AAR takes on graphic novels

holdingOnToAlexI’m very excited to announce that AAR will be reviewing romance graphic novels. We’ve reviewed a few in the past, but this will be an organized effort. What is a graphic novel? Typically, the term refers to trade paperback-sized volumes, sometimes made up of shorter comic books, in which a story is told through images and words (if you’re interested in a theoretical/academic exploration of all of this, try Scott McCloud’s terrific work Understanding Comics). A story can be strung across multiple volumes or told in a single edition.


Here are my top reasons why you should start reading graphic novels.


Graphic novels are more than “comic books.” I put “comic books” in quotes here because I’m referring to the stereotype – “BIFF-BAM-POW” technicolor superhero stories for boys containing anatomy which makes romance covers look like medical school textbooks. Comic books can be more than this, too, but that’s a topic for another time.


Graphic novels are a medium, not a genre. Just as superhero movies aren’t the only kind of movies, superhero graphic novels aren’t the only kind of graphic novels. On my to-read-and-review pile, you can find a coming-of-age story about a mother and a daughter in 19th century Korea, a lesbian love story in Paris, and a gender-flipped Japanese shogun’s court. Harlequin even has a line!


Graphic novels are an interesting and different way to read. I like training my eye to appreciate the visual element of the story. It’s fascinating how something intangible, like silence, can be evoked through images and spacing. Authors can even draw various types of intangibles: awkward silences, creepy silences, companionable silences, wistful silences…. It all depends on their stories and talent.


You may even find yourself reading backward! Because Japanese is read right to left, Japanese graphic novels, called manga, were originally published starting at what we think of as the back cover. Some English translations use mirror-image printing so the books will appear left-to-right for English readers, but it has become popular to print them in the original Japanese style to preserve the artwork. I find it an interesting mental challenge – and new challenges keep your mind sharp!


Graphic novels will introduce you to different voices. Books by white women about white protagonists dominate the romance book market, but the largest category of romance graphic novels is Japanese manga. Korea’s version, called manhwa, is doing well too. While publishers are picking up more foreign literature, the non-English equivalents of mass-market fiction rarely get translated (one odd exception is Cornelia Funke, a German who writes YA. I don’t know why.) English romance novelists are widely translated into German, French, Spanish, etc., but if you can name me one romance translated into English, it’ll be the first one I ever heard of.


Graphic novels allow me to be true to my reading interests (love stories, happy endings) but also to do some cross-cultural exploring. For instance, in one volume of the Japanese manga Kimi no Todoke: From Me To You, a main conflict is the heroine struggling to use the casual grammatical form of address with her new friends and crush. We don’t even have a casual form in English, so it was interesting for me to imagine how navigating linguistics complicates a relationship.


Graphic novels are also new ways to see old favorites. You can find Austen, Bronte, and other classics, as well as adaptations of current writer’s works. Some authors have used graphic novels to grow worlds first introduced in print. Outlander? Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunters series? Janet Evanovich? And more are coming out all the time!


Graphic novels are easier and cheaper to find than ever. When I was in high school in a large Midwestern city, we had precisely one store in the city which carried translated Japanese manga. Now, my public library has whole shelves. Many graphic novels can be downloaded as ebooks, and others are even available for free online (for instance, the steampunk-ish Girl Genius).


Have you read any good romantic graphic novels? If so, please post your recommendations here! Are you interested in starting reading graphic novels? Why or why not?


AAR Caroline





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10 Responses to AAR takes on graphic novels

  1. Paola says:

    This is a great idea! I suggest you Emma by Kaoru Mori, a manga set in the victorian era about a romance between a servant and a rich man (not noble), it’s in 10 volumes.
    There’s another one that I have to start, but it’s a YA. It’s Jane, the Fox and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault. Jane is Jane Eyre, that’s the reason I bought it, but it also has great reviews.

  2. mari says:

    I don’t know anything about this genre /type at all, definitly looking for recs and how to get my feet wet! Don’t know where to start….I know Japanese love stories don’t often end happily, so I would avoid these…unless I could be assured of a HEA…..any advice for a newbie?

    • CarolineAAR says:

      I’m doing my best to identify HEA graphic novels through online reviews and through checking the last volume first (my library is terrific). I am also prefacing each review with how meany volumes it reflects – for example, “Four of 14 volumes” or “21 of 21 volumes.” To be totally safe, you could avoid any series I haven’t finished prior to reviewing.

  3. Jo-Ann W. says:

    Oh, I have a love/hate relationship with manga/manhwa! The hate part comes in when the series is dropped either by the mangaka or the Japanese or English publisher, or not completely translated into English, or the English publisher closes its doors (hello TokyoPop) and leaves us hanging. I have so many incomplete series, I got very discouraged and stopped reading it in the last couple of years. I have about 3 unread series waiting around to see if some publisher picks them up for publication. There is one series I was dying to finish and only had one volume unpublished in English, so I bought it in German and am translating it myself! lol

    The love part comes in with the art and learning about other cultures. Okay, it’s not Van Gogh but I find some series’ artwork to be very appealing. The stories and plots vary greatly (though you do find repetitive scenarios frequently just as you do in romance novels!) and I’ve read enough to know what kinds of manga work for me what doesn’t. I like HEAs so I’ve learned which authors (mangaka) I can depend on for that (also pretty much any romantic high school series).

    • CarolineAAR says:

      While I can’t guarantee that they are still in print, I have checked that any translated manga I review at least made it through the whole series (so that does make me out of date, but it can’t be helped). If other AAR reviewers take up graphic novels, they may not do the same. As I commented above, I’ll tell you in the review how far I got.

      If you’re stuck on a series that stopped being published in English, there are online fan translation projects. I would never recommend these as an alternative to purchasing – it is not fair to the author. But losing a series halfway through wasn’t fair to you, either.

  4. My daughter introduced me to Girl Genius last year and I’m totally hooked on it! I just wish they released new panels faster than three times a week, but given the amount of work the creators put into those, I understand why. It’s one of the best steampunk-type stories I’ve found, with dense, rich world-building, gorgeous art work, complex (really complex, be warned!) plotting, and fascinating characters, particularly Agatha, the titular girl genius. If you try it out, do start at the beginning and give it some time. It’s actually taken me a couple of re-readings to get a good sense of what’s going on.

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