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15 Must-Read Comic Books Without Superheroes

Newcomers to comics or graphic novels are often intimidated by the enormous backlog of superhero titles covering the walls their local shop, usually thinking that this is all there is to comic books in general. Or they’re just not that into the idea of overly buff men, or perfectly shaped women running around with their underwear on the outside. Luckily, there are loads of alternative genres to choose from, ones without tights-wearing vigilantes galavanting about to save the day. Here are 15 must-read titles every newcomer (or anyone else) should check out:

1. Persepolis

Written and illustrated by Marjane Satrapi

Now part of middle school, high school, and even college-level curricula, Persepolis chronicles Marjane Satrapi’s life during the Islamic Revolution in this coming-of-age biography. She provides a candid look of a major historical event and the effects of everyday life through adolescent eyes, lending a more humanistic account unrivaled by most accounts. It’s a coming-of-age story depicting torture, execution, rebellion, and political activism.

2. Pride of Baghdad

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Niko Henrichon

Based on a true story, Pride of Baghdad revolves around four lions freed from the zoo during the US invasion of Baghdad. In trying to survive the war torn streets, each lion begins to question the true price of freedom and if they truly are free. It’s a cleverly disguised social commentary reflecting on varying perceptions of the displaced citizens of Iraq who are affected by the war. Is freedom given, or is it earned through self-determination and sacrifice? And in the end, is it all worth it? It’s a thoughtful and heartfelt modern-day fable that tackles the trickiest of subjects, which is still very relevant today.

3. Blankets

Written and illustrated by Craig Thompson 

Another graphic novel based on true story, Blankets is a story about first love. Thompson falls in love with a girl named Raina, whom he initially sees as a kindred spirit in their views of Christianity and life. He illustrates the pain and ecstasy of falling in love for the first time amidst all of the awkwardness that comes with growing up as well as the rigidity of his fundamentalist Christian upbringing. It’s a fun, imaginative, and genuine Bildungsroman that takes on the form of a 500+ page graphic novel.

4. Y: The Last Man

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by Pia Guerra

15 Must-Read Comic Books

What happens when you’re the only man left on earth? Turns out, it’s not all sexy and good times around. In fact, quite the opposite. A mysterious phenomenon kills off all males species on the planet, except for Yorick Brown and his capuchin monkey Ampersand. Accompanied by his bodyguard, Agent 355, Yorick must avoid a ninja and a band of hostile Amazons as they trek through post-apocalyptic America to find his fiancé, Beth, who is trapped in Australia.

5. Chew

Written by John Layman
Illustrated by Rob Guillory

Meet Tony Chu. Tony Chu is almost always hungry, and almost never eats. Here’s why: Tony Chu is cibopathic. That means he can take a bite of an apple, and get a feeling in his head about what tree it grew from, what pesticides were used on the crop, and when it was harvested. Or he could eat a hamburger, and flash onto something else entirely. Strangely enough, the only food Tony Chu can eat and not get a psychic sensation from isbeets. Consquently, Tony Chu eats a lot of beets. — Chew, issue 1

Need we say more?

6. The Unwritten

Written by Mike Carey
Illustration by Peter Gross

Imagine if Harry Potter was based off a real boy of the same name. That boy grows up to be a jaded celebrity who continues to feed off the success of his fictional childhood counterpart. Then imagine if all the characters from the Harry Potter books start coming to life in the real world and start wreaking havoc on IRL Harry’s life. That’s what happens to Tom Taylor, inspiration to his father’s boy-wizard fantasy novels. In the wake of a mysterious slaughter, all signs point to Tom. Now Tom and his small band of allies must clear his name as well as find out the truth of his origin.

7. Morning Glories

Written by Nick Spencer
Illustrated by Joe Eisma

Morning Glory Academy, a prestigious prep school, isn’t all what it seems. The story centers around a group of new students who quickly realize that there’s something terribly wrong with this school. From there they are forced to fight for their lives while making their way through a labyrinth of dark secrets. It’s quite literally like the TV series Lost but at a boarding school.

8. Scott Pilgrim

Written and illustrated by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim is 23, lives with a gay roommate, plays in a band, and loves video games. Oh, and he’s in love with the new girl in town, Ramona Flowers. But to continue dating her, he has to fight her seven evil exes. Sound familiar? There may or may not have been a movie made about this series. Fashioned after all those manga books that dominate the graphic novel section at Barnes & Noble, but with a Canadian twist. One question, though, everyone is aware that they practically live in a button-mashing brawler video game, right?

