Graphic Novels for Older Kids and Young Adults: 19 More of Our Favorites

   November 17, 2018    Comments Off on Graphic Novels for Older Kids and Young Adults: 19 More of Our Favorites

Want to know a secret? The vast majority of the graphic novels I recommend for older kids and young adults here on the blog… yep, I bought them or checked them out from the library for myself. They’re that good. So here’s a third roundup of young adult and other older kiddo comics. (Missed the second one? No problem.) A few of these books have appeared on the blog before, but many more are all-new. Enjoy finding something new to read!

Some of might be fine for even middle school, but some parents/guardians would think some are only appropriate for late high school! If you have questions about a specific book, please ask!

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.

Another Castle: Grimoire by Andrew Wheeler, illustrated by Paulina Ganucheau, lettered by Jenny Vy Tran.

Charming high fantasy graphic novel that captivated my son, who badgered me into reading it, and I had a good time with it too. Princess Misty of Beldora gets kidnapped by the Bad King Next Door. His goal: force her into marriage and take over her family’s kingdom. Her reaction: buddy, you need overthrowing. My kiddo said he liked the funny twists, some of which were familiar and some were entirely fresh. He also liked how Misty pushed back on her parents’ narrow, stereotypical expectations for her. If you’re in the mood for monsters, a strong heroine, and magic, check this one out.

As The Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman.

A compelling YA graphic novel about what it’s like to enter a space you can’t be sure is safe, take hit after hit, but try to keep going and bond with others in similar circumstances. Initially published as a webcomic, it’s about a queer black teen girl who goes to a Christian feminist camp. Charlie is immediately wary when she realizes every other camper is white. Her black mom immediately gets why she’s uneasy, whereas her white father doesn’t see what the big deal is. Charlie decides to stay at camp, but the camp’s adult leader is classic in her white feminism, and things do not go well. Charlie ends up not only uncomfortable with camp, but questioning why her God sent her there.

I’m pretty sure it’s a duology, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll.

Masha’s father hasn’t been there for her, not since the death of Masha’s mother long ago, or the recent loss of the grandmother who raised her. Now he’s marrying a woman he hasn’t even introduced to Masha previously. Not okay! So Masha answers an ad to become Baba Yaga’s assistant. Armed with the stories her grandmother told her about the witch, she sets out to pass the tests she’s given as part of the job… without betraying her own conscience. Masha is smart and capable, which makes sense given she’s been basically alone for quite some time. (I really don’t like her dad, can you tell?)

The book blends Masha’s current trials with memories of her past. She’s trying to find her own place in the world, since her old one is gone. Some of the flashbacks are profoundly sad, but the overall feeling of the book is of Masha getting her feet under her. Carroll’s cartooning is skilled, handling the changes from past to present well. There is no happy reunion here, though Masha does talk to her father once more. But it’s her time to move forward. Really enjoyed this one.

Bad Machinery by John Allison.

Apparently if you mix preposterous and supernatural events and British humor with real-world teen social struggles, you can just take my money. Bad Machinery is a series about two groups of kids who investigate mysteries… if they could just stop squabbling with each other and getting distracted by regular life issues. The back of the first book compares it to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, but it’s far more eccentric than that, and I love that about it. Allison’s cartooning style is fresh, clean, and not overly cute despite the general adorableness of his cast. This is an auto-buy for us when a new book comes out.

You can try out Bad Machinery as a webcomic first if you prefer.

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova, with coloring assistance by Melissa McCommon and lettering by JuYoun Lee.

Jensen Graham is an artistic daydreamer, spending most of his time in his own head thinking about becoming an astronaut or how to survive zombie attacks. Overlooked by many of his classmates, bullied or put down by others, Jensen envisions middle school as a video game he has to survive each day. While the book has a plot, most of the important stuff here is the shift inside Jensen himself – becoming more aware of how others treat him and the school’s culture, and deciding what kind of person he wants to be. Proactively, in the real world. It’s very reflective, doesn’t ask any of the characters to be perfect, and I really liked it.

Calla Cthulu by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer, with pencils by Erin Humiston, inks by Humiston and Mario A. Gonzalez, colors by Bill Mudron, and lettering by Nate Piekos.

Quick, entertaining read about teen gal Calla Tafali as she discovers she carries the blood of Lovecraft’s monsters in her veins. She wants a normal teenage life. Her uncle wants her to embrace her heritage and bring about the end of the world. Very Buffy meets Elder Gods, and I mean that in the best way. The transition from a digital platform to the print edition isn’t perfect, but I enjoyed the light horror spookiness and Calla’s amazing hair.

Coady and the Creepies, co-created by writer Liz Prince and illustrator Amanda Kirk, with colors by Hannah Fisher and letters by Jim Campbell.

A punk rock ghost story about a band made up of three sisters, setting out on their first tour after an accident. They’re on a quest to complete a punk challenge by playing at a list of legendary clubs, but various obstacles get in their way, from a misogynistic rival band to an evil promoter. There’s strong queer, disability, and POC rep, plus plenty of shenanigans and a strong bond between the sisters. My ten year old son and I both adored this. Profoundly feminist and inclusive, so fun, and well worth your time.

Fairy Quest by Paul Jenkins with art by Humberto Ramos, with colors and lettering by Leonardo Olea.

Dark fairy tale that re-envisions all of the stories ever told as living in Fablewood, reenacting themselves exactly every day under a fascist regime run by Mister Grimm and his Think Police. Any character who deviates from their story is brainwashed back into obedience. Red (Little Red Riding Hood) and Mister Woof (the bid bad wolf) have become friends secretly, though, and they make a break for the Real World so they can be themselves. It’s a tense and dark story, and I’m really disappointed only two books have come out, because I need to find out how their story ends! Or more appropriately, doesn’t end, if they make it to freedom. The first book came out in 2008, and the second in 2013, so maybe there’s still hope. This is perfect for fans of fairy tales or fantasy in general, magical dystopias, and manga-influenced art.

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash.

This book’s strength is its storytelling. Maggie, 15, falls for female camp counselor Erin, 19. What follows is pain and confusion, as Maggie struggles with this development and what it means for her identity and future. Thrash doesn’t wrap things up with a pretty bow, and that’s okay. It’s real. I’m sure this book is going to find a lot of young people in a place where they desperately need it. For the rest of us, it’s an invitation into someone else’s life, narrated by a skillful writer. This book stood out to me because of the depth of emotion conveyed, and the story allowing teen Maggie to have all those feelings, without needing to put them into adult perspective. Powerful stuff. I also enjoyed the cast of teenage girls with various personalities, who aren’t always perfect and aren’t always horrible. Teens are stereotyped in media far too often, so that was refreshing.

I do wish that Thrash had gotten someone else to draw the book. She has a good sense of how she wants the panels to flow, but the careful narrative attention Thrash gives to the characters’ interactions and emotional states isn’t mirrored in her drawing ability. A different artist would have better complemented the excellent story.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.

I thought it likely that Nimona was over-hyped. I was wrong. This isn’t just some silly internet-funny fantasy/sci-fi romp about a supervillain and his new shapeshifter sidekick. This is deeply emotional, though not so much that it drags down the adventure story. My son read this at age 8 and loves it, but I’d guess he probably doesn’t feel the depth of what’s going on with these characters. He’s there for the battles and the science. I alternated between having fun, and being heartbroken over how all three of the main characters were hurting. (Note to self: maybe don’t make the dramatic reading to your kid quite so dramatic, if acting the characters’ feelings makes you get choked up. Or at least have a glass of water on your nightstand.) It ends well, though, I promise! The right (queer) people get back together, friendships are healed, and new science labs are built.

BUT here’s the very sad thing about Nimona: this book should have been printed in a larger format, or with better lettering, for better accessibility. My husband couldn’t read it at all. I wore my reading glasses and still struggled at times. If you think you can read it, I advise you to. If you physically can’t read the words, I totally get it.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

I really enjoyed this MG/YA story of Sebastian, a seemingly genderfluid French prince, and Frances, the fashion designer who helps him live a hidden life as Lady Crystallia. It’s pretty harrowing in places, especially when Sebastian/Crystallia is publicly outed and when Sebastian falls into self-loathing, but I loved Frances’s complete acceptance of who Sebastian *is* even when she can’t live with the choices Sebastian feels forced to make in order to secure even a little freedom for his/gender-neutral-pronoun identity. Outside of the painful parts, it’s funny, sweet, charming, and the dresses are gorgeous. Very much recommended if the self-hate and outing doesn’t push your buttons in a bad way.

Raven: The Pirate Princess by Jeremy Whitley, with art by Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt.

The Raven series is a spinoff of Princeless, which I’ve raved about before, but you don’t need to read Princeless to jump into Raven. It’s the story of the Pirate King’s daughter, Raven Xingtao. Raven should have been the next leader of the pirates, but instead her father and brothers locked her in a tower to wait for a prince. Not cool! (And Raven likes gals anyway.) Now she’s looking for a crew to help take back her inheritance.

My favorite part of the first volume is the series of job interviews Raven holds with men who want to join her crew. Whitley took every stupid thing guys say to women on Twitter and turned it into a scene that had me crying with laughter. My tired feminist heart healed up a little bit reading it, I swear. Lucky for Raven, she finds some more suitable crew members. A diverse group of gals who are ready to follow her into battle!

Update since the first time I recommended Raven: The first two volumes of this series turned out to be our favorites. YMMV!

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld, with art by Alex Pulvilland and colors by Hilary Sycamore.

Spooky reality-bending sci-fi graphic novel duology that made my geeky heart happy. It’s about Addison Merritt, who makes her living taking photographs of the otherworldly creatures in the off-limits Spill Zone, where an industrial accident killed her parents and traumatized her younger sister. Turns out, though, that the collector buying her photos isn’t just a fan of the aesthetics. They’re looking for something in the Zone. Pulvilland and Sycamore do an amazing job establishing the wrongness of the Zone. Action and adventure, defending family, strong female characters, superpowers, it’s all here.

Suee and the Shadow by Ginger Ly and Molly Park.

Total creepfest, and our spookiness-loving household ate this up. Suee, our heroine, is a spiky character who masks her loneliness with arrogance and suspicion. When she moves to a new town and school, an encounter with a strange voice in an empty room ends up with Suee’s shadow coming to life. That’s only the beginning of the weirdness. When her classmates start turning into zombie-like ambulatory husks, Suee has to start learning how to work with other kids to stop the evil. And working with other people is hard, especially when you have all this practice keeping them out by being a jerk. The striking art is a great match for the atmosphere’s thick tension. This is a strong light horror pick for kids, and I’m excited for any future graphic novels by Ly and Park.

you might also like

I haven’t had time to write reviews of these, but I adore them just as much. One of them may be a perfect fit for you! (Blurbs may be condensed.)

M.F.K. (Amazon / Goodreads) By Nilah Magruder.

“A fantastic adventure following the story of Abbie, a deaf girl with a mysterious power, who is traveling across a vast desert to scatter her mother’s ashes. In a world of sleeping gods, a broken government, and a fragile peace held in the hands of the corrupt, one youth must find the strength to stand up against evil and save humanity. This story is not about that youth. It’s about Abbie, who just wants to get to the mountain range called the Potter’s Spine and scatter her mother’s ashes. But the way is filled with sandstorms, wild beasts, and rogues that wield inhuman powers and prey on poor desert dwellers. When one of these rogues threatens the town where Abbie takes refuge, she must choose between running, or unleashing her own hidden power to meet danger head-on. Journeys are hard on the social recluses of the world.”

Fake Blood (Amazon / Goodreads) By Whitney Gardner.

“It’s the beginning of the new school year and AJ feels like everyone is changing but him. He hasn’t grown or had any exciting summer adventures like his best friends have. He even has the same crush he’s harbored for years. So AJ decides to take matters into his own hands. But how could a girl like Nia Winters ever like plain vanilla AJ when she only has eyes for vampires?

When AJ and Nia are paired up for a group project on Transylvania, it may be AJ’s chance to win over Nia’s affection by dressing up like the vamp of her dreams. And soon enough he’s got more of Nia’s attention than he bargained for when he learns she’s a slayer.

Now AJ has to worry about self-preservation while also trying to save everyone he cares about from a real-life threat lurking in the shadows of Spoons Middle School.”

Speak (Amazon / Goodreads) By Laurie Halse Anderson, adapted by Emily Carroll.

“‘Speak up for yourself-we want to know what you have to say.’

From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless–an outcast–because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her.”

Heartstopper (Amazon / Goodreads) By Alice Oseman.

“Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more…?

Charlie Spring is in Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys. The past year hasn’t been too great, but at least he’s not being bullied anymore, and he’s sort of got a boyfriend, even if he’s kind of mean and only wants to meet up in secret.

Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and on the school rugby team. He’s heard a little about Charlie – the kid who was outed last year and bullied for a few months – but he’s never had the opportunity to talk to him. That is, until the start of January, in which Nick and Charlie are placed in the same form group and made to sit together.

They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance. But love works in surprising ways, and sometimes good things are waiting just around the corner…”

Bloom (Amazon / Goodreads) By Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau.

“Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band—if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it.

As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom… that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.”

And that’s our latest list of well-loved 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!