Comic books are one of the most versatile mediums in any form of fiction. From horror to comedy, comic books are something that might arguably be universally timeless. Although some people only gravitate to the superhero genre, comics have something for everyone, which is well-demonstrated by graphic novels.
Whether it’s a collection of stories formed into one big book or an original classic, graphic fiction catches people’s attention and draws readers in. Some of the most recognized comics have been released as graphic novels, while new and award-winning stories debuted in some of the best graphic novels of all time.
Updated on January 11, 2023, by Scoot Allan: With so many of the best graphic novels for new readers and old fans to choose from, it can be daunting trying to find new stories to explore. Thankfully, there are a few established classics along with exciting new releases that have wowed both fans and critics that are easy to find and enjoy.
22/22 A Contract With God
It’s almost impossible to discuss graphic novels without mentioning comic icon Will Eisner’s A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories. The celebrated work from one of the creators of serialized comics was the first to be called a graphic novel and was instrumental in kicking off the successful format.
A Contract with God contains four stand-alone stories about poor Jewish characters who all lived in the same tenement. Eisner used memories from his own childhood that dealt with frustration and disillusionment in an undocumented era of Jewish-American history. A Contract with God is a mature and sometimes hard read, but it is also a beautiful piece of comic history.
21/22 From Hell
Writer Alan Moore & artist Eddie Campbell
Alan Moore is a recognized name in comics who is known for both his iconic superhero stories as well as his dark takes on historical and literary figures. He teamed up with artist Eddie Campbell for From Hell, which first appeared in Taboo before it was released in graphic novel form.
From Hell took place during the Whitechapel murders and explored the potential conspiracy behind the Jack the Ripper murders. The graphic novel brought new meaning to the term with gory depictions of the murders that terrified London between 1888 and 1891. Johnny Depp later starred in a film that was loosely based on From Hell.
20/22 Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth
Writer Grant Morrison, penciler/inker/colorist Dave McKean, & letterer Gaspar Saladino
As one of DC’s most popular characters, Batman has starred in quite a few amazing graphic novels that explore the character and his dark world. Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth featured a darker take on Batman’s villains as Joker took over the titular prison hospital to lure Batman into a mind-bending dive into insanity.
Morrison’s unique understanding of the Dark Knight resulted in a celebrated run with the character years later but was on full display in Arkham Asylum. McKean’s beautiful artwork also brought a unique and upsetting atmosphere to Arkham that had never been seen in Gotham City before. While other hits focus on Batman’s origin or future, ArkhamAsylum takes a dark look at his present.
19/22 Ghost World
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes was first published in his Eightball comic series before its popularity led to the successful release of the story in graphic novel form. Clowes explored the end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood by following recent high school graduates Enid and Rebecca.
Ghost World featured relatable characters struggling with real-world issues in a sometimes frank and somber way. Enid and Rebecca’s takedown of pop culture and suburban life while exploring the multitude of options for their future made Ghost World a cult hit that was adapted into an award-winning live-action film.
18/22 Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Alison Bechdel told a personal tale about her father in Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. It explored her upbringing at the town funeral home and the sexuality of both the author and her father. The series dived into Bechdel’s reveal that she was a lesbian that ultimately uncovered a truth about her father’s own sexuality that was left unexplored after his tragic passing.
Fun Home is an honest memoir that brings readers into the author’s own exploration of her relationship with her father, his sexuality, and the mystery of his life. The celebrated graphic novel was also adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical.
17/22 Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life
Bryan Lee O’Malley
Bryan Lee O’Malley’s hit series launched in 2004 with Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. It followed the titular Canadian slacker as he navigated the manga-inspired Toronto music scene and his complicated love life.
Pilgrim was forced to fight through a gauntlet of his new girlfriend’s evil exes while dating a younger girl, as he was still trying to get over another girl. The series ran for multiple volumes and became a cult hit that was later adapted to the big screen by director Edgar Wright as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
16/22 Fantastic Four: Full Circle
Writer/penciler/inker/colorist Alex Ross, colorist Josh Johnson, & letterer Ariana Maher
Comic legend Alex Ross released a new graphic novel in 2022 starring Marvel’s First Family of Comics. Fantastic Four: Full Circle features a dynamic new art style from Alex Ross. It followed the most powerful members of the Fantastic Four on a mission to the Negative Zone.
