Popularized in the 1930s in the United States with the emergence of comic books, French and Belgian comics (Bandes dessinées, literally means drawn strips) spread to Europe between the wars, thanks in particular to the release of classics such as the Adventures of Tintin or Spirou and Fantasio. From 1960 onwards, it began to impose itself in Europe as a medium in its own right, and today it is one of the most popular types of books in the world. 

In order to pay tribute to the genre, we propose to take you back into its history by discovering 20 of the greatest French comics of all time.

1 – The Adventure of Tintin (1929)

French name: Les Aventures de Tintin 

Author: Hergé, of his real name Georges Rémi

Country of origin: Belgium

Number of books: 24

Created by Belgian cartoonist and screenwriter Hergé in 1929, The Adventures of Tintin follows the adventures of a young Belgian reporter who travels and explores the world, accompanied by his white fox terrier, Snowy. With more than 250 million copies sold worldwide, The Adventures of Tintin is also one of the pillars of the French-Belgian comic.

After the first albums with moderate success (including Tintin in America and Tintin in the Congo), the French-language comic strip exploded in the eyes of the public with the release of the fifth part: The Blue Lotus. From then on, each new release was a success and the franchise associated with the Adventures of Tintin began to become a brand that sold. The Belgian reporter was entitled to his own newspaper, Le Journal de Tintin, published from 1946 to 1976, but also to 8 feature films, filmed between 1947 and 2011, video games, and even plays.

2 – Spirou & Fantasio (1938)

French name: Spirou et Fantasio 

Authors: Rob-Vel, of his real name Robert Pierre Velter (from 1938 to 1943); Jijé, of his real name Joseph Gillain (from 1943 to 1946); André Franquin (from 1946 to 1969); Jean-Claude Fournier (from 1969 to 1980); Nicolas Broca et Raoul Cauvin (from 1980 to 1983); Philippe Vandevelde et Jean-Richard Geurts (from 1982 to 2002); Jean-David Morvan and José Luis Munuera (from 2004 to 2008); Yoann Chivard et Fabien Vehlmann (from 2010 to 2018); Olivier Schwartz, Sophie Guerrive and Benjamin Abitan (since 2022)

Country of origin: France/Belgium 🇫🇷 🇧🇪

Number of books: 56 (plus 6 special editions)

The comic strip Spirou and Fantasio was created in 1938 by Rob-Vel after the publisher Jean Dupuis asked him to illustrate the main character of the Journal de Spirou. He then had the idea to associate Spirou with Fantasio and to make them a group of reporters ready to explore the world. Throughout the volumes, their adventures lead them to make crazy encounters, from the Marsupilami to dictators and aliens. 

Thanks to its success, the comic strip has given rise to numerous spin-off series (Gaston, the Marsupilami, the Little Spirou, Zorglub). It has also been adapted in every conceivable format: films, audiobooks, animated series, and video games…

3 – Lucky Luke (1946)

French name: Lucky Luke

Authors: Morris, his real name Maurice de Bevere (scriptwriter and cartoonist from 1946 to 2001); Achdé, his real name Hervé Darmenton (cartoonist since 2001)

Country of origin: Belgium 🇧🇪

Number of books: 95

Lucky Luke is a cartoon created by the Belgian cartoonist Morris and which puts in the scene a cowboy of the Far West known to be the man who shoots faster than his shadow. Always accompanied by his faithful steed, Jolly Jumper, Lucky Luke’s mission is to restore order and peace in the country. Through his adventures, he hunts down bandits, especially the most famous thugs of the Wild West, the Dalton brothers.

Appearing for the first time in 1946 in the Almanach 47, a special issue of the Spirou newspaper, Lucky Luke was published for many years in magazines (Spirou, Pilote, Tintin, Pif Gadget) in parallel with the release of his albums. Still active today, it is one of the most enduring cartoon franchises with 95 albums released at the time of writing.

