I love graphic novels. Not only are they entertaining, but they’re also a wonderful way to learn more about history – or just get out of a reading slump! There are so many types of graphic novels, from light and entertaining to complex and challenging, depending on your reading mood.
I also enjoy reading books from around the world and translated: they often give us a broader view of the world we live in, as well as the chance to see and experience places where we might not never get to travel – some of them fictitious. Graphic novels have the particularity of being able to convey images alongside the narration, giving us an even more immersive way of discovering these stories, countries, languages and cultures.
In the list below, I’ve created a very non-exhaustive compilation of graphic novels from around the world, some of which are in translation. Even among the works published and available in the United States, there are so many good choices that it was difficult to decide which titles made it into this final roundup. I hope these are just a nudge for you to start exploring all the graphic novels around the world.
sand days by Aimée de Jongh (Netherlands)
I chose this book because Aimée de Jongh is an amazing writer and illustrator, and she was born in the same city where I currently live, Rotterdam (Netherlands).
sand dayshowever, is set in the United States and is inspired by the so-called Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the true stories of people who passed through it.
The story focuses on John Clark, a photographer brought in to shed light on the conditions in which some affected farmers were living.
Two brothers by Gabriel Bá, illustrated by Fábio Moon (Brazil)
I was, unfortunately, unable to find a graphic novel from Portugal – my home country – translated into English, so I tried to catch up by finding a couple originally written in Portuguese.
Two brothers tells the story of Omar and Yaqub, twins but very different from each other.
After a violent fight between the two, Yaqub is sent to live with his family in Lebanon, and although much has changed after he returns years later, tensions between the brothers seem to linger.
Angola Janga: Kingdom of Runaway Slaves by Marcelo D’Salete (Brazil)
AngolaJanga is the story of fugitive slaves fleeing the Portuguese colonizers.
It sheds much-needed light on the slave trade in Brazil, with black and white illustrations that really help to encapsulate the grief and struggle that black people face in the terrible conditions they were placed in, and their fight for empowerment and freedom.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, translated by Mattias Ripa (part 1), Blake Ferris (part 2) and Anjali Singh (parts 3 and 4) (Iran)
Of course, I had to include Persepolis, because it’s already a classic in the comic book genre. The graphics memories are available separately or in a four-volume compilation.
This is a memoir of the author’s childhood and adolescence during the Islamic revolution in Tehran, until his exile from his homeland.
The book was originally written in French, and it was adapted into an animated film.
The outer circle by Patti Laboucane-Benson, illustrated by Kelly Mellings (Canada)
It is the story of two Aboriginal brothers, Pete and Joel, both members of a gang trying to escape the historical cycle of trauma and abuse.
After Pete is sent to prison and realizes the bad influence he had on his brother, he tries to encourage him to seek a different path and begin the process of recovery through the practice of traditional healing.
Aya from the city of Yop by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Clément Oubrerie, translated by Helga Dascher (Ivory Coast)
This book has been praised for its vibrant and warm portrayal of Africa, and was based on the authors’ time spent in Côte d’Ivoire.
An animated film of the series has been made, with the story focusing on the amusing – and sometimes dramatic – shenanigans of a community in the 1970s.
Ukrainian and Russian notebooks: life and death under the Soviet regime by Igort, translated by Jamie Richards (Ukraine and Russia)
Perhaps the most relevant book on this list for today, this is a non-fiction graphic book about life under foreign Russian rule.
Acclaimed Italian author and illustrator Igort spent two years in Ukraine and Russia, collecting the true stories of survivors and highlighting two specific moments in history: the murder of journalist and activist Anna Politkoyskaya and the events of the Holodomor of 1932.
Everything is beautiful and I’m not afraid by Yao Xiao (China and USA)
It’s a book about immigration, and about connection and belonging, with beautifully constructed illustrations to boot.
It is inspired by the author’s own experiences as a Chinese and gay immigrant while living in the United States.
Comics Beyond the Page in Latin America edited by James Scorer (Latin America)
In recent times in Latin America, comics have been widely used as a tool to fight oppression, challenge social rules and speak openly about cultural issues.
This compilation examines comics beyond the page, including those shared digitally and via social media, as well as graffiti and stencil art found in public spaces.
It covers examples from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.
Obi’s Nightmare by Chino & Tenso Tenso, illustrated by Ramón Esono Ebalé, translated by David Shook (Equatorial Guinea)
Imagine writing a book describing a politician’s worst day. This is exactly what the author of this graphic novel has done: by thinking of the dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema, he simply puts Obiang in the worst scenarios.
The book was originally written in Spanish and this version was smuggled into Equatorial Guinea to promote democracy.
June 12: The struggle for power in Nigeria by Abraham Oshoko (Nigeria)
Another graphic non-fiction title, this is a very interesting and well-illustrated book that explains the history and struggles of Nigeria and its people.
If, like me, you find it easier to learn about historical events through graphic novels, this is definitely a book you should pick up.
Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, translated by Janet Hong (Korea)
This graphic novel is based on the true story of Okseon Lee, a Korean girl who was sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Army.
Gendry-Kim offers his impressive narration and illustrations to Lee’s story, turning this book into an anti-war manifesto, accurately summarizing this period of history.
My brother’s husband by Gengoroh Tagame, translated by Anne Ishii (Japan)
This is a graphic novel that explores homosexuality within Japanese society.
Yachi lives in Tokyo, where he works from home and takes care of his daughter, Kana.
One day, Mike, a Canadian who claims to be the widower of Ryoji, Yachi’s homosexual twin, knocks at the door.
Together, they embarked on a quest to learn more about Ryoji’s past, challenging Yachi’s own preconceptions of what it means to be queer.
Night bus by Zuo Ma, translated by Orion Martin (China)
It is a story full of stories.
In a night bus, a young woman watches her journey take us through fantastic landscapes; a young caricaturist tries to reconcile his desire to become an active artist while struggling with the deterioration of his grandmother’s memory; strange creatures come and go, mingling with the darkness.
Part biography, part horror and part fantasy, Night bus is a ride you don’t want to miss.
Ramayana of Sita by Samhita Arni, illustrated by Moyna Chitrakar (India)
I immediately fell in love with the cover of this graphic novel, but there is also a very interesting fairy tale to be found inside.
The Ramayana is an epic poem by Valmiki, containing Hindu teachings and wisdom. In this version, the story is told from Queen Sita’s point of view.
Filipina by Arnold Arre (Philippines) (Released August 2)
It’s an upcoming graphic novel that I’ve already recommended for its bittersweet story and great illustrations.
The main character is half-American, half-Filipino and grew up in the United States, but she travels to the Philippines to experience that half of her culture and learn more about her family.
It is above all a story of finding one’s place in the world.
Stars in their eyes by Jessica Walton, illustrated by Aśka (Australia)
Kara Bufano is an amputee character on a TV show and Maisie’s hero.
At her first fan convention, Maisie meets Ollie, with whom she seems to have a lot in common. Could this be the start of something?
With bisexual and non-binary representation as well as people with disabilities, this is one lovely YA graphic novel you won’t want to miss.
Hidden by Mirranda Burton (Australia)
This is another graphic novel from Australia, which I chose because of its strong depiction of disability.
This is a book that includes several short stories, each of which focuses on a character, and makes for perfect one-sitting reading.
The author has worked as an art teacher with mentally challenged adults, and this is his way of sharing his experience with readers.
If you want more great reads around the world, here are some articles Book Riot has prepared for you: