Annie is a great student, but her college applications are conspicuously lacking in extracurriculars: no clubs, teams, or sports. Which makes sense, because Annie does not play well with others. But now her mom is pushing her to join, of all things, the cheerleading squad. Surely this will be a disaster. Even if the squad does include Annie’s childhood friend, Beatrice, who still seems really nice.
Beatrice, a.k.a. Bebe, is struggling with issues of her own. She gets a lot of attention for being trans—some openly hostile, and some misguidedly protective. The cheerleading squad is loudly supportive, but at least part of that seems to be because they like how accepting it makes them look. Why else would they secretly conspire to elect her captain of the squad when all she wants is to fly under the radar? Meanwhile, a guy she’s not interested in keeps hounding her, and she’s finding it increasingly difficult to dodge him. Antisocial Annie joining the squad is just one more stressor… unless it’s exactly what they both need.
This is a sweet romance starring two very different young women. Bebe is working on asserting herself, but afraid of coming off as aggressive. Annie IS aggressive, and is learning to communicate and work with others without attacking them. As they fall for each other, they also support each other and help each other improve.
Another big theme is really listening to the people you care about. People always seem to give Bebe what they think she wants and needs, rather than what she actually wants and needs. Her parents are overprotective, the cheerleading squad does big gestures of “support” but doesn’t think to invite Bebe to their regular movie nights, and the pushy guy who keeps hitting on her insists that Bebe wants his attention when she definitely doesn’t. By the end of the story, they all see the error of their ways and adjust their behavior accordingly.
The art is realistic, but softened, brightened, and simplified just enough to give it a friendly, comfortable appeal. The characters are distinct, with different skin tones, body and face types, and hair and clothing styles. Their facial and body language are expressive and natural, and the backgrounds also support the story and help to illustrate character by showing us things like the protagonists’ room décor and choices of phone case.
There is no sexual content here beyond a couple of kisses, and no violence besides one arguably well-deserved slap. Bebe experiences some blatant transphobia—the coach of another school’s cheerleading squad calls her “it” and a cross-dresser, and refuses to let her use the locker room to change—and some awkwardness from friends and family who mean well but don’t always know how to support Bebe. Ultimately, though, those close to her learn to do better and those who are cruel are rebuked and do not get much page time in the story. There is no homophobia around Annie or her relationship with Bebe. There is also another new member of the cheerleading squad who is still working out their gender, and is treated with sensitivity and kindness.
Cheer Up! Love and Pom Poms is a bright, upbeat, inclusive story of love and cheerleading. Hand it to fans of Fence, Check Please!, and The Avant-Guards.
Cheer Up! Love and Pom Poms By Crystal Frasier Art by Val Wise Oni Press, 2021 ISBN: 9781620109557
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Intersex, Trans Character Representation: Lesbian, Trans
In the final three volumes of Shinohara’s five-volume science fiction adventure, more secrets are revealed and the characters reach the shocking end of their dangerous journey.
In the first two volumes, Aries Spring and seven other senior classmates, as well as a ten-year-old, set out for a routine week of camp on Planet McPa. But something goes wrong—a strange light orb sucks them in and spits them out light years away in space. By the third volume, they have figured out a plan to return home, hopping from planet to planet, gathering supplies. Several of the characters have opened up about their personal struggles and feelings, but there’s also a hidden danger; someone who has sabotaged them in the past and may have been planted as an assassin.
The third volume opens with a brief picture of life back on the planet, as the teens’ parents try to accept that their children are surely dead. The action then immediately jumps to the group on their current planet, a lush, tropical paradise. This, of course, means the obligatory beach scene with bikinis, but it’s relatively mild, focused mostly on the girls giggling about the boys and some jokes about how attractive they are. Things quickly get serious though, as two of the most mysterious characters, brooding loner Ulgar and artistic, upbeat Luca confront each other. During the confrontation, both reveal secrets and although things are tense and dangerous at times, the group seems to be tighter than ever as they set off to their next planet. But Planet Icriss will challenge them even further; will their journey end on this strange and deadly planet?