4 – Blake and Mortimer (1946)

French name: Blake et Mortimer 

Author: Edgar P. Jacobs (scriptwriter from 1946 to 1990, cartoonist from 1946 to 1971)

Country of origin: Belgium 🇧🇪

Number of books: 28

Created by Belgian cartoonist and author Edgar P. Jacobs in 1946, the Blake and Mortimer comic strip depicts the adventures of Francis Blake, director of the British secret service, and his best friend, Philip Mortimer, a professor and scientist specializing in nuclear physics. Throughout the volumes, the two friends attempt to thwart the Machiavellian plans of their sworn enemy, Colonel Olrik.

First published for many years in the Journal de Tintin, the adventures of Blake and Mortimer were then released in album editions Lombard. The series came to a halt with the death of its creator in 1987. Not far from 10 years later, Blake and Mortimer was relaunched under the impetus of the publisher with Ted Benoit to the drawings and Jean Van Hamme to the script. After a succession of authors, the Franco-Belgian comic book is still active today, as its latest volume, Blake and Mortimer – The Last Swordfish, was released in November 2021.

5 – Gaston (1957)

French name: Gaston 

Author: André Franquin 

Country of origin: Belgium 🇧🇪

Number of books: 62 (divided into 4 series)

Straight from the imagination of Belgian author André Franquin, the comic strip Gaston features an office worker named Gaston Lagaffe, known for being particularly clumsy. As his name suggests, this character is a master in the art of making all sorts of blunders without meaning to. 

First published in 1957 in the Journal de Spirou, Gaston was then published by Editions Dupuis until 1992, then by Marsu Productions since then. This comic strip shares the same universe as Spirou and Fantasio (Franquin was also the author). Thus, the character of Fantasio is Gaston’s superior until Franquin stops working on the Spirou and Fantasio series.

6 – The Smurfs (1958)

French name: Les Schtroumpfs 

Author: Peyo, of his real name Pierre Culliford

Country of origin: Belgium 🇧🇪

Number of books: 39 (plus 1 special edition)

Imagined and conceived from scratch by the Belgian cartoonist Peyo, the comic strip The Smurfs tells the story of a people of small blue creatures living in the middle of a forest. We follow the adventures of these creatures who defend themselves against an evil wizard, Gargamelle, and his cat, Azraël. 

Published for the first time in 1958, the Smurfs cartoon book was an instant success that pushed Peyo to quickly join forces with other artists and authors to maintain the pace and quality of his creation. With more than 25 million albums sold, the Franco-Belgian comic strip is undoubtedly a great success, even more so when one considers the three animated films that followed, which were real commercial successes.

7 – Asterix (1959)

French name: Astérix

Authors: René Goscinny (screenwriter from 1959 to 1977); Albert Uderzo (cartoonist from 1959 to 2009 and scriptwriter from 1977 to 2009); Jean-Yves Ferri (screenwriter since 2013); Didier Conrad (cartoonist since 2013)

Country of origin: France 🇫🇷

Number of books: 39 (plus 4 special editions) 

Asterix, formerly known as Asterix the Gaul, is a French comic book invented in October 1959 by the cartoonist Albert Uderzo and the scriptwriter René Goscinny. It tells the story of Asterix, Obelix, and the members of a small village of Gallic diehards who resist the Roman invader’s thanks to a magic potion that gives them superhuman powers.

Despite the death of Goscinny in 1977 and of Uderzo in 2020, Asterix endures and continues to stir up the crowds with each new publication. Asterix is undoubtedly the greatest French comic to have been created with mythical albums such as Asterix and Cleopatra, Asterix in Normandy, or even Zizanie. It is still the best-selling comic book in the world (after the manga One Piece) with nearly 380 million copies sold. Thanks to its success, the franchise has been adapted into French cartoons, successful films (Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra), video games, and even theme parks in France.

8 – Billy & Buddy (1959)

French name: Boule et Bill

Authors: Jean Roba (scriptwriter and cartoonist from 1959 to 2003); Laurent Verron (cartoonist from 2003 to 2016); Christophe Cazenove (screenwriter since 2016); Jean Baptiste (cartoonist since 2016)

Country of origin: Belgium 🇧🇪

Number of books: 42 (plus 33 special editions)

Created in 1959 by the Belgian cartoonist Jean Roba, Boule et Bill tells the story of a 7-year-old boy, Boule, and his best friend, a cocker spaniel named Bill. We follow the relationship between this young child and his dog, but also the questions and ideas that he asks himself on a daily basis, always in a joyful and good-humored way.

