It’s been a really great year of graphic novel reading for me. I started with literally 35 books on this list and then I had to narrow it down. Majorly cheating here (especially with #1) as there was no other way to choose just 10, but what can you do.
Also, caveat: I narrowed it down further by also considering the books that will be in my next post, the top comics of 2016—anything there (even if a complete arc is finished), will not be featured here in order to have more variety).
Top Ten Graphic Novels/Illustrated Books of 2016
- Neil Gaiman Graphic Novels/Children’s Books (in no particular order). Those being Odd and the Frost Giants (with Chris Riddell), How to Talk to Girls at Parties (with Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon), Murder Mysteries (with P. Craig Russell), Hansel and Gretel (with Lorenzo Mattotti), Troll Bridge (with Colleen Doran), The Books of Magic (with Various), Signal to Noise (with Dave McKean), The Dangerous Alphabet (with Gris Grimly), The Wolves in the Wall (with Dave McKean), The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish (with Dave McKean), Crazy Hair (with Dave McKean), Chu’s Day (with Adam Rex), and Blueberry Girl and Instructions (with Charles Vess). I…read a lot of Neil Gaiman this year, and honestly loved all of them. Basically even trying to choose ten of these would be hard (not to mention ranking them) and since I did actually read other graphic books this year (shocking, I know), I decided to lump them all together. My two favorites are probably Odd and the Frost Giants and How to Talk to Girls at Parties—the art in those are just so amazing, and the presentation is also excellently done by HarperCollins and Dark Horse Comics, respectively.
- Maus, by Art Spiegelman. This is by far one of the most profound graphic novels I’ve ever read, incredibly heartbreaking and personal. The idea itself sounds silly—portraying WWII through mice? But it ends up being anything but, and reading the novel makes it absolutely clear why doing so is necessary. This is definitely one of the top five greatest graphic novels of all time (at least that I’ve read so far), and currently rests in my top three. I was also lucky enough to read this for a class, and it was great being able to discuss it in a university setting. This is definitely the best graphic novel I read this year, and it’s only second because of how much I love Neil Gaiman, and his were my “favorite” reads. But go read Maus—it’s important.
- The Absolute Court of Owls, and Batman: Vols. 9 & 10, all by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. So again, in order to keep it to just 10 spots, I’m combining these. The Court of Owls is one of my favorite storylines by Snyder/Capullo, and I loved reading it in the Absolute edition this past year. Capullo is by far one of my favorite illustrators, and presented in the Absolute format just lends to such a beautiful experience. I wrote a lengthy review of it already, as well as a review of Batman vol. 9, but to touch briefly on Batman vol. 10: I’m not 100% sure what’s collected in this book, as I read it in single issues, but Snyder and Capullo’s final issue was utterly amazing. I’m super biased because this is one of my all-time favorite series, and I had the joy of reading much of their entire run it as it came out in single issues, so the emotions really hit home for me in a bittersweet way, knowing it’d end but being satisfied in the way it ended. Highly recommended for fans of Snyder/Capullo’s series, Batman fans in general, or people just wanting a great read. Court of Owls in both volumes is perfectly stand-alone for newcomers.
- Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. I’ve only read the first Absolute Edition so far, but it was amazing and I have the second. After reading Saga last year, Vaughan continues to astound me with this and Paper Girls, so I’m really looking forward to reading Ex Machina and Runaways (I also really enjoyed We Stand on Guard and Pride of Baghdad, which will be featured below).
- Paper Girls, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang. Ever since Wonder Woman I’ve been a huge fan of Chiang’s art, and mixed with Vaughan’s writing this series is just so incredibly beautiful. Honestly the only reason this is below Y:TLM is because of the Absolute edition and how that just heightens the experience. Otherwise I think I like them equally so far (and I give a slight edge to the art here).
