How to Start Reading Comics and Graphic Novels – With Plenty of Suggestions!

If you’re already a fan of comics and graphic novels, you can scroll right down to the recommended books in this post.

If you’re not reading them yet, I’m here to help you start reading comics and graphic novels! The basics first: “graphic novel” is just a term for any book-length work that’s told in a sequence of pictures, usually arranged into panels. Graphic novels may be published as one work, or may be published as individual comic book issues first and then collected into one volume.

I usually read my comics in graphic novel form, because it’s more convenient than keeping up with all these little tiny comic books. A good comics shop will help you navigate the sometimes bewildering world of comic book series, but honestly, graphic novels are just easier for me. Your local library probably even has a collection of them.

Graphic novels and comics cover a wide range of styles and genres. The graphic novels in this post alone are all over the map, from magic to adolescent memoir, action-adventure to cooking, and science fiction to gay romance. So to get started, all you really need to do is find something you like in the list below and jump in! Once you’ve read a couple of things you like, that will help other readers and booksellers make more recommendations. Or, you can look for other books by a writer or artist you enjoy. I’m also linking to my reading lists where each of these books fits in, so you can find more suggestions there as well.

(New to my blog? All my comics recommendations are here, or check out my comics Pinterest board. My book posts all use affiliate links, but check your local library too!)

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin, art by Jill Thompson, lettering by Jason Arthur and Jill Thompson, and Sarah Dyer cowrote one of the stories.

I picked this off the library shelf because of Jill Thompson’s name. She’s well-loved by us for The Little Endless series and her own series Magic Trixie and Scary Godmother (see my kids’ comics post for those). I’m so glad it caught my eye! It’s fantastic. Five neighborhood dogs and one cat summon a “Wise Dog” to help a friend in trouble: a dog whose doghouse is haunted. After this first encounter with the supernatural, the six friends become a sort of paranormal detective group under loose supervision by the Wise Dogs. They battle witches and investigate disappearances. They make terrible, soul-crushing mistakes, but they also save lives. It’s more emotional than I would have thought possible from a comic book about animals. Both the storytelling and the art are some of the best I’ve ever seen.

For more like this: graphic novels about magic.

Digger by Ursula Vernon.

What is Digger? It’s a long-running webcomic bound into an 800+ page omnibus collection. It’s a fantasy adventure about a female atheist wombat who meets a statue that speaks for the god Ganesha, a priest living with mental illness, and a solitary artist. It’s an amazing story about the strength of women that also includes wonderful male characters. It’s one of the funniest comics I’ve read. C-Man says it’s one of the best books he’s ever read, not even just one of the best graphic novels. If you’re at all intrigued by stories about fantasy, adventure, religion, or culture, you have to pick this up. Digger the wombat, Murai the traumatized priest, and Ed the exiled hyena painter are some of my new favorite characters in comics.

For more like this: epic comics and graphic novels about legends and myths.

The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage by Jen Van Meter, art by Roberto de la Torre, colors by David Baron, and gorgeous covers by Travel Foreman and Kevin Wada.

I fell in love with this book based on the cover. It helped that Jen Van Meter was writing it, since her Hopeless Savages is one of my most favorite favorite books ever. It did not disappoint! A gorgeous story of love, loss, and the journey between them and back again. Shan and Hwen are two parts of a whole – not in a dysfunctional way, but that relationship where something just clicks when they’re together. When Hwen is killed, Shan is at a loss until she finds a way into the underworld and sets out to find him, no matter the dangers. Fans of strong women in comics will find Shan’s character and de la Torre’s depiction of her so satisfying. Shan is undeniably female, and solid and real rather than posed for the viewer’s enjoyment. Many of his panels are composed like interesting photographs, and the coloring is perfect for the dark atmosphere. There’s a second Dr. Mirage series coming out, and I can’t wait to read it.

For more like this: graphic novels about magic.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff.

