5 vintage graphic novels that are still going strong today

Published on: 03 August 2021 Author: Phil Corbett

You may be up to date with the latest graphic novels, but have you checked in with some older graphic novels recently? Here are a few of the classics that you need to read.

Illustration by Phil Corbett from Kitty Quest

Kitty Quest author/illustrator Phil Corbett has been on a quest to find the most worthy vintage graphic novels for all young comic-loving adventurers.

So, if older comics are what you’d like to try, read these five from days gone by, which are all still around and hugely loved by fans.

1. The Smurfs by Peyo

Everyone knows the Smurfs. They’ve been around since the 1950s. Their stories are always fun and the world they live in is sublime. The artist, Peyo, has a real eye for nature and the scaled-down world he’s created, with mushroom architecture deep in the woods for his little blue heroes and one heroine, is incredible. This gender imbalance from the olden days has thankfully been readdressed and in contemporary stories, Smurfette isn’t the only smurfly girl around.

2. Asterix the Gaul by Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny

I think the Asterix books were the first comics I ever read. I love them so much. Like the Smurf comics, I’m drawn to the depictions of architecture in these books. From the wonders of Rome to the pastoral charm of the Gaulish Village, every environment is delivered in loving detail. These comics are a celebration of Europe as our heroes travel from country to country on their various escapades. I’ve definitely been to countries because of Asterix & Obelix’s experiences there. I’ve also been to their theme park in France and if you get the chance, you should too.

Read our book review of Asterix the Gaul 

Illustration by Phil Corbett of characters from his book Kitty Quest

3. Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Saki

The Usagi comics were first published during the American indie comic boom of the 80s. The beautifully illustrated stories follow the adventures of Usagi Yojimbo, the rabbit rōnin (a Samurai without a master), as he wanders around an Edo-era Japan, populated with anthropomorphic animal samurais, ninjas and feuding feudal lords. The stories range from spooky Japanese ghost stories to full-scale battle epics. The art style of cute cartoon animals against detailed traditional backgrounds, rendered cleanly and graphically, works really well.

Fun Fact: “Usagi” is Japanese for “rabbit” and this series will be coming to Netflix in the not-too-distant future.

4. Nausicaä and the Valley Of The Wind by Hayao Miyazaki

Let’s finish on a couple of Japanese mangas. It’s common knowledge that Miyazaki is the best animator in the world. His films such as My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Ponyo are amazing. But before he founded Studio Ghibli, he released an epic science fiction manga called Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. It’s a futuristic tale set in a world of giant insects and giant monsters with an ecological message. Coming from the mind of Miyazaki, you can be sure of a great story and astounding artwork. Miyazaki went on to direct this as a film. If you haven’t seen it it’s on Netflix, it’s well worth a watch.

5. Pokémon Adventures by Hidenori Kusaka and Satoshi Tajiri/Mato

Pokémon is 25 years old this year, so I’m counting these mangas as vintage. They’re still going and as long as there are Pokémon games, there will be Pokémon comics. The older stories are more interesting though. Before the Pokémon brand was nailed down, writers and artists had freer reign with the franchise. In these stories, Pokémon will happily fight to the death and you can see what they do while inside their Pokéballs. The artwork is amazing too and although these stories could be a little weird for modern gamers, these are good entry-level mangas. 

Phil Corbett is the author-illustrator of the hilarious Kitty Quest comic-strip books for readers 7+.  

Read our book review of Kitty Quest


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