Diving into Comics: Graphic Novels For Beginners


In my previous blog, “The Case for Comics in the Classroom,” I argued for comics as a valuable teaching tool in schools. Now, you might be asking yourself where to start. 

Since the realms of comics are diverse, mysterious, and often untraveled by most mortals, it can be pretty overwhelming if you haven’t ever read them before. To add to the general miasma of uncertainty, there are huge gaps in readerships and well, taste. What suits one might not suit another. Plus, what are kids even into these days?

Well, here are a few suggestions for where to start. These lists are organized by grade level and a common theme. However, each book is crafted differently and will appeal to different audiences. I recommend looking at grade level first, then theme, and finally narrowing down your choice by an art style that resonates with you. Hopefully something (or many things!) in this smorgasbord will catch your eye!

Elementary:


History and Science Stories

Action Presidents: 1: George Washington by Fred Van Lente
Before They Were Artists: Famous Illustrators as Kids by Elizabeth Haidle
One Dead Spy (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales) by Nathan Hale
Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith
Mr. Corbett is in Orbit (My Weird School Graphic Novel: 1) by Dan Gutman
Rocket to the Moon! (Big Ideas That Changed the World: 1) by Don Brown
Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts by Mike Lowery
White Bird: A Wonder Story (Wonder) by R J Palacio
Science Comics: Cats: Nature and Nurture by Andy Hirsch
Pele: The King of Soccer by Eddy Simon
Jackie Robinson: Athletes Who Made a Difference (Athletes Who Made a Difference) by Blake Hoena
Natan Sharansky: Freedom Fighter for Soviet Jews by Blake Hoena
Boy Who Became a Dragon: A Bruce Lee Story by Jim Di Bartolo

What It Means to be Friends

Cat Kid Comic Club (Cat Kid Comic Club: 1) by Dav Pilkey
Brobots and the Kaiju Kerfuffle! (Brobots: 1) by J Torres
Frankie and the Creepy Cute Critters by Caitlin Rose Boyle
Copper by Kazu Kibuishi
Kodi: Book 1 (Kodi: 1) by Jared Cullum
Lightfall: The Girl & The Galdurian by Tim Probert
Bug Boys (Bug Boys: 1) by Laura Knetzger
Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Museum (Sherlock Bones) by Renee Treml
Super Detectives! (Simon and Chester: 1) by Cale Atkinson

Animals

A Cat Story by Ursula Murray Husted
Donut Feed the Squirrels (Norma and Belly: 1) by Mika Song
Cottons: The Secret of the Wind (Cottons: 1) by Jim Pascoe
Evil Emperor Penguin (Evil Emperor Penguin: 1) by Laura Ellen Anderson
Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds (Arlo & Pips: 1) by Elise Gravel
Bunbun and Bonbon: Fancy Friends by Jess Keating
Bear by Ben Queen
Bird & Squirrel on the Run! (Bird & Squirrel: 1) by James Burks
Kitten Construction Company: 1: Meet the House Kittens by John Patrick Green
Investigators (Investigators: 1) by John Patrick Green
Narwhal’s Otter Friend (Narwhal and Jelly Book) by Ben Clanton

 

To the Rescue!

Katie the Catsitter (Katie the Catsitter: 1) by Colleen A F Venable
Cat Ninja (Cat Ninja: 1) by Matthew Cody
Max Meow: Cat Crusader (Max Meow: 1) by John Gallagher
Giants Beware! (Chronicles of Claudette: 1) by Jorge Aguirre
Missile Mouse: 1: The Star Crusher (Missile Mouse: 1) by Jake Parker
Diana: Princess of the Amazons by Shannon Hale
Glitch by Sarah Graley
Primer by Thomas Krajewski
Anti/Hero by Kate Karyus Quinn
Secret Hero Society: 1: Study Hall of Justice (DC Comics: Secret Hero Society: 1) by Derek Fridolfs
Sidekicks by Dan Santat

That’s Funny

The Adventures of Captain Underpants (Captain Underpants: Color Edition: 1) by Dav Pilkey
Caveboy Dave: 1: More Scrawny Than Brawny (Caveboy Dave: 1) by Aaron Reynolds
Johnny Boo: The Best Little Ghost in the World (Johnny Boo: 1) by James Kochalka
Dodgeball Chronicles (Knights of the Lunch Table: 1) by Frank Cammuso
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Greg Heffley’s Journal (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: 1) by Jeff Kinney
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute (Lunch Lady: 1) by Jarrett J Krosoczka
Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off (Wolf in Underpants) by Wilfrid Lupano
Pirate Penguin Vs. Ninja Chicken: 1: Troublems with Frenemies (Pirate Penguin Vs. Ninja Chicken: 1) by Ray Friesen
Dog Man (Dog Man: 1) by Dav Pilkey
Mal and Chad: 1: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever! (Mal and Chad: 1) by Stephen McCranie