9. American Vampire

Written by Scott Snyder, and special guest writer Stephen King
Illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque

Not all vampires are created the same. In fact, there are different species of vampire depending on what country they come from. We are introduced to aspiring actress of the 1920s, Pearl Jones, who is attacked by a coven of European vampires. She is saved by the series’ enigmatic antagonist Skinner Sweet, the world’s first American Vampire, by giving her his blood. Thus she becomes a vampire like him. The first story arc not only explores Pearl’s reawakening, but it also takes a look at Skinner’s origin as told by an author promoting the reediting of his book, Bad Blood. The second arc takes us to the 1930s in Las Vegas, then the 40s during WWII in the third arc, and the 50s in the fourth and fifth arcs. And don’t miss the two spinoff mini-series, American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest and American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares.

15 Must-Read Comic Books2

10. Saga

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by Fiona Staples

You may have heard all about this one due to Apple’s recent attempts to ban it from iTunes stores and apps because of some explicit content. Saga is a science fiction/fantasy epic about a young family fighting to find a place to settle down and raise their child. Nothing good comes from when two soldiers from opposing sides make a baby. Now the little family is being hunted by galactic assassins and bounty hunters.

It has elements of other works, like Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, or even Romeo and Juliet. But like any great work of literature, it pays tribute to these elements, but boldly forges its own path. Quite simply: This is the most fully realized new world committed to any medium since Star Wars, and even that ripped off a bunch of stuff. — Alex Zalben, MTV Geek

11. Criminal

Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Sean Phillips

Criminal is made up of self-contained story arcs that focus on different characters, all containing clichés of various crime dramas while still maintaining some realism and believability. There are currently six volumes out right now. The last story arc, titled “Last of the Innocent,” channels the Archie comics. In all truth, it drives down the dark road where Archie marries Veronica, moves to a big city. Archie slowly begins hating Veronica and longs to be with the girl next door, Betty. So what does he do? Murder Veronica. Meanwhile, Jughead is a recovering addict.

12. Rachel Rising

Written and illustrated by Terry Moore

Rachel wakes up in a shallow grave in the woods and discovers that she’s still dead. With no memory of the night before, she enlists her mortician aunt to find her killer. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman is raising more dead, and a little girl is on a brutal killing spree. And if that wasn’t enough, Rachel discovers the dark past of her little town, Manson.

13. Anathema

Written by Rachel Deering
Illustrated by Christopher Mooneyham

Anathema is a self-published horror/adventure series that got its start last year as a Kickstarter project.

Anathema is a six issue limited series horror comic that tells the story of Mercy Barlowe, a tormented young woman with a dark side. She must fight through treacherous lands and unspeakable horrors to reclaim her lover’s soul, which has been stolen by members of a sinister cult, bent on resurrecting a terrible and ancient evil. — Rachel Deering, Kickstarter

14. The Walking Dead

Written by Robert Kirkman
Illustrated by Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard

Before there was The Walking Dead TV show, there was The Walking Dead comic book. Already 100+ issues in and there’s still no sign of the this book slowing down. Rick and company has dealt with starvation, cannibals, serial killers, a ruthless psychopathic leader who makes the Governor look like a doe-eyed kitten, oh yeah, and hordes of walkers. If you think watching the TV show is like reading the comic, than you are seriously missing out. The AMC version takes great departures from the source material that it’s like delving into an alternate world with different outcomes.

15. Adventure Time: Fionna & Cake

Written by Natasha Allegri, Noelle Stevenson, Lucy Knisley, Kate Leth, and Patrick Seery
Illustrated by Natasha Allegri, Noelle Stevenson, Lucy Knisley, and Kate Leth

Face it, you can’t get enough of the gender-swapped versions of Finn & Jake. They’re just too cute and adorable. Too bad there will only be six issues.

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The Author

Christina Janke

Christina Janke

Host of Intro to Geek on Her love of all things Mass Effect knows no bounds. She also carries an obsession with comic books, video games, and quirky television shows. Her heroes are Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Gail Simone, and hopes to be just like them when she grows up.