The 15 Greatest Graphic Novels Ever

This week on Ask the Dungeon Master we take a look at the wonderful world of graphic novels:

In your opinion, what are the top five graphic novels of the past century?

-Gremily

Let me begin by saying that while I am a graphic novel fan, there are of course many that I have never read, some of which should probably be on this list (Maus comes to mind).  So please add your own selections in the comments so I can read them.

As for the list, I admittedly read more non-superhero comics than superhero, so really the only superhero comics on this list will be Batman (three of which made the list).  But also, superhero collections don’t often tend to be readable as stand-alone stories, even though many of them are awesome.   A story-arc does not make a story, and anything that requires additional reading to follow I did not include.  And lastly, I couldn’t commit to only the top 5, so without further ado, I present you with the top 15 graphic novels of all time, in no particular order:

  1. Death Note
    Written by Tsugumi Ohba, Illustrated by Takeshi Obata

    Death Note is one of the greatest recent mangas I’ve come across.  It’s something of a supernatural detective murder mystery, but without the mystery part.  As the reader, we know the truth the whole time, but it’s still quite a lot of fun to watch L (the greatest detective in the world) try to wrap his brain around the mysterious deaths.  A really unique story with a lot of engaging and well-developed characters, and must read for any manga fans out there.
  2. Ronin
    Written and Illustrated by Frank Miller

    Ronin
    was Miller’s first creator-owned comic, and takes place in the usual near-future dystopia of New York City that was so common in the 80′s.  However, Miller took a creative take on a popular theme, melding manga and samurai with more traditional western comic book fare, for an exciting and compelling story.  Fans of dystopia, cyberpunk and ninjas will find a lot of good stuff inside this book.
  3. Scott Pilgrim
    Written and Illustrated by Bryan Lee O’Malley

    A lot of us are probably familiar with the movie (which was badass), but if you haven’t experienced the comics you’re missing out on 10 times the fun and awesomeness.  Seamlessly melding real-life with video game mayhem, Scott Pilgrim is full of excitement, humor and heartfelt goodness.
  4.  Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
    Written by Grant Morrison, Illustrated by Dave McKean

    This is by far my favorite Batman story ever written.  Between Morrison’s writing and McKean’s epic artwork they succeed in creating a mood and setting so rich and palpable, that you almost start to feel insane just reading it.  This is unlike most superhero stories you will read, and if you’re a fan of traditional Batman comics, you might not be as excited about this one.
  5. V for Vendetta
    Written by Alan Moore, Illustrated by David Lloyd

    If this list was in order, V for Vendetta would have been much closer to the top.  This is by far my favorite dystopian comic, and possibly my favorite dystopian story of all time.  I wont say much about this one, as I’ll assume most anyone reading this post has at least seen the movie.  However, if you haven’t read the graphic novel yet, then you absolutely must.
  6. Batman: Year One
    Written by Frank Miller, Illustrated by David Mazzucchelli

    Another amazing work by Frank Miller, this one is a retelling of Batman’s beginnings, and helped to give birth to the complex and tormented Batman we all know and love today, except without the annoying laryngitis.  Most often cited as the best Batman story around, this is a must read for any Batman fans, Miller fans, superhero fans, or anyone that doesn’t hate things that are awesome.
  7. Blankets
    Written and Illustrated by Craig Thompson

    Blankets
    is not only a graphic novel, but a dense (literally) piece of literature as well.  It embraces the graphic novel as a literary art-form and uses the form to its fullest extent to help create a masterpiece of art and writing.  This is an autobiographical, coming-of-age story, so if that’s not your thing, you might want to skip it.  It’s a fantastic story for anyone who wants a way into the world of graphic novels without having to read “comic books”.
  8. Watchmen
    Written by Alan Moore, Illustrated by Dave Gibbons

    Watchmen
    is another well know comic series turned movie, so I won’t say a lot, other than that if you’ve only seen the movie, you don’t know Watchmen.  This was a pioneering work during the 80′s, turning the superhero world on its head to create a critique of modern culture and politics.
  9. Black Hole
    Written and Illustrated by Charles Burns

    This a fantastic story that’s hard to summarize, other than that it’s about a bunch of teenagers that contract a sexually transmitted disease that gives them hideous mutations and deformities.  It’s mainly a story of adolescence and growing up, told in a strange and disturbing way.
  10. The Sandman
    Written by Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by various artists

    Another classic of the genre, if you haven’t read The Sandman you’re missing out on comic book history.  It chronicles the many adventures of Dream, ruler of the dream world, and anyone who likes anything will like The Sandman.
  11. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
    Written and Illustrated by Frank Miller

    Frank Miller gave Batman a reboot before Year One with The Dark Knight Returns.  This story chronicles batman in a near-future dystopian Gotham where superheros have turned their backs on an unloving populace.  With Batman, dystopia and Miller, you really can’t go wrong.
  12. Akira
    Written by Katsuhiro Otomo, Illustrated by ??? (anyone know this?)