Volume four opens with a shocking discovery on Planet Icriss and proceeds to reveal even more shocking secrets about the teens themselves. After all they’ve been through, will they be able to overcome what they’ve learned about themselves and continue their journey, or will their group disintegrate?
The fifth and final volume throws in an additional plot twist while resolving the mystery of the assassin and the true nature of the teens’ families. They will have to make a number of difficult and dangerous choices in order to finish their journey home, and even then there is no guarantee of survival. The last volume also includes an epilogue of sorts, finishing the stories of some of the surviving members of the group and looking forward into their future.
The special features between chapters that showcase characters is expanded in the last volume, including models of the space ship and sketches for the various characters that show how they evolved to their current look and character. The skin-fitting space suits exaggerate the characters’ bodies, especially the girls’ breasts, and the boys’ muscles. This combined with the beach scene gives these later volumes a slightly more mature feeling, but it’s still teen-appropriate.
In general, the drawing style remains consistent throughout the books, although some characters’ hair-styles change, showing changes in their characters as they open up to their new friends. Astute readers will see the revelations of each book hinted at in the arrangement of characters on the covers, as well as the sample panels that encapsulate the action on the back cover.
This series packs a lot of information into the last three volumes; an intersex character is revealed in volume three and they seem to have a reasonably good representation. The character says that for right now they want to be seen as male, although they may change their minds later, and their friends comply with no apparent problems.
The additional plot twist in the final volume felt like overkill, as there are already a lot of sudden twists and turns, reveals and secrets. The sudden jump to include a world-wide secret government plot felt unnecessary. There is a strong thread of hope for the future woven throughout the series and the final volume especially emphasizes the values of looking forward, acknowledging your past, and striving to do better. In this way, the manga felt very much like a classic science fiction story, with science and space exploration taking humankind to a better place.
The lack of a lead character also focused the story on the action and events, even though much of it centers around the characters’ personal growth. A different member of the team takes the lead in each volume, as readers learn their backstory and see them make choices that will affect themselves and their friends.
With only a few violent moments, some mild flirting and giggling among the girls about boys, and a few light innuendos, this manga is appropriate for most teens and will be enjoyed by those who like brisk action and adventure with interesting characters and a certain amount of personal growth and exploration.
Astra Lost in Space By Kenta Shinohara vol 3 ISBN: 9781421596969 vol 4 ISBN: 9781421596976 vol 5 ISBN: 9781421596983 Viz Media, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Browse for more like this title Character Traits: Genderqueer
A little while ago we put together a post of the best LGBTQAA+ comics for kids. It’s taken longer than we intended, but here’s the follow-up list featuring comics for teens and adults!
[Editor’s note: Many of these titles have multiple volumes and in those cases we have just listed the first in the series.]
Another Castle: Grimoire By Andrew Wheeler and Paulina Ganucheau Published by Oni (2017)
Elevator Pitch: In this colorful comic, Princess Misty is kidnapped by Lord Badlug, a tyrant who rules over a land of ruin populated by monsters. He plans to marry her and use her to conquer her father’s kingdom, while Princess Misty plans to take down Badlug’s reign from the inside. Then she learns more about Badlug’s realm and realizes that overthrowing him might not lead to a simple happily ever after for anyone.
Appeals to: Fans of fantasy and cute, punchy retro art. Content Notes: Mild violence Suggested Age Range: Teens and older kids Contributed by Nic Willcox
The Backstagers, vol. 1 By James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh Published by BOOM! Box (2017)
Elevator Pitch: Jory is the new kid in school and needs somewhere to go while his mom’s at work. He ends up joining his school’s drama department, where he discovers a hidden, magic world backstage. Putting on a great play will require strong bonds and enough bravery to dive into a fantasy portal and return unscathed.
Appeals to: Theater kids, quirky outcasts, lovers of cute and colorful art. Suggested Age Range: Teens Contributed by Thomas Maluck
Batwoman: Elegy By Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III Published by DC Comics (2011)
Elevator Pitch: Batwoman is the Jewish lesbian DC superhero you didn’t know you were missing. In this volume Batwoman takes on a maniac known as Alice, who believes Gotham is Wonderland and everyone who lives there are expendable extras in her story. Batwoman (aka Kate Kane) is the female version of Batman (aka Bruce Wayne) with the same amount of tech, the same amount of women, and because of her military background, more guns.
