13 Graphic Novels About Growing Up

The graphic novel format is used to tell a variety of stories. When I looked at my favorite comics that didn’t have people in capes, superpowers, or anything blowing up, I realized many had a common theme: growing up. They also have wonderful art and characters you can really root for. The way my life is organized these days, it’s tough for me to write reviews. Some of the books below have them, some do not, but I love them all. I’m so excited to share them with you!

NOTE: These were NOT curated as comics recommendations for children or teens, though some may be appropriate for a young adult audience. If you have any questions about a specific book, please ask me!

Before we jump in:

  • All comics 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.
  • Any questions, corrections, recommendations? Let me know via my contact form.

Eat, and Love Yourself (Amazon / Goodreads) By Sweeney Boo.

I really enjoyed this graphic novel about a twenty-something woman struggling with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia who finds a magical candy bar that can take her back to observe key moment in her life. It’s a contemporary story with just that one touch of magic that allows the main character to look at her past while she’s struggling with her present, and take what she needs from each of the moments she visits in order to move forward with more hope.

To me it felt quiet and contemplative, and the artwork really fit with that tone. It’s not about her recovery journey, it’s about the moment in time when she’s taking stock of where she is and where she wants to go, and I thought it ended perfectly for that. I wasn’t familiar with Sweeney Boo before reading this but now I’m really interested to see what she does next.

Finding Molly: An Adventure in Catsitting (Emet Comics / Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Justine Prado, with art by Jenn St. Onge and colors by Cary Pietsch.

A fun new adult comic about a biracial young artists who’s flailing around about what to do with her life, when she’s offered a job catsitting the feline from hell. Her clients are pleased with both her sitting and the cartoons she’s drawn of their little furball, and Molly becomes internet famous for her cat drawings. That’s not the artistic vision she had for her life, and it doesn’t meet her goal of moving out of her parents’ place and into the city to start Real Life ™, but what else can she do?

Molly starts the book a bit immature, but she grows quite a bit during this book with support and tough love from her friends and family. I really enjoyed watching her find her way from directionless young grad to confident adult. The art, like the story, is bold and fun. Definitely a feel-good comic!

Finding Molly was published as a webcomic, but I’m not linking to it here because of the extraordinarily intrusive full-page newsletter signup prompt at the top of every page. Makes it unreadable IMHO. But it’s complete in this one volume, and the digital version is very affordable.

Incredible Doom (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Matthew Bogart and Jesse Holden.

“Welcome to a new age… the age of the internet.

Allison is drowning under the weight of her manipulative stage magician father. When he brings home the family’s first computer, she escapes into a thrilling new world where she meetings Samir, a like-minded new online friend who has just agreed to run away from home with her.

After moving to a new town and leaving all of his friends behind, Richard receives a mysterious note in his locker with instructions on how to connect to ‘Evol BBS,’ a dial-in bulletin board system, and meets a fierce punk named Tina who comes into his life and shakes his entire worldview loose.

Unlikely alliances, first love, and minor crime sprees abound in this teen graphic novel debut about making connections while your world is falling apart.”

Generations (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Flavia Biondi. Translated by Carla Roncalli de Montorio.

I really appreciated this reflective, compassionate book about a young gay man returning to his small town. Matteo had clashed with his conservative father and moved to Milan, but now he needs a place to live, so he ends up crashing at a family home with five of his adult female relatives: a grandmother, three aunts, and his pregnant cousin. I’m always wary of books that I sense might ask queer characters to too-easily forgive bigoted family members, but in this case it’s more that everyone has something to learn from reconnecting, with Matteo needing to step into adulthood and learn to stand up for himself as well as respect the value of the family he does have.

Generations is complete in one volume.

Sumo (Amazon / Goodreads) By Thien Pham.

After failing at the American professional football career he hoped for, Scott take a big step. He moves to Japan to try and become a professional sumo wrestler. It sounds like the stuff jokes are made of, but this book is an extremely quiet, reflective coming of age story. The reactions of his friends and his girlfriend to his decision. What he finds inside himself in an unfamiliar environment, hoping this second chance will actually pan out, because he doesn’t know what to do if it doesn’t.

Pham is such a genuine, delicate storyteller. The art complements the mood of the book perfectly. C-Man and I barely discussed this book after we read it, because all we could do was look at each other and say “Whoa. That was REALLY good.” (This is why we don’t do video reviews. You’re welcome.)

Sumo is complete in one volume.

Bad Houses (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) Written by Sara Ryan. Illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil.

Families can be so complicated. Especially if you live with them. Lewis even works with his mother, so double trouble. Bad Houses centers around him and Anne, whose mother is a hoarder, and what happens after their chance meeting at one of Lewis’s mother’s estate sales. Various backstories and characters’ current issues are revealed piece by piece until all the interconnections are laid out.

McNeil’s drawing style really gives the characters energy and humanity even when they’re behaving awfully. For a little bitty town, there are so many secrets here! Lewis and Anne’s budding romance is effective because it’s so real – not perfect, but there’s such a strong “click” with them. Loved this book!

Bad Houses is complete in one volume.

Solanin (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Inio Asano. Translation by JN Productions.

A manga about a couple in their early 20s, Meiko and Naruo, and their friends, as the various members of the group drift about and struggle to figure out this whole adulting thing. Insecurity and inner conflicts about selling out versus success plague many of the characters, until a tragedy acts as kind of a wake-up call to put at least some of them onto different paths. It’s character-driven rather than plot-driven, but things are quite different at the end than the beginning. Almost a snapshot of a time and place, culturally and economically, as well as the new adult stage. It’s very emotional without being overly dramatic, and I didn’t stop thinking about it for days after I finished reading it. I’m not even a fan of slacker-type or disaffected/apathetic characters! Totally recommend this one.

