experiences with her elderly parents as they become increasingly dependent on her. Hits home for me and many of my generation.

  87. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is one of the most amazing works of art, period. Must. Read. The Watchmen is also really eye-opening and wonderful. Third, I second The Walking Dead series. I didn’t think I could get so sad and so legitimately terrified to turn out the lights from a book!


  88. Some excellent suggestions here. I highly recommend Logicomix, especially if you’re into math and/or philosophy); pretty much anything by the genius Alan Moore — but especially V for Vendetta, Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and From Hell; Charles Burns’s Black Hole, for the angsty teenager inside you; Will Eisner’s Contract with God Trilogy, if you love NYC and its history; and Naoki Urasawa’s incredibly moving and beautiful series Pluto.

  89. Maus and Maus II! They are amazing graphic novels about the Holocaust. Moving, descriptive, educational — I highly recommend.

  90. I have so many new graphic novel recommendations I can’t wait to read them!

    The only two graphic novels I’ve read and loved were The Walking Dead (yes, I’m a zombie nut) and Fables.

  91. I am an unabashed Lucy Knisley fan (French Milk). She’s working on a food-memoir called “Relish” right now (I guess she grew up in a family of farming foodies) and I can. not. wait. Her blog is crazy entertaining, too. When I first discovered it (after reading French Milk) I spent like a week of free time pawing through the archives. Thanks for such a cool feature, Joanna.

  92. Agree with blankets, Shortcomings is great, Essex County is also great (very Canadian). Another favourite is the Paul series (Paul moves out, Paul goes fishing) they are delightful and written by Micheal Rabligatti, and finally Cecil and Jordan in New York by Gabrielle Belle.

  93. I’ve never read any of these! You should read Blankets, it’s my favorite graphic novel :)

  94. I’m a big fan of Marjane Satrapi. I highly recommend another from her: “Chicken with Plums”. Beautiful.

  95. If you enjoyed Persepolis, you will love Maus. One of my favorite is Guy Delisle (from my part of Canada: Quebec).He wrote “Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea” and “Burma Chronicles”. The serie “Paul” by Michel Rabagliati (also from Quebec) is super cute. My husband and I LOVE graphic novels :)

  96. I just bought (and read) The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznek…granted this is a kid’s book but it’s beautiful!! The art is breathtaking and the story is charming!

  97. You simply must read Blankets. Simply. Must.

  98. slicknik says...

    Maus and Persepolis definitely. I read French Milk but definitely need to pick up the rest. I’m very nerdy.

  99. This is awesome! I always thought of graphic novels as Spiderman and typical “boy” stuff, so this has opened up a whole new world for me!

  100. I love the ones people already suggested “Palestine” by Joe Sacco and Blankets by Craig Thomas. They are both stunningly good.

  101. Stacey says...

    I chose Persepolis somewhat randomly for my book group this year and was so glad I had…we all absolutely loved it. Some of the others mentioned have been on my amazon wish list for ages, this might spur me on to actually purchase some of them!

  102. thanks for the recommendations, joanna! i’ve never read graphic novels, but cancer victim looks wonderful! xoxo

  103. I didn’t even know about this genre but reading your reviews makes me want to go pick up a copy of each! Thanks for recommendations :)

  104. I looooove Jason Lutes’ “Berlin: City of Stones” and the sequel…I can’t wait for the third to come out! Also, Spiegelman’s memoir of 9/11 is incredibly compelling.

  105. GREAT post, Joanna! I have a cartoonist husband, so we have practically every indie comic/graphic novel ever made in our apartment.

    Anon. – LOVE Guy Delisle!

    I HIGHLY recommend anything by Chris Ware, especially “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” and most recent, ongoing graphic novel “Rusty Brown”.

    Also, my favorite graphic novel of the year is Gabby Schulz/Ken Dahl’s “Monsters”.

  106. My all-time fave is Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Beautiful, funny, heartbreaking and absorbing…

  107. Those look great! I’ve been looking for a good graphic novel! I think I’ll try Cancer Vixen first!

  108. I love graphic novels and definitely second Blankets and Maus!

  109. “V for Vendetta” – don’t dismiss it because of the movie. It’s amazing!

  110. The Impostor’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell is amazing. Such a great story and the pictures are truly fabulous!

  111. Sandman. I re-read the whole set about once a year. It’s just gorgeous.

  112. 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.

  113. BLANKETS! Love this post:)

  114. another recommendation for Maus by Art Spiegelman

  115. These all look so fun, next time I’m in a bookstore I’m going to poke around for these!

  116. Jw says...

    Ghost World is one of my favorite movies but I have yet to read the graphic novel – I need to get on that.

    Cancer Vixen looks interesting. My mom was diagnosed with stage four cancer last spring, which she beat (go mom!), but it would have been nice to have something, with humor, for her to relate to.

  117. I have read a few, but now I have a few more to add to my reading list.



  118. Blankets is the best.

  119. Echoing Sarah here, but I saw Persopolis and loved it. Rent it asap! I’ve never read graphic novels though!

  120. Blankets by Craig Thompson! And Sandman, by Neil Gaiman. But Blankets especially – really a great graphic novel! :)

  121. p says...

    I will admit that I have read only one graphic novel (well, technically two because it is in two parts). So, my favorite is Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which is about his father’s experiences during the Holocaust. The most amazing thing is how he doesn’t glorify his father or himself. Truly a worthwhile read.

  122. ooooh great recommendations! i forgot they made a movie of Persepolis–going to put it on netflix now! thank you, sarah!

  123. I love Persepolis! Being of Iranian descent, I’ve heard the story of the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Islamic Republic a million times but Persepolis provides a refreshing, comic, and very human point of view. Thumbs up!

  124. I know it’s about the Holocaust, which is about as appealing as cancer, but Maus by Art Spiegelmann is one of my favorite books of all time, graphic or not.
    And then I was also obsessed with the Scott Pilgrim series for a while, notwithstanding the movie.
    Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is on deck on my bedside table as my next graphic novel. I’ve heard great things.

  125. Anonymous says...

    Joe Sacco wrote two great graphic novels, “Palestine” & “Safe Area Gorazde”

  126. Anonymous says...

    Jeffrey Brown’s early books are great (clumsy, unlikely, etc.). I also love everything by Guy Delisle.

  127. The movie of Persepolis is also amazing and very true to the book.

  128. Kerry says...

    Maus by Art Spiegelman. Touching and heartbreaking.

    • Yes. I was thinking of this same series (Maus and Maus II) when I saw this post! I read them when I was a kid and I never lost my fascination with them.

  129. What a fun post! I can never get into graphic novels but now I feel inspired to try again!