Modern Graphic Novel Classics for Every Genre 

When a corny pleb like me is reading graphic novels, you know they’re a big deal. Over the past decade, the medium has become immensely popular, and new soon-to-be classics are published every year. Whether you are a noir fanatic with a penchant for macho detectives or a sci-fi buff who prefers stories that take place on a distant planet, there is a graphic novel out there for you. List your favorites modern classics in the comments!

Science Fiction

Spill Zone, written by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Alex Puvilland
Scott Westerfeld has written several YA series, including the Uglies and Midnighters. This is his first graphic novel. It’s pretty fantastic. Several years ago, a strange disaster befell Poughkeepsie, New York. Addison, a young photographer, documents the “spill zone” from her motorcycle. It’s a dangerous task. The zone is filled with the undead, or as Addison calls them, “meat puppets.” In the zone, there are strange lights in the sewers, levitating objects, and a wolf-like creature the size of a building. Addison keeps herself safe by following a strict set of rules. Never get off your bike. Never touch anything.

Descender: Tin Stars, written by Jeff Lemire, illustrated by Dustin Nguyen
Ten years ago, the people of Niyrata depended on robots for nearly everything. That changed after the Harvester Attacks, when gigantic robots appeared outside of the United Galactic Council’s 9 planets and killed billions of people before disappearing. The bot backlash was severe. Robots were destroyed systematically. Some believe the key to learning more about the Harvesters, lies in their codex, a machine’s version of DNA. When its discovered that a child robot named Tim-21 shares the same codex as The Harvesters, forces across space will try to track the boy bot down.

Noir

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter, written by Richard Stark, adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel is an adaptation of Richard Stark’s 1962 book of the same name. Since its publication, Stark’s novel has been transformed into several movies, but this book might be its best adaptation. The book’s central character, Parker, is a bad man, a criminal who makes his living in heists. When a heist goes wrong and his woman double-crosses him, Parker makes those responsible pay up in a big way.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, written and illustrated by Frank Miller
Featuring one of noir’s most ruthless dames, Frank Miller’s second Sin City volume follows one man’s tale of obsession and revenge. Dwight is Miller’s central character, he is a dangerous man who is barely in control of what he calls “the monster.” Dwight does all he can to keep the monster leashed, avoiding his triggers: women and booze. When the twisted love of his life does him wrong again, he lets the monster run free.

Nonfiction

Hark! A Vagrant, written and illustrated Kate Beaton
The world has a crush on Kate Beaton. At least the world I live in. Her comics are infinitely cool and totally hilarious and cover everything from the bloodlust of the French Revolution to Austen-mania. If you want a straight-talk retelling of Jane Eyre, she’s got comic for that. You want to learn about America’s founding fathers while cackling at the grouchiness of John Adams? She’s definitely got a comic for that. There’s nothing Beaton can’t do.

The Influencing Machine, written by Brooke Gladstone, illustrated by Josh Neufeld
Brooke Gladstone is a cohost on NPR’s On the Media, a Peabody Award-winning show that analyzes the inner workings of the media industry. Her graphic novel takes a wide view of journalism, detailing the history of media from the hieroglyphic age to the modern era. Gladstone’s book is an education. She proves time and again that news has always been complicated. Josh Neufeld’s illustrations perfectly accompany Gladstone’s text. Neufeld is the author of his own non-fiction graphic novel masterpiece, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge.

Fun Home, written and illustrated by Alison Bechdel
Since its 2007 publication, Alison Bechdel’s darkly humorous memoir has become a classic. Bechdel often renders her unconventional upbringing through literary comparisons. Her father is Jay Gatsby and Daedalus (Greek Mythological craftsman of the labyrinth) rolled into one. Her childhood was indeed a labyrinth, one she struggles to navigate even in its retelling. Fun Home (which served as the basis for a successful Broadway musical) follows the author from childhood to young adulthood, when her closeted gay father commits suicide. She analyzes his incongruous life via his obsessions, unpredictable temper and disarming charm.

Fantasy

Nimona, written and illustrated by Noelle Stevenson
Superheroes may save the day, but villains have more fun. Nimona is a crime-loving shapeshifter, a force of chaos. She delights in spreading mischief and mayhem. Her life is missing just one thing: a partner in crime. Enter Lord Ballister Blackheart, a vengeful supervillain. Blackheart and Nimona would be an unbeatable duo, if Nimona could play along. After all, even villains have rules. But aimless destruction, Nimona’s forte, isn’t really a team sport. A graphic novel by Noelle Stevenson, Nimona is a comic powerhouse with a bittersweet backstory and stellar artwork—and is currently being adapted as a major animated feature.

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, written and illustrated by Bryan Lee O’Malley
The first of a six-volume series, O’Malley’s work chronicles the life and times of a Canadian 23-year-old man-child. In a band, sharing a studio, happily jobless, and dating a high schooler, Scott is pushing against adulthood with all his might. But that’s until Ramona Flowers, an uber cool American, invades his dreams. She’s got seven evil ex-boyfriends, and if Scott wants a chance, he’s gonna need to conquer them all. In a rare feat, the 2010 film adaptation is also a modern classic, bringing the manga sensibility of the comics to life.

Superheroes

Vision Vol 1: Little Worse Than a Man, written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Perfect. This book is perfect! In Tom King’s take on the enigmatic Avengers character, the synthezoid superhero is attempting to live in suburban bliss with the family he created. The Visions include his homicidal Stepford wife Virginia and well-meaning teenage twins Vin and Viv. Each of them is obsessed with becoming more human-like. Each fails miserably. This book starts weird, and just gets weirder. One of my recent favorites—also check out Vol. 2, in which the rather grim story reaches its natural, inevitable conclusion.

Superman: Red Son, written by Mark Millar, illustrated by Dave Johnson
In your fanboy dreams, did you ever wonder what the world would be like if Superman was raised a Soviet? I sure didn’t, but I’m so glad that Mark Millar did. In the story of comrade Superman, alternate versions of Wonder Woman and Batman both make appearances.

Manga 

20th Century Boys, written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa
When Kenji and his friends were young, they lived for rock n’ roll, outdoor adventure, and manga. Now, they are all grown up and Kenji spends his days working at a convenience store and taking care of his sister’s kid. Life has become dull. That changes when the world of his childhood starts reappearing in strange ways, ones that may be related to a dangerous cult leader.

The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, written and illustrated by Konami Kanata
Just a sweet little manga about a kitten named Chi! Beware: this book is way adorable. Its cuteness may be over the top for some readers. But not for me! Konami Kanata tells the story of a lost kitten who is found and adopted by the Yamada family. As Chi delights in her new home, she begins to learn the ways of a house kitten.

What comics would you add to our list(s)?

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