Best Books of 2021…So Far: Graphic Novels & Mangas

Welcome to another round of the Best Books of the Year so Far, where halfway through the year, I name the titles I read that I feel are the best of 2021. This year, I am switching things up a bit. Instead of listing all the best books I read in one post, I will be breaking them up by genre! So every Tuesday until mid-August, catch my favorite reads of 2021 that will make you want to rush over to your list and add to your ever-growing TBR pile!

This week’s best of the year picks, we are diving in the world of the graphic novels and mangas. I could not do this alone so I decided to call on my other comic book aficionados, Joe Pascullo and Whitney Davidson-Rhodes, about which graphic novels/mangas are the best of 2021 so far! And don’t worry! I made sure to include my picks at the end of their amazing descriptions!


Joe’s Picks

Ballad for Sophie by Filipe Melo and illustrated by Juan Cavia

Expected Publication Date: September 28

Here are a few of my picks for the best 2021 graphic novels I’ve read so far! At the top of this list, I’ve just got to include Ballad for Sophie by Filipe Melo. In a year where I’ve read a few heart-wrenching titles, this one may take the cake, but it’s just so, so good! We meet Adeline, a young journalist looking to score an interview with piano legend Julien Dubois, who became famous when he played on Eric Bonjour’s stage decades ago. Now Julien is sick, running out of time, and bitter at the world; he hasn’t granted an interview to anyone in ages. But something about Adeline causes him to about-face on this stance, and he tells her his life story, much more than she bargained for. What ensues is moving, albeit tragic story, about how fame and fortune clearly aren’t everything.

Asadora by Naoki Urasawa

I know I already mentioned this title in the Noteworthy Manga for the Spring blog post a few months back, however, it’s just so awesome I’ve got to add it onto this one as well! Like I said previously, I’m a huge Naoki Urasawa fan. With classics such as 20th Century BoysPluto, and Monster all available in English, Asadora now joins those ranks as well. Taking place over multiple decades, the book’s opening pages show some sort of gigantic creature is running amok in 2020 Tokyo, making its residents flee in terror. But that’s all we know regarding the present-day storyline so far. The first volume of this series primarily takes place in 1959 Nagoya. Our plucky protagonist Asa is running to her mother, who is going into labor. However, on her way, Asa is kidnapped by a man named Kasuga. He’s down on his luck big time, a former World War 2 hero pilot who is now destitute, resorting to kidnappings such as this for ransom money. Despite this seeming like a heinous act, the two bonds, become friends and help each other. How, though, will these events lead to some gigantic creature wreaking havoc in Tokyo 60 years later?

Parenthesis by Élodie Durand 

Medical memoirs have been another theme I’ve seen quite a few of in this year’s graphic novel selections, and Parenthesis by Élodie Durand is arguably the best one out there. Like Ballad for Sophie, this title also takes place in France and is a very emotional read. But unlike Ballad for SophieParenthesis is real life. It shows with fantastic usage of artwork & metaphors just how daunting the neurological disorder epilepsy can be. Using her own experiences, Durand’s lead character Julie details her battles of memory loss and seizures and how they affect her relationships with her friends and family. But on a positive note, Parenthesis also has a positive message to it. It shows that these things with the proper treatment and mental outlook, adversity can be overcome.

Fist of the North Star by by Buronson

A 1980s classic that is seeing a rerelease! Fist of the North Star, written by Buronson, drawn by Tetsuo Hara, was a megahit from 1983-1988. It had a successful anime adaptation based on it and a not-so-successful 1995 American-produced live-action movie. But all in all, its legacy can’t be denied. While this title was previously released in English, it wasn’t finished. Now VIZ Media is rereleasing Fist of the North Star in beautiful hardcover editions for us to consume! In a world that’s been engulfed in nuclear fire, crime now reigns supreme. Thankfully we have Kenshiro on the scene! Kenshiro has mastered a martial art called Hokuto Shinken, an art of assassination that originated in China long ago. Masters of Hokuto Shinken can focus all of their energy into a single fist. When they hit a specific point on a person’s body, it destroys them from within, killing them with just one single blow. Kenshiro represents a welcome remedy to all of the bad in this world. But when he gets word that there is someone out there using a mysterious martial art not unlike his to cause destruction, Kenshiro finds he’s going have to go up against a part of his past that he never thought he’d have to deal with again.

