Comics are overwhelming and enthralling. But where to begin? It feels like every author, illustrator, and series has a cult following with folks who know something you don’t (and can’t find on Wikipedia). However, you’ve seen the illustrated covers in your local bookstore and artfully displayed all over your Bookstagram and want to know: “Where can I start, and which ones are the best comic books?”
Fear not, because I’ve scoured Goodreads to find what other fans think and came up with 25 of the best comic books, one of which could be your new favorite.
Our Rating System For The Best Comic Books
I perused Goodreads for the top comics, which for us means the comic has an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars with 10,000 ratings or more. This was by no means a statistically sound process because I made it a point to avoid Statistics in school (my sister does the spreadsheets in the family). I also took genre, author/illustrator race, author/illustrator gender, and target age group into account for a rounded list of best comic books.
I did notice that comics written by women and/or people of color tended to have less than 50,000 ratings (save for mega bestsellers) and few with that number of ratings had 4 stars. In short, it appears that very few of the mega famous comics, the ones with 100,000 ratings at 4 stars, were written by women and/or people of color.
Note: I understand that there is a nuance between the terms comic, comic book, comic strip, manga, and graphic novel. However, I use the term “comic” for all the stories presented here since they all are, to put in bluntly, illustrations with text.
Best Comic Books: Memoir and Autobiography
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
(4.34 from 231,916 ratings)
If the Pulitzer Prize doesn’t convince you to read Art Spiegelman’s tale of his father’s survival of the Holocaust, then consider the compelling illustrations and Spiegelman’s engaging dialogue. We begin in 1978, with Art attempting to overcome the tense relationship with his father Vladek, who explains how he survived Auschwitz. The story is almost fable-like, with Jews portrayed as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, and Americans as dogs.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
(4.25 from 144,262 ratings)
We usually hear about Iran’s Islamic Revolution from a Western perspective. Satrapi tells it from her own, which is that of a young Iranian girl trying to survive puberty and enjoy her favorite music. We see what daily life is like in Iran, and the distinctions between home life, where everyone can be themselves, to public life, where freedoms are restricted.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
(4.18 from 156,974 ratings)
Hilarious, relatable, and sad, Brosh takes us on a journey inside her head and tells us about her darkest and weirdest moments over the years. Even though we are discussing mental illness more openly than before, it is still difficult to talk about, but Brosh’s deceptively simple illustrations make the subject both approachable and relatable.
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
(4.38 from 15,265 ratings)
We rarely hear about the Vietnam War from the perspective of everyday Vietnamese families who just want peace and prosperity for their loved ones. Bui shows the experiences of her mother and father, two people from completely different backgrounds, who journey through Vietnam and eventually America with their young family.
Blankets by Craig Thompson
(4.05 from 87,345 ratings)
A coming-of-age tale, Thompson flashes us back to his childhood in Wisconsin with gorgeously shaded illustrations. Through the snows of winter, we see him depict sexual abuse, religious fervor, bullying, and first love.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
(4.08 from 115,855 ratings)
Growing up is all about us trying to understand ourselves and our place in the world. Bechdel tells us about the complicated relationship with her father, who struggled with his sexual orientation, as well as her own sexual orientation and coming out. When Bechdel’s father dies by suicide, she is left to pick up the pieces of his legacy.
March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
(4.34 from 33,217 ratings)
A key figure of the Civil Rights Movement, Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) illustrates his role in the famous march from Selma. Lewis candidly portrays the racism and brutality inflicted on African Americans and his own life experiences. March is the first part of a trilogy.
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
(4.23 from 146,390)
Originally a webcomic, Raina Telgemeier take us back to her middle school days. Sixth grade is tough, and Raina just wants to survive. Unfortunately, an accident results in the loss of her two front teeth. What follows is an embarrassing parade of braces, headgear, and retainers—the banes of middle schoolers everywhere.
Best Comic Books: Comic Series—Science Fiction & Fantasy
Note: Ratings are from first volumes.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
(4.17 from 43,469 ratings)
Two star-crossed lovers on the opposite sides of a brutal galactic war welcome a baby girl. Unfortunately, their happiness is short-lived because powerful forces on both sides conspire to kidnap the baby girl. Finding allies in the most unusual places and battling bounty hunters and traitors, the lovers will do anything to protect their daughter.
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O’Malley
(4.16 from 157,937 ratings)
Scott Pilgrim is a young slacker living in Toronto. Between his rock band and new girlfriend, Knives Chau, life is great. That is, until he starts dreaming about a rollerblading delivery girl named Ramona Flowers who, along with her seven evil ex-boyfriends, turns Scott’s life upside down.
