This is by no means a comprehensive list – I haven’t read everything out there! And there are plenty I’ve read that I’m probably forgetting at the moment. But librarians ask me often enough for graphic novel recommendations that it seemed worthwhile to compile a list.
These are all graphic novels that I’ve personally read and enjoyed. They all have genuinely top-notch cartooning, and I’m confident kids will enjoy them. I’ve tried to make a list that includes both “obvious” graphic novels, and lesser-known works that are nonetheless excellent and entertaining.
Some graphic novels for all ages.
- Bone, by Jeff Smith.
- Smile , by Raina Telgemeier.
- And also Drama, by Raina Telgemeier. Raina’s books are magic; she has a direct portal from her drawing board to the hearts of young girls everywhere. It’s uncanny.
- Beanworld, by Larry Marder.
- American Born Chinese by Gene Lee Yang
- Inuyasha, by Rumiko Takahashi.
- Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley. I love both Castle Waiting books; fantasy that emphasizes friendship and humor rather than danger and daring, and somehow is fascinating rather than cloying. Plus, no one draws castle architecture better than Linda Medley.
- Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon Hale and Nathan Hale.
- Courtney Crumrin, for those kids who like stories that are gently macabre.
- Jellaby, by Kean Soo. Out of print, as is the sequel, but available secondhand and worth it; sweet and unique.
- Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga. A completely fresh take on the choose-your-own-adventure genre.
- Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, by Nathan Hale.
- Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi
- A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, amazingly well adapted by Hope Larson from Madeleine L’Engle’s novel. I’m not generally favorably inclined towards adaptations, but this one is an exception.
- Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma.
- Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke.
- Friends with Boys, by Faith Erin Hicks.
- Babymouse, by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm. (Okay, this one isn’t “all-ages,” it’s for little kids.)
- Amy Unbounded, by Rachel Hartman.This is a “hidden gem,” long out of print and available only used. A fantasy comic full of accurate details about the daily life of a bright ten-year-old girl in the middle ages.
- The Baby-Sitters Club, by Ann M Martin and Raina Telgemeier. I normally tend to recommend more “indy” titles, but the charm and excellent cartooning in these three books is irresistible.
Superhero Graphic Novels. Gotta have a few of ’em, I guess. Other than Superhero Girl, these are for older kids rather than all-ages.
- The Adventures of Superhero Girl, by Faith Erin Hicks. More of a parody of superheros than a standard superhero book, this one can be enjoyed by both superhero fans and superhero skeptics, and contains no grimness and next to no violence.
- Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection, by Scott McCloud. This is my favorite superhero comic. It is optimistic rather than grim, and although it has moments of intense adventure it’s not especially violent. A teen coming-of-age novel in superhero form, the hero’s girlfriend Jenny is at least as much the protagonist as Zot himself is. There’s an earlier color Zot! book, which I also like, but the black-and-white book is better and can be read on its own.
- Runaways, by Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, Joss Whedon and Michael Ryan. Fun superhero action with a diverse cast of main characters. Like most superhero comics, Runaways can get rather grim and violent; there are betrayals and some characters die. I only recommend the first eight volumes, after that the quality plummets.
- Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. THE classic of the superhero genre, much better than the movie of the same name. WARNING: Extreme grimness and violence, and some sexual scenes depicted non-explicitly, including one panel depicting a rape.
- Batman, Year One, by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. If you’re going to stock just one Batman graphic novel, this is the one. Christopher Nolan clearly kept this book by his bedside while he was making “Batman Begins,” but the version on paper is much better. Grim and violent, however.
Graphic Novels For Older Kids – books with death, tougher themes, etc..
- Incognegro, by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece.
- Maus, by Art Spiegleman.
- Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi.
- I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Nimura. (Might be okay for middle school kids, too. I need to reread it to see. But it has some tough themes about bullying and trauma, so I’m putting it here for now).
- Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol. WARNING: The main character – who is wonderfully written – smokes and swears. (Although I think she quits smoking by the end of the book).
- Aya, by Marguerite Abouet. As well as being a gorgeous comic book, this is the one of the best portraits of daily life in Africa (specifically, the Ivory Coast) you’ll ever read. Again, might be okay for middle schoolers, but I’d have to reread to be sure.
- The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot. Excellent graphic novel about a girl recovering from sexual abuse.
- Ivy, by Sarah Oleksyk. WARNING: This book contains R-rated nudity, sex, drug use, and swearing, so may not be for every library, despite its high quality. A realistic coming-of-age novel about a young girl and wannabe artist.
- Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud. An entertaining comic book textbook about the medium of comic books, this won’t appeal to all kids, but the intellectual nerdy comic book fan types may dig it.
- Making Comics, by Scott McCloud. This is the book I recommend to high schoolers who are beginning to get serious about making their own comics and want to know what they should read.
Some All-Age Classics
- Pogo, by Walt Kelly
- Peanuts, by Charles Schulz
- Uncle Scrooge, by Carl Barks
- Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson
- The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham’s Treasure ) and…
- The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, both by Hergé. Normally I don’t recommend particular books within a series, but if you get only 2 Tintin books, get these two (which form a single two-part story). They’re both an example of Hergé’s cartooning at its best, and also an example of a Hergé book without any offensive racial stereotypes to worry about. (Although one character is an alcoholic.)
- Moomin, by Tove Jansson.
And hey, while you’re at it, please consider picking up a copy of Hereville. :-p