Even the best graphic novels have long had a reputation for being trashy, alternatives to “proper” books. Even the phrase “graphic novel” invokes much ridicule as a way to make comics sound more legitimate.
If that’s your impression, you’re not alone. However, as a mom of five, three of whom would rather poke pins in their eyes than read a book at one point, I’m here to let you know the truth.
That truth is that graphic novels are similar to, but distinct from comics. These books have been shown to increase intelligence and vocabulary — by independent scientists who were not graphic novel fans.
What’s more? More than just a gateway drug to “proper” books, graphic novels are a sophisticated, complex, nuanced form of printed entertainment we should all embrace.
- Beautifully rendered in watercolor
- Hilarious and surprisingly tender
- Suitable for children and adults!
- Features stories-within-the-story
- Utilizes humor & drama, prose & poetry
- Introduces children to creative process
- Plain smart and moving
- Odd and amazingly beautiful world
- Encourages curiosity, bravery, creativity
- Easy-to-read graphic novel
- Inspires children to write & draw
- Includes drawing instructions
- Positive, playful, zero conflict
- 3-book set with 3 stories each
- Comes with 12x16” poster
- Very easy to read
- Engaging and hilarious
- Perfect for early readers
- Clear-cut visual storytelling
- Calm pastel colors
- Readable lettering
- Easy to read
- Perfect for Minecraft fans
- Story about teamwork & friendship
- 3 full-color graphic novels
- Story about overcoming difficulties
- Relatable for anyone with siblings
- Winner of the Newbery Medal
- Story about diversity and belonging
- Excellent choice for tween readers
- Our Top Picks
- What’s the Difference Between Graphic Novels and Comics?
- The Best Graphic Novels for Kids (Ages 6-8)
- The Best Graphic Novels for Middle Schoolers (Ages 9-12)
- The Best Graphic Novels for Teens
- The Best Graphic Novel Adaptations for Kids
- The Best Non-Fiction Graphic Novels for Kids
- The Best Graphic Novel Box Sets for Kids and Teens
- Benefits of Graphic Novels for Kids
- Embrace Graphic Novels for Kids
What’s the Difference Between Graphic Novels and Comics?
While both comics and graphic novels tell stories with words and pictures, comics are usually relatively short and tell a story in installments over several issues. Graphic novels are longer and, although they may be part of a series, tell an entire story in one volume (1).
Some would also argue that graphic novels have richer, more in-depth stories with better character development and a more sophisticated story arc.
Do Graphic Novels Count As Reading?
Absolutely! Graphic novels not only count as reading but have been shown to help kids get excited about reading in general and develop a more comprehensive vocabulary.
A study by Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich of California State University showed that the language and vocabulary used in the graphic novels they evaluated were more complex and more advanced than the oral communication of the college graduates they assessed (2).
The same study also saw twice as many difficult or rare words in the graphic novels than in the children’s literature written for the same age group.
And don’t just take my word for it; graphic novels are accepted by librarians and educational experts as mainstream literature for readers of all ages.
The American Libraries Association publishes an annual list of the Best Graphic Novels. It also publishes multiple resources to help you choose the best quality, age-appropriate graphic novels for kids (3).
There are also other significant benefits to reading graphic novels, which we’ll share at the end of our top 50 list. I had trouble keeping this list down to 50, but here are some favorite graphic novels of our family, friends, and assorted graphic novel enthusiasts of our acquaintance.
The Best Graphic Novels for Kids (Ages 6-8)
Graphic novels are an excellent way to encourage a love of reading in younger children who are either struggling or reluctant readers.
1. The Big Bad Fox
Fox wants to be a big, scary predator who gets to eat the chickens, but when he tries to chase the hens, they laugh at him.
Wolf suggests the fox steal some eggs, raise the chicks himself and eat them, but what Fox didn’t expect was for the little birds to hatch and start calling him mommy.
2. Cat Kid Comic Club: From the Creator of Dog Man
Dav Pilkey, the writer behind the Captain Underpants series, brings you a new line of graphic novels about Cat Kid, chairperson of the Cat Kid Comic CLub, and teacher of 30 baby frogs.
The comic creations of Cat Kid and friends tell shorter stories, within the wider story.
3. Hilda and the Troll: Hilda Book 1
Hilda lives in a magical world of moving mountains, trolls, walking wooden men, and talking crows.
She sets out on a journey during which she intends to illustrate the world around her. But when a snowstorm blows up, things take a troubling turn.
