Best Graphic Novels of 2021

When I’m not watching movies or TV, I love to breeze through a graphic novel. The following graphic novels may not have been released in 2021, but they’re the best that I discovered this year.

Bloodlust & Bonnets // Emily McGovern

Emily McGovern’s hilarious take on Victorian British society is more than just the latest version of “[insert historical figure here] plus [insert supernatural creature here]”. Bloodlust & Bonnets tells the story of an unlikely band of misfits who just happen to be vampire hunters. Along the way, they’ll be seduced not only by each other, but the vampire lifestyle. McGovern’s first graphic novel touches on themes of sexuality, gender identity, pride, and vanity, all while wrapped up in a bizarre supernatural bow full of action and backstabbing. Her unique character design lends a surprising amount of emotional weight but they fit the story nicely – not an easy feat when their faces are mouthless shapes with dots for eyeballs. Plus there’s a fancy eagle and a talking castle.

Grass Kings // Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins

What begins as a portrait of a broken man still trying to heal from an unforgettable loss morphs into a meditation on community and freedom throughout the course of Matt Kindt’s expansive graphic novel. Set in a fictional patch of land that operates independently from its neighboring town, Kindt introduces us to a wide variety of characters, all richly layered and nuanced in their own ways. Tyler Jenkins’ loose watercolor aesthetic fits nicely with Kindt’s story, as its protagonist navigates how to maintain control of his community’s independence. The later entries’ murder mystery unfolds with genuine intrigue and builds to a stunning conclusion that brings all of its themes together in an unexpected way.

Nameless // Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham

Nameless contains some of the most gruesome horror depictions I’ve ever seen in a graphic novel. Grant Morrison, the prolific writer behind All-Star Superman and New X-Men, presents a sci-fi mindbender with a man haunted by his responsibilities at the center. Morrison uses a world-ending asteroid hurtling toward Earth to explore imagery of the occult, ancient religions, and old-school sci-fi. You know you’re in for something demented when a murdered family is in the novel’s opening pages, and Nameless only ratchets up the psychosis from there. Morrison’s writing kept me interested on a character level and Chris Burnham’s illustration is instantly recognizable, all while the central mystery is teased out. Expect nothing less than the best from two of the best working today.

Old City Blues // Giannia Milonogiannis

The story in Old City Blues – part one; I still have yet to read part two, but eagerly anticipate doing so – won’t break new ground in the neo-noir/sci-fi genre. In essence, it’s Blade Runner in a different city with the romantic angle removed. But Giannis Milonogiannis’ debut graphic novel stands out because of its unique look and exciting plot. Sketched with ink and pen, Milonogiannis imagines a new Athens in the near future after a major flood that destroys the city, and a detective’s run-ins with a mysterious tech company after its CEO is murdered. The action comes through beautifully in Milonogiannis’s panels and is easy to follow; no small task when working in monochrome. The setting and the characters present an open sandbox of opportunity for more stories, and if Milonogiannis is able to continue his solid work like he does here, he’ll be a force to look forward to in the graphic novel world.

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