From Light & Fluffy to Dark & Gritty: Fantastic Graphic Novels for Every Mood

There are graphic novels for every mood, about every subject, and for every reader. It’s true! I’ll prove it. Here are 18 fantastic graphic novels, arranged from the lightest and most fun to the most serious and somber. They all have amazing art, great stories, and you can find them without going to a comic book store if that’s not your thing. You can order them online, ask your local bookstore to order them, or check your local library. If you can’t find a graphic novel in this list that appeals to you, all my comics recommendations are here, or check out my comics Pinterest board. Happy reading!

(New to my blog? All my book posts all use affiliate links, but check your local library too!)

Giant Days by John Allison, illustrated by Lissa Treiman, colored by Whitney Cogar, and lettered by Jim Campbell.

Read all the character dialogue in a British accent. (In your head, not out loud.) It will make this book even better. Giant Days may be one of the perfect first-year-of-college comedy-dramas. Three young women with rooms next to each other become friends through a series of Dramatic! Adventures! told to us in one panel each. And that all happened in their first three weeks.

Now they’re confronted with less dramatic but more complicated issues, such as the hot transfer student whom Susan mysteriously hates, Daisy’s burgeoning crush on her classmate Nadia, and Esther getting ranked as highly do-able by the campus bro website. I love books about female friendship where there’s zero rivalry. I love writers who can balance real emotion with banter, and Allison is one of the best. I was a little nervous about how I’d feel seeing his character Esther (one of my faves) drawn by someone else, but Treiman is a perfect fit for the goofball Allison-verse. Cannot WAIT for the next installment.

For more like this: totally fun comics and graphic novels.

Super Indian by Arigon Starr.

Arigon Starr is an actor, musician, playwright, and a member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma. She initially created Super Indian as a radio drama performed with a live audience. She then turned it into a comic book, writing and drawing it herself, because she is unstoppably multi-talented. It’s incredibly funny. Starr isn’t afraid to play with superhero conventions, reference pop culture, and comment on racism, oppression, and cultural appropriation in a way that makes you laugh, even while you’re shaking your head because it’s so true.

Hubert Logan gained superpowers as a child due to a government research project that laced commodity cheese with “Rezium.” He keeps his alter ego, Super Indian, a secret while working as a janitor in the reservation bingo hall. We first meet Super Indian as he’s battling an evil anthropologist. We first meet Hubert as he’s being turned down for a date. A librarian suggests that Hubert start a blog to get chicks, but unfortunately Hubert’s still too mad about being insulted to blog responsibly. The anonymous “Rez Boy” blog stirs up all kinds of trouble, some of it involving a Brazilian rodeo cowboy. There’s also a headlock incident due to an unfortunate comment about Revenge of the Sith. In the next tale, Super Indian battles the villain Technoskin to save the reservation from generic American fashion and possibly other terrible fates.

I haven’t read something this fun in a long time. Volume 2 came out in the spring of 2015, so I need to get caught up!

For more like this: graphic novels about race and social justice.

The Legend of Bold Riley by Leah Weathington, with art by Weatherington, Marco Aidala, Vanessa Gillings, Kelly McClellan, Konstantin Pogorelov, and Jason Thompson. Selected colors by Chloe Dalquist.

Rilavashana SanParite, of the ruling family of Ankhala in the nation of Parakkalore, was restless. Raised to be a monarch, she instead preferred hunting, bedding pretty girls, and telling inappropriate stories at fancy dinner parties. Her father gave her a choice: act with respect for her family and heritage, or travel. She chose travel. This book shares five of her adventures, drawn and colored by the various artists listed above. It’s a swashbuckling, magical, epic set of stories. Rilavashana, now called Bold Riley, outfights and outsmarts her adversaries, continues with the bedding, and even falls in love. Though the artists change from story to story, they all capture Bold Riley’s personality. Weathington knows how to pace a short story so it’s the right length for the action and emotion she’s trying to share.

When I finally got this, I wondered why I’d waited so long!

Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Anthology, edited by Sfé R. Monster.

Two words for this anthology: Overwhelmingly excellent. I keep trying to flip through it, so I can include some details, but I get sucked in and start re-reading it. With 20 stories and 270+ pages, that’s a lot of good reading. Two dads save their daughter from goblins. The heir to the throne tricks a pirate into having “just a little chat.” An android envisioned as male gets help from her creator to transition to a new female body. (Realistic hair is tough!) A worker on a faraway planet makes a desperate dash across its surface after an accident and depressurization in a nearby facility. This may be my second favorite comics anthology ever, and it’s given me a lot of homework for writers and artists to go find their other work. Even if you’re not queer like me, if you’re a genre fan, definitely pick this up!

