Reading Graphic Novels is a good way to learn Portuguese because the language is pretty colloquial and you get plenty of context which can help you suss the meaning of any unknown words without having to reach for the dictionary. I thought it would be useful to list the ones I’ve read because the quality is pretty variable and nobody wants to pay for bad comics. I’ve left out some (like Pessoa & Cia) that I don’t remember well enough, or might not have understood properly because I read them so early on, and also a few like “Portugueses na Grande Guerra“) that are more like educational pamphlets told in the form of a comic to be more accessible but without any real strong creative element.
First of all, these are books written by portuguese writers, or with a strong portuguese connection. I’ve started with the best and worked down in order of descending goodity.
- Balada para Sophie – Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia. Hands down, in terms of reviews from Portuguese Booktubers, this is the top pick. Everyone loves it. Guaranteed crowd pleaser.
- As Incríveis Aventuras de Dog Mendonça e Pizzaboy – Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia (this is the first volume. There’s also a volume 2 and volume 3) These are a Lisbon based crime fighting duo consisting of a werewolf detective and a pizza delivery boy. It’s pretty funny. This is the same author/illustrator as the one above. You might enjoy some of their other work but in my opinion these are the cream of the crop.
- O Pior Banda Do Mundo – José Carlos Fernandes This one is dark and surreal and I love it. I find everything this guy does pretty entertaining but I definitely think he’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s pretty strange.
- Desvio – Ana Pessoa. Relatively sedate book about a teenager staying at home while his parents are away. I enjoyed it but couldn’t quite put my finger on why…
- A Vida Oculta de Fernando Pessoa – André F Morgado imagines Pessoa as a slayer of the undead. I was a big fan of this and gave it a good review but most Portuguese people I know gave me a lot of side-eye about it so I suspect they would question my taste!
- Amor de Perdição by Camilo Castelo Branco is a graphic version of one of the classics of portuguese literature. It’s actually part of a series but it’s the only one based on a portuguese original. You can see the complete set here.
- O Pescador de Memórias by Miguel Peres. A story of a man who lives on an island, eat leats in his imagination, but in reality has dementia and is trying to find his way back to moments of lucidity
- Pardalita by Joana Estrela tells the story of a sixteen year old whose mother is a political activist and who has a burgeoning crush on a girl who lives nearby. It’s sweet and and easy read.
- Quarentugas by André Oliveira i& Pedro Carvalho s a series of short strips based (obviously) on tugas living through the covid lockdown. Pretty broad in places and yet, strangely, the level of cvocabulary in use is pretty advanced.
- Watchers – Luis Louro. This is a kind of media-focused Sci fi story reminiscent of Black Mirror (the logo on page 1 is so similar to the logo of Dead Set that I have to think he’s consciously copying Charlie Brooker) and I also got a slight whiff of Future Shocks from the old 2000AD comics. I liked it a lot but wasn’t wholly satisfied with the ending. There are two versions, A and B, each with a different ending, and mine is A, so maybe try version B and you might have more luck!
- É de Noite que Faço as Perguntas – David Soares. I read this one twice. The first time left me baffled but the second time around I could fit it into history a bit better. It’s about the liberal revolution in Portugal. It’s high concept and well-made. Unfortunately I don’t see a copy on sale at the moment, which is a bit annoying
- Estes Dias by Bernardo Majer is a thoughtful, slow-paced read. I think on Goodreads I compared it to Taniguchi, which ws a bit unfair since Taniguchi is a genius, but hi ho!
- “Palmas Para o Esquilo” by the same author was not quite as good and a less interestin idea for a book. I’ve heard good things about “Batalha” too but never managed to track down a copy.
- Salazar Agora Na Hora da sua Morte – Miguel Rocha e João Paulo Cotrim is a dreamlike recounting of Salazar’s life and legacy through the lens of his death.
- Maria e Salazar – Robin Walter. A portrait of life of the portuguese asylum seekers in the shanty towns outside Paris during the Estado Novo. It uses a similar structure to “Maus” by Art Spiegelman; that of a writer telling the story of a family member who has lived through some of their country’s greatest traumas. I don’t want to oversell this: it’s not Maus, but it’s pretty good and this story hasn’t been told often, so it’s well worth reading to fill in some of the blanks in your picture of european history.
- Magalhães – Até Ao Fim Do Mundo – Christian Clot. This is a glossy, epic retelling of Magellan’s voyage around the world. Very nicely done. I think the authors are Dutch but I’ve included it in this section because, well, it’s Magellan innit!
- Carrying on the pedagogical theme, O Jogo das Alterações Climáticas by Bruno Pinto is aimed at people who want to get an overview of the causes of climate change and some possible measures we can take. It’s based around a woman who is trying to design an educational game and, along the way, we have an educational book, It’s OK. As I said in my review a few weeks ago, climate change is a popular topic in the oral section of the language exams, so if you are planning on
- Toutinegra – André Oliveira. Looks good and it’s easy to follow. There are a lot of plot holes and unanswered questions but nothing that will spoil your enjoyment, I think.
- The Lisbon Studio Series is a series of collections based on a theme such as “Roots” or “Travels“. They’re beautiful-looking, but I don’t think the stories really lived up to the promise.
- O Outro Lado do Z – Another slightly disappointing one, I’m afraid. I’ve read another one (“A Baile”) by the same guy. Big idea, lazily executed.
- A Sereia de Mongaguá by Marcos Paulo Marques and Thiago Moraes Martins sounds good on paper and there’s lots going on in it. It’s originally brazilian but there’s a european portuguese version too. Unfortunately, despite the rich array of weird stuff happening in it, it doesn’t really work very well and I ended up giving it 2 stars on Goodreads. Save your money.
- BRK – Filipe Andrade & Filipe Pena. This one got rated highly on a blog post I read, where it came in as the second best portuguese graphic novel so I bought it hoping to be impressed. Don’t make the same mistake as me. First, although it looks great, the plot is very disjointed and doesn’t make much sense. But that wouldn’t be so bad if it was just that. The real killer is that this is only volume 1 and the bloody thing came out almost a decade ago so even the most die-hard optimists among its fan base must have given up hope of a volume 2 by now. Avoid.
If you’d rather stick to stuff you know in English, there are probably plenty to choose from. Just make sure they’re authentic European Portuguese not Brazilian. Here are my favourites.
- The Walking Dead – Robert Kirman. There’s a run of these in European Portuguese that are really good and easy to follow. I loved them and I wasn’t familiar with them in English at all. Sadly they stopped producing them at… Volume 15 i believe. I’ve tried the Brazilian versions on Kindle, which continue on where the european ones leave off. Not nearly as good though.
- There’s a strong translation of “This One Summer” by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki called “Finalmente o Verão“, which I really enjoyed.
- I always recommend Portuguese translations of French comics too, but you’ll probably already know if that’s the kind of thing you like: Astérix, Tintin (hm… he’s Belgian isn’t he?), Lucky Luke. Jordi Lefebre is really good but Apesar de Tudo is the only one of his I can find in Portuguese. I’ve read a few of his books in french and loved them all, so I can recommend this one too.
- There are a few artists from other european countries with portuguese translation like Paco Rocs (Rugas is pretty good, for example)