Made famous in the magazine Spirou, the comic strip Billy & Buddy is granted its own volumes after the publication of only a few plates. Today, more than 60 years after its creation, the comic has become a true emblem of the French-Belgian comic strip. It has been adapted in many ways (animation series, film) and has even been used as a teaching aid to teach children to read in elementary school.

9 – Achille Talon (1963)

French name: Achille Talon

Author: Greg, of his real name Michel Louis Albert Regnier

Country of origin: Belgium 🇧🇪

Number of books: 48

Created in 1963 by the Belgian cartoonist Greg, the comic book Achille Talon features a rich and eloquent forty-year-old who still lives with his parents and is passionate about art, activism, and animals. A stereotypical anti-hero, his name comes from the Achilles’ heel, which refers to the weaknesses of modern man.

The character of Achille Talon was born when a certain René Goscinny, founder of the magazine Pilote, asked Greg to create a recurring character to fill the gaps in the publications that lacked advertising. 3 years later, the first album of a series that will last more than 50 years is born. After the death of Greg at the dawn of the 2000s, Achille Talon is relaunched by the publisher Dargaud in 2014 with Fabrice Caro and Serge Carrère at the helm.

10 – The Bluecoats (1968)

French name: Les Tuniques bleues 

Authors:  Louis Salvérius (cartoonist from 1968 to 1972); Raoul Cauvin (screenwriter from 1968 to 2019); Willy Lambillotte (cartoonist from 1972 to 2020); Béka, of their real names Bertrand Escaich and Caroline Roque (screenwriters since 2020); Jose Luis Munuera (cartoonist)

Country of origin: Belgium 🇧🇪

Number of books: 65

Created in 1968 by Cauvin and Salvérius, the comic strip The Bluecoats tells the story of the adventures of the soldiers of the Union army, adversaries of the Confederate army, during the Civil War. This comic manages to mix comic elements and tragic historical events related to the war. The title of the comic comes from the name given by the Native Americans to the cavalry troops during the conquest of the West.

First appearing in the periodical magazine Spirou at a rate of a few plates per issue, the series quickly evolved into long stories published by Dupuis. Translated into nearly 10 languages, the comic book series has also been adapted into a video game, first released in 1989, and which has been re-released twice in 2012 and 2020.

11 – Yoko Tsuno (1970)

French name: Yoko Tsuno

Author: Roger Leloup

Country of origin: Belgium 🇧🇪

Number of books: 30

Created in 1970 by Roger Leloup, the comic Yoko Tsuno features a young Japanese engineer with multiple talents: martial arts (aikido, karate, kyudo), foreign languages (English, French, German, Cantonese, Japanese), airplane piloting… Yoko Tsuno is one of the first science-fiction comics dealing with themes such as time travel, robots, artificial intelligence, or aliens.

Very avant-garde, the Franco-Belgian comic strip is also one of the first to put a female hero in the foreground, without caricaturing her. A true natural leader, the character of Yoko Tsuno became an emblem of feminism for many women who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s.

12 – Leonard (1974)

French name: Léonard

Authors: Turk, his real name Philippe Liégeois (cartoonist); Bob de Groot (screenwriter from 1974 to 2016); Zidrou, his real name Benoît Drousie (screenwriter since 2007) 

Country of origin: Belgium 🇧🇪

Number of books: 53 (plus 7 special editions)

Created by Bob de Groot in 1974, the comic book Leonardo depicts the daily life of a completely crazy genius, who spends his time finding new inventions to test, and his disciple, Basil. The action takes place in Renaissance Italy, in the small town of Vinci. As you may have understood, it is a subtle nod from the author to his main inspiration, Leonardo da Vinci.

Based on slapstick humor, puns and anachronisms, the Franco-Belgian cartoon is one of the longest-running modern comics still in production. It was even granted a 3D animation series in the early 1990s.

13 – The Passenger of the Wind (1979)

French name: Les Passagers du vent 

Author: François Bourgeon

Country of origin: France 🇫🇷

Number of books: 9

Created by François Bourgeon, Les Passagers du vent is a French comic book about Isa, a noble girl whose identity is stolen and who ends up becoming a crew member on a ship. Set in the 17th century, the French comic book deals with historical themes such as the great conquests, the slave trade, and the life of a sailor. 

After the release of the first three albums between 1979 and 1984, we had to wait almost 25 years to have a second series of volumes, then almost 10 years again to have a third one. This first sequel follows the adventures of Zabo, Isa’s great-granddaughter, in the middle of the Civil War. The French cartoon has been praised for the quality of its drawings, the depth of its texts, and the veracity of the historical events that are transcribed thanks to the author’s rich research work. 

14 – Le Chat (1983)

French name: Le Chat

Author: Philippe Geluck

Country of origin: Belgium 🇧🇪

Number of books: 24 

Invented by Philippe Geluck in 1983, the cartoon Le Chat features a gray feline with completely human behavior. Always dressed in a three-piece suit, Le Chat does not hesitate to take a political and social stand and criticize world events through strips that are as funny as they are funny.

Unlike many of the French-language comics in this ranking, Le Chat did not start out in a humor magazine but in a very traditional newspaper, the Belgian daily Le Soir. After nearly 10 years of existence, the success of the comic book gave rise to another spin-off, Le Fils du Chat, aimed at younger readers. In 2011, Le Chat is animated through video clips called La Minute du Chat.

15 – XIII (1984)

French name: XIII

Authors: Jean Van Hamme (screenwriter from 1984 to 2007); William Vance (cartoonist from 1984 to 2007); Jean Giraud (cartoonist in 2007); Yves Sente (screenwriter since 2011); Youri Jigounov (cartoonist since 2011)

Country of origin: Belgium 🇧🇪

Number of books: 27

The cartoon XIII tells the dark story of an amnesiac man whose only distinguishing mark is the number XIII tattooed on his body. He soon discovers that he is in fact a hitman wanted by the American secret service for having assassinated the president of the United States a few months earlier. The hero then tries to remember his past and survive the assailants who are after him.

Conceived by Jean Van Hamme and William Vance, the comic book XIII was published from 1984 to 2007. The 19th album entitled The Last Round closes the identity quest of the hero. But the second cycle of XIII was launched in 2011 with Yves Sente and Youri Jigounov at the controls. For gamers, I recommend you the excellent XIII video game on the Nintendo GameCube! 

16 – Tootuff (1992)

French name: Titeuf

Author:  Zep, of his real name Philippe Chappuis

Country of origin: Switzerland 🇨🇭

Number of books: 17 (plus 8 special editions)

Straight out of the imagination of Swiss author and cartoonist Zep, Tootuff follows the life of a young elementary school boy as he begins to take an interest in such intimidating subjects as love, sexuality, seduction, and social relationships. A true French pop-culture phenomenon, the character of Titeuf is known for his blond locks and his unique French expressions such as “Tchô” (bye) and “C’est pô juste” (it’s not fair).

Created in 1992, the first plate of the cartoon Titeuf appears in the fanzine Sauve qui peut before receiving its own album at Glénat editions a few months later, in January 1993, entitled Dieu, le sexe et les bretelles. After an almost instant success and 8 volumes published from 1993 to 2000, the comic book was adapted into animated cartoons in 2001, into a film in 2011, and even in a dozen video games released on all platforms. Today, with 17 volumes, Titeuf remains a monument of the French cartoon.

17 – Kid Paddle (1993)

French name: Kid Paddle

Author: Midam, of his real name Michel Ledent

Country of origin: Belgium 🇧🇪

Number of books: 17

Created by Belgian cartoonist Midam, Kid Paddle follows the adventures of a young boy with a passion for video games, science fiction, and gory movies as he navigates through his childhood life alongside his best friends. 

