Best Comic Books Of All Time: Top 5 Graphic Novels Most Recommended By Experts

The comic book medium has become a cultural touchstone, influencing movies, TV shows, and even real-life heroes who look up to these characters as role models. Grossing over 26 billion dollars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is one of the biggest and most profitable movie franchises in history. It covers over 30 films, most of which got their origin from comic books. The greatest Marvel films center around relatable characters from the Marvel comic books, combining cinematic brilliance with the ideal balance of heartfelt backstory and thrilling action scenes. From the unforgettable stories of Stan Lee to the distinguished artwork of Jack Kirby, many of our favorite superheroes were first brought to life through some of the best comic books of all time.

Spider-Man, being the most relatable superhero, has gone on to sell billions of dollars worth of comics and movies. In a recent study, Gobookmart relates this same success to one of the first comic book superheroes, Batman. “The dark justice seeking detective has been a fan favorite for the masses for decades and still continues to be one of the most prominent comics & entertainment figures. Be it his comics, movies or animation series, everything has been super successful.”

Speaking of the dark knight, a recent study shows comic fans go to great lengths to identify with their superhero idols, much further than owning every copy. According to researchers from the University of Illinois, however, there are plenty of adults out there who have incorporated vigilantism into their personalities and daily decisions. When we talk about vigilantism in this context, we’re not actually referencing spandex costumes or how to balance great power with great responsibility. No, instead today’s real-world vigilantes meet their heroic quota by closely watching the behavior of others and quickly doling out punishment to anyone who breaks a law or societal norm. This is especially true if the vigilante in question believes the proper authorities have failed to perform their duties.

Since the first comic book in the early 1800s, comic books have inspired generations of fans, and continue to do so today. The history of comic books is filled with iconic characters, stories, and art that have stood the test of time. In fact, even in the age of technology, many people still have classic comic books they enjoy reading from time to time! Often considered collectibles, comic books have become an integral part of pop culture. So, with thousands of titles, which series fall among the greats? StudyFinds did the research for you and consulted ten expert websites to find the best comic books of all time. Considering many favorite titles did not make it on our list, please leave a comment below and let us know which comics would make a top 20 list!

The List: Best Comic Books of All Time, According to Experts


1. “Watchmen” (1986)

This graphic novel is a masterwork, packed with thought-provoking themes and unique storytelling. The series has been praised for its complex characters and its exploration of morality and power. “Watchmen has been critically acclaimed since its publication by both comic critics and fans,” says Bookscouter. “The movie adaptation is also extremely good and, from my perspective, better than the Snyder Cut.”

"Watchmen" (1986)
“Watchmen” (1986)

The story is set in an alternate universe where the Cold War has escalated to a nuclear conflict and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. It features a group of superheroes, known as the Watchmen, who are tasked with saving the world from the brink of destruction. The story is filled with action and suspense, and is sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats. “Watchmen is widely considered to be one of the greatest comic books of all time, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons,” adds Wolf Sports. “The story takes place in an alternate version of 1985 where superheroes are outlawed and the world stands on the brink of nuclear war. With its layered characters, intriguing plot, and groundbreaking use of the comic book medium, Watchmen has influenced a generation of creators and remains a timeless masterpiece that stands the test of time.”

“The novel introduces outstanding characters with their astonishing outfits and vibrant colors,” says Famous Authors. “The art-work is designed brilliantly for the reader to not be able to take their eyes off the page.” 

“The series functioned like a dark satirization of the superhero genre by portraying a group of morally-ambiguous ‘heroes’ that are clearly — and dangerously — unstable in their respective ways,” concludes Screen Rant. “The comic also incorporated (for its time) more contemporary elements like the Vietnam War and the Cold War. Doctor Manhattan, for instance, can be easily seen as the physical manifestation of paranoia over nuclear war breaking out. Along with the likes of The Sandman and The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen was one of the first few comic books of the time to rank on The New York Times Best Seller list.”

2. “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” (1986)

Written by Frank Miller, the story follows an older Bruce Wayne as he comes out of retirement to take back the mantle of Batman and protect Gotham City from a rising tide of crime and corruption. “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was a 1986 four-issue miniseries by Frank Miller, illustrated also by Miller and Klaus Janson, and published by DC Comics. When the comic series was collected into a single edition later that year, the story title was applied to the entire series,” explains When It Was Cool. “The Dark Knight Returns tells the story of Bruce Wayne who, at 55 years old, returns from retirement to fight crime and faces opposition from the Gotham City police and the U.S. government. The story introduces Carrie Kelley as the new Robin and culminates with a confrontation against Superman.”

"Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" (1986)
“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” (1986)

Despite what many believe to be a somber storyline and lackluster artwork, this comic book series has received tremendous critical praise. “If Morrison faced the unenviable task of writing a ‘last Superman story’, Miller’s task of crafting a ‘final’ Batman story (ignore that there’s a pair of pretty terrible sequels) feels nearly impossible,” adds One37PM. “Miller not only succeeds but helped to redefine the character in ways that cast a long-shadow even today.”

It is a gripping tale full of twists and turns, and it is no wonder that it has become a classic. “The Dark Knight Returns” (TDKR) is a must-read for any fan of the Batman comics, and is sure to leave you yearning for more. TDKR is a seminal comic book work, with a gritty, unique style that’s draped in the best of Film Noir techniques,” concludes TV Tropes. “Batman is a bitter, angry figure who narrates much of the story with philosophical musings and breaking down his methods. News Broadcasts shed light on the political debates surrounding Batman’s influence, positive and negative, on the criminal underworld. The art itself is moody and atmospheric, black and gray dominate every page and the use of red and yellow are eyesores. It is often considered as influential as Watchmen in demonstrating the possible ‘maturity’ of the comic book medium, and, along with Watchmen, it ushered in The Dark Age of Comic Books (for good or bad).”

