Today, anything that smells even slightly of comic books gets a bad rap in some circles, which is why I've put together a list of 11 literary graphic novels all book nerds should read. Even if you've never picked up an Archie comic, these graphic novels will show you just how versatile the medium can be.
I have never been a comic-book reader, but I love graphic novels. Throughout middle and high school, my library reading challenge cards were filled with volumes of Ranma 1/2, Love Hina, and DragonKnights, even as purists argued that manga didn't "count" as books. (They totally do, BTW.)
Thankfully, kids these days have much better access to graphic novels than I did. Graphically-inclined series like Babymouse and Captain Underpants help ease kids into chapter-book reading with visual storytelling. A number of books for children and teens — including Walter Dean Myers' Monster and Gertrude Chandler Warner's The Boxcar Children — are available in graphic novel formats that motivate reluctant and learning readers to embrace literature.
If you've never read a graphic novel, there's no need to jump into Watchmen or From Hell, although those are both fantastic works of graphic literature. Try out one of the 11 literary graphic novels on the list below, and I'm sure you'll be coming back to the comics shop for more.
1'Fun Home' by Alison Bechdel
This graphic memoir chronicles author Alison Bechdel's relationship with her father, a closeted gay man who may have died by suicide. Fun Home won numerous awards, including the Lambda Literary Award in the Lesbian Memoir/Biography category and the Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.
2'The Complete Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi
Iranian-French author Marjane Satrapi grew up during the Iranian Revolution of the 1970s. Her early-2000s graphic memoirs, Persepolis and Persepolis 2, recount how the world changed around her progressive, middle-class family in Iran, how she came to live in France, and how she returned to her homeland. The two volumes are combined in The Complete Persepolis. Persepolis won the Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for First Comic Book in 2001.
3'Unterzakhn' by Leela Corman
Growing up on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century, Russian-Jewish twins Esther and Fanya Feinberg navigate life as first-generation citizens in this gorgeous and gritty graphic novel from Leela Corman.
4'Kindred' by Octavia Butler, Damian Duffy, and John Jennings
Octavia E. Butler's 1979 speculative fiction novel Kindred got the graphic novel treatment in 2017. Both books center on Dana, a black woman who slips through time to antebellum Maryland, where she meets her ancestors — white and black — and examines what it truly means to be black in the U.S.
5'Boundless' by Jillian Tamaki
This collection of graphic short stories from This One Summer co-author Jillian Tamaki highlights the anxieties of contemporary women as they seek to improve themselves — for better or worse.
6'Hark! A Vagrant' by Kate Beaton
Perfect for any history buff or literature fan, Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant is chock full of inside jokes that will have you cackling for days.
7'Pyongyang' by Guy Delisle
Based on his experiences working as a liaison between French and North Korean production companies, Guy Delisle's Pyongyang examines the curiously sinister nature of the North Korean capital, where everyone is happy and the old and sick don't exist.
8'Rolling Blackouts' by Sarah Glidden
While her friends gathered interviews from people living in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, graphic novelist Sarah Glidden shadowed them, creating a work of meta-journalistic art that documents how journalism is done.
9'Patience' by Daniel Clowes
Daniel Clowes' Patience is subtitled: "A COSMIC TIMEWARP DEATHTRIP TO THE PRIMORDIAL INFINITE OF EVERLASTING LOVE." So, yeah, it's weird. The story centers on a man whose wife and unborn child have been murdered, and who, decades later, finds a way to travel back in time to save them.
10'Agony' by Mark Beyer
Speaking of weird, have you read Agony? This little graphic novel has a nihilist-grunge aesthetic that's somehow both '90s and now. When you need to chuckle at someone else's misfortune, this is the book you want to read.
11'The One Hundred Nights of Hero' by Isabel Greenberg
In this retelling of the 1,000 Nights, Scheherazade becomes Cherry: a young woman married to a cruel king who allows his friend the chance to seduce her for his kingdom and her hand. But Cherry is in love with her handmaid, Hero, and together they hatch a plan to distract Cherry's would-be suitor with a barrage of stories.