The best graphic novels for an emotional sensory reading experience

Who am I?

I've been creating books, magazines, comics, and stories for both adults and children for more than thirty-five years. If you’re after more graphic novels with a certain textural and/or emotional depth and storytelling heft to them, I’ve also compiled the following list that might work as a starting point. The search for the archetypal “good” graphic novel is of course one that will be peculiar to one’s own tastes. While it’s primarily a visual medium, the best of them can be as nuanced and complex as storytelling in any other art form and means of communication. 

I wrote...


By Nick Abadzis,

Book cover of Laika

What is my book about?

Laika was the Moscow street dog destined to become Earth's first space traveler. This graphic novel follows her journey. Nick Abadzis masterfully blends fact and fiction in the intertwined stories of three compelling lives. Along with Laika, there is Sergei Korolev, once a political prisoner, now a driven engineer at the top of the Soviet Union's space program, and Yelena Dubrovsky, the lab technician responsible for Laika's health and wellbeing. Abadzis gives life to a pivotal event in modern times, illuminating the hidden moments, both human and canine, that lie behind the written word of history.

The books I picked & why

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Aya: Life in Yop City

By Marguerite Abouet, Clément Oubrerie, Helge Dascher (translator)

Book cover of Aya: Life in Yop City

Why this book?

Originally released as separate volumes, these have now been collected into two bumper volumes which read as one, giant graphic novel. Aya is a 19-year old girl who lives on the Ivory Coast of Africa in the late 1970s. It’s largely a portrait of her life, and that of her friends and relatives and the situations they get themselves into. Broadly it’s a coming-of-age story - I find it utterly captivating and enthralling from beginning to end. Oubrerie’s luminous, vibrant art is charming, but can take a turn into darkly expressive when it needs to be.

The Lonesome Era

By Jon Allen,

Book cover of The Lonesome Era

Why this book?

Jon Allen’s coming out and growing up story in his ongoing Ohio Is For Sale series, The Lonesome Era is, so far, his most complex and affecting work, but that’s not saying much for a cartoonist who expands his abilities and repertoire with each new book. The Lonesome Era is a rites-of-passage tale that showcases Allen’s customarily bleak outlook and dry wit, and it is, by turns, hilarious and poignant. I’ve called his work “Kafkaesque situation comedies” in the past, but that description belies the mordant emotional and observational sophistication on show here. He is simply one of the best young visual storytellers around.

Beautiful Darkness

By Fabien Vehlmann, Kerascoët,

Book cover of Beautiful Darkness

Why this book?

The best comics, graphic novels, bande dessinées, sequential narratives - whatever you want to call them - invite you into their world and if they’re successful, you’re carried by them, not as you would be by a literary encounter but as an immersive, sensory experience. You have to be open to their visual sensibilities, and perceptive readers will find far more than a fairy tale here. That’s how it begins but it very soon becomes clear that this is a story that expertly contrasts the delightful constructs of a childlike imagination with the damnable awfulness of the real world. It is both exquisite and horrific, matter-of-fact and fantastical, an unsettling fairy tale for those not unwilling to gaze unabashedly into the abyss.

Exit Wounds

By Rutu Modan,

Book cover of Exit Wounds

Why this book?

Rutu Modan is rightly celebrated and Exit Wounds, for me, remains the high point of her work. She seems to me to be a writer who draws as opposed to an artist who writes - that is, her work is propelled by an almost literary narrative necessity as much as any formal artistic experimentation, which is not to say there aren’t wonderfully inventive moments throughout this book. It’s the through-line though, the characters and the story she urgently wants to tell that captures the attention, and Exit Wounds is a classic of escalating mood, incident, coincidence and human needs.


By Bastien Vives,

Book cover of Polina

Why this book?

Polina is about a would-be ballerina and a teacher and the methods he employs to get the best from his students. Polina ages from child to young adult through its pages, and as her comprehension of the world about her and the people in it changes, so too does the reader’s impressions of her. Like any good character piece, much depends on the performance of the players, and therefore Vivès and his ability to convey subtleties of emotional reactions. He always leaves enough room for the reader’s own interpretations, and so hooks you into the nuances of Polina’s feelings. Vivès can draw anything, but this beautiful, delicately balanced story depends as much on what he leaves out as what he puts in. A small masterpiece.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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