The best graphic novels to alter your sense of reality

Theo Ellsworth Author Of The Understanding Monster - Book One
By Theo Ellsworth

Who am I?

I think of my imagination as a living thing that I have a working, evolving relationship with. I try to access that creative flow state through automatic drawing and something about that process seems to help me in my daily life. I draw every day. I make art zines, comics, fine art, album art, and collaborative works. The books in this list all feel personally important to me and are works I return to and think about often.

I wrote...

The Understanding Monster - Book One

By Theo Ellsworth,

Book cover of The Understanding Monster - Book One

What is my book about?

Making this book was a psychologically strange experience for me. It was an inward deep dive into my own personal mythologies and anxieties and the process of making it felt a bit out of my control. I feel like I came out of the project with a lot of valuable insight but I think a lot of readers are perplexed by this book. Maybe that’s okay. I often find great comfort and meaning in the work of other artists who let their imaginations grow wild and strange.

The books I picked & why

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By Richard McGuire,

Book cover of Here

Why this book?

This book has forever altered my sense of place and enhanced my understanding of time. The entire book focuses its gaze on a specific limited space (the corner of a room) then jumps through time showing the layers of moments that have occurred in that exact location, moving far into the past and future. The concept of this book has haunted me ever since I first read it and it still amazes me that Richard McGuire was able to beautifully capture it all so clearly


By Yuichi Yokoyama,

Book cover of Travel

Why this book?

One of the most meditative books I’ve ever experienced. I read this for the first time on an airplane and it felt like having a lucid dream. It’s an entirely wordless graphic novel documenting all the details and experienced moments of a train ride, from finding a seat, to the patterns of rain on the windows and the passing landscapes, all rendered in highly stylized but clear line work. This book left me wanting to notice and appreciate my own movement through the physical spaces of my daily life. I recommend anything you can find by Yokoyama, but this one feels especially important to me.   


By Lale Westvind,

Book cover of Grip

Why this book?

I consider this to be one of the great wordless graphic novels. It’s a hyper-colored meditation on the creative power and potential of human hands, full of movement, energy, and effort. It’s amazing to see a work like this that’s so full of power, like a raw force of nature, yet there’s no violence or destruction. Sit in a quiet corner and give every page of this book your full attention and tell me how your brain feels afterward. 

Codex Seraphinianus

By Luigi Serafini,

Book cover of Codex Seraphinianus

Why this book?

One of the most treasured and unusual books in my personal library. It’s an encyclopedia from another world, entirely written in a made-up language. Page after page of haunting and strange illustrations, organized into specific categories and concepts. Sitting with this book transports me back to the time before I could read, when words felt like incomprehensible symbols. Taking the time to puzzle over this book feels like such a valuable experience. It takes me right out of the familiar ways of taking in information and puts me in a state of mind that has to search and consider the juxtaposition of images and ideas in totally new ways. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Wolfli: Creator of the Universe

By Manuel Anceau, Daniel Baumann, Eric Förster

Book cover of Wolfli: Creator of the Universe

Why this book?

I own a number of books on Adolf Wolfli, but this one feels the most extensive and valuable to me. Wolfli spent most of his life in an isolated cell in a mental hospital in Switzerland. During that time he created a hyper-detailed graphic work that’s thousands of pages long. His dense drawings contain writings that chronicle an epic personal fantasy along with musical notation, lists of inventions, giant equations, and maps. This kind of creative output from a single person is both stunning and frightening. Spending time with this book really makes me contemplate the complexity and importance of human creativity, the nature of madness, trauma, and true originality. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in comics, meditation, and time travel?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about comics, meditation, and time travel.

Comics Explore 110 books about comics
Meditation Explore 91 books about meditation
Time Travel Explore 153 books about time travel

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Making Comics, Everywhere Disappeared, and Press Enter to Continue if you like this list.