Attack on Titan is a manga series by Hajime Isayama about a fantasy world in which cities are under constant attack from human-eating giants. Originally released in 2009, it has led to spin-off series (including the parody Attack on Titan: Junior High), light novels, anime, video games, and live action movies. Once you’re done with all with those, try some of the titles from the following list. [Note: Publishers and dates provided are for English publications.]
Deadman Wonderland Written and drawn by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou Published: 2014 – 2016 (Viz) Number of volumes: 13 ISBN: 9781421555485 (vol. 1)
Elevator pitch: Set in a semi-post-apocalyptic Tokyo, middle schooler Ganta Igarashi witnesses the horrific, brutal slaughter of his entire class by a mysterious evil being called the Red Man. Framed for the attack, Ganta is sentenced to death by public execution in Tokyo’s new murder theme park, Deadman Wonderland. Ganta must fight to survive the prison’s deadly attractions and prove his innocence, but the inmates are just as deadly as the insane theme park itself.
Why this next: If Attack on Titan‘s action and violence was a winning factor, man-eating giants have nothing on a prison that makes The Hunger Games look like an afternoon stroll at Disneyland. Deadman Wonderland is great for readers who loved the dark futility that permeates Attack on Titan and there’s a sense of creative ingenuity to the sharp and deadly instruments of death that make up the courses prisoners are forced to run through for public entertainment. (Recommended by Allen K and Sara Dempster.)
I Am A Hero Written and drawn by Kengo Hanzawa Published: 2016 – ongoing (Dark Horse) Number of volumes: 22 (8 double volumes in English) ISBN: 9781616559205 (vol.1)
Elevator pitch: Hideo Suzuki is an assistant manga artist with a mundane life sleepwalking through the motions of his sedentary routine. When a zombie epidemic shatters everyday life, his fight-or-flight instincts—as well as his prized rifle—become more valuable than ever.
Why this next:Attack On Titan is often called “the manga version of The Walking Dead,” well, here’s a bonafide street-level zombie apocalypse manga! Between bouts of horrific suspense are biting observations about Japanese norms and which parts of society may be worth leaving behind. Identifying with “losers” a plus. (Recommended by Thomas M.)
Parasyte Written and drawn by Hitoshi Iwaaki Published: 2011 – 2012 (Kodansha) Number of volumes: 8 ISBN: 9781612620732 (vol. 1)
Elevator pitch: Shinichi is taken by surprise when a sentient alien worm wriggles into his body, taking control of his right hand. He and the alien become a rare symbiotic pair that must work together to survive a grisly alien invasion that seeks to feed on all living things.
Why this next: To meet a parasyte is to encounter your own mortality and reckon with being toppled in the food chain. Just as there are Titans hiding in wait to attack humanity, parasytes breed paranoia and fear over who will die next and who will stand up to them. (Recommended by Thomas M.)
Psyren Written and drawn by Toshiaki Iwashiro Published: 2011 – 2014 (Viz) Number of volumes: 16 ISBN: 9781421536767 (vol. 1)
Elevator pitch: When Ageha Yoshino’s tries to find his missing friend Sakurako, he discovers Psyren, a deadly game where individuals must fight using their new psychic powers in order to return to their world. As they come to understand the world and their abilities, Ageha and his new allies realize that the stakes go beyond their own lives.
Why this next: The high stakes action and apocalyptic setting (complete with terrifying monsters) will appeal fans of Attack on Titan. (Recommended by Megan Rupe.)
Seraph of the End Written by: Takaya Kagami and Daisuke Furuya Art by: Yamato Yamamoto Published: 2014 – ongoing (Viz) Number of volumes: 17 (15 in English) ISBN: 9781421571508 (v.1)
Elevator pitch: After an apocalyptic plague that kills most of the human race, vampires have taken over the earth and enslaved the remaining humans. Yuichiro grew up in an “orphanage” that was actually keeping children alive to feed the vampires, and one day he manages to escape to realize his dream of joining the Vampire Defense Force—but his escape comes at a terrible price.
Why this next: Like Eren in Attack on Titan, Yuichiro is a boy who comes from nothing to become a hero during dark times for humanity. Readers who enjoyed Attack on Titan for its portrayal of the vestiges of humanity fighting against terrible odds in can enjoy more of the same in Seraph of the End. (Recommended by Sara Dempster.)
The Strain Written by David Lapham (adapted from the novels by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro) Art by: Mike Huddleston & Dan Jackson Published: 2012 – 2017 (Dark Horse) Number of volumes: 7 ISBN: 9781616550325 (vol. 1)
Elevator pitch: Vampires have been introduced in several parts of the world that are woefully unprepared for the invasion about to take place. Will humanity figure out what’s really going on in time, or perish like sheep surrounded by wolves?