Fantastic Four: Full Circle is a brilliantly colorful epic that calls back to the early days of the team with numerous homages to Jack “The King” Kirby. Alex Ross has left his iconic mark on quite a few different comic heroes over the years, with Fantastic Four: Full Circle offering something new to even longtime fans of the creator.
15/22 The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye
Writer Robert Kirkman & penciler/inker Tony Moore
The popular zombie genre was reinvigorated in the comics thanks to Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s The Walking Dead. It’s a black-and-white series from Image Comics that became a popular smash hit. The first volume followed Sheriff Rick Grimes as he awakened from a coma to a world overrun by the undead.
Rick soon embarked on a mission to search for his family and find safety in an increasingly dangerous world, along with answers to the mystery plague that caused the dead to walk. The Walking Dead is a character-driven story with amazing art that developed a huge fanbase.
14/22 Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile
Writer Bill Willingham, penciler Lan Medina, inker Steve Leialoha, colorists Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh and Zylonol, & letterer Todd Klein
Classic fairy tales and creatures from folklore were reimagined by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham in Fables. The first collected edition followed these mythical creatures and characters like Bigby Wolf and Snow White.
The mystical creatures all secretly existed in their own community of Fabletown, hidden in New York City. The fan-favorite series won over a dozen Eisner Awards and was nominated for several Hugo Awards over Fables’ long run. The series was initially published in December of 2002, and it has recieved high reader ratings on Google, Goodreads, Hoopla, and Apple Books.
13/22 Ducks: Two Years In The Oil Sands
Canadian cartoonist Kate Beaton became known for her long-running historical comedy webcomic Hark! A Vagrant, and she impressed fans in 2022 with the autobiographical Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands. Beaton spent two years working in the Canadian Oil Sands, which inspired this true tale that wowed critics and audiences.
While working at the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta, Beaton witnessed the tragic deaths of hundreds of ducks who landed in a toxic tailings pond. Ducks is a sobering look at the oil sands and working environment experienced by Beaton that shone in the graphic novel format.
12/22 Batman: Year One
Writer Frank Miller, penciler/inker Dave Mazzucchelli, colorist Richmond Lewis, & letterer Todd Klein
Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli reimagined the origins of the Dark Knight in the Batman: Year One storyline. This storyline has been collected a few times over the years in trades celebrating the gritty art style that helped it become one of DC’s most influential modern superhero comics.
The story explores Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham City to fulfill his decision to become a vigilante. It also followed young cop James Gordon who transferred to Gotham to make a name for himself and help clean up the city. Batman: Year One is one of the Dark Knight’s most celebrated stories and is the character’s definitive origin.
An autobiographical novel written and drawn by Craig Thompson, Blankets is a coming-of-age story that details his life from his childhood in a Christian family to his early adulthood and first loves. Blankets became a widely acclaimed hit, and it is regarded as one of the best comics ever written.
The graphic novel won numerous awards, including Eisner and Harvey awards. Many have praised Blankets for its incredibly strong storytelling, its art style, and its exploration into the author’s exit from his family’s religion.
10/22 Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned
Writer Brian K. Vaughan, penciler Pia Guerra, inker José Marzan, Jr., colorist Pamela Rambo, & letterer Clem Robins
Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man is an iconic story that takes place during an apocalyptic plague that wiped out any living creature with a Y chromosome. The story focuses on two of the only males left in the world as they were forced to survive in a new world while investigating the mystery behind the plague.
Totaling up to about sixty issues, Y: TheLast Man has won three Eisner awards and has developed a loyal fanbase. The series was adapted into a live-action series that aired on Hulu for one season as well, making this a must-read for fans of the short-lived series.
