Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics

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Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics

Determining the criteria for a list of the best children’s comics of all time is a bit more challenging than picking the best horror, sci-fi or webcomics. We are (by the legal definition, if not emotionally) adults, and many of the works on this list hit shelves well after we aged out of the target audience range. That leaves us with the task of dually evaluating the comics below: are they good, first and foremost, and are they good for or valuable to children? Heck, even determining our criteria for “children” was tough, and we ultimately settled on the full gamut from beginning readers through to pre-teens, although, many of us begin reading “adult” comics in our upper teen years. But every title in this alphabetically ordered catalog has the potential to mean something special, to offer something valuable and important, whether that’s revelatory depth or escapist fun, to a young reader. From wordless animal adventures to complicated teen identity sagas, these books form an all-ages canon worthy of the budding comic children in your life.

Abigail and the Snowman

Writer/Artist: Roger Langridge
Publisher: KaBOOM!/ BOOM! Studios

Ever since cartoonist Roger Langridge left his mark on The Muppets for Marvel, he’s displayed a deft hand at creating kid-friendly comics with enough sass to entertain adults, too. Abigail and the Snowman shows what happens when the new girl in town invites a mythological monster—a friendly, furry mythological monster—into her home. This miniseries is a delightful, all-ages romp, and entertains with a variety of sight gags built around Claude the Yeti’s invisibility—teachers oggle a human pyramid constructed around the transparent beast in one of the book’s best pages.

It’s not all childhood escapism, though. Kids create fantastical friends to escape adult realities, and those realities never lie far away in this title. Abigail’s father struggles to provide for his daughter while she prays to her deceased mom. All of these factors grant Abigail and the Snowman a weight that dives into more emotional territory, while still maintaining a charm that nobody else but Langridge can provide. Sean Edgar

Adventure Time

Writers: Ryan North, Chris Hastings, Others
Artists: Braden Lamb, Shelli Paroline, Zachary Sterling, Others
Publisher: KaBOOM!/ BOOM! Studios

While IDW’s My Little Pony (which, spoiler alert, you’ll find later on this list) was perhaps the first breakout licensed title of the modern era, Adventure Time changed the game. Initially written by Dinosaur Comics humorist Ryan North and drawn by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb, KaBOOM!’s tie-in to the Cartoon Network TV show managed to capture the tone of the idiosyncratic Pendleton Ward phenomenon, while establishing its own substantial, long-form storytelling. North and his artistic collaborators—and, later, many other contributors—weren’t interested in flippant tertiary tales, but in essentially creating their own season(s) of Adventure Time on the page, particularly when it came to deepening the relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline. As Adventure Time (the show) grew more experimental from the fourth season on, Adventure Time (the comic) has helped bridge the gap for fans not quite ready for heavily conceptual approaches, even while playing with format in its own ways, as in the choose-your-own-path issue. Adventure Time opened the floodgates at BOOM! Studios, not just for other stellar licensed books, but for original series like Lumberjanes with similar aesthetics and senses of offbeat, but kind, humor. Steve Foxe

American Born Chinese

Writer/Artist: Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: First Second

First Second, which shows up a lot on this list, didn’t have to wait long to release its first critical bombshell. American Born Chinese stands as a microcosm of the qualities that permeate FS’s line: it’s educational, optimistic and obsessively well-crafted. Gene Luen Yang offers a triptych of stories featuring the Monkey King from the Journey to the West folktale, a son of Chinese immigrants adapting to a white neighborhood and an American adolescent embarrassed by his Chinese cousin. These seemingly separate tales twine together for an experience that reinforces the values of heritage, pride and respect. The literary community embraced the work like few other comics have been praised, honoring it with a Michael L. Printz Award and National Book Award finalist nomination. Yang is now a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and with books like this under his belt, there’s no question how he got there. Sean Edgar


Writer/Artist: Kazu Kibuishi
Publisher: Scholastic GRAPHIX

Kazu Kibuishi, whose artwork now adorns the anniversary editions of a little-known series called Harry Potter, is one of the best-known names in comics…if you’re a teen or preteen. His bestselling Amulet series is a high-stakes, high-fun fantasy adventure about ordinary children who find themselves thrust into an extraordinary situation after the death of their father. Via a magic door in their deceased great-grandfather’s basement, Em and Navin stumble onto robotic rabbits, man-eating demons and destiny itself, in the grand tradition of innumerable portal fantasies. Kibuishi’s clean, open lines are inviting and easy to follow for the eight-to-12-tear-old crowd, and are laying the foundation for new generations of comic readers. Steve Foxe

Anya’s Ghost

Writer/Artist: Vera Brosgol
Publisher: First Second

Laika storyboard artist and animator Vera Brosgol went solo for a work that rivals any of her former studio’s creepy, stop-motion masterpieces, including Coraline and ParaNorman. Drawing on her past as a Russian immigrant growing up in a single-parent household, Brosgol navigates the thorny, emotional labyrinth of adolescence through the titular character, who bonds with a ghost liberated from a nearby well. Anya frets over her body, pursues the high school beau and gives glorious agency to the insecurities that plague humanity during those transformative years. She then watches her new undead friend, Emily, show the chaos that can unfold if those emotions aren’t checked. Brosgol’s emotional storytelling and facial expressions expertly convey the push-and-pull of teen confidence, and the slate-grey coloring lends the graphic novel the ambiance of a frigid tombstone. Thematically, there’s no better way to immortalize perpetual immaturity than as a ghost, frozen in rage and longing, and this book features one of the most interesting hellraisers to populate a kids’ comic. Sean Edgar


