1. "The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale," by Art Spiegelman; Pantheon; 296 pp.; $35
Mice represent Jews and cats represent Germans in this critically acclaimed graphic novel about the Holocaust. "Maus" is the only graphic novel ever to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Hester: "One of the most moving and intelligently written graphic novels -- or books of any kind -- that I've read. Brilliant."
2. "Blankets," by Craig Thompson; Top Shelf Productions; 592 pp.; $29.95
Thompson's autobiographical graphic novel touches on an array of provocative themes, from faith and religion to family dynamics and sexuality. "Blankets" earned the coveted Eisner Award in 2004. Hester: "It's beautifully drawn, really moving and poetic. It's irresistible -- a magnificent achievement."
3. "Watchmen," by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons; DC Comics; 416 pp.; $19.99
British scribe Moore turns the superhero genre on its ear with "Watchmen," originally a 12-issue comic book series that has been collected into one graphic novel. Set in an alternate reality that has the United States teetering toward nuclear war, the action/mystery was adapted into a feature film in 2009 by director Zack Snyder. Hester: "'Watchmen' is almost in danger of being over-praised. It's like the 'Citizen Kane' of graphic novels. Alan Moore is a brilliant, eloquent, methodical writer."
4. "Black Hole," by Charles Burns; Pantheon; 368 pp.; $18.95
Also originally a 12-issue series that has since been collected into one graphic novel, "Black Hole" is set in Seattle and revolves around a mysterious sexually transmitted disease that causes unusual mutations in teen carriers. Part horror, part social commentary, "Black Hole" earned the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Anthology in 2006. Hester: "It really, really casts a mood over the reader. It's subtle and extremely well done. Kind of riveting -- you can't put it down."
5. "The Tale of One Bad Rat," by Bryan Talbot; Dark Horse Comics; 136 pp.; $19.99
Centered on a victim of child abuse, "Rat" was initially published as a four-issue series and later collected as a graphic novel. The novel consistently references the works of English author Beatrix Potter and scored an Eisner Award for Talbot in 1996. Hester: "Wonderful. The story is about a victim of child abuse, a homeless young boy. It's a really moving story."