The best graphic novels for adults: 20 amazing adult comics
Rewarding comics for discerning readers - these are the best graphic novels for adults.
Go into any decent bookshop and you'll likely find a whole range of graphic novels aimed at adults, crossing every genre imaginable - there are so many though, it's always difficult to decipher which are truly the best graphic novels for adults.
Even if you live somewhere that no longer has a place to buy paper copies of books, the Comics app by Comixology lets you read thousands of comics on a phone or tablet (this is despite it being bought by Amazon and the big book giant not really knowing what to do with it).
It helps that they have constant sales to tempt you into building a nice big collection that you'll never have time to read.
To help you on your comic-book journey, we've picked out 20 graphic novels for adults that are well worth your time - from comics journalism, to dystopian sci-fi, and even one story featuring superheroes.
If we have added any of your favourites, remember to upvote or downvote to have your say.
Best graphic novels for adults
1. WatchmenView now at Amazon
Published by DC Comics in 1986 and 1987, Watchmen is one of the most popular, as well as award-winning, graphic novels in history. Although it was published over the course of two years, you can now get your hands on a single volume edition.
It's set in an alternate history in which superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s, changing the course of events. For instance, two of the biggest differences are that the United States won the Vietnam War and the Watergate break-in was never exposed. It's an unusual superhero story, but also a very apt satire or the superhero concept, which reflects current anxieties about who's in power.
Although it's already a very popular comic with huge critical acclaim, it's had a recent resurgence in interest since the HBO series Watchmen. There has also been a follow-up graphic novel, Doomsday Clock, which was written by Geoff Johns, with no input form Alan Moore.
Writer: Alan Moore, Illustrator/Letterer: Dave Gibbons, Colorist: John Higgins
2. The SandmanView now at Amazon
This comic book series is one of the most popular, and well-received, of all time. Published by DC Comics (later under the Vertigo imprint), it's about a character called The Sandman, Dream or Morpheus. It follows the story of him and The Endless, personified, metaphysical beings that represent Desire, Despair, Delirium, Destiny, Death and Destruction.
It's one of the few graphic novels ever to be on the New York Times Best Seller list (along with Watchmen) and it's a blend of horror, myth and fantasy that's beautifully illustrated by a range of artists over the series, including Sam Keith and Malcolm Jones III. It's also the comic series that pushed Neil Gaiman's career into the stratosphere.
The whole series exists as a series of ten trade paperbacks, but there are additional spin-off stories from Gaiman himself, and others, that are also worth reading. Including Death, a trade paperback all about Dream's sister.
A Netflix TV show of this sprawling graphic novel is on its way.
Writer: Neil Gaiman, Illustrator: Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Malcom Jones III (and many others throughout the series).
Maus is a devastating graphic novel that adapts the atrocities of the Holocaust in a very post-modern way, using mice and cats and other animals to portray the characters in the book. Art Spiegelman weaves an autobiographical narrative that is about him and his relationship with his dad, a survivor of Auschwitz. Maus was the first comic book to win a Pulitzer Prize. Art, the author, paved the way for the form to be truly accepted as, well, art.
4. From HellView now at Amazon
Possibly Alan Moore's greatest work - at least the one most adults should read - From Hell is about the Jack the Ripper murders.But it's not a mystery story. It's about the city of London at that moment in time, and how the murders are almost a prelude to the century of horrors to come, with some elements of the story bordering on science fiction. It's an entrancing read, with grimly detailed art by Eddie Campbell that perfectly brings the underbelly of London to life. While originally published in black and white, Campbell is currently working on a gorgeous colour version of the story with the subtitle 'Master Edition'.
Writer: Alan Moore Artist: Eddie Campbell
5. The VisionView now at Amazon
The Vision, The Avengers' android hero, builds himself a family of androids then moves in to a small town in America. The family's doomed attempts to acclimatise make this a compelling and unusual Marvel book, perfectly self-contained in the twelve issues collected here. It has been (accurately) compared to a Twilight Zone episode, and contains more than a few nasty twists. This is definitely the comic book to read for fans of WandaVision and just damn-clever storytelling.
Writer: Tom King / Artist: Gabriel Walta
6. BlacksadView now at Amazon
A noir mystery set in a world full of anthropomorphic creatures, Blacksad is basically about a giant cat solving the murder of another cat. In this universe, each character is assigned to an animal that suits their personality. It's as accomplished as the noir movies that inspired it, and there are two more volumes, if this first one captures your imagination.
Writer: Juan Diaz Canales / Artist: Juanjo Guarnido
Marjane Satrapi autobiographical graphic novel is an absolute must read. It manages to distill a country at war and change, Tehran, and does it in a funny and poignant way. Satrapi recounts what it was like to grow up during the Islamic revolution when your parents are Marxist and liberal values are taken away. Once you've devoured the book, then head straight to the animated movie that was released in 2007 - it's co-directed by Satrapi and is just as joyous.
8. My Favorite Thing is MonstersView now at Amazon
After her neighbour is murdered in late '60s Chicago, a young girl seeks to uncover what really happened, documented in the form of a diary rife with classic monster movie imagery. Each page is scrawled in pen on lined paper - a clever storytelling format that delivers both dazzling art and real-feeling characterisation. This was Emil Ferris's first published comics work, released when she was 55.
Writer and artist: Emil Ferris
9. HellboyView on Amazon now
You might have heard of the Hellboy movies (in their various iterations), but the comics came first and, oh boy, are they fantastic. Artist and writer Mike Mignola brings his unique and distinctive visual style to the page, which uses negative space, often presenting settings, props and characters as silhouettes. The Hellboy saga focuses on Hellboy (whose actual name is Anung Un Rama (which means "and upon his brow is set a crown of flame"). He was summoned from Hell to Earth as a baby by Nazis obsessed with the occult. The story jumps around, from his World War II origin story to his work at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, where we meet his colleagues Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman, and Roger Homunculus.
Writer and artist: Mike Mignola (Author, Illustrator), John Byrne (Author), Mark Chiarello (Illustrator)
10. SagaView now at Amazon
Another award-winning graphic novel enters our list. Saga is an epic space opera with more than 60 issues at the time of writing. It's about Alana and Marko, soldiers and lovers from two different sides of a galactic war. They fell in love and had a daughter, Hazel. This graphic novel follows their adventures as they try to escape the authorities and risk everything to be together. Saga is from bestselling writer Brain K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples, and it's published monthly by Image Comics.
Writer and artist: Brian K Vaughan (Author), Fiona Staples (Artist)
11. The IncalView now at Amazon
The Incal is the story you should read if you've never encountered the influential art of the late Jean 'Moebius' Giraud, who here creates a weird and wonderful futuristic universe with writer Jodorowsky, famous for his doomed Dune adaptation. Detective John Difool uncovers the mythical item known as The Incal, which puts him in the sights of extremely powerful people. It feels like The Fifth Element wouldn't exist without this as its forerunner - Giraud worked on both.
Writer: Alejandro Jodorowsky / Artist: Jean 'Moebius' Giraud
12. DecorumView now at Amazon
Decorum is another mind-bending and brilliant graphic novel by Jonathan Hickman. It’s one of the most recent graphic novels on our list, and as it’s a miniseries, it’s a fantastic way to dip your toe into comic books. It’s a science-fiction and fantasy story about assassins in a world of aliens, robots and unfathomable god-like characters. Because the story is straight from the mind of Hickman, you can expect illustrations, diagrams and lots of rich, cosmic world-building alongside the action.
Writer and artist: Jonathan Hickman (Author), Mike Huddleston (Artist)
13. MonstressView now at Amazon
This award-winning graphic novel from Image Comics is set in an alternate matriarchal 1900s Asia and has a beautiful art deco-meets-steampunk aesthetic. It’s about a teenage girl called Maika Halfwolf trying her best to get over the trauma of war between magical creatures called the Arcanics and the Cumaea, sorceresses who consume Arcanics to gain power. Maika has a psychic link to a powerful monster, a connection that transforms them both, putting them in danger of human and otherworldly forces. The creator and writer, Marjorie Liu, is the first woman to win an Eisner Award for Best Writer.