Why this next: The borderline nihilistic terror of an overwhelming supernatural invasion combined with a secret history and multiple perspectives makes this a cousin of Attack On Titan‘s brand of hope in the face of certain doom. (Recommended by Thomas M.)
Tokyo Ghoul Written and drawn by Sui Ishida Published: 2015 – 2017 (Viz) Number of volumes: 14 ISBN: 9781421580364 (v.1)
Elevator pitch: One day, Kaneki Ken is in a freak accident with a beautiful woman who turns out to be a ghoul (a being that appears human in every way but for their craving for human flesh). After he endures an organ transplant where he is given her organs, he finds that he has inherited both her power and her insatiable hunger.
Why this next:Tokyo Ghoul will scratch the itch for dark, gritty horror, and readers who loved following Eren’s journey in Attack on Titan will be just as invested in watching Ken as he discovers his true power. (Recommended by Sara Dempster.)
Vinland Saga Written and drawn by Makoto Yukimura Published: 2013 – Present (Kodansha) Number of volumes: 21 (10 double volumes in English) ISBN: 9781612624204 (vol.1)
Elevator pitch: After his father is killed, Thorfinn follows the Viking leader Askeladd in order to gain the opportunity to duel the crafty man and avenge his father. In his quest for vengeance, Thorfinn is swept into an epic journey filled with political games and personal growth.
Why this next: Like Attack on Titan, this series portrays a gritty, well-developed setting and features plenty of strong action and gore. Readers who enjoyed Attack on Titan‘s teenage characters will also likely be interested in Thorfinn, whose character arc is well thought-out and fascinating. (Recommended by Megan Rupe.)
World Trigger Written and drawn by Daisuke Ashihara Published: 2013 – 2017 (Viz) Number of volumes: 18 ISBN: 9781421577647 (vol.1)
Elevator pitch: In the future, a gate to another dimension has burst open, and hostile beings called the Neighbors have invaded the earth. Osamu is one of the fighters that uses otherworldly technology to fight back against them—but what happens when it turns out that his new classmate is one of the Neighbors, and he looks and acts just like a human?
Why this next: Similar to Attack on Titan, World Trigger features humans banding together to fight a seemingly unstoppable foe, and it has all of the epic battles without much of the extreme gore. That makes it a great title for younger readers who have heard of and are interested in Attack on Titan but aren’t ready to give it a try just yet. (Recommended by Sara Dempster.)
Naruto, written and drawn by Masashi Kishimoto, is one of the most popular manga series of all time and has sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide since it’s debut in 1999. The action-packed coming-of-age story of young Uzumaki Naruto, a ninja in training, has enthralled many types of readers. If you’re a fan but have already read (and re-read) all 72 volumes of Naruto, you might want to take a look at these other series chosen by our reviewers.
Written and drawn by Yuki Tabata Number of volumes: 10 (as of February 2018) ISBN: 9781421587189 (vol. 1) Published: 2016 – Ongoing
Elevator pitch: Born into a world where Wizards keep the peace, Asta—an orphan from the boonies—vows he will rise above all others to lead as the Wizard King. Sadly, he lacks an ounce of magic in his body. While his rival and brother Yuno is naturally gifted and expected to rise through the ranks of the Magic Knights with ease, Asta receives an unexpected surprise when he discovers he wields a unique power which repels magic.
Why this next: Asta’s personality as well as his determination to become the Wizard King will remind readers of Naruto’s own quest to become Hokage. Though the relationship between Yuno and Asta is less antagonistic than Sasuke and Naruto, the differences between someone for whom things come easily and someone who applies hard work and elbow grease will have readers feeling at home immediately. (Contributed by Jessikah Chautin.)
Written and drawn by Kazue Kato Number of volumes: 18 (as of February 2018) ISBN: 9781421540320 (vol. 1) Published: 2011 – Ongoing
Elevator pitch: Rin Okumura was raised by a powerful exorcist, but one day learns that he’s really the son of Satan. He attends True Cross Academy to follow in his adoptive father’s footsteps, but he can’t keep his inheritance a secret for long.
Why this next: Just as Uzumaki Naruto gets his powers from the nine-tailed fox demon without his parents to guide him, Rin Okumura must keep his inherited demonic powers in check while using them to exorcise others. Another parallel: Naruto and his friends age up through school together and wind up battling a great evil at the end of their exams, while Rin and his friends age up through exorcist school and wind up battling Satan! (Contributed by Thomas Maluck.)
Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z
Written and drawn by: Akira Toriyama Number of volumes: 14 (3-in-1 editions) ISBN: 9781421555645 (vol. 1) Published: 1984 – 1995
Elevator pitch: Goku is an alien from another planet! The child of an extinct warrior race, he makes friends with a young woman named Bulma and together they search the Earth-like planet for the Dragon Balls, seven mystical orbs that, when brought together, will grant one wish. Goku and Bulma make friends and enemies on the way, all of which are shocked by the young Goku’s powerful strength.
Why this next: Dragon Ball and its sequels are ranked as the best martial arts franchise from Japan. The battles are the main draw, as Goku becomes more and more powerful through the series and engages in prolonged fights against colorful villains that have a tendency to turn the battle zone into a smoldering crater. (Contributed by Allen Kesinger.)
Written and drawn by Hiro Mashima Number of volumes: 63 (complete) ISBN: 9781612622767 (vol. 1) Published: 2012 – 2018
Elevator pitch: Lucy joins a magical guild called Fairy Tail, a club for wizards who win gold and glory completing jobs for others. The guild fails to live up to her expectations, however, as it is full of rude and temperamental types.
Why this next: Similar to the Naruto cast’s missions where they help people and battle ninjas gone wrong, the protagonists in Fairy Tail takes on missions where they help others and battle guilds gone wrong. Shonen fans will enjoy following this colorful cast of magic wielders whose hearts are in the right place. (Contributed by Thomas Maluck.)
My Hero Academia
Written and drawn by Kohei Horikoshi Number of volumes: 11 (as of February 2018) ISBN: 9781421582696 (vol. 1) Published: 2015 – present
Elevator pitch: Izuki is determined to enroll in a special high school that trains super heroes. While most of the population in Izuki’s world develop a superpower called a Quirk early in life, Izuki is one of the few who are powerless. When Izuki’s friend turned bully becomes the target of a villain, he is granted a late in life power which sets him on the road to his desired path at last!
Why this next: Izuki never quits—just like Naruto. Katsuki, Izuki’s former friend is a Quirk prodigy who might be more arrogant than Sasuke, but their relationship will still resonate with fans. Of course Izuki’s classmates, who each have a unique power, should remind readers of the menagerie of characters in Naruto’s peerage. (Contributed by Jessikah Chautin.)
Written and drawn by Atsushi Okubo Number of volumes: 25 (complete) ISBN: 9780759530010 (vol. 1) Published: 2009 – 2015
Elevator pitch: Maka is a meister, a warrior with the ability to wield a dangerous weapon—a boy named Soul Eater who can take the form of a scythe. Along with their classmates at Death Weapon Meister Academy, Maka and Soul train together in order to defeat evil.
Why this next: Along with the familiar “children training to become warriors” theme from early volumes of Naruto, each team of meister and weapon are well balanced by the strengths of their personalities. This series features a large cast of unique characters and a great balance of comedy and action. (Contributed by Jessikah Chautin.)
Robin: Son of Batman
Written and drawn by Patrick Gleason Number of volumes: 2 (complete) ISBN: Vol. 1: Year of Blood: 9781401261559 Vol. 2: Dawn of the Demons: 9781401264819 Published: 2015 – 2016
Elevator pitch: Robin makes up for past crimes with the help of a dragon-bat named Goliath and an assassin-turned-friend. Touching moments of forgiveness and mercy serve as quiet contrast to bombastic action and ninja antics.
Why this next: Several characters in the Naruto series atone for past mistakes and tragedies. Damian Wayne (Robin) is no different in his quest to make up for the crimes he committed while being raised by the League of Assassins. (Contributed by Thomas Maluck.)
Twin Star Exorcists
Written and drawn by Yoshiaki Sukeno Number of volumes: 11 (as of February 2018) ISBN: 978-1421581743 (vol. 1) Published: 2015 – present
Elevator pitch: As a child, Rokuro trained to be an exorcist, a warrior with the ability to banish Kegare (evil spirits) from our world but when a traumatic incident leaves his dorm mates slaughtered, Rokuro goes out of his way to leave the world of Exorcists behind. Unfortunately, Rokuro’s destiny is tied to Benio Adashino—a beautiful and talented exorcist from a neighboring town whom it is foretold he will marry. So naturally, they hate each other’s guts.
Why this next: The fight scenes are top notch and the character designs are appealing. Themes of family legacy, childhood tragedy, and supernatural abilities will keep Naruto’s fans happy and eager for the next volume. (Contributed by Jessikah Chautin.)
In our last post, we discussed why Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen may not be the best choice for a reader new to the format of comics. In this piece, the staff at No Flying No Tights discuss best practices for encouraging new comics fans and what to recommend instead of Watchmen.