Ergemoglu Selim is a Turkish soldier who isn’t much good at actual soldiering, though he does brew excellent tea. In Constantinople in 1807, that’s not a recipe for career success in the military. Selim has at least one other skill, speaking English, which brings him into contact with adventurer and thief Delilah Dirk. She’s imprisoned, he’s assigned to question her… which somehow ends with his head on the chopping block, accused of abetting her escape. Spoiler alert: he gets away.

The book is named for Dirk, and she is a kick-ass woman with awesome hair that defies the laws of physics. Selim, though, is the narrator and the heart of the story. She’s the impetuous adventurer, he’s the realist. It’s not an odd couple dynamic, but a complementary pair of friends who didn’t know how much they needed each other until they met. She brings him out of his shell, and he finds his place in the world. And it’s quite funny.

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

Descender by Jeff Lemire, illustrated by Dustin Ngyuen, letterde by Steve Wands.

First of all, the book is beautiful. Nguyen’s painting style lends soft edges and humanity to a futuristic setting and robot characters. His art enriches the story at every turn. Even the paneling changes depending on what characters are interacting. And is there an award for comics lettering? Steve Wands should win it. Watch the styles used for each character and how they compare to other characters. It’s a great demonstration of how much lettering can add to visual storytelling.

Lemire, the writer, is adept at mixing past and present with clarity, and without slowing down the forward momentum of the story. That’s good, because Descender is a story about how the past influences the present. Dr. Quon, formerly a stylish and famous robotics genius but now a down and out academic, is grabbed by a government team because he may have the key to stopping an alien menace – one he failed to stop when they first attacked. Tim, a “young” robot companion who awakes from a too-long sleep to find that everyone he knows is dead – but his design is somehow related to the alien menace. Lemire also writes the characters with skill. Different robots have different personalities, as do the various humans and aliens. And in the middle, Tim, who clearly sees them all as just different kinds of people, bridging any gap between biological and machine sentience.

For more like this: science fiction graphic novels.

The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker, art by Sean Phillips, colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser.

Reading this book is like driving an expensive car. Everything is so well-crafted that it takes your breath away. Brubaker, Phillips, and Breitweiser are all acknowledged masters of their craft. Brubaker specifically is one of the gods of noir comics writing, so I knew this was going to be amazing. AND IT IS. The Fade Out is about the murder of a starlet in post-war Hollywood, where there’s so much money, corruption, and violence against women that justice seems unlikely. The story is told with all the conflicts, hints, clues, unknown loyalties, and suspense that you need for a crime story to suck you in. The brooding color scheme amplifies the suffocating atmosphere where everyone has to watch his back… until one man decides he doesn’t care about that anymore. But just remember that in noir, there are no happy endings.

For more like this: graphic novels about crime.

Heart in a Box by Kelly Thompson, illustrated by Meredith McClaren.

Heart in a Box opens with a woman in a brutal fight, which ends in the death of her opponent… and a promise there’s an explanation for this. The explanation? Emma had a terrible breakup, and made a really bad decision. She made a deal to keep herself from feeling so bad. And it turns out, from feeling anything at all. What follows is her quest to reclaim her heart, which leads to some pretty dark places. I rooted for Emma all the way, even as she wrestled with her conscience about the fallout from her choices. Life isn’t always pretty. But by the end of the book, she’s grown. And I doubt she’ll make the same mistakes twice.

I first came across Thompson from her comics blogging, and I’m so thrilled to see her pursuing this path with her writing. She’s very talented. McClaren’s art may not be for everyone. It’s a bit complicated. But it makes you love the characters, since it’s clear she loves them so much herself. They all have great hair, too.

For more like this: graphic novels about magic.

March by Representative John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with art by Nate Powell.