Writer and artist: Marjorie Liu (Author), Sana Takeda (Artist)
14. The Black Monday MurdersView now at Amazon
The Black Monday Murders is an Image Comics graphic novel debuting in 2016. It occurs in the aftermath of Black Monday, the stock market crash of 1987m and is a compelling combination of noir fiction, horror and mystery. It's about the secret societies behind some of the world's largest and oldest financial institutions, where schools of magic and occultists control us all. There are vampiric Russian oligarchs, enchanted aristocrats and assassins who work for the International Monetary Fund, who all work to keep things ticking over. The Black Monday Murders is written by story weaver extraordinaire Jonathan Hickman, so expect weird and wonderful secret words, languages, diagrams, and symbols. The art is also dark and brilliant, thanks to artist Tomm Coker.
Writer and artist: Jonathan Hickman (writer) Tomm Coke (artist)
15. PalestineView now at Amazon
Joe Sacco is a journalist who uses cartoons to tell his stories. His work is famous and well-respected, and the book Palestine is a great starting point for his style. Based on two months Sacco spent in the Occupied Territories in 1991-1992, this book explores the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its effect on the Palestinian people. His journey is presented mostly through a fascinating series of encounters with strangers, which creates a powerful empathy for those being represented.
Writer and artist: Joe Sacco
16. Tetris: The Games People PlayView now at Amazon
If you've never heard the remarkable story behind one of the most popular video games ever, this graphic novel captures its creation perfectly. You'll learn how it was developed by Alexey Pajitnov, how various opportunists and even the Soviet government vied for control over its rights, and how it eventually ended up on Nintendo's Game Boy console where it became a phenomenon. This book tells that entire story from many surprising angles, with some details that will completely shock you if you're not familiar with the game's journey.
Writer and artist: Box Brown
17. Square EyesView now at Amazon
In a future where the real world is so miserable it's essentially buried under layers of an augmented reality network, inventor Fin finds herself locked out, and begins to uncover a conspiracy that explains why. The digital dystopia presented by Square Eyes is scarily busy and psychedelic, contrasted by the grey near-ruins of the modern age. The world building in this book is extraordinary.Take your time to absorb the crowd details and bits of characterisation layered into Anna Mill's art.
Writer: Luke Jones, Anna Mill / Artist: Anna Mill
18. SabrinaView now at Amazon
A woman called Sabrina goes missing, and tapes start to emerge that show her murder. This story shows how these events affect the people in her life, and how their grief is compounded by the strange and intrusive ways we talk about crime in the modern age: the internet obsession with seeing the videos in question, and how the perpetrator is given unwarranted attention. Sabrina is a tough read, but it's a perfect examination of how little privacy we allow people in the face of such awful events.
Writer and artist: Nick Drnaso
Many other Marvel comics and movies explore S.H.I.E.L.D., the special group of people fighting crime, terrorism, espionage and every other bad thing you can think of, but one of the best is the S.H.I.E.L.D. comic series from Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver. It explores the deep, dark and occult beginnings of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its beginnings.
Hickman's writing is mind-blowing, bringing in threads of history and iconic historical figures to create a rich secret history, combined with Weaver's stunning art. The series ran between 2010 and 2011, but two more issues were released in 2018. The best bit about this series is it's not that long, which means it really packs a punch and it's a great one to read if you want a fantastical story but don't want to invest years into getting up to speed or keeping up with events.
20. The Fade OutView now at Amazon
The many collaborations of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips are all worth checking out, from the Lovecraft-meets-noir tale Fatale to the long-running Criminal series. This late '40s Hollywood crime tale set during the Blacklist is perhaps the easiest to pick up, since it's just 12 issues long. It's the perfect read if you enjoy the excellent Old Hollywood podcast You Must Remember This, and explores the era's questionable morality and tendency to create instant victims.
Writer: Ed Brubaker / Artist: Sean Phillips
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Additional writing: Becca Caddy