Once again, a graphic novel exemplifying comics' ability to uniquely treat the themes of literary fiction has topped PW Comics Week's annual critics poll. David Mazzucchelli's long-awaited Asterios Polyp got the most votes, with six. A dazzling display of cartooning in both storytelling skill and artistic mastery—every panel is like a New Yorker cartoon, with different characters and eras drawn in different styles—Asterios Polyp tells the story of an emotionally distant architect and how he finds the meaning in his past and present lives. Author Mazzucchelli has already forged something of a legend for a slim body of work—some Batman and Daredevil in the 80s, his anthology Rubber Blanket in the 90s and an adaptation of Paul Auster's City of Glass—his powerful mastery of cartooning left those who had been waiting for the book for the better part of a decade more than satisfied—one reading is not enough to get all the nuances and recurring symbols.

Coming right behind was another long-in-the-making work, Joe Sacco's riveting Footnotes in Gaza, the story of an obscure but disturbing massacre of Palestinian refugees in 1956. Sacco fearlessly wades into the heartbreaking tangle of the Middle East with a journalist's eye—the result is great comics and great journalism.

If anything, the breadth of books selected shows that 2009 was again a banner year for comics, with subject matter ranging from a French Surrealist epic to a taut gangster tale—sometimes by the same cartoonist (Jacques Tardi). Titles mentioned range from children's comics (Secret Science Alliance) to erotica (The Story of O); comics journalism (A.D: and Footnotes in Gaza) to science fiction (Ooku and GoGo Monster.) In an individual achievement, Bryan Lee O'Malley's latest Scott Pilgrim book Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe was the third book in that series to rank on the chart.

It was an incredibly strong year for manga, led by Tatsumi's towering memoir A Drifting Life, and bookended by two compelling science fiction tales by Naoki Urasawa (Pluto and 20th Century Boys), as well as the social commentary of Ooku and the food and bacteria based insights of Oishinago and Moyasimon respectively . Acclaimed manga-kas Taiyo Matsumoto and Jiro Tanigushi also made repeat appearances on thelist. If the depth of the material is any gauge, manga for grown-ups should definitely find an audience at last. Kai-Ming Cha's take on the year in manga can be read here.

Participating in this year's poll were Chris Barsanti, Johanna Draper Carlson, Kai-Ming Cha, Erin Finnegan, Bill Kartalopoulos, Heidi MacDonald, Chris Murphy, Calvin Reid, Sasha Watson and Douglas Wolk. Critics were asked to provide a list of their ten best books of the year, and titles were ranked by total mentions. Here's the complete list:

Six Votes

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. (Pantheon)
The intellectual and aesthetic breadth, along with a gripping, satisfying story make this a book that I keep re-reading, pulling new ideas from its elaborate structure every time.-- SW

A small but epic tale of an intellectual with a planet-sized ego who turns his life upside down and finds some sort of peace in the process. One of the few graphic novels that really deserves the name. -- CB

Five votes

Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco (Metropolitan Books)
Focused on a little known massacre of Palestinian refugees in Gaza in1956, this magisterial work is ultimately a history of the Palestinan struggle against Israeli occupation. -- CR

Joe Sacco's latest work of comics reportage is a masterpiece. Sacco consolidates and refines the strengths of his previous work to chronicle his own effort to reconstruct two separate, half-century old atrocities from deep within the annals of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rich with information, totally fluent in its narrative technique, timely, involving, and deeply moving in its final impact. — BK

Four votes

A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (D&Q)
A massive (840 pages) and poignant memoir by the master—indeed inventor—of Japanese alternative comics (called gekiga) that doubles as a fascinating history of the beginnings of the Japanese manga industry after World War II. -- CR

Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni)
The fifth volume of O'Malley's series takes the light hearted path of the work so far and adds darker elements to it, as Scott begins to mature in this mid-20s coming of age story. Readers are given reason to question what it says about Ramona that she's accumulated seven evil ex-boyfriends in her life so far. And when Scott's own past decisions are thrown into doubt, one can't help but wonder whether things will be as easy for the couple as it had seemed. As they both come to terms with the reality that neither of them is as good a person as they would like to be, even the fantastic worlds they're able to escape to offer no guarantees of solving their problems. -- CM

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka by Naoki Urasawa (Viz)
This manga series by modern genius Naoki Urasawa is simply astounding, a meditation on the nature of what it means to be human in a time of war, told through a gripping robot murder mystery. It's beautifully illustrated and all the more impressive for being based on a plot from Astro Boy. -- JDC

Stitches by David Small (Norton)
The emotional undertow of this dark and perfectly-told personal story had me thinking about it for weeks after reading. Small's use of a visual vocabulary inspired by sixties avant-garde film adds oceanic depth to the telling of his bizarre adolescent trauma. -- SW

Three votes

20th Century Boys byNaoki Urasawa (Viz)
A bunch of 30-something losers turn out to hold the key to saving the world in a densely-plotted SF thriller that's nearly impossible to put down. Urasawa humanizes the suspense with a deft, wistful handling of how we grow away from the futures we dreamed of as children. -- HM

