A picture is worth a thousand words.
But do you know what’s even better?
A picture with words!
This simple idea was used to create comic books more than a 100 years ago. Today, the comic book is one of the most popular art forms around the world.
And it’s the perfect tool for learning English, too. In fact, the very first comics were created and used by Rodolphe Töpffer in his schools to help his students read!
The pictures in the comics help you understand the story and context. The words give you the dialogue and details. Together, you get an incredible boost to your English reading comprehension, vocabulary and more.
In this post we’ll show you the best comic books English learners can use to improve their language skills while enjoying incredible stories.
Want to Learn English Through Comics? 15 Incredible Books You Need to Read
If you enjoy entertaining, image-heavy English learning tools like comics, you’ll love FluentU, too.
Unlike traditional language learning sites, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging content from popular talk shows, nature documentaries and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you'll see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It even reminds you when it’s time to review! Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning with the same video.
You can start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, by downloading the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
Comic book lovers will enjoy videos like this trailer for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” or this funny take on the “Garfield” characters.
“Reading with Pictures: Comics That Make Kids Smarter”
For a very long time, comic books were thought of as the opposite of educational. But now, more and more educators are realizing the power of comic books for learning.
This book is specifically made for beginner readers in English. It includes more than 12 short stories. The topics include American presidents, science, history and even fiction.
The stories are short and very easy to read. This is a perfect introduction to comic books for beginners. As the stories are made for American classrooms, learners can also get to know the basics of American history and society.
“Sketch Monsters: Escape of the Scribbles”
What happens when your thoughts become real? This comic book explores that idea in a unique way.
This is a story about Mandy, who doesn’t share her feelings with anyone. Instead, she draws them on a notebook as monsters. One day, she discovers that all those monsters have escaped from her notebook into the real world and she has to capture them all back.
During her adventures, she deals with all of her problems with the help of another monster called Happster.
This is a good and short book to learn basic English vocabulary about emotions and feelings. The book is also great for learning the names of the objects found in schools and homes.
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”
This book series is more heavy on text as compared to the other comic series. So readers who would prefer more English reading practice would like this one.
The story is about a kid named Greg Heffley who gets bullied a lot in school. It also features his best friend Rowley, who always stands by him.
The series is about various problems Greg has to overcome. Each book’s story revolves around one major problem in Greg’s life. The nature of the problems is deeply connected to the society Greg lives in.
For instance, many times the problem revolves around lack of money. At other times he has to argue with his own family, like when he has to convince his father not to send him to a military academy.
The book series is quite useful for anyone who wants to learn about the culture of the English-speaking world. Holidays like Halloween and Valentine’s Day feature prominently in the series. The books also tell you a lot about the important events for a teenage kid in the U.S.
The conversations between the characters are easy to follow and natural.
“Bone: Out from Boneville”
Level: Beginner to intermediate
Genre: Comedy, fantasy
This series is a little more strange than the other ones. “Bone” here doesn’t refer to the parts of your skeleton, but rather to the “Bone” cousins—the main characters of this comic.
The cousins get lost when exploring a forest. They go through an epic adventure together where they have to overcome many challenges and fight dangers.
All of them end up in a mysterious place called the Valley that’s threatened by the Lord of the Locusts. (A locust is an insect that eats plants and is known to finish the food of a whole village in a few minutes.)
This comic book is unique, funny and has many elements of the fantasy genre. Learners will find it really easy to read.
The setting of Boneville is a modern world that has the same technology and social system as the present-day U.S. By contrast, the Valley is more medieval, with old technology and systems still in place. This grants readers an opportunity to know more about both the past and the present of the English-speaking world.
“Calvin and Hobbes”
Level: Beginner to intermediate
This comic started in the late 1980s but it continues to be relevant to readers even today. The comic tells the story of a young kid named Calvin who always plays with his imaginary friend Hobbes. For other people, Hobbes is just a toy tiger, but to Calvin he’s real and alive.
