What makes a comic underrated? Is it a lack or readers or reviews? Is it a lack of acclaim or attention? Mostly likely, it’s a bit of all of the above, but the metric I’m using for this list to keep things truly and deeply underrated is titles with Goodreads ratings of under (or around) 1,000. That means that very few readers (or at least the ones with an active Goodreads account) have read these comics and graphic novels. And that’s a shame, because these 20 titles are among the best underrated graphic novels — and you’ve probably never even heard of them.
These underrated graphic novels come from indie presses like BOOM! Studios, Image Comics, Oni Press, and Insight Comics. Some were originally self-published as webcomics while others feature writers and artists you might recognize from other projects you love. And they span almost every genre and age group. The one thing that all have in common is that not nearly enough people know about them. But we’re about to change that. These 20 underrated graphic novels deserve your attention as much as any bestseller, so let’s dive into what makes them great and why you shouldn’t hesitate to read them.
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr by Ram V., Filipe Andrade, Inês Amaro, and AndWorld Design
When the god of death is fired, she vows revenge on the one who put her out of business: a baby who will help humanity discover immortality. Now this former god is living as a mortal twentysomething in Mumbai and her quest for revenge is…not going well. Good thing she still has some friends in high places to bring her back when she dies, dies, and dies again.
Prism Stalker by Sloane Leong
This gorgeous graphic novel follows a girl from a displaced planet who’s surviving people have been forced to work as indentured citizens in a foreign colony. But a private military firm offers a way out; they need help settling a strange new planet and are taking on recruits. Soon Vep finds herself training to fight on a planet teeming with psychic life. And the new recruits are expected not only to fight against the psychic creatures they come up against, but fight with the planet’s psychic powers themselves.
Isola by Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, and MSASSYK
An evil spell turns the Queen of Maar into a black and white tiger and her Captain of the Guard will do anything to keep her safe — and help her turn back. Their best hopes lie in stories of a place called Isola, the land of the dead. But Isola, if it even exists outside of myths, is half a world away. And the journey to get there will push this loyal captain and her cursed queen to their very limits and beyond.
Fun Fun Fun World by Yehudi Mercado
What happens when an invading alien spaceship mistakes a theme park for all of Earth? Well the defunct amusement park, Fun Fun Fun World is in for a wild ride, that’s for sure. Minky believes he’s the best captain ever, even though his warship, the Devastorm 5, is the worst in the fleet. And their last chance to prove their worth and conquer a planet in tribute to their queen is right here on planet Earth. Only he’s a little confused about what Earth is exactly. And the son of Fun Fun Fun World’s head engineer is determined to outwit these wacky alien invaders, and in doing so might just be able to save the planet — and his beloved theme park — from utter destruction.
The Black Bull of Norroway by Cat Seaton and Kit Seaton
Inspired by a classic Scottish fairy tale, Norroway tells the story of a girl named Sibylla who longs for adventure but didn’t expect it to come in the form of a marriage proposal from a giant, magical bull. Can she help this bull transform back into the man he once was? And does she even want to?
Lifetime Passes by Terry Blas and Claudia Aguirre
Jackie Chavez has always loved her local amusement park, Kingdom Adventure, but the place has taken on new meaning since her parents were deported. So when she learns that her aunt won’t be able to afford another season pass, she and her group of sort-of friends decide to take advantage of a little-known loophole: lifetime passes for everyone if one of their party members dies in the park. And since her aunt works at Valley Care Living, a seniors home, finding someone to bring along who might die at the park shouldn’t even be that tricky.
Heavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva
A secret fight club at a local record club introduces Chris to a whole new world when she lands a position at her dream job: working at Vinyl Mayhem. Not only does she get to work alongside her crush and talk about music all day, now she gets to fight back against the patriarchy as part of a teen girl vigilante fight club. Tracking down missing musicians, fighting crime, and punching the patriarchy in the face — it’s all just a day in the life for the team at Vinyl Mayhem.
School for Extraterrestrial Girls by Jeremy Whitley and Jamie Noguchi
Starting a new school is never easy, especially when you’re an alien. But when all your fellow classmates are aliens, too, it makes the discovery that your mom and dad aren’t really your mom and dad and you’re actually a fire-wielding alien from another planet a bit easier to swallow. Still, Tara will have to get a handle on her newly discovered powers if she wants to succeed at her new school and make friends along the way.
Afar by Leila del Duca and Kit Seaton
Astral projection is all fun and games — until someone gets hurt. And when Boetema learns that she can astrally project her consciousness into the bodies of people on other planets, it seems like exactly that: a bit of fun. But then she accidentally gets a girl hurt while possessing her body, and now she and her trouble-prone brother must work together to right a series of wrongs strewn out across the galaxy.