For more like these: LGBTQ+ comics and graphic novels.

Death Vigil by Stjepan Šejić.

I love this book because Šejić writes and draws real characters instead of 2D cutouts that move through a plot. Specifically in this book, a beautiful and somewhat diverse “found family” of monster-fighting undead folks. I want to hang out with them. Or at least work at their HQ. Maybe they have some spreadsheets that need wrangling?
I love this book because the female characters are so strong, and some of them are sexy, but none of them are objectified. They’re not just on the page so men can ogle them. They’re people. And they kick ass when needed.

I love this book because of all the action, the comedy (the puns are terrible, augh!), and because of all the little touches like Bernadette’s MP3 player and the dorky teenagers raiding on side-by-side computers and they just love hanging out together so much even though their parents hate each other. And because the big romance we find out about with another pair of characters is so CUTE, and I have so many FEELINGS about it. And because of those f—ing Vikings. They’re the best. Give it a read. You won’t regret it.

October Faction by Steve Niles (writer) and Damien Worm (artist). Color assist by Alyzia Zherno, and lettering by Robbie Robbins and Shawn Lee.

If you’re looking for violent and monster-y, but not scary, this is a great choice. The art style is like old photographs, all black and sepia tones. It begins with a young man taking revenge on a former classmate who bullied him for possibly being gay. The young man’s revenge is to trap the bully in hallucinations and nightmares. He comes by such dark magic honestly. Dad has retired from his famed monster-hunting career to be a college professor. Unfortunately for him, he’s the only one in the family who wants the quiet life. The kids are practicing in secret to follow in his footsteps. And he’s dragged back into the fray anyway when an old colleague visits with a warning. From there it’s all double-dealing, old secrets, and running around in dark woods with monsters chasing you. I loved the big spooky mansion, the brother-sister team-up, and all the mayhem.

For more like these: graphic novels about monsters and monster-hunters.

Supreme: Blue Rose by Warren Ellis, with art by Tula Lotay and letters by Richard Starkings.

A reality warping story about superheroes, power, and the multiverse. Diana Dane, an unemployed investigative reporter, is hired by rich supergenius Darius Dax to secretly investigate a mystery. A disaster occurred in a small U.S. town, but Dax doesn’t believe the official reports of an airline crash. Dane doesn’t trust Dax, but she takes the job. What she finds is stranger than she ever could have imagined. The plot is complex because of multiple threads and intersecting timelines, but it’s not too complicated to follow. And Lotay’s art is gorgeous! Dreamy images, old newsprint-style coloring, and fluid lines that streak through the panels all reinforce the swirling, spinning feeling you get from the story. The cast is diverse in race, sexual orientation, and ability, so hurray for that too. This was one of my favorite science fiction graphic novels in 2015. It’s based on a character and universe created by Rob Liefeld, but I wasn’t familiar with that before I read the book.

For more like this: science fiction graphic novels.

Six-Gun Gorilla by Simon Spurrier. Art by Jeff Stokely, colors by André May, letters by Steve Wands.

In the 22nd century, humans who want to die can volunteer for a war zone on a colonized planet, where their deaths can be broadcast as reality TV. Except this time, it doesn’t go according to plan. The divorced ex-librarian known as Blue-3425 doesn’t die when he’s supposed to. He ends up with a watch that’s more than it seems, and folks on both sides of the conflict want to take it. And then there’s the talking gorilla. It’s about truth being manipulated in the service of profit. It’s about the power of story. The art is just the right level of weird for the characters and the plot. The colors are extremely rich and well thought-out, changing as the tale shifts between the colony and Earth.

For more like this: graphic novels about war.

Nailbiter by Joshua Williamson with art by Mike Henderson, colors by Adam Guzowski, and letters by John J. Hill.

I’m three books into this serial killer mystery/horror/action series and loving it. Buckaroo, Oregon, is infamous for the sixteen serial killers that have grown up in the town. An FBI agent who was investigating has disappeared, and his friend NSA agent Nicholas Finch is trying to find him. Finch gets help from Buckaroo’s Sheriff Sharon Crane… without telling her he’s suspended from his job. Suspicion focuses on “The Nailbiter” a.k.a. Edward Warren, one of the serial killers, who lives in Buckaroo after somehow being acquitted for his crimes. Which yes, he totally did commit.

