Superheroes saving the world? Sign me up! Here’s a list of superhero comics that are kid-friendly, and many are also our grownup favorites. Some of the graphic novels below are your traditional mainstream superhero comics, some are break-the-mold independent work. Even if the young reader in your life doesn’t have a superhero addiction, the books below are lots of fun.
Disclaimer: This post is organized roughly by age-appropriateness, from youngest kids to picks for teens. I think you’ll be able to see the progression. Please do not assume every book on this list can be handed to a five year old.
The way my life is organized these days, it’s tough for me to write reviews. Some of the books below have them, some may not, but I love them all.
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.
Super Potato by Artur Laperla
Possibly the silliest superhero kids’ comic I’ve ever read. A real (and very well-coiffed) superhero gets turned into a potato by his nemesis. He still has his superpowers, but now he’s a potato! I had fun reading it and I’m 44. If the kid in your life is into superheroes, and especially if the kid knows the genre and tropes well, this is a winner.
Tiny Titans by Art Baltazar and Franco. Tiny Titans is an extended riff on the DC Comics universe, populated by child versions of the sidekicks and younger heroes from that world. They attend school at Sidekicks Elementary, have a Pet Club where the first rule is you don’t talk about Pet Club (but everyone talks about Pet Club), and they get in trouble with Alfred for flooding Wayne Manor when they try to wash squid ink out of their uniforms (Aqualad put the whole box of laundry soap in). When I started reading it, I wasn’t as familiar with the D.C. characters and history as many fans, but I knew a little, but I think it’s a charming little book even if you don’t get the extra levels going on for DC superfans.
It ran for so long, 8 trade paperbacks’ worth, that the content did get a little stale over time. Even my son noticed, and did not like the later books as much as the early volumes. We’d recommend Welcome to the Treehouse, linked above, as well as Adventures in Awesomeness, and Sidekickin’ It. And then I’d recommend switching to…
Superman Family Adventures. By the same creative team as Tiny Titans, and may be a little more accessible to non-D.C. Comics fans. I don’t think the humor is quite as inspired, but my five year old son and his several years older cousin were loving it. Especially once they picked up the gag that each chapter starts the same way. And there definitely are some nice bits for the grownups in here too.
The Word Girl series, by Chris Karwowski with art by Steve Young. Coalition of Malice, linked up there, is the first of the graphic novels, which are all in small “digest” format much to my eyes’ displeasure. They’re good enough to make up for it. Becky Botsford is the 10 year old public identity of Word Girl, actually an alien who crash landed on Earth, got adopted by an Earth family, and developed superpowers. She also loves big words and tends to define them for bystanders. It sounds really hokey, but the books are super funny. Her villains are bizarre and ridiculous, and she’s a sweet smart kid who battles evil.
We had trouble telling the graphic novels apart from various other mass-made Word Girl content, so here are the direct Amazon links to the others: Fashion Disaster (featuring evil clothes and a playground menace), and The Incredible Shrinking Allowance (featuring giant robots and evil cheese).
Sidekicks by Dan Santat. When a superhero needs a new sidekick, who wants the job? Younger superheroes? Those who aspire to fame? And, um, his pets? Yes, it’s true, when you live with a superhero, you get inspired! Even if you’re a hamster or a gecko. The Amazon summary calls it “sibling rivalry royale” and that’s definitely true, but it’s also about friendship and family. Dan Santat is one of my favorite children’s picture book illustrators, and it turns out he also spins a good yarn. Both my son, age 5, and his several-years-older cousin got a kick out of this book.
The MegaMan series by Ian Flynn, with art by Pat Spaziante. My son had played Mega Man extensively with his dad, and like with Star Wars, he was in desperate want of additional media about these favorite characters. (He’s dressed up as characters from the game for three consecutive Halloweens.) Thank goodness for Ian Flynn and Pat Spaziante! The Mega Man game has almost no content about the characters except for them battling each other. Mega Man is the good guy, and he fights the evil Robot Masters. The Mega Man books give us actual people (okay, most of them are robots), an exploration of the risks of power, the importance of friendship and family, and making a difference in the world with whatever gifts you have.