Writer/Artists: Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Publisher: Random House

Babymouse, whether you’ve heard of her or not, is a star. Sibling team Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm’s very-young comic sustains dozens of volumes in print, has sold nearly two million copies worldwide and has spun off into multiple formats, including a new series of comic/prose hybrids geared at older readers. Like Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady, Babymouse is for the youngest comic fans, those making the transition from picture books to beginner prose titles. Her anthropomorphic elementary-school adventures are relatable to children figuring out the whole school thing for themselves, and she has enough wish-fulfillment fantasy plots to keep imaginations active and engaged. Babymouse will likely always fly under the radar of mainstream comic coverage, but she’s doing the hard work of teaching brand-new readers the excitement of sequential art. And, in her own words, she’s “queen of the world!” Steve Foxe

The Backstagers

Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Rian Sygh
Publisher: BOOM!Box/ BOOM! Studios

Though fans may be more familiar with James Tynion IV’s name from his work on Batman-centric titles like Detective Comics, he’s been writing YA comics for most of his career. The Backstagers is, in many ways, the best of what all-ages comics have to offer: a fun jaunt with serious notes about discovering where you fit at the most awkward periods in your life. The cast is the stage crew of an all-boys school who have adventures far beyond the backstage machinations of a production. Supernatural secrets lay hidden in the bowels of prop rooms and costume wardrobes, laid out by Tynion IV and co-creator Rian Sygh, who sports a poppy, fun art style that perfectly suits the motley crew.

The eight-issue miniseries is kind and sweet without being cloying, and extremely LGBTQ+ friendly. The characters are diverse in personality, appearance and background, providing young readers with a chance to find themselves reflected in the pages. It’s a perfect mirror to the all-girls camp of Lumberjanes, another BOOM! title; it’s Raina Telgemeier’s touchstone graphic novel Drama meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a dash of Fangirl. Young fans can graduate easily to Tynion IV’s other youth-centered BOOM! series, The Woods, once they’re a few years older. Caitlin Rosberg


Writer: Paul Tobin
Artist: Colleen Coover
Publisher: Dark Horse/Monkeybrain Comics

Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover are well known for their adult comics, but Bandette is a magic trick of an all-ages work; a sure-footed Parisian caper that follows the adventures of a svelte cat burglar. It’s not explicitly aimed at kids, and yet it’s appealing to and appropriate for them. Coover’s digital watercolor images are a great contrast to the poor shading and ugly computer coloring that appear in many mainstream comics, and the action scenes have plenty of gymnastics, while refraining from punching and weapons. The result is clean enough to pass muster with your grandma, but more entertaining than what she’d probably give you to read. Hillary Brown

Bera The One-Headed Troll

Writer/Artist: Eric Orchard
Publisher: First Second

Peel a few layers of the whimsical back from Eric Orchard’s Victorian fantasy opus, and a bittersweet, tear-jerking heart beats furiously under these pages. Bera is a pumpkin-farming troll minding her own business when a human infant inexplicably falls into her care. Though overwhelmed and semi-frantic, she starts a journey in hopes of finding a hero or new home for her precious cargo. Orchard, illustrating in the hyper-detailed, inky tradition of Arthur Rackham, found inspiration for Bera in his mother, who raised him while managing schizophrenia. It’s a gorgeous, sweet, imminently captivating narrative whose imagination matches its emotion, and a rare work whose complexity works magically for adults and children alike. Sean Edgar


Writer/Artist: Jeff Smith
Publisher: Cartoon Books

Jeff Smith’s Bone is the true definition of an “all-ages” comic, of the sort that is equally likely to resonate with kids and adults. Younger readers will be drawn immediately to the vibrant, but contrasting, art styles, as the Bone Brothers’ own depiction, seemingly inspired by silent-era cartoons and animation, is symbolically opposed by the high-fantasy monsters of the realm they find themselves thrown into. It’s a story with the set dressings and complicated political ties typified by the likes of The Lord of the Rings, but the series is funnier than nearly any child-friendly peer you could possibly name. Perhaps the only true comparison would be the likes of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, with its deft blend of fantasy and comedy, but Bone tells its tale with significantly more earnestness. With an enthralling story that starts off quick and only gets faster from there, Bone hooks an imaginative mind and then keeps readers on their toes by veering from comedy to dire adventure, and even occasionally horror, at the drop of a hat. In many series, wearing so many different inspirations on one’s sleeve would muddy the proceedings, but Bone is enriched by every one of Smith’s unique idiosyncrasies. Jim Vorel

Calvin & Hobbes

Writer/Artist: Bill Watterson
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing

