Listing the top 10 graphic novels of all time ever created is a lot like figuring out which one of your parents do you love more. You being confused is a given. But that is the highpoint of graphic novels as an art form. From superheroes to autobiography, horror to comedy, this art form is as varied and important as anything else on this planet. Graphic novels offer a creative freedom that’s all but unparalleled. It’s an easier way to fill your shelf with mind-expanding, paradigm-shifting work and still barely scratch the surface of what’s out there.
Below you’ll find our pick for Top 10 Graphic Novels Of All Time. A list that has the most exciting, adventurous, dark, and thought-provoking stories ever drawn. Get ready to bask in the glory of one of the best mediums of entertainment.
Best Graphic Novels
10. The Greatest of Marlys
Eight-year-old Marlys is indomitable. And not just in the normal way that 8-year-olds are indomitable; They just can’t shut up. Marlys lives in a damaged home with a lost father and a mom who might as well be. She generates an endless series of games, trials, tunes, dances, and common theories about life from that unpromising material. She’s not a fantasist; she sees everything as it is, and she loves it all. Every once in a while, it all comes crashing in on her, but somehow she bobs up again in the next scribbly black-and-white panel, unsinkable as ever.
The Greatest of Marlys – an accumulation of Barry’s graphic novels about Marlys and her siblings, Maybonne and Freddie, a.k.a. Skreddy 57. This is probably the best graphic novel ever written, in any medium, from a child’s point of view. It easily grabs a spot in our Top 10 Graphic Novels of All Time list.
09. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Alison Bechdel’s dad was forty-four when he was hit by a truck, which he may or may not have stood in front of. Fun Home is the tale of what led up to that incident; the author’s childhood in Pennsylvania and her slow realization that she is homosexual and her father probably is too. The story isn’t told linearly; it’s more like a tape on loop. She goes back and analyzes her own story again, adding new details every time. She even assembles maps and pictures and journal entries and references Wilde and Proust and Fitzgerald and Joyce.
And This deepens our understanding of it, and at the same time adding many more layers of obscurity. She never shies away from any complication, never forces a theory that does not fit. All of this is told by line drawings that are simplicity itself. It never crosses the line and becomes too dramatic or weirdly funny. It finds the perfect balance between the two genres and excels with flying colors. This is a brilliant mix of tragedy and comedy and easily steals a spot in our Top 10 Graphic Novels list.
08. Ghost World
Two teenage girls pass their zilch lives in an unknown prosperous area of malls and fake diners and sidewalks. They’ve finished high school, but any dream or goal they have feels normal and insignificant in their ironic state. And as a result, they roam from day to day, struggling through the broken refuse of popular culture.
Their sarcastic banter is so funny, and their immorality so total, that on the infrequent occasions when an actual real emotion breaks through, it’s like a wrecking ball that crushes the reader’s heart. The movie starring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson is fine, but it’s nothing compared to the book’s pale blue-washed panels, so orderly and still and perfect that you know nothing is going to happen, ever. For its brilliant way of handling a premise like this, it grabs an easy spot in our Top 10 Graphic Novels list.
07. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth
In precise, almost gem-like panels stacked in flow-charts and Mondrian-like grids, Chris Ware tells the tale (does it count as a tale, when there’s no hope whatsoever?) of a lonely, introverted man in his thirties who meets his father for the first time. Jimmy’s life’s bleakness is only cheered by his dreams about his adventures as the Smartest Kid on Earth, which sadly also tends to end in more bleakness. Every page in Jimmy Corrigan is a masterclass in moderate graphic design; it cuts time into distinct, intensely felt moments in a way that no other medium can. This is one of the best graphic novels. And we are putting this at the seventh spot with a heavy heart, and it absolutely deserves a spot in our Top 10 Graphic Novels List.
06. The Adventure of Tintin: The Black Island
From his lavish seat at Marlinspike Hall, Hergé’s tufted, virtually epicene reporter looks into mysteries, ranging from the criminal to the most extraordinary (a strange meteorite that makes things to grow at an astounding rate). And he does this in the company of a drunken ex-sailor, a half-cracked scientific genius, two twin bumbling detectives, and of course, his white, seemingly sentient dog Snowy.
