Comics vs. Graphic Novels: What’s the Difference?

Alyan Reading
Alyan Reading

Comic books. Comic strips. Graphic novels. Illustrated books. Manga.

This one medium of storytelling seems to have a lot of different terms, and sometimes it can be hard to differentiate between them. Honestly, while some of these terms are actually quite similar, others can have wildly different meanings.

So let’s break down a few of these terms — plus some others you may not have heard before — to help sort out the mess.

Sequential Art

Most of the concepts we’re discussing here stem from a single idea known as sequential art. A term coined by Will Eisner in the Eighties in his book Comics and Sequential Art. This is basically a series of images that, when viewed in a specific order, tell a story or convey a message. Sometimes, they don’t even have words attached.

New York Life in the Big City
Will Eisner’s New York Life in the Big City

Comic Strip

If you’ve ever flipped through a newspaper on a Sunday morning or seen webcomics online, you’ve encountered a comic strip. These are short-form sequential art, often with a humorous twist at the end.


Comic Book

Beginning with their first appearance in 1934 (Famous Funnies, a collection of newspaper comic strips) and cemented by the rise of Superman in 1938, comic books are longer than comic strips, appearing in magazine format and featuring extended stories over a series of months or even years. While the magazine-style comics still exist, new technologies have given readers the ability to experience comic books in a whole range of formats, like a mobile phone screen.


Where some historians cite Japanese scrolls marrying text and images as the earliest forms of manga it was after World War II that manga as we know it flourished, especially with the popularity of Osamu Tezuka’s Mighty Atom (Astro Boy in the United States) in 1951 and Machiko Hasegawa‘s Sazae-san in 1946. While manga is often used to describe the specific art style and right-to-left reading format traditionally used by Japanese comics, the term is also used to refer to any comics coming out of Japan, regardless of style.

Lumi and Francis Dancing
Lumi and Francis Dancing
Chibi Francis
Chibi Francis

Illustrated Books

While they are often paired together, an illustrated book isn’t a comic at all. More specifically, an illustrated book is focused mainly on the words of a story, with occasional images to help enhance the reading experience. It can be either fiction on non-fiction. They can include everything from encyclopedias to children’s picture books.

Graphic Novel

Another term defined by Will Eisner with his A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories (1978). However, here is where things get more complicated, as a graphic novel can mean different things to different people. For some, a graphic novel is simply a long story or collection of comics bound with a thick spine like a book. But for others (including us here at Stela), the term graphic novel is meant to elevate comics as a form of art.

Comics have often been relegated to children’s entertainment, full of superheroes and clear-cut battles of good versus evil. But they can be so much more. They can show deep emotion, complex relationships, and even speak on the nature of life itself. Comics have always been an art form, and the title of graphic novel seeks to establish that for readers.

New terms and formats arrive constantly. We have taken mbook to heart. It describes what we do perfectly, mobile books, mbooks.


Looking to explore the range of complex stories that comics, graphic novels, and illustrated books can provide? Check out the tons of unique titles available only at the Stela Unlimited app!

Share this with your friends

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.