Since 2007, the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, has selected a variety of graphic novels suitable for readers age 12-18. YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens lists provide both a snapshot of the year’s best titles suitable for young adult readers, but also a valuable selection tool for librarians who require good books which aren’t boring.
This year, the committee of librarians selected 126 titles from 145 official nominations (Last year, it was 103 titles selected from 178). A Top 10 list has also been published, listing the best of both fiction and non-fiction titles.
This year’s YALSA Top 10 titles for teens are:
Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins. 2020. $12.99. ISBN: 9780062685094)
Ha discusses the challenges of moving to America from her childhood home in South Korea, providing an honest and thoughtful perspective on being an outsider, finding your community, and how it feels to return to a home you’ve left behind.
Blue Flag by Kaito
- Vol. 1. VIZ Media. 2020. $12.99. ISBN: 9781974713011.
- Vol. 2. VIZ Media. 2020. $12.99. ISBN: 9781974713028.
- Vol. 3. VIZ Media. 2020. $12.99. ISBN: 9781974713035.
- Vol. 4. VIZ Media. 2020. $12.99. ISBN: 9781974713042.
- Vol. 5. VIZ Media. 2020. $12.99. ISBN: 9781974713059.
An unexpected love quadrangle forms when Taichi agrees to help Futaba pursue her crush, Toma, while friend Mami looks on. But Toma has feelings for someone else, and as friendships and romantic relationships develop, nothing is as clear cut as it seems.
Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence by Joel Christian Gill (Oni Press. 2020. $19.99. ISBN: 9781549303357)
Joel Christian Gill narrates what it was like for him to grow up in a single-parent household in the 1980s, from childhood to young adulthood—Black, broke, and surrounded by uncertainty.
Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams (First Second / Macmillan. 2020. $21.99. ISBN: 9781250305725)
Fed up with the empty tampon and pad dispensers at Hazelton High School, sophomores Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha decide to start a “menstruation revolution.” Through blog posts, letter-writing campaigns, and online fundraisers, the girls work together to make change.
Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison by Various, edited by Sarah Mirk (Abrams ComicsArts / Abrams Books. 2020. $24.99. ISBN: 9781419746901)
Narratives about the infamous Guantánamo Bay prison are illuminated in this anthology edited by multimedia journalist Sarah Mirk and featuring the work of a team of talented artists.
The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado, DaNi, and Tamra Bonvillain (Hill House Comics / DC Comics. 2020. $22.99. ISBN: 9781779504524)
El and Vee black out and lose time in a movie theater. While trying to figure out what happened, the girls uncover horrifying secrets about their community that span generations.
The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen (Random House Graphic / Penguin Random House. 2020. $16.99. ISBN: 9780593125298)
Tiến is a first-generation Vietnamese American who struggles with coming out of the closet to his parents. Will Tiến find a way to connect in the fairytales he shares with his mother?
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (First Second / Macmillan. 2020. $12.99. ISBN: 9781250171115)
Snap knows witches aren’t real, but when her dog goes missing, she checks at the local witch’s house just in case. From there, an unlikely friendship begins, and Snap discovers that witches may be real after all.
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru (DC Comics. 2020. $16.99. ISBN: 9781779504210)
In 1946, Lan-Shin (Roberta) Lee and her family move from Chinatown to central Metropolis and attempt to fit in with their neighbors. But when the Klan of the Fiery Cross begins harassing the Lees, Roberta must team up with new friends to help Superman take down the Klan in this smart, action-packed adventure.
Wonder Twins by Mark Russell and Stephen Byrne.
- Vol. 1: Activate! Wonder Comics / DC Comics. 2019. $16.99. ISBN: 9781401294649.
- Vol. 2: The Rise and Fall of the Wonder Twins. Wonder Comics / DC Comics. 2020. $16.99. ISBN: 9781779501790.
In this humorous and satirical reboot, alien twins Zan and Jayna have to balance their lives as high schoolers in Metropolis while trying to figure out if their actions as heroes are actually helping to solve any of the world’s real issues.
Surprisingly, DC Comics has three titles on this list (and twelve on the complete list, compared to just two last year!), all of which are outliers to the mainstream superhero titles they publish. Hill House Comics is an editor-driven horror line overseen by Joe Hill. Superman Smashes the Klan is based on the golden-age Adventures of Superman radio serial “Clan of the Fiery Cross” which greatly reduced the Ku Klux Klan’s glamour. Wonder Twins, from the Wonder Comics imprint overseen by Brian Michael Bendis, connects to the wider superhero universe, but remains on the periphery.
While readers of comics and graphic novels gravitate towards fiction, it is the non-fiction titles which exploit comics’ ability to both show and tell, documenting a reality which might not be familiar to most teens. Guantanamo Bay, growing up in a single-parent home in the 1980s, immigrating from South Korea; these are the non-fiction titles in the Top Ten above, joined by twenty other titles which span the full breadth of Dewey Decimal Classification. As shown with Maus more than thirty years ago, comics can make complex concepts accessible and understandable.
Head over to the ALA site to see the full list of 126 YALSA-selected titles. You’re likely to find a few titles of interest, even if your teen years are long gone. Visit your local library — they’ll have lots of interesting graphic novels available for checkout!