Despite the staggeringly large number of YA books that are about and contain romance, I think that the most important relationships in many teens’ lives are their friendships, far more than romantic entanglements. Not everyone dates in their teens, but nearly everyone has a friendship, good or bad or somewhere in between, that takes up space in their lives and helps define those turbulent teen years. While there is no lack of great YA books that dive into the complexities of great friendship across genres with all sorts of great representation, covering everything from break ups to friends to lovers, I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at some great YA graphic novels and comics, both new and backlist titles, that center on the joys and heartbreak of friendship.
Some of these might already be on your radar as overtly friendship stories, while some of these books are less obvious with their friendship themes — but still worth picking up! They cover everything from the painful process of making new friends, navigating complicated friend groups and dynamics, being lonely and discovering a new friend, friendship break ups, and friendships that evolve into something more! Let’s dive in!
Himawari House by Harmony Becker
Nao was born in Japan but raised in the U.S., so after high school she takes a gap year and heads to Tokyo, where she lives in Himawari House along with Hyejung and Tina, who are from Korea and Singapore. Although they come from very different backgrounds and have different goals and aspirations, they form a fast friendship over the shared experience of being a newcomer, learning Japanese, and exploring Tokyo. I loved this exploration of friendship across language and culture, and the focus on every day moments that connect people.
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw
On the surface, this seems like a book about romantic misadventure, but at the heart is a story of a fraying friendship. Mads loves her life and she has a best friend named Cat, who is a bit boy-obsessed. Cat is always pressuring Mads to find a boyfriend so they can both be dating, but when Mads finds herself attracted to girls as well as boys, she worries about how Cat will take it. This is a complex story about family secrets, navigating old and new friendships, and identity.
A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong
Ren and Luna meet on a beachside basketball court and strike up an easy friendship…and then Luna disappears. She pops back up again a few years later when both girls are in high school, expecting to fall back in with Ren, who is skeptical. When a teacher forms the school’s first women’s basketball team, Ren, Luna, and three other friends are the only ones to join. They must figure out a way to work together on the court and support each other off of it as each of them faces personal challenges and troubled home lives. I liked that this book was about what it means to be a good friend and teammate, even when the other person makes it difficult to connect.
Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Sterle
When Becca arrives as a new student to Piedmont, the last thing she expects is to find herself accepted into the most popular girl squad in the entire school — not that she’s complaining! It does mean she has to hide parts of herself to fit in, and sometimes the other girls can be domineering…but when she discovers this squad is secretly a werewolf pack looking to add a fourth to the mix, she’s happy to be included. The squad must feed once a month and they make it a point to only target bad men, but when disagreements break out, fissures appear in their friendship. This is a great story about toxic friend groups and finding (and holding onto!) true friendship.
Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms by Crystal Frasier and Val Wise
Annie is antisocial and proud of it, but when her mom and school principal force her to try out for the cheer squad to improve her social skills, she finds herself reconnecting with her former friend Bebe. Bebe is the only out trans girl in the entire school, and the cheer squad is happy to make her their captain. But as their trainings give way to real friendship, and maybe something more, Annie helps empower Bebe into standing up for herself and pushing back against the cheer squad’s attempts to tokenize her identity. I thought this book did a great job of exploring nuanced relationships between former friends and teammates, and it has a sweet friends to lovers dynamic!
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen, and Shannon Watters
Of course, no list about YA friendship comics could be complete without the Lumberjanes, whose motto is “Friendship to the max!” This long-running series is about a group of five friends who share a cabin at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, where they come across puzzling mysteries and supernatural shenanigans to investigate! I love that their friendship is established by the time you begin, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still grow and change and always support each other.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Freddy is in love with Laura Dean, but Laura has a bad habit of breaking up with Freddy around various holidays. They’re at breakup number three, and Freddy’s friend Doodle is growing impatient. As Freddy tries to figure out a way to win Lara back for good this time, she’s ignoring the fact that Doodle is going through her own troubles and could really use a friend. I liked how this book is about messy friendships and how it’s important to always hold on to the friends that sustain you through the bad times and good.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Anya can’t help but feel different and lonely at school, where she’s teased for being the daughter of Russian immigrants and doesn’t fit in. When she finds herself at the bottom of an old well, she’s shocked to discover a ghost trapped down there. She frees the ghost and they strike up a friendship that makes Anya feel seen and valued, but when her new friend starts to make some decisions Anya doesn’t feel comfortable with, she’ll have to decide if this friendship is really all it’s cracked up to be.
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks
Deja and Josiah are best work friends. They really only hang out every fall, when they work at the Disney World of pumpkin patches. Now it’s Halloween night of senior year, and they’re about to go their separate ways and they won’t be returning next year. Overachiever Josiah is sad about the ending, so Deja convinces him to shirk his shift and go tell the girl he’s been crushing on how he feels about her. As for Deja, she wants to get in as many pumpkin patch snacks as possible before the night is over. But runaway goats, wayward kids, and a missing crush throw a wrench in their plans, and by the end of the night Deja and Josiah have to figure out if maybe their friendship can continue year-round.
The Greatest Thing by Sarah Winifred Searle
Winifred is headed into her sophomore year of high school without her only friends, who’ve transferred to a different school. She’s ready for it to be a lonely year when she meets Oscar and April in art class, and a new friendship is formed. But their happiness is threatened by the fact that Winifred has been keeping a pretty big secret from them, one that has turned into a lie. I can’t wait to get my hands on this new release!
Want more great YA comics and graphic novel content? Check out our recent round up of new YA graphic novel releases!