My Begging Chart by Keiler Roberts 

And for my final pick, I chose a book that should teach readers that things are not always what they may seem to be. Keiler Roberts’ My Begging Chart is a slice of life story, with our lead character going through rough times with MS & depression. While her struggle is not evident in every short (she is shown during enjoyable times with her husband, daughter, and family pet), the book does a good job showing that these battles are always ongoing, and they can strike at any time. It’s a genuine display of everyday life and how difficult things may be for certain people that aren’t difficult for others. For such a simple book, it has tons of depth. Full of both dry humor, and moments that we can all look at and go, “We’ve been there.”, I believe My Begging Chart is one of the books I appreciated the most out of the ones I’ve read in 2021. It is OK when you are not feeling OK. Never forget that.

Whitney’s Picks

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Mannie Murphy 

I was really surprised by how much I liked this. It’s perfect for those who like six degrees of separation theories or going down wiki-holes where you start with looking up one topic and then end up finding out information on the most random thing. This is what this book is about. Murphy begins talking about the troubled life of River Phoenix, an actor who died from a drug overdose at the age of 23. He could be one of the greatest of all time with notable, haunting roles in Stand By Me and My Own Private Idaho. Murphy then delves into My Own Private Idaho and it’s director, Gus Van Sant who, unbeknownst to me, apparently had a thing for young rents boys (read: male hustlers or sex-workers). One of them, in particular, was named [forgot the name will put in later], who just so happened to be a white supremacist. From there, Murphy delves into how Portland, Oregon, became a bastion of white supremacy and racism and breeding ground for PNW Neo-Nazis and skinheads. Like, what? You think you’re going to get the tragic story of River Phoenix but end up with a history lesson about how Portland became of the most racist cities in America. Not that I’m complaining. There is some critique that the author, a white man, doesn’t center the BIPOC voices mainly affected by racism woven throughout Portland’s infrastructure. But that didn’t really bother me, nor did I think that’s the purpose of this graphic novel. I think readers will like the artwork’s diary-style writing and blue watercolor tones and walk away with information that they weren’t looking for or expecting but learn anyway.

I’m a Wild Seed by Sharon Lee De La Cruz

This is a short and sweet but powerful read. Whenever I talk about this book, I say the same thing: I feel like I wrote this. As a queer Black woman, I found this graphic novel to be highly relatable. De La Cruz is an Afro-Latina who came out later in life as queer/lesbian. She didn’t think that queer spaces were for her or that she was queer enough/at all. What I liked most about this is De La Cruz is a local from the Bronx. While I wasn’t born and raised in the Bronx, I’ve called it home for almost six years, and I saw myself in the pages of this memoir. Growing up in a single-mother household, realizing super late that I, too, was queer and that heternormativity and patriarchy is what was truly holding my back from being great. The author also introduces some “big concepts” without delving into them, which I didn’t really see a problem. It lends itself to further reading by authors (particularly Black Women) who have a lot more expertise on those subjects. To keep my review as short as the book, I highly recommend this to late-blooming Black and Afro-Latina women who want to feel seen.

Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy by Jeff Lemire

This is part of the Black Hammer universe and has the best premise: What if Batman’s father was the Joker? Skulldigger is a vigilante hero, but unlike Batman, he has zero qualms about killing crooks. This is how he stumbles upon his protege, Skeleton Boy. The Boy’s mother was murdered by thugs, and Skulldigger doles out swift justice upon them. Nowhere else to go and not want to be put into the foster care system, he goes to live with Skulldigger and trains to become his sidekick. Train is a very loose interpretation because what the kid goes through is straight-up abuse and torture. Denied food, locked in a closet, witnessing the brutalization of criminals in Spiral City. Skeleton Boy is far from being akin to The Boy Wonder. But after all, he’s been through, you can’t help but root for him and want him to take down the bad guys. While he knows how to fight and protect himself, he also knows that he can’t stay with Skulldigger forever. And what this graphic novel shows is that not all mentors are suitable for you. Skulldigger really lived long enough to see himself become the villain, but does he have much hope when the purple ghoul, Grimjim (Black Hammer’s version of Joker) is your father? The book starts off with Skeleton Boy alluding to the fact that he kills Skulldigger, but it doesn’t end that way, and there doesn’t seem to be a planned sequel, which is highly disappointing.

Stray Dogs by Tony Fleecs

Expected Publication Date: September 21

I read an ARC of this a few days ago, and it’s has stayed with me. Don’t let the cover or the art fool you: this graphic novel is DARK. If you think you’re going to get a cute Disney-/All Dogs Go to Heaven-style read, TURN AWAY. Because you will get the exact opposite of that.  Stray Dog starts off in a vet’s office, claiming that dogs have no short term memory. They will almost instantly forget things that happen, especially if it’s traumatic. I’m no vet, nor have I scientifically studied dogs, but I can’t imagine that’s true. Dogs don’t forget their humans. But Stray Dogs wants you to believe that it’s possible. Sophie, a little terrier-looking dog, comes to the house full of other dogs who went to the Master’s house under mysterious circumstances. Then Sophie smells the scarf of her former owner, and nothing is as it seems. There is something evil and sinister lurking in the shadowy corners of her new home. I don’t want to give too much away since this book doesn’t come out until October (perfect for Halloween!), but it’s messed up, and yes, some dogs do die, but I promise there is a happy ending.

Renegade Rule by Ben Kahn

Was just a fun read. A bunch of queer women playing a virtual game together in a league. Don’t ask me what the game was specifically, but it involves shooting and sneaking around and blowing stuff up, which is my kind of jam. There isn’t much on the line except the women’s friendship and prize money, which could drastically change the team’s leader’s life. No biggie. Ultimately this is a super queer-girl-power story with love storylines and hijinks. And it’s refreshing to see girls in gaming without having them being attacked by gamer bros. Pick this up if you’re like high-action, bright colors, and gals who are more than pals.

My Picks

Feelings: A Story in Seasons by Manjit Thapp

What I found to be so remarkable about this graphic memoir that it really depicts the variety of moods but demonstrated them through the ups and downs of seasonal weather. While reading this and viewing these beautiful illustrations really gives us readers the opportunity to explore the journeys and embrace the emotional journeys that we embark on. We shouldn’t question it but accept it. Provides a wonderful opportunity to talk about mental health.

Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers by Lauren Burke and Hannah K. Chapman

I learned so much from reading this! I saw my favorite authors and discover new ones along the way. Just like they do with their compelling podcast, Chapman and Burke provide well-researched and insightful information about female authors that provided so much to literary civilization. It might be a handful of female writers but this book really makes you want to discover more.

Boys Run The Riot by Keito Gaku

Absolutely amazing! Really captures the teenage emotions of trying to find their place in the world versus being accepted by their peers. Although this has LGBTQIA representation (which was bloody brilliant and on point), any and all readers could identify with this powerful story of a group of boys taking charge of their destiny.

Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead by Haro Aso

So hilarious! I am not a big fan of zombie stories but this one was surprisingly enjoyable and relatable. So out of the box to think that someone is going to create a bucket list during a zombie apocalypse!

Heartstopper Vol. 4 by Alice Oseman

Absolutely adore this series! Cannot get enough of it! And I loved how this one touched on mental health issues. Oseman portrayed it so beautifully and realistically!



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