Graphic Novel Recommendations for age 10 to 14

PinkDreamPoppies emailed looking for some comics advice:

In my new capacity as a library tech for a middle school here in Colorado Springs, I’ve been asked to hand pick our first collection of graphic novels for the kids to check out. Unfortunately, I’m more or less stumped; I’ve not read enough to know which comics would be good for the age range I work with. I was hoping that you would be able to give me some ideas.

Essentially, I’m looking for some graphic novels (or trade collections) that would be good for 10-14 year olds. They’re really in to manga, so I’m leaning toward that, but know that more than a few of them will check out anything with speech bubbles. The parents in our district (not to mention my principal) would kick up a fuss over books with overt sexuality (nixing my first choice: Blankets) or gratuitous violence (I don’t recall many I’ve read that qualify here, but you know what I’m talking about).

My first idea was Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind; my second idea was Bone, by Jeff Smith. My third idea was to ask the “Alas” readership, since you folks generally have great ideas. So – remember – no sex. And of interest for age 10-14. Any suggestions?

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40 Responses to Graphic Novel Recommendations for age 10 to 14

  1. 1
    Kip Manley says:

    Here’s tangognat’s compilation of the Lieber Eleven meme from a while back. It’s been organized by theme, and includes (right up top) an all-ages/YA section.

  2. 2
    Jimmy Ho says:

    Well, if Fred’s Philémon series had been translated into English, I’d definitely recommend it.

    Is Maus considered too mature? I think I was about fifteen when I read the first volume, and it reconciled me with comics (which I’d abandonned long ago to the benefit of text-only books).

    I first thought of Derek Kirk Kim’s Same Difference, but there is some obvious sexuality in it.

    (I’m impressed: are Trondheim and Sfar really famous in the US? How about Gotlib, Manu Larcenet?)

  3. 3
    Kristjan Wager says:

    Usaki Yojimbo perhaps? At least for the older of the kids.

  4. 4
    Trish Wilson says:

    What about Ranma 1/2? My son liked that a lot when he was 10 and 11.

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    I love Ranma 1/2! However, it’s probably no good for an American school library, since there are occasional bits of nudity in Ranma (mostly of shirtless Ramna right after s/he has transformed into her female aspect).

  6. 6
    Raznor says:

    Hmm, when I was 10-14 I read stuff like Maus, so I’m not sure how good I am at determining what’s appropriate for that age range.

    But it is a good time to start getting introduced to stuff like Orwell, so Ted Rall’s 2024 might work. The kids, if they’ve been exposed to Invader Zim might be wanting some Jhonen Vasquez, but I don’t think Johnny the Homicidal Maniac or Squee is very age appropriate.

  7. 7
    Megan says:

    Maybe Craig Thomas’ first book, “Goodbye Chunky Rice”? It’s also excellent.

    Will Eisner’s “A Contract with God” maybe?

  8. 8
    The Birdy Movie says:

    A safe choice would be Scott Roberts’ Patty Cake.

    Kind of a girl’s comic, but girls read comics too!

  9. 9
    Andrew says:

    How about Midnight Nation by J Michael Straczinksky (sp?)?

    It’s completely standalone.

    May contain nudity (if I remember correctly), but not of a sexual nature.

    Might be a bit mature though.

  10. 10
    Dan J says:

    Leave It To Chance is good for that range. I think Tintin might skew a little young, but it won’t hurt anybody. And Dungeon is about to be reprinted full color in English for the first time, so that would be good. I’ll second Usagi Yojimbo, and maybe some of Paul Chadwick’s Concrete (though it’s been a while and I can’t vouch for the language in that one).

  11. 11
    Jimmy Ho says:

    I was about to recommend Tintin, but more like a joke. Über-boyscout Tintin is totally sexless (he never even “falls in love”) and moral (but his partner Capitaine Haddock curses with vocab rarities).

    In this case, why not Atom Boy (some of Tezuka Osamu’s other stuff, like short stories comics, are actually surprisingly sexual and violent)?

    As a kid, my favourite was Astérix le Gaulois. I know there is an English edition, but have no idea about its diffusion in America. I never really liked Lucky Luke, a Western parody.

    Honestly, I am a bit surprised by the school’s criteria: it would help to know what kind of text-only books the children read.

  12. 12
    Jimmy Ho says:

    I guess it’s “Astro Boy” now (he’s still the “Little Atomic Vajra” 原子小金鋼 in Taiwan).

