The Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels, According to Ranker
Due to the global hegemony wielded by comic book heavyweights DC and Marvel, most of the top-selling graphic novels tend to be superhero titles from both publishing houses. Even with other companies like Dark Horse, Dynamite, and Valiant Comics, the superhero genre is a staple in comics.
In this context, some standalone non-superhero works can serve as a breath of fresh air. From Maus depicting the plight of the Holocaust era for Transmetropolitan satirizing an authoritarian dystopia, these comic book classics have spawned their cult fanbase. Most of these titles may have had a limited run, but their impact hasn’t diminished at all, and Ranker has ranked them accordingly.
Vertigo’s flashy cyberpunk-inspired universe Transmetropolitan is a dystopia plagued by overdigitization. Computers have free will and humans can download their consciousness onto digital discs. In this chaotic future, a gonzo journalist (with clear hints of Hunter S Thompson) unearths a larger conspiracy drawing the ire of capitalists, politicians and religious fanatics.
Warren Ellis, the man behind the iconic Iron Man comic number from the 2000s extreme and Moon Knight’s run in the early 2010s, serves as its creator and head writer. Transmetropolitan is still considered his magnum opus, further adorned with detailed artwork by Darick Robertson.
Pride of Baghdad
Following a US airstrike on the Iraqi capital Baghdad in 2003, four African lions escaped from a zoo and survived despite all the challenges. Brian K Vaughn (from Y: The Last Man Fame) used this real-life account as the basis for his graphic novel Pride of Baghdad which was supported by work by Niko Henrichon. As the lions struggle to survive, they also engage in political debates around the chaos they’re stuck in.
The stand-alone novel was part of the 2006 listing by Vertigo Comics, the adult-oriented imprint of DC comic books. While other non-superhero Vertigo comics and their adaptations like V for Vendetta and hellblazer had subtle superhero-like undertones, Pride of Baghdad was as far away from superheroes as possible. It just goes to show how DC was willing to experiment beyond its usual formula.
Grant Morrison needs no introduction. The comic book maestro has written stories with countercultural leanings for titles like JLA, Batman, Doom Patroland New X-Men. One of Morrison’s less common works includes We3a three-issue miniseries that the writer describes as “Western manga”.
The plot revolves around a dog, a cat, and a rabbit, all three of which are used as semi-robotic weapons by the government. When the trio escapes into the wild, they end up questioning their own identities. We3 is a brilliant read as it explores themes of free will, human control over nature, and the social cost of technological development.
east of the west
One of the main comic sci-fi westerns, east of the west also incorporates elements of fantasy and political satire. The comic version of America is a dystopian wasteland that’s teetering on the brink as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse physically manifest.
Despite its supernatural history, East of the West’The subplots also focus on the aftermath of total social breakdown. The dystopia is as chaotic as the Wild West, making the comic book a perfect setting for a neo-Western. The series is the brainchild of Jonathan Hickman, also known for his writing work on Marvel series such as Fantastic Four and The Avengers.
Brian Azzarello is popularly known for several Batman comics from the 2000s. But his work with DC also included creating a few Vertigo series, a significant example being the award-winning Eisener series 100 balls. Like Frank Miller city of sinby Azzarello 100 balls explores the morality behind the violence through parallel stories around law enforcement, thieves, and murderers.
As evidenced by the deeply flawed characters and dark artwork of Eduardo Risso, 100 balls is heavily inspired by the noir genre (particularly pulp crime novel magazines). So, with substance, 100 balls also oozes with plenty of styles.
With a dark sense of humor and mature language, Preacher explores themes such as religion, alcoholism, and satirical views of modern America. The titular protagonist is Jesse Custer, a small-town Texas preacher who is possessed by unknown supernatural creatures. Cursed by new powers, he seeks answers from God himself.
Legendary writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillion (who had a memorable run on Marvel’s Punisher) created the Vertigo comic which was later adapted into a TV show of the same name.
Y: The Last Man
Another Vertigo classic, Y: The Last Man subverts the post-apocalyptic survival genre with a world where all men are gone except for the titular protagonist. As Yorick (aka Y) and his pet monkey Ampersand make sense of this new dystopia, the duo find themselves embroiled in a larger plan to save humanity. But does the world need men to screw it up again? Considered one of Brian K Vaughn’s best comics, Y: The Last Man ponder such questions.
The unique premise allows writers to engage with social and political themes relating to patriarchy, war, and gender politics.
The Only Comedian to Win the Pulitzer, Art Spigelman’s Maus finds the author revisiting his father’s journey as a Holocaust survivor. Depicting Nazis as cats and Jews as mice, the graphic novel swings between past and present, capturing WWII-era claustrophobia and post-traumatic aftermath.
Spigelman uses himself as a character, also covering his personal opinions. He questions whether his work is sympathetic towards similar survivors or simply exploitative. Such introspective tones have made Maus a timeless classic, setting the standard for autobiographical comics such as Persepolis and Palestine.
Inspired by space operas like the star wars movies, Saga is a perfect choice for fans of science fiction and fantasy genres. Rather than engaging in large-scale interstellar battles, Saga focuses on the forbidden romance between two members of warring space races. While caring for their newborn daughter, the two protagonists are caught in the middle of a galactic war.
Still being published, Saga has drawn immense acclaim for its gender subversions. The characters are humanized while the environments follow the epic fantasy aesthetic. Writer Brian K Vaughn and artist Fiona Staples created the series and partnered for nearly all of the comics in the current 56-issue run.
The sand man
Whether writing fiction or graphic novels, Neil Gaiman is an undisputed legend. the american gods the author’s most popular date with comics might be The sand man series. Incorporating a wide variety of artists such as Jill Thompson, Sam Keith and Bryan Talbot, the series features anthropomorphic forms of non-physical entities and emotions.
The protagonist is Dream, the personification of dreams and stories. The central story begins with Dream’s attempt to regain control of the “Dream World” and progresses to his other metaphysical adventures through space and time. The unconventional characters and plot structure make Gaiman’s series very abstract and surreal for a comic book.
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