The Gaulish warrior Asterix has been a French institution since he first appeared in 1961’s Asterix the Gaul. He’s accompanied by his inseparable friend Obelix and aided by the druid Getafix’s magic potion that gives superhuman strength. His cunning defends his Gaulish village from Romans, Vikings, and even aliens.
Three different teams have produced Asterix stories:
- 24 books from Asterix the Gaul (1961) to Asterix in Belgium (1979) written by Rene Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo
- 8 books from Asterix and the Great Divide (1980) to Asterix and the Falling Sky (2005) written and illustrated by Albert Uderzo
- 4 books (to date) from Asterix and the Picts (2013) to Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter (2019) written by Jean-Yves Ferri and illustrated by Didier Conrad
Most Asterix fans will agree that the Goscinny era is the franchise’s strongest. Uderzo’s first books after Goscinny’s sudden passing are enjoyable, but his later efforts are problematic. The recent efforts from Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad are worthy – a rebound from Uderzo’s later albums, but not as strong as Goscinny’s best.
I didn’t include Asterix and Obelix’s Birthday: The Golden Book and Asterix and the Class Act, both collections of short stories, in this countdown of best Asterix books.
Asterix Books Ranked From Worst to Best
#36: Asterix and the Falling Sky
Uderzo’s final Asterix book is a franchise low-point. Bizarrely, it’s a satire of the French comic industry and a tribute to Walt Disney. Neither of these themes explains a story about two warring factions of aliens – it ventures too far from usual Asterix territory to feel like part of the series. As with other lesser Uderzo efforts the plotline relies on Getafix’s various potions for momentum.
#35: Asterix and the Secret Weapon
Asterix and the Secret Weapon is shockingly sexist – no one needed an Asterix book addressing feminism and gender issues. The book’s climactic scene, Asterix’s solution to a cohort of female legionaries invading the village, is especially cringe-inducing.
#34: Asterix and Obelix All at Sea
Asterix and Obelix All at Sea is a fast-paced adventure that represents Asterix at its least coherent. There’s little explanation for Obelix’s various states of metamorphosis, and it seems likely that Uderzo was making it up as he went along. It’ll probably work for kids, but requires too much suspension of disbelief for adult readers to truly enjoy.
#33: Asterix and the Actress
Asterix and the Actress features the Roman’s flimsiest scheme, hiring an actress to impersonate Panacea. There’s also a ton of fan service – the story introduces Asterix and Obelix’s parents, and brings back Panacea, Tragicomix, and Tremensdelirius from earlier adventures. The scene where Asterix is rescued by a dolphin is totally bizarre.
#32: Asterix and the Magic Carpet
In which Asterix, Obelix, and Cacofonix travel to India on a magic carpet. It was fast-moving enough to entertain me as a kid, but in hindsight it marks the start of an era where Uderzo is out of new ideas for stories and relies on novelty to drive the series.
#31: Asterix and the Picts
In Ferri and Conrad’s first Asterix adventure, Asterix, Obelix, and Dogmatix visit Caledonia (Scotland). It’s a good old-fashioned Asterix romp, a crowdpleaser that plays it safe. The characters names are just as amusing as ever, with Camomilla and Macaroon the central couple.
#30: Asterix and Son
When an unnamed baby is left outside Asterix’s hut, rumours fly about its parentage and Asterix sets off on a quest to return it to its parents. It’s one of the most eventful books in the series – the baby drinks the magic potion! the Gaulish village burns down! – and it’s also the last worthwhile Uderzo effort.
#29: Asterix and the Chariot Race
Chariot Race is another solid Ferri and Conrad effort than recaptures the elegant simplicity of classic Asterix adventures. Naming a rival chariot driver “Coronavirus” was scarily prescient. It’s also noteworthy as the first Asterix book not translated into English by Anthea Bell.
#28: Asterix and the Black Gold
Asterix’s visit to the Middle East is an early Uderzo-written effort that keeps up the momentum of the series. The odd blend of James Bond gadgets and Biblical allusions is memorable. The oil jokes are funny, as are the scenes where the Gauls are attacked by a series of wandering warriors in the desert. The revelation that the entire adventure was a wild-goose chase is surprisingly effective.