What do you even say about Bill Watteron’s ubiquitous strip about a boy and his tiger? Calvin & Hobbes, thanks to syndication, collections, endless (largely unfunny) parodies and the virtue of a creator who refuses to sign off on subpar adaptations or excessive licensing agreements, is one of the most highly regarded examples of sequential art around the globe, a comic that even folks who proclaim never to have read comics will likely recognize with a wistful, appreciative sigh. Watterson’s expertly cartooned panels tap into a near-mythic reverence for the power of imagination and friendship—as well as naughtiness and harmless youthful mischief. It also did what most comic strips never will: end on its own, perfect terms. Steve Foxe

The Cartoon History of the Universe

Writer/Artist: Larry Gonick
Publisher: Broadway Books

Telling your kids that history is fascinating is a waste of breath. Instead, place this book where they’ll stumble upon it and get sucked in, perceiving the flow of human events as an entertaining waste of time rather than a dose of medicine. Gonick’s books are crammed with information—visual and factual—but they move along at a brisk pace, folding in literature and mythology, as well as plenty of gory details. It’s hardly the “great man” theory of history, but it will imbue your offspring with a healthy disrespect for authority and an understanding of the essential similarities of humans over time. Hillary Brown

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo

Writer/Artist: Drew Weing
Publisher: First Second

Drew Weing’s kid-centric supernatural detective story (available in one published volume from First Second and continuing online) is just scary enough for early readers to enjoy freaking themselves out. It’s a fish-out-of-water-story, a kids-vs.-adults story, a mystery story and more, all in gorgeously rendered color crammed with details that reveal themselves on subsequent readings. If your kids think they’re smarter than you (spoiler: they do), they’ll dig it. Hillary Brown

The Dragon Puncher Series

Writer/Artist: James Kochalka
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

King of Cute James Kochalka evidently wanted to see more of his family during the production of the Dragon Puncher trilogy, so he raided his photo albums for this charming trans-media adventure. Using pictures of vacation locales and the faces of his cats and kids, the books follow two space-brawling felines in search of dragons to clobber, soon joined by spoon-wielding apes and a nasty serpent who may or may not have a maw resembling Kochalka’s grin. The facial expressions are immaculate—especially the unadultured boredom of the cats, juxtaposed against their monster-hunting fervor. Like most of the cartoonist’s library, it’s all terribly random, adorable, hilarious and vaguely European. And underneath that whimsy beats the heart of a creator deeply in love with his family, four-legged and otherwise. Sean Edgar


Writer/Artist: Raina Telgemeier
Publisher: Scholastic GRAPHIX

Drama wasn’t Raina Telgemeier’s first major success—Smile precedes it and merited major sales and acclaim—but it is perhaps the best example of her enormous impact on the field of all-ages comics. Like Smile, Ghosts and Sisters, Drama features a relatable, likable but not-perfect young girl protagonist. It also spotlights multiple queer and questioning kids, a population in desperate need of more and better representation in age-appropriate literature. LGBTQ+ children are far, far too often treated as a taboo topic, as if our crushes and development shouldn’t kick in until we’ve graduated high school. Drama is one of the few children’s books—comics or otherwise—to present queer kids as simply kids, subject to the same youthful infatuations and follies as the assumed-straight children in countless other stories. Telgemeier, at the height of her career, whether intentionally or not, leveraged her immense approval from and popularity with gatekeepers to tell queer kids that they are seen and acknowledged and deserve their own stories, too—and her near-complete dominance of the now-defunct New York Times Graphic Novel Bestseller List proves there is an audience eager for the tales Telgemeier has to tell. Steve Foxe

El Deafo

Writer/Artist: Cece Bell
Publisher: Abrams

One of 2015’s two Newbery Honors—one of the highest accolades of quality in children’s literature—went to El Deafo, Cece Bell’s autobiographical graphic novel about a deaf rabbit going to school with a bulky hearing aid that embarrasses her…until she discovers she can use it to overhear gossip, like a particularly nosey superhero. With vibrant colors by David Lasky, El Deafo takes full advantage of the comics medium: Bell fades the protagonist’s word balloons to gray before rendering them completely blank, communicating the character’s hearing loss to the reader before she figures it out herself. Steve Foxe


Writer/Artist: Jim Davis, Others
Publisher: Ballantine/ KaBOOM!

Any piece of media that lasts as long as Jim Davis’ Garfield is going to dip in quality, and you could make a strong case for this strip about a lasagna-loving orange cat never having been all that funny to begin with, but that’s missing the point. The not-quite-lol-worthy shenanigans of Garfield, Odie, Nermal and the long-suffering Jon Arbuckle are imminently accessible, whether in syndication or in affordable collections, and the simple structure and slow-ball running gags make for easy reading. Garfield is likely one of the first “ongoing” comics young readers grow to recognize, and the value of that experience is worth a million questionably funny “jokes.” Steve Foxe


Writer/Artist: Masashi Tanaka
Publisher: Kodansha

When we think of kid-friendly art, we typically imagine simple, bold lines and uncluttered pages—a description that fits many of the books on this list. Gon creator Masashi Tanaka didn’t get the memo, and we’re all the better for it. You may recognize this plucky dino from his bizarre inclusion in several installments of the Tekken fighting game series, but before he was tussling with Heihachi Mishima, Gon was delighting readers of all ages with his completely wordless nature adventures. Tanaka’s style relies on obsessive rendering, as seen in few other manga for younger readers. Gon’s story is a bit lonely—he’s the last dinosaur and navigates life among subsequent species—but he’s so self-assured and unshakable that it’s impossible to resist his stubborn charm and eager, chomping jaws. Steve Foxe


Writer/Artist: Barry Deutsch
Publisher: Abrams

“Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl” is quite the tagline, and Barry Deutsch’s Hereville series doesn’t fail to deliver on it. The gag, of course, is that there isn’t another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl, and Mirka Herschberg isn’t quite wielding steel when the book opens. Instead, she’s navigating the demands of her Orthodox upbringing with her fantasy daydreams. Deutch’s capable cartooning is the perfect mixture of simplicity and sophistication, and his approach to Mirka’s cultural background is respectful yet grounded. Steve Foxe

Herobear and the Kid

Writer/Artist: Mike Kunkel
Publisher: KaBOOM!

