I equally love series and standalones when it comes to reading comics, graphic novels, and mangas. It really comes down to the mood I’m in when I’m reaching for one. Currently, I have a lot of series that I’m keeping up with, especially since I recently learned I love manga. Off the top of my head the series that I am currently making my way through are Spy X Family (There’s an adaptation on Hulu!), Heartstopper (There’s an adaptation on Netflix!), The Way Of the Househusband (There’s an adaptation on Netflix!), Ms. Marvel (There’s an adaptation on Disney+!), Saga, Boys Run the Riot, and A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow. So you can see how keeping up with series can easily get out of hand and why I like to offset it with standalone graphic novels. There’s something wonderful about getting to have a completed story at once, no waiting necessary, and having the option of either reading it in pieces or sitting down to read it in one shot.
Even though I write the Unusual Suspects newsletter and focus a lot on crime reading, I read across genres, ages, and categories. This list reflects that and contains crime reads, nonfiction, drunk mermaids, a literary lover turned chef, coming-of-age YA with nostalgia for adults, revenge YA, and more. If you’re looking for standalone graphic novels, you can’t go wrong with any of these.
The Banks by Roxane Gay, Ming Doyle, and Jordie Bellaire
If you like generational stories, heists, revenge, and ride-or-die mentality, this is for you. With past and present stories you get to know three generations of women: Clara (grandmother), Cora (daughter), and Celia (granddaughter). In the present, Celia decides to start speaking to her family again when she’s passed up for a promotion at work and thinks the family should help her relieve her firm’s biggest client of all his money in one final go-big-or-go-home heist.
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob
This is a memoir with illustrations imposed over photographs where the author has difficult conversations with her young son. Mira Jacob, an Indian American, found herself having to explain a lot of things to her biracial son, especially in the Trump era. She also takes us into her childhood in Albuquerque and her adulthood in Brooklyn. It’s a beautiful book that tackles a lot of difficult conversations for children and adults.
Thirsty Mermaids by Kat Leyh
This is so much fun, exploding with found family, and will also zing you right in the feels. Two mermaids and a sea witch run out of booze they’ve been drinking from a shipwreck, so naturally the plan is to get some human legs to go on land and get more alcohol. Grand plan! Until the next day when they have not converted back to merpeeps and realize they are stuck as humans and on land until they figure that out. From there, it’s an adventure in finding jobs and housing, getting along with humans, and trying to reverse this spell!
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
As soon as I finished reading this, I turned back to page one; it was the kind of book that settled deep inside me. It’s YA but has massive appeal to adult readers. This is about a young girl whose family takes the same beach vacation every year, but this year she’s right in that pocket age where one year age difference has huge impact. It’s about how kids can sense when something is going on with the adults in their life and how adults assume kids never do. It’s about friendship and family and connections and how growing up means all those things are in constant change. I always love Tamaki’s illustrations, and in this case how this entire graphic novel is blue toned.
Chef’s Kiss by Jarrett Melendez, Danica Brine, Hank Jones, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Here’s a fun, bright, slow-burn romance with a literal food-critiquing pig. Ben Cook has an English degree and is ready to enter the publishing world — except he’s just not getting hired no matter how many interviews he goes on. So by chance, he ends up applying to work as a cook in a restaurant with a weekly test where he finds a new passion and a hot chef to make eyes at!
Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto and Ann Xu
This is a beautiful and surprising story starring an elderly woman — something I haven’t come across much in graphic novels. Kumiko’s daughters think the best thing for her is to reside in an assisted living facility, but she quickly finds it isn’t for her and leaves. She finds her own place and doesn’t tell her daughter’s where — only sending sporadic emails — wanting to not be told what to do anymore. But death’s shadow has followed her from the facility, and she’s about to have a fight on her hands as someone from her past walks back into her life. I loved how this felt like a wonderful combination of dark and strange with resilience, hope, and beauty.
Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms by Crystal Frasier and Val Wise
If you need something completely delightful with a reminder of the beauty of people and the spirit of finding your people/person, run to this one. Annie is antisocial, and may have bitten someone, when the school forces her into being on the cheerleading squad. BeeBee is also on the squad, and her former best friend, dealing with her parents strict restrictions. As they fight to discover their voices they’ll also find that maybe best friends, to not friends, to friends again could also open the door for romance. Get ready to cheer so hard for these characters! (Pun intended, not sorry!)
Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Sterle
Some Heathers vibes and werewolves? I was sold! I also loved the style and coloring of the art, which was so perfect for those vibes. It’s basically a new girl at school story that gets taken in by the popular girls…who also happen to be revenge seeking werewolves. So she joins in, turns, and is now one of them. But at what cost? And can she save her new budding romance?
Looking to add even more to your comics pile? We got you with tons of recs.