People usually associate comics and graphic novels with superheroes, and given that cinematic universes like the MCU and DCEU dominate media, that makes a lot of sense. The reality is that when it comes to graphic novels, comics explore a lot of interesting topics. Although there are plenty of graphic novels about Batman, Superman, or the Avengers, these books aren’t always about superheroes.
From emotional and realistic tales of domestic life to epic adventures featuring ordinary, relatable people, graphic novels have a lot to offer fans of all ages and genders. Many graphic novels have been made by artists looking to move and inspire their readers, all without a single superhero in sight.
Some entries in this list deal with sexual assault
ten Thread of Art is an insightful journey through history
With Gradimir and Ivana Smudja The thread of art follows Luna, an artistic teenager, and her cat Vincent, as they stumble upon a red thread and follow him into the cave of Lascaux, home to some of the earliest cave wall paintings of all time. It’s just the first step on their way to meeting some of history’s greatest artists, like Leonardo da Vinci, Hokusai and Pablo Picasso.
In each chapter, Luna and Vincent help the artists finish their works while being careful not to get themselves into trouble. The thread of art is a compelling and entertaining story that doubles as a crash course in art history and inspires readers to find out more.
9 The Secret of Superhuman Strength is an autobiographical satire
The secret of superhuman strength is a graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel that explores the author’s relationship with exercise throughout her life. Throughout its pages, Bechdel reflects on his personal journey to fitness, bodybuilding, outdoor sports, and stress management. She also reflects on the pros and cons of her.”perverse fixation on the muscles.“
Bechdel’s novel couldn’t be further from superhero values. Instead of super-powered Marvel heroes, she portrays the hardships of all physical achievement. Anyone interested in a self-care read full of hard truths should check out The secret of superhuman strength.
8 Chicken with Plums is an emotional tale about love, family and passion
While Marjane Satrapi is known for Persepolisit is not his only masterpiece. Chicken with prunes, a 2004 Satrapi graphic novel, follows Sartrapi’s great-uncle, Nasser Ali Khan, after his tar, a long-necked, arched lute is damaged beyond repair. The instrument serves as a trigger for the man to reflect on his family, his past loves and his passions.
Like all of Satrapi’s works, Chicken with prunes is a melancholy tale, completely rooted in historical truths. No need for epic battles or supervillains, this graphic novel contains powerful statements about life that will stay in the reader’s mind forever. Plus, it’s short, so it can be read in one sitting.
seven In Habibi, love conquers all
After Dodola is sold as a child bride and raped at just nine years old, she takes it upon herself to save others when her husband dies. When she comes across Zam, a naive young boy after being sold into slavery, they form an unbreakable bond, even amid their town’s corruption.
by Craig Thompson Habibi deals with horrible subjects, such as slavery and the rape of children. However, Thompson manages to create a sweet and tender story around the characters, which feel very real when read. Considering this, Habibi is as heartbreaking as it gets.
6 My favorite thing is that the monsters were praised for their beautiful art
A semi-autobiographical tale, My favorite thing is monsters is the first graphic novel by Emil Ferris. This book tells the story of Karen Reyes, a Chicago girl living in the 1960s who tries to uncover the truth behind the death of her mysterious neighbor, Anka Silverberg, a holocaust survivor.
It’s common for comics to neglect art while prioritizing plot. However, My favorite thing is monsters stands out for its incredible designs. Ferris’ realistic portrayals and use of lightning, along with the story’s raw emotion, made this novel one of the best works of the decade.
5 Shadow Life reflects on life, death, and older queer people
In 2021, Hiromi Goto and Ann Xu create shadow life, a short graphic novel that follows Kumiko, a headstrong but hilarious seventy-six-year-old widow who endlessly tries to escape death. This attempt to thwart fate helps her heal her past relationships and brings her closer to her family.
shadow life doesn’t need a dichotomy between good and evil to bring fans the battle of the ages: life versus death. This graphic novel is an eccentric battle against time, but it’s also a beautiful reflection of the difficulties of growing old, especially as a queer person. His amazing story has earned shadow life a GLAAD Award nomination.
4 They Called Us Enemies is the autobiography of George Takei
In They called us enemies, Actor and activist George Takei shares his childhood memories of being imprisoned in an American concentration camp during World War II. Written by Takei alongside co-writers Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, and artist Harmony Becker, this moving story sees Takei and his family flee Japan only to find themselves in a prison disguised as a relocation center thanks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
While lecturing readers on the aftermath of World War II in America, Takei opens a portal to the most intimate moments of his family life. Coming from a public figure as beloved as he is, They called us enemies is a punch in the gut for anyone with a heart as well as an inspiring tale.
3 Jack the Ripper stars in From Hell
Horror fans can feast with From hell, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. Set in the Victorian era, this novel centers on Jack the Ripper, offering a fictional resolution to one of humanity’s darkest secrets: the identity of the killer. Moore and Campbell follow Frederick Abberline’s investigation while delving into the bizarre circumstances that led Sir William Gull, the royal physician, to kill five women.
From hell has no superheroes. Instead, it follows a full-fledged, very real villain, though the story itself is largely fiction. As always, Alan Moore surprises fans with complex characters embedded in a plot full of twists and turns, with many hidden meanings and plots revealed. From hell is both a theory of time, a historical reflection and a social critique.
2 Understanding Comics Teaches the Art of Sequential Storytelling
Less a novel and more a metafictional text, Understanding comics by Scott McCloud is a complete course in comics. Through more than 200 pages, McCloud explores comic theory, its formal aspects, a bit of its history, and its most important concepts.
Although this book is pretty much a college course, McCloud never neglects entertainment. The novel is full of light-hearted jokes that often help the reader better understand the concepts of sequential art. Any fan of comics, or art in general, will find that Understanding comics is a valuable learning tool.
1 A Contract with God is considered one of the first – and greatest – graphic novels
The quintessential graphic novel, Will Eisner’s A contract with God is an anthology of four different stories that explore universal topics like religion, death, love and identity. These stories are a window into human nature, using characters everyone can relate to.
Unlike superhero comics, which are often two-dimensional, the characters of A contract with God are not just good or bad. They are human, which means they face terrible aspects of life, such as racism, while making mistakes, sometimes unforgivable. Eisner earned his place in comic book history with this iconic graphic novel.
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