The format for this one is going to be a little different. Directly comparing graphic novels (or comics which have been collected in one or two volumes) to long, on-going series is near impossible. To solve that, I'm going to list my five favorite comics and five favorite graphic novels separately.
Top 5 Comics
Fables' take on the fairy tale mythos is slowly becoming less and less unique, with the idea of combining many different fairy tale people into one universe taken over by (the also great) Once Upon a Time. But Bill Willingham brings Fables to life with his unique characterization and sweeping plotlines. It takes a lower place here for its fall after the first major climax from “excellent” to “good”, but considering that you still have about 11 volumes of excellence if you ignore the later ones, I'd consider that a fair warning.
- Green Lantern (by Geoff Johns)
Geoff Johns' reinvention of the Green Lantern franchise, starting with bringing Hal Jordan back to life in Green Lantern: Rebirth, not only brought me to the character but engrossed me in how deep a creator can completely change a book. The addition of the whole color spectrum for rings. Huge event comics like The Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night. Introducing memorable characters like Larfleeze. A cosmic adventure that's well worth reading.
- Daredevil (by Brian Michael Bendis)
Up until Mark Waid's run, Daredevil was generally considered a character who was best when terrible things were happening to him. And boy, did Bendis give him plenty of terrible things. Starting with making his identity of Matt Murdock from best-kept secret to entirely public, everything in Bendis' run is a sweeping destruction of Murdock and Hornhead's life. And with Alex Maleev's dark art as a constant companion, Bendis did some of his best work with it.
I find it hard to classify Invincible. At times it's a deconstruction or parody of superheroes. Other times, it's simply a pure comic. Whatever it chooses to be, it entertains as Kirkman creates a superhero universe all his own. Long-time Marvel and DC characters can struggle to stand up to some of the heroes and villains that Kirkman has created. From its darkest moments to its funniest, Invincible is a work that shines against entire comic universes.
- Swamp Thing (by Alan Moore)
The first thing you should know about Swamp Thing is that its early issues were so filled with creepy horror that it was one of the comics that helped to create DC's Vertigo label for mature comics. The second thing you should know is that it's a romance. Yes, it may feature demons and a creature made out of plant life, but at its core, Moore wrote a love story that keeps you going, creating arcane worlds and strange flora as it goes. Alan Moore may have left some huge marks on the comics industry, but he never did better than Swamp Thing.
Top 5 Graphic Novels
This and the next one on the list I saw as movies before I read the graphic novels. Both share one thing in common (as little else as they share): the details they add. Persepolis in either format is wonderful, but the extra details that the graphic novel has enhance the true story of a feminist woman growing up in Iran, finding herself trying to get every small victory she can. Endearing, charming, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is simply wonderful.
- V for Vendetta
Alan Moore is the only author here to show up on both lists. No wonder. V for Vendetta is a stunning look at both a fascist dictatorship that's sprung up in London and the anarchy that wants to overthrow it if it can even sustain itself. And where the movie deals in absolutes, everything in the graphic novel is so grey that the villains are given sympathy even as we're so sure they're evil. As much as I enjoy the movie, it's a cliff notes version of the incredible world and characters that the graphic novel has.
Daytripper shocked me the first time I read it. I happen to flip through books a lot absentmindedly, saw the main character dying, and figured I had just seen a spoiler. And then I start reading it and...he dies at the end of the first issue. And the second. And the third. Ultimately the point of the series is not shocking you at how he dies or making you guess. It's about the moments that make up a life, the pieces that come together as you go and see how everything makes up the man whose life you see the individual days of.
- The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck
Never in my life did I think a Scrooge McDuck comic would make a top 10 list of...anything. Especially Don Rosa's tribute to Carl Barks' work, a tribute that meticulously looks to put together the details of Scrooge's life that Barks wrote. But even if you've never read any of Barks (although if you've seen Ducktales, you've gotten pieces), Rosa gives a great story, showing how Scrooge went from an idealistic young boy to a miser, his successes and his failures, his triumphs and his mistakes. It's fantastic...and it's all about a cartoon duck. Who would've guessed?
- All-Star Superman
The All-Star line is one of the weirdest things ever thought up in comics, producing a whole two comic series, with one being one of the worst comics ever, and the other being one of the best. The idea of giving tribute to Superman was given to Grant Morrison, who all but dropped his trademark surrealism and metacommentary for a love letter to the man of steel. It's fun one moment. It makes you cry the next. It winks and nods at the silly silver age tropes, and then fully embraces them. If you've never gotten the big blue boy scout, it's the perfect place to start. If you've never read a comic before, it's the perfect place to start.