#27: Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter
Centering Ferri and Conrad’s fourth adventure on a strong, yet unpredictable, female character is a good move. As a music blogger, I appreciate the updated popular cultural references, shifting from a disdain of popular music in the Goscinny adventures to quoting Culture Club’s ‘Karma Chameleon’
#26: Asterix in Corsica
My least favourite of Goscinny’s Asterix books, Corsica is insular with its clan feuds, siestas, and maquis. It was popular in France but not in its English edition, probably because it requires some background knowledge about the French island of Corsica to make any sense.
#25: Asterix and the Great Divide
Uderzo’s first story as writer and artist is his best. As the cover indicates he borrows liberally from Romeo and Juliet, but it’s a better strategy than piling on gratuitous travel and novelty. Codfix, who bears some resemblance to Grima Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings, is one of the franchise’s most memorable villains.
#24: Asterix and the Golden Sickle
The second volume in the Asterix series doesn’t make a lot of sense if you don’t read the books in order. The journey to Paris (aka Lutetia) is hyped as terribly dangerous, but soon Asterix and Obelix would be travelling all around the known world. The corrupt Prefect of Lutetia, Surplus Dairyprodus, boasts one of the series’ best names.
#23: Asterix and the Missing Scroll
Missing Scroll was inspired by WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. It’s amusingly meta, as Caesar tries to erase the indomitable Gaulish village from written history, only to be challenged by the Assange-like Confoundtheirpolitix.
#22: Asterix in Belgium
Goscinny suddenly passed away during the creation of Asterix in Belgium – marked by the remainder of the story featuring rainy backdrops. It’s one of Goscinny’s weaker stories, however – there’s not much at stake in the contest between the Belgians and the Gauls for bravery,
#21: Asterix and the Banquet
Uderzo and Goscinny parody the Tour de France cycle race in this culinary tour around Gaul. It marks the first appearance of Dogmatix. Banquet has more plotholes than any other Goscinny-penned Asterix book:
– why don’t the Gauls use the magic potion to break through the stockade?
– why don’t the Gauls run out of food while they’re fenced in?
– how do the Nice salad and Marseille fish stew remain edible for the banquet without refrigeration?
#20: Asterix and the Big Fight
Vitalstatistix is challenged to an (anachronistic) boxing match by another chief. When Getafix is injured by a stray menhir, Asterix takes on the role of Vitalstatistix’s trainer. The Muhammad Ali references went over my head as a kid, but watching an unhinged Getafix making potions was fun.
#19: Asterix and the Soothsayer
Asterix and the Soothsayer is similar to Roman Agent from a couple of years earlier, where a charismatic outsider threatens the unity of the Gaulish village. It’s one of the spookiest books in the series, with the intimidating lightning and fortune-telling.
#18: Asterix the Gaul
Asterix the Gaul is limited in scope compared to later volumes, with all the action taking place in and around the Gaulish village, but it was deservedly an instant success. The scenes when Asterix and Getafix troll the Romans, making them scramble for obscure ingredients like strawberries and tricking them into drinking a facial hair growth accelerator, are hilarious. Unlike later stories, Getafix is Asterix’s main sidekick.
#17: Asterix and the Normans
The Gaulish village is troubled by a marauding shipload of Vikings – Asterix and the Vikings would have been a better title. It’s creepy for a children’s book, with the mugs made from the skulls of the conquerors’ enemies. The ending, where the Vikings’ quest was only too successful, is satisfying.
#16: Asterix and the Goths
Goscinny and Uderzo later expressed regret about the anti-German tone of this book. It’s an amusing summation of how Germany functioned as separate states before Otto von Bismarck’s unification in 1871; the diagram that explains the Asterixian Wars is amazing. The naïve border guard’s lack of understanding of what constitutes an invasion is a great gag.
#15: Asterix and Caesar’s Gift
Julius Caesar causes chaos in the Gaulish village when he gifts it to a drunken officer as a prank. The political campaigning is fun, especially Geriatrix’s futile attempt at forming his own political party.
#14: Asterix and the Roman Agent
Julius Caesar dispatches a contentious individual named Tortuous Convolvulus to spread discord in the Gaulish village. Convolvulus is a fascinating adversary, smoothly creating enmity wherever he goes (represented by green speech bubbles). Vitalstatistix’s wife Impedimenta is great here, pointing out that if the village is chronicled, “they won’t be calling it the Adventures of Vitalstatistix the Gaul”.
