#ReadGraphic: 11 Graphic Novels for YA Readers

Today marks the launch of Booklist‘s first-ever Graphic Novels in Libraries Month campaign, a program devoted to providing librarians with the tools they need to select, curate, and promote graphic titles for patrons of all ages. What can you expect? Amplified comics-related content all month long, including video interviews with Raina Telgemeier, Meg Cabot, Ngozi Ukazu, and more; two graphic novels webinars (one on Tuesday, July 9, one on Friday, July 26); and an uptick in graphic novel-themed blog posts, of course! To kick us off, here’s contributor Melody Ekstrom with 11 graphic novels that have undeniable crossover appeal for YA readers.

Are you a YA fan looking to branch out into graphic novels but don’t know where to start? I’m a relative newbie to graphic novels myself. While I wanted to be a well-rounded reader, I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the superhero canon (and honestly, not super interested in the genre)—and I didn’t know how to dive into the graphic novel format. Luckily, I stumbled upon American Born Chinese. Soon after, Kamala Khan took over as the new Ms. Marvel. I am by no means a graphic novel expert, but these are some of the titles that have welcomed me in, and hopefully, will welcome you in, too!

American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang

When his family moves to a new neighborhood, Jin Wang is the only Chinese American student at school. There, though all Jin wants is to fit in, he is bullied by classmates and must come to terms with his identity. Yang interweaves Jin’s tale with the seemingly unrelated stories of the Monkey King, a character from Chinese folklore, and popular high-school student Danny, whose cousin Chin-Kee is a walking, talking compendium of exaggerated Chinese stereotypes. Yang entwines each of these narratives to produce a powerful examination of shame, racism, and friendship. It’s no wonder he was awarded the 2016 MacArthur Fellowship!

The Backstagers, by James Tynion IV and illustrated by Rian Sygh

As someone with a theater degree, I was stoked to see a series centered on the tech side of theater. And I was even more excited when the area behind the stage ended up being a magical, liminal space that leads protagonist Jory—and friends—on adventures beyond the purview of the actors onstage. It’s satisfying to see the techies finally get the spotlight. Plus, after you finish all eight volumes in this series, you can turn to the middle-grade spin-off, where the theater talk, high-energy hustle, and magic only continues.

Fence, by C. S. Pacat and illustrated by Joanna the Mad

Fencing is the constant in Nick’s life. And he has a lot to prove, especially to the fencing legend dad who’s never been in his life. So when Seiji beats Nick at his first competitive match and then refuses to even shake Nick’s hand, Nick has a new goal: beat Seiji. He sure never expects to encounter Seiji at his new private school—or to have to compete for a spot on the school fencing team against his new proclaimed nemesis. This series, now 12 issues long, is great for those looking for queer romance and ship-worthy pairings.

Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis and illustrated by Shannon Watters

Friendship to the max! Imagine Girl Scout camp had more badges, hats that are actually raccoons, kittens, gods, and old women that turn into bears, and you’d have the Lumberjanes series. I credit this series, which kicks off with four pals—Jo, Molly, Mal, April, and Ripley—attending a summer camp for “hard-core lady-types,” as really getting me hooked on graphic novels when it comes to serialized trade volumes. You’ll be hooked on the mystery-solving, bad-guy-bludgeoning, summer-camp fun!

Misfit City, by Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith and Kurt Lustgarten and illustrated by Naomi Franquiz

Nothing has happened in Cannon Cove since cult-classic kids’ adventure movie, The Gloomies, was filmed there in the ’80s. That is, until Wilder and her friends discover an old pirate map, which leads them on an adventure all their own. This is a Gooniesesque tale from the screenwriter behind the late ’90s and early 2000s hits10 Things I Hate About You and Legally Blonde

Moonstruck, v.1: Magic to Brew, by Grace Ellis and illustrated by Shea Beagle

Barista Julie is trying to navigate a new relationship with a cute girl. Oh, and she’s a werewolf. And her best friend, Chet, is a centaur. Come for the magical college campus world; stay for Julie’s fan fiction and Chet’s devotion to a Neopets-like game, Newpals. I smiled a lot while reading this charming new series, and it gave me all the warm fuzzies.

Ms. Marvel: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson and illustrated by Adrian Alphona

Kamala Khan, a geeky 16-year-old Pakistani girl living in Jersey City, assumes the mantle of Ms. Marvel from her idol, Carol Danvers, and soon finds herself having to balance superhero-ing with school, friends, boys, and family. Every rule has an exception, and the introduction of Kamala Khan to the Marvel Universe made me rethink my (once) lukewarm stance on superheroes. As a bonus, this is penned by G. Willow Wilson, author of Alif the Unseen and The Bird King, to name a few!

Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson

Supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart is engaged in an epic feud with his nemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. He has no time for sidekicks, especially kid sidekicks. But, wait . . . Nimona is also a shark? Or rather, a shape-shifter, and she has a lot of ideas to help Blackheart bring down Goldenloin. But why doesn’t Blackheart seem all that interested in defeating his nemesis? Nimona tucks deep ideas underneath witty banter, and that’s always something I can get behind.

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang

When Francis, a seamstress living in Paris at the turn of the century, goes from dressmaker’s assistant to the exclusive dressmaker for Prince Sebastian (all in secret), Francis and Sebastian must deal with dreams, expectations, and how to balance both with their budding friendship. This graphic novel has so much heart and not only demonstrates how to be true to yourself, but also how to be a good friend.

Speak: The Graphic Novel, by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Emily Carroll

Whether you’re reexperiencing Speak—or experiencing it for the first time—Laurie Halse Anderson’s groundbreaking debut novel is just as powerful in this new graphic novel format. While some details have been slightly updated to make more sense in a modern context (Speak was originally published in 1999), what hasn’t changed is that this story is important and a straight punch to the gut. And this striking adaptation only adds new depth and nuance to its source material.

The Wicked + the Divine, by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Jamie McKelvie

What if gods were like rock stars? And what price would you pay to be a god? These are just some of the questions posed by Gillen and McKelvie’s Wicked + the Divine series, which features 12 gods (dubbed the Pantheon), who are reincarnated into the bodies of young humans, in which they live for a mere two years before they die. While this is categorized as an adult series, if you like gritty, dark fantasy in your YA, you have to jump on this. If you’re comfortable with the content in a Sarah J. Maas title, you’ll have no problems here.

Note: For each above series, I have credited the authors and artists from only the first volumes. At this point, many of the above titles have even more creators who’ve contributed to these awesome worlds.



About the Author:

Melody’s love of words has taken her on a variety of adventures, beyond the adventures on the page, including librarian, bookseller, literary intern, dramaturg, and script reader. Reading hundreds of books a year, she's constantly seeking that next literary fix.

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