See our best illustrations and photographs that captured the year's biggest stories

Curated by the NBC News Digital Art Department
Dec. 21, 2023

In a year when democracy continued to be threatened and a Hamas terrorist attack ignited another bloody war with Israel, when Americans split over “Barbie” versus “Oppenheimer” but were mad for Ozempic, when a nurse pronounced dead by anti-vaxxers finally spoke and lesbian bars boomed, when the Oxford University Press declared “rizz” had “rizz,” NBC News worked with photographers and illustrators to produce an awesome array of art that captured the biggest stories of 2023.

Here are some of our most applauded works:

How regulators and manufacturers failed to prevent window cords from killing 440 children

Hundreds of young children have been strangled on cords from window blinds, shades and curtains in the past 50 years.

Illustration by Ibrahim Rayintakath

The conspiracy candidate: What RFK Jr.’s anti-vaccine crusade could look like in the White House

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a conspiracy theorist running for president. Experts fear his anti-vaccine activism threatens public health in America.

Photography by Mark Abramson

What does it take to make a hip-hop hit? TikTok.

Rapper Armani White had a hit with his song “Billie Eilish” — before the track had even been released. It happened with the help of an indelible 16-second viral clip on social media.

Photography by Sinna Nasseri

A ‘not fit for purpose’ sewage system puts U.K. swimmers at risk in filthy waterways

Outrage over the state of the country’s waterways and the perceived impunity of water companies is piling pressure on the government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Photography by Alice Zoo

Marijuana linked to mental health risks in young adults, growing evidence shows

New research, involving millions of people worldwide over several decades, adds to worries that heavy use of high-potency cannabis could exacerbate the mental health crisis in the U.S.

Illustration by Kate Dehler

Fighting ‘the beast’: Inside the desperate quest to save Lahaina

As firefighters raced to hold back wind-whipped flames, they faced near-death escapes, blinding smoke, car-melting heat — and a battle they couldn’t win.

Photography by Josiah Patterson

Virginia teacher shot by 6-year-old files $40M lawsuit after she says school ignored warnings

The lawsuit mentions new details about the boy, who is identified as John Doe, and an alleged pattern of troubling behavior.

Photography by Carlos Bernate

Navajo Nation’s long quest for water — and for the federal government to keep its promises — ends up at Supreme Court

The tribe says that, under an 1868 treaty, the federal government has a duty to ensure its people have sufficient water on a reservation where today thousands of residents do not have running water.

Photography by Sharon Chischilly

A 13-year-old boy was groomed publicly on Twitter and kidnapped, despite numerous chances to stop it

The abduction came after a series of missed opportunities in which Twitter and law enforcement failed to effectively intervene.

Photography by Kim Raff

Why everyone online is calling these Hollywood men 'babygirl'

The term has risen in popularity as a descriptor not for little girls, but for male actors and male-presenting characters.

Illustration by Leila Register

The 'Barbie' vs. 'Oppenheimer' debate makes its way to the U.S. Senate

Senators weighed in on the double feature, pitching themselves as more of a "Barbie" or an "Oppenheimer" — or perhaps a “Barbenheimer.”

Illustration by Justine Goode

A transgender student, her crusading mom — and an English teacher caught in the middle

A mother said an educator “infected” her teenager with lies about gender. “I lost my son,” she told the school board. Her child tells a different story.

Illustration by Ibrahim Rayintakath

Uvalde parents remember their children one year after Robb Elementary shooting

“There’s no good days anymore. There’s just all-right days,” said Brett Cross, who lost his son, Uziyah Garcia, in the mass shooting last year.

Photography by Jordan Vonderhaar

In coastal Bangladesh, climate change devastates women’s reproductive health

The region’s low-lying river delta can do only so much to stave off the rising sea, where even a few millimeters per year mean saltier water that wreaks havoc on coastal communities.

Photography by Fabeha Monir

Truckers flooded the market during Covid. Now they struggle to pay their bills.

After supply chain problems offered an incentive for new truckers, demand has dropped, and now drivers struggle to find work.

Photography by Tamara Reynolds

How the conspiracy-fueled Epoch Times went mainstream and made millions

The conservative news outlet has amassed a fortune, growing its revenue by 685% in two years, according to tax documents.

Illustration by Chelsea Stahl

A mother reported her son missing in March. Police kept the truth from her for months.

Bettersten Wade’s search for her adult son ended when she discovered that an officer had run him over — and without telling her, authorities buried him in a pauper’s field.

Photography by Ashleigh Coleman

Conspiracy theorists made Tiffany Dover into an anti-vaccine icon. She’s finally ready to talk about it.

The Tennessee nurse stayed quiet in hopes that her silence would quiet false claims of her death. Now, she says it only hurt.

Photography by Stacy Kranitz

After decades of declines, lesbian bars are having a renaissance

From Brooklyn to Oklahoma City, a dozen new venues owned by queer women have opened their doors since 2020.

Photography by Danielle Amy and Akilah Townsend

Family of 3-year-old kidnapped by Hamas reveals harrowing details

In an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt more than a month after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, eight families whose loved ones are believed to remain under Hamas captivity said they were desperate for their release.

Photography by Greg Kahn

The United States ranks 118th in the world for racial inclusion, according to annual tally

Mass incarceration and gender inequality dragged the U.S. ranking in global inclusiveness index.

Illustration by Kelsea Petersen

How many people are watching Tucker Carlson’s new show on Twitter?

Twitter makes it difficult to know for certain how many users are watching the ex-Fox News host’s straight-to-the-camera monologues. But data shared exclusively with NBC News offers a window into his digital footprint.

Illustration by Leila Register

Black Americans say white vigilantism played a role in Jordan Neely’s homicide

“It reignites the terror in the souls of Black folks when we witness these killings of our people without trial, without jury, without adjudication,” one psychologist said.

Illustration by Leila Register

Ozempic shortages? Some pharmacists are choosing not to stock the drug at all

Some independent pharmacies are losing money on the pricey — and popular — drug.

Illustration by Liza Evseeva

UFOs have finally gone mainstream. The UFO community isn't thrilled.

"It's a shame," said one UFO researcher of the recent shootdowns of UFOs over North America that turned out to not be extraterrestrial craft.

Illustration by Justine Goode

People are zapping their brains at home to improve focus and clear brain fog. But is it safe?

At-home brain stimulation is flourishing among a group of enthusiasts, who say it gives them a mental edge. The science behind why it may work is still in the early stages.

Illustration by Liza Evseeva

Art direction and photo editing:

Kara Haupt, Zara Katz, Whitney Matewe, Chelsea Stahl, Max Butterworth, Anthony Correia, Shahrzad Elghanayan, Marc J. Franklin, Adrian Lam, Julius Motal, Matt Nighswander, Elise Wrabetz, Leila Register and Justine Goode