Graphic novels have a level of storytelling that normal books just can’t compete with. It isn’t just pictures — it’s art. Art that can show exactly what characters are feeling or thinking without a lick of dialogue or description. Art that can still leave a little to the imagination. Art that can show, not tell. Art that can depict the most fantastical or the most mundane things, and can weave the threads of a good story just as well as words can.
Whether you’re looking for new graphic novels to devour or you’ve never even opened one, here’s a list of our favorite YA graphic novels.
1.Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Nimona has been everywhere, and for good reason! Noelle Stevenson’s debut novel has taken the world by storm with its lovable, fierce heroine. It started first as a webcomic, but the graphic novel has an epilogue that wasn’t published online, so print buyers get a little extra.
If you need a reason to read Nimona, we have one for you: “impulsive young shapeshifter.”
Nimona, the aforementioned young shapeshifter, gathers some friends and wreaks some “serious havoc” while trying to prove that the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics isn’t as full of heroes as people may think.
Count us in.
2. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
American Born Chinese is actually three interwoven stories: the stories of Jin Wang, Chin-Kee and the Monkey King fable.
Jin Wang is a Chinese American student who feels completely alone. When he moves to a new school and finds he is the only Chinese American there, his life takes a downward spiral. He even falls for an “all-American girl.”
Chin-Kee is described as “the ultimate Chinese stereotype,” and is ruining his cousin Danny’s life. Every time Chil-Kee shows up, Danny has to transfer schools “to escape the shame.”
The Monkey King is an old Chinese fable, and depicts the “greatest monkey on earth.” But he doesn’t want to be a monkey. He wants to be a god.
Yang weaves the three unrelated stories together all the way to an “astonishing climax” that will glue readers to the page.
3. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (illustrator)
“It’s a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up,” and if that doesn’t sell you on this graphic novel about Rose’s bogus family trip to Awago Beach, we’re not sure what will. Awago Beach is Rose’s family’s getaway, along with her friend Windy, but this summer isn’t as much of a getaway.
Rose’s parents are continuously fighting, and Rose and Windy’s attempts at distracting themselves land them in the middle of all sorts of other problems.
This story of “renewal and revelation” has already left its mark on the YA graphic novel world, and three years later, it’s still a must-read.
4. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Imagine that you’re a young girl who feels awkward in her body, in school, and in life overall. Imagine that you need a new friend more than anything, and you get one. Just… maybe not the kind of friend you expected. Your new friend is a ghost.
That’s what Anya’s Ghost is about, and it sounds amazing. Wouldn’t you want a “spooky, sardonic and secretly sincere” ghost to be your best friend?
5. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Do you ever wish you could read a graphic novel that makes your spine tingle? Through the Woods might just be your best bet.
It’s actually five stories rolled into one, all of which are from the “macabre” imagination of Emily Carroll.
We don’t want to give anything about Through the Woods away, but if you like spooky, amazingly-illustrated stories, this book is for you.
6. Blankets by Craig Thompson
Blankets is the kind of story that stays with you. Even the description of a “blustery Wisconsin winter” in the summary drew us in… not to mention the description of two coming-of-age lovers trying to find themselves.
This graphic novel is a roller coaster of ups and downs, mixed with the kind of storytelling that only art can provide.
7. Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley
A lot of Seconds doesn’t really make logical sense (in a good way). Like the “house spirit” who hangs around wearing clothes that were left out for it. Or the mushrooms that somehow make all of Katie’s problems go away.
Katie decides to break the rules and use more than the usual single mushroom. Because using a mushroom to fix your life’s issues is a usual occurrence, sure. So she keeps going. And going. And going. Until she learns the consequences.
Seconds keeps you interested from cover to cover. You’ll never look at a mushroom the same way again. Plus, Seconds comes from the mind (and pen) that wrote and illustrated Scott Pilgrim, the graphic novel series that was made into a movie!
8. Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang (illustrator) and Matthew Wilson (illustrator)
The title of Paper Girls isn’t some sort of strange metaphor — the girls in Paper Girls actually deliver newspapers.
Young girls delivering newspapers isn’t too weird of a subject, considering this book is set in 1988. The early hours after Halloween in 1988, to be exact.
Vaughan, Chiang and Wilson combine suburban drama and “otherworldly mysteries” in this 5-volume graphic novel series about “the last days of childhood.”
9. Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll (illustrations)
Have you ever heard of Baga Yaga? The witch from Russian folklore is often described as a fearsome witch who lives deep in a forest, alone in a hut (which may or may not stand above the ground on chicken legs).
Baba Yaga is a delightfully interesting character in any story, but we’re glad she’s inspired the graphic novel Baga Yaga’s Assistant.
One day, Masha comes across a job posting.
“ASSISTANT WANTED ASAP
Must have skills in hauling, obeying orders, cooking, and cleaning. Magical talent a bonus. Must be good with heights. Enter Baba Yaga’s house to apply.”
Masha decides to take Baga Yaga up on her job posting, but has to pass a few tests of the witch’s making first. Follow Masha on her adventures with Baba Yaga in this spooky, entertaining take on the old Russian tale.
10. The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff
Have you ever wondered about the old Northern Chinese tradition of always burying a man with a woman to keep him company — even if that means finding another corpse? No? Well, you’re wondering now.
When Deshi Li’s brother dies without a wife, it’s Deshi’s job to find a suitable female corpse to follow him into the afterlife. Because that’s a totally normal thing. Then Lily Chen, who wants out of town, comes into the picture. Deshi leaves to find an afterlife partner for his brother, and Lily comes along. Together they find “a land where the ground is hard and the graves are shallow,” and where Lily is wanted, whether dead or alive.