Sometimes a comic doesn’t need a journalist to use a series of adjectives and similes to convey its awesomeness; sometimes all a tentative reader needs to do is flip through its pages, witness the singular art, paneling and energy and identify a gorgeous funny book on its own merits. Herobear and the Kid is one such comic. It looks like a rare artifact from the renaissance of ‘90s 2D animation, which makes perfect sense as its creator is Mike Kunkel. Before tackling panels, the cartoonist worked in Disney’s animation department on features including Tarzan and Hercules. The character models maintain an integrity that’s rarely witnessed in comics. In addition to the visual finesse, Kunkel taps into pure childhood escapism with a modern fairy tale about a lonely boy and an inherited teddy bear who kicks butt when the need arises. A study in singular art and whimsy, Herobear and the Kid is a comic ready to be devoured by readers of any and every age. Sean Edgar

The Hilda Series

Writer/Artist: Luke Pearson
Publisher: Flying Eye Books/ NoBrow Press

Cartoonist Luke Pearson’s large-format books have the kind of magic found in turn-of-the-20th-century Sunday comics. The supernatural is woven neatly into ordinary life, with little debate about its details. His composition beats along page-by-page rather than panel by panel, leading to tremendously beautiful spreads. His blue-haired heroine, Hilda, tromps enthusiastically off into the dark, having adventures with trolls, elves, giants and other critters. The results offer a subtle parable about multiculturalism that’s never preachy, just an expression of the infinite wonder of the world. Hillary Brown


Writer/Artist: Shigeru Mizuki
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Before manga pioneer Shigeru Mizuki wrote elaborate autobiographies (the Showa series, Onward Toward Our Noble Deaths), the cartoonist spun whimsical, weird tales of Japanese monsters in Kitaro. Japanese yokai, or folkloric monsters, had experienced a resurgence in popularity when Mizuki was a child. Though we’ll never know if Kitaro stems from any pivotal moments in his youth, the story of an adorable one-eyed child navigating a gauntlet of fellow ghouls and mistrusting humans feels immediately classic. Mizuki’s expressive cartoon figures remain intact, but the artist employs meticulously detailed landscapes and stylized Arthur Rackham fairy-tale flashbacks, the mark of a comics icon whose skills had few limits. Looking back at this hidden ‘60s gem, shades of Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book can be found in Kitaro’s DNA, whether intentionally or through cultural osmosis. Sean Edgar

Li’l Gotham

Writer: Derek Fridolfs
Artist: Dustin Nguyen
Publisher: DC Comics

There have been some great Batman stories in recent years, from the continuity-thick insanity of Grant Morrison’s run to the psychological depths of Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso’s Dark Night: A True Batman Story. One mini-classic shouldn’t be forgotten, though: Li’l Gotham, written by Derek Fridolfs and illustrated by Dustin Nguyen. These funny, oddball stories are delightful, whether the Wayne you’re closest to in age is Bruce or his sassy teenage son, Damian.

Speaking of Damian, he occupies a huge part of these stories, which revolve around holidays and involve a the full range of Gotham’s denizens. When Morrison and artist Andy Kubert first introduced Damian as an assassin-trained hellion, he seemed far removed from the ancient idea of child characters appealing to children. But these stories portray Damian as a kid who’s atypical yet relatable, even if your own extended family doesn’t include the Red Hood and Ra’s al Ghul.

The plots are fun and quick, but the gorgeous watercolor art of Nguyen makes you want to linger on each page. Just like Nguyen’s Image series Descender with writer Jeff Lemire, the art of Li’l Gotham stands out on the shelf, combining the adorable and the experimental. Time has proven Batman can be squeezed into any form or style, and Li’l Gotham is one of the biggest li’l successes. Mark Peters


Writers: Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, Kat Leyh, Others
Artists: Brooke A. Allen, Carolyn Nowak, Others
Publisher: BOOM! Studios

The great achievement of summer camp epic, Lumberjanes, is its creation of an almost exclusively distaff universe. Girly girls, tomboy girls, assertive girls, shy girls, athletic girls, physically ungifted girls, girls who like boys, girls who like girls, old women and middle-aged women who are very much not girls, young women who are in an in-between territory, short girls, tall girls, chill girls, wacko girls and more…all have a place. It passes the Bechdel test like no other comic has, but it would also be easy to read without even noticing the lack of dudes because the book is so dang entertaining. It’s full of adventures and monsters and stuff about friendship, all of which is key to its wide appeal as an ambassador for the artform. Hillary Brown


Writers: Congressman John Lewis & Andrew Aydin
Artist: Nate Powell
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

The importance of Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell’s multiple-award-winning autobiography of Lewis’ journey through the Civil Rights Movement can’t be overstated. Lewis played an integral role in combatting racial inequality throughout the ‘60s (and beyond), and these three young-reader-accessible graphic novels expertly capture that battle, whether against Jim Crow legislation or even state authorities attempting to block the movement’s voting campaign in Alabama.

