The best graphic novels offer world-rocking storylines that stay with a reader. Whether they tackle real worlds or ones of fantasy, they connect in a way few comics can, marrying exquisite visuals and text to carry their narrative. If you’re looking to expand your horizons, we can recommend more than a few fantastic graphic novels to pick up.
Plus, if you’re looking for a specific kind of comic or graphic novel, we have a few other guides that may be able to help. It’s not all about the best board games here at Wargamer – we’ve got strong opinions on the best DC comics and the best Star Wars comics we’d love to share.
These are the best graphic novels:
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
- Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life
- Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes
Art Spiegelman’s Maus can’t be defined in simple terms. It’s part autobiography, part memoir, and part historical fiction. It uses a cast of animals as stand-ins for humans, distancing us from the novel’s real events while also inviting us to project empathy onto these minimalist masks.
This complexity is fitting given the topic of Maus: The Holocaust. In Maus, Spiegelman himself speaks with his father, learning of the senior man’s experiences in Nazi concentration camps. Stories of that time are retold, and Maus reveals a tangled narrative focusing as much on the father-son relationship as it does on the sequence of events that took place during the war.
Maus is one of the richest stories ever told in graphic novel form. It became the first of the genre to win a Pulitzer prize in 1992 – and if that doesn’t convince you to read it, perhaps our stellar write-up will.
Alan Moore is a major name in comics for a reason. We think the best graphic novel to represent his achievements is Watchmen. If you like your superhero stories with a bit of grit, Watchmen should be at the top of your ‘to-be-read’ list.
Watchmen takes us to an alternate reality where superheroes changed the outcomes of major US events, primarily the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War. The Cold War comes knocking anyway, and by 1985 many of the country’s greatest heroes are retired, dead, or on the run. These fallen heroes are Watchmen’s protagonists, and the story explores their personal problems as well as the increasing political tension around them.
Watchmen is both desolate and intriguing. It tests the limits of the superhero genre in a way that was near-unheard-of at the time. And it’s gone on to become one of the best-selling graphic novels ever.
The Dark Knight Returns
Frank Miller is another author who penned many critically acclaimed graphic novels. His work is often dark and dramatic – which combines wonderfully with the world of Batman. The Dark Knight Returns remains one of the best Batman comics, and it deserves its place among the best graphic novels ever written.
Bruce Wayne is mid-way through his fifties when the novel begins, but he’s still trying to defend a full-on dystopian Gotham. This is a grim take on Batman (as well as many of his most iconic villains and allies). Bruce’s mind, body, and morals begin to deteriorate as the stakes climb higher.
The Dark Knight Returns is filled with twisted events and darkness. If you’re a lover of any Batman movies, you’ll see a lot of them in Frank Miller’s unforgettable graphic novel.
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life
For something lighter (but no lesser), we recommend Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. This is the graphic novel that kickstarted the punchy, action-packed Scott Pilgrim series. It explores the complexities of ordinary relationships in the most comic book way possible – with band battles and flying-through-the-air fist fights.
The titular Scott pilgrim is the hero here, but ‘hero’ might be a generous term. In this first instalment, he begins life as a slacker who’s giving very little to his band, friends, and underage girlfriend. Encountering (and pining for) the vibrant Ramona Flowers is where everything changes for him.
Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes
Before he brought novels (and shows) like Good Omens into the world, Neil Gaiman was a renowned comic book author. In that world, he’s best known for The Sandman, an otherworldly fantasy series that focuses on the anthropomorphised embodiment of dreams. While there are several contained graphic novels in the Sandman series, we think the first – Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes – is the very best.
It introduces Morpheus, who recently escaped imprisonment by some overzealous humans and must return to his former glory as the ruler of dreams. Regaining his powers isn’t just good for his confidence, though – it becomes crucial for protecting the world as we know it.
Preludes and Nocturnes sets up one of the most unique fantasy worlds in comic books. Here superheroes, fairytales, myths, and more mingle. Mystery and horror play a big role (seriously, this features one of the best horror comics we’ve ever read). If you’re a keen DC comics lover or you’re looking for the dark underbelly of the fantasy genre, Sandman is a no-brainer.