Top Graphic Novels to Read and Why

Jun 04, 2018
Henry Flood
Top Graphic Novels to Read and Why


In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a great argument amongst comic fans:  “comic book” or “graphic novel”. On the surface, it sounds completely absurd.  It’s the same thing, right? Not quite. While the term “graphic novel” was coined back in 1964, it grew to represent a type of book that relied less on certain tropes and instead focused more on mature themes aiming at an older audience.  Graphic novels aren’t without their own seedy, sensationalistic history. There are several books that show the pinnacle of the medium; stories that played small roles in developing the younger minds that would go on to helm movies based in those universes.  Here are a few to seek out, as well as the impact they had throughout pop culture:

Watchmen (Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, DC Comics)

Alan Moore is the first name that usually emerges from the mouths of graphic novel fans, and for good reason.  With a career dating back to 1978, his anarchal style has impressed the minds of directors such as Joss Whedon.  Complimenting Moore’s realistic tone was the artwork of Dave Gibbons, whose lettering work for this series was so influential we’re still talking about the font it inspired to this day.  Yep, the legacy of Dave Gibbons lives on in the Comic Sans font. Seems almost fitting for a 12-issue series that was so controversial, yet so influential over time. A mixture of nihilistic realism with the fantastical, Watchmen remains a series that demands and deserves to be read.  It will be a novel that shapes and reshapes reader’s views on both the medium as well as the world at large.

Through the Woods (Emily Carroll, Simon & Schuster)

Not every excellent graphic novel is a team effort.  This masterclass in psychological horror was built from the ground up by Emily Carroll, as she handled all the writing and artwork.  While the collection of stories can absolutely disturb, what arguably sets this book above its peers is its technical feats. Carroll’s lettering changes throughout the work, sometimes so subtly it is nearly imperceptible initially.  This lettering alteration shifts the mood and creates a tension that compliments the panel artwork uncomfortably well. While this is Emily’s debut book, Through the Woods helps showcases the influence of outstanding female authors such as Shirley Jackson, Anne Rivers Siddons, and Helen Oyeyemi to the graphic novel form.

Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, Kodansha Comics)

While most anime fans immediately point to the 1988 movie as Akira’s peak, the series itself represents how the graphic novel genre can navigate labyrinthine plotlines that rank right alongside George R.R. Martin or J.R.R. Tolkien.  Nuanced characters and intricate subplots lead to a fascinating series that never bores, while the artstyle has long since been celebrated by animated shows such as Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack or Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe.  While Watchmen helped shape how movies based on graphic novels would be made, Akira influenced animated television series around the world and stands as a prime example of the way graphic novels can influence other forms of entertainment.

Batman:  The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller, DC Comics)

Much like Alan Moore’s legacy, Frank Miller’s graphic novel work has led to a plethora of popular movies.  Miller’s writing style influenced Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City adaptation, and even Trent Reznor’s musical work on 300.  While several of Miller’s works warrant seeking out, it’s The Dark Knight Returns that proves ageless. An older Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to fight a new cadre of baddies.  The darker tone was so successful that it even led to the death – and rebirth – of a well-known DC character that remains canon to this day.

Deadpool Kills Deadpool (Salvador Espin & Cullen Bunn, Marvel Comics)

For a series that absolutely revels in its meta nature as well as its sarcastic tone.  Salvador Espin and Cullen Bunn’s Deadpool series somehow goes even further into the absurd.  This series released three years prior to the first Deadpool movie and has its comic influence elbow-deep in the film. While every other series listed stews in its dark, brooding nature. This collection of novels goes completely insane.  Showcasing how entertaining it can be to break down every possible wall between viewer, reader, and entertainer.  Ryan Reynolds’ portrayal of Deadpool has this series partially to thank for its outrageously meta plot-line.

Heath Ledger’s Joker owed a lot to The Killing Joke.  Hugh Jackman noted how graphic novels influenced his interpretation of Wolverine.  Loki wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining had Tom Hiddleston not sought out Jason Aaron’s novelized version.  Graphic novels have evolved from synonymous to comics, becoming its own style and genre. When you’re ready to pick these novels up and dive into the artistic deep end, give your guides at Epikos Comics, Cards and Games a chance.  They’ll usually surprise you.