  13. 13
    Lita Coleman says:

    Ghilbi is a good bet. Spirited Away has a great Cinema-Manga, and I think they’d have other Ghibli children’s works, considering he has a pretty good fanbase in the US.

    Honestly, check out TokyoPop’s ( ) website. They give online previews of their books, and if you’re buying the books at a bookstore, there will be Age Ratings on the back (Front, if you’re American) of the manga/comic… usually in the right bottom corner. Please note that with most manga, the books are read backwards, so the American “front” of the book, is the Japanese “back”. I wouldn’t get anything rated “T” (for Teen) or above if it’s for a school function. Tokyopop is also very good with their ratings; I trust them.

    For non-TokyoPop releases, I would check out DiGi Charat and Megatokyo. Both are good all-ages manga/comics. I might go so far as to say Excel Saga, but you really have to read into that series to understand some of the humor… and there’s one issue that does have a little cursing in it (Vol. 4, if I recall properly).

    DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT get Ranma 1/2. If the manga is ANYTHING like the anime, it has no place in public school. I love the series, but that’s pushing it even for High Schoolers. Also, I wouldn’t buy anything DragonBall for the same reason. What they show on Cartoon Network is NOTHING like how the show was originally meant to be, and you can see this is apparent in the manga. No One Piece either (the guy with the lollipop? Yeah, that’s supposed to be a cigarette. And the water? That’s rum folks.). This show started running on FoxBox earlier this year, you’ll hear a lot of kids talking about it, but again, The US version and the Japanese version are VERY different. What they edit on TV and video they don’t in the manga.

    … I also think Pokemon has a few graphic novels out. That’s always a safe bet. CardCaptor Sakura should be a good bet too.

    Anyhow, I hope this helps. I wish I could think of a few more titles, but this should be a good start, right? Also, a lot of this comes down to opinion. I tried to pick out the cleanest titles, and turn away from some false positives. Mainly, just be careful and listen to ratings. Just because they market the TV show to little kids, does not mean that the books are for little kids, as proven in the case of DragonBall Z and Sailor Moon.

    And btw: I own many Jhonen Vasquez works, and no, none of them are school appropriate, other than Invader Zim. Jhonen has a very, very sick mind.

  14. 14
    Jimmy Ho says:

    Lita, I am surprised that you rank Megatokyo as “all-age”. I am frankly way out of their targeted audience and I don’t understand any of the gamer references, but I remember it as being full of open references to sex and prostitution (related to “angel-looking” girls, which is even worse in my book). Also, it’s got bad orthography (just kidding for that one, but I can’t stand “l33t sp34k”).

  15. 15
    Mitt says:

    I agree that Nausicaa is a wonderful choice. That manga is beautiful.

    As for my suggestion, how about Fruits Basket? It’s very sweet and lighthearted, and has a lot of good messages in it without being dull or preachy. There’s nudity in it, but nothing explicit or sexual, only used for humor. And it offers some kind of cool insights into aspects of Asian culture… I’ve only read two of the books, but I’m hooked. =)

  16. 16
    Jimmy Ho says:

    I almost forgot: how about Tsai Chih-chung‘s philosophical comics (most of them are available in English)?

  17. 17
    Lita Coleman says:

    … Ack, Jimmy, you’re right. My error. I threw Megatokyo in there because I was 13 when I started reading the comic, and I’ve always understood the references, along with most kids my age at the time, and even moreso now… I need to think before I recommend that next time.
    My apologies, again. Scratch it. I need to think before I speak of it again.

  18. 18
    Margot says:

    Naruto, but it’s violent. But then so is Macbeth.

  19. 19
    karpad says:

    for a project like this, I think you should avoid alot of the manga sugguestions (nausicaa excluded, that’s a very good call.)

    aside from translation issues in a lot of series; for instance, I have never, never seen sound effect text translated to my satisfaction (either questionable photoshopping in english versions of text or tiny, tiny asterisk added notes “sfx:ga-doon”)
    there’s also that, well, alot of really good manga series have something “worse” than harry potter, making them “inappropriate.”
    and most really good manga series tend to be very, very, VERY long, and are less likely to stand alone quite as well as some western coutnerparts for graphic novels.

    not to say we shouldn’t encourage kids from reading manga, just, not manga bought by the school.
    just have all the kids read Sluggy freelance, volumes 1-8.
    relatively short, generally well written, and NOT 500 volumes like some manga series.