9/22 Batman: The Killing Joke
Writer Alan Moore, penciler/inker Brian Bolland, colorist John Higgins, & letterer Richard Starkings
Batman: The Killing Joke is often considered the definitive Joker origin story for many people. Featuring the brilliant writing of Alan Moore and the gorgeous artwork of Brian Bolland, it is a dissection story on The Joker.
The concept is that it only takes one day for anyone to go completely insane. Although the Joker’s origin is often ambiguous, this story has really stuck with many people. It was so influential that many of the most violent elements from Batman: The Killing Joke became canon, including the paralyzing of Barbara Gordon.
8/22 Saga, Volume 1
Writer Brian K. Vaughan, penciler/inker/colorist Fiona Staples, & letterer Fonografiks
The ongoing series Saga is written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. Saga is an epic space fantasy series with strong ties to sci-fi influences like Star Wars. The series follows a family from opposing warring races who struggle to raise their daughter together while being constantly pursued.
Similar to Vaughn’s work on Y: The Last Man, Saga has won numerous awards and has been praised for its strong themes, overall storytelling, and gorgeous art. While the series spent some time on hiatus, the ongoing story continues to draw in new fans.
7/22 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Writer/penciler Frank Miller, inker Klaus Janson, colorist Lynn Varley, & letterer John Costanza
One of the many creations by writer and artist Frank Miller, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns explored a possible future where the titular character has long since retired. However, Batman returned to the call, still vengeful towards injustice.
Frank Miller’s art and writing are heavily praised, with many fans calling it one of the most definitive stories of the caped crusader ever produced. The darker tone helped usher in a new era of comics, and The Dark Knight Returns was partially adapted to the big and small screens.
6/22 The Nice House On The Lake, Vol. 1
Writer James Tynion IV, penciler/inker Álvaro Martínez Bueno, colorist Jordie Bellaire, & letterer Andworld Design
DC’s Black Label graphic novel imprint released a shocking apocalyptic horror mystery in 2022 with The Nice House on the Lake. James Tynion IV and Álvaro Martínez Bueno teamed up for one of the most captivating new limited series of 2022, which is collected in a two-volume set.
A group of people who came to know a man named Walter accepts an invitation to his lake house. However, they soon discover that Walter is actually a terrifying alien who chose to save his close friends while the rest of humanity was destroyed. The Nice House on the Lake is both terrifying and mystifying, which makes it a must-read for horror fans.
5/22 The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes
Writer Neil Gaiman, penciler Sam Kieth, inkers Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones III, colorist Robbie Busch, & letterer Todd Klein
Collecting the first arc of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series, the book is one of the author’s many great works. The Sandman had a variety of illustrators, such as Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III, and it explored the being known as Dream of the Endless on the outskirts of the DC universe.
The overall series of The Sandman is nothing short of legendary in the comics industry, winning over 20 Eisner awards for its story, lettering, and penciling. The Vertigo series is a fan-favorite story that is continually revisited in the DC universe and serves as the source material for the live-action Netflix adaptation.
A critically acclaimed Bande Dessinee comic, Persepolis is an autobiographical series that details the early life of Marjane Satrapi, taking place during and after the Iranian Revolution. As a result, some of the content’s graphic language and imagery are viewed as controversial.
One of Persepolis’s biggest strengths was its use of visual literacy — essentially incredibly powerful storytelling. In spite of the controversy, Persepolis was a major hit and ended up receiving a film adaptation that also received numerous awards.
3/22 V For Vendetta
Writer Alan Moore, penciler/inker/colorist David Lloyd, colorist Siobhan Dodds, & letterers Jenny O’Connor & Steve Craddock
V For Vendetta is a graphic novel created by visionary Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd. It was originally a 10-issue miniseries taking place within a dystopian future Britain. The series dealt with themes relating to fascism and anarchy as the titular V attempted to stand up to the fascist state.
V For Vendetta is a political masterpiece that created a lasting cultural impact, calling attention to the historical Guy Fawkes and the infamous “Gunpowder Plot” that inspired V. The graphic novel is considered one of Alan Moore’s greatest works and was adapted into a live-action movie, despite the author’s noted displeasure with adaptations of his stories.