This is a sampling. The world of graphic novels is large and wonderful. All of the books listed will be of interest to adult readers, but some may contain themes that younger audiences may find disturbing (depending upon the maturity of the reader). So instead of grouping them by age-group, I have grouped them similarly to the way movies are ranked: G (general audience); PG (teen themes); and R (adult themes).
G (general audience)
The Arrival, by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2006) — In this wordless story, an immigrant finds his way around a new land with a unfamiliar culture.
Chess Rumble, by G. Neri and Jesse Joshua Watson (Lee & Low Books Inc., 2007) – An African American boy in the inner-city finds stability with chess.
A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return, by Zeina Abirached, translated by Edward Gauvin (Graphic Universe, 2012) — Set in the Lebanese Civil War, two children wait for their parents to return home during a severe bombardment while cared for by people from their building.
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, by Barry Deuthsch (Abrams, 2010) — The story of a troll-fighting 11-year old Orthodox Jewish girl who doesn’t like to knit.
Ichiro, by Ryan Inzana (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) — A boy from Brooklyn visits his grandfather in Japan, and discovers myths, gods, and himself.
Kampung Boy, by Lat (First Second, 2006) – Life of a Muslim boy in Malaysia.
Marble Season, by Gilbert Hernandez (Drawn & Quarterly, 2013) — Growing up in a California suburb in the 1960s from the point of view of a Latino boy.
Marzi: A Memoir, by Marzena Sowa and Sylvain Savoia, translated by Anjali Singh (Vertigo, 2011) — The childhood of a girl in Poland just before the fall of communism.
Mushishi, by Yuki Urushibara, translated by William Flanagan (Del Rey, 2007-2010) — Manga series about Ginko, a master of the strange life-form known as mushi that can cause trouble in people’s lives.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon, 2003) – Growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, by Fumiyo Kuono (Last Gasp, 2007) – Tale of Hiroshima bomb survivors over several generations.
PG (teen themes)
American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2006) – Trials of a Chinese American boy in a white suburb, intertwined with the story of the Monkey King.
Aya, by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie (Drawn and Quarterly, 2007) – Life of an Ivory Coast teenage girl in 1970.
Boxers & Saints, by Gene Luen Yang, color by Lark Pien (First Second, 2013) — Two interwoven novels about the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the 20th century in China as told from the point of view of a boy who becomes one of the Boxers, and a girl who converts to Christianity.
Chicken with Plums, by Marjane Satrapi, translated by Anjali Singh (Pantheon, 2006) — A story of a celebrated Iranian musician who gives up his life for love and music.
Good As Lily, by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm (Minx, 2007) – A Korean American teenage girl meets herself at three different ages.
Level Up, by Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham (First Second, 2011) — In a coming of age story, a young man tries to balance his love of video games and his family’s expectations.
Re-Gifters, by Mike Carey, Sonny Liew, and Marc Hempel (Minx, 2007) — A girl involved in the ancient Korean martial art of hapkido learns about focus, gifts, and love.
The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew (First Second, 2014) — How the son of Chinese immigrants becomes The Green Turtle, a Golden Age comic book superhero.
The Silence of Our Friends: The Civil Rights Struggle Was Never Black and White, by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell (First Second, 2012) — Two families–one black, one white–find common ground during a racially charged period in 1968 Houston, Texas.
Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood, 2008) — Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a not-slim, would-be Wiccan goth who goes to a private girls’ school in the early ’90s deals with the whole gamut of life at 16.
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary, by Keshni Kashyap and Mari Ariki (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) — Coming of age story of a girl from a Southern Californian intellectual Indian family who is a sophomore at a private elite school.
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, by G. Neri and Randy Duburke (Lee & Low, 2010) — The true story of the life and death of an 11-year old gang member in a Chicago neighborhood in 1994.
R (adult themes)
Cairo, by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker (Vertigo, 2008) — A story about a drug runner, a journalist, an American, a young activist, an Israeli soldier, a genie, a gangster-magician, and a magic hooka, set in Cairo.
Cuba: My Revolution, by Inverna Lockpez and Dean Haspiel, with José Villarrubia and Pat Brosseau (Vertigo, 2010) — This memoir describes the life of a young woman under Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba from 1959 till her move to the U.S.
Exit Wounds, by Rutu Modan (Drawn and Quarterly, 2008) – Tracking down a bombing victim in Israel.
Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery, by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece (Vertigo, 2008) – A northern black man goes down south to prevent a lynching in the early 1930s.
Julio’s Day, by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books, 2013) — The story of Julio Reyes from a rural American town as his life unfolds over one hundred years.
Love & Rockets, miscellaneous compilations and titles by Jaime, Gilbert and Mario Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books) – Multifaceted stories of Chicanas and Mexicans over generations.
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon, 2003) – Sequel following main character’s travails abroad and return to Iran.
Prince of Cats, by Ron Wimberly (Vertigo, 2012) — A retelling of Romeo and Juliet crossed with samurai action set in a Brooklyn with cheap take-out and neon spray-paint.
The Property, by Rutu Modan, translation by Jessica Cohen (Drawn & Quarterly, 2013) — A young woman and her grandmother go to Poland to track down a property confiscated during World War II and uncover love, greed and secrets.
The Rabbi’s Cat, by Joann Sfar (Pantheon, 2005) – Jewish life in Algeria in the 1930s, as narrated by a talking cat.
When The River Rises, by D.C. Walker and Bruno Oliveira (Mastermind Comics, 2015) — A 16-year-old boy ends up in the Orleans Parish Prison during Hurricane Katrina and must form an uneasy truce with his incarcerated father to survive the chaos of the flooding prison and the perils of storm-ravaged New Orleans.