Appeals to: Those who enjoy different takes on Alice in Wonderland, are looking for a more grown up Batgirl, or like superheroes with military backgrounds like Captain America. Content Notes: The usual street level superhero fighting. Suggested Age Range: Teens and Adults Contributed by: Danielle Boyd
Cry Havoc, vol. 1: Mything In Action By Simon Spurrier and Ryan Kelly Published by Image Comics (2016)
Elevator Pitch: A lesbian werewolf soldier, Lou, is recruited with other supernatural beings to take down a rogue military operative in Afghanistan. The story uses color-coded panels to depict three different eras in Lou’s life. Lou is living her “normal” past life in one stage, preparing to attack in Afghanistan in the second stage, and has already been captured in the third.
Appeals to: Fans of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now who’d like a supernatural angle. Content Notes: Violence, language, sex Suggested Age Range: Adults Contributed by Thomas Maluck
DC Bombshells, vol 1: Enlisted By Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage, and others Published by DC Comics (2016)
Elevator Pitch: Your favorite female DC superheroes (and villains) are reimagined and plunked into World War II to fight for truth, justice, and freedom. Based on the incredibly popular DC Bombshells Collectibles line and set in a universe where—when the world is on the brink of disaster—the Allies call in the superheroines.
Appeals to: People who like to read alternate takes on their favorite superheroes like DC Elseworlds or Marvel What If’s, also fans of WWII settings and female superheroes falling in love with each other. Content Notes: Regular superhero violence Suggested Age Range: Teens and Adults Contributed by Danielle Boyd
The Heart of Thomas By Moto Hagio Published by Fantagraphics (2013 (originally serialized in Japan, 1974))
Elevator Pitch: Thomas and Juli’s relationship is cut short by Thomas’s untimely death. However, a new student arrives who looks exactly like him! How will the student body react and will Juli project on the poor student to an unhealthy degree?
Appeals to: Shojo and yaoi fans, sparkles and roses, boys boarding schools featuring dramatic slaps. Suggested Age Range: Teens Contributed by Thomas Maluck
The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded By Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis Published by Harry N. Abrams (2016)
Elevator Pitch: Alan Turing was a gifted mathematician whose genius made him indispensable to the Allies in World War II. His valuable work with codebreaking machines collided with social norms as the British government punished homosexuality.
Appeals to: Math geeks in need of another patron saint, historians of World War II and queer life in England. Suggested Age Range: Teens Contributed by Thomas Maluck
Kim and Kim, vol. 1: This Glamorous, High-Flying Rock Star Life By Magdalene Visaggio and Eva Cabrera Published by Black Mask Comics (2017)
Elevator Pitch: A space bounty hunting team made up of two Kims. When their bills pile up they decide to take on a bounty that far exceeds their pay grade and end up on a wild universe spanning adventure.
Appeals to: Fans of space team up books like Guardians of the Galaxy, people looking for books about trans characters who aren’t transitioning any longer, but just living their life, and fans of quirky independent publishers. Content Notes: Some language Suggested Age Range: Teens and Adults Contributed by Danielle Boyd
Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink By Milk Morinaga Published by Seven Seas (2013)
Elevator Pitch: This collection of romantic short stories follows teen girls at two all-girl high schools. It explores a variety of different situations and debunks some myths and misunderstandings about lesbian relationships. And it’s cute and sweet!
Appeals to: Anyone who wants stories that take lesbian relationships seriously in a wide variety of forms, but is also light and fun. Content Notes: Brief nudity, implied sex Suggested Age Range: Teens and adults Contributed by Nic Willcox
The Last of Us: American Dreams By Neil Druckmann and Faith Erin Hicks Published by Dark Horse (2013)
Elevator Pitch: Ellie and Riley have grown up in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a parasitic fungus. Military authoritarians rule inside the walls of society, while zombie-like hordes ravage outside. They cannot resist an invitation to join the insurgent “Fireflies” and live a life of free rebellion.
