Gift Guide is a series of articles highlighting some of our top picks for gift suggestions. Each article covers a specific genre with explanations of why we think these items make worthy gifts.

Today’s Gift Guide topic is graphic novels. When you think about the term graphic novel today, often it is associated with comic books and superheroes. This is not always the case, however. Today’s list is comprised of half superhero stories and half non-superhero stories that are equally, if not moreso, compelling.

American Born Chinese
Gene Yang weaves together three separate stories. The first is a folk tale of a Monkey King who must come to terms with his true nature after declaring himself a god. The second storyline follows a young chinese boy that moves to America. After living there for a while, he meets another boy who recently moved from China and is quickly frustrated at his culture shock. The third plotline follows the sitcom of a boy in high school who’s Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee, comes to visit and immediately and deliberately follows one stereotype after another, completely embarassing the high schooler.

Why we like it: In addition to winning the Michael Printz Award, what could be considered the young adult literature equivalent of the Newbery Medal, the book takes a hilarious and light hearted look at racial stereotypes, coming to terms with, and appreciating this heritage.

Check out the rest of our list after the jump!


Someone is hunting down members of the former superhero group The Watchmen. Rorschach is determined to find out who, unraveling a multiple-decade-spanning backstory that leads to a climax that will leave you on the edge of your seat and thinking about the end for days to come.

Why we like it: Few graphic novel lists are complete without Watchmen because few books pushed the graphic novel medium as far as this one. Released in the early 80’s, the poignancy of this book’s plot, characters, and settings are just as strong now as they were when the book was released. With the movie adaptation’s imminent release in March of 2009, this is a great choice for anyone intrigued by the movie, comic books, or science fiction in general.

Mouse Guard Fall 1152 Harcover
From Booklist:
The Mouse Guard protects its fellow creatures and patrols the passageways used between the villages of the Mouse Territories. In this tale, three members of the guard investigate the disappearance of a traveling grain merchant. During their quest for the truth, the three uncover a plot to attack Lockhaven, the home of the guard; fight hungry snakes; escape a fiery death; and find a long-lost hero.

Why we like it: While mixing fantasy with animals is not a new idea, the depth and creativity of the world that David Peterson has created is matched only in his realistic art style that seems to make the characters come alive.

The Ultimates Volume 1 & Volume 2
A modernized version of the formation of the Avengers, in this case, referred to as the Ultimates. These two volumes collect the entire 12 issue run of this mini-series. The first volume covers the formation of the team and its eventual confrontation with the Hulk. The second book features the team’s continuing (and at times failing) efforts to amalgamate into a cohesive unit which eventually leads them to fighting a full scale alien invasion.

Why we like it: The cinematic artwork matches the scale of the updated retelling of some of our favorite heroes joining forces to put down a threat of enormous magnitude. It is, at times, difficult to relate to characters that have been around for many decades with backstories that still reflect those times. This retelling is an in-your-face story putting characters you’ve known for years into situations only too real. There is no better example of this than when Captain America hunts down Hank Pym (Giantman) following an altercation that will leave you speechless with only another yet to come.

The Complete Persepolis
An auto-biographical coming of age story of a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. This edition collects both volumes of the 2-part story as Marjane experiences the Revolution as a girl and its lasting effects as she gets older, leaves Iran, only to return years later when the Revolution has rooted itself and set its hold on the coutry.

Why we like it: This book humanizes and puts a face to a country we see in the news constantly today, yet know so little about. The book was recently made into a french animated movie that met critical acclaim after its release. The book is in black and white, but the animated film actually made all settings outside of Iran in color, while maintaining the black and white for her home country. It is hard to put this book down once you have started.

Kingdom Come
In an alternate future, many of the superheroes we have known so well have gone into retirement, while a new generation of super powered beings take their place. The problem is that the line between hero and villain have blurred as the newest heroes are not bound by the strict ethical standards to which the former generation adhered. Superman lives on a farm in the mid-west, disenchanted with the world and living in isolation, until one day Wonder Woman shows up asking for his help in training the new generation about what it means to be a hero. Not everyone thinks this is a good idea as the effort is met with resistance of many kinds.

Why we like it: Mark Waid’s story is given life by Alex Ross’s stunning painted artwork. Suspense builds as we see events transpire through eyes of Norman McKay, an ordinary preacher. As the story progresses its a treat to see the future interpretations of all our favorite (DC) heroes. And while we can only speculate the road many of them have travelled, we get to see where they have ended up and who has sided with who.

Art Spiegelman wanted to tell his father’s story. A story of a man who lived through the Nazi oppression and the concentration camps of the Holocaust. Humans are replaced with animals in this story. Jews are mice, while Germans are cats. This edition includes both volumes of Maus, and allows you to follow Art’s father on a journey more heart-wrenching than you can imagine. Fans of graphic novel or not, this is a must-read.

Why we like it: A moving and touching story, if this book is on a graphic novel listing, its always at the top. There is no graphic novel more revered for its story-telling and ability to relate not only to Art’s father, but even moreso to Art, himself. It is at times difficult to relate to one who has been through struggles so hard and long as Art’s father, but Art has not only shown us his father’s world, but his own as well.

Planet Hulk
Just before the events of the Superhuman Civil War on Earth, Reed Richards, Tony Stark (Iron Man), and a few others have decided that after a series of rampages and countless amounts of collateral damage, the Hulk is too great a threat to the people of the planet. So, they sent him away. They tricked him onto a shuttle they pre-programmed with coordinates of a far away planet that had no intelligent life, but was rich in fauna and food. Unfortunately, there was a navigational glitch and the Hulk landed on a strange planet in a weakened state. He is immediately forced into slavery and made to fight in a gladitorial arena for the Red King’s entertainment. This is the story of the Hulk’s struggles and triumphs on this new planet.

Why we like it: At a time when many people were becoming disenchanted with Marvel’s Civil War storyline, Planet Hulk provided a refuge of solid story telling and excellent art to back it up. If you were a Hulk fan before or not, this was an excellent jumping-on point and really breathed new life into the Hulk’s comic backstory. The shocking finale of the story will leave you wondering whats next for the Hulk.