These days, it seems like you can’t turn around without stepping on a cape or two. Always the powerhouses of the comic book world, superheroes have now taken over movie theaters as well. But as much as we love our costumed crime fighters, we recognize the fact that not everyone is as excited as we are about Ben Affleck strapping on a pair of pointy ears.
Luckily, readers who don’t think Superman is so super don’t have to eschew the graphic novel aisles altogether. There’s a whole slew of brilliant books out there with nary a cape or cowl to be seen. Below, we’ve collected 18 of the best.
The Complete Maus, by Art Spiegelman
One of the most moving illustrated novels of all time aims to make sense of the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust through the metaphorical oppression and slaughter of a community of mice by a brutal band of cats.
The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
This compendium brings together all of Satrapi’s illustrated memoirs of growing up in Iran before and after the 1979 Revolution, and finally finding herself in France.
Fables: Deluxe Edition, by Bill Willingham
Willingham reveals the dark truths behind familiar fairytales as the residents of a (literal) storybook town discover that a murderer is in their midst.
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Boxset, by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Scott Pilgrim is a loser who thinks he’s the coolest guy in Toronto. This blind optimism comes in handy when he must battle the seven evil ex-boyfriends of the messed-up girl he kinda loves. (We must also mention the movie, which is wonderful.)
Seconds, by Bryan Lee O’Malley
In O’Malley’s follow-up to Scott Pilgrim, a drawer of magic mushrooms that reverse the flow of time give Katie, a young chef whose once-promising life is in shambles, a chance to go back and fix her mistakes. But once she starts, she finds it’s hard to stop…
Blankets, by Craig Thompson
Thompson earned ample acclaim for the artwork and plot of this gentle story of young love contrasted with a rivalry between two brothers, set against a frigid, snow-covered landscape. Blankets is one of the longest graphic novels ever published in a single volume without being serialized first.
Habibi, by Craig Thompson
This work, much darker than Thompson’s Blankets, follows the fates of two refugee child slaves who struggle to maintain their connection even as life tries to rip them apart.
Boxers & Saints, by Gene Yuen Lang
These interconnected volumes reveal both sides of the Boxer Rebellion: a young boy’s village is ravaged by so-called “missionaries” there to spread the gospel, driving him to join the resistance, and a young girl is saved from a life of poverty and servitude by those very same cultural invaders.
The Graphic Canon, Vol. I-III, by Russ Kick
In this collection, more than 200 classic works of literature—a good chunk of the Western canon—are adapted into graphic format. We can’t decide who will love it more: literature lovers who will appreciate revisiting favorite tales, or the lazy among us, who will enjoy zipping through Candide.
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth: A Novel, by Isabel Greenberg
This beautifully-illustrated book imagines the fables and legends of a forgotten civilization that inhabited the Earth before our history began, and finds they aren’t so different from our own.
Sex Criminals, Vol. I, by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
Two misfits discover that when they have sex, time stops… literally. Naturally, they use this unusual ability to rob banks. Can you think of a better idea?
Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale, by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
When Jughead’s dog is killed in a hit-and-run, he turns to Sabrina the Teenage Witch for a resurrection spell. Judging by the walking corpses soon overrunning Riverdale, her spell goes poorly.
Kill My Mother, by Jules Feiffer
A woman who once dreamed of killing her mother finds herself at the center of a byzantine case involving an embittered private eye and decades-spanning murder plot. This first graphic novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist is infused with a noir atmosphere and brings to mind legendary comic strip The Spirit.
Shoplifter, by Michael Cho
A story of urban ennui about a woman who finds respite from her soul-deadening job in some light shoplifting.
The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, by Stephen Collins
The peaceful lives of the residents of an idyllic island are shattered when resident cartoonist Dave begins to grow a beard and things get… out of hand.
Saga: Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples
This hardcover edition collects the first three volumes of an award-winning, deeply weird sci-fi space adventure about a girl born to parents on opposite sides of an interstellar war. The colorful cast of supporting characters includes a talking cat, the ghost of a teenage girl, and a guy who has a small TV for a head.