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Library Research Guides

Graphic Novels: Guide to Graphic Novels

A libguide introducing you to the diverse world of graphic novels.

Introduction - What are Graphic Novels?

Graphic novels are defined as “a fictional story that is presented in comic-strip format and published as a book”. While this is a decent definition, it does not fully encompass how graphic novels have changed and grown over the years to include biographies, history stories, re-tellings of classic novels, and even science information. At their core, graphic novels are just books published in comic strip format, regardless of the content displayed in the book. Many notable artists and writers of the format have objected to the term graphic novel yet it remains in use for a majority of the public.

In this guide, we’ll go thru the different types of graphic novels, the major publishers, recommended lists (by topic and age range), and also library resources for the history and art of graphic novels.

Who Reads Graphic Novels?

In short: everyone. Graphic novels are for everyone, and they do count as books and reading no matter what anyone has ever told you. Everyone learns differently and some people retain information better when it’s presented in a comic format. So if there is a graphic novel in a topic or character you are interested in, it’s meant for you.

Traditionally, graphic novels have been used by comic book publishers. A company like DC will do something like take a storyline that ran over four issues of a Batman comic, and bind them together in either one or multiple books to facilitate easier reading of the story. For many people, this is how they prefer to read comic books as it means you do not have to go looking for one particular issue and you know you get the entire story arc.

As the format grew, people realized that graphic novels were a great way to retell classic stories (think Charles Dickens or Jane Austen) in a format that people understood. From there it continued to grow to depict historical events, biographies, and all kinds of other information.

Graphic novels are now recognized as their own format of books, with growing collections in bookstores and libraries all around the world, and their own awards.

Age Ratings on Graphic Novels

There is no consistent system for age rating on comics. Most comics use the DC rating system which is:

E - Everyone - appropriate for readers of all ages. May contain cartoon violence and/or some comic mischief.

13+ - originally known as Teen, appropriate for people aged 13 and older. May contain mild violence, language and/or suggestive themes.

15+ - originally known as Teen Plus, appropriate for people aged 15 and older. May contain moderate violence, mild profanity, graphic imagery and or suggestive themes.

17+ - originally known as Mature, appropriate for people aged 17 and older. May contain intense violence, extensive profanity, nudity, sexual themes, and other content suitable only for older readers.

Graphic Novel Publishers

Graphic novels are now part of the collections for most of the big name publishers due to the branching out in subject matter from traditional comic books to a wider range of subjects and topics. However there are some publishers who still focus primarily on comic books and graphic novels.

The major publishers are:

Abrams Books


Boom! Studios

Dark Horse

DC Comics (and their imprint Vertigo)

First Second

Image Comics

IDW Publishing

Marvel Comics

Northwest Press

Types of Graphic Novels

Graphic novels come in a wide and varied range of topics and subjects however most graphic novels fall into one of five predominant types. The five predominant types of graphic novels are:

  • Manga - Japanese word for comic but used in the US it is used to describe a Japanese style of comics.
  • Superhero Stories - stories involving superheroes such as Batman, Superman, Iron Man, and so on.
  • Non-superhero Stories - stories that are in comic/graphic novel format but do not involve superheroes.
  • Personal Narratives - also called perzines, autobiographical stories written from the author's personal experiences, opinions, and observations.
  • Non-Fiction - there are two types of non-fiction graphic novels now. The first is written from the author's personal experience but is using their own experience to touch upon a greater social issue. The other is a newer style where historical, science, or social issue topics are covered in graphic novel format.