20 Graphic Novels Teens Can’t Get Enough Of
Graphic novels are loved by all ages, but their increasingly diverse coming-of-age stories make them particularly great for teens
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Why teens love graphic novels
Graphic novels are catching up with the young adult publishing trend, so a list of the best graphic novels for teens is overdue. Teen books have always been diverse in genre. Whether feel-good books, romance books, horror or fantasy, graphic novels span the range. There are also plenty of graphic novels for kids and graphic novels for adults, but this list focuses on a diverse selection of books to mirror the diversity of teens reading them. Any teenager can find a graphic novel they’ll love here, and YA graphic novels are an excellent way to get them reading.
Older students often spend all day looking at blocks of text in textbooks and on whiteboards at school, which can make traditional novels more intimidating and less appealing. Graphic novels for teens solve this problem, while also being a faster read, and one that’s easier for between classes or during breaks from homework. And it is still reading, simply made more accessible (especially for teenagers struggling with dysgraphia and/or other neurodivergence).
According to a report by Jim Milliot in Publisher’s Weekly, graphic novel sales (including manga and comics) rose 61% in 2021. Despite the pandemic, this storytelling format is rising to new heights, and what better way to celebrate that than with a list of graphic novels specifically for teens? These selections are based on popularity and sales, and they include some classics. Most important, like all the best books, these graphic novels showcase a wide range of diverse stories, characters and perspectives for teenagers to explore.
Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
Heartstopper is a fantastic place to start for any teenager looking for joyful depictions of queer romance. Things aren’t always easy for Nick (a cheerful rugby player) and Charlie (a gay and bullied teen), but their friendship is beautiful to see, especially as it grows into something deeper. This story will fill your heart more than stop it as Nick, Charlie and their group of friends navigate queer teenhood. They often struggle with very relatable and common teen issues, but some themes could be considered too mature for those under 14. Self-published in 2018, Heartstopper now has an immensely popular Netflix adaptation that explores this graphic novel for teens.
The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
Morgan, a Korean Canadian 15-year-old, dreams of escaping the claustrophobia of people’s expectations for her, not to mention the crushing weight of her biggest secret: that she likes girls. Then she’s saved from drowning by a selkie (a seal-person from Celtic mythology) named Keltie—and she’s cute! They become friends (and more) as Morgan struggles to open up, as it’s the only way she can help Keltie save her habitat. This 2021 graphic novel is heartwarming, heartbreaking and overall an excellent LGBTQ+ book for teens stuck between the fear of judgment and the truth of who they are.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
Prince by day, lady by night. Sebastian’s secret life of glamour and fashion as Lady Crystallia is hard to hide while his parents look for his future bride. His only saving grace is his best friend and unbelievably talented dressmaker, Frances. But Frances has dreams of greatness for herself, and they’re being threatened in the shadow of the prince’s secret. Lady Crystallia can’t hide forever, either. Teens who love romance, fashion, books about friendship and secret adventures will be thrilled with this coming-of-age tale, published in 2018.
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker
Mooncakes is that spellbinding, magical-girl queer romance you’ve been looking for. Nova Huang works in her grandma’s bookstore—where they also loan out spell books, for the customers who know to ask. Her childhood crush, Tam, has been on the run for years as a werewolf, but is back for Nova’s help. The Huang family must come together to save them and their wolf magic before darker intentions prevail. This fantasy book, illustrated by Wendy Xu, was published in 2019.
Bloom by Kevin Panetta
In this graphic novel, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau and published in 2013, two boys fall in love in a bakery. Ari hopes to move to the city with his band, but first he has to train Hector in baking. As Ari starts to unfold the truth of who Hector is and why he’s spending so much time in the bakery, Hector becomes an unexpected complication in Ari’s plans—and how Ari has viewed his life. Bloom is about learning who we are despite who we want to be, and what grows where we aren’t necessarily looking. Graphic novels for teens aren’t always this subtle yet powerful, and this is a great choice as a beach read as well!
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
This One Summer will greatly resonate with those who are, or remember being, a young teen girl learning what it means to be a woman in our world. Rose’s parents are fighting on summer vacation, so she and her younger friend, Windy, spend their time outside the house, interacting with the world and learning from it. This is not a story about overcoming fantastical obstacles, but rather about how we become who we are and how we form our beliefs at early ages. It’s a beautiful example of the art of subtle fiction. Fans of Tamaki’s better-known work, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, should give this a go as well! This graphic novel, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, was published in 2014.
Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan
This 2015 time travel page-turner is news you don’t want to miss, not with its TV adaptation released on Amazon Prime in 2022. A group of girls who deliver newspapers get sucked into a whirlwind of interdimensional time travel. Action-packed, plot-focused and sci-fi heavy, these graphic novels for teens are perfect for Star Wars lovers! It won’t disappoint, and comes with a list of impressive accolades: multiple Eisners, a Harvey and plenty of nominations and shortlists. This book is illustrated by Cliff Chang, colored by Matt Wilson and lettered by Jared K. Fletcher.
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable
Mads has a lot going on: Her father has a secret, and she’s realized she wants to kiss her best friend. She’ll discover a lot more in the span of the book, as this story heavily explores the trials of teen sexuality. Mads deals with crushes and friendship struggles while uncovering family secrets both past and present to learn what she comes from, and maybe who she is. Kiss Number 8 was long listed for the National Book Award and a finalist for Eisner. This graphic novel, illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw and published in 2019, could be one of the best short books you’ll read.
Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky
Sanja and Lelek are different: Sanja is a fighter, Lelek is a witch. They don’t understand each other at first, coming from very different backgrounds. But as they set off on a quest together, they start to learn about, and from, one another. Fighting turns to friendship. Friendship turns to something more. While they don’t start as nemeses, this book could certainly fall under the enemies-to-lovers category too. Published in 2020, this graphic novel is a queer story about coming of age by finding your own way in the world.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
If you’re looking for a Halloween read, this spooky anthology published in 2014 is perfect. Emily Carroll released four new stories in this series, along with her immensely popular “His Face All Red.” They range in length but never in horror. Whether you fear strangers or worry something strange lies in those close to you, you’ll be holding your pillow close to your chest at night. To put it simply: Don’t read this before bed. If you’re a series lover, here are some more of the best book series for teens for you to check out.
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
For teens looking for a more serious read, this adaptation of Walter Dean Myers’s famous work will leave you with lots of questions about the world and how we treat the people in it, especially BIPOC individuals and those in the criminal justice system. Unlike most graphic novels for teens, this adaptation is in black and white. For those unfamiliar with the novel, it tells the story of Steve Harmon, a 16-year-old on trial for murder. What does it mean to come of age through a criminal trial? How do you figure out who you are when everyone is calling you something: guilty, innocent or a monster? This novel was adapted into a graphic novel in 2015 by Guy Sims and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile.
Nimona by ND Stevenson
This 2015 graphic novel is a high-fantasy queer epic for the ages. Nimona, a shapeshifter, forcibly befriends Lord Ballister Blackheart and convinces him to mentor her in villainy. While their mission to take down the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics seems villainous at first, the labels of “villain” and “hero” (and who decides what those mean) become questionable. And Nimona, who at one point seemed simply impulsive, may have a fire within her more dangerous than Ballister first anticipated.
Displacement by Kiku Hughes
In this 2019 time travel graphic novel, Kiku finds herself sent back in time to a World War II Japanese internment camp. There, she learns the history of her family firsthand—especially that of her grandmother, who is imprisoned in the very same internment camp. Hughes portrays the horror of this moment in American history and the resilient community (and family) formed under the circumstances of racist imprisonment. Displacement was awarded one of NYPL Best Books of the Year and was an Eisner Nominee.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Anya is just a normal girl from an immigrant family, struggling with fitting in. Of course, most normal girls don’t fall down a well and come back out with a new friend—one who’s been dead for a while. But Anya figures a ghost friend is better than none. Things, however, may not be what they seem. If you’re a fan of Wednesday Addams, you’ll love this spooky story, published in 2011.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
In this 2006 book, Gene Luen Yang flawlessly ties three seemingly separate tales—a bullied young kid from a Chinese family falling in love with an American girl, a monkey who wants to be a god and a kid who hates his cousin for being a “Chinese stereotype”—into a story about identity, belonging and community. If you’ve never read it, you’re missing out on a seminal YA graphic novel. This story will especially wow teens with a background of immigration, whether they are first generation or immigrants themselves.
The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
For fans of fairy tales, this 2020 graphic novel is hard to beat. Tien wants to tell his family he’s gay, but their language difference creates a barrier he can only cross through the Vietnamese fairy tales he gets from the library. How do you speak the truth when you literally don’t have the words to say it? This graphic novel touches on how we express ourselves and our truths, and how generational difference between loved ones can create obstacles to connection.
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
For teens with a love for world history or memoirs, this classic from 2003 will be your best pick. Satrapi tells the story of growing up as a young girl in Tehran, Iran during the Islamic Revolution. She deals both with things teens should never face and with things teens deal with every day. This is not your typical teen memoir; it has a perspective you rarely get to hear, and it’s not going to be like anything else you’ve ever read.
Squire by Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh
If you’re looking for a fantasy world that leans away from typically Western ideas, this hero’s journey is for you. This 2022 Harvey Award winner takes inspiration from Jordan during the Turkish Ottoman Empire. It follows Aiza, who hopes to gain full citizenship the only way she can as an Ornu minority in the fictional Bayt-Sajji empire: knighthood. She must keep her identity a secret while risking her life to fight for a country that doesn’t value her heritage.
A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong
If you’re interested in sports fiction, look no further! Sloane Leong has created a vibrant and colorful novel centering a girls’ basketball team and a complicated friendship between main characters Luna and Ren. After Luna moves to Hawaii and ghosts Ren, Ren is hesitant to let her old friend back into her life, amongst her own personal struggles. This 2020 graphic novel is a dynamic story about how trust can affect everything, both on and off the court, and it’s a great read written by a female author.
The Sacrifice of Darkness by Roxane Gay and Tracy Lynne Oliver
The Sacrifice of Darkness expands and adapts Roxane Gay’s short story “We Are the Sacrifice of Darkness.” The 2020 graphic novel is an epic journey of fixing the world after previous generations have left it, pun intended, in the dark. After Joshua’s father flies into the sun and puts it out, he and his mother are shunned from society, and he sets off to find answers and fix his father’s mistake in the sky. Illustrated by Rebecca Kirby, this is a story where love and hope shine the brightest in the dark.