The very fact that the creators chose the comic medium speaks to the genre’s versatility, potency and potential to reach younger audiences. Artist Nate Powell’s expressive facial expressions and soulful streets imbue a sense of melancholy and hope to this defining chapter of American history. Even without renewed attention as a result of horribly misguided presidential attention, it’s impossible to imagine a work with this degree of emotion, submersion or relevancy as anything other than the narrative highlight of the last few years. Sean Edgar

Mouse Guard

Writer/Artist: David Petersen
Publisher: Archaia

David Peterson’s rodent fantasy epic is all-ages in the same sense as one of its inspirations, The Hobbit. The meticulously drawn saga isn’t necessarily written exclusively with young readers in mind, but its expansive world-building and mix of whimsy and menace endear its cast of mouse warriors to young fans eager for grand adventures. (And that’s without reading too much into the idea of small heroes facing down a very big, threatening, unknown world). Like Brian Jacques’ Redwall for a new generation, Petersen’s mice tales, which have branched off into anthologies and board games and film options, have given readers young and old a brand-new mythology to worship. Steve Foxe

Ms. Marvel

Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artists: Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, Others
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Despite not yet appearing on film or TV, Pakistani-American teenager Kamala Khan is a verifiable cross-cultural icon—a standard-bearer for the potential of mainstream comics to grow, adapt and reach new audiences while remaining true to their core principles. Ms. Marvel hasn’t succeeded by upending the Marvel formula, but by perfecting it for a new age under the stewardship of editor/co-creator Sana Amanat and writer G. Willow Wilson. The credo of “with great power comes great responsibility” applies as well to Kamala as it ever did to Peter Parker, but her struggles and achievements ring much truer to current teens, especially young people reconciling their faiths with rapidly evolving modern lives. It’s easy to forget how many folks predicted a fast failure for Ms. Marvel when it was first launched, but Wilson, Amanat and a consistently strong stable of artists, including Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazaki, have firmly established Kamala in the Marvel U., and paved the way for characters like Moon Girl, Silk and Riri Williams to find their footing. Steve Foxe

My Little Pony

Writers: Katie Cook, Others
Artists: Andy Price, Agnes Garbowska, Others
Publisher: IDW Publishing

We’re going to ignore “bronies,” the primarily adult male fans of the My Little Pony franchise, for the duration of this blurb. While they undoubtedly make up a good chunk of the buying audience for IDW’s sprawling MLP fiefdom, the books themselves are still geared toward the TV show’s younger audience, and their ability to capture the franchise’s guiding message—that friendship is magic—is unparalleled. Alongside Adventure Time, My Little Pony blew through conventional wisdom that licensed comic books, especially all-ages properties, don’t sell, and have gone on to become a major component of IDW’s publishing slate. Led by creators like Katie Cook, Andy Price, Agnes Garbowska and others, My Little Pony has trotted into the hallowed halls of the best and most accessible all-ages comics. Steve Foxe


Writer/Artist: Ernie Bushmiller
Publisher: Fantagraphics, Syndicated

Ernie Bushmiller’s fuzzy-headed, pig-nosed little girl is still sublimely dumb and pretty darn relatable decades later. Not every child wants a long, complex narrative. Sometimes they just want to read some jokes and be done with it, and Nancy and BFF Sluggo’s fixation on pocket money and snacks remains efficiently hilarious. There’s no subtext here, only text, and no angst like in Peanuts, making the strip pure cotton candy. Hillary Brown

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales Series

Writer/Artist: Nathan Hale
Publisher: Amulet Books

I had the pleasure of hosting Nathan Hale on a panel for last year’s New York Comic-Con, and he is absolutely hilarious. I asked the cartoonist how he managed to publish a comic for kids about the Donner Party—a group of California-bound pioneers who engaged in cannibalism during the winter of 1846. His response? It’s really a comic about the dangers of alternative routes. The fact that Hale sounds like Jim Gaffigan certainly helps. But that question also illuminates another interesting facet of comics—they’ve historically presented mature issues that might get watch-dogged in other kids media. Not all of Hale’s books dive into such morbid events; he also addresses the Alamo, the Underground Railroad and Revolutionary War spies who happen to share the same name as the cartoonist. Disciplined research guarantees each book is lean and effective, festooned in a Looney Tunes-era humor that will keep eyes on the pages until they hit the back cover. November welcomes seventh entry The Raid of No Return, which follows bombers during the Second World War. Like the previous entries, expect brutally honest events to be depicted with impact and tongue-in-cheek-asides—as delicate a tightrope as can be straddled in kids comics. Sean Edgar


