IN THE end, Nick Drnaso didn't win the Man Booker Prize. Indeed, his graphic novel Sabrina (Granta, £16.99) didn't even make it to the short list. But the fact that it was named in the long list back in July was enough. A sign that the form's cultural reach doesn't start and end with Marvel movie adaptations. The graphic novel had been welcomed into the literary establishment. Another step up the ladder in terms of critical acceptance. And another reason why this has been another good year for cartoonists.

There were some - myself included - who weren't sure that Sabrina belonged on the Booker long list, but more because of form than content. Told in a clean, clear, style, Drnaso's potent, pitiless vision of grief, the corrosive effect of social media and the rise of the digital alt-right is one of the most incisive visions of the Trump era we've yet had. It feels very of the moment, while never losing a sense of novelistic space, depth and mystery.

You could argue that the best of this year's graphic novels revolved around one or other of those two approaches.

It is certainly difficult to imagine a book more timely than Olivier Kugler's Escaping Wars and Waves (Myriad Editions, £19.99). This is graphic journalism that informs and angers. Kugler travels to Iraq, Greece, the Jungle camp in Calais, England and Germany to talk to Middle Eastern refugees about what has caused them to leave their homes and risk their lives. In doing so, he takes us behind the newspaper headlines and political rhetoric.

There are now 68.5 million people who have been forced to leave their homes in the world today. Kugler's work reminds us that each and every one of them is first and foremost a human being. Listening to certain politicians you wonder if they have forgotten that.

Reading Jason Lutes's epic graphic novel Berlin (Drawn & Quarterly), which has taken its creator more than 20 years to finish, it's difficult to ignore the contemporary resonances in its account of life in the German capital between the First and Second World Wars.

You could even argue that Tillie Walden's science fiction graphic novel On a Sunbeam (Avery Hill, £24.99), with its vision of a universe populated solely by women, is itself a form of utopian thinking in response to the #Metoo culture we currently live in.

There is a danger, though, that in doing so we reduce the work to a series of a sub-editor's bullet points. Both books are much more than that. Once it finds its feet, Lutes's Berlin is a sprawling yet adroitly marshalled vision of political, social and cultural life in the city. Laid out in crisp, black and white, Lutes follows his huge cast of characters – journalists and Jewish businessmen, cabaret singers and Communists, lesbians and Nazis – through the streets and years. The result is immersive.

Walden's On a Sunbeam, meanwhile, is a beautifully rendered loving vision of female friendship. And spaceships.

Aminder Dhaliwal's vision of a post-male world in her graphic novel Woman World (Drawn & Quarterly, £14.99) would make for a fine double bill with Walden's vision of the future. Dhaliwal's work is both disturbed and intrigued by the idea of a world without men. It is also slyly comic; a smart sitcom pinned to the page.

Perhaps the best expression this year of the novel part of the graphic novel can be found in David Small's Home After Dark (Liveright, £19.99).

Set in America in the years after the Korean war it's a coming-of-age story that takes in parental separation, bullying, and sexual awakening. Nothing new there, you might say, but Small's vision of his protagonist Russell Pruitt is starkly told, dark in mood and action. The art is scratchy but the scratches cut deep.

For a gentler read try the latest volume of Riad Sattouf's The Arab of the Future 3 (Two Roads, £18.99). This is the third instalment of Sattouf's childhood in Syria, a life that takes in hardship, religious repression and poverty. None of which stops it often being laugh-out-loud funny. Sattouf can even find the humour in circumcision even as it causes a wince or two. (Or is that just a male response?)

The best reissue of the year, The New World by Christopher Reynolds (£24.99) comes from New York Review Comics, who have, quite frankly, made something of a habit of impressive reissues this year. Indeed, Yvan Alagbe's Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures, Tadao Tsuge's Slum Wolf and Edmond Baudoin's wonderful Piero are all worth seeking out.

But none of them are as beautifully presented as The New World which has been designed by the Canadian cartoonist Seth.

The richness of that design is a pleasing recognition of the worth of Reynolds's strips which appeared originally in the 1980s in his comic Mauretania, part of the British small press scene of that era.

These strips are vaguely science fictional, but, really, these are mood pieces, wonderfully atmospheric, elusive evocations of place and time and memory. Easily the most haunting book on this list.

Other British entries share some of its qualities. John Harris Dunning and Michael Kennedy's Tumult (SelfMadeHero, £16.99) knows how to evoke mystery, even if it is a more linear narrative version.

That's not to say that this primary-coloured psychological thriller is straightforward. It has echoes of Hitchcock and Highsmith in its cool, flat approach. You'd like to see the makers of Killing Eve have a go at turning Tumult into a TV series. You could even see it as the basis of a great Nic Roeg movie if the director's death this year had not robbed us of that possibility.

