12 Terrifying YA Graphic Novels
Some of you may have already noticed that I’m a fan of horror and comics and, well, horror comics. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve written about this particular genre but, most recently, at the beginning of the summer, I wrote about seven new horror comics that would succeed in giving you chills in the midst of this oppressive heat.
But I want to take a step back. Dive into the backlist. Share some of the all-star horror comics I’ve read in the past five years or so during which I began reading comics for the first time ever.
And as a bonus for those who are leery of horror or who are just starting to dip a toe into horror or who are obsessed with it and trying to indoctrinate their teen into the glories of horror comics, I’ll be omitting the graphic novels that would immediately send you into a nightmare spiral from which you might never return. So, no Infidel. And no Wytches. And nothing with ritualistic human sacrifice (that I can recall…). Instead, I’ll focus on the titles that have been deemed safe for young adults.
These reads are perfect for both you and your offspring. Family book club time?
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Nimona leans closer to fantasy, but there are definitely elements of horror in this standalone graphic novel, written and illustrated by the creator of such awesomeness as the Lumberjanes series and the She-Ra reboot. It’s about a villain who’s opposed to violence and the young shapeshifter (the titular Nimona) who appoints herself as his sidekick. The darkness in this charming tale creeps up on you. But by the end, you’ll be on the edge of your seat as the mysteries of Nimona’s dangerous past and powers are unveiled.
The Woods by James Tynion IV, Michael Dialynas, and Josan Gonzalez
For a horror series featuring a group of teens, these comics pull no punches. The series is about an entire high school that vanishes without a trace…only to reappear on a strange alien planet. Five hundred and thirteen people, stranded light years away from the only home they’ve ever known — but why? It’s a long and twisty road to find answers, and the planet is as dangerous as it is mysterious. Will they ever find their way home?
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
This series (probably best for mature readers) is about a teenage girl in a war-torn world who shares a psychic link with an ancient monster. Our protagonist is on a search for vengeance, but meanwhile, she must elude an order of sorceresses who want nothing more than to consume her for her power. It’s…a lot. But it’s well worth hanging on for this wild ride.
The Backstagers by James Tynion IV, Rian Sygh, Walter Baiamonte, and Jim Campbell
OK. Maybe it’s a stretch to label this series as horror. But it contains a ton of supernatural hijinks, so I’m including it. This series follows a group of high school outcasts who find their people in the stage crew. There is romance. There is drama. There are Emotions. And then there’s that door backstage that happens to lead to…a magical world?Another dimension? Hard to say. But with its strange creatures and shifting hallways, the stage crew members are the only ones who stand between the chaos of this shadow world and the halls of their school. And my god. If you look up “charming” in the dictionary, there might be a picture of these books there.
Misfit City by Kristen “Kiwi” Smith, Kurt Lustgarten, Naomi Franquiz, Brittany Peer, and Jim Campbell
Nostalgia alert! If you grew up loving The Goonies, you’re gonna love this one. Your offspring, meanwhile, will appreciate this teen-driven suspense story with elements of the supernatural. This comic series takes place in a town whose claim to fame is that a cult kids’ adventure movie from the ’80s was filmed there. (Hey…it brings in the tourists.) But when a group of girls who live there find an old treasure map that seems legit, they end up embarking upon an adventure reveals that truth may be wilder than fiction.
Victor LaValle’s Destroyer by Victor LaValle, Dietrich Smith, Joana Lafuente, and Jim Campbell
This series contains layers that will keep both teens and their caregivers engaged. Horror superstar LaValle tells the story of a rogue scientist who happens to be Frankenstein’s last descendant, and the lengths she’ll go to in order to reconnect with the son she lost. This story ably combines horror and humanity and racial discourse with vibrant artwork and a compelling, complex narrative.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack
Remember that sitcom from the ’90s? Sabrina the Teenage Witch? This is sooo not that. In this much darker take on Sabrina and the fam, this teen half-witch is faced with a tough decision in the lead-up to her sweet sixteen: become a full witch or live life as a mortal with her sweetheart Harvey Kinkle? But that’s not all. As the series spins out, Sabrina must contend with a demon from Hell, hellbent on vengeance; a resurrected father posing as her resurrected boyfriend; the dangers of necromancy; and more.
Morning in America by Magdalene Visaggio, Claudia Aguirre, and Zakk Saam
In my opinion, this series ended too soon. It follows a group of rough-and-tumble friends who seem to be the only ones aware that there’s something amiss in their small town. But what is it? A weird government conspiracy? An alien invasion? All of the above? And what can they do about it?
Die by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans, and Clayton Cowles
This paranormal fantasy is a head trip and should be extra fun for fans of role-playing games. In the first volume, a group of teens gather to play a tabletop role-playing game created by one of them, and are transported to the world of the game. They reemerge into the real world two years later — minus one of the members of their crew — having been through hell. Decades later, they are drawn back into the world of the game…but this time, they may never be able to find their way home.
Specter Inspectors by Bowen McCurdy, Kaitlyn Musto, and Jim Campbell
This is one of the newer titles on this list, and one of the ones I suggested for summer reading way back in June. By now, the arc is (sadly) over. As a reminder, this all-ages comic follows a group of young ghost hunters, one of whom becomes possessed by a demon while out on the job. The group scrambled to solve the ages-old mystery that will set their friend free while, in the midst of it all, a queer romance blooms.
Proctor Valley Road by Grant Morrison, Alex Child, Naomi Franquiz, Tamra Bonvillain, and Jim Campbell
This is another one that’s nearing its end (::shakes fists at the sky::). Quite a bit less sweet than the title above and a whole lot scarier, this series features four high school misfits who stumble upon a vengeful ghost in the middle of the desert. Pissed off that they have dishonored her domain, this ghost plucks victims from amongst those who happen to drive through her stretch of desert along Proctor Valley Road and repurposes them as grotesque, gory monsters. She then sics these monsters on our hapless gals in addition to haunting them herself. Can bring an end to this ghoul’s horrific reign?
Eve by Victor LaValle, Jo Mi-Gyeong, and Brittany Peer
Finally, let’s wrap things up with another title from LaValle. This dystopian sci-fi (IMHO, just one more sub-genre of horror) is about a young girl who awakens from an idyllic virtual reality into a world with which she’s unfamiliar. Her father? Nowhere to be found. But her dad did leave behind a robot teddy bear who’s not actually a robot teddy bear to guide and protect her. This pair embarks on a quest across the country to save her father…and restore life to her dying planet. And while I know the series isn’t done yet, the fact that there are two LaValle titles on this list gives me hope that he’ll keep on keepin’ on with those horror comics.