Tintin is an uncanny mix of comedy, mystery, and adventure, and you never truly know what you’re going to get when you open one of those lean, oversized volumes. Hergé’s art is a unique mix of cartoonishness and accurate hyper-realism, inked in bright, oversaturated colors. And this renders Tintin‘s timeless, obscurely European (Tintin is Belgian) world utterly believable. The movie adaptation of Tintin is kickass, which is a bonus. It easily grabs a spot in our Top 10 Graphic Novels list.
05. Miracleman: The Golden Age
Before he wrote Watchmen, Alan Moore picked up an unknown 1950s superhero and rewrote him as one of the greatest sad heroes anyplace in comics. Miracleman — formerly called Marvelman— is a middle-aged reporter named Mike Moran. And he is in the process of slowly recollecting that he was once, and still can be a superhero. As he rediscovers his powers and figures out what happened to his memory, he reinvents every tired cliché of the Superman-style hero into something strange and new and somehow unfortunate.
In 1990 Moore gave Miracleman over to Neil Gaiman (yes, Neil Gaiman — seriously, it’s like watching Bach and Mozart extemporize a composition together). Neil’s run on the title is as weird and extraordinary as Moore’s in a completely different way. It’s infuriatingly hard to find Miracleman today because the character’s rights are part of a lengthy and painful legal dispute but if you do find him, read him. You’ll know why it grabs a spot in our list of Top 10 Graphic Novels.
Art Spiegelman’s daddy Vladek was a Polish Jew who outlived the Holocaust. When Spiegelman told his dad’s story in Maus, he represented all the Jews as mice and all the Nazis as cats. Surprisingly, the cartoonish conceit does not underplay the story; it makes it gut-wrenchingly real; it shreds away our practiced detachment to an all too common story. Those mice are more human than most people.
Besides his father’s tale, Spiegelman respectfully but genuinely depicts his own relationship with his father, who has mellowed into a tough, sharp, frightful man. Maus won a Pulitzer in 1992, a milestone event in the history of this medium, and its sheer power made the mainstream world to take graphic novels seriously. The fact that it was a game-changer for graphic novels makes it a definite addition to our Top 10 best Graphic Novels list.
03. The Dark Knight Returns
This is a brutal reboot of one of the greatest comic book characters ever created. Frank Miller shoves Batman into his 50s: he has retired 10 years earlier, following the loss of Robin, and has descended into worrying oblivion. Gotham has fallen too. A ruthless gang pushes Batman out of his retirement, but once he’s out of the Batcave, all his former adversaries come back out to play too.
A major superhero had never felt this original before — a butt chin and aging ligaments and dark thoughts. This is the book that spawned the Batman of the Nolan movies. It snatches a spot in our Top 10 best Graphic Novels list.
Morpheus is the Lord of Dreams. As our story commences, he has been magically taken by an occult bunch. A pale, slender man clad in black, Morpheus the quintessence of goth, and he escapes. But his kingdom, the Dreaming, a kind of terrestrial representation of our combined unconsciousnesses, has fallen into disrepair. And he must rebuild it to its past glory. Sad and occasionally very vicious, Morpheus is one among the Endless. The Endless is a pantheon of beings that includes Death, Despair, Destruction, and various other immortal principles.
In writing Sandman, Neil Gaiman joyfully plundered the world’s mythicisms, and those of his own brain, to create a rich, learned and often brilliant mix of fright and philosophy. Has any comic fathered as many goth tattoos as Sandman? Questionable. This is still one of the most visually striking graphic novels out there, and the narrative is unparalleled. The Sandman, Lord of Dreams, conjures himself in our minds and grabs a spot in our Top 10 best Graphic Novels list.
It’s way beyond cliché at this point to call Watchmen the best graphic novel ever written/drawn, but it’s so true! In the universe Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created, it’s 1985; Nixon is still president, the Cold War is at its peak, and the nation’s superheroes consist of many neurotic, washed-up has-beens. Most of them are without actual superpowers, and most are just retired.
As the story starts, one of them, the Comedian, is assassinated. What follows is an excellent, beautiful, heavy story that starts as a noir mystery and ends with the destruction, or perhaps the redemption, of the whole world as we know it. To narrate this story, Gibbons and Moore deployed about a dozen musically interwoven plots and a complex resounding visual theme system. The result is a masterpiece so strong it caused the whole genre of superhero comics to rethink its most divine rules instantly. There can’t be a list with the title “Graphic Novel” without mentioning Watchmen. For all the right reasons, it takes the numero uno spot in our Top 10 best Graphic Novels list.