3 Graphic Novel vs Comic Differences That Actually Matter

graphic novel and comic book differences

Graphic Novels vs. Comics Differences

Okay, you’re all wondering what ARE the graphic novel vs comic differences? Most people use the terms interchangeably, but there is a distinction between the two forms of storytelling especially when teaching Graphic Novels in the Secondary Classroom.

Graphic novels are longer form stories that often tell complex tales, while comic books, on the other hand, are typically shorter and may be serialized, with each issue telling its own story or featuring different characters.

The history of graphic novels can be traced back to the 18th century, when artists like William Hogarth started creating sequential artworks that told stories.

In the early 20th century, comics began to be published as standalone books, and in the 1970s and 1980s, the term “graphic novel” was coined to describe these longer and more sophisticated comics.

Since then, graphic novels have become a popular form of storytelling, with many acclaimed titles being published every year.

Graphic Novels & Comics in the Wild

Most people have had some sort of encounter with either a graphic novel or a comic book. So consider what you already know about these different texts.

Some graphic novel vs comic differences might seem obvious right away, like how we usually come across comics books in the grocery store line up – Double Digest Archie, with newsprint pages.

Archie comics were created in 1941 by John Goldwater and Bob Montana. The comics were about a small-town teenager, Archie Andrews, and his friends and family. The comics were very popular and have been published continuously since then. The comics were originally published by MLJ Comics, which later became Archie Comics Publications.

While a graphic novel, on the other hand sounds like it belongs in a “proper” bookstore In this distinction, an interesting point of controversy bubbles up.

student hand out for learning the differences between graphic novels and comics

Cultural Differences between Graphic Novels and Comics

It seems that English is the only language that requires separate words for both “Comic” and “Graphic Novel”. Countries like Japan don’t distinguish between “higher” and “lower” graphic literature. In Japanese culture, there is simply manga consumed and enjoyed by both children and adults alike.

In Japan, the same attention is not paid to graphic novel and comic differences.

Manga is a form of Japanese comic book and graphic novel. It has a long history in Japan and is one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Manga is especially popular with children and adolescents. The first manga was published in Japan in 1775. It was a collaborative work by three artists called “Sazae-san”. Manga continued to grow in popularity and by the late 1800s, it was being published in magazines. In the early 1900s, manga began to be published as books and became even more popular. During World War II, manga was used for propaganda purposes. After the war, manga continued to grow in popularity and new genres were developed. Today, there are thousands of manga titles available in Japan.

This is what I use when teaching Graphic Novels

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Graphic Novels vs Comic Differences: 3 Key Points

Comics are typically short, consisting of a few panels that tell a story. Graphic novels, on the other hand, are typically more extended and more in-depth, telling a complete story throughout several chapters. Comics are often used for humor or as a way to tell simple stories, while graphic novels are generally used for more serious storytelling.

Without diving into what could be perceived as American and British cultural prejudices, we can distinguish graphic novels from comics based on the common traits listed below.

Graphic Novels generally are:

      • Longer (think book-length)
      • Include mature themes
      • Have complex narratives

Teaching Graphic Novels in the Classroom

A great introductory lesson to teach graphic novels would be to grab examples of a comic, graphic novel, and Japanese manga and let students work in small groups discussing and recording the similarities or differences.

I’ve done this in the past with my students using chart paper and had them share out their findings to the class.

Send a quick e-mail to your school librarian and ask them to gather some examples that you can pick up and bring to your classroom.

Another lesson I teach if I want to go into more detail about graphic novel terminology is to go through the different terminology and show students examples.

Lesson plans for Teaching the Differences between Graphic Novels and Comics

If you don’t want to reinvent the wheel check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store where I have full lessons, presentations, and handouts for teaching graphic novels.

I’ve created a zero prep Lesson to introduce graphic novels to your students. This lesson covers the differences between graphic novels, comics and manga and looks more at the history and research supporting graphic novels in classrooms.


You can check that out here: Introduction to Graphic Novels Presentation and Handout.

You can also read this blog post by Cult of Pedagogy that includes testimonials from teachers and professionals who have used Graphic Novels in their classrooms.

No time to lesson plan?

Check out all my zero prep teaching resources on TPT

Looking for short comics to introduce your student to sequential art?

I love this blog post from The Marginalian: Tove Jasson’s vintage Philosophical Moomin Comics about Identity, Belonging and Why We Join Groups.

Comic Strip by Tove Jasson

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Picture of Carley 📚 Teacher Author @ Visual Thinking Classroom

Carley 📚 Teacher Author @ Visual Thinking Classroom

B.A., B.Ed., Graduate Certificate in Teacher Librarianship // carley@visualthinkingclassroom.com