4. Baloney and Friends
Join Baloney and his quirky animal friends — including a horse and a “krabbit” as they try new things and have fun adventures. This is a fan favorite for kids fresh out of kindergarten.
5. Narwhal and Jelly: Books & Poster Box Set
Cute but silly Narwhal and Jelly books are for the youngest of readers in grades one to four. The unlikely pair discover friendship, fun, and a healthy dose of adventure in the first three of the series.
6. The Bad Guys Box Set: Books 1-5
These mean-looking animals are not the bad guys they appear to be; in fact, they’re positively good guys, and the under-tens adore these books.
The Best Graphic Novels for Middle Schoolers (Ages 9-12)
Just as with regular kids and young adult books, graphic novels use age-appropriate language and images. These are the graphic novels I would be happy for any middle schooler to read.
7. Click: By Kayla Miller
Fifth-grader Olive gets on with everyone but doesn’t have a “best” friend. When the school talent show is announced, she discovers everyone else has joined an act, and there’s no room for her.
How will Olive navigate the talent show?
When Tyler moves to a new town, he can still connect with his friends in the online world of Minecraft.
This is the first of an entire series of Minecraft graphic novels about Tyler and friends. We are particular fans of the way the illustrations give the Minecraft world a softer look.
9. Smile, Sisters, and Guts: The Box Set
This set of three graphic novels follow Raina through such childhood problems as falling and knocking out your teeth, new babies in the family, and getting on with siblings as you grow. Plus, puberty.
This set’s especially good for kicking off discussions you or your child may be struggling to start.
10. New Kid
Jordan hopes his mom will send him to the art school of his dreams. Instead, she sends him to a prestigious private academy where art is soft, and he’s one of the only kids of color.
Now he’s out of place in his neighborhood and at school. How will he cope?
11. The Last Kids on Earth: Thrilling Tales from the Tree House
The seventh book, but first graphic novel in the Last Kids On Earth Series & a new Netflix series.
Unlike other graphic novels, this book has a series of shorter stories, each drawn by a different artist. Consequently, there’s a beautiful range of illustrative styles, each one bringing something different to the book.
Ashley’s dad is in prison, and she bounces around foster homes before landing with a loving family. There she finds a set of magical body paints that bestow superpowers, but the government wants them back.
Can she protect her new family and deal with the past?
13. The Dragonet Prophecy: Wings of Fire Graphic Novel #1
There are 10 Wings of Fire books written for children aged 8+ and The Dragonet Prophecy is the first of a series of graphic novel representations of those ten books.
This is a relatively gruesome series, so it may not be suitable for the younger end of the age range.
The Best Graphic Novels for Teens
Kids at the top end of the teen spectrum have no trouble finding suitable graphic novels, but it can be a struggle to find grown-up, but not adult options for younger teens. Here are our top picks.
14. Heavy Vinyl: Riot on the Radio
When Chris snags her dream teen job at Vinyl Mayhem, she’s excited to bond with the all-female staff. However, what she didn’t bargain for was discovering that Vinyl Mayhem is also a front for an all-girl teen vigilante fight-club intent on pushing back against the patriarchy.
15. Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel
Will’s brother’s been shot dead and the neighborhood expects him to take revenge. So, armed with a gun, he takes the elevator in his building, going down.
This achingly beautiful adaptation of Long Way Down describes Will’s journey as on each floor, a new, deceased person enters the elevator to tell their story.
16. Sentient: The Complete Series
The USS Montgomery is a deep space colony ship. When the ship is attacked by dark forces, all of the adults die, and the kids are left alone with only VALERIE, the AI, to care for them.
Can VALERIE keep the kids alive and evolve to become the parent they need?
17. Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir
Maggie Thrash spends every summer at Camp Bellflower for Girls. However, this year 15-year-old Maggie, who has never kissed a boy, is both surprised and puzzled when a chance, innocent, physical encounter with a female camp counselor makes her heart leap.
18. Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel
Jeremy’s a dork, so when he hears of the Squib, a tiny supercomputer you can swallow, and it will transform your life, he doesn’t think twice.
He transforms into the most popular, cool kid at high school, but there are consequences.
19. Trickster: Native American Tales
In Trickster, 24 Native American storytellers share traditional tales, each one illustrated by a different artist. The illustrative quality varies; some are fabulous, others not so much, but on the whole, a worthwhile collection.
When Kiku vacations in San Francisco, she finds herself pulled back in time to the 1940s. There she’s trapped in the same internment camp for Japanese Americans to which her grandmother was sent.