They often go on adventures together, talk about the adult world and try to solve each other’s problems. Apart from having fun, Calvin and Hobbes often talk about things like the environment, the economy and everything else in the adult world that doesn’t make sense to them.
The series is great for learning about the vocabulary used during play and also about the everyday culture in the U.S.
Genre: Humor, romance
This comic series is often seen as a symbol of American culture. Archie and his friends are often the first characters who introduce non-Americans to the wonders of the U.S.
The series is set in a small town called Riverdale. Archie is the teenage protagonist of the series, but his high school friends are equally important for the stories. Betty and Veronica are his two closest friends who also want to date him. The main plot of the series revolves around their love triangle. (A love triangle is when one person is liked by two people simultaneously and that leads to fights and conflicts.)
There are other memorable characters too, like Jughead, who always loves to eat. The series even has a pop music band called Josie and the Pussycats.
This comic is a great way to get an overview of what Americans like the most. It explains the social structure of a high school very well. You’ll also learn about the various things American teenagers do to have fun like dating, partying or just eating and talking in a diner.
This series is perhaps the best resource to learn casual American English.
The orange cat called Garfield is known by almost all Americans. This comic series holds a Guinness World Record for the most syndicated comic strip in the world. (To syndicate something means to distribute the same content to various publications like newspapers, magazines and so on.)
The story is about the everyday life of a lazy cat named Garfield, its owner Jon and a dog called Odie. The comics are very casual, often talking about the eating habits of Garfield and his hatred for Mondays and diets. This comic is great for readers who don’t want to deal with complex issues and just want to focus on the language.
Jon is often shown as a person who has extremely poor social skills. In the beginning of the series most of the jokes were about his inability to get dates. In fact, in one story he gets rejected by a girl, her mother and even her grandmother. But in today’s comics he’s shown in a relationship with a woman named Dr. Liz Wilson.
Learners can know more about what’s seen as appropriate and inappropriate in American society. As noted above, it can also be a helpful guide to learning informal English for conversations. This comic even has a movie and a TV series that learners can watch.
Genre: Humor, motivational
The internet has allowed many artists and writers to share their work directly with their audiences. In the comic world the rise of webcomics (comics published online) has meant that the most famous comics nowadays aren’t even published in books or newspapers. The author behind Shen Comix is one such example.
You’ll see many memes all around the internet that are based on this comic strip. Even people who’ve never read these comics might instantly recognize the artwork when they see it.
The topics of the comics can be varied. Sometimes Shen (the author) creates motivational comics that talk about facing difficulties in life. At other times he answers questions asked by his readers. He also talks about his own life a lot.
Shen Comix is like a blog written in pictures. Shen addresses the reader directly and it feels like he’s talking to you. It’s great for intermediate reading practice, plus the community around this comic is extremely active. You can have conversations with the fans and also talk to the creator directly. To participate in the fan community, read Shen Comix on the Webtoons platform.
This comic is arguably the longest story ever told by a single person. The comic strip ran from the year 1950 to 2000 and has readers from all around the world.
The story centers on Charlie Brown and his group of friends. He’s a persistent and determined boy who keeps failing at various things but never gives up. He also has a dog named Snoopy who’s as famous as Charlie is.
There are no adult characters in the comic. But this never stops the stories from dealing with topics like dating and love.
The comic strips are very short and are perfect for simple reading practice. The English used in the comic is plain and gives you a good sense about how natives speak in real life.
The Holocaust is perhaps the most painful event in Western history. Millions died in that event. This graphic novel (a long story in a comic book format) tries to capture the experiences of the people who survived the trauma.
In this comic, author Art Spiegelman tells the story of his father, a survivor of the Holocaust. In the book, all the victims of the Nazis are shown as mice and the Nazis themselves are cats. All the events shown in the comic are real.
The graphic novel also talks about the author’s relationship with his father. The readers aren’t just shown the pain his father went through but also how he survived it and how the events changed him as a person.
The historical background alone makes it a must for English learners, since the English-speaking world, and the rest of Europe, still continue to talk about the Holocaust quite regularly.
