The best graphic novels aren’t just the ones that star superheroes. While costumed adventurers like Batman, Spider-Man and Captain America might get all the attention, there’s a whole universe of comics and graphic novels out there that explore a multitude of different art styles, genres and approaches.
We've chosen the best graphic novels in our list below, but if you want to make your own book read Adi Granov's marvel-comic-art-tips. You can also read our guide to creating and publishing a comic book. You'll also need the best-drawing-tablet to start your comic career.
Ever since the explosion of mature-reader comics and graphic novels in the 1980s, creatives like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller and many others have been redefining what’s possible in comic-book storytelling.
From crime to comedy, from slice-of-life to horror, from sci-fi to romance, there’s no style or genre that comics and graphic novels can’t take on. Melding text and visuals in a unique way that no other medium can match, they can be both highly entertaining and deeply unpredictable – and for those in need of a way into this sometimes bewildering world, here’s the ten best graphic novels to look for in 2023.
Best graphic novels: available now
Watchmen regularly tops lists of the best graphic novels ever published. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s bold superhero saga still stands as a towering achievement over three decades after its first publication.
Set in an alternate 1985 where superheroes are real, the plot follows an investigation into the murder of a government-sponsored superhero called the Comedian, and uses its whodunnit structure to explore a fascinating selection of characters and themes, while building to a dark and shocking finale.
Even in our superhero-overloaded world, Watchmen is essential reading – a challenging blend of thriller, science fiction and alternate history that holds a dark mirror up to the superhero concept and doesn’t like what it finds. Forget the misguided Zack Snyder movie adaptation – from Moore’s intelligent scripts to Gibbons’s finely crafted, hyper-detailed art, this a graphic novel landmark that few other writers or artists have even come close to equalling.
Graphic novels and comics can do anything – and if there’s an example that shows this better than any other, it’s SAGA. One of the best sci-fi graphic novels around, it’s a massively successful and hugely addictive ongoing multi-volume epic from writer Brian K Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples.
The story mixes science fiction and fantasy together to create a strange, intergalactic storybook world in which two soldiers from opposing sides of a never-ending war fall in love, have a baby and go on the run. It’s a simple hook for a lively tale that’s packed full of dizzying plot-twists, memorable set-pieces, endearing characters and wildly imaginative creations, from grumpy cyclops novelists to TV-headed robot aristocrats, to the iconic and unforgettable Lying Cat.
SAGA is also extremely adult, featuring eye-opening levels of gore, swearing, sex and violence that somehow never feels gratuitous, and never overrides the touchingly human tale at the story’s core.
Superhero comics have a well-earned reputation for massively over-complicated continuity, but there’s no such problem with Hawkeye. Following the street-level adventures of the bow-wielding hero, it’s an accessible and new-reader-friendly Marvel series from writer Matt Fraction that was the inspiration for the recent Disney+ TV show, and explores what Hawkeye (aka Clint Barton) gets up to when he isn’t being an Avenger.
This four-volume thriller is one of the best superhero graphic novels of recent years, and sees Barton going up against the Russian Mafia in a low-stakes but gripping adventure that finds room for plenty of one-off stories and narrative experiments (most notably, an almost dialogue-free issue told from the point-of-view of Hawkeye’s pet dog).
Ludicrously stylish, with gorgeous visuals from a host of talented artists (most notably the amazing David Aja), this is a fast and funny classic that shows how good modern superhero storytelling can be.
Fans of dark fantasy can be divided into two groups – those who’ve already read The Sandman, and those who really need to. A massive, ten-volume series (with dozens of prequels, sequels and spin-offs), Neil Gaiman’s tale of dreams and nightmares is a mature epic that melds a dizzying number of genres together into a dark, unpredictable ride.
The Sandman is the story of Morpheus, the god-like entity who rules over the realm where all dreams happen, but Gaiman’s exploration of mythology, madness and fate also finds room for dozens of tangents and intriguing one-off tales. The result is a lyrical, weird and occasionally shocking experience that’s often just as much a surreal mood piece as it is a compulsive story.
Featuring a massive, sprawling cast of gods, angels, demons, faeries and historical figures, The Sandman is both thoroughly entertaining and genuinely experimental, and still remains one of the best graphic novels of the last four decades.
Parker: The Hunter is the first book in an incredible series. Crime comics are a neglected sub-genre that’s been making a comeback for the last decade – and some of the finest crime graphic novels currently available are the Parker quartet.
Consisting of four volumes – The Hunter, The Outfit, The Score, and Slayground – these are tightly crafted noir thrillers, adapted by writer/artist Darwyn Cooke from vintage novels written by classic pulp writer Donald Westlake (originally under the pseudonym Richard Stark).
Focusing around Parker – a brutal, single-minded, unstoppable criminal – they’re twisty, compulsive and hard-edged, benefitting hugely from ex-animator Cooke’s kinetic Mid-Century-influenced visual style.
From the fierce action and narrative drive of The Hunter, to the twists and turns of The Outfit, the heist shenanigans of The Score and the sheer suspense of Slayground, each instalment in this series is a visually impressive, beautifully presented storytelling machine that remains gripping and compelling right to its climactic moments.