    Akira has not only hugely influenced a lot of recent manga, but the anime adaptation helped pave the way for the anime explosion here in the U.S.  The manga was an amazing post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk story about war, politics and the pressures of society.  Anyone who says they love anime or manga that hasn’t read this, needs to stop whatever they’re doing and go pick it up.
  13. Transmetropolitan
    Written by Warren Ellis, Illustrated by Darick Robertson

    By now it should be abundantly clear that I have a weakness for cyberpunk and dystopia, so here’s another gem of the genre.  Transmetropolitan follows Spider Jerusalem, a hermetic writer forced to travel back into the city.  When he arrives he is disgusted by the sights awaiting him and starts his own Gonzo Journalism revolution.
  14. Sin City
    Written and Illustrated by Frank Miller

    And here’s one more Frank Miller graphic novel to round things out.  If you haven’t noticed the trend yet, many of these stories have been adapted into film.  And really, who would waste their time adapting a shitty story to the big screen?  So just go read Sin City.  It’s awesome.
  15. Y: The Last Man
    Written by Brian K. Vaughan, Illustrated by Pia Guerra

    Y
    is probably my favorite graphic novel ever written.  It takes a new spin on the post-apocalyptic wasteland story that many of us hold so dear.  Every male is wiped off the face of the planet, except for one, and his loveable Capuchin monkey.  Together they have adventures trying to figure out why they’re still alive while avoiding capture by the various, now all-female, organizations and governments that want to get their hands on a man.  It’s a weird combination of A Boy and His Dog and Hell Comes to Frogtown, but with richer characters, a more complex story, and less random bizarre shit.

I would highly recommend that everyone reads each of these stories, though of course, not everyone will love them with all of my childlike glee and admiration.   The important thing to remember is that if you don’t like them, you’re just wrong.  The one thing about this list that bothers me is the noticeable lack of female writers.  So ladies: get to writing more graphic novels, and men: stop being sexist assholes.

Until next time: Roll it like you mean it!  (And send more questions).

If you wish to submit a question to the Dungeon Master, please e-mail them to dungeonmastermind@gmail.com, or you can Tweet me a question @AskthedDM. And make sure to review the disclaimer.

You can also see me in action in One Die Short.

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17 Responses to The 15 Greatest Graphic Novels Ever

  1. Lokee says:

    What do you think about Daniel Clowes?

    • I have mixed feelings about Clowes. I loved Ghost World when I read it back in High School, but since then I kind of feel like most of his stories are the same, but with different characters. I guess I don’t feel like he’s grown much.

  2. Roy says:

    “The 15 Greatest Graphic Novels Ever | Ask the Dungeon Master” was indeed a relatively great blog,
    . Keep posting and I am going to keep following!

    Thanks for your effort -Felica

  3. hello says:

    its fail.
    no berserk

  4. Steven Port says:

    Regarding Akira, Otomo illustrated the whole damn thing himself, as well as writing it!

  5. Thanks for this list. I’ve been meaning to read more graphic novels — my husband LOVES “Y: The Last Man” — but I got burned when my former sci-fi book club read “The Filth” and “We3″ by Grant Morrison. “We3″ was an essential read, if deeply and excruciatingly traumatizing; but “The Filth” is going to haunt my nightmares for the rest of my life. And I didn’t even understand all of it! Maybe that’s for the best. I can’t imagine that full comprehension would weed it out of my subconscious; it would probably embed it further.

    (shudder)

    I haven’t read “Transmetropolitan” yet, but I saw this quote from Warren Ellis a while ago and it’s one of my favorite quotes ever: “You’re miserable, edgy, and tired. You’re in the perfect mood for journalism.”

  6. Grace says:

    Oooh, glad to see that Sandman made the list. I haven’t read any of the actual books in the series (for some reason the comic book stores here don’t like to stock the first book, and I want to read them in order), but thus far I’m incredibly impressed by “Sandman: Endless Nights,” which is a collection of short stories set in the Sandman universe. Actually, I think I like Neil Gaiman’s comic writing better than his book writing.

  7. emily. says:

    Thanks Dungeon Master!

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