Ari is expected to take over the family bakery, which is a problem because he wants to leave and start a band. When he hires Hector as his replacement, their relationship grows deeper against a hefty dose of angst.
22. Hey, Kiddo
Jarrett is being raised by his grandparents, and Hey, Kiddo is 320 pages of visual memoir that is as touching and moving as it is captivating.
23. Space Boy, Volume 1
What happens when you move back to Earth from a space mining colony and have to spend 30 years cryogenically frozen in the process? Find out in the first of the fantastic Space Boy series.
The Best Graphic Novel Adaptations for Kids
If you’re having trouble getting past the graphic novel “proper” book issue, then perhaps one of the best graphic novel adaptations of classic books will be suitable.
24. A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel
Hope Larson brings her visual interpretation of A Wrinkle in Time while remaining faithful to the characters, story, and even the chapter format. Although the story is abridged, all of the essential elements are still there.
25. The Hobbit: The Graphic Novel
With text and dialogue taken directly from the novel, Chuck Dixon’s The Hobbit is ideal for those who want to read the book but are intimidated by hundreds of pages of solid text.
26. The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials
If you want to encourage a reluctant reader, consider this graphic novel version of Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. This is the first of the three books which were adapted by HBO as His Dark Materials.
27. Coraline: The Graphic Novel
Neil Gaiman’s works feel perfect for graphic novelization. P. Craig Russel’s illustrations do justice to Gaiman’s descriptive narrative and provide an enjoyable alternative visual for those familiar with Tim Burton’s movie treatment.
28. The Call of the Wild: The Graphic Novel
This short, only 68 pages, adaptation of Jack London’s classic is a good choice for younger reluctant readers who may be put off by a significantly thicker book.
29. The Giver (Graphic Novel)
In an ideal but colorless world, there’s no conflict, no choices, and no emotions. The Giver selects Jonas to become the Receiver of Memories, the only person to experience love, joy, and terror.
Will Jonas keep the memories and allow society to continue uninterrupted, or will he take another path?
30. Alice in Wonderland: Illustrated by Simona Bursi
Rather than a faithful adaptation, this is a retelling of Lewis Carrol’s classic fairy tale. Subsequently, think of this as a graphic taster rather than an entire graphic novel.
31. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Dana is a young black woman who is inexplicably transported back and forth between the Antebellum South and 1970’s California. While it doesn’t contain all of the plot elements of the entire novel, it does have all of the punch.
32. Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Four of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories and three poems are brought to life by Gareth Hinds, and the recurring themes are teased apart in endnotes, so there’s no chance of missing salient points.
33. Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare Classics Graphic Novels)
Shakespeare’s original words are not adapted to contemporary English, but the text is abridged, and difficult words are explained in the footnotes. Together with the watercolor illustrations, this adaptation is as authentic as it is accessible.
The Best Non-Fiction Graphic Novels for Kids
Not all graphic novels are fictional. These are our favorite graphic novel true stories and biographies.
34. It's Her Story: Rosa Parks: A Graphic Novel
Aimed at kids in the six to nine-year-old range, this biography of Rosa Parks includes plenty of information about her life before the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
35. Conquest: Julius Caesar's Gallic War
This graphic novel is an adaptation of Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War. It tells, from Caesar’s own words, the story of the Roman invasion and conquest of Gaul.
36. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Would-be cartoonist Junior leaves his school “on the rez” and instead attends the nearest local high school where he and the school mascot are the only Indians.
37. They Changed the World: Bell, Edison, and Tesla
An engaging and concise graphic novel, Bell, Edison, and Tesla, tells how the three men from very different backgrounds changed the world with their discoveries and inventions. It also talks of their family lives and interactions with each other.
38. Ambedkar: India’s Crusader for Human Rights
Born into a lower caste, India’s Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar overcame his predetermined status, earned a law degree in the UK, attended Columbia University, and helped craft an independent India’s constitution.
39. It's Her Story: Marie Curie: A Graphic Novel
For the kids too old for picture books but not yet ready to move to chapter books, this series of books by Phoenix International provides an age-appropriate alternative. In this case, you discover the life of Marie Curie.
40. When Stars Are Scattered
Life in the refugee camp is difficult, with no medical care and not enough food. What will Omar do when he has the opportunity to attend school but will have to leave his brother behind?
41. Alexander Hamilton: The Fighting Founding Father
Discover the exciting life of Alexander Hamilton without having to study dry textbooks or ever set foot in a theater. The publishers also have additional, free, downloadable resources available for this book.
