Posted October 13, 2014 by in Book Lists

The Best Comics of the 21st Century, Part 1

Comic books are popular these days, especially with the surge in superhero movies and television shows. It seems like everybody in popular culture can be traced back to the original drawn form. While so many of the popular comic adaptations are about characters with magical powers or zombies, there are many other great graphic works that are deserving of the public’s attention. In fact, some of the best literature of the 21st century is in graphic format.

All of the attention on comics made me start thinking about which are the best of the best. So, clear your schedule, Bookkaholics. It’s time to explore something new. Below are 5 of the 10 best stand-alone comic books since 2000.


10. Asterios Polyp (2009) by David Mazzucchelli

Asterios is a 50-year-old New York architect, and he’s admired, successful, and awarded. The problem: he wants something more. To add to his dilemma, his apartment burns down and he has to start looking for a way to rebuild his life. The fact that Asterios is an architect is certainly not coincidental. The pages and panels have a design that is clean and almost mathematical. So much of Asterios Polyp is about the symbolic nature of building and creating. Besides giving readers the recurring theme of creating, Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel is a prime example of a journey narrative. Asterios searches for what he wants, and struggles to find answers. Asterios Polyp is a rewarding read, but it’s not an easy one.



9. Black Hole (2005) by Charles Burns

Black Hole is easily the weirdest title on my list. Imagine life back in the 1970s. Now, imagine transplanting yourself inside the Emerald City of Seattle. And, while you’re at it, go ahead and put yourself back in high school. One last thing: you have a killer STD. Yes, really. All of Black Hole is wildly ambitious and completely twisted. When teenagers contract the unwanted “bug,” things start sprouting and spreading. The school halls become contaminated with monsters. Burns paints an intriguing portrait of otherness in teen culture.



8. Persepolis (2004) by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane (Marji) is a brave, young fighter, and she’s one of the best heroines in modern literature. She also happens to be a real person. Persepolis is about a girl growing up during the Iran-Iraq war. Marji, on top of ordinary teenage problems, has to contend with her friends dying and education becoming a struggle. Satrapi includes humor to help balance out the pain, and, as a result, the entire work seems incredibly sincere. The drawing is as spectacular as the words. Persepolis should be required high school reading.



7. American Born Chinese (2006) by Gene Luen Yang

Gene Luen Yang’s 2006 graphic novel, American Born Chinese, is one of the most celebrated titles in recent YA literature. It was nominated for the National Book Award, and won the Printz Award. It was also on numerous other best-of-year lists. The accolades are worthy in Yang’s case because American Born Chinese is sensational. The book is about three characters: Monkey King, Jin Wang, and Danny. Together, these characters take on an adolescent world that is full of mystery, pain, stereotypes, race, acceptance, and humor. The narratives string together nicely, and the drawings are just incredible. The brightness of the colors leaps from the pages, and the bordering is neat and clean. American Born Chinese is definitely visually stunning, but the story is just as strong.



6. Blankets (2003) by Craig Thompson

Don’t be put off by the gargantuan size of Blankets. It’s time-consuming, but it’s worth every minute of it. The colors that Thompson chooses for his graphic memoir are a cool mixture of grays and blues, like the haunting, wintry Wisconsin setting that Blankets inhabits. The story is about Thompson and his brother, as they come of age. Thompson explores faith, sexuality, angst, mistreatment, and independence in ways that are strikingly subtle, yet poignant. Blankets is a story that so many teenagers can relate to. Hopefully, many of them will encounter it in their local bookstore or library.


So, there you have it, Bookkaholics. The first half of the 10 best graphic novels of the 21st century is complete. What’s your favorite graphic novel of recent years? What are you hoping to see in the top five? Sound off in the comments below.

Bradley Sides

Bradley Sides is a graduate of the M. A. in English program from the University of North Alabama. His fiction appears in Belle Rêve Literary Journal, Birmingham Arts Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, Freedom Fiction Journal, Inwood Indiana, Literary Orphans, and Used Gravitrons. He is a staff writer for Bookkaholic. He resides in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is actively seeking representation for his debut middle-grade novel.