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Comics/Graphic Novels

Shoot, Cheer, and Score: YA Sports Comics

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

This list of YA sports comics was originally published in our YA newsletter, What’s Up In YA. Sign up for it here to get YA news, reviews, deals, and more!

I’ve been on a comics reading roll lately. YA horror comics have been my biggie, but I’ve definitely also been stacking up a number of sports comics, too. My brain isn’t able to deeply invest in a novel or work of nonfiction right now, and comics have been the perfect way to read a great story and appreciate art. It’s a win-win.

I played basketball in middle school, followed by badminton in high school. Both sports were ones I just adored while playing, but being a short person, I knew basketball wasn’t a long-lasting sport competitively for me. Badminton was, until I found myself burned out and unwilling to tolerate a sexist, belittling coach any longer. I quit junior year, and though I don’t regret it, to this day, I wish I had a local badminton organization locally to get back into the sport (and before you say it’s not a sport, it is — you run more than a football player, your body becomes riddled with bruises and marks from throwing yourself on the ground, and whether playing singles or doubles, strategy is key to success, just like any other sport).

This week, I thought I’d highlight some outstanding recent YA sports comics. These cover a wide range of sports and are both fiction and nonfiction. Some of the books will be fairly familiar, while others will, I hope, be new ones for your reading radar.

check please book cover

Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

Ukazu’s comic is a two parter, the first #Hockey and the second Sticks & Stones. This coming-of-age story follows Bitty, a former figure skating champion, vlogger, and baker during his first year at Samwell University, where he’s a member of the hockey team. A gentle comic, readers get to know Bitty as he moves through university, learning who he is — and who he is not — on and off the ice. Bonus: deep romantic feelings.

Cheer Up book cover

Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms by Crystal Frasier

Annie, an antisocial lesbian, feels pressure to join the school’s cheerleading team her senior year to round out her college applications. BeeBee, her former best friend, is a trans girl who needs to do well in school and keep a social life in order to maintain her parents’ support of her transition. Being on the team together brings the girls close to one another again and may indeed spark feelings that go deeper than friendship. This looks so fun, and I don’t know about you, but fun is one of my primary reading drivers lately.

Dragon Hoops book coverr

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Gene, as you are probably aware, is a comic book writer and artist. But he’s also a high school teacher. This graphic memoir follows his struggle to understand sports — he had bad experiences playing basketball as kid, but now, basketball is a major part of the school where he works. As he watches the Dragons play a phenomenal year of hoops, he begins to not only understand the appeal to spectators but also the real hearts and souls of those who pick up and are passionate about playing a sport.

Fence book cover

Fence by C.S. Pacat, illustrated by Johanna the Mad, colored by Joana LaFuente, and lettered by Jim Campbell 

When you fall in love with the first volume of this four-volume collection, you’ll be running to read the rest. Nicholas is the illegitimate son of a retired fencing champion and pretty good at the sport himself. He dreams of getting the opportunity to compete and when he gets accepted into prestigious private academy, he’s able to do just that. But the world of fencing is nothing light or cute or gentle — especially when he’s facing the unbeatable Seiji Katayama and his half-brother, the school’s golden boy.

A map to the sun book cover

A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong

Friendship and teen angst crash together in this book about girls’ basketball. Ren and Luna met at a basketball court one summer day, but Luna’s moving away and doesn’t keep up communication with Ren.

So when Luna comes back and hopes to reestablish her friendship with Ren, she finds Ren not easily reciprocating. Ren’s got a lot going on in her life, including her dedication to the school’s basketball team. Luna joins the team, and the book follows the ways their friendship has ups and downs, twists and turns, and moments that shape the entirety of who they are as individuals — and as a pair.

I always like to note when an author is Indigenous, since their stories are too often not highlighted as such. Leong is mixed Indigenous, making this a rare Indigenous YA comic.

spinning book cover

Spinning by Tillie Walden

What happens when you outgrow something about which you once were deeply passionate? That’s the hook in Walden’s graphic memoir, which follows the routine she had with figure skating. She loved it for a while, but the constant practices, lessons, and competitions began to wear on her. Once she switched schools, though, Walden found herself connecting more with art, and her relationship with her girlfriend helped her recognize that, as much as she once had passion and talent in figure skating, it was perhaps time to let it go.

I love stories about teens who quit things. We simply don’t have enough quitter books, and in a world where we don’t encourage giving up when it’s time to do so, we need more opportunities to showcase why quitting is sometimes the best thing you can do in your life.

tiny dancer book cover

Tiny Dancer by Siena Cherson Siegel, illustrated by Mark Siegel 

Speaking of books about quitters, this is another one and it’ll hit shelves October 26. Siena always loved ballet and worked her way into the School of American Ballet. She saw this as her first step toward a spot in the world-famous New York Ballet Company. The problem is, she’s struggling with doubt about her dedication to the sport, as well as a collection of injuries, and now needs to decide whether to keep going or pursue something else entirely.

Though none of these books feature badminton, I’m hopeful some day we’ll see an excellent badminton graphic novel or memoir. Until then, the good news is there are dozens of outstanding sports comics to pick up.