Whether your only experience is reading Peanuts as a child or you’re up to date on all the most recent graphic novels, you’ve probably read comics at some point in your life. But if you haven’t picked up a comic in a while, you’re missing out. First, graphic art is simply an incredible medium worth checking out (no, they’re not just for kids). Second, foreign-language comics are an excellent resource when you’re learning a new language.
What makes foreign-language comics so useful? For one, the combination of images and text can provide helpful context clues when you’re trying to figure out what you’re reading. This makes comics much less overwhelming than the walls of text you get when you open a foreign-language novel for the first time. Also, because comics are often written with children in mind, the language can be easier and more accessible for beginning language learners. And above all, comics can just be a fun addition to your learning!
We collected foreign-language comics from around the world that can get you started. There are hundreds of other comic artists out there, but we tried to choose some of the most iconic comics over time.
Spanish — Mafalda by Quino
Mafalda is an Argentine comic strip that ran from 1964 to 1973 and was very popular both in Latin America and countries all around the world. It follows 6-year-old Mafalda and a group of children, who Quino uses to reflect on adult topics like politics and the economy. Mafalda has been often compared to Peanuts, but Quino was inspired explicitly by the socio-political situation of Argentina, and South America more generally, making the comic tied to the place and time it was written in.
Bonus: If you want to read the comics you know and love in Spanish, you can do that too! The website GoComics provides translations of a number of comics, including Peanuts, Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes.
French — Les Aventures de Tintin By Hergé
The Adventures of Tintin is probably the most recognizable of the foreign-language comics on this list. It’s not only one of the most-translated comics in the world, but also one of the most-translated books of all times, existing in an estimated 115 languages right now. The Franco-Belgian series ran between 1929 and 1976, telling the story of the reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy as they travel the world. Some of the material admittedly hasn’t aged well — particularly the representation of Africans — but Tintin is still a massively influential work that helped define Europe in the 20th century.
Italian — Lupo Alberto by Guido Silvestri
Lupo Alberto (literally “Albert the Wolf”) was a comic character created in 1974. The character never had a consistent comic strip, but it’s been published semi-regularly for over 40 years now. The premise is generally simple; the first comic book, for example, was about Alberto trying to steal a hen from a farm, but he’s constantly foiled by Moses the sheepdog. The comic inspired an animated television show of the same name, and Lupo Alberto was also used in the 1990s in an anti-AIDS campaign.
Portuguese — As Odisseias de um Motard by Luís Pinto-Coelho
Started in 1992, As Odisseias de um Motard (“The Odysseys of a Biker”) follows the adventures of Tom Vitoín, who’s the titular motorcyclist. The comics are generally slice-of-life jokes about the difficulties of being a motorcyclist. This may sound a bit niche — and the comics were originally published in a magazine all about motorcycling — but the appeal of the comic is broader than bike-fanatics.
Polish — Koziołek Matołek by Kornel Makuszyński and Marian Walentynowicz
Koziołek Matołek is not so much a comic strip as children’s literature, but it holds a dear enough place in Polish culture that it’s worth reading. The original book, written in 1933, is about Koziołek Matołek (Matołek the Billy-Goat, yes he’s a goat) going on a journey to find the town where they make shoes for goats. The character went on adventures for four books during the 1930s, which were made into an animated show in 1969.
Swedish — Bamse by Various Artists
Bamse started as both a children’s comic strip and a cartoon in 1963, but it has been published since then in its own comic magazine. The story is directed at even younger audiences than most comics on this list — the story is about Bamse, a bear who discovers magic honey and becomes the strongest bear in the world — but it can still be a fun read. It teaches kids about a number of life lessons and was in the headlines a few years ago in the United States for publishing a story about fake news on the internet.