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If you’ve been a fan of comics for a long time, you know the joy of someone finally agreeing to give them a try. Comics and graphic novels often get a bad rep. Some people think they’re childish, while others think they’re too complicated. Often people assume comics are only about superheroes without understanding the wide range of topics and genres they can cover. So, if you’ve convinced someone to try graphic novels, you’ve gotta make sure that what they read is gonna be great. Therein lies the problem. People who are new probably don’t want to read the same things you do.
Think about it. Comics and graphic novels have their own language and it can take a while to learn. Therefore the best recommendations are graphic novels that work hard to make the layout understandable, especially to new readers.
Below are some great comics and graphic novels for beginners separated into three genres.
Science Fiction/Fantasy Retellings and Adaptations Nonfiction
This list is small but has a range that’s wide enough to attract even the most skeptical of the genre. While the list only includes two “traditional” superhero stories, each listed is both engaging and laid out simply.
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The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way and Gabriel BÁ
Around the world, 42 children are born to mothers who were not pregnant that morning. Seven of these children are adopted by Reginald Hargreeves to “save the world.” Years later, the children now form The Umbrella Academy, a dysfunctional family full of superheroes. Our story follows them as adults returning after Reginald Hargreeves has died. Can they set aside their differences to be a family again? Or is the pressure of their abilities and fading child stardom too much?
The Sacrifice of Darkness by Roxanne Gay, Tracy Lynne Oliver, Rebecca Kirby, and James Fenner
After a rocket is flown into the sun, the world is covered in darkness. We follow two generations in a small mining town leading up to and living after the event. Even as the darkness presses in around them, the families find hope and challenge the notion that survival means anything other than living your life to your truest identity.
Lore by Ashley Wood and T.P Lousie
The world used to be full of magical creatures. But long ago, a secret society of Shepherds banished the beasts and kept them at bay to save our world. Now, society has fallen and the long banished beasts are starting to return. We follow a reluctant hero thrust into the midst of this chaos as danger creeps in around her. Even still she wonders if there’s anything she can actually do to help. Or if she even wants to.
Nubia: Real One by L.L McKinney and Robyn Smith
Nubia has always been incredibly strong. Unfortunately for her, this has caused a lot of problems. While her mothers want to support her, having a superpowered daughter means they’ve had to move around a lot to keep her powers secret. Just as Nubia feels like she’s fitting in, something goes wrong, and she runs the risk of letting the secret of her powers get out in order to save her friends. As things get more and more complex, Nubia struggles not only to survive high school, but also to convince her moms that she’s ready, and with becoming a hero.
Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, and Richard Isanove
The Marvel universe, but set roughly 400 years in the past. We follow our favorite heroes as they live through the 17th century. The stories of these iconic heroes are familiar and yet distorted, as they are limited to the resources and expectations of a world we have yet to see them in.
Retellings and Adaptations
Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel by George Orwell, Adapted by Odyr
The classic story of corrupt ideals on a quiet country farm is reimagined with breathtaking full-page art. The adaptation catches the heart of the story against a backdrop of rolling hills and countryside. After the animals revolt and remove the farmer from his land, they set about their own rule. However, the newly established peace and prosperity do not last long as corruption takes the hearts of their leaders.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
In a queer YA retelling of Cinderella, we follow Prince Sebastian who is being forced to search for a bride by his parents, the king and queen. However, Sebastian has a secret: At night he sneaks out to perform as the legendary Lady Crystallia in the most stunning dresses Paris has ever seen. His dressmaker Frances knows the secret, but Frances has big dreams, and being a secret is getting in the way of her own career. How long can she keep her skills a secret to protect her friend, the rightful heir to the throne?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, Adapted by John F McDonald, Kat Cardy, Jason Cardy, and Clive Bryant
A stunning adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays. We follow four lovers out in the woods, however, as the night goes on they are soon set upon by fae, and tricks pursue them all night long. As the couples become confused, lost, and donkeyfied, a troupe of actors prepares a love story to be performed for the king and queen of the fae realm. What follows is a night of chaos and hilarity beloved by audiences the world over.
Emma by Jane Austen, Adapted by Janet Lee and Nancy Butler
The beloved tale of Emma is brought to life for the comic reader. We follow Emma as she waltzes around her tiny village playing matchmaker. While her skills in this area are exceptional they soon get her into a bit of trouble. Jane Austen’s beloved character is given a new life in this thrilling graphic novel adaption of a classic.
Steampunk Snowqueen by Rod Espinosa
The classic Scandinavian folktale of the Snowqueen is thrust into the ever-engaging world of steampunk in this clever reimagining. The King and Queen are delighted by their two daughters; however, the oldest has a mysterious and frightening power that allows her to control and create ice and snow. And worse yet, she is not in control. As the curse threatens the land, the youngest daughter, along with a team of engineers, struggles to find a way to protect the land and save the princess, or she will remain shut away forever.
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
In a graphic memoir, Thi Bui writes and illustrates her life and the life of her family as they flee war-torn Vietnam. As she reflects on the lives of her parents, and how it compares to her life now, she ponders the concepts of family, identity, and generational trauma. Set primarily in the 1970s, Thi gives us an inside look at what being an immigrant family means, and how it has affected her, as a new mother writing this story, but also how she sees it affect her parents, and her siblings to this day.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel reflects on her life growing up in a family full of secrets. She reflects on being young and knowing she was different from her siblings, but not being able to understand how. Later in college, she finally understands that she’s a lesbian and after coming out to her family she learns her dad is gay and has been keeping it a secret his whole life. Written after her father’s suicide, Alison Bechdel brings us a story about family and the lies we tell ourselves.
March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
The first in a trilogy, U.S Representative John Lewis tells the story of the freedom rides and protests he participated in as a young man living through Jim Crow. This first book focuses on his life as a student, the building tension of the movement as well as the story of his first time meeting Martin Luther King Jr. This is a thrilling story of history and perseverance that comes to life on the page in a gut-wrenching account of our nation’s racist history.
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The complete memoir of Marjane Satrapi tells the story of her life growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. We follow her early days before the upheaval, while still in her teen years, as she is sent away to Vienna, and her bittersweet homecoming. Written years later as an adult in self-imposed exile from the home she loves. It is a reflection of girlhood, adolescence, and self-identity in the midst of a world determined to define her.
Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust, Translated by Kim Thompson
In 1942, Ulli was a rebellious teen who set off on a trip across Italy that would change her life forever. We follow her trip through the gorgeous Italian landscape as she writes about the journey 25 years later. This is a recount with the wisdom of an older woman and the memories of a young punk determined to be her own person. This is a gorgeous autobiographical account that leads the reader on a journey they will not soon forget.
There are plenty more great graphic novels for beginners out there! We’ve really only scratched the surface with these 15. Luckily, several of the ones listed are only part one in a series, so there’s more where that came from!
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