Solanin was originally published, at least in Japan, as two volumes, but I think in the English translation it’s only available in the one complete volume.

Box Office Poison (Amazon/Kindle / Goodreads) By Alex Robinson.

C-Man had to push me into reading this because something just wasn’t clicking for me, and I’m so glad he did. I wasn’t sure what to think until I finished it, and then I really liked it. It snuck up on me! It’s a love story, but not the one you think. It’s about how an interconnected set of people figure out who they are and grow up… or choose not to. Every character in the large ensemble cast has a distinct personality and part to play. Robinson lets the story unfold the way real life does, where you don’t always have a flashing sign over someone’s head saying “WATCH THIS ONE!” It’s more character-driven than plot-driven, so you may have to be in the mood for something that unfolds more gradually, but give it a try. And stick with it even if you start thinking “what is wrong with these people?”

The collection of Box Office Poison linked above is a complete story, although there appears to be a second collection of some short stories and whatnot.

Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not) (Amazon/Kindle / Goodreads) By Jason Shiga. Colors by John Pham.

A story about love, but there’s a reason the subtitle has “(Or Not)” at the end. Chinese-American geek Jimmy has always been in love with his Jewish best friend Sara, but after college she left for New York while Jimmy stayed in Oakland and got a job at the library. Several years later, his life stagnant, he takes a bus cross-country to see Sara in a grand romantic gesture. It was pretty obvious, from the scenes in both past and present, that Jimmy’s barking up the wrong tree. IMHO, he’s also looking to Sara to solve his feeling of being in limbo in general, no longer a child but not yet an adult. I loved how compassionate Sara was in her rejection, and by the end I anticipated that the two would still be friends, though I wasn’t sure how or if Jimmy was going to fix his life. So it didn’t leave me with a happy positive vibe, but that’s okay! Not every book has to. The storytelling was top notch, and I recommend giving this a shot.

Level Up (Amazon / Goodreads) By Gene Yuen Lang, with art by Thien Pham.

Gene Luen Yang is a comics superstar, but this book doesn’t seem to get as much attention as his other work. In this amazing book, Dennis Ouyang struggles between his love for video games and his parentally-motivated medical school attendance. The angels helping him get through school are a little weird. They get even weirder when he starts doubting his career path in gastroenterology. It’s about figuring out if you have a destiny or a mission or a calling, however you want to think of it. It’s also about family, and what makes a meaningful life. Pham’s drawing and watercolor people are deceptively simple. The range of emotions they convey through facial expressions and body language is amazing to a stick figure drawer like myself.

Level Up is complete in one volume. There’s a 2016 paperback edition with a different cover that’s also very cute, but I stuck with the 2011 cover in this post because nostalgia.

The Adventures of Superhero Girl (Amazon/Comixology / Read as a webcomic / Goodreads) By Faith Erin Hicks.

Superhero Girl faces all the struggles of young adulthood, such as paying the rent, getting along with roommates, and being overshadowed by her successful older brother. Plus concealing her secret identity, finding an arch-nemesis in fairly tranquil Canada, and getting a job without the Ninja King barging into the interview and taking it from her.

I feel like referencing Canadian ninjas should be enough to sell you on this book.

There was an edition before the Expanded Edition linked above, and to be honest I didn’t notice a huge difference from the extra material.

A Silent Voice (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy.

After-school specials about bullying have nothing on this book. The depth of understanding this author has for the main characters and her skillful writing about them are both outstanding. A Silent Voice follows Shoya, a middle-school boy, who spends his days goofing off and looking for entertainment. He’s not particularly smart, interesting, studious, or popular, but he has some friends and a good mother. When a deaf girl named Shoko transfers into his class at school, he sees in the new and different an opportunity for entertainment. With demonstrated impatience from the teacher and growing resentment from classmates who feel Shoko’s needs are a burden, Shoya embarks on a long-term group bullying campaign against the girl that includes, among other things, destruction of multiple expensive hearing aids.

When Shoko’s family finally publicly complains while removing her from the school, the class turns on Shoya instead. He’s made the scapegoat for everyone’s participation in Shoko’s ostracism, in a turnaround that effectively ruins his school life for the next six years.

Watching Shoya lead the torment of Shoko is painful. It’s clear he has absolutely no empathy. It’s terrifying. But the giant lie created by the teacher and other students, that Shoya was the only one responsible for hurting her, is even more chilling. No one will take any responsibility for their own actions. Shoya ends up completely socially isolated and even contemplates suicide.

If this was just a book about horrible people doing horrible things to each other, I wouldn’t be recommending you start reading this series. It’s what happens at the end of this first volume that’s important. Shoya meets Shoko again, and feels a spark that he may be able to atone for his behavior. So he tries. By the end of the seven volume series, both of their lives are completely different.

Masterful, important, deeply satisfying.

Friends with Boys (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Faith Erin Hicks.

This beloved-by-me book tells the story of Maggie, who has been homeschooled with her brothers her whole life. Now her mother (who taught them) has abandoned the family, and Maggie’s starting public high school. Figuring out friends and enemies is hard enough, but what about when you see ghosts?

The characters are pitch perfect, and you can feel with Maggie even if you’ve never been in her exact situation. (Who has, really?) Hicks is one of our favorite comics writers and artists because she’s great with emotions, great with young female characters, and great with characters who are socially awkward, so this is peak Hicks.

Friends with Boys is complete in one volume.

That concludes today’s roundup of comics about growing up that I love and recommend!

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