The series is up to five collected paperbacks as of Fall 2013, and there is no drop in quality so far. Volume 4 even introduced additional female characters, which was long overdue IMHO. There have been other Mega Man comics and graphic novels before this, but go for the Flynn / Spaziante series if you have young video game / robot / superhero fans to please. Even with no pre-existing knowledge of the game, this is a fun ride.
The series, in print, is eight volumes and two crossovers: Sonic and Mega Man Worlds Collide which is three volumes, and Sonic and Mega Man Worlds Unite which is two volumes. Unfortunately, the publisher abandoned collecting the series, so there are also a number of single issues that you’d have to read digitally if you’re a completionist. So of course we did.
Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet, by Brian Clevinger with art by Brian Churilla. This is the silliest Avengers book we have ever read. It’s probably not for Marvel superhero purists. My husband and I couldn’t stop laughing, though. I honestly can’t tell if someone not familiar with Marvel characters would get the full depth of the humor here, but it’s a well-told story with plenty of fun even if you don’t. The plot is basically “something bad happens, an Avengers team saves the world” which is no surprise. The interstellar 18-wheeler and the space pirates, though, are not normal. For those who ARE familiar with Marvel characters, you can tell that Clevinger has a special place in his heart for Dr. Doom. We would own this even if we didn’t have a kid.
Evil and Malice Save the World by Jimmie Robinson. This is almost unique among superhero comics. It’s about girl superheroes, and it’s actually about being a superhero, NOT about interpersonal drama. Evelyn and Malinda’s dad is a supervillian, but he’s kind of old school about it. Lots of mwahaha, but no one every gets hurt. When a new group of supervillains shows up with a darker take on evil, the girls decide it’s up to them to save their dad. As superheroes called Evil and Malice. Their new secret life also leads to some unexpected discoveries about their past.
Interestingly, the cover for Evil and Malice depicts a belly-revealing costume that the gal in blue does NOT wear in the book. She wears a knee-length dress normally. Jimmie Robinson also creates the VERY for-adults Bomb Queen, but he has a very firm grip on “this kind of art for this project, that kind of art for that project” so I’ll always be curious about why that image ended up on the cover.
Fashion Kitty by Charise Mericle Harper. I read this on my own just to find out what it was like, because I couldn’t figure out how a fashion superhero was going to save others from fashion faux pas without being judgmental. It turns out that Fashion Kitty’s mission is to Fight for Fashion Freedom. It’s a mission that begins when Kiki Kitty, who does have the habit of being judgmental about her little sister’s clothing choices, is hit on the head with a pile of fashion magazines while making a birthday wish. When she wakes up, she has super fashion powers and chooses to change and use them for good. Kiki is a sympathetic character even though she’s not perfect (who is?) and Harper writes with a quiet humor I really enjoyed.
We read all three Fashion Kitty graphic novels and the illustrated novel, and enjoyed them all.
Franklin Richards: Son of a Genuis, Ultimate Collection volumes 1 and 2. Written and drawn by Chris Eliopoulis, with some co-writing by Marc Sumerak in the early issues. My son and husband are both big fans of this series. My husband says it’s basically Calvin Hobbes in the Marvel Comics Universe. Franklin Richards, you see, is the Calvin-esque son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, also known as Reed Richards and Sue Storm, two members of the Fantastic Four. His constant companion is Herbie, the robot his dad built to keep him out of trouble… which obviously does not work. Zany, irrepressible, science-y, and a lot of fun.
Mermin by Joey Weiser. If you’ve never seen a school swimming pool invaded by fish, you should totally pick this up! Or if you would like a book about a fish guy who turns up on the beach hoping to hang out with people and do all the normal person stuff like play ball, go to school, save people from sharks… and hide from other denizens of the ocean for mysterious reasons he can’t explain. We bought this on a whim from the catalog at our local comics shop and got hooked. If your kid might like an undersea adventure, give this series a try. It was printed first in five hardcovers, but I believe they’re now reprinting it in paperback.
Incredibles: Family Matters by Mark Waid, with art by Marcio Takara, and and the second book City of Incredibles. I was skeptical because books licensed from movies can often be simply money-makers. Kids like the topic, so parents buy it, but there’s no “there” there. But Waid has done a great job telling fresh new stories with these characters. The Incredibles family members in these two books have lots of love for each other and for saving the world. They’re not perfect, but they do their best. The stories are fun and accessible.