  20. 20
    alsafi says:

    I’m surprised no one has suggested Neil Gaiman’s Stardust or his Sandman series yet (The Last Temptation, based a bit off Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, would also be a good one). If violence isn’t a big issue, Naruto and, less recently, Rurouni Kenshin are pretty tame in all other things. Kaze Hikaru is also mild, and something that could appeal more to some girls–but I’m not sure it’s available in translation (sad, that).

  21. 21
    Floyd Flanders says:

    Oni Press has several Graphic Novels out that are appropriate for the age range.

    I would suggest:
    Barry Ween
    Copybook Tales
    Courtney Crumrin

    Also non Oni Press:

    Sweaterweather by Sara Varon
    Sandwalk Adventures by Jay Hosler (highly recommended)
    Clan Apian by Jay Hosler (also highly recommended)
    Peanut Butter and Jeremy by Kochalka (for the younger end of the scale)
    Scott McCloud’s Zot!
    Akiko is good for the younger end of the scale
    Kings in Disguise by James Vance

  22. 22
    PinkDreamPoppies says:

    Thank you, everyone, for your very useful suggestions. I’ll actually be printing this thread out and spending some time at the local bookstores thumbing through the volumes you mention in the hopes of finding something appropriate.

    A couple of you have wondered about what qualifies as an appropriate level of sex and/or violence. The best answer I can give is that if it couldn’t be shown in a PG-13 movie, we can’t have it. That said, the district is pretty picky about sex and nudity to the point that we were asked to remove a skateboarding magazine from our shelves because one of the pictures had a pin-up poster of a naked woman in the background. The poster was, in the final estimation, about the size of my thumbnail, but we had to remove it anyway.

    So far as violence goes . . . “Berserk” is probably out, but if it weren’t if it weren’t for the sex and nudity, we could probably get away with “Watchmen.” It’s a tricky thing to judge, which is why I’ll be previewing all of the books before we buy them, but there’s a lot more leaway with violence than with sex.

    And, yes, “Maus” would be appropriate and is already on the list. The 14-volume manga sagas aren’t a problem (except for our budget) precisely because the kids would eat them up.

    Thanks again for your help. Any more ideas (including western superhero-type stuff) is very welcome.

  23. 23
    PinkDreamPoppies says:

    As to “Sandman” . . . Some of the volumes might do, but we couldn’t purchase the whole series. I know that at least “Dream Country” would be excluded because of “Caliope” and I think there are a few other stories with naked women wandering about.

  24. 24
    Hogan says:

    The Courtney Crumrin books (Oni Press).

    (I’m 47, and I’m still too young for Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.)

  25. 25
    karpad says:

    hey, if superheroes aren’t a problem, I will universally plug the Green Arrow.
    nothing like a hardcore lefty with a broad sarcastic streak to pique my interest.
    if you need one in particular, I’d say “Quiver.”
    which is basically the story of the green arrow coming back from the dead roughly ten years after dying.
    it’s a great story and the art is wonderful.
    and hey, if you could get away with it, go for “The Killing Joke”
    the violence might be a problem (Barbara Gordon does get shot in the spine…)

    I wouldn’t recommend Naruto, really. the anime is great, and so is the manga, but I’ve the scanlations, which goes past that commercial releases.
    it gets really grim and violent after a while, so you’d really only be able to get the first few.

  26. 26
    NancyP says:

    Well, I always liked Asterix for French classes.

    There are at least two renditions of Wagner’s Ring cycle out there, but naturally, though sex isn’t shown, the Rhinemaidens at a minimum are inflated, and Siegmund and Sieglinde, brother and sister, have a kid, Siegfried (incest is pretty common in mythology, folks). I guess I would leave this to the high-schoolers.

  27. 27
    Trish Wilson says:

    I’m not sure if it’s a manga but it was a wonderful anime – My Neighbor Totoro. Princess Mononoke is good too and I know a manga is available.

    I figured Ranma 1/2 was a bit of a stretch because of some of the nudity and especially the topics of the later anime, when the characters become older. I have some of the earlier manga which wasn’t as racy but it had brief nudity when Ranma became girl-type.

