Welcome to our list of recommended comics for older kids, teens, and young adults! All of the books below have young protagonists 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 ourselves.
There are plenty of books we recommend for younger kids (Comics for Young Children, Comics for Kids) that will also work great for older kids, young adults, and even grownups. The books in this post, though, have more serious vibes or topics and possibly more realistic or scary violence and/or dating content. Some of might be fine for even middle school or upper elementary, but some probably are not. Please do your own evaluation. Not all comics are for five year olds. :) Good Superheroes for Kids and Teens is where all the supes live, organized by age level.
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.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.
Three interconnected stories about being who you are, and how painfully hard that can be – especially when stereotypes chase you everywhere you go. This is the comic to read if you don’t believe comics can be serious literature, because that’s only one of the many stereotypes it blows away. Amazing book. It’s such a classic that I almost don’t think I need to tell people about it, because surely everyone knows it by now! But just in case. :)
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.
The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi.
Amulet has some of the most gorgeous art I’ve seen in comics. It’s an eight book and counting saga about Emily, a young girl who inherits her great-grandfather’s legacy of fighting a possibly losing battle against evil, in an alternate magical world. Her mother and younger brother are pulled into this world with her. Truly amazing fantasy world, it absolutely sweeps me away.
Amulet is possibly too dark for some younger kids. While it’s a book about coming together and fighting for a good cause, the setting and tone vary from mildly alarming to bleak and hopeless. There are evil characters so twisted and cruel that they scare me. Good characters also die in very sad ways. If you think your younger child would be fine with it, I wouldn’t disagree; we read it with our kiddo starting when he was maybe five and he really liked it. He doesn’t scare easily, though, never has. With younger readers you may want to skip the intense prologue in book one. It isn’t strictly necessary for the story and is more harrowing than the rest of the series.
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.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.
Anya falls down a well… no, really, she does. And she picks up a companion who follows her back out. Having a ghost for a friend seems like a good idea for a while, especially when you’re the kid who can never quite fit in and needs a little help. But what happens when it starts to seem like not such a good idea after all?
This will always be one of my favorite YA comic recommendations. Brosgol initially drives the story with some of Anya’s bad choices, but they’re understandable choices instead of stereotyped teen behaviors. (Having worked professionally with teenagers, I love seeing them represented properly as three dimensional people.) The first time I read it, I was so caught up in the plot that I didn’t fully appreciate Brosgol’s art, especially her gift for facial expressions. This time, I slowed down to enjoy. Her art style is so crisp, and she gets so much done with just black, white, grey, and blue. I knew Brosgol’s name because she did a little bit of work on Hopeless Savages (see below), and I’m so glad that led me to her.
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.
Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet, with art by Clément Oubrerie. Translated by Helge Dascher.
A young adult / new adult “slice of life” comic 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. 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.)
Azumanga Daioh by Kiyohiko Azuma.
I did NOT want to read this incredibly large book. Not because of how much it weighs, but because my husband had tried to ensnare me in the anime adaptation once, and the voices were all so high pitched. I could not deal. Lucky for me, I got really sick, and what I desperately needed was non-angsty that would distract me and last a while so I wouldn’t have to get out of bed for another book. Azumanga Daioh to the rescue! It covers several years in a girls’ high school. What struck me the most was how each of the characters has such a distinct personality. It’s almost as if teenage girls are unique and individual human beings. Who knew? (That was sarcasm, by the way. Of course they are!) My husband says that to him, it’s the Japanese equivalent of Peanuts comic strips, delivering the same wit in bite-sized chunks.
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.
The Backups by Alex De Campi and art by Lara Kane, Dee Cunniffe, and Ted Brandt
“Spending an entire summer on tour as a backup singer for pop star Nika Nitro? What?! That’s the DREAM, right? Especially for Jenni, Lauren, and Maggie, three misfit performing arts students with hopes of making it in the music world.
But being twenty feet from fame isn’t easy. Between crushes, constant rehearsals, Nika’s sky-high expectations, and their own insecurities, this dream is starting to feel more like a nightmare. And that’s before they accidentally start a beef with a rival band threatening to reveal a secret that could end Nika’s career.
Can this trio of new friends come together to save the tour, or will the Backups be kept out of the spotlight forever?”
