We’ve found the best graphic novels for kids by age to help you encourage reading and pulling your children away from screens.
There are a lot of great graphic novels out there for kids, which is a good thing too given how important it is for your child to take breaks away from all their electronic devices. There is nothing wrong with buying a few graphic novels throughout the year as an addition to their bookshelves. Don’t forget to check your public library as a source for awesome graphic novels as well. There are plenty of new worlds to get lost in on this list. Bear in mind that the age categories below are only guidelines. You have a much better sense of what your kid is ready for than I do.
Preschool and Early Elementary School (Ages 4-7)
This is a wonderful age to get your little ones excited about reading. Consider purchasing a new graphic novel each month for your child to continue encouraging them to read. Keep in mind, that you will need to read to your younger children, but trust me it makes for an awesome bonding experience.
Are you looking for rip-roaring adventure, or are you more of a rip-snorting aficionado? The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, by Don Rosa, features both rip-roaring and rip-snorting in a globe-girdling story of how a young duck from a small town became the legendary Uncle Scrooge.
I once saw a guy on the train reading an issue of My Little Pony out loud to his daughter. I was embarrassed for him. He wasn’t doing any of the voices and his explanations of the motivations and interior lives of the characters were, at best, slapdash. This was the first comic I read to my daughter, and we both got pretty into it. After you finish reading it check out, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
The Super Hero Squad comics, which were a tie-in to the surprisingly good Super Hero Squad TV show, are a fun introduction to the Marvel Universe. The stories are short and punchy and have a lot of characters from the movies. Super Hero Squad might be just the thing to encourage a reluctant reader.
The Garfield Comic series tells longer and more ambitious stories than the three-panel comic strip does. All the Garfield touchstones are there: Odie, Jon, Nermal, Liz, and Arlene. These are fun comics that are great for emerging readers and provide an alternative to violence.
Pages 23-30 of Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil by Jeff Smith contains one of my favorite sequences in all of the comics. Homeless kid Billy Batson meets the Seven Deadly Enemies of Mankind, learns a magic word, and starts on his hero’s journey. I once worked it into a PowerPoint presentation at my day job. I forget what point I was trying to make, and I may or may not have made it coherently, but I’m sure my co-workers could tell how much I love this comic.
Have your kids ever really looked at their lunch lady? Have they ever gazed into her eyes and seen something more than just a dutiful slopper of nutrient paste? Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady is a lunch lady with a secret identity as the courageous and resourceful Lunch Lady! Like Batman, Lunch Lady relies on her brilliant mind, well-trained reflexes, and lunch-themed gadgets to win the day.
Each short story in this anthology is based on a letter sent by a kid to a member of the Justice League, and each story captures something essential about its main character. My favorite story features a put-upon Superman just trying to help and getting yelled at for not doing it right.
Giants Beware and Dragons Beware, by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado, is the story of Claudette, her brother Gaston and their friend Marie as they take on giants and dragons that bedevil their medieval French town. Claudette is 10 pounds of fight in a five-pound bag, and her solution to most problems is to hit them until they give in. Gaston and Marie are more thoughtful, and the contrast between them makes for some great stories.
Tyler and his friends play a lot of Minecraft in this comic by writer R. Sfé Monster (winner, best name award) and artist Sarah Graley. Their skills and relationships strengthen to the point where the group is ready to test themselves against the Ultimate Quest and the Ender Dragon! This comic does a good job of showing how the friends’ online and In Real Life interactions influence each other. If you’ve got a Minecraft fanatic on your hands be sure to check out our article on Minecraft-themed bedrooms and Minecraft clothes.
Elementary School (Ages 8-11)
As your child gets older and becomes a more confident independent reader they’ll be able to handle more complex stories and mature content. This is a perfect time to introduce them to the classic comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes if you haven’t done so already.
Bone, by Jeff Smith, is one of the greatest comics of all time. It’s magnificently epic in scale, and yet sweet, humane, and laugh-out-loud funny. The stupid rat creatures are even funnier if you imagine them with the voices of Frasier and Niles Crane. Sometimes it’s hard to follow your kids into the world of a comic, but I give you my word that you will care as much about the Bone cousins as your kids do.
Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types is a great world for you and your kid to get lost in. It’s an unusual summer camp: there are giant cats and ancient Greek goddesses around and something weird is happening to the space/time continuum. The five main characters range in age from eight to about 14, so there’s something in Lumberjanes for nearly every kid to identify with.
Your kid’s brain can’t live on Bone cousins and Lumberjanes alone. You must also fortify their minds with the knowledge of their world if they are to confront the Seven Deadly Enemies of Mankind. There are 20+ books in the Science Comics series, covering cats, dogs, cars, drones, bats, and a universe of other topics. They’re very well done with excellent art and informative writing.
Jennifer and Matthew Holm’s Babymouse series is about a middle school-aged mouse who runs for student council, babysits younger kids, and has other real-world adventures that are within reach of your own kids. Babymouse is bright and good-natured, but like a lot of tweens she sometimes bites off more than she can chew.
