These essential graphic novels are must-reads for anyone interested in the medium. I would recommend them to anyone who wants to understand what comics can do. This list doesn’t include manga; my recommendations there can be found on my list of suggested manga starting points.
You may also want to see my years’ best recommendations:
- Best Graphic Novels of 2006
- Best Graphic Novels of 2007
- Favorite Manga of 2007
- Best Manga of 2008
- Best Graphic Novels of 2008
- Best Graphic Novels of 2009
- Best Manga of 2009
- Best Manga of 2010
- Best Graphic Novels of 2010
- Best Manga of 2011
- Best Graphic Novels of 2011
- Best Manga of 2012
- Best Graphic Novels of 2012
- Best Graphic Novels of 2013
- Best Manga of 2013 – coming soon
Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships | Eric Shanower’s gorgeous retelling of the Trojan War.
Castle Waiting | Linda Medley’s expertly illustrated take on a fairy tale community.
The Complete Peanuts | Collections of the most important American comic strip.
Finder | An aboriginal science fiction series by Carla Speed McNeil.
From Hell | Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell explore the Jack the Ripper mystery.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic | Alison Bechdel’s memoir of her childhood, focusing on her father’s life in the closet.
Hicksville | Dylan Horrocks creates a town where everyone reads comics in order to show how the medium’s unexplored potential can break your heart.
Locas and Palomar | Massive collections of the Brothers Hernandez’ Love and Rockets stories capturing Hispanic life in California with a punk mentality.
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale : My Father Bleeds History/Here My Troubles Began | The Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocaust biography by Art Spiegelman, symbolically using mice and cats.
Persepolis | Marjane Satrapi’s story of her childhood in Iran.
The Plastic Man Archives | Wonderfully funny and inventive tales of the stretchy superhero by Jack Cole.
The Sandman | A modern fantasy classic written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by a number of talented artists.
Smile | Raina Telgemeier’s dental treatment after she loses her front teeth as a sixth grader frames a story about growing up, making choices and friends.
The Spirit Archives | Will Eisner establishes a graphic language all his own in this collection of short crime stories with wide-ranging subjects.
Stuck Rubber Baby | Howard Cruse’s semi-autobiographical story of a man coming to terms with his homosexuality during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Understanding Comics | Scott McCloud explains how the medium works — a must-read!
Watchmen | Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons deconstruct the superhero in an incredibly influential work for its time.
Why I Hate Saturn | Everyday urban life takes a fantastic turn in this tale by Kyle Baker.
For another take, see Paul Gravett’s Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know, a coffee table-style book about his list of the best reads. You may also want to read The Comic Book History of Comics, stories about key moments in the history of the medium told in comic form.