Graphic novels offer a visually engaging and unique format through which to explore new topics related to culture and identity. Beautifully illustrated and thoughtful books like the 13 on this list take on difficult stories like grief, depression, and culture shock, but also offer a light at the end of the tunnel as they dive into true, deepening friendship, familial love and commitment, and stereotype-challenging adventures. Whether you’re on the search for a light and fun read, or a heavy and political one, you’ll find a graphic novel worth reading in 2020.
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GG, author of I’m Not Here, returns with Constantly, a graphic novel that feels very poetic, and very visual. Rather than relying on text to get its message across, the book features short phrases, which are interspersed between the images. The narrator is never seen in full on the page, instead flitting through page after page like a mysterious guide as we watch her struggle with depression and her mental health. The colors are gentle and muted, almost as if the narrator is experiencing a muted world, or as if the book is being gentle with her; This is a very quiet book, and one you’ll remember.
This book feels like a mix of Noelle Stevenson’s The LumberJanes and Erin Gough’s Amelia Westlake Was Never Here: a group of girls with the same name, Jane, band together to wreak havoc on their suburban hometown. Together, they learn about activism, rebellion, and, of course, friendship. A fun and engaging read.
In the same vein as The PLAIN Janes, Go With the Flow follows a group of young women who, sick of the fact that their high school never has enough tampons, decide to start a rebellion. They’re frustrated by the stigma surrounding menstrual products, and the way that young women are rarely listened to. When their concerns go unacknowledged, they decide to fight back and make their voices heard.
It’s hard enough to be a teenage girl; it’s even harder to be a teenage girl who moves; it’s much harder to be a teenage girl who moves to a place where she doesn’t speak the language, or yet understand the culture. This graphic novel memoir follows Robin, a young Korean girl growing up in the 1990s who suddenly moves to Alabama when her mother gets married. But one thing saves her: comics.
Octavia Butler’s classic Parable of the Sower finds new life as Damian Duffy and John Jennings adapt it into a graphic novel. The year is 2024, the country is in chaos, and from the perspective of a young girl, we experience this chaos, and watch as a new world and new understanding unfolds before her eyes.
Cartoonist Lucy Knisley has made a career out of being open and honest about her experience with pregnancy, building a following on Instagram and sharing her take on motherhood via cartoons on Instagram. A unique look at parenthood, Go to Sleep (I Miss You), Knisley’s second parenting memoir, explores the complicated and deeply emotional experience of new parents.
From author and illustrator of Nimona and a cowriter of Lumberjanes Noelle Stevenson comes a new work that’s closer to the chest: a memoir. In this illustrated work, some previously published on Tumblr, Stevenson explores her life from the age of nineteen and explores her complicated relationship with faith, and church, ultimately with one goal, as she told io9: “I hope they make the reader feel less alone.”
In 2018 following a viral comic about women’s roles in familial households, Emma published The Mental Load, a book of comic strips about the unpaid, unrecognized work that women do for their families. Now, the follow up book, The Emotional Load, archives the cultural expectation that women perform emotional labor at work, in friendships, and at home, and prioritize the needs of others.
Already one of my favorite books of the year, Dancing at the Pity Party is a beautiful and colorful graphic novel about the way author Tyler Feder experienced the loss of her mother. She covers a decade’s worth of experiences, reviewing the way she felt when her mother was diagnosed, diving into the awkward way friends and loved ones attempt to comfort those who have lost someone, and offering a candid, real look at how grief really feels—and keeps it funny, a testament to her talent.
This book does a lot: it explores life for two young refugees, it dives into culture shock, it explores disability, and it examines politics through the lens of family. But it works. When Stars Are Scattered is a unique and noteworthy read, especially given the politics and cultural context that surrounds us as we enter 2020.
I spend a lot of time worrying about Alexa and Siri and data and social media and who has access to what. The Machine Never Blinks certainly doesn’t quiet that fear but it does offer important insight into the world of surveillance, and validate the fact that it’s not mere conspiracy theory to wonder where all of this data is going, and what it could, eventually, turn into.
Take the stereotypical Western, and flip it on its head: instead, we find gender fluidity and powerful women, thanks to Rikke Villadsen, an artist and cartoonist from Denmark. A fun, adventurous read.
A stunning graphic memoir, this book tells the story of author Vivian Chong when she loses her sight as the result of a rare skin disease, Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN). Working with Georgia Webber, a disabled cartoonist, Chong brings her story to light in a way as beautiful as it is memorable.