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 when you fear it might 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.
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.
Bloom by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau.
I haven’t had a chance to write a review for this yet, but I really loved it, particularly how the main characters are not always perfect. Here’s the blurb: “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.”
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.
Cheer Up: Love and PomPoms by Crystal Frasier, illustrated by Val Wise, lettered by Oscar O. Jupiter
“Annie is a smart, antisocial lesbian starting her senior year of high school who’s under pressure to join the cheerleader squad to make friends and round out her college applications. Her former friend BeBe is a people-pleaser—a trans girl who must keep her parents happy with her grades and social life to keep their support of her transition. Through the rigors of squad training and amped up social pressures (not to mention micro aggressions and other queer youth problems), the two girls rekindle a friendship they thought they’d lost and discover there may be other, sweeter feelings springing up between them.”
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.
Cannons in the Clouds by Daniel Woolley and Anne Gresham, art by Jorge Donis, colors by Kirsty Swan, and letters by Peter Semeti.
Steampunk adventure and fisticuffs! Plucky teen girl protagonist! Pirates! Woolley and Gresham take a storyline of “rich girl hates wearing dresses and studying boring stuff, prefers adventure” and set it in a word rich with political conspiracy and interesting characters. Sela, our main character, is rebellious but not (quite) reckless, and as a smart action heroine she’s totally believable. (Her cagey best friend is my favorite, though.) I’m intrigued to see where this story goes.
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.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier.
I am not a big fan of teenage angst books. I enjoy teenagers themselves, perhaps more than other adults do, but morose and melodramatic teen lit I can live without. Drama has its share of pain and suffering, but its fundamental core is about high school kids trying to connect with each other and do right – no matter how bumpy the road may be on the way. A couple of good portrayals of gay characters in this one, too! The book follows Callie, a theater addict who’s the set designer for her school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi. How is this show going to turn out when the cast members are getting together and breaking up and no one’s buying tickets? More importantly, is that cannon really going to work? (Yes, I said cannon.)
Emiko Superstar, written by Mariko Tamaki with art by Steve Rolston.
This was a book from the ill-fated D.C. Comics line called Minx, designed to appeal to teen girls. Despite the heavy rotation of youth graphic novels in most libraries, somehow D.C. couldn’t make enough money on Minx to continue it. Emiko Superstar was one of my favorites from this group. Emiko is an Asian Canadian suburban teenage babysitter looking for excitement, escape… something! She borrows pieces of other people’s identities to stage a performance art piece, but there’s a heavy dose of guilt along with her newfound fame and double life.
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.
Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner.
I haven’t had a chance to write a review of this one, but it was a darn good read: “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.”
Family Pets by Pat Shand and Sarah Dill, with letters by Jim Campbell
Thomasina’s parents died when she was five. She moved in with her grandmother, then they moved in with her aunt, uncle, and cousins when money got too tight. Now she’s in high school. She’s not loving life. Her best friend is a pet snake. She doesn’t feel close to her family. But that doesn’t mean she’s okay with her family turning into animals, and she’s really not okay with her pet snake disappearing. Okay, kind of disappearing. (No spoilers, Skye!) Who cast the spell that did all this damage? And how’s Thomasina going to fix it?
There’s a lot of emotion here, but it doesn’t get too heavy. Dill has a lot of fun with character designs and expressions, and Shand keeps the story moving nicely. There’s a love/crush sub-plot with a little bit of rivalry, but nothing extreme. The snake provides comic relief, and it feels great when Thomasina’s family starts pulling together. Plus, Latina protagonist in a graphic novel, HURRAY!
Fist Stick Knife Gun, a graphic novel adaptation by Jamar Nicholas of Geoffrey Canada’s memoir.
Canada grew up in the South Bronx in the late 1950s. This masterful adaptation of his work traces the violence he saw around him, that he himself committed, and that he finally renounced and committed his life to working against. My husband describes it as real, thought-provoking, but still compelling as a work of literature, instead of one of those “true story” books you want to sleep through. I’d agree, and I think it’s because the book doesn’t spoon feed you. Instead it presents a series of quiet vignettes, with depth and human emotion for all parties involved.
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.
Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks.
