10 of the most beautiful... graphic novels

From that ‘new book smell’ to the soft rustling of pages to eye-catching cover designs, it's fair to say a book can be a very beautiful thing. And graphic novels are even more beautiful than most.

For a start, they're usually larger – all the better to show off their authors’ artistic abilities. Beyond that, graphic novels also offer something that ‘normal’ books can’t: new depths of meaning, told through the interplay of the artwork, text and layout. When it comes to non-fiction, they can also help convey complex ideas and theories in a way that's accessible.

Whatever your reading taste, we’ve gathered together ten of the most beautiful graphic novels ever made. 

Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware

Jimmy Corrigan tells the story of a lonely 36-year-old man who endures a life of awkwardness and drudgery. Don’t let that put you off though, as Chris Ware's mind-bendingly intricate illustrations tenderly depicts Jimmy’s existential angst, loneliness and complicated relationships with his parents in this era-defining book – it was the first graphic novel to win a major literary award in the UK. If you didn’t think graphic novels warranted literary merit, this one might just change your mind.

Heimat by Nora Krug

Nearly two decades after leaving Germany, Nora Krug decided to delve into her personal history. Charting the lives of family members during the Nazi regime, Heimat is a great example of how a graphic novel can do so much more than a straight, text-only book. Krug is not only able to document her investigations using original documents and photos but bring history to life through her powerful illustrations.

An illustration from Heimat by Nora Krug

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

This series of interlinking stories begins with a tale of doomed love. Nord Man and South Pole woman are polar opposites who can’t get closer than two feet of each other. To keep themselves occupied Nord Man regales his lady love with tales from his life. Isabel Greenberg’s charming illustration works perfectly with her whimsical – and very funny – tales of myth and magic, so much so that this book already feels like a collection of folk tales from some far off land.

Square Eyes by Anna Mill and Luke Jones

Don’t let this book fool you – it may be filled with exquisite artwork but underneath it lies a story that holds its own. Set in a near-future dystopia, Square Eyes blurs the lines between the digital world and the real, memory and dreams, power and weakness. This book is almost like an episode of Black Mirror in graphic novel form; there’s a disconcerting mystery here but the narrative doesn’t give anything away, requiring the reader to figure it out for themselves.

An illustration from Square Eyes by Anna Mill + Luke Jones

Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie

Set in an Ivory Coast city in the early 1970s, Aya of Yop City follows Aya and her friends through a hazy summer – their last as teens – as they sneak out to bars, drink beer and dance the night away. Reminiscent of Hergé’s clear-line style, Clement Oubrerie’s lively illustrations perfectly capture the sun-drenched streets of Yopugon and show a side of Africa that we don’t always get to see – joyful, thriving and resilient.

The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens

Painted in lush watercolour, The Wrong Place begins with a somewhat underwhelming houseparty, which most of the guests attend in the hope of being able to hang out with the charismatic and mysterious Robbie. While the plot seems to focus on nothing in particular, Brecht Evans captures the characters’ social interactions with precision, tenderness and sensitivity.

An illustration from The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens

The Great War by Joe Sacco

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, almost 20,000 British soldiers were killed and another 40,000 were wounded. In this one-of-a-kind work, Joe Sacco, best known for his graphic reportage on Palestine, recreates the horrors of that first day in a haunting 24-foot-long wordless panorama which captures everything from soldiers going 'over the top' to those being wounded in No-Man’s-Land and finally, to the dead being buried en masse.

Just So Happens by Fumio Obata

When Yumiko, a Japanese woman living in London, receives news of the death of her father, she must travel back to a country she left behind many years before. In his understated pen and watercolour artwork, Obata masterfully illustrates Yumiko’s feelings of family loyalty, her complicated relationship with the country of her birth and the way her grief manifests. Just So Happens is a keenly observed story on the intersections between identity, family, culture and the meaning of home.

An illustration from Just So Happens by Fumio Obata

Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan

In modern-day Tel Aviv, a young man, Koby, learns that his estranged father may have been the victim of a suicide bombing. What follows is a story that is part mystery and part family drama as Koby and his father’s lover Numi work together to unravel what may have happened. Modan’s story and illustration style – which is clearly heavily influenced by Hergé – work perfectly together to create a profound and insightful look at father-son relationships against a backdrop of a society where violence has become part of the everyday.

Cormorance by Nick Hayes

This is a story of a boy, a girl and an inner-city reservoir. In it, we see a boy trying to cope with the loss of his mother and a girl, in a similar situation, trying to complete a journey she started with her mother. While the book doesn’t have any words (unless you count the onomatopoeic bird sounds that punctuate the book), Hayes’ almost uniformly blue palette brings to life this ode to the redemptive power of connecting with the natural world.

An illustration from Cormorance by Nick Hayes

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