The year 2021 was great for YA comics. Surely Books (an imprint of Abrams) started a new line of graphic novels curated by Eisner Award-winning author Mariko Tamaki that is “dedicated to expanding the presence of LGBTQIA creators and content in the comics world.” DC’s Young Adult imprint has really taken off over the last few years. And overall, we’ve been blessed with a great year of comics and graphic novels from new and ongoing creators. There’s been no shortage of great YA comics in 2021, that’s for sure.
I’ve been a comics fan since I was a kid, so I love seeing more and more stories for kids and teens, as well as adults. My 12-year-old self reading Marvel comics would be thrilled. Comics and graphic novels are such a wonderful medium for telling coming of age stories, with their ability to depict a lot of big emotion and heart. They have the capability of being cinematic in a way that really draws young readers in and connects with them. And these great YA comics are some of the best of the best from 2021. Trust me when I say you don’t want to miss them.
From near future sci-fi to fantasy and some good old slice-of-life, these great YA comics of 2021 are some of the biggest standouts from a year of exceptional comics and graphic novels.
Pixels of You by Ananth Hirsh, Yuko Ota, and J.R. Doyle
In a near future full of androids and AI, two young rival photographers are forced to work together to keep their internships. Indira is a human living with cybernetic augmentation after a tragic accident. Fawn is one of the first human-presenting AIs. Neither is very impressed with the other’s photography. After a huge blowout fight at the gallery they work at, their mentor gives them an ultimatum: work together on a collaborative project or leave her gallery altogether. Finally forced to consider each other’s approaches to photography and life, Indira and Fawn begin to understand each other in this story of rivals to friends to something more.
The Girl from the Sea by Molly Ostertag
Morgan can’t wait to escape her seaside town. In college, she’s pretty sure she’ll finally be able to be herself. But at only 15, she still has several years to wait. That might not have been a problem if a selkie in human form hadn’t shown up and turned her whole world upside down. Keltie’s no good at pretending to be someone she’s not. And she came here with a purpose: to save her people and to kiss Morgan. But with Morgan still wearing so many masks, will they be able to make this budding romance between a human and a selkie work?
Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Sterle
The new girl is welcomed into the popular clique, but it turns out parties aren’t their only past time. These girls moonlight as werewolves, satiating their need for human flesh by going after boys who’ve wronged them or others. But when the queen bee’s predatory boyfriend becomes their newest victim, the police decide they’ve got a serial killer on their hands. The pack is buckling under the pressure as their moral high ground becomes increasingly muddied. What’s a teen werewolf to do?
Marvel Meow by Nao Fuji
Marvel Meow is an adorable graphic novel about Captain Marvel’s cat, Chewie. Follow her adventures as she wreaks havoc in all your favorite superheroes and supervillains lives, from Spider-Man to Wolverine. The minimalist art manages to convey so many fun shenanigans without any dialogue. This one is not as specifically YA as some of the other titles on this list, but no less great for it!
Lifetime Passes by Terry Blas and Claudia Aguirre
A teenager discover a loophole in her favorite theme park’s system that she’s determined to use to her advantage. According to legend, Kingdom Adventure has an unofficial park policy of placating guests when one of their party dies on property by giving them lifetime passes. And 16-year-old Jackie Chavez’s aunt just happens to work at a senior living facility. Her friends want lifetime passes but see escorting elderly guests to the park as a chore. They don’t need the passes like Jackie does. They don’t care about the park like she does, either. She cherishes memories of trips to Kingdom Adventure with her parents before they were deported. But the seniors like Phyllis have their own life stories and their own reasons for wanting to visit the park, and Jackie begins to realize this program may not just be a means to an end, but a worthwhile end in itself.
Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms by Crystal Frasier and Val Wise
This adorable teen romcom follows two former friends who reconnect on the cheer team in high school. Annie is a smart, antisocial lesbian told she needs to get involved in more extracurriculars if she wants to make it into her dream college. Cheer captain BeeBee is a a people-pleaser who can’t say no — not to her teammates who put her on a pedestal as a trans icon, and not to her parents who insist she’s only allowed to be herself if she can keep her grades up. But when Annie joins the team, BeeBee finds an unexpected ally who encourages her to speak up for herself even as Annie begins to realize having a team who has your back might not be such a bad thing after all.
Renegade Rule by Ben Kahn, Rachel Silverstein, and Sam Beck
Four friends compete in the virtual reality competition of their lives in this fun graphic novel about competitive gaming, friendship, and crushes. When the Manhattan Mists beat out all the competition to make it into Renegade Rule, the national championships for one of the hottest virtual reality games in existence, their team captain is determined to win. Especially when she realizes her gaming idol/not-so-secret crush is now her competition.
I Am Not Starfire by Mariko Tamaki and Yoshi Yoshitani
Being the daughter of a superhero isn’t easy. Just ask Mandy. With no powers, a mom who doesn’t understand her, and groupie classmates always trying to use her for her superhero connections, high school has never seemed so daunting — especially when she’s paired with her super cute crush for a school project. But being the daughter of a superhero also means being in the line of fire for her mother’s foes. And when a figure from Starfire’s past returns to exact her vengeance on Mandy, she’ll finally have to reconcile her differences with her mom and decide who she wants to be.
Nubia: Real One by L. L. McKinney and Robyn Smith
This is a new origin story for Nubia, a teen with super powers, two overprotective moms, and a secret connection to Wonder Woman she doesn’t even know about yet. This graphic novel explores friendship, family, teen crushes, bullying, racism, and police violence in a heartfelt story that packs a punch. Nubia may not know exactly who she is yet, but she knows she’s tired of moving every time her powers are exposed. Is hiding who she is and laying low really who she wants to be? Especially when her friends are in danger? It’s a superhero coming-of-age story!
These great YA comics of 2021 are a great place to start, but those aren’t the only comics and graphic novels we have to recommend. Check out these lists for even more: