Click here to see all of the current Great Graphic Novels nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
The Golden Sheep, vol. 1 by Kaori Ozaki
Vertical Comics / Kodansha
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Tsugu Miikura, a talented teenage musician, has returned to her old hometown. Her family might be stuffed into a tiny apartment and her father might be MIA, but Tsugu is confident that her childhood friends are still the same people she left behind. During her first day back, Tsugu slowly learns that her old buddies are all very changed people: once-charming Yuushin has become a delinquent, kind Asari is now a prototypical mean girl, and sensitive Sora is the unfortunate target of Yuushin’s aggression. Tsugu is forced to grapple with her friendships changing in ways she never expected, and when she finds Sora attempting to take his own life, the two begin a journey that leads them all the way to Tokyo…
The Golden Sheep presents a harsh, realistic teenage world, but unlike similar works, the reality crafted by mangaka Kaori Ozaki is unafraid to use more fantastical manga tropes. Manga readers might never encounter a character like Tsugu Miikura, but we’ve all encountered menacing bullies, estranged families, and desires for change in our daily lives. The end result is a familiar world inhabited by a larger-than-life cast riddled with secrets and complexities.
Fans of recent series with similar approaches to daily high school life, such as That Blue Sky Feeling and Dead Dead Demon’s Dedede Destruction, will be drawn in by the charming artwork, as well as the thoughtful meditations on relationships and growing up.
Displacement by Kiku Hughes
First Second / Macmillan
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
Kiku, a young American teen, finds herself “displaced” in time and transported into the 1940s where she’s forced into an incarceration camp with other Japanese Americans. Uprooted and alone, she tries to survive and find her way home.
Displacement is a thoughtful, female-driven narrative that asks tough questions and isn’t afraid to talk about contemporary issues. Kiku’s fear of being displaced is evident, mirroring the real-life experience of many communities in the past and present. The novel effectively discusses how historical trauma can continue to impact successive family generations; Kiku’s inability to talk to Ernestina (her grandmother who’s also incarcerated) reflects that legacy of familial and cultural disconnect and alienation. While this book isn’t afraid to confront trauma, the one easy part of this story is Kiku and May’s sweet romance that provides respite rather than conflict.
The beautifully designed layout and measured lines carve out hushed moments that express Kiku’s solitude and isolation. The gentle color palette—full of soft blues, faded yellows, and muted earth tones—gives the sensation of being suspended in time and suits the novel’s thematic focus on history and memory.
Readers looking for similar books centered on the 1940s incarceration of Japanese Americans may want to pick up George Takei’s poignant graphic novel memoir They Called Us Enemy. Another noteworthy title is Misa Siguira’s This Time Will Be Different, a contemporary YA romance that integrates complex issues of Asian American identity, historical trauma, and BIPOC/LGBTQ+ solidarity and allyship. Hughes notes the influence of iconic sci-fi writer Octavia Butler, and Kindred may also interest readers intrigued by the time travel component.