March is a trilogy covering the life and work of Representative John Lewis, a pioneer in the Civil Rights movement. This series has gotten a lot of attention, and sparked renewed interest in civil rights – an area where we still need work in the U.S.! The book jacket for the first volume says it’s “rooted in Lewis’ personal story” and that’s true. It starts with him, with his life and contributions, but it tells a much bigger story. The first volume felt a little like background to me, but the storytelling in the second volume really started to pop. You wouldn’t fully appreciate it without the lessons from the first volume, so props to Rep. Lewis and co-author Aydin for knowing how to bring the reader to the right place. The story of the Civil Rights movement they share doesn’t just recount historical events, but opens a window into how social change movements and personalities shape each other. Powell is such a talented artist that I had forgotten the art was black, white, and grayscale until I started flipping through again. That says a lot about how powerfully he depicted the events! A must-read.

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

Marzi, by Marzena Sowa with art by Sylvain Savoia.

Marzi is a memoir of growing up in communist Poland, with its hardships and political unrest. It’s also the story of a little girl’s family and friends, and the bright spots that keep them going. It’s not overtly focused on the political, but Marzi grows into understanding what’s going on around her. Especially when her father becomes active in the struggle for liberation. Even if you’re not interested in history, though, this is an excellent memoir. Sowa was willing to lay many things bare, such as her mother’s dysfunction and cruelty. It’s not sensationalistic, but it’s sobering. But in many ways her family was one of the lucky ones, finding ways to survive and enjoy parts of their lives even during hardship. This one stayed with me for a long while after I turned the last page.

For more like this: graphic novels about growing up.

O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti.

When Alastair Sterling wakes up, his last memory is of collapsing while coughing up blood. Where is he? When is he? And most importantly, what is he? A robotics genius who has awakened as a robot, it turns out, though no one seems to know how it happened. He tries to reconnect with his lover and colleague Brendan, but it’s complicated. Their relationship was secret when Sterling was alive, and he’s been dead for 16 years. It’s a science fiction setting, but at its core, O Human Star is about humans (and robots) doing the best they can to relate to each other. The art is grounded and confident. Humans (and robots) are solid and real.

C-Man had low expectations of this because it started as a webcomic. (We didn’t used to know anything about webcomics, sorry!) He declared it one of the best books he’s read that year, and we read a lot of books. I adore it and I can’t wait for a second volume.

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

RunLoveKill by John Tsuei and Eric Canete, with art by Eric Canete, colors and lettering by Leonardo Olea, and amazing covers by Manu Fernandez.

I fell in love with this comic’s first issue cover before I even knew what it was about. It reminded me of Aeon Flux (the animation), but with its own style. I ended up loving the story and the art as much as the cover. It feels like the beginning of an amazing science fiction / action film. The people and places are all jutting angles, while the fight scenes are explosive movement. It takes place in a future city ruled by a ruthless defense ministry. Our main character, Rain Oshiro, has a past that involves them, and she’s trying desperately to escape to a future away from them. But time is running out and she has very few people to trust.

(Shout out to Rain’s friend Deyliad who is just the sweetest thing ever. Seriously, guy, come hang out, I’ll make you a sandwich, it’s gonna be okay.)

For more like this: science fiction graphic novels.

Silver by Stephan Franck.

Steal a collection of rare silver from the estate of Mina and Jonathan Harker during an auction, what could go wrong? And when you screw it up and then decide to steal even more silver from a castle full of vampires… well, let’s hope anyone’s going to make it out alive. I enjoyed this pulp 1930s heist well enough to back the second volume on Kickstarter, so that tells you something. The black and white newsprint-looking art, the surly gal with a sword, and the promise of serious vampire mayhem in book two was an irresistible combination. I’d also like to know what’s going on with that kid who can see any future except his own.

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

Tomboy by Liz Prince.

My son started growing his hair out when he was five, so we’ve had no shortage of discussions about gender roles and appearances in our household. At this point, he’d probably have the same reaction to us pressuring him for a haircut that four year old Liz Prince did to the suggestion of a dress: tears and sobbing. Dresses, and most “girly” stuff, just wasn’t her thing. Navigating her identity as a non-girly girl is the story she tells in Tomboy. It’s an autobiographical graphic novel tracing her life from childhood through high school with a focus on gender identity. What she feels, what society dictates, the clash between them, and how people around her react. It’s a well-told tale about growing up, and figuring out relationships and who you are. Prince’s cartooning style is clean and works well to tell her story. Highly recommended!

