Persepolis is a non-fictional graphic autobiography, or a graphic novel based on Satrapi's life. The genre of graphic novels can be traced back to 1986 with Art Spiegelman’s depiction of the Holocaust through the use of cartoon images of mice and cats. Later, writers such as Aaron McGruder and Ho Che Anderson used graphic novels to discuss themes such as Sudanese orphans and civil rights movements. This genre has become an appropriate forum for examining critical matters by using illustrations to discuss foreign topics, such as those discussed in Persepolis. The “graphic novel” label is not so much a single mindset as a coalition of interests that happen to agree on one thing—that comics deserve more respect. Naghibi and O'Malley believe that Persepolis is part of a larger movement of autobiographical books by Iranian women. Satrapi wrote Persepolis in a black-and-white format: "the dialogue, which has the rhythms of workaday family conversations and the bright curiosity of a child's questions, is often darkened by the heavy black-and-white drawings". The use of a graphic novel has become much more predominant in the wake of events such as the Arab Spring and the Green Movement, as this genre employs both literature and imagery to discuss these historical movements. In an interview titled "Why I Wrote Persepolis", Marjane Satrapi said that "graphic novels are not traditional literature, but that does not mean they are second-rate."
Persepolis uses visual literacy through its comics to enhance the message of the text. Visual literacy stems from the belief that pictures can be "read." As defined by the Encyclopedia of the Social and Cultural Foundations of Education, "Visual literacy traces its roots to linguistic literacy, based on the idea that educating people to understand the codes and contexts of language leads to an ability to read and comprehend written and spoken verbal communication."