But here’s the bigger question our main characters are led to confront: why does Buckaroo raise so many serial killers? What’s going on beneath the town? This book isn’t for the faint of heart, as it does contain some gory elements. But it’s sucked me in with strong characters, mystery, and beautiful coloring. It feels like more of a mystery and action book than a creepy horror story.

Note: In issue #7, collected in the second volume, the comics writer Brian Michael Bendis visits Buckaroo and interacts with the characters. Don’t worry, this stunt/in-joke doesn’t last long.

For more like this: graphic novels about crime.

Southern Cross by Becky Cloonan, with art by Andy Belanger, colors by Lee Loughridge, and lettering by Serge LaPointe.

Do you like stories about people finding creepy things in space? I do! If you do too, read this book immediately! Alex Braith books passage on the Southern Cross for a journey to Titan. Her goal is to bring her sister’s body back home. Amber took an administrative job on a rig and ended up dead. Alex wants to know why. It turns out the Southern Cross is exactly the right place to start asking questions. Cloonan and Belanger create an amazing level of tension as (strange) things start to happen on the ship. Loughridge uses these flat, dark colors that make everything look artificially but dimly lit. This is grungy sci-fi, not the shiny future where everything’s white and chrome. I love it. The choice Alex and the ship’s captain make at the end sets up the next volume to be even stranger than this first one, so I’ll be anxiously awaiting Volume 2.

Wild’s End, co-created by Dan Abnett (writer) and I.N.J. Culbard (illustrator and letterer).

In a small British-esque town populated by anthropomorphic animals, the town drunks see a falling star and head through the woods to investigate. Retired military officer Clive Slipaway, a newcomer, attends a town meeting the next day. The meeting is interrupted by one of those drunks, who claims they’re being invaded, and his friend is dead. Clive decides to investigate, and what he and other townsfolk find is terrifying. C-Man called the book “The War of the Wind in the Willows” (seems to be a common reaction) and he’s not wrong about the setup. But the characters are what make this book a must read. Clive, the quiet tactician whose past causes him deep pain. Susan, the reclusive writer with the sharp tongue. Gilbert, the town solicitor and jolly busybody. Fawkes, the formerly drunk layabout called to action. You start to care about them, even knowing that Bad Things Will Happen. I’ve rarely felt such a building sense of dread as in this first volume, especially in the nighttime scenes. I am so very impressed with both the writing and the art here, even on my second read.

For more like these: science fiction graphic novels.

Shaft: A Complicated Man, written and lettered by David F. Walker, with art by Bilquis Evely and colors by Daniela Miwa. Character created by Ernest Tidyman.

This is SUCH a good crime drama! John Shaft went to Vietnam to avoid a prison sentence. Back home from the war, he meets a girl. Unfortunately, his girl knows someone who’s in a lot of trouble, and that trouble comes knocking on their door. It’s a story about revenge, and about what can motivate someone to to live on the “wrong” side of the law. Walker’s Shaft, based on the novels by Tidyman, is a cunning opponent whose uses his emotions as fuel. The gangsters and corrupt cops he’s up against don’t stand a chance. Evely and Miwa create a strong sense of time and place for this origin story, from the cars and fashion to the vintage coloring. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this limited series, and I was blown away by what I got. I’ll be picking up Walker’s next Shaft title when the collected edition comes out, as well as his work on DC’s Cyborg.

Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano.

I’m not smart enough to write an in-depth review of this book. I’ll probably need to read it a couple more times before I can even describe it well.

It’s not an easy book to read. The cast is complicated, and the story moves between different timelines. The topic is also difficult: interpersonal violence, from childhood bullying to sexual assault and murder.

So why am I recommending it? Because even if you’re not completely following the events, Asano creates such a feeling of dread with both the human and supernatural elements of the story. It’s dark, but not hopeless, and the events aren’t just horrible for the sake of horrible. It’s extremely well-written by someone who’s clearly very smart. It makes you want to figure out all the interlocking puzzles. Asano’s art particularly shines with details, such as the irises of someone’s eyes as they stare. He also mixes dialogue and narration well, devoting some panels entirely to narration instead of crowding the art – and the pacing of the story is stronger as a result.