Appeals to: Gamers who enjoyed The Last of Us and look forward to its sequel. Content Notes: Violence Suggested Age Range: Teens Contributed by Thomas Maluck
The Less than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal By E. K. Weaver Published by Iron Circus Comics (2015)
Elevator Pitch: Amal, running away from dealing with the fact that he just came out to his parents, meets up with TJ, who’s looking for a quick escape out of town. They take off across the country on a road trip that ends up an adventure, a playlist fueled conversation, and just maybe a powerful romance.
Appeals to: Anyone who’s a sucker for a good road trip tale will love this, and the romance is beautifully wrought in body language, heated glances, and so much humor. Content Notes: A number of explicit sex scenes keeps it for adults. Suggested Age Range: Adults. Note: This one is available in an omnibus from Iron Circus Comics, and I do recommend getting the omnibus edition if you can. Contributed by Robin Brenner
The Movement, vol. 1: Class Warfare By Gail Simone and Freddie Williams II Published by DC Comics (2014)
Elevator Pitch: A group of superpowered teens fights corruption in Coral City. Along the way, they will also confront some of their personal demons. This two volume series packs a punch—both due to its action-packed plot and the diverse cast.
Appeals to: Superhero fans. Content Notes: Superhero violence Suggested age range: Teen and Adults Contributed by Megan Rupe
My Brother’s Husband By Gengoroh Tagame Published by Pantheon (2017)
Elevator Pitch: When a Canadian arrives at Yaichi’s door and introduces himself as the husband of Yaichi’s late brother, everyone in the household must learn to deal with this new normal. From the neighbor’s blatant prejudice to Yaichi’s own latent homophobia, to Yaichi’s young daughter’s swift acceptance of her new uncle, the book shines a spotlight on Japan’s largely closeted gay culture, the pervasive cultural discrimination of homosexuals, and the notion that one must be “taught to hate.”
Appeals to: Anyone who may be facing difficult conversations, both on the giving and receiving ends. Content Notes: Some minor nudity (butts), but only in the bath, where it makes sense to be naked. Suggested Age Range: tweens, teens, adults Contributed by Eva Volin
Nimona By Noelle Stevenson Published by HarperTeen (2015)
Elevator Pitch: Lord Ballister Blackheart is, like most villains, usually unsuccessful against his heroic nemesis. But that’s before he gains an enthusiastic and incredibly powerful sidekick, the mischievous shapeshifter Nimona. How will Ballister handle actually winning, especially when it turns out the stakes are higher than he realized and Nimona may not be who he thinks she is?
Appeals to: Fans of snarky takes on fantasy and superhero stories. Content Notes: Some violence, but nothing gory or detailed Suggested Age Range: Teens and adults Contributed by Nic Willcox
O Human Star! By Blue Delliquanti Self published as webcomic (2015)
Elevator Pitch: A man wakes up to discover that he is sixteen years in the future and now inhabiting a robot version of his original body. Uneasily reunited with his old partner (and old flame) and his adopted robot daughter, who is trans, they start to unravel their history and build their future. With two gay protagonists and a trans teen, this is a wonderful, funny, smart look at what makes us “human”.
Appeals to: If you want Blade Runner minus the ominous pomposity and grim outlook plus a lot more diversity in the cast of characters, this is for you. Content Notes: There is romance on an adult level and on a teen level, none of it especially explicit. Suggested Age Range: Teens and adults Note: This is available currently only directly from the creator’s website, but it’s worth it. Contributed by Robin Brenner
The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance By Various Published by Other Side Press (2016)
Elevator Pitch: Nineteen stories by 23 different creators, representing a diverse assortment of queer narratives. The majority of these stories achieve a sweet kind of charm, often portraying romances between a human and a ghost or creature.
Appeals to: Anyone howling at the moon for more queer representation in comics. Content Notes: Brief nudity Suggested Age Range: Teens Contributed by Thomas Maluck
Rat Queens, vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery By Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch Published by Image Comics (2013)
Elevator Pitch: The Rat Queens are a misfit party of women adventurers on the lookout for cash in a sword and sorcery world. Comprised of an elven mage, a dwarf warrior, an atheist cleric, and a halfling, the Rat Queens face all manner of unique trials involving assassins, grotesque monsters, and Lovecraftian cultists.
Appeals to: Fans of Dungeons & Dragons. The sword and sorcery theme makes it accessible to fantasy fans, however the imaginative script and the hilarious banter among the women sound like they could come from a most spirited D&D session. Content Notes: Language of a sexual nature and nudity make this a title strictly for adults. Suggested Age Range: Adults. Contributed by Allen Kesinger
SuperMutant Magic Academy By Jillian Tamaki Published by Drawn and Quarterly (2015)
Elevator Pitch: Marsha is crushing on Wendy but doesn’t know how to approach her. Her predicament is the closest to “normal” among the superpowered students of this prep school that contains all the drama of a normal high school plus massive doses of non-sequitur humor.
Appeals to: Webcomic addicts (this started online), high school dramatists, existential absurdists. Content Notes: Language, nudity (brief and non-detailed) Suggested Age Range: Teens Contributed by Thomas Maluck
Wandering Son, vol. 1 By Shimura Takako Published by Fantagraphics (2011)
Elevator Pitch: Shuichi is a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy. Both are trying to keep their identity exploration secret but are subject to prying eyes and childhood gossip. This series treats both their journeys into gender identity with sensitivity and insight rarely seen in comics.
Appeals to: Coming-of-age enthusiasts, anti-bullying narratives, compassionate trans narratives. A lot of the book’s strengths lie in fairly subtle social interactions. Content Notes: Content-wise, this series is pretty clean in the first volume, but in subsequent volumes, the children develop a friendship with an adult trans woman, Yuki. She and her boyfriend’s scenes breach some sexual topics and use risque humor; Nic’s review goes into detail. Also, Takako acknowledges how some of her characters look confusingly alike. While the English editions of this series have been discontinued, the eight available volumes are absolutely worth reading! Suggested age range: Teens and Adults Contributed by Thomas Maluck
Weirdworld, vol. 1: Where Lost Things Go By Sam Humphries and Mike Del Mundo Published by Marvel (2016)
Elevator Pitch: Becca is an ordinary Earth girl in a dangerously weird world, but her new friend Goleta the Wizardslayer will help her get home. Becca’s got some regrets about the Earth life that awaits her when she comes back, but for now she has to survive the perilous realms before her and outwit sorceress Morgan Le Fay.
Appeals to: Fantasy fanatics, those who enjoy swords ‘n’ sorcery. Content Notes: Fantasy violence Suggested Age Range: Teens Contributed by Thomas Maluck
The Wicked + The Divine, vol. 1 By Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie Published by Image Comics (2014 – present)
Elevator Pitch: The world’s greatest pop stars are manifestations of the gods. Downside: they will die two years after receiving their holy form. The latest batch of musical demigods have plenty of baggage and more than a few deadly secrets.
Appeals to: Fans of Young Avengers or Phonograph (same creative team). Content Notes: Nudity, swearing, blood Suggested Age Range: Adults Contributed by Thomas Maluck
The Woods vol. 1 By James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas Published by BOOM! (2014)
Elevator Pitch: A high school is transported to an alien planet, and nobody knows what to do next. The teachers and faculty want everyone to stick together. The bullies want to treat their classmates like trash. A select few run off to take their chances in…the woods.
Appeals to: Fans of Kazuo Umezu’s The Drifting Classroom, high school mysteries like Morning Glories but with dangerous alien flora & fauna. Content Notes: some violence Suggested Age Range: Teens Contributed by Thomas Maluck
Zodiac Starforce By Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau Published by Dark Horse (2016)
Elevator Pitch: A group of magical demon fighting high schoolers come together to fight mean girls and intergalactic demons set on conquering our universe.
Appeals to: Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sailor Moon Suggested Age Range: Teens Contributed by Danielle Boyd