The language in the comic is naturalistic but not casual. Learners will get to know how families usually have conversations and how it’s different from talking with friends or strangers.
This comic needs no introduction. You’ve probably at least heard of Spider-Man if not seen the movies or read the comic books. He’s one of the most famous superheroes in the world along with characters like Batman or Superman.
Spider-Man is a young superhero who gets special abilities after being bitten by a radioactive spider. The story often revolves around the theme of duty and morality. The comic promotes the message that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
The story is set in New York City. Since Peter Parker (Spider-Man’s real name) is a student, there are many scenes from his high school. Later on the comics also deal with his college life. Peter Parker also dates various girls such as Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy.
Through this comic you can learn a lot about American high schools and the vocabulary used by teens in the U.S. Since the comic has a lot of science fiction elements, some technical jargon is also used. (Such as radioactive.)
Genre: Action, mystery, alternate history
This is perhaps the first comic book that was considered a literary masterpiece. Before this, comics were seen as commercial products rather than art.
This comic is set in the Cold War era. The Watchmen are a group of ex-superheroes who were eventually banned. The story is a murder mystery where the deaths of various Watchmen members are investigated.
But the main focus of the comic is on the characters and their minds. The story is really an analysis of American society as a whole as it existed in the 1980s.
While reading the comics, readers should remember that it’s presented as an alternate history. This means that the real historical events are changed, but the representation of American society is realistic apart from the superheroes.
Through this comic, you’ll learn different versions of American English. For instance, a character named The Comedian uses a lot of American slang. In contrast, Doctor Manhattan speaks a more formal and technical English, which is usually associated with academics.
It’ll also give you a good idea about the attitudes of American society during the 1980s.
This comic is special. Like all the other superhero comics, the main character Sandman has special powers. But unlike the other superheroes, he’s closer to a god rather than a human with powers.
Sandman has many names in the comic like Dream, Morpheus and so on. He’s one of the Endless, a family of god-like characters who control one aspect of the universe. For instance, the eldest brother Destiny controls time. Sandman controls the world of imagination and dreams.
The comic is a very long collection of stories. The topics can range from realistic fiction to mythology and classic literature such as Shakespeare. It also has many other elements of fantasy such as fairies and monsters.
Learners will need to pick up a story rather than try to read the whole series. One story is usually told through three to four comics.
This series is great for reading practice and knowing about various cultures from around the world. Many learners will connect to the series especially because they might find stories from their own culture.
The English used in this series depends on the characters, but British and American are the most common.
Like Sandman, this series deals with many stories from different cultures. The word fable refers to fictional stories that often have a moral message and are traditionally passed from one generation to another. In the world of this comic, the characters of well-known fables and fairy tales are forced to run away from their home due to an enemy who’s called the “Adversary.”
The fables live in a secret place within New York City. There are various stories that usually deal with topics like personal conflicts, the inability of a fable to hide in the human world and also fighting the Adversary.
As with “The Sandman,” many English learners can find stories from their own cultures in this series. The stories are often simpler than the Sandman comics, but you still need advanced reading skills to understand this comic. Most of the stories deal with life in America and use American English.
Genre: Dystopian, humor
An apocalypse is an event that destroys the whole world. Lately, people around the world have been attracted to this idea a lot. As a result, apocalyptic fiction is now one of the most popular genres of art around the world.
Apocalyptic fiction is a story that takes place after the world has already been destroyed. And this comic is one of the finest examples of this category in the world of comics.
Like Shen Comix, this is a webcomic that’s immensely popular on the internet. The main character is named Pilot. He finds himself in a destroyed city and joins a group of crazy people lead by a person called Captain.
The comic is a very good way to learn about the kind of humor popular with the English speaking people on the internet. It also has a very interactive fan community where you can practice your online conversation skills.
You’ll get a lot of audio recordings that can be used for listening practice, too. These recordings can be often found in the beginning of certain comic strips such as this one. (Not all strips have these recordings, unfortunately.)
So the next time you need a break from boring lessons, just find a comfortable chair and start your adventure into the world of comic books!
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