1. Boxers and Saints
by Gene Luen Yang
These two sprawling companion comics are set during the Boxer Rebellion, which shook China around the turn of the 20th century. In Boxers, a peasant boy named Little Bao joins up with the anti-Western rebellion. Saints explores the other side of the rebellion, showing a girl named Vibiana’s struggles as she converts to Christianity and drifts apart from the society she grew up in.
2. A Chinese Life
by Philippe Otie and Li Kunwu (tr. Edward Gauvin)
In this graphic novel trilogy, the artist Li Kunwu, who spent more than three decades as a propaganda artist for the Chinese government, presents a sweeping history of the establishment of the People’s Republic and the turmoil that followed. A Chinese Life takes a history at a massive scope and brings it down to a human scale.
3. The Undertaking of Lily Chen
by Danica Novgorodoff
The Undertaking of Lily Chen is a haunting book built around the old Chinese tradition of “ghost marriage”, where parents will arrange marriages for their dead children. The main character, Deshi, is sent out by his family to find his dead brother an eligible corpse. It’s a morbid, expansive and beautiful work.
4. Little White Duck: A Childhood in China
by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez
Little White Duck is a set of eight short coming of age stories set just after the death of Mao Zedong. The protagonist is a young girl named Da Qin. The stories occupy an emotional range from bleak to heartwarming, but they’re all touching, elegantly told, and deeply evocative of a particular time and place.
5. Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale
by Belle Yang
Forget Story is an autobiographical story from Belle Yang. It deals with her learning about her Chinese heritage after she moves back in with her parents to get away from an abusive stalker ex. The whole thing is illustrated with bold, beautiful brushstrokes that give it an almost mythical historical air.