9 comic books to help you learn French

9 comic books to help you learn French

by Anne-Lise Vassoille

Updated June 7, 2022

Alongside other media and art forms, French comic books are among the best resources to learn French in a fun and relaxed way. They can help you to develop your vocabulary and practice grammar while giving you an insight into French comedy and popular culture. 

It’s worth noting however that a large number of French-language comic books were actually not born in France. Instead, many of them are from Belgium and came to prominence thanks to the legendary Le Journal de Spirou (Spirou Magazine), a Franco-Belgian comics magazine founded in 1938. Since then, French Belgian comic books have dominated the French-language comic book genre. Now that you have the full context, let’s look at nine of our favorite comic books to choose from in French, depending on your level and your tastes:

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3 famous comic books for beginners in French

If you’ve just started learning French, you’re more likely to get the best French practice among comic books for children and young adults. Which doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them if you are over 18.

1. Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs)

Probably one of the most famous French comics worldwide, Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs) features over 100 little blue creatures, living peacefully in their village made of mushroom-shaped houses. The old Belgian French comic was so successful it was turned into a cartoon. Apart maybe from le Grand Schtroumph (Papa Smurf) with his red hat and pants and la Schtroumpfette (Smurfette) with her blond hair, it would be hard to tell them apart were it not for the adjectives attached to their names. Take such fine examples as Schtroumpf courant (et pas ordinaire) (Common, but not ordinary Smurf), Schtroumpf bleu de colère (Smurf blue with anger) or Schtroumpf rougissant (Blushing Smurf). 

2. Boule et Bill

Boule and Bill, a seven-year-old boy and his loyal cocker spaniel, are the two main characters in this comic. They’re accompanied by Boule’s parents, their neighbors and Caroline, their green tortoise. Each book is composed of a series of harmless gags set in the daily life of this average family. In that sense, they are perfect to learn the vocabulary you are likely to use in your own home.

3. Gaston Lagaffe

Like Boule et Bill, Gaston Lagaffe consists of a series of gags happening in the daily life of its characters. The main difference is that we see them not at home, but in the office of the magazine where they work, called Le Journal de Spirou. Yes, the same real magazine where Gaston Lagaffe was featured. Gaston is a lazy, clueless office junior prone to constant blunders, to the desperation of his colleagues and our greatest entertainment. Not to mention, each work gag becomes an opportunity to learn some common vocabulary in the office.

3 iconic Belgian comic books for intermediate learners

If you ask any French person for the 3 most famous comic strips of all time, it is quite likely they would name Astérix, Tintin and Lucky Luke. To this day, they hold an iconic place in the universe of French comics and have repeatedly made it to the small and the big screens. 

1. Astérix

Forget Superman and all the American superheroes! Astérix may be small in size, but his quick intelligence and the force he draws from the magical potion prepared by Panoramix (Getafix) are more than enough to defeat his enemies. Set in Gallic times, each adventure takes him and his best friend Obélix to a different country, where they always discover slightly odd local customs. Full of puns and jokes based on cultural clichés, Astérix will require a somewhat high level of French to appreciate the language.

2. Tintin

Like Astérix, Tintin is another unlikely hero who lives extraordinary adventures throughout the world. As a reporter, Tintin’s main quality is his perceptiveness, which allows him to solve mysteries. Even though some of the cultural stereotypes throughout the comic haven’t aged so well, Tintin remains a cult classic. Even Steven Spielberg could not resist making his own film version (allegedly, the character was the inspiration behind Indiana Jones). 

3. Lucky Luke

Half parody, half tribute to the Old West, Lucky Luke is a perfect comic strip for anyone who enjoyed dressing up as a cowboy as a child. Riding Jolly Jumper, le cheval le plus rapide de l’Ouest (the fastest horse in the West), Lucky Luke is a lone cowboy who keeps having to stop the four Dalton brothers from their latest schemes. Thankfully, this is never a problem for l’homme qui tire plus vite que son ombre (the man who shoots faster than his shadow).

3 French comics of a more modern style for advanced speakers

So far, the titles we mentioned were all old-school French comics, with their caricatured drawings and cheeky humor. But in the last few decades, a new style of French comics has emerged. With more developed, suspenseful and even sexy storylines, they demand a higher command of the language.

1. XIII

If you like the Jason Bourne series, it is quite likely you will also enjoy XIII (or Treize as per the number it represents). This hugely successful comic book was even turned into a successful video game and a TV series. The plot starts with a stranger found unconscious on a shore of the East Coast in the US. Suffering from memory loss, his only clues to figure out who he is are the tattoo of a Roman number on his collarbone and the photo of him with a woman. While trying to recover his identity, he also has the difficult task of escaping la Mangouste (the Moongoose), a professional assassin on a mission to kill him. 

2. Largo Winch

Following the mysterious death of his adoptive father, Largo Winch finds himself at the head of a multi-billion empire. Setups, double-dealings, betrayals, unfair takeovers and embezzlements… Life is not always easy for the super-rich! But the fancy and exciting lifestyle of this wealthy playboy is bound to seduce you. It is also a perfect way to revise and expand a more advanced business vocabulary.

3. Thorgal

Mixing North mythology and the legend of Atlantis with heroic fantasy and even science-fiction, Thorgal has gained both popular success and critical acclaim. Like XIII, it was made into a video game, as well as two spin-off comic series. The story starts when, upon reaching the shore after nearly being lost at sea with his men, Viking leader Leif Haraldson finds a newborn baby boy in a capsule. He gives the baby the name of Thor-gal Aegirs-son, in honor of two deities: Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, and Aegir, the ruler of the sea. Thorgal grows up to become a skillful and brave warrior with magical powers, who, unlike other Vikings, only wishes for a peaceful life with his wife Aaricia and their two children. But, life has other plans…


Have fun practicing French with these 9 famous comic books

There are of course many other French comics to help you practice your language skills. But these nine iconic titles will give you a good overview of the genre through the decades in France. They will also allow you to increase your vocabulary, depending on the themes you are interested in and your current level.

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Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries, such as hospitality and travel, as well as health and well-being. Settled down in London since the end of her university years, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

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