— This post was double-checked and freshened up in October of 2018. Happy reading! —
Welcome to our list of recommended superhero comics for older kids, teens, and young adults! Some of the graphic novels below are your traditional mainstream superhero comics, some are break-the-mold independent work. All have protagonists and storylines that we think would be especially engaging to older kids and young adults. But actually, the grownups in this house bought almost all of these for our own reading pleasure.
Compared to the superhero comics we recommend for younger kids, the graphic novels in this post may have a more serious vibe or topic, and/or more realistic violence, and/or more dating content. I can’t 100% tell you which of them have mild profanity, but they’re not cussing a blue streak.
Before we jump in:
- All comics listed here can be bought as graphic novels/collections, not only as single issues. Your library may own many of these!
- Amazon links are affiliate links.
- Need more recs? All my kids’ comics recommendations are here.
- If you find this post helpful, please SHARE it!
- Any questions, corrections, recommendations? Let me know via the comments or my contact form.
Atomic Robo, written by Brian Clevinger, art by Scott Wegener, colors by Ronda Pattison, and letters by Jeff Powell.
Robo is a sentient nuclear-powered robot science superhero built by Nikola Tesla in the 1920s. He fought in the second World War and inherited Tesladyne, a corporation devoted to science. Weird science. And occasionally violent science, such as kicking the butt of a walking Egyptian pyramid, or repelling a vampire invasion from another dimension. It’s like a combo of pulp, monster movies, and that friend who wisecracks so much that you can’t stop laughing.
The Robo crew are in the middle of two things, I think? (1) Re-releasing Atomic Robo in un-numbered hardcovers because you really can read them in any order, and (2) Releasing and re-releasing some of their older books through a larger publisher. So it can get a bit confusing, but the upshot is: find a Robo book, read it. Maybe the one linked above first because it’s a good grounding, but after that follow your heart.
There is some talk about drinking and smoking. Also Robo writes “Steven Hawking is a b—ard” on Mars with rocks. To be fair, Hawking did deserve it.
Batgirl: Year One by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon.
I am not normally a DC Comics fangirl, and I was a little skeptical of this book for reasons I couldn’t pin down. No matter, because Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl has too much energy and conviction to let your silly doubts stand in her way! Super-fun girl power for great justice here combined with the beautiful voiceover of Barbara’s thoughts as she struggles to figure out who she is and what she’s meant to do with her life.
The 2006-2010 Blue Beetle series, created by Keith Giffen, John Rogers, and artist Cully Hamner.
I checked out this run of Blue Beetle from the library, read it all, and then bought all five volumes for myself with a gift certificate from my boss. (Thanks Jenny!) Jaime Reyes, a teenager from El Paso who accidentally bonds with a suit of alien armor, becomes the third Blue Beetle. Dealing with such great power at a young age is tough! Jaime rejects outreach from the traditional grownup superhero power structure, choosing instead to stay in El Paso and rely on his close relationships with his friends and family. The series is witty, well-paced, and has an extremely diverse cast of characters beyond Jaime himself. Win!
I linked to the first volume above. Here’s a useful list of the collected Blue Beetle editions in reading order if you want to keep going.
Five Weapons: Making the Grade by Jimmie Robinson.
My husband read this, looked at me, and said “This is one of the best comic books I’ve read all year. Possibly the BEST.” Five Weapons is whip-smart, has intrigue in all the right places, and mixes action with human connection in perfect proportions. Tyler Shainline, son of the famous assassin, enrolls in an elite school that promises to teach him how to kill. The only problem is, he won’t pick up a weapon. Why not? And who else is hiding something?
Yes, it deals with a school for assassins, but there’s really nothing distressing or gory about it. Its focus is on Tyler’s own survival, but also his efforts to help others by exposing secrets and leveling the playing field. My husband appreciated the non-violent problem-solving without any cheesy after-school special aspect. There’s also an interesting “passing” aspect which isn’t explicitly discussed in terms of race and class in the first book, but which is good food for thought and discussion.
The Intrepids by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated by Scott Kowalchuk.
Life can be tough when you’re a homeless teenager recruited by a genius for biological upgrades on his super-team that fights mad scientists. Giant robot bears, monkey henchmen, and oh, your genius father figure might not be telling you everything. Can you trust him? And what happens to your life if you can’t? The human relationships in this book are well-crafted, and the cartoony butt-kicking and wacky science fiction of the fight scenes is good fun.
One of the characters smokes (she decides to cut back or quit), and one of them mentions bringing a hot chick into the team, but it’s minor stuff. They’re teenagers, it happens.
Jubilee by Robert Kirkman, with art by Derec Donovan, Michael O’Hare, and Casey Jones.
This book is such a delight! Robert Kirkman, of course, is the guy behind Walking Dead and tons of other successful comics such as Invincible (good), Super-Dinosaur (boring IMHO), Marvel Zombies (funny), and Thief of Thieves (yay). He does a LOT of stuff. And there’s a very “Kirkman” vibe going on with a lot of his stuff, which I was fearing might interfere with him trying to portray a Chinese-American teenage mutant girl who’s just trying to get a break from the X-Men mansion blowing up all the time. Jubilee, of course, made her comics name as Wolverine’s often annoying teen sidekick. So I was also hoping we wouldn’t return to the valley girl, bubble gum slant to her character. I was not disappointed. Kirkman really gives Jubilee her own voice. She just wants some time to be normal, but the world isn’t really interested in that, so she does the best she can.
The only thing that bugs me is that Derec Donovan likes to draw people with their eyes almost closed. He then doesn’t always draw anything where their irises/pupils should be. And he doesn’t draw any eyes behind glasses. Once I noticed, I couldn’t stop noticing.