Chickenhare, by Chris Grine, is an acquired taste. It is morbid: the characters drag around a dead body for a big chunk of the story. It is extremely strange. What is a chickenhare? Why does Abe wear that weird hat? The reader never finds out the answers to those and other key questions. It’s also hilarious, with most of the humor coming from the main characters’ constant bickering. The sequel is even stranger: one of the heroes dies and the others go to Hell to find him. If you and your kids can handle this kind of thing, then you’re in for a treat. Also check out Chickenhare: Fire in the Hole.
I don’t know anything about Costume Quest the game, but I can tell you that Zac Gorman has made a terrific comic. It’s about a group of creatures called Grubbins who travel from their world of Repugia to our world in search of Halloween candy. It has a lot of the same vibe as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I was surprised by how much I liked it, given that my interest in video games petered out around 1993.
For reluctant readers, a popular character drawn in a manga style might be hard to resist. This adaptation of Ken Liu’s novel includes four short stories in which Luke Skywalker begins to make a name for himself among the downtrodden of the galaxy as kind, brave, and an all-around mensch. It’s a new way, for me at least, of exploring the galaxy with a character I’ve loved since childhood.
Amulet, by Kazu Kabuishi, is a vast steampunk saga worthy of sharing a bookshelf with Bone. Over eight books, Emily Hayes becomes a terrifyingly powerful sorcerer called a Stonekeeper. Her brother Navin grows into an ace pilot of Jules Verne-eque flying machines. Amulet tells a story of how enemies can become friends, something that may be of interest to anyone living in 2021.
Middle School (Ages 12+)
At this point, your child is probably picking their own graphic novels to read. Hopefully, they’re reading some awesome books as well. Even though your kid has gotten older, you can still enjoy reading graphic novels with them. That’s why we put together this list of best graphic novels because we love them just as much as kids do. Work on your bond with them and keep introducing each other to the fantastic stories you both discover.
Look, I try to keep the tone around here positive. This, however, I have to say: a lot of Marvel and DC’s current output is no fun. It’s too insular, too grim, too dependent on the reader’s knowledge of back issues, and trying too hard to please an unpleasable fanbase. Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s Wolverine and the X-Men is fun. It takes the characters back to their roots as teachers at a school helping young mutants make sense of a world that fears and hates them. It makes side characters like Toad far more interesting than they’ve ever been before and introduces some terrific new villains in Kade Kilgore and the other young members of the Hellfire Club.
Groo is a barbarian who is an idiot. He wanders aimlessly in search of cheese dip with his dog Rufferto. He fails at everything he does except for fighting and people are generally worse off for having known him. Or are they? Series creators Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai, and Tom Luth show that most of the damage that occurs in each comic is the result of people overreacting to Groo rather than anything Groo does. A million years ago there was a set of PVC figurines of Groo characters, which I stupidly did not buy when I had the chance, are now impossible to find and which I covet.
Barbarian Lord (creator Matt Smith doesn’t give him any other name) is a barbarian who is not an idiot. Everything he does he excels at fighting, sailing, insulting his enemies with poetry. He speaks when it’s time to speak and is silent when it’s time for silence. Barbarian Lord is loosely based on He-Man, but it’s very much its own thing. If your kids are interested in Norse mythology, they may like Barbarian Lord.
What would it be like to meet Wonder Woman? She’s brilliant, she’s stunning, she’s for-real magical and she’s really amazingly good at beating the ever-loving bejeebus out of people. She’s better than you at everything but she’s so cool that it’s hard to resent her for it. Adapted from Leigh Bardugo’s prose novel by Louise Simonson and Kit Seaton, Wonder Woman: Warbringer has a great plot and characters, but the main attraction for me is how well this comic captures how jarring, but also how exciting it would be to meet the Amazing Amazon.
Dragon Hoops creator Gene Luen Yang taught at a Catholic high school that was a serious basketball contender. Dragon Hoops follows both the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams as they compete for the California state championship. The book paints a fascinating picture of a high school community from the point of view of a teacher rather than a student, which is rare in YA graphic novels set in schools.
In Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat, a scraggly, disreputable cat living in 1930s Algeria eats the family parrot and learns to speak. Just because he can talk doesn’t mean he stops being a cat though. He’s opinionated, economical with the truth, and asks any number of highly inconvenient questions. The Rabbi’s Cat portrays a vanished world that is just as lively and unusual as any fantasy world. Also, check out The Rabbi’s Cat 2.
Katie and her Mom can’t afford summer camp, so Katie is making money taking care of her neighbor’s cats in Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue’s graphic novel. They’re unusual cats. For one thing, there are 217 of them. For another thing, unlike most cats, these cats have jobs. Jobs like “DJ” and “explosives expert”. Cat-loving readers will enjoy figuring out what’s going on along with Katie.
There isn’t enough money to support both the cheerleaders and the robotics club at Nate and Charlie’s school. The only logical solution is for the students to come together as a team to build a chainsaw-wielding robot and enter a possibly/probably illegal robot deathmatch. Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks do a great job of showing how basketball team captain Charlie and robotics club president Nate’s friendship can survive some pretty intense robot deathmatch-ery.