M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder
A young deaf girl wants nothing more than to make her way across the deserts and get to the mountain range beyond to scatter her mother’s ashes. But she lives in a world of sleeping gods and fragile peace. After being rescued from dehydration by desert-dwellers, she must decide whether to reveal her mysterious powers in order to protect their town from attacking rogues or continue on her journey alone.
Mech Cadet Yu by Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa
I was honestly shocked to discover this graphic novel was a relative unknown since I found it to be such a fun read. Every year, giant sentient robots come to Earth to bond with humans and fend off alien threats. The new crop of cadets at Sky Corps Academy are awaiting selection, but when a boy working alongside his mom as a janitor is chosen by one of the robots instead, he’s given the opportunity of a lifetime — if he can prove himself to his classmates and teachers before the next alien attack.
FTL, Y’all!: Tales From the Age of the $200 Warp Drive edited by C. Spike Trotman
This anthology of short comics all explore the same idea in a myriad of different ways: what if people everywhere suddenly had access to a cheap warp drive, making space travel accessible to the masses? With faster than light travel now widely available, what will the future bring?
Meal by Blue Delliquanti and Soleil Ho
The creator of the hit webcomic O Human Star teams up with renowned chef and restaurant critic, Soleil Ho, in this graphic novel all about food. Yarrow is a young chef determined to find her place in the culinary world with her insect-based creations. But winning over her personal hero — and the chef of a buzzy new restaurant — might prove harder than she expected. Especially because Chef Chanda Flores comes from a culture where people have been eating bugs for centuries and she’s not at all impressed by some newbie’s attempt to make insects the next big thing.
I See a Knight by Xulia Vicente
Is the headless knight that Olivia has always seen an imaginary friend? A ghost? An omen? After all, no one else sees what she sees. She’s grown so accustomed to the knight’s presence that it doesn’t really bother her anymore. But she also knows that one day she will have to confront it in this 38-page comic from ShortBox.
Umma’s Table by Yeon-Sik Hong, translated by Janet Hong
A new father struggles to balance all the different aspects of his life in this Korean graphic novel all about family. After moving to the country with his wife and baby, Madang struggles to be the good father and husband he longs to be while also having to travel back to Seoul to care for his ailing mother and alcoholic father. His only comfort is memories of family meals throughout his childhood. Determined to have one last, multigenerational family meal before his mother’s death, Madang races to collect her recipes and bring together three generations while they still have time.
Djeliya: A West African Fantasy Epic by Juni Ba
Inspired by West African folklore, this graphic novel follows the adventures of Mansou, the prince of a dying kingdom, and Awa, his royal storyteller, known as a Djeliya. The two are on a quest to confront the wizard who destroyed their world and then retreated to his tower, never to be seen again. Along the way they encounter friends and foes from myth and legend and revisit the stories that gave rise to their people in the past as they try to save what is left of their present.
Cosmic Pizza Party by Nick Murphy, Paul Ritchey, and Bea Tormo
This adorable graphic novel is pure fun and pizza jokes. An intergalactic pizza delivery crew tries to beat out the competition on their quest to discover the very best cheese in the galaxy. But along the way they’ll have to battle space slugs, prickly customers, and culinary critics who don’t care how fast their delivery is if the pizza isn’t good enough to go along with it. This is a great read for kids or adults looking for some lighthearted laughs.
Welcome Back by Christopher Sebela, Jonathan Brandon Sawyer, and Jonathan Sawyer
Two reincarnated assassins, constantly at each others’ throats throughout time, wake in their newest life — but one of them suddenly begins to question why she continues to fight. Neither Mali nor Tessa remember why they’re fighting in this war that stretches back so far no one even knows what they’re fighting for. Tessa is waking up, starting to wonder why she should fight for something she can’t even remember. But Mali is still out there, and she’s already on the hunt, whether Tessa wants to be a part of it or not.
Vagrant Queen by Magdalene Visaggio, Jason Smith, Harry Saxon, and Zakk Saam
A former child queen driven from her throne wanders the galaxy all while trying to evade the revolutionary forces that would still see her dead, queen or not. Elida is slow to trust, but when an old frenemy claims to know the location of her mother, she has no choice but to follow him on a quest back to her home planet to rescue her mom. But what’s in it for him? And will trusting him prove to be Elida’s downfall?
Ronin Island by Greg Pak, Giannis Milonogiannis, and Irma Kniivila
After a mysterious force attacks Japan, China, and Korea in the 19th century, the survivors come together to build a new society on a hidden island refuge. Kenichi, the son of a samurai leader, and Hana, the orphaned daughter of Korean farmers, have little in common except their skill as warriors and their disdain for each other. But when an army brings word that the Shogun has returned and expects fealty in exchange for protection from a mutated horde, they will have to learn to work together to protect their island and their people.
We’ve got more underrated graphic novels to recommend if these 20 titles weren’t enough for you. These lists featuring webcomics and indie presses are a great place to keep going: