Need a graphic novel for a young adult or older kid? You’re in luck, because these days they’re exploding out of the publishing industry so fast that I can’t keep up. Here’s another roundup of favorites I’ve discovered since my last post of comics recommendations for this age group. Compared to little kid comics, these books have more complex stories and themes, paired with young protagonists, that we suspect would be super-appealing to middle school and high school kids. They’re all excellent books that I personally enjoyed. These books may have more romance and sexuality, and perhaps a little light profanity, so some parents will want to pre-read.
Americus by MK Reed, with art by Jonathan Hill. Neal Barton has it tough. First, he’s a fantasy-loving smart kid trapped in a scary little conservative town. Second, he has a pretty negative take on life. While the attitude may well be an effect of the town, he’ll need to find some positive thinking if he’s going to get through what’s coming. His favorite series, The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde, is about to come under fire by conservative Christian town citizens trying to save children from the evils of witchcraft. I love so many of the characters here, especially the town’s youth librarian who is SUCH a fangirl it’s not even funny. In this book, young people aren’t viewed as second class citizens by the good adults, and that’s refreshing. Bonus: a fairly happy gay teen character who may not have the parents he’d choose, but who seems to be getting along fine anyway.
Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet, with art by Clément Oubriere. Translated by Helge Dascher. A teen “slice of life” comic about teenagers that takes place in the Ivory Coast in the 1970s. Girls sneaking out of the house to go dancing, boys drinking a little more than they should, parents at their wits’ end, all kinds of drama! And poor Aya, all she wants to do is study and become a doctor, not get dragged into her friends’ misadventures. So fresh and human to me compared to the teen angst television the U.S. media churns out! Abouet’s childhood memories were the inspiration, but she’s a strong storyteller who built a fully realized community and characters out of those memories. Oubriere makes each of them just as distinctive as their personalities. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. (Update: I did. Loved the rest of it too.)
A Bag of Marbles, adapted from Joseph Joffo’s memoir by Kris, with art by Vincent Bailly, translated by Edward Gauvin. Of the young adult graphic novels I’ve read so far about the Holocaust, this one really stood out for me. Ten year old Joseph and his brother Maurice are forced to leave home and travel across France multiple times from 1941 and 1944, hoping to avoid capture by Nazis, and trying to reunite their family. The art is beautifully detailed and distinctive. The pacing of the story lets you celebrate with the boys when safety is found, even though you know it will only be temporary. It celebrates family and courage. And in multiple ways it shows what good people can do when faced with evil. A valuable lesson at any age.
Days Like This by J. Torres, illustrated by Scott Chantler. It’s the mid 1960s. Anna Solomon just got divorced from her husband, who seems to be running his own record label into the ground. Anna learned a lot from her now-ex’s mistakes, so she decides to start her own label. At her daughter’s talent show, she finds just the girl group she’s looking for… but can Tina and the Tiaras overcome family resistance, find the right songwriter, and make a hit happen? This book is sweet, and refreshing in how it centers women’s and girls’ stories. No one’s perfect, but just about everyone is doing their best. We were fans of Scott Chantler from his other work, a fantasy epic, so it was fun to see him doing something quite different.
Gunnerkrigg Court by Thomas Siddell. Antimony Carter begins her school year at boarding school Gunnerkrigg Court to find it’s far more than a normal British school. Robots, ghosts, dragons, demons, gods, conspiracies… and she still has to attend class. Siddell is great at creepy atmosphere, and we bonded with Antimony even though her personality is quite odd for a supposed schoolgirl. She’s that strange girl in class that a lot of the kids won’t talk to, you know? Yet I just wanted to tuck her in and make her a sandwich. This was originally a web comic, and you can read Gunnerkrigg Court online if you choose. We haven’t yet read past the first volume, but I’m looking forward to buying the paperback editions as they come out. (I was going to keep reading the hardbacks from the library, but they disappeared!)
Ichiro by Ryan Inzana. Ichiro grew up in the U.S. with his Japanese mom. His white American father died when he was jus a baby. When his mother scores a temporary job opportunity in Japan, she takes teenage Ichiro with her so he can spend time with his grandfather. Ichiro didn’t feel like he fit in back in the U.S., and he certainly doesn’t feel like he fits in now, in an unknown country. Plus, all his grandfather does is tell weird old stories. It’s going to be a boring few weeks, he thinks… until one night when things get really, really strange. He finds gods, monsters, and magic in an alternate world that he may be trapped in forever. Deep thoughts about war and forgiveness in this one.
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, adapted and illustrated by Jen Wang. This is definitely a book that’s Trying To Tell You Something! But the central character, teenage girl Anda, has a fully developed personality, and the plot has some surprises, so I can forgive it the heavy-handed message. Anda’s experience with the online multiplayer game “Coarsegold Online” shows the power of video games and online spaces to connect people who might not otherwise see each other. The book is about making mistakes, and being forgiven, which is something we can all benefit from reflecting on. Wang’s art here made me want to track down more of her work!
Kat and Mouse by Alex de Campi, with art by Federica Manfredi. Awwwww! That’s my overall take on this series. New girl (and teacher’s daughter) Kat ends up friends with social outcast Mouse, and they take on the bad girls at their rich kid prep school. There aren’t a lot of surprises, but there is a mystery to solve. Who’s stealing things around the school and signing her or his notes “The Artful Dodger?” I was particularly impressed with Manfredi’s work on the facial expressions. How can she do so much with so few lines?! The art will feel homey to manga lovers, but it’s a little less stylized, so it’s also welcoming to those not yet familiar with manga.
Meteor Men by Jeff Parker with art by Sandy Jarrell, colors by Kevin Volo, and letters by Crank! Alden Baylor is just a normal teenager. Alden Baylor is about the become the most important person in the world. The meteor shower that was supposed to be an interesting view turns out to be an alien invasion and things will never be the same. When C-Man and I had both read this, he said “I liked how it didn’t have a happy ending.” I said “Or maybe it did.” It’s not a book with a pat, easy resolution just because it has a teenage main character. Good science fiction book!
Orphan Blade by M. Nicholas Alamand and artist Jake Myler. Letters by Douglas E. Sherwood. The Orphan Blade is a cursed weapon, one of many created from the dead bodies of kaiju (giant monsters) after they started appearing in humanity’s world and destroying everything in their paths. Hadashi is a former sword apprentice cast out into homelessness after his dominant hand is permanently injured. When he connects with the Orphan Blade, it seems like a good thing at first… but thinks quickly spin out of control. Love the multicultural cast, love the colorful and clear art, and especially love the brief smooches at the end. Orphan Blade is a fairly bloody book, but I’m still calling it great for YA. Your mileage may vary! Very sadly, Alamand passed away before his book was published. He was clearly a talented writer, and cancer sucks.
Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson. SO CUTE! And full of monsters. What more could you want? To add a few more details, though, it’s about Princess Decomposia, who is running herself ragged with royal work while her father malingers. She’s never really thought about how unfair that is. She hasn’t had a minute to think, she’s too busy! Then a new chef arrives to work at the palace. Count Spatula is a vampire who lost his fangs to his passion for sweets, and he quickly determines that the Princess could really use a break. And some good meals. And a friend (or possibly more than a friend). There’s so much emotional depth and realism here, especially as Decomposia (Dee for short) starts to realize how selfish her father has been. By the end of the story, though, everyone’s headed in the right direction. I’ll be tracking down more of Watson’s work. And hoping for a sequel about this charming couple.
Princess Ugg by Ted Naifeh, with colors and letters by Warren Wucinich. Princess Ulga of Grimmeria travels from her mountain kingdom to the lowlands, enrolling in a snobby school for traditional princesses. No one quite understands why she’s there, and of course the “bonnie wee berserker” (as her parents lovingly call her) isn’t really damsel material. But there’s a very serious reason Ulga has left her home, and she finds an ally for her quest. Naifeh wrote Courtney Crumrin and Polly and the Pirates, so he’s at home writing strong young female characters. My seven year old son loved this. (I wouldn’t recommend it wholesale to kids his age, though, due to a bit of fantasy violence which might be disturbing to other kids.)
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap and illustrated by Mari Araki. Tina Malhotra is writing a diary for her honors philosophy class, because her other options include things like cataloging her garbage every day or videotaping what’s in her family’s refrigerator. The goal of the diary? To figure out who she is. So, she’s writing to Jean-Paul Sartre. During the school year of the diary, Tina details friend breakups, making new friends, her first crush, her brother’s arranged engagement falling apart, and starring in a performance of Rashomon. I couldn’t wait to see what happened next with the high school drama, but it was Tina’s narration and introspection that made it compelling. I was concerned that my husband wouldn’t get past the premise and would miss out on this hilarious, beautiful, and thoughtful book. Lucky for him, he gave it a chance. It was also lucky for me, because I needed someone to be excited about this book with me. It’s so good! Tina’s Mouth is a cross between a graphic novel and an illustrated prose novel, wandering from paragraphs to illustrations and often blending the two. I don’t know how Araki decided what techniques to use with which sections, but she did a great job varying the density of the pages and keeping the story moving.
Wandering Son by Takako Shimura. I haven’t yet read all of this Japanese manga series that revolves around two transgender children. The first couple of volumes are very slow, so much that C-Man almost abandoned them. I hung in there because the delicate storytelling, combined with the attention to the characters’ emotional lives, told me it was going to pay off. It has. He was glad he stuck with it, too. I know there’s a lot going over my head with the cultural references, but what sticks with me is the real worries and small victories of these two characters.
And that’s the list of young adult graphic novels we’ve enjoyed lately! If you cosign my endorsement of any of these fine works, please do leave me a comment. It’s always fun to hear from someone else who’s enjoyed something I’ve read. If you have any suggestions, also please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!