Young adult graphic novels, memoirs, and comics have exploded in recent years, with more and more original content published by Big Five publishers. This is exciting on multiple levels — new content is always welcome, new talent is being showcased, and stories that might not have otherwise had a wide platform are now sought after. One thing that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon is the adaptation of existing YA books. This is something that’s happened for a while, mainly with YA audience with huge built-in audiences (think Twilight, which was adapted into a manga, and The Mortal Instruments, which was adapted in a “graphic novel” series but the art is very reminiscent of manga), and it’s continued into recent years, even though there’s plenty of original graphic novels breaking into the market.
I’m intrigued by comic adaptations of existing works because I imagine it’s a tricky balance bringing a long text to a graphic format. What gets interpreted into the artwork, and how does an artist choose what to focus on? What text gets cut from the new adaptation? How do the artist and adapter/writer translate complex emotion previously expressed via text in a hybrid format? I find it fascinating, especially as there are some really great books that make sense for adaptations (Long Way Down, for example) but others that I wouldn’t expect, yet love. I also think it’s an excellent way for older books to find new audiences and get fresh updates!
Whether you’re read the original text or not, I highly recommend checking out these beautiful and engaging graphic novel adaptations of YA novels! We have everything from big YA releases to deep backlist titles that have found new readers in a new form.
Fangirl, Vol. 1: The Manga by Rainbow Rowell, Sam Maggs, and Gabi Nam
The first volume of the manga adaptation of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl released in 2020, with the second volume set to release later this year. Adapted by comics writer Sam Maggs and illustrated by South Korean artist Gabi Nam, this series tells the story of Cath, a college freshman and fan of bestselling series Simon Snow. When she starts college without her twin sister, she buries herself in writing fan fiction. But the real world also intrudes: her roommate and her friend, a writing partner, and college classes that challenge her in unexpected ways.
Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll
Laurie Halse Anderson’s groundbreaking novel Speak is one that makes total sense for a graphic adaptation to me — it is a highly visual text about a girl who is selectively mute after a traumatic incident at a party. Melinda is hated after what happened at the party last summer, making freshman year miserable and lonely. But an art class and new friends and allies slowly allow her to confront what happened to her, and find her voice.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore and Gareth Hinds
Gareth Hinds adapted and illustrated Cashore’s groundbreaking fantasy debut Graceling, bringing her rich fantasy world to life with stunning visuals. In the story, people with different color eyes possess supernatural abilities called Graces. Katsa’s Grace is for killing, and she’s being used as a pawn by an unscrupulous king, but when she meets a foreign prince named Po, Katsa reconsiders her loyalties and makes a decision to own her power. I love how Hinds weaves in fantasy maps and world building elements in and among the art.
Juliet Takes a Breath: The Graphic Novel by Gabby Rivera and Celia Moscote
Juliet Takes a Breath was originally published by a small press before it was picked up by Dial, so it’s been making waves for a while now! It’s about Juliet, a teenager from the Bronx who is headed to Portland, Oregon, for the summer to be the assistant of a queer feminist writer she practically worships. Before she leaves, she comes out to her family…and that’s just the beginning of a summer of discovery, first love, and soul searching. Juliet’s story is so vibrant, I can just imagine that the illustrations pop from the page.
Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel by Ned Vizzini, David Levithan, and Nick Bertozzi
Be More Chill was the late Ned Vizzini’s debut novel. It released in 2004, and it follows Jeremy, an unpopular teen who swallows a super computer in the form of a pill that gives him instructions on how to be cool, with some interesting results. The book has been adapted into a Broadway show, become internet famous, and now reaches a wider audience in a graphic novel adapted by bestselling author David Levithan, with art by Nick Bertozzi.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel by Ransom Riggs and Cassandra Jean
For a novel that revolves around creepy and unsettling found vintage photos, it’s unsurprising to learn that Riggs’s debut novel was adapted into a graphic novel. The story is about Jacob, who grew up with his grandfather’s stories of the peculiar children at Miss Peregrine’s home. He even has the photos to prove it, and Jacob assumes they’re illusions or fake…until he gets the chance to see Miss Peregrine’s home for himself.
Monster: A Graphic Novel by Walter Dean Myers, Guy A. Sims, and Dawud Anyabwile
Monster by Walter Dean Myers is groundbreaking in many ways, and among its many accolades is that it’s the first novel to take home the Printz Award. It’s also a highly visual text about a Black teen named Steve who is on trial for robbery and murder, and envisions his story playing out as the screenplay of a movie, seeking to answer a complicated question: Is Steve a monster? Walter Dean Myers passed away in 2014, and this 2015 graphic novel was adapted by Sims, with Anyabwile illustrating.
Vampire Academy: A Graphic Novel by Richelle Mead, Leigh Dragoon, and Emma Vieceli
In the golden age of YA vampires, the Vampire Academy series might not have reached the same heights as Twilight but it was pretty well-read, inspiring a movie starring Zoey Deutch. It follows Lissa and Rose, a vampire and half-blood respectively, who are on the run from an unknown danger when they’re caught and dragged back to Vampire Academy, a supposedly “safe” haven for the vampires of the world. But Rose knows the danger hasn’t passed and she’s on guard, all the while trying not to fall for her sexy new teacher. Also, fun fact: The series has been revived for TV, and is set to premiere on Peacock later this year!
Between Shades of Gray by Rita Sepetys, Andrew Donkin, Dave Kopek, and Brann Livesay
Ruta Sepetys’s debut novel Between Shades of Gray has become an international bestseller, been adapted for film, and now is a new graphic novel adapted by Andrew Donkin with illustrations and color by Dave Kopek and Brann Livesay. When Lina and her family are arrested by the Soviets in 1941, they’re deported to Siberia and separated from her father. Surviving in brutal conditions, Lina tries to hold on to hope that she’ll one day return home and be reunited with her father, all the while using her abilities as an artist to help inspire courage in others.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds and Danica Novgorodoff
Jason Reynolds’s short but powerful novel in verse is nearly word-for-word reprinted in this graphic novel, illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff. It’s the emotional story of Will, whose brother Shawn has just been shot. So he goes up to their apartment and grabs his brother’s gun. He gets into the elevator to go down and get some vengeance, but on each floor the elevator stops and lets in someone from Will’s life that will challenge him and his decision, leaving readers on edge, wondering what will happen when Will reaches the ground floor.
Want more great new YA graphic novels and comics? Check out our quarterly round up of new YA graphic novel and comics releases!