Introducing new readers to comics
Nic: When it comes to recommending graphic novels to someone who’s never read the format before, a few things I consider are:
What kinds of books do they usually read? My aunt is a big James Patterson fan, and especially likes the ones about “those kids with wings,” so I gave her the first volume of the Maximum Ride manga as a present. She’s new to graphic novels, but she’s enjoying it.
I would tend to avoid giving them non-linear, confusing, or very meta books as their first exposure to graphic novels. I think part of the reason that Smile and El Deafo work so well as introductory titles is that they demonstrate that graphic novels can tell a straightforward story that is just as easy to read as a traditional novel or memoir. (Plus, cool art!)
Adriana: Nonlinear comics can be the right first comics for some folks, so I don’t completely discount them when giving suggestions. I’ll second Nic’s point that getting a feel of the other media people already enjoy and using that as a jumping off point is the way to go. Even something as straightforward as “You like this movie? Well here’s the comic it’s based on,” can get the ball rolling. Though I try not to be so 1-to-1 about it for the sake of showing the variety available in comics. The Goon is a great suggestion for folks who enjoy a mix of horror and humor, “old-timey” aesthetics with anachronistic elements, or who spent a lot of time watching Elvira introduce B-movies. Long story short, a few decent reference questions will always steer you in the right direction.
Renata: There’s not any ONE comic/graphic novel I’d hand to a reader who’s never gotten into comics; Like Adriana suggests, I’d definitely do some kind of reference interview and tailor their first graphic novel to their own interests.
I’d also try to suss out why they never read comics before. Are they a young reader whose parent doesn’t think comics count as “real books”? (That was me!) Are they a grown adult who has some lingering snobbery on the subject of comics counting as “real books”? Are they a woman who got some rude treatment from comic store boys and got turned off the medium? Do they struggle with understanding what order to read panels in? Did they just never have access, since their small town library didn’t have any graphic novels and they didn’t want to spend money buying comics?
It also depends if I’m making a suggestion as a librarian to a patron, or as a friend to a friend, because with friends (or extreme library regulars), I know enough to say “If this is confusing, just ask” or to guess what they might struggle with or might not appreciate seeing.
Megan: I think asking a reader new to graphic novels about the books they enjoy is really important, and their tastes would dictate what I recommended. I also agree that you should recommend works that are fairly linear and straightforward and don’t require a lot of special comics knowledge to read them. I think offering works that are colorful and have good artistic flow (i.e. no overly complex panels that show action well—although I acknowledge that’s probably subjective) will help engage new readers. I think personal narratives can be a good start because they tend to be pretty accessible because they are grounded in situations and worlds people are already familiar with and don’t necessarily require a huge investment for the reader (i.e. they don’t necessarily have to be familiar with a whole new world and will not usually start a long series). Basically, I think any story with a good set of relatable characters and awesome art are great starting points; there are lots of comics in most genres that fit those general parameters.
Robin: A few other aspects I consider are what makes them like a story (a novel, a movie, a TV show, a game). Is it the dialog? The world-building? The sense of place or setting? Do they want a fast moving plot or a lingering pace? Movies and television can also give you a good sense of what kind of visuals they like.
On getting started with superheroes
Roy: As for good choices: it depends on what the reader was interested in, specifically. If someone was interested in superheroes, I think I’d look to standalone stories of characters that don’t need much explanation. Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Superman… all of them have great stand alone stories, and all of them are big enough parts of the cultural consciousness that you don’t really need to provide a lot of background context. I think something like the Trinity by Matt Wagner is a good introduction to superhero comics; it’s not grimdark, it’s stand-alone, it provides an introduction to how the characters see each other, the visuals are interesting without containing bizarre/hard to follow panel layouts, and it tells a fun story. All Star Superman might be another good selection (although Quitely’s art makes this one hard for me to really recommend). For Marvel, Ms. Marvel, maybe?
Thomas: All children should undergo mandatory Batman: The Animated Series viewings before experiencing any deconstructions of superheroes.
Renata: I agree Ms. Marvel is a great one for starting off in superhero comics. Sadly out of print but I also think a lot of Marvel’s “Season One” books are good choices, especially if someone is interested in a particular hero/team and doesn’t know where to start. The convoluted backstories of superheroes are something that intimidates a lot of would-be readers, so it’s great to be able to bypass as much of that as possible.
Robin: If they’re fans of Homicide: Life on the Street or The Wire, you might easily get them hooked on Gotham Central (written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker and drawn by various artists) as a way into superheroes. If they got turned on to superheroes by the snarky banter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye should match what they’re hoping to find.