#13: Asterix and the Cauldron
Asterix and Obelix resort to odd jobs to repay a debt, with hilarious results. The scenes where they try to sell wild boar and Obelix’s stint at acting are particularly memorable. The taxman whose speech is in the form of official documents is an excellent minor character, and it’s lovely to finally see some good fortune for the pirates.
#12: Asterix at the Olympic Games
It’s time for a boy’s trip, as the men of the Gaulish village travel to Olympia. The story was originally serialised to coincide with the Mexico Olympics in 1968. It’s effectively Asterix in Greece – as well as exploring Greek culture, it also parodies the contemporary Olympics’ struggle against performance-enhancing drugs.
#11: Asterix the Gladiator
Asterix and Obelix travel to Rome to rescue Cacofonix the bard. The scenes where the Gauls teach the reluctant gladiators the yes-no-black-white parlour game are highlights. Several series mainstays make their debut here – it’s the first time Obelix utters the catchphrase “these Romans are crazy!”, while it also marks the first appearance of the pirates.
#10: The Mansions of the Gods
The Romans, spearheaded by architect Squaronthehypotenus, attempt to corrupt the Gauls with civilisation. Like Obelix and Co., it tackles economics; it’s fun to see the Gauls thwart the Romans’ plans with magic acorns, then turn around and help the oppressed slaves with their magic potion.
#9: Asterix and the Great Crossing
Asterix and Obelix set off on a fishing expedition and inadvertently discover the Americas, full of “Gobblers” (turkeys) and “Romans” (Native Americans). Obelix’s foreshadowing of the Statue of Liberty is an iconic moment.
#8: Asterix and Cleopatra
The Gauls travel to Egypt to build a temple, aiding the alarmingly incompetent architect Edifis. The story also explains the reason for the Sphinx’s missing nose, and the scene where the Gauls are trapped in the pyramid and Getafix finally allows Obelix some magic potion is memorable.
#7: Asterix in Spain
Asterix and Obelix need to return a hostage to a lone village in Spain that still holds out against the Roman invaders. Pepe is one of the series’ most memorable characters, with his habit of holding his breath. Obelix takes up Spanish dancing (“¡Olé!”) and Asterix takes up bull-fighting.
#6: Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield
Chief Vitalstatistix takes the spotlight in the 11th Asterix adventure. When he’s sent to Averne spas for a health cure, Asterix and Obelix are caught up in a search for the shield of Vercingetorix, a conquered Gaulish chieftain. It’s a fun mystery, and the recurring gag where the Roman soldiers search through coal cellars is especially enjoyable.
#5: Obelix and Co.
The final Asterix adventure published before Goscinny’s death, Obelix and Co. is a sophisticated parody of capitalism. A young business student attempts to corrupt the Gauls through greed – it’s fun to see the effects of the menhir boom ripple through the Roman empire.
#4: Asterix in Britain
Goscinny and Uderzo’s Britain is full of warm beer and tea. The reference to French language instruction (“It is smaller than the garden of my uncle, but larger than the pen of my aunt”) is subtly hilarious, and Obelix would certainly make a great rugby prop.
#3: Asterix and the Laurel Wreath
The Gauls are the aggressors in this tale, travelling to Rome to procure Caesar’s laurel wreath. There’s a lot of alcohol involved; “ferpectly right”, “zigackly”, and a hangover cure that includes an unplucked hen, carbolic soap, black pudding, and pomegranate seeds. The ending, where Caesar unaccountably feels like a fish after his laurel wreath is replaced with parsley, is priceless.
#2: Asterix in Switzerland
Several of the most interesting Asterix plots involve the Gauls temporarily teaming up with the Romans. Quaestor Vexatius Sinusitus is held hostage in the village while Asterix and Obelix seek out a potion ingredient in Switzerland. Reading as a kid, this book left me confused about what an orgy was – for a long time I assumed it involved a lot of cheese. The scenes in the bank vault and Obelix’s insistence that Switzerland is flat are both great moments.
#1: Asterix the Legionary
The Asterix series frequently exploits clichés about other countries. They’re in overdrive here thanks to the eclectic cast of new recruits. The Egyptian who talks in hieroglyphics is especially funny (old hairy nose!). The bureaucracy in the recruiting centre is amazing and, as with Asterix in Switzerland, the Gauls temporarily allying with the Romans creates an unpredictable plot.