For more like this: graphic novels about growing up.

Trees by Warren Ellis, with art by Jason Howard, and lettering by Fonographix.

Warren Ellis can be an amazing writer when he’s working on his own creations. As a science fiction fan, I’ve read and seen a lot of alien invasion scenarios, but the one in Trees is fresh and interesting. Ten years ago, tall cylindrical alien artifacts descended onto Earth as if humanity didn’t exist, and they’ve been there ever since. Ellis and artist and Jason Howard have created a fascinating world – not quite post-apocalyptic, but certainly heading that way. The Trees haven’t even done almost anything but land, and yet they’ve effectively destroyed whole cities and permanently changed the world. Multiple simultaneous storylines around the world show the devastation and uncover a frightening truth about what may be happening next.

Beyond the diversity in national origin, race, and ethnicity among the major characters, the storyline also includes a significant plotline that centers around diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s not handled as skillfully as I could have hoped for. Specifically, the first sighting of the trans woman character is appalling. She’s inexplicably standing in her open apartment doorway in her underwear, and the reader is shown her genitals. Because that’s clearly the right way to communicate she’s trans, right?! UGH. Re-reading the book just made me hate that scene more. Obsession with what’s in a trans person’s pants is already a huge problem, no need to play into that with fiction!

Some of the speechifying later in the book is probably a good 101 for a lot of comics readers, but that first misstep is so huge! I’m personally used to Warren Ellis being 90% on target with diversity and his 10% fails being spectacularly bad, but not everyone will be. And it’s a shame that a story with such a big GLBTQ component ends up as something I couldn’t recommend on a list of GLBTQ comics.

Blacking out that one panel from my mind, though, leaves a solid, interesting science fiction comic.

For more like this: science fiction graphic novels.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? by Fumi Yoshinaga.

Shiro is a lawyer who spends his nights cooking gourmet multi-course meals at home. He shares the meals, and his home, with his boyfriend Kenji – though Shiro isn’t out at work. This is a “slice of life” comic, bouncing around between different happenings in Shiro and Kenji’s lives, past and present. Foodies will love the in-depth step-by-step recipes and Shiro’s explanations of why he prepares the food as he does. The rest of us can skim those parts and get to the next “adventure” as Shiro stays closeted at work, Kenji doesn’t, ex-partners pop up, legal cases arise, and grocery prices are tracked very closely. (If there was extreme couponing in Japan, Shiro would do it.) I’ve read a few volumes now, and I’m looking forward to working my way through the rest of the series.

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

And that’s the list of books I’d recommend to anyone who wants to start reading comics! If you read and enjoy any of these fine works, please do leave me a comment. It’s always fun to hear from someone else who’s enjoyed something I’ve recommended. And if you enjoyed this post, please share it to help others find these great books!

15 thoughts on “How to Start Reading Comics and Graphic Novels – With Plenty of Suggestions!

  1. Allison

    This was exactly what I didn;t to read! My husband is really REALLY into graphic novels and comic books. I’ve tried getting into a few, but have only found one I love. (Saga, btw. So amazing.) I know we own Trees, so I’m thinking about trying that one out this week. The Fade Out and March also sound fantastic!

    Reply
    1. Skye Post author

      The relationship between Lying Cat and Sophie in Saga is amazing. So many people are getting into comics because of that series!

      Reply
  2. Sonya

    I think I would like What Did You Eat Yesterday. My husband loves comics , so he has bought me a few graphic novels to read over the years. I’ve only read one comic book series, but I’ve read maybe five different graphic novels. However, one of my favorite days of the year is Free Comic Book Day…I love free stuff.

    Reply

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