  28. 28
    Ab_Normal says:

    Well, my spawn (age 11) is tearing through “Elfquest”, but that probably fails the sex ‘n’ violence test…

  29. 29
    katherine says:

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned The Books of Magic, both the first volume by Neil Gaiman and subsequent volumes by John Ney Rieber. My library shelves them in YA nonfiction, so they might be appropriate. (My ideas about what parents will and will not allow their children to read are foggy at best.)

  30. 30
    Steve Lieber says:

    I’d go with Jay Hosler’s two excellent graphic novels:
    The Sandwalk Adventures and Clan Apis.
    Information on the are available at his website.

  31. 31
    Jimmy Ho says:

    Talking about Spiegelman, I think maybe Little Lit, the series he edits with Françoise Mouly (three volumes so far), is worth a try. I only had a look at the first issue at the bookshop, though, so I can’t vouch for the whole collection.

    (And Lita, don’t worry, suggesting readings that could pass PDP’s school’s restrictions and suit kids who may differ greatly from ourselves as children is not that easy, this is what makes it a useful exercise, in my opinion. Not being a great manga reader myself, I actually found your passion about it both instructive and contagious.)

  32. 32
    Geoffrey Egan says:

    I say Asterix all the way-the whole series. Great in French for students, and there is an outstanding set of English translations. Full of puns and allusions that get better as kids get older-they’ll love them.

  33. 33
    Kristjan Wager says:

    Oh my, Elfquest would almost certainly be out for nudity reasons, right? Otherwise I read those a lot when I was that age bracket.

    I still don’t get the U.S. hysteria with nudity, but since I don’t make the decisions, I guess it doens’t make a difference if I understand it or not.

  34. 34
    jam says:

    minor point of unrequested clarification:

    I guess it’s “Astro Boy” now (he’s still the “Little Atomic Vajra” ????? in Taiwan).

    “vajra” means (roughly) “thunderbolt” – so: “Little Atomic Thunderbolt”

  35. 35
    Jimmy Ho says:

    To clarify even a bit more, while it is true that vajra means “thunderbolt”, the Chinese term jingang 金鋼 actually translates two other meanings of that word in Buddhist terminology: “diamond” (as in Jingang jing 金鋼經, i.e. Vajra sûtra, “The Diamond Sutra”, one of the most translated Sanskrit texts in China), and, since diamond symbolizes power and indestructibility, the vajras are the deities who protect the Dharma, or “Law” (of the Buddha) and look like scary menacing demons (but they’re on the good side).
    The Taiwanese translation refers to the latter meaning: Atom Boy is like a Vajra (a powerful creature protecting the Good) of the modern ages.

    I’m not an expert on Hinduism, but I gather “vajra” as thunderbolt is an attribute of Indra (a divinity that, by the way, has also been adopted by Chinese Buddhism).

  36. 36
    Jimmy Ho says:

    And, thank you, jam, for giving me the opportunity to explain this. I was afraid of being too pedantic the first time around.

  37. 37
    Jimmy Ho says:

    (Correction time: I stupidly copied and pasted the mistake I made in the initial comment. The ‘gang’ is 剛, not 鋼. Only a slight mistake, given that the two characters are homophones and very close in meaning and writing, but still.)

  38. 38
    mythago says:

    Akiko, by Mark Crilley, is good for the younger set.

    My kids love: Bone, by Jeff Smith, the Essential collections from Marvel (all the old Jack Kirby comics collected), and Groo, by Sergio Aragones.

    For older kids I’d also recommend The Golem’s Mighty Swing, by James Sturm (spelling on that?), and the higher age range would probably be Ok reading Maus.

  39. 39
    Rachel says:

    uh why dont ya’ll check age ratings on the back of manga before suggesting it? not meaning to be rude..but..a 10 yearold reading ranma 1/2?!?!? it IS rated older teens…Tokyo Mew Mew, Tokyo Mew Mew A La Mode, Et Cetera, Cardcaptor Sakura, Di Gi Charat..stuff like that.(note I am a 12-year old so I oughta know! ^_^ )

  40. 40
    regina says:

    Sandman absolutely not for 10-14 year olds but The Books of Magic a definite yes. I still will not take out my Sandman series and my boys are 15 and 18. They need to have a bit more of background in the classics before many if not most of the allusions make sense. Not to mention the graphic violence and nudity in all the Sandman volumes. I don’t denigrate that–it is used to advance the storylines and done very well. I just know the average school board and some parents these days and the end result would not be happy were these to be included in a school library.