Two other British graphic novels to finish. Rachael Ball's Wolf (SelfMadeHero, £15.99) is a family saga that is funny-sad and full of love and you should definitely seek it out.

Jon McNaught's Kingdom (Nobrow, £16.99), meanwhile, proves that you don't need contemporary resonances, epic narratives nor knob jokes to make a great graphic novel. McNaught takes the everyday mundanity of British life - Tescos, motorways, electricity pylons, Burger King, seagulls and graffiti - and makes art from it.

As an account of a seaside holiday, Kingdom offers the merest scrap of a story. But it's full of experience, rendered in immaculate tiny panels. This is ultimately a quiet vision of boredom and weather and traffic. The place where, away from the headlines and heartache if we're lucky, most of us live.

Graphic Content's Top 20 graphic novels of 2018 (NB: there are probably lots of good ones we haven't included simply because we haven't had a chance to read them yet. Apologies to all the creators we've missed out as a result. And that includes you, Posy Simmonds).

20 Passing For Human, Liana Finck, Jonathan Cape

Religion, sexism, depression, creativity, love; Liana Finck's graphic memoir covers them all in this headachey, addictive book.

19 Red Winter, Anneli Furmark, Drawn & Quarterly

Set in a commune in 1970s Sweden, Red Winter, Anneli Furmark's graphic novel of an affair between a married mother and a young communist describes another world where politics vies with love. A cold snap of a book.

18 Slum Wolf, Tadao Tsuge, New York Review Comics/ Fukushima Devil Fish, Katsumata Sushumu, Breakdown Press

A double bill of alt-manga from Japan. Both Tsuge and Sushumu offer a vision of a post-war country that looks beyond the gleaming facade of neon Tokyo. Here is poverty and oppression, here are workers in nuclear power plants racking up their exposure to radiation. Here is bad weather and loneliness.

17 The Great North Wood, Tim Bird, Avery Hill

A lovely slice of comic book psychogeography which explores the changing face of the woodlands that once covered much of the south of England.

16 Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures, Yvan Alagbe, New York Review Comics

Stories of migration, race and racism set amongst the African diaspora in Paris. Alagbe's expressionist black and white art is remarkable. Mark making as an emotional state.

15 Home After Dark, David Small, Liveright

David Small's coming-of-age story is full of darkness and pain artfully handled. For anyone who loves Catcher in the Rye.

14 Bloke's Progress, Kevin Jackson and Hunt Emerson, Knockabout

This old-school take on the life of John Ruskin is full of energy and humour and repackages the critic and philosopher's life into something hugely entertaining as well as educational.

13 On a Sunbeam, Tillie Walden, Avery Hill

More than 500 pages and none of them seem surplus to requirements in this SF saga about female friendship. Worth noting how beautiful the art is.

12 Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Diary, Ariel Forman and David Polonsky, Penguin

It could have been terrible. But Forman and Polonsky's ambitious comic strip reframing of Anne Frank's diary manages to find a new form for the story without ever trivialising the tragic events it covers.

11 Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refugees, Olivier Kugler, Myriad Editions

Kugler's first-person accounts of the lives and experiences of refugees is not just proof that the comic form is perfect for journalism. It's also audacious and ambitious in terms of its use of the form.

10 Tumult, John Harris Dunning and Michael Kennedy, SelfMadeHero

One of the thrillers of the year. Stack it next to your Patricia Highsmith books.

9 Woman World, Aminder Dhaliwal, Drawn & Quarterly

Smart feminist comedy in comic book form. Dhaliwal is one to watch.

8 S*** is Real, Aisha Franz, Drawn & Quarterly

The German cartoonist's graphic novel about heartbreak and depression is slyly surrealist and in danger of being overlooked.

7 Kingdom, Jon McNaught, NoBrow

The beautiful everyday rendered in tiny panels. An example of form merging immaculately with content.

6 From Lone Mountain, John Porcellino, Drawn & Quarterly

John Porcellino's diary accounts of his life are proof that comic strips can also be poetry.

5 Berlin, Jason Lutes, Drawn & Quarterly

More than 20 years in the making it was worth the wait. Lutes's brick of a book is an epic piece of work that never loses sight of its humanity amidst the spectacle.

4 Sabrina, Nick Drnaso, Granta

Zadie Smith calls it a masterpiece on the cover. It's possible that she's right.

3 The Arab of the Future 3, Riad Sattouf, Two Roads

The third volume of Riad Sattouf's graphic memoir, like its predecessors, is full of humour. One to give for Christmas.

2 Wolf, Rachael Ball, SelfMadeHero

Rachael Ball's coming-of-age story is notable for the way it finds a sweetness in grief and pain.

1 The New World, Chris Reynolds, New York Review Comics

A beautiful compilation of Chris Reynolds's small press comic of the 1980s, Mauretania. The most potent, mysterious book on this list by a country mile. Reading it you can hear the pulse of distant machines.