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
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.
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.
The Tale of One Bad Rat | A thoughtful and powerful exploration of an abused girl’s trip to reclaim her life by Bryan Talbot.
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.