So go ahead and read it, and then I’ll buy you lunch so you can explain it to me. Deal?

Postal by Matt Hawkins and Bryan Hill, with art by Isaac Goodhart, colors by Betsy Gonia, and letters by Troy Peteri.

I’m two volumes into Postal, and I’m so scared for the main character. His name is Mark Shiffron. His mother is the mayor of Eden, Wyoming, a secret small town populated entirely by fugitive criminals. When a murder happens in this town with a zero-tolerance policy for crime within its borders, Mark is drawn into the turmoil that follows. He has Asperger’s syndrome, and one of his gifts is noticing details, so it’s hard to stop him when he wants to unravel a mystery. I can see him going down a very dark road and I so desperately want him to make a different choice. But given his environment, I’m just not sure if he can. There are so many secrets in this town, and so many interesting characters, that I can’t stop reading. Goodhart and Gonia do a great job setting a dull, suspicious, brooding tone with the art.

For more like these: graphic novels about crime.

Bayou by Jeremy Love.

Bayou is a dark Southern fantasy about race. A young girl, Lee Wagstaff, journeys into a parallel world to save her innocent father from being hanged for the murder of a white girl. Violence pervades this world of anthropomorphized animals and monsters, just as it does her reality, but she won’t give up. Love is a gifted storyteller, and a capable artist. His scenes are grotesque and menacing where they need to be, and sweet where Lee and her family connect with each other. I can tell I’m missing some of the layers while reading it, due to my own ignorance, because so much history and mythology is clearly wrapped up in Lee’s journey. It’s a compelling story, though, even if like me you don’t know enough to fully process all the references.

The problem: Bayou was never completed. The two printed volumes, and the Comixology run of issues #1-15, each collect all the material that seems to have been published, and it’s been 5 years since the last issue. I’m glad I read it anyway, but for some people the lack of an ending would be annoying.

Bluesman, by Rob Vollmar and Pablo C. Callejo.

Two traveling African-American blues musicians. White racism. This isn’t going to end well. It’s set in the early 20th century in Arkansas and it doesn’t flinch from showing the ugly brutality of racist violence. But instead of relying on violence for shock value, Bluesman centers the human experience of Lem Taylor, one of the musicians. The story takes him on an epic journey which sadly has no happy ending. The illustrations are dark and somber, in keeping with the tragedy of the plot, and the woodcut / printing style helps set the time period. Vollmar and Callejo include some historical background notes, sparingly, not overwhelming the action or the emotion of the book. I appreciated it, since I wasn’t very familiar with the specific setting for the story. I was impressed with the craftsmanship here, and I can forgive Vollmar and Callejo for kicking me right in the heart at the end. It had to be done.

For more like these: graphic novels about race and social justice.

The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis.

This is possibly the strangest comic I’ve ever read and liked. I’m not sure how to describe it without giving away some of the strangeness. The narrative begins with this sentence: “The weather clock said ‘Knife O’Clock’ so I chained Dad up in the shed.” Scarper Lee, a teenager, is the “I” in that sentence. Chaining up his father is actually a good thing to do, since in Lee’s world, the weather can kill you. So can many other things. It’s a bleak world, with a seemingly authoritarian government of some kind, but everyone seems to just accept how things are. But when Vera Pike enrolls at his school, his world changes. New friends mean new ideas, and the possibility of a change in his destiny, if he’s willing to try.

I really don’t know what more to say without spoiling. The art is dark and brooding, like Scarper’s own personality, and it doesn’t change, because this is not a happy book. If you’re down already, don’t read it. But it’s a unique, amazing little world with a trio of fascinating characters – Scarper, Vera, and their new friend Castro Smith, one of the few POC characters with a disability that I’ve ever seen in comics.

So what fantastic graphic novels have you read lately? If you have any suggestions for me, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing this post on social media or with friends, so more people can find these great books!

3 thoughts on “From Light & Fluffy to Dark & Gritty: Fantastic Graphic Novels for Every Mood

  1. Charlotte

    You know, I’ve never been much of a graphic novel fan, but after looking through this list there are actually a few that totally stand out. Thanks so much for sharing :)

    Reply
    1. Skye Post author

      That’s the great thing about how the graphic novel category has grown and diversified, there’s something for almost everyone now. :)

      Reply

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