The best superhero books outside of graphic novels

Who am I?

I’m a writer and teacher from Ama, Louisiana, who has also been a reader of comic books since I first learned how to read. I spent many years as a columnist, reviewer, and podcaster for a now-defunct comic site, while also working on my own novels, humor columns, and even the occasional stage play. My time these days is split between my day job as a high school English teacher, my dream job writing, and my full-time job of being the father of a five-year-old.


I wrote...

Other People's Heroes

By Blake M. Petit,

Book cover of Other People's Heroes

What is my book about?

Josh Corwood is a young reporter working for Powerlines, Siegel City’s top magazine about superheroes and their adventures. When Josh discovers a hidden power of his own, he decides to join the ranks of his city’s heroes – only to discover that up close, none of these people are what he imagined at all.

Other People’s Heroes is a love letter to superhero comics with a tongue firmly in cheek about some of the more fantastic aspects of the genre. This is the beginning of a full universe that has spun out into a second novel, several short stories, and a serialized adventure that appears weekly.

The books I picked & why

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Wild Cards I

By George R. R. Martin, Wild Cards Trust,

Book cover of Wild Cards I

Why this book?

In the days after World War II, an alien device explodes in the skies above New York, blanketing the planet with an extraterrestrial virus. Most of the victims die horrible deaths. A smaller percentage – the “Jokers” – find their bodies mutated in various unpredictable ways. And a scant few draw an “Ace” – superpowers without the consequences of a Joker mutation. Wild Cards is the first in a series of “mosaic novels,” books of stories featuring the work of several writers contributing their own pieces of a larger tapestry that helps build and flesh out a remarkable world. The Wild Cards series is perhaps the most elaborate and provocative superhero universe that exists in prose fiction. 

As much as I love comic books, it's always bothered me how many people think comics are superheroes and vice-versa. This was one of the first really successful attempts at doing something with superheroes outside of comics, and as such, it gave me the confidence to try crafting a universe of my own.

Wild Cards I

By George R. R. Martin, Wild Cards Trust,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Wild Cards I as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soon to be a TV show on Hulu!

Back in print after a decade, expanded with new original material, this is the first volume of George R. R. Martin's Wild cards shared-world series

There is a secret history of the world—a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces—those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers—cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil.…


Playing For Keeps

By Mur Lafferty,

Book cover of Playing For Keeps

Why this book?

In the world of Lafferty’s Playing For Keeps, super-powered types fall into one of three categories. The heroes are powerful, but arrogant jerks. The villains have all the charm and charisma, but are still villains. Then there are people like Keepsie Branson, whose “useless” powers don’t let them fall into either category. After all, what good is the power to prevent something from being stolen from your own possession when it comes to fighting crime – or committing it? Lafferty’s style is slick, funny, and very original. This book isn’t like any other superhero story I know.

Playing For Keeps

By Mur Lafferty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Playing For Keeps as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The shining metropolis of Seventh City is the birthplace of super powers. The First Wave heroes are jerks, but they have the best gifts: flight, super strength, telepathy, genius, fire. The Third Wavers are stuck with the leftovers: the ability to instantly make someone sober, the power to smell the past, the grace to carry a tray and never drop its contents, the power to produce high-powered excrement blasts, absolute control. over elevators. Bar owner Keepsie Branson is a Third Waver with a power that prevents anything in her possession from being stolen. Keepsie and her friends just aren't powerful…


Nocturnal

By Scott Sigler,

Book cover of Nocturnal

Why this book?

Homicide detective Bryan Clauser is on the verge of a breakdown: as San Francisco is gripped by a series of gruesome murders, his own dreams seem to be mirroring the crimes. As Clauser tries to find the link between his dreams and the deaths, he finds himself caught up in an underground world of horrors that he is uniquely equipped to battle against. Sigler is one of my favorite modern writers, blending science fiction and horror seamlessly. In this novel, he’s given us a story that’s part gore-soaked monster movie and part superhero origin story, with characters that stay with you long after you’ve put the book down.

Nocturnal

By Scott Sigler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nocturnal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Scott Sigler reinvented the alien-invasion story in his bestselling novels Infected and Contagious… rebooted the biotech thriller in Ancestor…now, in his most ambitious, sweeping novel to date, he works his magic on the paranormal thriller, taking us inside a terrifying underworld of subterranean predators that only his twisted mind could invent.
 
Homicide detective Bryan Clauser is losing his mind. 
 
How else to explain the dreams he keeps having—dreams that mirror, with impossible accuracy, the gruesome serial murders taking place all over San Francisco? How else to explain the feelings these dreams provoke in him—not disgust, not horror, but excitement? 
 
As…


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

By Michael Chabon,

Book cover of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Why this book?

Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay are cousins, two young men working in the Golden Age of comic books. As tensions rise in Europe, Joe and Sam create the Escapist, a superhero whose adventures put him on the front lines of the culture war brewing in American comics. Chabon’s book is a beautiful, dramatic story about family and struggle. It’s also meticulously researched, providing a remarkable insight into the early days of comic books and giving the reader a glimpse into the world that would create the superhero genre that has become so prevalent in media today.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

By Michael Chabon,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay' is a heart-wrenching story of escape, love and comic-book heroes set in Prague, New York and the Arctic - from the author of 'Wonder Boys'.

One night in 1939, Josef Kavalier shuffles into his cousin Sam Clay's cramped New York bedroom, his nerve-racking escape from Prague finally achieved. Little does he realise that this is the beginning of an extraordinary friendship and even more fruitful business partnership. Together, they create a comic strip called 'The Escapist', its superhero a Nazi-busting saviour who liberates the oppressed…


Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human

By Grant Morrison,

Book cover of Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human

Why this book?

Not a novel, but Supergods is one of the most intriguing books about the superhero as a concept that I’ve ever read. In Supergods, the always thought-provoking Grant Morrison digs into what superheroes actually are by picking apart archetypes, delving into the history of the medium, and exploring their place as a sort of modern mythology. Having written countless superhero comics, including some of the most surreal such stories ever to exist, Morrison is in a unique position to dissect the genre in a way that leaves you thinking about what superheroes mean and why they matter. It's the kind of book that makes you examine what the building blocks of superheroes are, and as someone who enjoys playing in that sandbox, it makes me look at one of my favorite genres in new and unique ways. 

Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human

By Grant Morrison,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Supergods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, and the X-Men—the list of names as familiar as our own. They are on our movie and television screens, in our videogames and in our dreams. But what are they trying to tell us? For Grant Morrison, one of the most acclaimed writers in the world of comics, these heroes are powerful archetypes who reflect and predict the course of human existence: Through them we tell the story of ourselves. In this exhilarating work…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in superheros, cartoonists, and homicide?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about superheros, cartoonists, and homicide.

Superheros Explore 60 books about superheros
Cartoonists Explore 36 books about cartoonists
Homicide Explore 27 books about homicide

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Sapiens, A Gentleman in Moscow, and The Ten-Cent Plague if you like this list.