Appeared for the first time in August 1993 in the magazine Spirou, the Belgian comic book was initially intended to present the video games of the moment, before becoming completely independent after 2 years of publication. Faced with the craze that was created behind the character of the Kid, the first album of Kid Paddle was published by the Editions Dupuis in 1996. After a few successful albums, the brand grew and gave rise to an animated cartoon (broadcast from 2002 through more than 100 episodes), to a periodical magazine, Kid Paddle Magazine (released at the rate of an edition per month for nearly 9 years), as well as a spin-off series of Kid Paddle entitled Game Over.

18 – Lanfeust of Troy (1994)

French name: Lanfeust de Troy 

Authors: Christophe Arleston, of his real name Christophe Pelinq (screenwriter); Didier Tarquin (cartoonist)

Country of origin: France 🇫🇷

Number of books: 8

Created in 1994 by Arleston and Tarquin, Lanfeust of Troy is one of the most famous French comics of the heroic fantasy genre. Through this series, we follow the adventures of Lanfeust, a blacksmith’s apprentice who discovers that he possesses absolute power, in an almost unlimited way. He then sets out to explore the world of Troy to learn to master his new skills, and meets many people on his way who will become his companions.

With the success of the 8 original volumes, the saga of Lanfeust extends on a second and a third cycle: Lanfeust des étoiles, and Lanfeust Odyssey. Other French comics from the world of Troy were also published, such as Cixi de Troy, Lanfeust Quest, and Gnomes de Troy.

19 – Serial Teachers (1997)

French name: Les Profs

Authors: Erroc, his real name Gilles Corre (screenwriter); Pica, his real name Pierre Tranchand (cartoonist); Sti, his real name Ronan Lefebvre (co-writer from volume 21); Alain Mauricet (cartoonist for volumes 14 to 16); Simon Léturgie (cartoonist from volume 18)

Country of origin: France 🇫🇷

Number of books: 22 (plus 2 special editions)

The French comic book Serial Teachers is the result of the association of two humor enthusiasts, Pica (cartoonist) and Erroc (scriptwriter). Through this cartoon, they highlight the stereotypes of the teaching environment and play with interpersonal relationships in high school. These stories take place in the Philippe Rodrigue Octave Fanfaron (acronym of PROF, it is a short way to say profesor) school and feature a zany teaching team working in a difficult high school.

After its first publication in Mickey’s newspaper in 1997, the French comic strip saw the release of its first album in 2000 by Bamboo Editions. Faced with the almost immediate success of the comic, the publisher decided to create a whole collection of comics on the theme of professions (firemen, veterinarians, insurance companies, construction sites, driving schools, etc.). Despite all these attempts, the comic Les Profs remains by far the most emblematic and today has 24 albums and 2 films to its credit.

20 – Peau d’homme (2020)

French name: Peau d’homme

Authors: Hubert, of his real name Hubert Boulard (screenwriter); Zanzim, of his real name Frédéric Leutelier (cartoonist)

Country of origin: France 🇫🇷

Number of books: 1

Released in June 2020, Peau d’homme is a French comic book that takes place in Italy during the Renaissance and tells the story of Bianca, a young girl from a good family who has inherited a “man’s skin.” An object that, once put on, allows her to transform into a man named Lorenzo. Bianca falls in love with a certain Giovanni, who turns out to be homosexual. She uses her power to live a romance with him.

The success of this graphic novel rests largely on its singular story and the heavy societal themes that are depicted. When it was released, the French comic book won the best prizes in the field. Through this French comic, we question homosexuality, arranged marriage, and even death, since this work was unfortunately published only after the death of its author, Hubert Boulard.

Other French comics that could have been included in this list: 

  • Brouillard au pont de Tolbiac (Tardy)
  • L’arabe du futur (Riad Sattouf)
  • La légèreté (Meurisse)
  • Les phalanges de l’Ordre Noir (Bilal)

We hope you have discovered some French and Belgian comics and that you will read some of them on this list! A French comic book could be a great French gift idea for a friend. If you think a comic is missing, don’t hesitate to tell us in the comment section of this article! We will be happy to answer you 🙂

Finally, we recommend reading our article about French animated movies if you want to stay on the same topic.

Photo Credit: @Les éditions Albert René / Goscinny-Uderzo

Translated into English by Sacha