Real and Real-ish Stories

Casagrandes: 1: We’re All Familia (Loud House) by Andrew Brooks
The Breakaways by Cathy G Johnson
Nat Enough (Nat Enough: 1) by Maria Scrivan
Click (Click: 1) by Kayla Miller
Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz
Measuring Up by Lily Lamotte
Kristy’s Great Idea (Baby-Sitters Club Graphix: 1) by Ann M. Martin
Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd
Noise: Based on a True Story by Kathleen Raymundo
The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel by Mariah Marsden
Real Friends (Real Friends) by Shannon Hale
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Just Pretend by Tori Sharp
Stargazing by Jen Wang
Big Apple Diaries by Alyssa Bermudez
Wildheart: The Daring Adventures of John Muir by Julie Bertagna
The Leak by Kate Reed Petty

Fantastic New Worlds

Yo-Kai Watch: 1 (Yo-Kai Watch: 1) by Noriyuki Konishi
Pokémon: Sun & Moon: 1 (Pokémon: Sun & Moon: 1) by Hidenori Kusaka
Pokémon Adventures: 1 (Pokémon Adventures: 1) by Hidenori Kusaka
City of Secrets by Victoria Ying
Tea Dragon Society (Tea Dragon Society) by Katie O’Neill
5 Worlds: 1: The Sand Warrior (5 Worlds: 1) by Mark Siegel
Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess
Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill
Adventure Time: 1 (Adventure Time: 1) by Ryan North
Aster and the Accidental Magic (Aster) by Thom Pico
The Aquanaut: A Graphic Novel by Dan Santat
Nameless City (Nameless City: 1) by Faith Erin Hicks

Middle Grade:

All About Fantasy and Discovering Yourself

Be Wary of the Silent Woods (Weirn Books: 1) by Svetlana Chmakova
This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews
City of Dragons: The Awakening Storm (City of Dragons: 1) by Jaimal Yogis
Compass South (Four Points: 1) by Hope Larson
Avatar: The Last Airbender: Katara and the Pirate’s Silver by Faith Erin Hicks
Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Rift Omnibus by Gene Luen Yang
Zatanna and the House of Secrets by Matthew Cody
Fantastic Tales of Nothing by Alejandra Green
Power Up by Sam Nisson
Through the Moon (Dragon Prince Graphic Novel: 1) by Peter Wartman
Kingdom Hearts III: 1 (Kingdom Hearts III: 1) by Tetsuya Nomura
The Rise of the Halfling King (Tales of the Feathered Serpent: 1) by David Bowles
Explorer: The Mystery Boxes (Explorer: 1) by Kazu Kibuishi
Miles Morales: Shock Waves by Justin A Reynolds
Amulet: 1: The Stonekeeper (Amulet: 1) by Kazu Kibuishi
Realm of the Blue Mist: A Graphic Novel (Rema: 1) by Amy Kim Kibuishi
Hooky by Míriam Bonastre Tur

Power-up Girls!

Spider Gwen: Ghost-Spider: 1: Spider Geddon (Spider Gwen: Ghost-Spider: 1) by Seanan Mcguire
Shuri: Wakanda Forever by Nnedi Okorafor
Donut the Destroyer by Sarah Graley
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 1: Squirrel Power (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 1) by Ryan North
Little Witch Academia: 1 (Little Witch Academia: 1) by Yoh Yoshinari
Maximum Ride: The Manga: 1 (Maximum Ride: The Manga: 1) by James Patterson
Zita the Spacegirl: Far from Home (Zita the Spacegirl: 1) by Ben Hatke
Time Museum: 1 (Time Museum: 1) by Matthew Loux

Realistic Fiction

Class Act by Jerry Craft
Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma
My Neighbor Seki: 1 (My Neighbor Seki: 1) by Takuma Morishige
Go with the Flow by Karen Schneemann
Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm: 1) by Lucy Knisley
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson
Miss Quinces: A Graphic Novel by Kat Fajardo
Measuring Up by Lily Lamotte
All Together Now (Eagle Rock) by Hope Larson

Bring It On!

HAIKYU!!: 1 (HAIKYU!!: 1) by Haruichi Furudate
The Fifth Quarter (Fifth Quarter: 1) by Mike Dawson
Vaulting to Victory by Bill Yu
Quarterback Rush (Sports Illustrated Kids Graphic Novels) by Carl Bowen
Star Striker (Get in the Game) by Bill Yu
Reality Check (Sports Illustrated Kids Graphic Novels) by Nel Yomtov
Last Dance by Hanna Schroy
Wild Pitch (Sports Illustrated Kids Graphic Novels) by Eric Fein

Science and Nonfiction Stories

Seen: Rachel Carson (Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers) by Birdie Willis
Harriet Tubman: Toward Freedom (Center for Cartoon Studies Presents) by Whit Taylor
Around the World: Three Remarkable Journeys by Matt Phelan
Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani
Dogs of War by Sheila Keenan
Noisemakers: 25 Women Who Raised Their Voices & Changed the World: A Graphic Collection from Kazoo by Erin Bried
Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks
History Comics: The Great Chicago Fire: Rising from the Ashes (History Comics) by Kate Hannigan
Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice by Debbie Levy
History of the World in Comics by Jean-Baptist Depanafieu

Complex Friendships/Relationships

Twins (Twins: 1) by Varian Johnson
Lumberjanes: 1: Beware the Kitten Holy (Lumberjanes: 1) by Noelle Stevenson
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh
Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne
Beauty Pop: 1(Beauty Pop: 1) by Kiyoko Arai
Fruits Basket: 1 by Natsuki Takaya
Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life (Dork Diaries: 1) by Rachel Renee Russell
Awkward (Awkward: 1) by Svetlana Chmakova
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

High School:

Fantasy, Action, and Adventure!