I shouldn’t have told you, should I?
The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury: Time Runs Out, written by Brandon Thomas and illustrated by Lee Ferguson.
Woman of color science hero in outer space? YES THANK YOU. Do I need to say more? Okay, I will!
Miranda is so fierce, and she’s all about smarts, strength, integrity, and saving lives. This book has action, adventure, futuristic gadgets, friendship, and even a section you have to turn upside down to read. What more could you need? My husband said it was possibly the best book we read that year and I could not contradict him. Co-creators Thomas and Ferguson have done a bang-up job with one of the coolest female superheroes we’ve met. I was heartened when Brandon Thomas told me directly on Twitter that there will be more Miranda Mercury, because I would absolutely read an ongoing series.
A note about her costume: it’s kind of ridiculous for the first two thirds of the book. There are gals who would choose to wear a top that has big red circles for their boobs, but I am skeptical that Miranda is one of them. In the last third or so of the book, the design gets WAY better. Not sure what happened there.
Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, art by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, and letters by Joe Caramagna.
Kamala Khan is a Pakistani-American teacher living a normal life until she gets caught in a strange mist that gives her superpowers. This book electrified so many comics fans when it was announced, because Kamala is a woman of color and Muslim, and the book is written by G. Willow Wilson who is Muslim herself. Then when the book came out and folks actually had a chance to read it, the reaction was even more positive! Kamala is so relatable, and this book is like a love letter to anyone who’s ever looked up to superheroes. It’s sweet and fun and I’m so glad it exists.
Robin: Year One by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty, with art by Javier Pulido and Marcos Martin.
Ignore the creepy cover picture. It freaks me out.
Robin: Year One is a set of stories from Dick Grayson’s first year as sidekick to Batman. This has a more old-timey comics feel than Batgirl’s Year One, both the writing and the art. There’s so much energy here, and also so much emotion as the mentor relationship between Batman and Robin develops and goes through stress. Alfred’s thoughtful and caring voiceovers provide depth for the reader. Plenty of creepy Gotham City villains make their appearances. Good stuff, especially for D.C. fans.
Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool written by Dwayne McDuffie and Robert L. Washington. Across the two stories in this collection, which are Trial by Fire and Rebirth of the Cool, pencils by John Paul Leon and Denys Cowan; inks by Steve Mitchell, Shawn C. Martinbrough, and Jimmy Palmiotti; colors by Noelle C. Giddings and Melissa Edwards; color assistance by J. Brown; and letters by Steve Haynie and John Workman.
Static Shock was created at Milestone Comics, an African-American comics shop that made a publishing and distribution deal with DC Comics in the 1990s. Static is the superhero identity of Virgil Hawkins, a teen who got his electrical powers when he was doused with an experimental chemical. He’s a geeky kid with a big mouth who creates Static’s wisecracking persona when he starts using these new powers to intervene in crime in his neighborhood. It’s not easy balancing crimefighting with friends, family, school, and trying to hold a job, though. Or finding a girlfriend. Virgil is the kid you just have to root for.
Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge, with art by Chris Samnee, who is awesome.
This is the kind of book that the “big two” comic companies, Marvel and D.C., can produce when they hire people who genuinely love a character. It’s a refreshing antidote to all the overcommercialized garbage that both companies crank out to make as much money as possible off the recognizable characters. Thor is stranded on Earth, with no memory of why, and the first person he connects with is Jane, a museum curator. As he’s trying to figure out why he’s here and how to get home, they’re also falling in love. The guest appearances by many Marvel Comics heroes and villains will thrill fans of that universe, but won’t confuse people who aren’t familiar.
Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Bendis, with art by Sara Pichelli.
Marvel freaked out comics fans worldwide when they killed Peter Parker in their alternate universe “Ultimate” line, and tapped someone else to take up the spider suit. They then freaked out racist comic book fans worldwide by announcing the new Spider-Man would be Miles Morales, a teenager of African-American and Latino heritage. Like Blue Beetle above, this is one of the only mainstream superhero books you can read where people of color are the majority of the cast.
This book is far beyond a diversity token or publicity stunt. Miles is a fantastic kid, torn in five or ten directions. He’s the kind of kid every parent hopes their kid grows up to be, though of course as a parent I could live without the radioactive spider bite issue. Miles struggles with his new powers and the weight of the legacy he carries from someone he never even met. And the book is really, really good. The first three volumes plus the Spider-Men special are all just so lovely.
The Will of Darth Vader (Star Wars Adventures) by Tom Taylor, with art by Brian Koschak.
I know Star Wars isn’t technically a superhero franchise, and Darth Vader himself is a villain, but forgive me, I’m including this book here.
I was absolutely blown away by how good this was. It’s positively chilling, especially towards the end as you see what’s coming for the friendly main character, but he’s still telling Darth Vader the truth about Vader’s true powerlessness. I haven’t yet looked at what else Tom Taylor has written, but I need to, because the man can tell a story. You don’t even have to know Star Wars to understand and appreciate it.
We read this with our kiddo when he was four or five, and I was wondering if he’d be upset when the man died, but he wasn’t. I suspect he may have missed the gravity of the situation. Other younger kids may find it too sad.
Wolverine: First Class, some by Fred Van Lente, and some by Peter David, with various artists.
This series focuses on Wolverine’s mentor relationship with teenage mutant Kitty Pride. Solid stories, some nice moments, and a LOT of teen drama. They include some older X-stories in the back which you can recognize easily by their dated art style. Do NOT let your four year old sucker you into reading those to him. Just sayin’.
And that’s the list of our favorite superhero comics for older kids and young adults! If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!