Writer/Artist: Noelle Stevenson
Publisher: HarperTeen

Noelle Stevenson isn’t the first webcomic creator to find success in print comics, but her shift from online to print publishing has become a trajectory that others have followed. Nimona began as a free-to-read webcomic, the story of a young woman who can shapeshift into any animal (or combination of animals) she can think of. Bullying her way into the life of a man who’s billed as a villain, she becomes his sidekick, often getting him into tighter spots than he would explore on his own. But the real strength of the book isn’t the titular character’s raucous sense of humor or silly snark, but the nuance and difficulties that Stevenson weaves into each of the characters. Though Nimona is certainly the protagonist, Stevenson makes room for her “villainous” boss Lord Blackheart, and his former friend turned rival, Sir Goldenloin. Nimona brings Blackheart and Goldenloin back together in an uncomfortable and dangerous situation, and they’re forced to reckon with complicated questions of ethics and affection. It’s a coming-of-age story that’s also about coming to grips with yourself, complicated and perfect for middle-grade and YA readers thanks to its mix of magic and technology, with great visual gags and a sketchy, kinetic style. Caitlin Rosberg


Writer/Artist: Andy Runton
Publisher:Top Shelf Productions

Andy Runton’s wordless comics focus on the world’s most adorable owl, his sweet little worm companion and a plethora of forest friends. These panels are so dear and sincere that they can make even a cynic’s heart swell. The emotions that provide most of the narrative thrust—the fear of disappointing a friend, the desire to be brave, happiness in simple pleasures—are easily relatable to pre-literate children, and the experience of slowly interpreting panels with a parent is a good opportunity for bonding and discussing simple symbols and other comics devices. Hillary Brown

Pippi Longstocking

Writer: Astrid Lindgren
Artist: Ingrid Vang Nyman
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Discovered, translated and republished by Drawn & Quarterly a few years ago, Astrid Lindgren’s comic adaptations of her famous wild child’s adventures originally appeared in the 1950s. Illustrator Ingrid Vang Nyman, who also did the drawings for the earlier, non-comics versions of the books, supplied brilliantly colored pages full of excitement. Pippi is a weirdly timeless creation, a fantasy of a self-reliant child with no adults to get in the way of her desires, and the comics are just as much fun as the prose versions of the stories. Hillary Brown

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas

Writer: Jim Ottaviani
Artist: Maris Wicks
Publisher: First Second

Writer Jim Ottaviani and artist Maris Wicks created one of the best nonfiction comics, zoological or otherwise, when they collaborated on this awesome book about three woman primatologists. Instead of positing science as “cool” or spelling out why its subjects were badasses, the pages neatly lay out their adventures, their differences, their advances and their personality quirks, showing instead of telling in Wick’s clean, colorful, attractive style. Hillary Brown


Writers: Jeremy Whitley
Artists: M. Goodwin, Emily Martin, Others
Publisher: Action Lab Entertainment

Why should able young ladies wait for dudes in bowl cuts to rescue them from dragons and other exotic peril? Writer Jeremy Whitley asks this same question in Princeless, the story of feisty, 16-year-old Princess Adrienne and the best example of medieval feminism since Joan of Arc. After her parents command her to wait in a tower for her future savior, Adrienne breaks loose to pave her own empowered path. She takes up the cause again spin-off The Pirate Princess, helping a diverse cast of fellow princesses bust out of their boxes for the freedom of the seas. Sean Edgar

Princess Ugg

Writer/Artist: Ted Naifeh
Publisher: Oni Press

Ted Naifeh’s vivid fantasy introduces a barbarian princess who can lay waste to soldiers twice her age, but finds that the best way to “conquer” enemies is through peaceful diplomacy. She’s also endearing and unpretentious, spouting dialogue in a phonetic Scottish brogue that rivals anything written by Irvine Welsh. More importantly, the eight issues that comprise this mini-series are affirming. In the chaos of adolescence, the undertow to conform looms large, and this book addresses that tumult through a filter of all-ages medieval fun. Naifeh exercises great body language, contrasting characters who are lithe and athletic against regal and pompous aristocrats. Warren Wucinich’s colors also convey the romanticism of the genre through blooming sunsets and mountainous winter wonderlands. Also: mastodons and unicorns, because of course barbarian princesses ride unicorns. Sean Edgar

Roller Girl

Writer/Artist: Victoria Jamieson
Publisher: Dial Books

For a chunk of her life, cartoonist Victoria Jamieson was not known as Victoria Jamieson, but Winnie the Pow, a devastating force on eight wheels who terrorized the opposition of Portland’s Rose City Rollers. Winnie also taught adolescents the fundamentals of roller derby, an increasing trend across the nation for gals who can’t picture themselves in ballet slippers. Jamieson funnels her experience on the derby floor into Roller Girl, a poignant bildungsroman about ego, identity and impossibly sore hamstrings. The graphic novel revolves around Astrid, a preteen who’d rather dye her hair popsicle-blue than take dance lessons with the rest of her peers. Jamieson takes a measured approach to Astrid’s life, refusing to fall into a simplistic cool rebels vs. condescending preps dichotomy. Her thematic conclusion is to be at peace with everyone, but especially yourself—embrace your inner quirks but don’t let them define you at the exclusion of others. This graphic novel has no doubt inspired many youths to snag a pair of skates, growing character and bruised limbs with each page. Sean Edgar