3. “The Sandman” (1989)

Written by the renowned Neil Gaiman, this stunningly illustrated series is a timeless classic that captures the imagination and tells a story of incredible depth and complexity. “Dark fantasy, horror, surrealism– all these styles come together in the critically acclaimed The Sandman comic book series from Vertigo Comics (a sub-imprint of DC Comics),” says When It Was Cool. “The Sandman tells the story of Dream of the Endless, who rules over the world of dreams. The comic series ran for 75 issues from January 1989 to March 1996.”

"The Sandman" box set
“The Sandman” box set

With its dark fantasy and horror elements, “The Sandman” has become a beloved part of popular culture. The series has won numerous awards, including nine Eisner Awards, and is widely considered to be a masterpiece of comic literature. “The most iconic Vertigo series that DC published was its flagship The Sandman,” adds Screen Rant. “The story revolves around Dream, one of the seven Endless, finding himself captured by cultists and forced to acknowledge that even entities that are even stronger than DC’s gods such as them need to accept inevitable change.”

With its intricate storylines, compelling characters, and captivating artwork, it is no surprise that the Sandman Series has become a classic in the comic book world. “The Sandman is celebrated as Gaiman’s magnum opus and praised for its ethereal and surreal personifications of metaphysical concepts. The Endless are these personifications, as they embody some of the most powerful forces that make up the universe,” Screen Rant concludes.

Described by NPR as “soapy, dramatic, mythic, gorgeous and sometimes terrifying,” Gaiman’s version of “The Sandman” will forever be a classic!

4. “Maus” (1991)

Through its heartbreaking and powerful story of a Holocaust survivor, Spiegelman was able to craft a narrative that transcended the genre and captivated readers. “Art Spiegelman’s Maus is not only an incredible graphic novel but is also considered one of the best pieces of fiction. Maus is an autobiographical graphic novel based on the stories told to Spiegelman by his father about his life in Poland and his experiences during the Holocaust of World War II,” explains CBR. “The art style is incredibly unique because it was based on influences from greats like Will Eisner and woodcut novels. The minimalist style contrasting the heavy story, combined with a strong text, gave readers an experience unlike any other, earning a Pulitzer Prize along the way.”

"Maus" (1991)
“Maus” (1991)

The comic book also broke new ground in its use of animals to symbolize different groups of people, creating an allegory that resonated with readers from all backgrounds. “A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats,” says Comic Book Treasury.

“It received the many votes it did because it remains such a standalone accomplishment — a success in both conceit (Spiegelman’s father haltingly relates how he survived a concentration camp, with Jews rendered as mice and Nazis rendered as cats) and craft (Spiegelman explores shades of survivor guilt, father-son frustration and the way the Holocaust forever reshaped the lives of those who made it through — and their children),” concludes NPR. “A stunning work whose astounding success, including the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to a graphic novel, helped move the medium out of dingy comics shops and into the literary mainstream.”

Not only did it win the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, but it also has been praised by academics and critics for its innovative approach to storytelling. “Maus” is a must-read for anyone interested in the world of comic books and a testament to the power of art.

5. “All-Star Superman” (2005)

The story is written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Frank Quitely. It follows the adventures of Superman after he is infected with a lethal dose of radiation from the sun. As Superman’s powers grow, he must face the evil Lex Luthor and other villains while protecting the people of Metropolis. “All-Star Superman is a love letter to the Silver Age of comic books,” says Wolf Sports. “The book tells the story of Superman’s final days as he faces his own mortality and completes a series of tasks that will ensure his legacy. With its colorful art, optimistic tone, and heartfelt storytelling, All-Star Superman is in some ways a joyful celebration of comic books.”

"All-Star Superman" (2005)
“All-Star Superman” (2005)

The artwork is stunning, and the story is captivating. “Fans have seen quite a few different versions of Superman in the comics, though one of the most iconic was collected in the All-Star Superman graphic novel. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely dived into what made the Man of Steel one of DC’s most inspirational heroes with a final story in the life of Superman that featured everything fans could want in a classic comic story,” CBR adds. “All-Star Superman followed the titular DC hero as he dealt with his own mortality following a fatal overdose of solar radiation. He sets in motion his final plans to protect the planet, gives Lois Lane a final day to fulfill her wildest dreams, and stops a world-ending threat from his greatest enemies. All-Star Superman featured action, heart, and a redefining look at a classic character.”

“Morrison whole-heartedly embraces the full history of the character and paints a compelling portrait of what makes Superman an enduring figure. It’s hard to imagine a book that manages to deliver a fitting send-off to a character that’s been around since 1938, but Morrison manages it,” says One37PM. Whether you are a fan of comics or just looking for an amazing story, “All-Star Superman” is the perfect choice. It’s a must-read for any comic book fan, and a timeless classic that will be enjoyed for years to come.

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

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  1. First three are dead nuts on target for sure. The fifth I would suggest Long Bow Hunter.

  2. Don’t forget “KINGDOM COME” it’s the first gen to win an Eisner award

  3. The best comic was when The Death of Superman. Superman’s fight with Darkseid was epic.

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