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The Best Graphic Novels Not About Superheroes, According To Ranker – Screen Rant

From dystopian adventures to surreal fantasies, these are some of the best comics that go beyond the usual superhero antics.
Because of the global hegemony that comic heavyweights DC and Marvel exercise, most of the bestselling graphic novels tend to be superhero titles by the two publication houses. Even with other companies like Dark Horse, Dynamite, and Valiant Comics, the superhero genre is a staple in comics.
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In this context, some standalone non-superhero works can serve as a breath of fresh air. From Maus depicting the plight of the Holocaust era to Transmetropolitan satirizing an authoritarian dystopia, such comic classics have spawned their cult fanbase. Most of these titles might have had a limited run but their impact has not lessened at all, and Ranker has ranked them accordingly.
The flashy cyberpunk-inspired world of Vertigo’s Transmetropolitan is a dystopia plagued with excessive digitization. Computers have free will and humans can upload their consciousness on digital drives. In this chaotic future, a gonzo journalist (with clear allusions to Hunter S Thompson) unearths a larger conspiracy drawing the ire of capitalists, politicians, and religious zealots.
Warren Ellis, the man behind the iconic 2000s Iron Man comic issue Extremis and Moon Knight’s run in the early 2010s, serves as the creator and chief writer. Transmetropolitan is still considered to be his magnum opus, adorned further with Darick Robertson’s detail-heavy artwork.
Following an American airstrike on Iraq’s capital Baghdad in 2003, four African lions escaped from a zoo and survived despite all challenges. Brian K Vaughn (of Y: The Last Man fame) used this real-life account as the basis of his graphic novel Pride of Baghdad which was supported by Niko Henrichon’s artwork. As the lions struggle to survive, they also indulge in political debates around the chaos they are stuck in.
The standalone novel was a part of the 2006 roster of Vertigo Comics, the adult-oriented imprint of DC comics. While other Vertigo non-superhero comics and their adaptations like V For Vendetta and Hellblazer had subtle undertones of the superhero genre, Pride of Baghdad was as far removed from superheroes as possible. This only shows how DC was willing to experiment beyond its usual formula.
Grant Morrison needs no introduction. The comic book maestro has authored stories with counterculture leanings for titles like JLA, Batman, Doom Patrol, and New X-Men. One of Morrison’s more non-mainstream works includes We3, a three-issue miniseries that the writer refers to as a “Western manga”.
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The plot revolves around a dog, a cat, and a rabbit, all three of which were used as semi-robotic weapons by the government. When the trio escapes into the wild, they end up questioning their own identity. We3 is a brilliant read as it explores themes of free will, human control over nature, and the social cost of technological development.
One of the major comic sci-fi westerns, East of West also incorporates fantasy and political satire elements. The comic’s version of America is a dystopian wasteland that is on its brink as the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse physically manifest.
Despite its supernatural story, East of West’s subplots also focuses on the after-effects of total social breakdown. The dystopia is as chaotic as the Wild West, making the comic a perfect setting for a neo-Western. The series was the brainchild of Jonathan Hickman who is otherwise known for his writing stint on Marvel series such as Fantastic Four and The Avengers.
Brian Azzarello is popularly known for several Batman comic books of the 2000s. But his work with DC also included authoring a few Vertigo series, a significant example being the Eisener-award-winning series 100 Bullets. Like Frank Miller’s Sin City, Azzarello’s 100 Bullets explores the morality behind violence through parallel stories around law enforcers, thieves, and assassins.
As is evident from the deeply flawed characters and Eduardo Risso’s grim artwork, 100 Bullets is heavily inspired by the noir genre (particularly from pulp crime fiction magazines). So, along with substance, 100 Bullets also oozes with a lot of styles.
With a dark sense of humor and mature language, Preacher explores themes such as religion, alcoholism, and satirical views on modern America. The titular protagonist is Jesse Custer, a preacher from a small Texas town who gets possessed by unknown supernatural creatures. Cursed with newfound powers, he seeks to find answers from God himself.
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Legendary writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillion (who had a memorable run on Marvel’s Punisher) created the Vertigo comic that was later adapted into a TV show of the same name.
Another Vertigo classic, Y: The Last Man subverts the post-apocalyptic survival genre with a world where all men have gone extinct barring the titular protagonist. As Yorick (aka Y) and his pet monkey Ampersand make sense of this new dystopia, the duo gets embroiled in a larger plan to save humanity. But does the world require men to ruin it all over again? Considered as one of the best comic books by Brian K VaughnY: The Last Man ponders upon such questions.
The unique premise allows the writers to address social and political themes pertaining to patriarchy, war, and gender politics.
The only comic to ever win the Pulitzer, Art Spigelman’s Maus finds the author revisiting his father’s journey as a survivor of the Holocaust. Depicting the Nazis as cats and the Jews as mice, the graphic novel shifts between the past and the present, capturing the claustrophobia of the World War II era and the post-traumatic aftermath.
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Spigelman uses himself as a character, also covering his personal views too. He wonders whether his work is sympathetic towards similar survivors or merely exploitative. Such introspective tones have turned Maus into a timeless classic, setting the standard for autobiographical comics such as Persepolis and Palestine.
Inspired by space operas like the Star Wars movies, Saga is a perfect pick for fans of both sci-fi and fantasy genres. Rather than indulging in large-scale interstellar battles, Saga focuses on the forbidden romance between two members of warring space races. As they take care of their newborn daughter, the two protagonists are caught in the middle of a galactic war.
Still running in publication, Saga has drawn immense acclaim for its genre subversions. The characters are humanized while the environments fit in the epic fantasy aesthetic. Writer Brian K Vaughn and artist Fiona Staples created the series and have partnered for nearly every comic of the current 56-issue run.
Be it fiction writing or graphic novels, Neil Gaiman is an undisputed legend. The American Gods author’s most popular tryst with comic books might be The Sandman series. Incorporating a wide variety of artists such as Jill Thompson, Sam Keith, and Bryan Talbot, the series stars anthropomorphic forms of non-physical entities and emotions.
The protagonist is Dream, the personification of dreams and stories. The central story starts with Dream’s attempt to regain control over “the world of Dreaming” and progresses towards his other metaphysical adventures across space and time. The unconventional characters and plot structure make Gaiman’s series very abstract and surreal for a comic.
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Shaurya Thapa is an Indian freelance journalist who mostly dabbles in writings on cinema, music, and human interest features. When it comes to Screen Rant, he writes lists on a wide array of subjects ranging from international films to mainstream Netflix series and comic book trivia. He also hosts a podcast called ‘BhindiWire’, an Indian parody of IndieWire.


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