Maggie starts high school after being homeschooled with her three brothers for her whole life. Their mother left, and Maggie’s never really had any friends outside of her family. Everything’s new. And the least scary part is that Maggie’s haunted by ghosts. Writing this, I’ve just realized I need to read this book at least three more times, really soon. The characters are pitch perfect, and you can root for Maggie even if you’ve never been in her exact situation. (Who has, really?) Faith Erin Hicks is one of our fave comic creators, and she brings her A game here.
Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom 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 I quickly bonded with Antimony. Now that we’re four volumes into the paperback version of the series, I have way too many characters as favorites, and I love the uneasy feeling of never quite knowing what new strange discovery is going to happen next.
This was originally a webcomic, and you can read Gunnerkrigg Court online if you choose. I am patiently resisting the urge to jump online instead of waiting for the next paperback version.
Heartstopper by Alice Oseman.
I really loved this, though Oseman’s letting is tough on my eyes. Here’s the blurb: “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…”
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.
Hopeless Savages by Jen Van Meter, with art by a great group of collaborators.
Jen Van Meter has my undying gratitude for writing these stories about the Hopeless-Savage family, a clan comprised of two parents who met during their careers as punk rock musicians, then settled down to have four children, in a suburban setting which isn’t always the best match. The first arc is centered on the youngest daughter, Skank Zero Hopeless-Savage. (Um, yeah, there’s a lot of “language” in this book, just so you know.) We also get good arcs about each older sibling, including her gay older brother and his awwwww! sweet relationship with his boyfriend. Whether foiling their parents’ kidnapping, de-brainwashing their oldest brother who is working for a corporate coffee chain, or living through a documentary film crew following them around, she’s one of the most genuine and wonderful teenagers I’ve had the pleasure to read about. When I met Van Meter at Geek Girl Con a couple of years ago, she said there would be more Hopeless Savages, so I’m hoping that does work out. Or that a suburban punk rocker family adopts me.
Ichiro by Ryan Inzana.
Ichiro, our main character, grew up in the U.S. with his Japanese mom. His white American father died when he was just 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.
I Kill Giants, written by Joe Kelly and illustrated by J.M. Ken Niimura.
I asked my husband to give you the sell on this one, since it’s one of his favorites: “People like to use the word raw to describe things, and most of the time that’s not an accurate description, but in this case it IS accurate.” It’s a combination of anger and grief, as young Barbara Thorson struggles to deal with an impending terrible loss which may overwhelm her. Saying more than that might give things away. Heavy stuff, extremely good.
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.
Joe the Barbarian, by Grant Morrison with art by Sean Murphy.
Joe’s just a 13 year old kid, albeit one with diabetes, a dead father, and a house the bank’s about to take away from him and his mom. After missing one too many meals, Joe has a blood sugar crisis, and finds out (or does he?) that he may also be the savior of a magical parallel realm whose inhabitants strangely resemble his toys. Magic, steampunk, adventure, reality, family, and even though Grant Morrison wrote it, it makes sense. (I love Morrison, but he can be quite strange.)
Kat and Mouse by Alex de Campi, with art by Federica Manfredi.
Cute 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 (at least to an adult reader), 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. I’ve read three volumes so far and definitely need to track down the fourth so I can finally find out who the Dodger is.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
“The day they got together was the best one of Freddy’s life, but nothing’s made sense since. Laura Dean is popular, funny, and SO CUTE … but she can be really thoughtless, even mean. Their on-again, off-again relationship has Freddy’s head spinning — and Freddy’s friends can’t understand why she keeps going back.
When Freddy consults the services of a local mystic, the mysterious Seek-Her, she isn’t thrilled with the advice she receives. But something’s got to give: Freddy’s heart is breaking in slow motion, and she may be about to lose her very best friend as well as her last shred of self-respect. Fortunately for Freddy, there are new friends, and the insight of advice columnist Anna Vice, to help her through being a teenager in love.”
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff
“Will’s older brother, Shawn, has been shot. Dead. Will feels a sadness so great, he can’t explain it. But in his neighborhood, there are THE RULES:
No. 1: Crying. Don’t. No matter what.
No. 2: Snitching. Don’t. No matter what.