The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, and Sam Kieth
(4.24 from 187,945 ratings)
After escaping from captivity, Morpheus embarks on an epic journey to claim objects of power. Along the way, he meets everyone from Lucifer to an all-powerful madman.
Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
(4.15 from 53,134 ratings)
After their father dies, Emily and Navin move into their mother’s strange home. It’s not long before a creature lures their mother into the basement, prompting Emily and Navin to undertake a rescue operation, one that’ll bring them face-to-face with demons and robots.
Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Search by Gene Luen Yang, Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino, Gurihiru
(4.30 from 21,597 ratings)
As someone who grew up watching Avatar (the animated series, not the horrid film), I simply had to include at least one of the comic series on this list. The Search answers the question that every fan desperately needs answered: What happened to Zuko’s mother?
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
(4.36 from 459,758 ratings)
One of the most iconic comics of all time, Watchmen follows a group of superheroes whose human failings have been their downfall. Many superheroes rely on the love of readers; however, Moore makes these ones wholly unsympathetic. The story itself takes place in an alternate reality of the world in the 1980s, in which superheroes have altered the course of history.
Best Comic Books: Comic Series—Manga
Note: Ratings are from first volumes.
Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
(4.43 from 172,252 ratings)
Light Yagami’s life is going well. He’s a good student but always bored. His boredom is short-lived once he finds Death Note, a notebook dropped by a death god. Any human with their name in it will die, so of course Light decides to use it to fight evil.
Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
(4.50 from 109,697 ratings)
Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric are in search of the Philosopher’s Stone after a failed alchemical ritual leads to Edward losing his arm and Alphonse’s soul being stuck in a suit of armor.
Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya
(4.24 out of 137,481 ratings)
A family tragedy leaves Tohru Honda’s life in shambles, so she decides to fend for herself by setting up a tent on someone else’s land. The land belongs to the enigmatic Sohma clan, who decide to take her in. However, Tohru soon discovers that family members turn into the animals of their Chinese Zodiac sign when touched by someone of the opposite sex.
Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori
(4.36 from 134,333 ratings)
Haruhi is on a scholarship to the exclusive Ouran High School. One day, she accidentally breaks an expensive vase belonging to the Host Club, which conveniently consists of six rich (and rather attractive) guys. She ends up working for them to pay back the damages and learns just how different the boys are from everyone else.
Vampire Knight by Matsuri Hino
(4.10 from 104,611 ratings)
There are two groups of students at Cross Academy: the Day Class and the Night Class. Yuki and her partner/friend Zero are Guardians who protect the Day Class from the Night Class because the latter consists of vampires. Yuki was saved from a vampire attack ten years ago but thinks vampires and humans can coexist, unlike her partner.
Bleach by Tite Kubo
(4.22 from 139,591)
Teenager Ichigo Kurosaki can see restless spirits, an ability that leads him to a Soul Reaper named Rukia who destroys monsters. When Rukia is injured, she transfers her powers to Ichigo, turning him into a Soul Reaper. But does he want the job?
Best Comic Books: Fiction
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
(4.17 from 86,996 ratings)
Nimona is a villainous shapeshifter who, with her sidekick Lord Blackheart, must prove that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his squad aren’t the heroes they claim to be. Unfortunately, a bit of mischief escalates into a battle and it seems like Nimona’s power is more dangerous than anyone could have imagined.
Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks
(4.21 from 17,115 ratings)
Each autumn, high schoolers Josiah and Dejah work at the best pumpkin patch in the world. But they are seniors, and this is their last season working together before graduation. Fortunately, Dejah has a plan to turn their last shift into an adventure.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
(4.41 from 29,219 ratings)
Prince Sebastian is searching for a bride. Actually, his parents are searching for a bride. But Sebastian is too busy to care because at night he transforms into a fashion icon, Lady Crystallia, and takes Paris by storm. His best friend, the dressmaker Frances, is one of two people who knows the truth. But Frances wants more for her career and wonders how long she can put her dreams on hold for Prince Sebastian.
Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
(4.31 from 24,643 ratings)
Daytripper follows Bras de Olivias Dominguez through different points in his life while living in Brazil. Each chapter ends with his death, only to be restarted at a different point in his life. Following Bras’s entire existence, we see him discover and rediscover everything from happiness to loneliness.
Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
(4.59 from 13,530 ratings)
Charlie Spring has had a tough time at Truham Grammar School for Boys. He does have a boyfriend now, albeit one who only wants to meet in secret. Then Charlie runs into Nick Nelson, who is a year older than Charlie and on the rugby team. One thing leads to another and the duo end up becoming close. Love and shenanigans ensue.
The best comic books are an experience to read. Between the unique illustrations and gripping dialogue, you can literally see the writer’s vision come to life. There are plenty of incredible comics not mentioned here, such as manga and graphic memoirs.