These two posts took forever to write, so please take my advice and read at least one of these books. I don't care if you buy them, steal them, or take them from a library, just read them. A few of them are even loved by people that don't enjoy comics (such as my #1 choice).
#5 - Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America (originally published in 2007)In the aftermath of Civil War, Marvel grew some balls and killed one of the greatest superheroes of all time, Captain America. Widely regarded as the only "no turning back" event after Civil War, it sent a catalyst through the industry, making headlines nationwide. The follow-up to his death is chronicled here, through four different heroes and both Avengers teams. It is essentially Captain America's obituary, with each hero paying respect in their own separate way. My personal favorite part is when Wolverine threatens to kill Iron Man if he finds out that he had anything to do with Cap's assassination. It's gritty, depressing, and it was a fantastic swan song for America's greatest hero.
#4 - Identity Crisis (originally published in 2004)When Elongated Man's wife Sue Dibny is murdered with suspicious burn marks all over her body, the Justice League of America tries to catch her killer. Their first target is Dr. Light, whom it turns out raped Mrs. Dibny a few years previous (on the JLA's own satellite, no less!). The ensuing mess of lies and deceit is one that is one that is already legendary. This is another book that shows the human side of not-so-human characters.
This is exactly what Civil War should have been. A series with two separate sides, a very human-feeling storyline, and fantastic resolution; told over the course of seven issues.
#3 - Spider-Man: Birth of Venom (originally published in 1988)Nothing needs to be said here, other than this: Spider Man 3 got it wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.
#2 - Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again (originally published in 2001-2002)It was so difficult for me to write about just two Batman books, since there are so many good ones out there, but this one is hands-down the best one. Set in a non-canon Batman universe, it is the sequel to Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (which is also an amazing read). Drawn by the ever-famous Frank Miller (who wrote the Sin City graphic novels), it continues the future he created in the first volume. Bruce Wayne, now pushing 60, teams up with former-Robin-and-now-Catgirl Carrie to take down the president of the United States, Lex Luthor. Containing cameos by DC heavyweights such as Superman, the Flash, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Plastic Man, and Elongated Man, it serves mind-blowing scenario after mind-blowing scenario. I suggest you get both, but this one is better. I'm somewhat alone on this opinion (or so the internet tells me), but like I said, get both.
#1 - Watchmen (originally published in 1986-1987)Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' creation is a modern-day masterpiece. Set in an alternate version of the mid-80's in New York City, a team of disbanded superheroes is brought back together when one of their former members, the Comedian, is murdered. The story then unfolds, when it was revealed that the reason they disbanded a few years previous was because the government wanted to register superheroes (amongst other things), and some disagreed with that (does that sound familiar, Civil War?). As the murder mystery unravels, so do the revelations of the team's past. I'm not going to ruin the flawless ending, but let me just say this: Rorschach, Nite Owl and Doctor Manhattan are some of the most layered superheroes I have ever seen. They are some of my favorites, and they aren't even in the usual DC canon. In my opinion, what makes Watchmen so great is that Moore and Gibbons created six superheroes from scratch, not using any pre-existing ones to build upon. And they mold the characters into seemingly real people, giving them distinct personalities, traits, and mannerisms. All in twelve issues. Some heroes spend decades being molded into what they should be; but Moore is so much different. He's a born storyteller. And this is the greatest story he's ever told. This is not only the best graphic novel of all time, but one of the best books of all time.
The movie adaptation is set to release this upcoming March. It is directed by 300's Zack Snyder.
I know I've left a lot of essentials out, such as the Age of Apocalypse saga, Secret Wars, Infinite Crisis, House of M, 52, and a few others, but I wanted to make this easy-to-swallow, for people that are somewhat into comics, or want to start reading them. Someday I'll write one for the already existing fans, I promise.