Building Stories is one of those books that prove graphic novels don’t have to be escapist fantasy – many writers and artists use them to honestly explore the human condition, and among the finest graphic novels ever to hit the shelves is Chris Ware’s Building Stories.
Ware is best known for bleakly funny, deeply melancholic graphic novels like the acclaimed Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth, and Building Stories pushes his usual blend of slice-of-life storytelling and daring visuals as far as it can go.
Coming in a gigantic 44cm x 30 cm box, it’s a collection of fourteen different tales, all presented in different print formats – from small notebooks, to fold-out broadsheets, to sturdy hardbacks – and all of which explore the lives of the inhabitants of a three-story Chicago apartment block from multiple different angles. Bittersweet, non-linear, staggeringly experimental and often emotionally devastating, Building Stories is a daring and adventurous work that’s guaranteed to be unlike anything else you’ve ever read.
Comedy graphic novels come in all shapes, sizes and styles, and few are as purely enjoyable as Giant Days. The rollicking tale of a trio of female students navigating the ups and downs of university life, this endearing series is collected across fourteen volumes, but is also addictive enough that you’ll rip through it in record time.
The adventures of eternal cynic Susan, wide-eyed innocent Daisy and sexy disaster Esther are both massively relatable and consistently hilarious, thanks to writer John Alison’s determination to pack every page to bursting with jokes. It’s also unashamedly honest about the more painful moments of teenage life in a way that contrasts beautifully with the knockabout humour.
Whatever trials the protagonists may face, the cartoony visuals (largely by artist Max Sarin) keep the story bright and expressive, and this fast-paced, joyously inventive romp is easily one of the funniest and best comedy graphic novels currently available.
You can’t beat a good, attention-grabbing narrative hook, and new horror thriller The Nice House on the Lake delivers an absolute doozy. It’s the typical too-good-to-be-true set-up, as a group of long-term friends are invited to a beautiful lake house in the country with seemingly no apparent strings attached.
By the end of the first day, the group of pals discover that (a) they’re trapped, and (b) the apocalypse has begun, and things only get weirder from there as James Tynion IV’s inventive script piles twist upon twist.
The kind of story that seems guaranteed to be adapted into a binge-watchable TV show, this ongoing series is only one volume into what’s promised to be a complex saga, and already stands as one of the top horror graphic novels of the last few years. With gorgeous visuals and a brilliantly creepy atmosphere, this is a house that any self-respecting horror fan will love being trapped inside.
Legendary comic creator Frank Miller’s influence on superhero comics and Batman in particular has been gigantic, and some of the best evidence can be found in Batman: Year One. The Dark Knight Returns by Miller may get the most critical attention, but it’s 1987’s Year One and its tightly crafted retelling of Batman’s origin that truly shows Miller at his peak.
The story builds on the grittier edges Batman comics had acquired in the 1970s, and delivers a narrative powerhouse with multiple iconic sequences. Split between Bruce Wayne’s tentative first steps as a Bat-vigilante and lowly cop Jim Gordon’s struggle against corrupt fellow officers.
There’s barely an ounce of fat on Miller’s crackling noir-influenced script, while David Mazzucchelli’s artwork is a storytelling masterclass. One of the finest superhero graphic novels ever published, Year One is a brilliant example of traditional superhero action at its very best.
There are few titles that deserve the accolade ’best graphic novel ever’ as much as Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s disturbing classic From Hell. Based on a conspiracy theory about the identity of infamous murderer Jack the Ripper, From Hell uses the Ripper murders to explore the horrors and inequalities of the Victorian Age.
Far superior to the dodgy 2001 Johnny Depp movie adaptation, Moore and Campbell ignore the usual ‘whodunnit’ mystery approach, instead telling us upfront who the Ripper is, leaving the reader to watch with mounting horror as the murders begin, each of the killings depicted in graphic detail by Eddie Campbell’s scratchy yet hugely atmospheric artwork.
This is a gripping, gruelling and endlessly compelling story that examines these historical events in depth, and reaches disturbing conclusions about how they influenced our modern world. Not an easy read, From Hell is nevertheless an essential masterwork and Watchmen co-creator Moore’s finest work.
Best graphic novels: frequent questions
Is a graphic novel a comic?
While comics and graphic novels share the same structure of comic strips panels (and often characters), graphic novels tend to be one-off event stories or collections rather than on-going monthly sagas. Graphic novels are more experimental, often feature diverse stories and art styles and will take more risks than regular comics.
Where should I start with graphic novels?
While we've selected our favourites for this year (above), if you're new to graphic novels you should start with these books:
4. Crisis on Infinite Earths
5. The Sandman
What are the main types of graphic novel?
While superhero stories are the most common or recognised, modern graphic novels are limitless in the narratives they tell. Whether it's horror, humour, or even real life journalism, there's a graphic novel for everything and everyone.
What is the best-selling graphic novel of all time?
According to statista.com the best-selling single-issue comic of all time is X-Men issue 1 which first released in America in 2019 and since sold in excess of 8.2 million copies.