What can you learn from a comic book? My favorite nonfiction graphic novels for adults

For a long time books with pictures were seen as immature or just for kids, but thankfully that view is changing!

In the past few years there has been an amazing increase in graphic novels for all ages, including nonfiction ones for us adults. These can combine very thoughtful and informational books with the clear charts and beautiful images I love.

Why graphic novels?

While choosing to read a graphic novel or traditional nonfiction book mainly comes down to personal preference, there are some benefits that are unique to the illustrated options:

  • Graphic novels can present similar information in a different way for people who learn best visually or want a new point of view on the subject.
  • They can break down complex ideas into visual charts and graphs which can make them easier to understand.
  • The art can make the subject more memorable or emotional by connecting with us on multiple levels.
  • Graphic novels are often less intimidating when learning about a new subject, in part because the information is broken up by images and avoids becoming just a wall of text.

What subjects come in graphic novel form?

If you look hard enough you can find a graphic novel on almost any subject. There's ones on cooking (Let's Make Dumplings!), opens a new window, gardening (Guerrilla Green), opens a new window, working out (The Secret to Superhuman Strength), opens a new window, politics (Open Borders), opens a new window, and more! That said, most nonfiction ones for adults lean towards history or memoir, so that's where you'll have the most to choose from.


Seeing someone’s handwriting and art can make their story even more personal and enable them to really show you their experience. Plus, like any good memoir they can give you an opportunity to either feel less alone or learn more about an experience you’ve never been through. 

Artists and writers have created amazing work showing a wide variety of experiences from growing up in different countries, with various sexualities or genders, dealing with traumas from medical diagnoses or losing a child, and more.

This first one also happens to be the most banned/challenged book in the USA for the past three years!  If you want to see what all the fuss is about and judge the book for yourself you can check out Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. It's a personal memoir where they discuss what it was like growing up and figuring out their sexuality and nonbinary identity.

Gender Queer

This is one of my absolute favorite books. A beautiful memoir of one woman's attempt to ride across the country on her bike. Simple, but interesting, and well done. It's a quick read, but thoughtful and worth reading more than once. I'd recommend her fiction as well if you enjoy surreal, sometimes unsettling stories or scifi. 

You & A Bike & A Road


This book is partly a memoir that covers the author's time working in the oil fields in Canada. However, it also has many journalistic traits and gets into the complex issues surrounding both the economic desperation that sends people there and ecological destruction that results from their work as well as how both men and women are impacted by the huge gender imbalance and toxic masculinity in the camps. Overall, it's complex, amazingly done, and won the Eisner Award, Canada Reads, AND the Harvey Award in 2023.


For a more purely journalistic book, you can always count on Joe Sacco. Likely the most famous comic journalist, he's written in-depth and well-researched books on several topics from US poverty (Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt) to historical conflicts in Rafah (Footnotes in Gaza) to the history of the Dene Nation and Canadian mining (Paying the Land). Paying the Land is his most recent book and includes first-hand interviews with a variety of people who have strong, and often conflicting, opinions on what is best for their people and the region. One of his great skills is showing that complexity without reducing any of these real people to simple heroes or villains.  

Paying the Land


One of the benefits to a graphic biography is having another way to visualize all the different people involved and the style and culture of the time. So much of history is visual, and if you enjoy seeing the style of the 60's and 70's while learning the backstory of some great music then Redbone might be worth checking out. This book covers some of the history of the band and how they refused to betray their indigenous heritage and pride in the pursuit of commercial success. 


Graphic novel biographies also often focus on less well known people, like Benjamin Lay! A bit further back in time, about 300 years ago, Benjamin Lay was a little person and Quaker whose radical anti-slavery activism went as far as kidnapping the children of slavers to demonstrate how cruel their practices were. I don't know much about him, but I'm excited to check out this book myself and learn more. 

Prophet Against Slavery


Yes, cookbooks are already pretty visual but sometimes those step by step drawings really make a new cooking method clearer. Especially when learning to shape dumplings!

Let's Make Dumplings!

In Relish, another half memoir book, the recipes are seamlessly woven with Lucy Knisley’s relationship to the dishes and her mother. They're clearly written, generally simple to make, and sound delicious! (I highly recommend her other graphic novel memoirs too! There’s one for everyone- whether you’re interested in travel and the contradictions of youth, marriage, having a child, or want to check out her new fiction graphic novels for kids!)



Another frequently banned book, but Maus by Art Spiegelman is an older classic that has stayed popular since being first published in the late 80's. An account of the author's father's life in Nazi Germany, surviving a concentration camp, and living in the USA afterwards. This book is sometimes hard to read but provides an important perspective to better understand the holocaust and humanity in general. This book doesn't sugarcoat any of the horror he went through, and shows how ingenious and complex people are when struggling to survive without losing their humanity. 


Learning about something new can be intimidating, especially when it seems like most people have either an extremely positive or negative view of it. The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History does a great job of using the strengths of the format to make complex ideas easier to learn about. Plus, being able to see everyone makes it easier to keep track of the large number of people involved. I think it's a good starting point if you want to better understand this important part of our history. 

The Black Panther Party

Finally the list with all the recommendations!

This is far from exhaustive and there are many more genres we could go through, but HERE is a list of all the books I've mentioned in this blog. (Plus, a few bonus books.)

I hope this current trend of publishing more graphic novels for adults continues, and that you give one of them a shot!

Happy reading!