Best graphic novels of 2021

These graphic narratives stayed with us, sparking illumination through illustration

(María Medem/for The Washington Post)

2021 delivered a wealth of worthy graphical works, from anthology to autobiography, as well as featured illustrations by such star cartoonists as Art Spiegelman (“Street Cop”) and Jaime Hernandez (“Queen of the Ring”).

Here are 10 of the year’s graphic narratives that stayed with us, in their power to create unique immersive worlds and help spark illumination through illustration.

Run: Book One,” by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury and Nate Powell

The late civil rights hero died before “Run’s” release, but Lewis left this riveting follow-up memoir to his “March” trilogy — this time centering on the movement after Selma — as a legacy of ever-relevant ’60s lessons in social progress.

John Lewis finished this graphic memoir as he died. He wanted to leave a civil rights ‘road map’ for generations to come.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength,” by Alison Bechdel

The “Fun Home” creator’s first new graphic novel in nearly a decade begins as a memoir of her lifelong passion for physical pursuits, but as she transcends her notions of self-sufficiency, the insights move into the metaphysical. From marathons to mindfulness, it’s an exhilarating six-decade journey.

Alison Bechdel thought she was writing a book about exercise. It became a metaphysical adventure.

Far Sector,” by N.K. Jemisin and Jamal Campbell

Jemisin offers a new power-ringed rookie as the Green Lantern — a lone space cop who answers the question: How can a superhero protect a world that has banned emotions from everyday life?

Himawari House,” by Harmony Becker

Becker follows up her work on George Takei’s moving memoir with this emotionally and culturally rich YA story that puts the author’s range of talents on full display. A trio of Tokyo foreign-exchange students navigates the rapids of teenage life — adventures rendered with a masterful hand and an impressive ear for dialogue.

When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teenagers,” by Ken Krimstein

The New Yorker cartoonist and gifted storyteller resurfaces the long-lost stories of Eastern European youths on the cusp of World World II. It is an epic undertaking, told in tones both evocative and haunting.

The Waiting,” by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

The author follows her acclaimed “Grass” with this semi-autobiographical story of how war can scatter a family, creating a separation that breeds desperation. The artist’s stark brushstrokes and narrative masterstrokes make an affecting combination, as hope and heartbreak span generations.

Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts,” by Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martínez

Hall, the scholarly descendant of enslaved ancestors, delves into the forensics and physical records of human bondage, focusing on the forgotten female warriors who spurred uprisings. This blend of fact and fiction, of pursuit and lasting pain, is a must-read achievement.

COVID Chronicles: A Comics Anthology,” edited by Kendra Boileau and Rich Johnson

Scores of cartoonists offer an affecting mosaic of pandemic life, as told in short, eclectic stories — from the lighter touch of Jason Chatfield, who was afflicted with the virus, to meditations by a grieving Shelley Wall.

A New Yorker cartoonist got covid-19. So he drew this public warning.

Monsters,” by Barry Windsor-Smith

A master artist delivers his magnum opus more than three decades in the making — a pen-and-ink epic about a World War II veteran that’s as visceral as it is visual.

Strange Adventures,” by Tom King, Mitch Gerads and Evan Shaner

The history of less-heralded deep-space character Adam Strange is taken to fresh creative heights, with two of DC’s greatest minds, Batman and Mister Terrific, deftly stitched into the action.

Other notable mentions: “Miles Morales: Shock Waves” (Graphix); “Stone Fruit” (Fantagraphics); “The Black Panther Party” (Ten Speed Press); “Barbalien: Red Planet — From the World of Black Hammer” (Dark Horse Books); “Hokusai: A Graphic Biography” (Laurence King Publishing); “Katie the Catsitter” (Penguin Random House).

Michael Cavna and David Betancourt cover comic art and illustration for The Post.

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