No. 3: Revenge. Do. No matter what.
But bullets miss. You can get the wrong guy. And there’s always someone else who knows to follow the rules…”
A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong
“One summer day, Ren meets Luna at a beachside basketball court and a friendship is born. But when Luna moves to back to Oahu, Ren’s messages to her friend go unanswered.
Years go by. Then Luna returns, hoping to rekindle their friendship. Ren is hesitant. She’s dealing with a lot, including family troubles, dropping grades, and the newly formed women’s basketball team at their high school.
With Ren’s new friends and Luna all on the basketball team, the lines between their lives on and off the court begin to blur. During their first season, this diverse and endearing group of teens are challenged in ways that make them reevaluate just who and how they trust.”
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 my husband and I had both finished reading this, he said “I liked how it didn’t have a happy ending.” My response: “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.
M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder.
I haven’t had time to write a full review of this, but I love it. Here’s the blurb: “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.”
Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell
England, 1867. Every town has its own monster, which periodically rampages through the city leaving destruction in its wake. Also, excited kids and stands selling souvenir merchandise. The only exception is Stoker-on-Avon. Their monster, Rayburn, hasn’t attacked in almost two years. He just stays up on the hill, moping. Now it’s up to a disgraced scientist and a scrappy street urchin to help Rayburn get his monster mojo back. The prescription? Road trip! Which sounds like a good idea except for one small piece of information that Rayburn missed in monster school.
We read this with our six year old, who adored it, but I bumped it up in age group as a comics recommendation because there’s possibly a bit of mild “language” and one distressing scene when a nice character is believed to be murdered.
My Boyfriend is a Monster: I Love Him to Pieces by Evonne Tsang, illustrated by Janina Görrissen with additional inks by Maria Viccar. Letters by Eldon Cowgur.
If this were a movie, I’d own it and watch it repeatedly. Nerdy-cute smart high school kid Jack Chen is paired with exuberant, athletic Dicey Bell on the classic “parent an egg” project. Mutual crush ensues, which is adorable, but trouble in paradise arises on their first date. A disease outbreak, during which Jack is supposed to be taken to his scientist parents by special agents. Nothing could go wrong there, eh? The page size of this hardback means that Görrissen packs a lot of action and detail into a small space, and she pulls it off. And anyone who can resist the gal in a sundress with a baseball bat, backed up by her geeky boy-crush holding a crowbar… well, you and I just aren’t the same kind of people.
Sadly, I have tried reading all but one of the remaining My Boyfriend is a Monster series, and I could not bond with any of them. I just want the continuing adventures of Jack and Dicey! Which don’t exist. Alas!
My Last Summer With Cass by Mark Crilley
“Megan and Cass have been joined at the brush for as long as they can remember. For years, while spending summers together at a lakeside cabin, they created art together, from sand to scribbles . . . to anything available. Then Cass moved away to New York.
When Megan finally convinces her parents to let her spend a week in the city, too, it seems like Cass has completely changed. She has tattoos, every artist in the city knows her. She even eats chicken feet now! At least one thing has stayed the same: They still make their best art together.
But when one girl betrays the other’s trust on the eve of what is supposed to be their greatest artistic feat yet, can their friendship survive? Can their art?”
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.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, by Prudence Shen with art by Faith Erin Hicks.
Devilishly funny, with a killer robot competition and evil cheerleaders. Our main characters are Charlie, nice guy and captain of the basketball team, and Nate, Slytherin president of the robotics club. Because reasons, there’s enough school funding for either new uniforms for the cheerleaders OR for the robotics club to enter a competition, but not both. Charlie ends up between Nate and the cheerleaders, and the resulting plan gives him a great excuse to run away from the painful family life he keeps hidden. On Thanksgiving. Did I mention the plan involves chainsaws? Loved all the scheming, loved Charlie finding parts of himself he didn’t know were there – both nerdiness and bravery.
One Year at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks.
Previously published as The War at Ellsmere, this is my personal favorite of Hicks’s projects so far. Juniper is a 13 year old smart girl whose family has no money. A scholarship to an elite boarding school seems like just the ticket. Until she gets there and earns the enmity of the ruling Mean Girl. You know what else is more interesting than she had anticipated? Whatever’s lurking in the forest nearby. One thing I love about Hicks’ work is that no character is ever a stereotype. Even the Mean Girl. Everything doesn’t wrap up at the end in a pretty bow either. But you feel pretty good about Jun’s future.
My only complaint is that I seem to have a mental block against spelling Ellsmere properly. Thank goodness for my husband proofreading this post as he was contributing his thoughts on the books. Thanks, babe.
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 this book was even published. He was clearly a talented writer, and cancer sucks.
Pantalones, TX by Yehudi Mercado.
This is a realllly strange book. Mercado lives here in Austin and I’d like to run into him sometime, just to get an idea of what he’s like in person. The book opens with a joke about urinating outside. Normally that would put me off (I am fussy like that) but we’d already bought the book, and I’m glad I kept reading. Chico Bustamante is the coolest kid in Pantalones, TX, the town where underwear was invented. His best friends are Pig Boy, who’s some kind of mutant? And a Jewish vegetarian from Brooklyn. Chico is the town sheriff’s nemesis. He’s determined to get his name into the history books of Texas, and not even the sheriff’s giant chicken is going to stop him… even if he needs a bar mitzvah to become a man to gain admittance to the Soulbreaker mechanical riding bull in the back of the saloon to do it! You see why I want to meet the guy? Like I said, it’s a strange book.
Peanut by Ayun Halliday, with art by Paul Hoppe.
Peanut is about a girl who makes a very bad decision. Sadie is the girl. The bad decision? Lying about having a peanut allergy. Switching schools between freshman and sophomore year of high school is hard, after all. You’re lost in a sea of people who all already know each other. Unless you find a way to stand out, like a potentially life-threatening allergy. Clearly, that’ll help break the ice and make friends, right?
Sadie’s deception goes about as well as you’d expect. What I didn’t expect was my feeling bad for Sadie even while she’s working so hard to lie to her new friends. I didn’t quite get her reasoning behind the lie, intellectually or emotionally, but I do know (from my own past) that kids sometimes just do stupid things. Halliday just has a way of bonding you with Sadie once she’s living with the consequences of her choice. I was definitely hoping she could find a way to end the lie and move forward without being totally humiliated. Hoppe’s friendly, clean drawing style gives each character plenty of life. I’ll be looking out for more of his work.
Play Ball, written by Nunzio De Filippis and Christina Weir, and illustrated by Jackie Lewis.
De Filippis and Weir are solid storytellers, and this is one of the only graphic novels I’ve read centered on sports. Dashiell and her sister Arica are at a new school, and this one has a championship-level baseball team. Good news for Dashiell, a talented softball player… until the inevitable drama arises because she’s a girl playing on a “boys” team. While Arica’s trying to fit in, Dashiell’s making waves. Add in some boy-girl drama, and everything gets a little complicated. But it’s all okay in the end! The characters and the story are sweet and satisfying even though the story doesn’t have much surprise factor.
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.
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 someone who’s something different than a friend, maybe). 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.
I like the strong female protagonist here, and how the series balances fun and depth. 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 in her struggle. It’s fish out of water + mean girls + boarding school + “barbarian” princess, but with extremely high stakes, and our whole family has really enjoyed both books that have come out so far.
My seven year old son loved this. I don’t recommend it without caveats to kids his age, though, due to a bit of fantasy violence which might be disturbing to kids, so I bumped it up to this post.
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
“Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends. Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1.
But this Halloween is different—Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye.
Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if—instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut—they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he’s been mooning over for three years . . .
What if their last shift was an adventure?”
Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale.
The world clearly needs more fantasy westerns about ass-kicking female teenagers! I thoroughly enjoyed this re-visioning of Rapunzel and her friend Jack, who had a beanstalk incident a while back. They’re outlaws for hire in the Wild West, bent on taking down the Big Bad who’s destroying the land and keeping good folks in poverty. The Hales who co-wrote it do a good job pacing the story and keeping the romance light until the end. The Hale who drew it (no relation to the authors) spent over a year on the artwork, and I don’t doubt it given the detail he puts into the panels! It’s a feel-good girl power tale, recommended.
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!
Re-Gifters by Mike Carey, illustrated by Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel.