Naruto: 1: The Tests of the Ninja by Masashi Kishimoto
The Black Mage by Daniel Howard Barnes
One Piece: 1: Romance Dawn (One Piece: 1) by Eiichiro Oda
Fairy Tail: 1 (Fairy Tail: 1) by Hiro Mashima
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba: 1 (Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba: 1) by Koyoharu Gotouge
Dragon Ball Z: 1: The World’s Greatest Team by Akira Toriyama
Dragon Ball Super: 1 (Dragon Ball Super: 1) by Akira Toriyama
Hunt is On (Seekers of the Aweto: 1) by Nie Jun

Dark Fantasy

The King’s Beast: 1 (King’s Beast: 1) by Rei Toma
The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown
Tokyo Ghoul: 1 by Sui Ishida
The Promised Neverland: 1 (Promised Neverland: 1) by Kaiu Shirai
The Witch’s Hand (Montague Twins: 1) by Nathan Page
Fullmetal Alchemist: 1 (Fullmetal Alchemist: 1) by Hiromu Arakawa
Toilet Bound Hanako Kun: 1 (Toilet Bound Hanako Kun: 1) by Aidairo
Ever After by Olivia Vieweg

Nonfiction and Realistic Fiction

Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong
Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontes by Isabel Greenberg
Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio by Derf Backderf
Fights by Joel Christian Gill
King: A Comics Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (King: 1-3) by Ho Che Anderson
Tiny Dancer by Siena Cherson Siegel
Passport by Sophia Glock
Laika by Nick Abadzis
Catherine’s War by Julia Billet
Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook
Flamer by Mike Curato
Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall
Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha
Drawing the Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Voting Rights in America by Tommy Jenkins
The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge
The Mars Challenge by Alison Wilgus
The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder
Charlotte Bronte before Jane Eyre by Glynnis Fawkes

A New Kind of Hero

My Hero Academia: 1 (My Hero Academia: 1) by Kohei Horikoshi
Teen Titans: Beast Boy (Teen Titans) by Kami Garcia
One-Punch Man: 1 (One-Punch Man: 1) by One
Miles Morales: Spider-man: 1: Straight out of Brooklyn (Miles Morales: Spider-man: 1) by Saladin Ahmed
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang
Ms. Marvel by Saladin Ahmed: 1: Destined (Ms. Marvel by Saladin Ahmed: 1) by Saladin Ahmed

Love, Etc.

The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
The Avant Guards: 1 (The Avant Guards: 1) by Carly Usdin=
Heartstopper: 1 (Heartstopper: 1) by Alice Oseman
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell
Ao Haru Ride: 1 (Ao Haru Ride: 1) by Io Sakisaka
Reindeer Boy by Cassandra Jean
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen A. F. Venable
I Cannot Reach You: 1 (I Cannot Reach You: 1) by Mika
Nancy Drew: 1: The Palace of Wisdom (Nancy Drew: 1) by Kelly Thompson
Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare: 1 (Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare: 1) by Yuhki Kamatani
Sleepless: 1 (Sleepless: 1) by Sarah Vaughn
Stephen McCranie’s Space Boy: 1 (Stephen McCranie’s Space Boy: 1) by Stephen McCranie

 If you are ready to start reading now, you can also try digital options. Comics Plus is a great digital option for schools or libraries.

You can also take to the internet to look for comics (so many are online, a list of ones to check out would be never-ending). But you can start with sites like Webtoon, Patreon, or Tapas (all also available as apps). These platforms offer options which directly support creators. Or, if you’re really feeling adventurous, try browsing tags on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, or wherever else the kids hang out these days. The social platforms are full of emerging artists and authors, creatives of all kinds, and who knows, you might just run into the next big artist before they’re even published! *

*Please mind the maturity ratings of the sites. If you can’t find a rating system, or you feel otherwise uncomfortable, I advise simply moving on.

And finally, my last (and best) tip to find works of comics and pictures is to ask around! Ask your students (or your nerd friends!) what they are into. 

Hopefully, this is an easy place to start with a fantastic and challenging medium. All of these titles come highly recommended, but personally MANY of these are books that are still on my list to read. But that’s just the amazing thing about literacy: There’s always something new to read!


Image Credits:

  1. Faith Erin Hicks, “Avatar : The Last Airbender : Katara and the Pirate’s Silver”. Source
  2. Sarah Graley, “Glitch”. Source
  3. Ryan Andrews, “This Was Our Pact”. Source
  4. Kelly Thompson, “Nancy Drew : 1 : The Palace of Wisdom”. Source

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