Comics are a medium that has variously been seen as “just for kids” and full of gritty, gory, adult-only stories, depending on which gatekeepers and/or rumbling moral panic happens to be front and centre at the time. Avid comics-readers will know that this is far from the case – like prose books, there are comics out there for readers of all ages, from the very young to the most jaded adult reader. Thanks to the versatility of the comic medium, there are plenty of perfect YA comics available that will appeal to old hands and new comics readers alike.
In fact, comics lend themselves very well to a YA readership. There are many stories out there that have all the best-known YA hallmarks – a teenage or young protagonist, fighting for what’s right in an unjust world or (sometimes and) falling for their first love while working out the kind of person they want to be. As well as being an art form in their own right, comics are an ideal pick for anyone wanting a shorter read, and whether you prefer standalones or long-running series, you’ll find something in YA comics to fit your reading tastes. Here are a few of the best YA comics of recent years, from major publishers and indie creators alike.
Ms Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Currently starring in the Marvel’s Avengers game, Kamala Khan made her debut in G. Willow Wilson’s hugely successful No Normal back in 2014. After she gains body-morphing powers and takes on the mantle of Ms Marvel, following in the footsteps of her favourite superhero Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel), Kamala has to balance her superheroic duties with her everyday life as a teenager from a devout Muslim family. Kamala is a joyful heroine, bringing her enthusiastic fangirling outlook to a world that can sometimes get a little too grimdark, and is one of my favourite characters in and out of comics.
Tantalize: Kieren’s Story by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Ming Doyle
Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize series is a deliciously dark paranormal YA romance, and the fifth book, Kieren’s Story, shifts mediums from novel to comic. This book retells the first story in the series from the perspective of Kieren, who is best friend to the determined heroine Quincey Morris – and a half-werewolf struggling to choose between his human and wolf destinies. Fans of gothic romance will love this new point of view on a story that hits all the classic paranormal beats.
Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart by Brian Michael Bendis and Stefano Caselli
Teenage genius Riri Williams steps into the space vacated by Tony Stark in the first volume in the Ironheart series. Ironheart is an ideal YA comics read, and a great way for new readers to get into the wider world of Marvel – while the story fits neatly into the continuity, and many characters familiar to more regular readers turn up throughout the volume, Riri taking centre stage marks a beginning that brand-new readers can pick up from. Riri herself is a compelling heroine – brave, clever, and grappling with trauma from her past while working towards a more positive future for the people she cares about and the wider world.
Khaos Komix: Steve and Mark by Tab Kimpton
Khaos Komix, a series following the lives and loves of eight queer friends in their final year of school, was one of the first projects by indie comics creator Tab Kimpton. This opening volume focuses on Steve and Mark, best friends who both realise that they’re in love with each other but aren’t sure how the other one feels. Steve and Mark’s story is a sweet, funny romance that kicks off a series with some of the most lovable and memorable characters you’ll ever meet, and also introduces the six other members of the friendship group who negotiate life and love as they muddle through the year before university.
Crankrats Vol. 1 by Kat Ellis
Steampunk fans will love the Crankrats series. Set in a world where enemy nations Bantaria and Altavia are on the brink of war, the story follows childhood friends Madeline and Jack, who were separated following an attack on the city they call home and reunite as adults, not recognising each other and trying to get along in spite of their respective traumas. Despite the serious backstory, Crankrats is a lively, upbeat tale, set in a world of cogs, airships, and people who have the ability to control electricity with their minds. The main characters are instantly likeable, and as the world expands, you’ll get more and more drawn in.
Kim Reaper: Grim Beginnings by Sarah Graley
A cute romance with a twist, Kim Reaper follows the story of Becka, who has a crush on a fellow student, Kim. Becka soon realises that Kim isn’t just an ordinary student, though – instead, she’s a part-time Grim Reaper, who has to guide newly-dead souls out of the mortal realm and into the afterlife. While trying to ask Kim out, Becka accidentally stumbles into her supernatural world, encountering all kinds of dangerous ghosts and spirits – but luckily, nothing is strong enough to overpower new love.
Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ryan Estrada and Hyung-Ju Ko
This memoir in comic form tells the story of Kim Hyun Sook’s experiences as a young woman starting college in the 1980s in South Korea. Against a backdrop of totalitarianism and political unrest, Hyun Sook goes from reading classical literature to being part of a secret organisation devoted to reading books that have been banned by South Korea’s Fifth Republic. Politically-minded young readers will love Hyun Sook and her classmates’ dedication to pursuing knowledge against insurmountable odds.
FTL, Y’all!: Tales From The Age Of The $200 Warp Drive edited by C. Spike Trotman and Amanda Lafrenais
This sci-fi anthology takes a central premise – what if faster-than-light-travel was easy and affordable? – and sparks a multitude of stories that spread out across multiple galaxies. Edited by indie comics veterans Spike Trotman and Amanda Lafrenais, the stories explore the idea of truly accessible space travel, and what the consequences would be if everyone could leave Earth and head into space. If you’ve had enough of dystopian stories and want a more hopeful look at humanity’s future, these tales of space travel for all are a great pick.
While the world of comics can sometimes seem so full as to be overwhelming, these titles and many others show that there are plenty of perfect YA comics out there for new readers. Whether you love slice-of-life, sci-fi, superheroes or romance, there’s a YA comic out there that will spark your imagination and draw you in – and open up new worlds for a teen or young adult reader that you know.
If you want more ideas for young comics readers, check out the recommendations on our list of 7 Middle Grade and YA Comics. Fans of YA novels can see a new spin on their favourite stories with our article on YA Authors Adapting Their Books to Comics.