A few months ago, I wrote a guide to finding YA with LGBTQ characters and themes. Today, I decided to put my own advice to work and create a list of graphic novels that feature gay, lesbian, or transgender characters.
The portrayal of potentially sensitive topics is made all the more sensitive by the visual nature of graphic novels. Because of this, I’ve divided the list up into two age groups. The books recommended for older teens feature more nudity, language, dark themes, and visual depictions of sexuality than the books suggested for the younger group–but, of course, every title is a little different and every reader has the right to decide what’s best for him or her.
Note: Manga has a rich and complicated history of putting out stories with queer characters. Because I’m not particularly familiar with manga, and because there are so many varieties of approaches to issues of gender and sexuality in the manga universe, I’ve left manga titles out of this list. The only exception is Wandering Son, which I included because it’s a 2012 Top Ten Great Graphic Novel!
For middle schoolers and younger teens
Wandering Son by Shimura Takako, translated by Matt Thorn (2012 Great Graphic Novels Top Ten)
Two students struggling with their gender identity become friends and confidantes in this manga series. The first volume is part of this year’s Best of the Best, so be sure to check it out if you’re doing the challenge!
Runaways, vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughn, Adrian Alphona, and Takeshi Miyazawa (2006 Best Books for Young Adults Top Ten)
When six teenage friends discover that their parents are secretly a group of super villains, they flee their homes without much idea of where they’re going or what they’re doing. But it turns out that the teens have superpowers of their own–will they be able to defeat their parents?
Young Avengers by Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, and Andrea DiVito
A Marvel comic series featuring teen superheroes, including a gay couple. Like Runways, this series features a group of teens facing new villains and old foes (including their parents), all while figuring how it is, exactly, that they’re supposed to find the time to maintain an alter ego.
Kevin Keller by Dan Parent
The newest member of the decades-old Archie Comics universe is Kevin Keller, an army kid who’s new to town and happens to be gay. Kevin’s sexuality, while acknowledged, is rarely the focus of the plot, although in later volumes Kevin enlists in the military and eventually gets married.
For high schoolers and older teens
a + e 4ever by ilike merey (2012 ALA Stonewall Award Honor title)
Two teenage outcasts–tough goth Eulalie and beautiful, androgynous Asher–bond over their shared love of music and art. Neither of the teens conform to social expectations about their gender identities or their sexuality, and although they struggle to understand their place in the world and their feelings for each other, their relationship helps them weather the storm.
Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Ruck and J.H. Williams III
Kate Kane’s military career has ended as result of the government’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, so she’s back on the streets of Gotham, fighting crime in a bat suit and combat boots. Full-color art and a creepy Alice in Wonderland-esque villain make this a great edition to the DC Universe.
Fun Home by Alison Bechedel (2007 ALA Stonewall Book Award winner)
Bechedel’s classic graphic memoir deals with her strange and unhappy childhood. It covers her father’s death, his affairs with male students and the family’s babysitter, and Bechedel’s sexual awakening and her own coming out during college. Frank, funny, and tragic.
Bechedel is also the editor of the Dykes to Watch Out For series, which is a collection of comic strips by and about lesbians.
Pedro Zamora & Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned by Judd Winick (2001 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers)
Pedro Zamora and Judd Winick met in 1994 as cast members and housemates on MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco. This graphic memoir is an account of the author’s friendship with Pedro, who was an HIV-positive/AIDS and gay rights activist.
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (2009 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults)
Skim is about the awkwardness, pain, and confusion of being sixteen–especially being a 16-year-old lesbian at an all-girls school. Kimberly Keiko Cameron, better known as Skim, has a huge crush on her English teacher; her best friend Lisa is drifting away from her, and the head of the popular clique has sunk into a depression following the suicide of her boyfriend. When the English teacher leaves abruptly, Skim is left to struggle with her questions alone until she finds comfort in an unexpected friendship.
— Emily Calkins, currently reading Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
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