Secret Coders

Writers: Gene Luen yang
Artist: Mike Holmes
Publisher: First Second

Gene Luen Yang was once a high school teacher in addition to a prodigious creator, and he merged his classroom criteria with his comic book awesomeness in Secret Coders, a middle-grade graphic novel series that pits the readers’ intellect against a gauntlet of HTML challenges. Illustrated by Mike Holmes, the comic gives hands-on experience in the story of Stately Academy, where students Hopper and Eni (and the anyone following along) solve a series of head-scratchers guaranteed to help prepare them for a lifelong interest in STEM fields. Sean Edgar

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook

Writer/Artist: Eleanor Davis
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Children love maps and diagrams, maybe because those visual representations of information parallel their less verbal ways of making sense of the world. Eleanor Davis’ goofy adventure features plenty of them, as well as tons of fantastic inventions and three wonderfully appealing protagonists: a grouchy prankster, a jock who secretly loves science and a girl who has a problem with authority. Together, they balance each other’s weaknesses and encourage one another to take risks. The Secret Science Alliance is endlessly rereadable because of the amount of detail it contains. Hillary Brown

The Shark King

Writer/Artist: R. Kikuo Johnson
Publisher: TOON Books

R. Kikuo Johnson’s beautiful adaptation of Hawaiian mythology is one of the best things the TOON Books imprint, aimed at very young readers, has issued. The story is weirdly surprising and opaque, evoking a flurry of “why” questions that can lead to fun discussion. Each page is an opportunity to develop comics literacy early, with a wide variety of devices represented (splash pages, different panel sizes and shapes, broken panels, different kinds of lettering). Hillary Brown

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane

Writer: Sean McKeever
Artist: Takeshi Miyazawa
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa’s mid-2000s teen-girl-focused floppy remains one of the most charming comics of its era, a lovely riff on high-school angst with a bit of superhero stuff for gravy. Spider-Man doesn’t show up all that much, and Mary Jane Watson doesn’t need him to. She can hold a book all by herself, without much in the way of acrobatics (emotional ones excepted). It’s been a long time since a quality Spider-Man comic actually aimed itself at young readers, but with Spider-Man: Homecoming on the horizon, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane is worth revisiting for an appreciation of the Webhead’s less violent outings. Hillary Brown

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade

Writer: Landry Q. Walker
Artist: Eric Jones
Publisher: DC Comics

Years before Melissa Benoist helped make Supergirl a tween-appropriate cultural icon again, Landry Q. Walkers and Eric Jones (otherwise best known for the much bloodier Danger Club) spun six nearly perfect issues of cusp-of-high-school stories starring Krypton’s last daughter. The book wasn’t long for this world—all-ages floppies rarely survive when held to direct-market standards—but offered a complete saga of “Linda Lee” doing her best to fit in…and cope with a more sinister doppelganger, Belinda Zee. Jones’ fluid cartooning was an easy invitation for young viewers of then-airing Cartoon Network DC adaptations, and provided enough oomph during action scenes to keep older fans invested, too. If any former DC book deserved to have been “born” later, to a more willing audience, it’s this one. Steve Foxe

This One Summer

Writers: Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
Artist: Jillian Tamaki
Publisher: First Second

One of the heavier comics for kids, This One Summer is best described as appropriate for YA readers, usually those older than 13. Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki crafted the Printz-, Caldecott-, Eisner- and Ignatz-award-winning graphic novel together, telling the story of two “summer friends” on the verge of outgrowing childhood in a remote beach town. Rose and Windy are at that awkward stage in their lives where they’re starting to have immature interest in adult things, discussing boys and weaving back and forth from a desire to stay free of responsibilities and a drive to become independent. This One Summer is the best kind of YA fiction, honest without being cruel about how hard it is to grow up, particularly when you get caught up in things that are beyond your ability to understand, let alone fix. Rose and Windy watch as several local teenagers cope with serious drama, the kind that almost-adults have to contend with, and the Tamakis treat a very complicated topic with the kind of respect and kindness that shows their skill as storytellers.

Jillian’s soft, graceful art is monochromatic, in blues and deep indigos instead of black, and it lends the book the perfect air of a seaside town. Mariko has gone on to write Supergirl: Being Super, as well as the new Hulk series starring Jennifer Walters, and both would be great reads for fans of This One Summer if they’re curious about superhero comics. Caitlin Rosberg

Thor: The Mighty Avenger

Writer: Roger Langridge
Artist: Chris Samnee
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Seven years ago, the comic-reading world glimpsed temporary perfection in the form of Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger. Both Samnee and Thor Odinson may be household names now, but this wasn’t the case in 2010, when the unassuming “all-ages” series hit store shelves, providing the character with a modernized origin and some much-needed depth.

Thor has evolved from the one-note Shakespearean thunder-viking of his early days to a more nuanced character in the modern age of comics. This is no doubt due in part to Chris Hemsworth’s affable screen portrayal and Jason Aaron’s exemplary work in the pages of his myriad Thor comics. But months before Hemsworth entered the picture and years before Aaron came to town, depth and humanity were the main drivers of Langridge and Samnee’s approach. For the first time in decades, we became witness to a Thunder God with less than heavenly human concerns. A man humbled by his experience walking amongst mere mortals. A man emboldened by his affection for Jane Foster, who was not so much a love interest, but more of a fully-realized character of equal import (apologies to Natalie Portman). We witnessed the young god defeated, we witnessed his trials and tribulations, and for the first time—perhaps ever—we identified with him. All this in a silly kid’s comic!