Masterpiece Comics by R. Sikoryak (D&Q)
Sikoryak's chameleonic comics, produced over a twenty year period, adapt canonical Western literature using the stylistic surfaces, characters, and situations of historical American comic books and comic strips. More than a gag or a parody, these intensely constructed works suggest resonances that reflect upon each story's pair of sources. This definitive collection finally makes these works available for reading and re-reading, and suggests a cracked literary history from the Bible to Beckett. -- BK

Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture, Vol. 1 by Masayuki Ishikawa (Del Rey Manga)
Moyasimon, the only comic you'll ever read about an agricultural college, turns biology cute in a way that only a Japanese comic could. The protagonist has the power to see yeast and other microbes, and all of them are super-cute. -- EF

Ôoku: The Inner Chambers by Fumi Yoshinaga (Viz)
Yoshinaga hits new heights of achievement and insight with a series of stories set in a male harem in an alternate historical Japan. The concept is immediately intriguing, and the stories are deeply observant. Lovely but heart-breaking in showing love betrayed. -- JDC

The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefèvre. (First Second)
Riveting, original, impure in fascinating ways. — DW

You'll Never Know, Book 1: A Good and Decent Man by Carol Tyler (Fantagraphics)
I love this autobiographical family story as much for the way Tyler weaves between her own life and her father's, as for its painterly, illustrative panoramas of suburban neighborhoods and army scenes. — SW

Two votes

Cecil and Jordan in New York by Gabrielle Bell (D&Q)
This selective, beautifully designed collection makes a strong case for Bell as an artist engaging the short story form within comics. Only some of the work is autobiographical (or at least autobiographically-based), but a consistent sense of authentically-observed experience runs through this book of deliberately crafted narratives. Her spare, carefully denotative linework matches her keen attention to things both said and unsaid. -- BK

GoGo Monster by Taiyo Matsumoto (Viz)
Matsumoto brings us a trippy tale of an outcast elementary school student whose visions of monsters lead to a climax expressed in experimental comics. Viz's presentation of the hardcover one-shot is outstanding; it comes in a cool box, and the page edges are red-trimmed and printed with a pattern. -- EF

Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke and Richard Stark (IDW)
A magnificent comics recreation of Stark/Donald Westlake’s noir classic of crime and vengeance and a stylish evocation of his stony, relentless protagonist. -- CR

Tales Designed to Thrizzle by Michael Kupperman (Fantagraphics)
Milk and other liquids may come out your nose as you read one of the funniest comics ever put to paper. Kupperman's droll absurdism is matched by a stiff, woodcut-like art style that underplays the sometimes outre concepts. A comedy diamond. -- HM

One vote

A Distant Neighborhood by Jiro Taniguchi
All Star Superman Vol. 2
by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (DC Comics)
Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time
by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener (Red 5 Comics)
Be A Nose!
by Art Spiegelman (McSweeney's)
Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary
by Justin Green (McSweeneys)
Black Jack
by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
by Dash Shaw
Britten and Brülightly
by Hannah Berry (Metropolitan)
Chew: Taster's Choice
by John Layman and Rob Guillory (Image Comics)
Children of the Sea
by Daisuke Igarashi (Viz)
Crumb's Genesis
by Robert Crumb (Norton)
Detroit Metal City
by Kiminori Wakasugi Drawn to You by Erika Moen and Lucy Knisley (self-published)
Driven by Lemons
by Josh Cotter (AdHouse Books)
The Beats
ed. by Paul Buhle (Hilland Wang)
Final Crisis
by Grant Morrison et al. (DC Comics)
George Sprott: 1894-1975
by Seth (D&Q)
Happy Happy Clover
by Sayuri Tatsuyama (Viz)
by Harvey Kurtzman, et al (Fantagraphics)
Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit
by Motoro Mase
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
Johnny Hiro
by Fred Chau (AdHouse Books)
Kabuki: The Alchemy
by David Mack (Marvel/Icon)
Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu
by Junko Mizuno (Last Gasp)
by Apostolos Doxiadis,Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papdatos and Annie Di Donna (Bloomsbury)
Low Moon
by Jason (Fantagraphics)
by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagrahics)
Map of My Heart by John Porcellino (D&Q)
Never Learn Anything from History
by Kate Beaton (self-published) 10 points
Nothing Better: Into the Wild
by Tyler Page (Dementian)
by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki (Viz_Pax Romana by Jonathan Hickman (Image)
by Tatsuya Ishida (Dark Horse)
Summit of the Gods
by Yumemakura Baku and Jiro Taniguchi
Supermen!: The First Wave Of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941
by Greg Sadowski (Fantagraphics)
The Color of Earth, Water, and Heaven
by Kim Dong Hwa (First Second)
The Complete Jack Survives
by Jerry Moriarty (Buenaventura Press)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910
by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (Top Shelf)
The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook
by Eleanor Davis (Bloomsbury)
The Story of O
by Guido Crépax and Pauline Réage (NBM)
The Toon Treasury of Classic Children's Comics
ed. By Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly (Abrams)
The Year of Loving Dangerously
by Ted Rall and Pablo Callejo (NBM)
Waltz with Bashir
by Ari Folman and David Polonsky (Metropolitan)
West Coast Blues
Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics
Years of the Elephant by Willy Linthout (Fanfare Ponent Mon)
You Are There
by Jacques Tardi and Jean-Claude Forest (Fantagraphics)