Best Graphic Novels of 2021

Chill-inducing, black-and-white manga; stunning, full-color web-toons debuting in print; and delicate illustrations are showcased in the best graphic novels of 2021.

Baker, Dave (text), Nicole Goux (illus.) & Ellie Hall (illus.). Everyone Is Tulip. Dark Horse. ISBN 9781506722290.

Becca always wanted more than her small town could provide, inspiring her to move to L.A. in the hope of making it big. However, her big break brings more drama than she ever could have imagined as she begins dating her director, her roommate tries to ride the coattails of her internet fame, and she realizes that the so-called visionary she follows is nothing more than a derivative fraud. Illustrations in pastels convey how fame is often seen through rose-colored glasses.

Chugong (text) & DUBU (illus.). Solo Leveling. tr. from Korean by Hye Young Im. Yen Pr. ISBN 9781975319434.

Based on the light novel of the same name, this manhwa follows lowly adventurer Jinwoo Sung, also known as the Weakest Hunter of All Mankind. However, because his family is in financial peril with severe medical debt and schooling costs, he continues taking on dangerous missions. When an adventure goes horribly wrong, he must pull through not only for his loved ones but for himself as well. Images are full color throughout and do the original webtoon justice.

Ito, Junji. Sensor. tr. from Japaneseby JocelyneAllen. VIZ. ISBN 9781974718900.

Master mangaka Ito returns with another cosmic horror, this time following the stories of a small village blessed with volcanic hair that grants them ESP. This blessing soon turns into a curse as the power of the ash is perverted by a cult obsessed with the idea of calling forth the Akashic records and gaining complete understanding of the universe, including the unknowable evil it contains. Ito’s signature style is beautiful and horrifying in turn, perfectly illustrating the power of the human mind.

Lee, Lai. Stone Fruit. Fantagraphics. ISBN 9781683964261.

Lee explores sexuality, mental illness, and feelings of abandonment in this multifaceted and beautiful tale of three women. Amanda is a single mother. Her sister Ray is a queer woman dealing with the heartbreak of being left by her partner, Bron. Bron struggles with her mother, who does not accept her sexuality and prefers to pretend that the mental illness pervading the family does not exist. The women’s stories intertwine in a gentle and insightful debut.

Lewis, Sean (text) & Caitlin Yarsky (illus.). Bliss. Image. ISBN 9781534318915.

This urban fantasy tackles how to come to grips with the things we try most to forget. Benton Ohara turned to the mob gods of Feral City to make enough money to pay for his son Perry’s medical bills and soon became addicted to the memory-erasing drug Bliss, supplied by the Goddess of Oblivion, Lethe. When he recovers from his addiction, Benton must face the divine, the victims of his crimes, and his own shame in a heart-wrenching showdown.

Mika. I Cannot Reach You. tr. from Japaneseby JanMitsuko Cash. Yen Pr. ISBN 9781975319472.

This tale of young love and self-discovery follows Yamato and Kakeru, two childhood friends coming to grips with their feelings for each other in a romance that is in turn relatable and bittersweet. As the two young men go to a mixer with some local young women and find themselves absorbed with each other instead, their unspoken attraction be comes obvious to everyone but themselves. Yet despite their connection, they still cannot openly express their feelings, leaving readers rooting for their relationship’s success.

Radtke, Kristen. Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness. Pantheon. ISBN 9781524748067.

Radtke dives into the complexities of isolation through lyrical prose, personal anecdotes, and scientific studies. This work explores everything from technology’s contribution to the increasing rates of loneliness to the media’s portrayal of stereotypical loners. Aiming to draw attention to this seldom-discussed epidemic, she emphasizes the costs to people’s lives.

Urasawa, Naoki. Asadora, Vol. 1. tr. from Japaneseby JohnWerry. VIZ. ISBN 9781974717460.

This dual-time-line story jumps between a monster-ravaged 2020 and 1959. Asa is mistaken for a wealthy doctor’s child and is taken hostage by war veteran Kasuga. When Kasuga realizes he nabbed the wrong kid, the two journey to find her parents in a beautifully empathic adventure, sure to leave readers clamoring for more.

Windsor-Smith, Barry. Monster. Fantagraphics. ISBN 9781683964155.

This sf-horror crossover jumps between 1964 and the 1940s to tell the story of Bobby Bailey, a human test subject. Bobby came from an abusive household, where he lived at the mercy of his veteran father. From there he was selected to be part of a series of experiments to produce the ideal soldier. When he is left as a Frankenstein-esque monster, the story shifts from a chase to find Bobby to an exploration of generational trauma laden with nuance, empathy, and tragedy.

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