What do people tend to think of when they think of comic books and graphic novels? Superheroes and villains? Sprawling sci-fi? Beautifully rendered fantasy settings? Sure, there’s that. But there’s so much more out there!
While comics have long been the domain of the caped vigilante heroes and their crime-fighting capers, the medium has since exploded in the last 30 to 40 years, to include everything from sci-fi and fantasy like we just mentioned, to historical dramas, short newspaper comedy skits, horror of all shades and types, and pretty much any other genre or concept that you could imagine.
There’s arguably never been a better time to be a reader, or someone with a pen or pencil, and an idea for a comic! However, there has always been an unsung hero in the world of comic books and graphic novels.
A genre that, while never being quite as popular as its superhero counterpart, has been around for just as long, and produced just as many amazing artists and writers: Romance!
This genre has been around since the early 1940s, if not earlier. And, fortunately, there has always been a significant, though a somewhat small, slice of the graphic novel-pie of these types of comics.
It’s a scene that, like with many other genres, has continued to evolve in this medium for the past 30 years, producing some of its best works yet. If you’re looking for some of the best examples, both young and old, then this is the list for you!
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me By Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’ Connell
We’re starting this list with a romance graphic novel that fits comfortably into the YA genre, as well as providing us with one of the strongest points in the most recent wave of romance comics, the greater inclusion of non-traditionally represented relationships.
Frederica Riley, known to her friends and family as Freddy, is in love with one of the most popular girls in school, Laura Dean, and she’s great. She’s funny, she’s charming, and she’s cute as heck!
However, it starts to become clear to Freddy and all of her friends that Laura Dean is also a real piece of work, and not necessarily in a good way.
Freddy and Laura’s constant breaking up and coming back together is starting to test their patience, and Freddy must decide whether all of the drama is worth it.
Even if you don’t consider romance to be your first genre of choice when thinking about graphic novels, you cannot deny the incredible craftsmanship on display with this story.
The artwork is stunning from the first page, all the way to the last, and has a beautiful color palette that ranges from light pastels, to deeply saturated dark hues that help make a striking contrast on the page.
It’s a tale of young love, and the emotional growth that we all have to or will have to undergo if we wish to break patterns of behavior that have kept us in toxic relationships.
Plus, we love just how much this graphic novel normalizes LGBTQIA+ relationships, a trend that we’re glad to see has been appearing more in smaller and independently-made graphic novels, and even larger publishing houses.
These stories have always been here. But now, with phenomenal writer and artist teams like this, we get to see these stories played out on their terms.
In short, this is one of my favorite stories on this list and a must-read for any YA reader and enthusiast out there!
- A phenomenal story about teenage romance, and learning how to let go of that which feels so good, but hurts so much.
- The artwork is phenomenal.
- A surprisingly big graphic novel for this price range. That’s a lot of bang for your book!
- Some of the side characters that get plenty of page time don’t always get the appropriate amount of characterization they need and might fall flat for some.
Young Romance: The Best Of Simon & Kirby’s Romance Comic
You’ll probably notice that many of the entries in this list skew a little more recent, in terms of their release date. That’s not because romance comics and graphic novels weren’t written before 1980, far from it.
But their overall popularity has meant that easy-to-access reprints of many of these older titles have been hard to come by, relegating them to the sands of history.
However, there is a vintage exception to this rule, and it comes in the form of one of the most iconic writer and artist duos in comic book and graphic novel history.
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby are the legendary duos that create the iconic character of Captain America, the sentinel of liberty, and resident puncher of Adolf Hitler (no joke. Look up issue 1 of Captain America).
Anyway, while Jack Kirby would eventually go on to join the artist and writer’s team over at Marvel comics, before that, he and Joe Simon would work on another series together, Young Romance, a series of romance anthology stories that were meant for a slightly older audience.
The result is a long-running series and body of work that still holds up today, as a sort of distillation of the romance comic stories that had come before, mixed with the phenomenal artwork and distinct writing style of Joe Simon.
If you’re a fan of romance comics, and you want to get a taste of the earlier routes of the genre (or are just a big fan of Jack Kirby’s artwork. Which, you know, is fair), this collection comprises 21 stories, as well as tons of work that has never before been reprinted up until now!
- This a great sample of an older style of romance graphic novels that have long been underappreciated.
- This reprint contains plenty of work that hasn’t seen the light of day in over 50 years!
- A great collection of Jack Kirby’s artwork before going to either DC or Marvel.
- Some of the tastes and attitudes are very much of the time. There may be a little culture shock when going back and reading this nearly 70-year-old work.
Roadqueen: Eternal Roadtrip To Love
From the distant past to the road-tearing, bombastic scene of romance graphic novels of today, this next entry is another one that I’m sure will become a staple of the genre in years to come.
The titular road queen in question is none other than Leo, a motorcycle-riding student at Princess Andromeda academy, and the object of affection of many of her peers. Leo has made it clear that only someone who can best her in a drag race can go out on a date with her.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not only does Leo love breaking hearts, but she also loves her drag races and motorcycles, so no one has even come close to matching her yet.
However, that might change once the mysterious Vega enters Leo’s life. And worse still, her beloved bike Bethany has been stolen! And… maybe her heart along with it? It’s a lot of feelings, that’s for sure!
As graduation season rolls down, and Leo faces the prospect of a lonely summer ahead, Vega screeches back into her life with Bethany to strike a deal with Leo. What is that deal, you may ask? Well, you’ll have to buy this graphic novel and find out for yourself.
The heavily stylized, manga-inspired artwork creates some striking character designs, not least of which are the titular protagonists Leo and Vega themselves. They’re allowed to be incredibly expressive, and ridiculously, almost infectiously, charming!
Plus, this romcom is hilarious. Like, laugh-out-loud at pages, levels of funny, and that’s no small feat!
The writing has a level of wit that matches the energy and vibe of the artwork and just makes you love every little interaction that these characters have with each other and others.
Plus, it’s even more LGBTQIA+ representation! What’s there not to love about it?
- A great central enemies-to-lover Lesbian romance story for you to enjoy.
- The artwork is stunning, being both detailed and incredibly expressive.
- The writing and chemistry between the characters are great to watch unfold. A very funny read!
- Enemies-to-lovers is a story trope that might not be to everyone’s tastes.
Fresh Romance: Volume 1 By Kate Leth, Marguerite Bennett, Sarah Kuhn
If Young romance wasn’t an indication before, we do love a good anthology collection when it comes to romance graphic novels.
They allow for not only a brisk read but also for a plethora of different types of romances and stories to unfold. Childhood affection rekindled, enemies-to-lovers, lost souls finding each other. The whole spectrum.
And, in the case of the last 20 to 30 years, a plethora of different LGBTQIA+ stories to be told that haven’t been able to be shared before.
So, what exactly does that mean when we allow for an anthology series to be written by not just one artist and writer pairing, but an entire swath of different creative teams?
Well, if you’re Sarah Kuhn, Marguerite Bennett, Kate Leth, or any of the other authors in this series, you get something like this, Fresh Romance.
The critically acclaimed anthology that got its start on Kickstarter (like many of the best creative ideas these days) has finally come to physical print.
What was once a digital-exclusive series can now be bought and held in your hands, on real paper!
As we said, the collection of writers and artists in this series allows for a range of different stories to be told, and a ton of styles that they are rendered in.
Even if one of the stories doesn’t quite suit your tastes, there’s a good chance that one just a few pages over will.
This is the perfect series to try out if you previously enjoyed Young Romance, and want a romance series, perfectly tailored to 21st-century tastes.
- A wide collection of romance stories, covering a massive range of genres and subgenres.
- A series that has an excellent range of explorations of different kinds of love.
- Lots of different art styles too!
- As we mentioned, the stories can vary in style, subgenres, and qualities. You may not find every story engaging.
Bloom By Kevin Panetta & Savanna Ganucheau
You know those romance stories where characters seem lost in their lives, and desperately want to go somewhere else in the hopes that they can find something or someone to add something new to their lives?
Only they find that something or someone where they are throws a spanner into their plans? No? Just us?
Well, it’s a well-worn trope that many characters, stuck in small towns or communities, want to break away and move to the big city to find themselves. And it’s a conflict that Ari knows all too well in Bloom.
Ari hopes that he can convince his dad to let him move away from his parents and their failing bakery business and into a big city with his band. However, is helping find candidates that can fill his role, and he meets Hector.
A Young man who is easygoing, and loves to bake. Seems like the perfect scenario, right? Only, as Ari starts training him, and they bond over their love and experience in baking, they also find love and new experiences with each other.
Does this ruin Ari’s dreams? Will he accidentally self-sabotage either his chance at love or moving away? Well, that’s just something that you’ll have to find out for yourself!
This story captures a lot of that wanderlust that many of us feel as we enter our teenage years and often doesn’t go away for many of us, as a lot of the mixed emotions that it brings with it.
It is a mood that is reflected in both the artwork and coloring of this graphic novel. The shades of blue range from deep and vivid, to light, desaturated pastels.
It’s as if melancholy could be turned into color, but not in a way that makes you put down the book. Quite the opposite!
- A relatable protagonist and a simple, easy-to-get-behind plot line.
- The art style is adorably simplified and cartoon, while still allowing for a full range of expressions and emotions, complemented by great coloring and inking.
- Great gay relationship representation is on display, with relatable struggles and reactions to emotional feelings.
- Ari, while a relatable protagonist, might come off as a little unlikable and difficult to root for, for some readers.
After: The Graphic Novel By Anna Todd & Pablo Andres
Anna Todd is probably best known for her long-running romance series After, which has become world-famous and even had a major motion picture based on it.
However, for my money, the graphic novel adaptation of the first book is one of the easiest ways to enjoy this incredibly popular and celebrated romance story.
The story focuses on Tessa who moves away from her family home and reliable boyfriend to go to college and fulfill her ambitions, something that her folks back home are more than happy to support, especially her mother.
However, no sooner than moving into her new dorms, she finds herself coming to terms with Hardin, a young man who, with his undeniable charisma, cocky British accent, incredibly good-looking, and a man with a mean streak riding alongside him.
By all accounts, Tessa should be turned away from him. And yet, there’s just something that keeps pulling her towards him. And it’s not just a one-way affection, it seems!
It’s a classic staple of many good romance novels, where a love triangle blossoms and threatens to tear the old way life used to be apart. Will what comes next be better? Will it go the same way? Who knows!
It’s just like the tagline of the original book says: ‘There was the time before Tessa met Hardin, and then there’s everything AFTER…’
… Do you get it?
Aside from faithfully adapting this popular romance novel, the artwork by Pablo Andres is simply stunning, capturing a painting-like feeling, while also providing all the details for expressions and rich character interactions to boot!
- A beautiful interpretation of a book that already has an excellent adaptation!
- This graphic novel also comes with a ton of behind-the-scenes notes and character profiles from the author herself.
- The printed version seems to have more than a few spelling issues. Not exactly a great showing from a major publishing house.
100% By Paul Pope
Despite how niche some people might feel about the romance category in itself, the fact is that its reach spans far beyond the pages of its genre.
Virtually every genre, whether it’s sci-fi or detective fiction, has always had romance be a classic plot or subplot as its focus. It’s a fact that is on full display in beautiful detail in this amazing early 2000s cyberpunk staple, 100%.
Written and drawn by the seasoned comic-book veteran Paul Pope, author and writer of many classic graphic novel hits like Batman: Year 100 and Battling Boy.
(Interestingly enough, 100% is meant to take place in the same year and setting as Batman: Year 100, but don’t expect the caped crusader to make an appearance here.)
100% Takes place in a dystopic 2039, in New York City. Here, 6 characters, of a limited 6 issue-run, must come to terms with their feelings and need for love and human emotion in an increasingly digital and distant world.
It’s a classic tale, as far as the cyberpunk genre goes, where the subject of transhumanism and the isolation of an increasingly artificial and technological world strips many people of their ability, and even capacity, to sincerely love and care for one another.
Those themes of human connection make them the perfect subject to synergize with a romance-based story and plot. All of this story and theming, while being wrapped up in some gorgeous black-and-white artwork and illustrations by Pope himself.
Yep, you heard that right. This amazing graphic novel is a one-man show right here!
The European and Japanese manga-inspired styles that Pope uses in his work make for a novel that stands out from many others, especially many other comics of the late 90s and early 2000s.
- A phenomenal blend of romance and cyberpunk contemplation on human connections and individuals in an ever-distancing world.
- Stunning artwork from a distinguished artist in the medium.
- A gripping tale that grapes your attention from the moment you open it up!
- The vagueness of some characters’ questions and answers might frustrate some readers, especially if this is their first Paul Pope graphic novel.
Saga: Compendium 1 By Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Jumping off of the bandwagon that we started with the previous issue, cross-genre fiction is probably the place where most people start to appreciate how good of a genre romance is.
They’re gripped by the story, setting, or characters that you’d typically find in another genre, and start to appreciate the blossoming romance.
That’s a balance that is beautifully made in perhaps one of the biggest hits in modern comics and graphic novel history, Saga.
Two star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of a galaxy-wide conflict find themselves having to avoid the forces of both factions that are hunting them down as traitors. All while trying to care for their newly-born daughter, Hazel.
The dynamic between both parents, Alana and Marko, is delightful and heartfelt to watch unfold, especially with what an incredible job artist Fiona Staples does for the art in this series.
If you haven’t read this series before, you’re probably better off starting with a single issue or volume to see if it’s more your style. However, if you’re like me, and just love to binge-read your graphic novels, this is the purchase you should be making!
- One of the most successful graphic novel series in the past 15 years, and one of the best couples in mainstream comics, too!
- Amazing artwork on every page, as well as a deep and explored fantasy world to boot.
- A massive compendium of over 1,300 pages!
- If you’re new to the series, buying such a massive paperback might not be the best way to introduce yourself or invest in the series. This is probably for fans who know what they’re getting into.
Lore Olympus: Volume 1 By Rachel Smythe
We’ve talked a lot in this list about romance graphic novels that have covered a lot of genres, from rom-coms to passionate dramas, to sci-fi and even fantasy.
However, one of my favorite types of romance stories is those that talk about literary and/or mythological characters and reinterpret relationships from literary classics through a modern romantic lens.
And, for my money anyway, few do this particular style of the story quite like Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe does!
Taking place in the modern day, this graphic noble hit focuses on the loving relationship between the Ancient Greek gods Hades, king of the underworld, and Persephone, goddess of the spring, and queen of the underworld.
The flirtations between these two are adorable, especially when you consider just how dysfunctional the rest of the Greek pantheon seems to be, both in and out of this comic!
It’s especially charming as the two try to navigate the complicated politics of the other gods that make frequent appearances in this story.
Plus, the artwork is truly something special, unlike many other artists that you’ll find on this list. The brilliant use of contrasting colors is a real standout for me!
- An amazing take on classical characters, in a fresh new style.
- Gorgeous artwork that only gets better the further you go!
- Available to purchase in physical print, or to view from Webtoons.
- In printed form, you can somewhat tell that this was designed as a webcomic originally.
We’ve tried to include a variety of different kinds of romances, from classic light love stories, to raunchier, passionate tales. From straight couples, to LGBTQIA+ love. From small-town angst and frustration, to Sci-fi epics.
They’re all here! All that’s left for you to do now, is to pick your first book, and get stuck in!
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Romance Novels For All Ages?
Romance graphic novels can be enjoyed by anyone of any age. However, considering the explicit content, we would recommend that younger teens are the absolute youngest for these novels.
How Many People Do You Need To Write A Graphic Novel?
In theory, so long as you can write and somewhat draw, a graphic novel can be a one-person show! Of course, that workload is easier to manage with two people managing each task, of course!
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