- Serenity: Those Left Behind, Better Days and Other Stories, The Shepherd’s Tale, and Leaves on the Wind, by Joss Whedon and others. I’m a huge Firefly fan, and I’m still one of those people hoping for a reunion of some sort, as I honestly think it’s one of the most perfect TV shows ever created. Sure, it didn’t have time to “get worse,” but still, each and every episode is a masterpiece. And I love what they were able to do with the comics, featuring other jobs just in the vein of the show, featuring personal stories of various crew members, and continuing the story after the film. I loved all the stories, and am really looking forward to whatever else they come up with.
- Joker, by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo; and Batman: The Man Who Laughs, by Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke. Lumped these together because they’re both Joker series. Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight is, to me, not only one of the greatest film performances of all time but also my favorite depiction of the Joker (just barely ahead of Snyder/Capullo’s version). Seeing that character come to life in the absolutely stunning art of Lee Bermejo, not to mention excellently written by crime extraordinaire Azzarello, was exhilarating to read—I’m definitely hoping to get the Absolute edition at some point, as Beremejo’s art definitely deserves it. The Man Who Laughs was also a fantastic, extremely short piece on the Joker. I’d give the slight edge to Joker (probably because of the art, mostly), but definitely loved them both.
- Secret Wars, by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic. I almost left this out since I read most of it in 2015 (the last issue didn’t come out ‘till Jan 2016), but since I didn’t
include it in last year’s list I had to this year, just because of how much I remember
loving it. I still haven’t gone back to read Hickman’s stuff leading up to it, but it’s still fairly high on my to-read list. Ribic’s art, too, is just stunning and fit the story perfectly.
- Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll. A fantastic collection of very short and very creepy stories. All were unsettling in their own ways, and the art was glorious.
- Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, by Jill Thompson. I read a lot of Wonder Woman last year, and all of it was great. Chose this one to be in my top ten because I loved how it was a single, contained story showcasing the work of a great artist. Definitely looking forward to whatever else Thompson may do.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): Justice League: Darkseid War Part I, by Geoff Johns and Others (I’ve loved Johns’ whole run on this so far, and I’m really excited to read the final volume); Black Widow: Finely Woven Thread, by Nathan Edmundson and Phil Noto (a really great read, not included in the top ten mostly because the current Black Widow series is somehow even better, which will be featured in my top ten comics); We Stand on Guard, by Brian K. Vaughan and Steve Skroce (the strongest thing here is definitely the art, with the amazing, cinematic spreads. I also really enjoyed the story, though perhaps was left just wanting a little more); Black Magick, by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott (loved the first volume; Scott’s art is really beautiful, and the story was captivating); 100 Bullets Book One, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso (this was amazing; the only reason it wasn’t in the top ten was because I only read the first book so far, and all the threads just barely started coming together. That said, it was amazing, and I’m sure the series as a whole is going to be one of my favorites); Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka vol. 1, by Greg Rucka and Others (another one that I have an excuse for: I’m featuring his current Wonder Woman series in my top new comics post, and I enjoyed that a little more so I thought I’d feature something else); Wonder Woman: Odyssey, by J. Michael Strazynski and Others (again, really great, but wanted to feature a bigger variety than fill it all with Wonder Woman, haha—though she’s had some really, really amazing series); Batman Adventures: Mad Love, by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm (I think the only reason I didn’t like this more was because I had seen the TV episode first and was hoping that this would veer away from that a little more but didn’t. That said, though, it was still amazing and I’ll read/watch anything Dini/Timm do); The Pride of Baghdad, by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon (this seems to get lower ratings than his other stuff, but I loved it, and only left it off because I featured Paper Girls and Y:TLM. I thought this was a fantastic way to comment on the wars in the Middle East, and he created a really interesting dichotomy between the lions and humans); The Private Eye, by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin (really great series, and I’m so glad they published it eventually as I’m not a huge fan of digital comics); and Teen Titans Earth One, vol. 1, by Jeff Lemire and Terry & Rachel Dodson (the first Teen Titans comic I had read, and I loved it! I’ve been a fan of Lemire for a while, and he definitely didn’t disappoint here).
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All right, I think that’s enough ranting for now, haha. I read a lot more graphic novels this year than I have in the past, and I’m excited to read more this year!