I have noticed that a lot of readers seem almost afraid of graphic novels—and I was too when I first started reading them! But reading graphic novels is actually a skill—the more you read, the better you get at reading and enjoying them! Here, I'd like to outline things to keep an eye out for if you're looking to get started with graphic novels—and I'd also like to recommend a few graphic novels that are great for beginners! Then I'll walk you through my special graphic novel rating system, Ratings for the Graphic Novel-Averse.
And here's a pro tip—if there's a graphic novel you're anxious to read, ignore all of my advice below and go read it! I'm not trying to keep you from reading what you'll enjoy with some kind of reading-level-esque nonsense—rather, I'm trying to help those more reluctant to try graphic novels get acquainted with the format in the way that may work best for them. And also, the list below isn't necessarily a list of graphic novels for young readers (in fact, young readers may instinctively have a better sense of graphic novels than other readers)—rather, the list is aimed at readers who are hesitant about starting with graphic novels in the first place.
Now, here's what to keep an eye out for
- The composition of panels. Different illustrators have different styles, and some illustrators cram their panels with all kinds of objects and characters and effects. This kind of illustration can be hard to make sense of. Generally, the simpler the panel composition, the easier the panel is to make sense of.
- The color scheme. Somewhat related to the clarity of illustrations is the graphic novel's color scheme. Graphic novels illustrated in full color tend to be easier to make sense of, because the different people and objects in a panel contrast with each other quite nicely. Some graphic novelists can use so much color that the panels become overstimulating (see point 6), but there are quite a few graphic novels with just enough color to make panels easy to parse. Graphic novels with monochrome color schemes can be slightly tougher to parse at a glance, although it depends on the art style and the use of color.
- The amount of words. Graphic novels vary widely in how many words they use to tell their story. Some graphic novels are so wordy that you can practically read them like a prose book and ignore the illustrations, and some have so few words that the illustrations are what really convey emotions and plot events—others find a happy medium between these two extremes. Graphic novels with a reasonable amount of words are generally best for beginners, especially if those words are slightly redundant and have corresponding cues in the illustrations that readers can learn to recognize as well. But you probably don't want a graphic novel that drenches you in too many words—those can get to be a little bit overstimulating.
- The presence of narration. Some graphic novels have narration, but some choose to get by with just dialogue and illustrations. Narration can help clear up the character's inner thoughts and feelings, but graphic novelists can convey that stuff surprisingly well with just dialogue and illustrations. I honestly don't think narration is that necessary even if you are just starting out with graphic novels—but if it's absent, the graphic novel needs to convey the characters' inner worlds clearly through other methods.
- The panel layout. This issue is rare, but some graphic novelists arrange their panels in positively byzantine ways—panels are crammed into weird crevices, strangely shaped, or even arranged to where you read each row across the spine of the book over to the right-hand page before moving to the next row on the left-hand page. Generally, panels that are rectangular and arranged from page to page are clearest, although a few full-page spreads don't hurt either.
- The energy. If you have a child (or are a child), you might know that there are some kids' TV shows that are nice and soothing, and there are others that bombard you with lights and colors and sounds and shrill voices. The same factor applies to graphic novels. Some graphic novels have bombastic color schemes, panel layouts, and effects that can start to feel overstimulating, especially for readers who are used to reading books in prose that tend to feel calmer. I much prefer graphic novels that, while sometimes adrenaline-filled, are closer in energy to prose and verse novels.
Great graphic novels for those new to the format
Please note: I recommend starting at the top of the list and moving down, although feel free to exclude any books you're simply not interested in reading!
Click on a book cover to head over to the review!
This impactful true story of two
brothers' experiences in a refugee
camp features clear if dense
compositions and plenty of narration
to anchor the story. And it's in full
This fun mix of music, history, and
time travel has fabulously clear full-
color art! And although there's no
narration, Shaheen and Tannaz's
dialogue pretty clearly states
whatever they're feeling.
Or browse by Rating for the Graphic Novel-Averse
Browse the ratings by clicking on a rating label! Note that these ratings have NOTHING to do with the book's quality—that's what my regular rating scale is for. I love some books that garnered a 1 on this scale!
Note that I am updating older ratings, so you may see books listed when you click on a rating label that have a different rating listed within the post itself. In those cases, the rating label you clicked on below is the correct one, not the one listed within the post. Sorry for the confusion while this feature is under construction!