42. Parenthesis: By Élodie Durand
Élodie Durand shares her story of having just emerged from her teens; she found herself in an unexpected life of epilepsy, memory gaps, and a loss of her sense of self.
43. They Changed the World: Crick & Watson - The Discovery of DNA
While this book focuses on the work of Crick and Watson, it also touches on the other scientists who came before them, supported them at the time, and followed them. Understandable science, beautiful graphics, and a gripping story.
The Best Graphic Novel Box Sets for Kids and Teens
For those who already adore graphic novels, these are our favorite box sets, which make ideal gifts.
44. Olympians Boxed Set
Fast-based, exciting, and unflinching, Olympians tell the stories of Poseidon, Aphrodite, Hera, Hades, and Athena. While not gratuitous, the inherent violence of the myths is clearly illustrated, so this isn’t a set for kids under 12.
45. DC Super Hero: Girls Box Set
Travel to Super Hero High and discover how Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, Katana, Bat Girl, and others learned how to be superheroes.
46. Amulet #1-8: Box Set
The first eight editions of Kazu Kibuishi’s bestselling series are brought together in one high-quality box set. Ideal for grades three to seven, Amulet is popular among teachers trying to encourage reluctant readers.
47. Hilo: The Great Big Box (Books 1-6)
Meet Hilo, the alien robot boy who fell to earth. He has no idea how he got here or what he’s suppressed to do. Luckily he has new friends Gina and DJ to guide him.
48. Dog Man: The Supa Epic Collection
From the creator of Captain Underpants, Dog Man, a new breed of justice with the body of a man and the head of a dog.
49. The Baby-Sitters Club: Graphic Novels #1-7
Existing fans and newcomers alike will enjoy these graphic novel adaptations of the classic The Baby-Sitters Club series. I especially like how these adaptations allow readers who struggle to share the same stories as their more fluent peers.
50. DC Graphic Novels for Kids: Box Set 1
The first of a series of box sets, this slipcase contains four graphic novels in a distinctly middle school cartoon style. So you can be comfortable with your child enjoying superheroes without encountering adult content.
Benefits of Graphic Novels for Kids
Graphic Novels Can Be a Gateway to Reading
Some people tolerate graphic novels as a way to encourage reluctant readers. We were guilty of this. I gritted my teeth and told myself it was a good thing long-term when our son wanted to read nothing but the Bone books.
However, while some kids get into graphic novels and then segway into other forms of literature, we now know it’s not moving on or graduating to “proper” books. Instead, graphic novels are a valid, educational reading experience in their own right (4).
Graphic Novels Reduce Reading Anxiety
Our youngest daughter struggled with reading because the idea of reading a chapter book was overwhelming and made her anxious. That anxiety prevented her from concentrating; she didn’t get the story and then felt stupid.
With graphic novels, she wasn’t overwhelmed by a large bank of text. Then she began to read and understand the books, which resulted in her feeling more confident (5).
Graphic Novels Improve Reading Comprehension
Some kids need more time or struggle to process written descriptions of places, people, and events. This stopping, starting, and rereading interrupts the flow of reading and impacts overall comprehension of the story.
Graphic novels allow kids to absorb information about setting, facial expressions and even help to differentiate between characters. Consequently, without the distraction of processing word-based descriptions, some kids find it easier to get what’s going on in the story (6).
Age-Appropriate Options for Kids With Learning Disabilities
Kids with learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, for whom English is a second language, or those who have any other additional barrier to literacy can end up with reading materials appropriate for children way younger than them.
Not only is this a cause of embarrassment and sometimes shame. It also discourages such kids from exploring books and experiencing the potential sense of achievement successful reading can bring. Graphic novels are an excellent, age-appropriate book form for these kids (7).
Graphic Novels Help You Share Books
I am an avid reader and almost always have a book within arms reach, so I have to admit I struggled when it turned out our youngest daughter couldn’t be less interested in books. Graphic novels have been a way for us to bond that would never have been possible with a text-only book.
Embrace Graphic Novels for Kids
Graphic novels are a magnificent way for kids to enjoy books, especially if they are reluctant or struggle to read. These are sophisticated book forms recognized as such by academics, librarians, and educators alike.
We have found them to be a way to encourage reading and bond with the kids. Plus, we’ve been thoroughly put in our place when we mistakenly asserted that they were not proper books.
Embrace, enjoy together, repeat.