8 Graphic Novels That Are Seriously Inspiring Required Reads

by Madelyn Sundquist

Please don’t get mad at me, but if you’re looking for a list of graphic novels that have already become Broadway musicals, I can’t help you here. Yes, I love Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home as much as the next person, but I’ve seen so many lists raving about her and other books like Lumberjanes (read it though, it’s good) and Nimona, that I decided it was time to inject some new recommended material onto the web.

This is a list of some graphic novels that I, as a self-professed “Lord of Nerds,” deem required reading, and there is no pre-requisite for knowledge on comics for enjoying any of them!

1. Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back! – Collection

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Drawing the Line is educational, beautiful, and unique in its form. It’s rare that those of Indian descent are publicized highly in the comics world, let alone a dozen Indian women, who all have something different to say about Hindu mythology, growing up in India, and gendered experiences in their country. Pick up the book for that alone, but also, check out the intense variety of styles in the collection! Despite the infinite number of ways to draw a single thing, sometimes things just get plain monotonous—this rejects that. Filled with different artistic practices and perspectives, this book is a wonderful look into Indian experience at the woman’s hand.

2. Ōoku: The Inner Chambers – Fumi Yoshinaga

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Ooku: The Inner Chambers is an Eisner-nominated manga (Japanese graphic novel), falling into the historical science fiction category. In Edo Era Japan, a pox that affects only young men strikes, forcing the country to turn its power over to the surviving women. What I love about this novel is that it doesn’t expect the transition from patriarchy to matriarchy to run smoothly—Yoshinaga understands that the complexities of tradition and gender roles in any society can’t just evaporate overnight. This makes for a fascinating exploration into our own thoughts on what could be and what is, when it comes to power. In addition, the art is actually gorgeous, and there is enough romantic drama caked into the excavation of Japanese patriarchy to keep basically anyone entertained. It’s a must-read; however, I’ll warn you, it’s definitely a gateway drug to more comics.

3. Aya of Yop City – Marguerite Abouet, Clément Oubrerie

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This six-part series, written by Marguerite Abouet, follows the lives of some very different people living in the Côte d’Ivoire in the mid-1970s. The first book follows Aya’s friend Adjoua through her young pregnancy and early child-rearing days, while her other close friend Bintou begins seeing a wealthy Parisian named Gregoire. It’s a coming of age story, but much more than that. The work of Abouet, which is based on her own experiences growing up, truly shines as a glimpse into the diversity of life in West Africa in the 20th century. Seriously, I was so into this book I just burned through it in a few hours that I had to spare one day.

4. Chainmail Bikini – Anthology

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As a “mild” gamer, I got pretty excited about an anthology of women writing about games; but by the end of the book, I was just as excited for non-gamers to read this collection. Seriously, it’s freakin’ adorable, and is giving exposure to those of us out there who have suffered the connotations associated with “gamer girl,” or lack thereof, considering we so often go invisible. This might seem pretty niche, but honestly, “geek” feminism is on the rise! With more female-identifying folks than ever coming into the gaming world, Chainmail Bikini is a fabulous read for the life-long gamer and anyone who just wants a good, cute story about empowerment through fantasy.

5. Beyond – Anthology

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This is another anthology, which focuses on queer comic artists in sci-fi and fantasy. Cis, trans, queer, whatever—you’ve gotta read this collection. I was actually in tears on the subway after reading the first comic. It just made me realize, as a queer person myself, just how important representation in pop culture really is in this world! It’s not only the representation that carries the collection, though; the stories are moving, thought provoking, funny, goofy, tragic, and so many other things that will keep you turning the pages! I hardly have the words to describe how I feel about this one because it’s just so vital to the vast collection of graphic novels and comics out there. Volume II is in the works and you can support it here.

6. Spit and Passion – Cristy C. Road

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Cristy C. Road loves two things: women and Green Day. This is her story about coming to terms with her identity while growing up in Cuba and not coming out. Yes, deciding not to come out. Let me tell you, this is a really important and under-represented decision in the queer community. Usually, we hear heart-wrenching or heart-warming tales of coming out, but rarely do we see a person of color openly discussing their identity as a lesbian without that major conflict. Through her own coming of age story, Cristy reminds us, LGBTQIA+ or not, that our teenage fandoms are perhaps not always as silly as we’re told they are.

7. Your Guide To Becoming One With The Universe – Yumi Sakugawa

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I love this book. It’s brief, beautiful, and bears some truths that us in our daily, busy lives should pause and address every so often, notably, that we are, in fact, a part of a much larger system of life. I don’t know how, but Yumi Sakugawa’s art is actually meditative to look at. Its forms are simple, but also full of life. It’s pretty much my official “bad day book” at this point—it never fails to get me to remind myself of the larger forces at play in the universe, much larger than one person who missed her train and got off to a bad start in the morning. Pick it up, please, on a bad day or good. 

8. The Diary of a Teenage Girl – Phoebe Gloeckner

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This is probably the book with the most notoriety on this list, what with a movie out in 2015 based on it and all! Nevertheless, I have to top it all off with this gem by Phoebe Gloeckner. Much more word-heavy than the rest of these selections, the novel is put together pretty ingeniously with its mixture of prose and picture. Following the sexual awakening of the protaganist, Minnie, in 1976, when she sleeps with her mother’s boyfriend, you’ll be riveted to the pages of her “audio diary.” Not to mention, Minnie is a cartoonist in the novel as well—a nice touch for all of us who really appreciate women in that division of the arts!

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