After these two volumes, though, it goes downhill fast. Waid wrote Revenge from Below which was WAY darker and scarier. The early scenes with Mr. and Mrs. Incredible doing mean and frightening things to Dash (under mind control, but you don’t know that) were a big change from the first two books. Too creepy and we wouldn’t re-read it. Landry Walker took over for Secrets and Lies in which the characters changed – and not in a good way. The moral core of the family is basically gone. We regretted reading it and didn’t go any further.
Power Pack: The Kids Are Alright and other stories, mostly by Marc Sumerak and Fred Van Lente. Four young siblings receive superpowers from an alien, but vow to keep their new abilities and superhero identities secret from their parents to protect them. Their last name is Power, they call themselves the Power Pack, and they don’t wear masks, so I’m not sure how the secrecy part is supposed to work. BUT most of the books in this series are really solid superhero fare, with a treat of seeing Power Pack interact with many of the Marvel superheroes that children will be more familiar with.
Different writers have done different things with this series, and some volumes have more “dating” content for the older siblings, and a surprising recurrence of anti-school sentiment when it comes too bookworm and straight-A student Julie Power. Younger brother Jack is the kind of kid you only put up with when he’s related to you, so there are a lot of sibling spats instigated by his behavior.
To make things complicated, it was run as a set of 10 miniseries, not one continuously numbered comic series. Our library has almost all of the miniseries packaged as small paperbacks which is how I recommend reading them. Simply for convenience, we bought Power Pack: The Kids Are Alright, linked above, which collects the first three miniseries: Power Pack #1-4 (sometimes collected as Power Pack: Pack Attack), X-Men/Power Pack #1-4, and Avengers/Power Pack Assemble! #1-4.
Here are the rest:
- Spider-Man/Power Pack: Big-City Superheroes
- Hulk/Power Pack: Pack Smash!
- Fantastic Four and Power Pack: Favorite Son
- Iron Man/Power Pack: Armored and Dangerous
- Power Pack : Day One
- Skrulls vs. Power Pack
- Wolverine/Power Pack
- Thor and the Warriors Four (Hercules babysits Power Pack in this one, and it’s hysterical.)
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. My son spotted this book at the library when he was three or just four, and we were NOT allowed to come home without it. Just based on the cover, he had to have it. And once we read it with him, we knew he’d been right. This is one of the most wonderful girl superhero books of all times, and Zita doesn’t even have any superpowers! What she does have, though, is determination, and a knack for making friends, even when stranded on a strange alien planet that’s about to be destroyed by a comet, and her best friend has been kidnapped. It doesn’t matter what happens. She is going to get him back.
Zita is a complete series in three volumes. And while I could wax rhapsodic about it for quite a while, if I had to pick one favorite part… it would be the giant stompy boots. I love those things.
G-Man, volumes 1-3, by Chris Giarrusso. We found G-Man after reading Giarrusso’s Mini Marvels, a set of tales about Marvel Universe characters. G-Man is his creator-owned series about two brothers who acquire superpowers from a magic blanket. Their last name is G, so they become G-Man and Great Man. The first book is a compendium of short stories, then the second book kicks off a longer story arc that continues into the third book. It’s so fun, and so funny. Giarrusso really knows what he’s doing as both a writer and an artist.
There are a couple of warning labels on this one from us to you, though. (1) It’s very realistic about the fighting between siblings. Almost too realistic. Like, since My son has no siblings and we read this to him when he was very young, we actually skipped the “Mean Brother / Idiot Brother” mini-comics that present as drawn by the kids, because I just didn’t want to introduce that vibe to his life. (2) He did get completely spooked by part of the third book, where the art style changes and the brothers think they’re dead. When he re-read it a couple years later, he read it with no issues.
A big THANK YOU to Mr. Giarrusso for letting me name my blog Planet Jinxatron after a joke in this series!
Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. The Lunch Lady series is the only kids comic I can think of which stars two middle-aged women as superheroes. Lunch Lady really is a lunch lady, and takes her duties in the school cafeteria very seriously. She also takes fighting crime very seriously, with the help of inventor Betty who would be Q if this were a James Bond film. A small group of friends who become known as the “Lunch Bunch” discover Lunch Lady’s secret. After that, it’s always a race for them to tell Lunch Lady when something bad is happening, and for her to deal with it before they get themselves in trouble since they insist she needs their help. Lots of food-themes gadgets, silly/menacing villains, and justice in this one.
Every single book in this series has some bullying, from a particular kid who has it in for the Lunch Bunch, and honestly I got a little tired of it. But they’re good books and it doesn’t take over the story. The one set at summer camp also has some romance talk among the counselors which I think mystified my son a little bit at five years old, but he rolled with it.
Pax Samson by Rashad Doucet, art by Jason Reeves
“When it comes to the kitchen, no one knows cooking better than twelve-year-old Pax Samson. He’s a hero when it comes to testing recipes and supplying copious amounts of Dragon Noodle Soup at his family’s cookouts. It’s tough being a master chef, though, when the rest of his family are world-famous superheroes, and they expect Pax to take up the beacon to keep the world safe with his telekinetic powers.
Pax’s home planet of Soltellus is home to all walks of life, including humans, gods, as well as elves, orcs, dragons, sprites and other fantasy races known as the “Enchanted” all living in a modern society similar to our own. Among them is the Samson family, led by the fearless and mighty Grandma Samson, the greatest superhero to ever live and the person responsible for always saving Soltellus when trouble strikes. She’s been doing it for hundreds of years, but she’s ready for the younger generation of Samsons, including Pax, to step up.
When the mad god Odin, long-time enemy to the Enchanted race and arch-rival to Grandma, resurfaces in another attempt to regain power, Pax will attempt to put his training into practice, but ends up just making things worse. Tempted to hang up the superhero cape and stick to the kitchen Pax faces the toughest decision yet when a legendary savior of the Enchanted people arrives, along with a startling discovery that there might be parts of the Soltellus history that are wrong. Pax, determined to protect his family and friends, will do everything he can to stop the new threats set on disrupting the peace between humans and the Enchanted.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Nubia: Real One by L.L.McKinney, with art by Robyn Smith
“Can you be a hero…if society doesn’t see you as a person?
Nubia has always been a little bit…different. As a baby she showcased Amazonian-like strength by pushing over a tree to rescue her neighbor’s cat. But despite her having similar abilities, the world has no problem telling her that she’s no Wonder Woman. And even if she were, they wouldn’t want her. Every time she comes to the rescue, she’s reminded of how people see her: as a threat. Her moms do their best to keep her safe, but Nubia can’t deny the fire within her, even if she’s a little awkward about it sometimes. Even if it means people assume the worst.
When Nubia’s best friend, Quisha, is threatened by a boy who thinks he owns the town, Nubia will risk it all–her safety, her home, and her crush on that cute kid in English class–to become the hero society tells her she isn’t.”
Primer by by Thomas Krajewski and Jennifer Muro, with art by Gretel Lusky (Illustrator)
“Thirteen-year-old Ashley Rayburn is an upbeat girl with a decidedly downbeat past. With a criminal father in prison, Ashley has bounced from foster home to foster home with trouble always finding her along the way. Finally settling in with loving and supportive foster parents, Ashley’s world is turned upside down again when she stumbles upon a set of body paints that grant the wearer a multitude of superpowers. But the government agency that made those paints wants them back, and now she has to make hard choices to protect her new family while overcoming the shadows of the past.”
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 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.
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.
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.
Missile Mouse by Jake Parker.
I’m putting this at the end because Missile Mouse is drawn like he’s for younger kids but he’s one of the darker kinda-superheroes I’ve seen so far in young people’s comics. He’s not the cranky guy with a heart of gold once someone finds it. He’s just a grim person. Err, mouse. He’s a special agent who fights interstellar crime. He has no friends and he doesn’t want any. His father was executed in front of him when he was a child. BUT this book isn’t about his angst. It’s about saving the world for great justice! There’s a lot of action, the stories are well-paced, and the characters are much more than one note. I was just as pleased with it as my son was.
The Star Crusher is linked above; the second volume Rescue on Tankium3 is just as good.
And that’s the list of our favorite superhero comics for kids (so far)!