Unfortunately, Thor: The Mighty Avenger was cancelled after a meager eight issues. The creative team and character would return briefly in the pages 2011’s Free Comic Book Day offering, Captain America/Thor: The Mighty Fighting Avengers, which functioned as an unofficial fond farewell to one of the greatest (and briefest) Thor stories ever told. Jakob Free

Tiny Titans

Writers: Art Baltazar & Franco
Artist: Art Baltazar
Publisher: DC Comics

Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani’s cartoony floppy is like the Funko Pop! figures of comics: a simplified, goofy introduction to a giant universe of pop culture/gateway to nerd-dom for kids. The stories are short, and there are some DC in-jokes parents can explain to their kids, but there are also plenty of dumb puns they’ll get (and appreciate) on their own. If Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go! isn’t filling the DC hole in your soul, these books will help. Baltazar and Franco also created a Superman-centered book in the same spirit, and returned to Tiny Titans for a reunion run. If DC isn’t your speed, the pair has been producing their own Aw Yeah! books for years, and have done Aw Yeah!-inspired takes on several other publishers’ properties. Hillary Brown

Uncle Scrooge

Writers/Artists: Carl Barks, Don Rosa, Others
Publisher: Fantagraphics

Originally published by Disney and in the process of being republished by Fantagraphics, the Uncle Scrooge comics are the basis of DuckTales, the beloved late-1980s animated show that many parents spent hours watching. The universe they present is huge and beautiful, full of globe-trotting action as the titular miser wrangles with the Beagle Boys and enlists his grandnephews in wild adventures around the world. The stories aren’t too serious, and they feature loads of puzzle solving and jokes around the edges of some extremely accomplished cartooning. Hillary Brown

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Writers: L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower
Artist: Skottie Young
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Marvel is critiqued regularly these days for failing to extend their publishing reach beyond the typical superhero crowd, but nearly a decade ago, Eric Shanower and Skottie Young’s Oz stories emerged as the clear standout from their foray into literary adaptations. While no doubt due in part to Young’s vibrant, sketchy, hyper-kinetic exaggerated style, adaptor Shanower is an accomplished writer/artist himself—and even has his own Oz books under his belt. By hewing close to L. Frank Baum’s source material, Shanower and Young offer reluctant readers an opportunity to experience the original tales of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and other residents of Oz without committing hours upon hours to Baum’s prose. Young has since moved on to much more violent storybook sagas with I Hate Fairyland at Image Comics (save that for when the kids are older and more jaded), but the Oz books, each self-contained, are permanent entries into Marvel’s all-ages offerings and some of the most faithful, most gleeful literary adaptations around. Steve Foxe

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel

Writers: Madeleine L’Engle, Hope Larson
Artist: Hope Larson
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Adapting a novel to a comic is fraught at the best of times, but when it comes to messing with a beloved classic like A Wrinkle in Time, the stakes are even higher. Batgirl and Goldy Vance writer Hope Larson is a near-perfect fit for that job, trimming down Madeleine L’Engle’s well-known fantasy novel to something a bit sparser so it’s readable as a comic. Her art style is simple and focused on realism, which fits the early parts of the book perfectly, but can feel a bit spare for the more fantastical and psychedelic parts of the plot. The pages are bathed in wide swaths of black and white, shaded with a pale blue, particularly after the O’Keefes’ adventure tilts towards the trippy and strange. Larson’s adaptation feels accurate and true without being shackled to the original text, which would have made it unsuitable for the format, if not just redundant. For readers who struggle with big blocks of text, it’s a perfect introduction to L’Engle’s world, and pairing it with the original novel would be a great way to learn about the differences between media—especially with Ava Duvernay’s movie adaptation on the horizon. Caitlin Rosberg


Writer/Artist: Kiyohiko Azuma
Publisher: Yen Press

The unusually, energetically titled Yotsuba&! (pronounced “Yotsuba and,” as each chapter title follows that nomenclature) has been described by industry reviews as “a Japanese version of Dennis the Menace,” but that’s not quite right. Kiyohiko Azuma’s wide-eyed, green-haired title character isn’t antagonistic, just adorably naïve about the world around her. Yotsuba and her adoptive father move to a new town, and the brief chapters follow her energetic discovery of her neighbors and things as simple-yet-mystifying as escalators. There are countless action and romance manga appropriate for younger teens, but Yotsuba&! truly captures the delight and wonder of childhood discovery in a way that readers young and old will appreciate. Steve Foxe

Zita the Spacegirl

Writer/Artist: Ben Hatke
Publisher: First Second

Ben Hatke loves drawing monsters and aliens and critters of all kinds, so you can expect them to outweigh humanoids significantly in his space-adventure trilogy. If you think your kids don’t have the attention span for longer books like these, just hand one over and watch them get sucked into the narrative. Hatke knows how to keep things moving, and he’s not afraid to let his heroine make mistakes, understanding that her flawed nature reinforces her bravery. Hillary Brown

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