We read this with our kiddo when he was four, and that was a mistake. There’s a little too much interpersonal drama mixed with the martial arts. We’re glad we showed him a portrayal of an Asian-American girl who’s a strong fighter, early in his life, but we’ll come back to this one later on. Dixie, the girl in question, is a Korean-American girl who’s a competitive athlete in Hapkido. She makes a mistake in falling for the wrong guy… possibly jeopardizing her chance to compete in the championships. Luckily, she has friends around to help out. It’s so, so, so good! The people are real, the decisions are often teenager decisions, but it’s handled with such compassion and respect for the characters, I really enjoyed this.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, adapted by Emily Carroll.
A graphic novel adaptation of a classic. I thought it was amazing. here’s the blurb: “‘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.”
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.
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane by Sean McKeever and illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa.
My husband’s take: “It has really good art, not just crappy Westernized knockoff of manga style art. It’s all teenage drama but the characters are likeable.” My take: “OMG I LOVE THIS and I am embarrassed by how much money I spent to get the 2 hardback volumes that comprise Sean McKeever’s run.”
This is NOT a Spider-Man book. This is a book about what happens at his high school, focused on Mary Jane, and he’s usually Peter Parker. He does make appearances as Spider-Man, and his double life does become an issue, but this is really pure high school dating/friend drama. And it’s lovely, like a sweet little high school soap opera without any “on a very special episode of…” after-school special junk. Just kids being kids, and most of them trying to be good kids.
Suburban Glamour by Jamie McKelvie.
Pretty, pretty pictures. McKelvie is one of the best artists working in comics today. He can draw a panel that’s just two people looking at each other, and it says more than some of the “artists” working on mainstream superhero comics can say in an entire book. (I’m looking at you, GREG LAND!) Anyway. Suburban Glamour is a contemporary fantasy about what happens when Astrid turns out not to be who she always thought she was. There are some talking toys, and some fairies, and some great shoes.
There is an implied joke about how sex is the only thing kids in small towns have to entertain themselves, teenagers drink and smoke pot, and someone spikes a girl’s drink at a party but her friends protect her. So this one may be a little old for a pre-teen or young teen, depending on their parents’ or guardians’ comfort level.
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.
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.
Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai.
A long-running series about a masterless samurai rabbit who works as a bodyguard. Lots and lots and lots of killing and body parts, though it’s in a cartoon style, not a realistic one. My husband loves Sakai’s art and our kiddo was into the story, even though a few points required some explanation because we read it to him when he was pretty young. (We have a lot of discussions here about how some things are fun in pretend, like light saber battles, but you would NEVER want to have them in real life.) I thought the stories were well plotted and interesting. And the good news is, if the young reader in your life likes it, there’s tons more where this came from.
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 my husband almost abandoned them. I stayed with it 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.
Valor, an anthology edited by by Isabelle Melançon and Megan Lavey-Heaton.
Valor is a collection of 23 short stories – most comics, a few prose – that “pays homage to the strength, resourcefulness, and cunning of female heroines in fairy tales.” Some of the stories are re-creations of existing fairy tales, while some are new. It’s an extremely diverse collection that includes both comics and short stories, women and girls of color, queer and trans characters, and stories rooted in a variety of cultures. The editors did a great job including a mix of atmospheres as well, from cute to scary to sad. I’d recommend this to anyone who loves fantasy, strong female characters, illustration, or just plain good comics. You can order it as an ebook or in print, and it’s well worth the purchase price.
The Will of Darth Vader (Star Wars Adventures) by Tom Taylor, with art by Brian Koschak.
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. Honestly, though, I suspect he may have missed the gravity of the situation. Other younger kids may find it too sad.
Welcome to the Ballroom by Tomo Takeuchi
“Feckless high school student Tatara Fujita wants to be good at something – anything. Unfortunately, he’s about as average as a slouchy teen can be. The local bullies know this, and make it a habit to hit him up for cash, but all that changes when the debonair Kaname Sengoku sends them packing. Sengoku’s not the neighborhood watch, though. He’s a professional ballroom dancer. And once Tatara Fujita gets pulled into the world of the ballroom, his life will never be the same.”
And that’s our list, so far, of well-loved comics for older kids and young adults!