All About Books: Graphic Novels Reading List

A Reading List of Graphic Novels

Compiled by Richard Graham
Associate Professor of Media Services
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Author of “Government Issue: Comics for the People”


A Contract With God

By Will Eisner

Considered the 'father of the Graphic Novel', Eisner explored the limits of visual narrative and the language of comics. Creator of the comic strip character The Spirit and propagator of the comics medium,  the comic industry's most prestigious awards, the Eisner Award, is named after him. His first graphic novel,  A Contract With God, was published in 1979 and captures the drama of living in New York City in the 1930s. It is a unique look at the emotion and character of the city’s denizens, particularly its Jewish immigrants.





By Richard McGuire

A book about impermanence- told as a story of a corner room in a house, and all the events that occurred in that space over hundreds of thousands of years. Abstract yet rewarding, this beautiful book is also a fascinating e-book which enhances the visual experience.



Maggie the Mechanic

By Jaime Hernandez

Heartbreak Soup

By Gilbert Hernandez

The Hernandez Brothers are an institution in the comics world. Starting as part of the alternative comics scene from the 1980s, they are still going strong with divergent yet accomplished craft. Gilbert’s sprawling Palomar stories take place in a magical-realist Latin American country, while Jaime’s tales of of aging punks, and sometimes lovers, Hopey and Maggie deal with growing older in Southern California.


Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

By Alison Bechdel

Short for “funeral home” , this memoir focuses on the relationship between the author and her closeted gay father. Detailing his repression and its effects on her own coming out and self-image, this book was included in numerous “best of the year” lists and was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. A painfully honest and beautifully drawn story, it has also drew the attention of censors and controversy.  



By Noelle Stevenson

A current, serial comic book series that has been collected in a trade paperback, Lumberjanes is a clever and fun tale of friendship (to the Max!) and cryptozoology. Blending paranormal adventure with the celebration of girlhood, Lumberjanes is the shining example of a changing industry. Appropriate, and encouraged, for all ages, this fun series is never didactic and always entertaining.



Asterios Polyp

By David Mazzucchelli

This story of an architect who leaves New York City and relocates to the heartland is also a brilliant take on design theory. The use of the three “printer’s primaries”: Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow as time period markers and state of mind indicators gives the story a transcendent quality as we follow Asterios’s descent into the underworld.



Understanding Comics

By Scott McCloud

An innovative and detailed look at the history, meaning, and craft of comics - told in comics format! McCloud explores the definition and vocabulary of cartooning in an interesting and thoughtful manner, making it the textbook of comic studies.





By Katsuhiro Otomo

One of the first collection of Japanese comics to become popular in the United States, Akira is a futuristic, dystopian story of teenage friends at odds. Triggered paranormal abilities cause a shift in a motorcycle gang’s social order while the government, a religious cult, and a group of rebels compete with each other to harness the devastating psychic power of Akira.  Also a splendid animated film, Akira is one of the top mangas of all time.



David Boring

By Daniel Clowes

A serious and innovative work, David Boring at times is a meandering tale that begs for amateur Freudian interpretation. The title’s anti-hero lives in a small, boring town until bizarre plot twists and surreal transitions take him to a terrorist-held resort island. Splendid art style and enough symbolism to provide further reading, David Boring is a signature Daniel Clowes book.



This One Summer

By Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

A 2015 Caldecott Honor winner, this frank and engaging exploration of how friendships and family connections can change over the course of one season expertly captures the cusp between childhood and adolescence. Controversial because an unwanted teenage pregnancy is an integral part of the story and it includes scenes of attempted suicide, nevertheless, this powerful and moving story shows the seriousness and emotional punch the comics medium can convey.