By Katherine Scott, PCC Instructor

Looking for Young Adult Graphic Novels can be intimidating.

When I was a teenager, venturing into a comic shop felt like a record scratch, followed by silence as I tried to browse the shelves. Once, while sifting through back issues, I was even asked if I was lost.

Gatekeeping in comics has been an issue as long as I can remember and has made many feel like comics are a fandom where they do not belong.

However, thanks in part to the popularity of Marvel movies and the spread of nerd culture, this culture of exclusion is slowly fading. Comic books are for everyone — and as a reader, you deserve to see yourself reflected in the characters.

Below is a list of page-turning young adult graphic novels you just might love — no matter how old you are. It contains stand-alone novels, concluded series, and series that are still ongoing. Each entry tells a different, compelling story with characters just as unique as you.

 

Shadow of the Batgirl

Written by Sarah Kuhn, Illustrated by Nicole Goux
Published by DC Comic

In this stand-alone graphic novel, we meet Cassandra Cain, who wasn’t “raised” so much as she was trained as an agent of violence.

Living weapon of her supervillain father, Cass never learned anything other than the fight. When confronted with an impossible choice, she escapes her father’s clutches to try to find her own way.

Here, she learns about kindness, difference, and her favorite Gotham hero: Batgirl. Cass isn’t ready to be Batgirl, but — with the help of her new friend Barbara Gordon and surrogate auntie Jackie — Cass may be ready to find her own new way and fight back against her father.

Why read it?

It is invaluable for young readers to see a diversity of characters reflected as superheroes. In Shadow of the Batgirl, Kuhn centers the story around a young Asian American girl and gave her a role model of color. Readers can also learn from Cass’s strength as she breaks her conditioning and finds a life purpose on her own, in spite of having a villain as a parent.

Age Suggestion 12+

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Runaways, Volume 1: Pride and Joy

Written by Brian K. Vaughn, Illustrated by Adrian Alphona
Published by Marvel

This book answers the question, “What do you do if you realize you’re the bad guy (and you don’t want to be)?”.

Six young acquaintances see each other around the same time every year when their wealthy parents throw a party and kids are left to entertain themselves.

When the kids decide to spy on their parents, they find that their parents aren’t who they thought they were. The parents didn’t get rich without a little supernatural help… which comes with a price.

The kids run away and decide for themselves who they want to be, and whether it’s up to them to stop their (supervillain?) parents.

Why read it?

This long running series was pioneered in 2004 by Vaughn and Alphona. The faith Marvel showed in these creators was paramount, because this wildly popular series has lived on, and has even spawned a Hulu television series.

Runaways gives the reader a wide variety of characters with varied expressions and personal identifications related to gender, sexuality, body types, superpowers, and personalities.

Start with this volume, and then follow the Runaways through the years without needing to get caught up in Marvel’s many interlocking stories.

Age Suggestion 12+

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Lumberjanes Volume 1. Beware the Holy Kitten

Written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, Illustrated by Brooklyn Allen
Published by BOOM! Studios

Friendship to the max! This series follows Molly, Mal, Ripley, Jo, and April at a summer camp for “hardcore lady types.” These members of the Roanoke cabin can’t help getting into a steady stream of supernatural shenanigans, all while meeting Greek gods, yetis, and mermaids, and making new pals along the way.

Why read it?

I’ve seen this book read and enjoyed by those as young as 7-years-old, and there’s no cap on how old you can be and still love the Lumberjanes’ stories. The camp exists in a distorted time field, so no matter how long the book goes on for, the ladies of the Roanoke cabin will be around, meeting gods and bear-women at summer camp. The book shows characters’ emotional development in a sincere and honest way, acting as a guide for younger (and older) readers to process their own fears and insecurities. Holy Mae Jemisin, this is a book for anyone that can read.

Age Suggestion 8+

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Giant Days Volume 1

Written by John Allison, Illustrated by Lissa Treiman
Published by BOOM! Studios

Giant Days doesn’t have any characters with superpowers or magical artifacts. Instead, the story follows a group of university freshman who become fast friends despite their differences. Their friendship is sweet and believable. And through the 14 volumes of this series, you see each character grow and find who they are and want to be. Come for Esther’s drama field, but stay for Daisy‘s emotional growth.

Why read it?

This book addresses romantic relationships between college-aged students (and their effects on one’s behavior) in an honest way.

Young people fall in love and get their hearts broken for the first time, and they navigate these ups and downs all while, you know, trying to go to class, get good grades, and figure out what they want to do with their lives. It shows an approximation of what college life can be, and what those relationships can mean.

This book does shows teen drinking (set in the UK where it is legal at 18), but it also shows the consequences of characters exceeding their limits and the benefits of choosing to get sober.

Age Suggestion 14+

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Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1: Squirrel Power

Written by Ryan North, Illustrated by Erica Henderson
Published by Marvel

Squirrel Girl has long been a favorite D-list Marvel hero, and Ryan North gives her a new life over the course of this 13-volume book series.                                                               

Squirrel Girl, under her secret identity Doreen Green, starts at university seeking a degree in computer science.

She makes a best friend in teenage grandma Nancy Whitehead, who loves cats, computer science, and knitting. Multiple classmates also have secret identities as animal-themed heroes (like Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boy), and they become part of Doreen’s posse.

Doreen’s superpower, on top of the proportionate strength and agility of a squirrel and the ability to speak Squirrel-ese, is love and patience. People become villains for a reason, and Doreen wants them to know that they can evolve beyond their issues and become a hero.

 Age Suggestion 8+

Why read it?

Doreen’s patience with the villains who try to destroy her friends and the world shows a conflict resolution pattern modeled often in adult behavior, but rarely approached in children’s media.

She befriends Galactus by listening and giving solution-oriented suggestions when applicable. Plus, this book features a lot of fun and creative computer science throughout, showing that anyone can be into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)!

This book is perfect, 10/10, no notes.

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Further Reading

This list is just the start. Graphic fiction should resonate with all readers, so find stories that feel true for you.

You can find an author that you enjoy and explore all of their work, or you can discover unexpected gems from small, independent publishers and larger companies like Marvel, DC, Image, and others.

If you’re looking for more reading recommendations, check out some of these titles:

A world of YA Graphic Novels awaits. Get reading!

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