On starter comics outside of superheroes
Adriana: I find The Goon series by Eric Powell, Tomboy by Liz Prince, the Lumberjanes series, and Fun Homeby Alison Bechdel tend to be well received by folks new to comics. They each can appeal to a relatively wide demographic depending on which element you focus on (horror, humor, memoir, queer representation, etc.) I used to recommend Craig Thompson’s Blankets off the bat, but have found it intimidating for new comic readers on size alone.
Renata: I agree that Smile and El Deafo are great picks for younger readers. I’ve been giving Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson’s Jughead comic to a lot of Riverdale fans, but I know it’s funny and weird enough that it stands on its own as a pretty delightful book. (And also is different enough from the show that it could actually be disappointing to readers looking for something exactly like the show. But I think it’s enjoyable enough to recommend separate from the show.)
For an adult reader, I’ll make a case for Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home as well—the story is engaging and the mixed media-ish art is intriguing. It demonstrates ably why some stories are, in fact, better told in graphic form than plain prose.
Dani: I go with Smile, March, and Y: The Last Man. Fables for English majors. (Mostly because it’s fun to see their faces when I tell them that the Big Bad Wolf’s real name is Bigby and he’s married to Snow White. Oh and that the Prince (spoiler) that she married is the same one in all of the other stories.)
Thomas: Sometimes the issue comes down to comfort with navigating the comics page, and I like to recommend Shaun Tan’s The Arrival for new comics readers. The story is wordless but universal, playing on relatable themes of arriving in a new location and feeling alien. Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, Drama, and Sisters, Cece Bell’s El Deafo, Liz Prince’s Tomboy, Jeff Smith’s Bone, Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet, Jeremy Whitley’s Princeless (drawn by various artists), and Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, The Shadow Hero (drawn by Sonny Liew), and Boxers & Saints have done plenty for creating new comics readers, though “agreeable Middle Grade/Young Adult” is a hard comics genre to resist. (I recommend the series Three Thieves by Scott Chantler and Hereville by Barry Deutsch join this pantheon in readers advisory lists.)
Megan: I second March, Lumberjanes, El Deafo, Tomboy, Gene Luen Yang’s work, and Raina Telgemeier’s work as good starting points. I would put forth Faith Erin Hick’s work (her stories tend to be full of humor and offers a variety of genres). For personal narratives, I would suggest Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.
Thomas: Megan just reminded me—Faith Erin Hicks’s The Adventures of Superhero Girl is an ultimate recommendation (among her other great comics). Superhero fans get a humorous, Canadian spin on tropes, and non-super-fans get a humane new-adult tale. Everybody wins!
Robin: For new readers who may be skeptical about superheroes, I think it’s even more important to check with the person about what genres and other titles they enjoy. If they really dig 1999’s The Mummy, they may well love Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk series.
Thanks to Nic Willcox, Adriana Marroquin, Renata Sancken, Megan Rupe, Roy MacKenzie, and Thomas Maluck, and Dani Shuping for chiming in on this discussion.
What are your tried and true first titles for new readers? Why do you feel they work best? Let us know in the comments and together we can help create new readers of comics every day.
Who we would argue it’s not good for? A reader who’s never read a comic or graphic novel before.
For decades now, when a reader expresses interest in trying comics, a well meaning fan inevitably recommends they read Watchmen. This recommendation was most recently noted in NPR’s solid list of recommended titles Let’s Get Graphic: 100 Favorite Comics And Graphic Novels. This list was coordinated by Petra Mayer, and judged by G. Willow Wilson, C. Spike Trotman, Maggie Thompson, Etelka Lehoczky, and Glen Weldon. We’re not here to nitpick the list, which includes titles we love, nor the selection process, which we all know from experience is complicated when you’re whittling down piles of works into a definitive list. (Seriously, don’t snark on the list or the judges.) This article was just the most recent in mention after mention, by comics fan after comics fan, that noted in its annotation for Watchmen, “There is a reason people still press it into the hands of those who’ve never read a comic before.”
We at No Flying No Tights, all of us readers’ advisers and comics enthusiasts, are here to say: please stop giving Watchmen to people who have never read a comic before.
Our reviewers weigh in on why Watchmen is not the best choice:
Allen: I think giving out Watchmen to someone who doesn’t have much experience with the superhero genre (or comics at all) isn’t that great of an idea. While Watchmen does have a good story that challenges the expectations of the superhero genre, the point could be lost on those who don’t have much experience with superhero books. It won’t have the same impact.
Roy: I absolutely 100% would *not* recommend Watchmen to someone new to comics, nor would I recommend it to someone with limited experience with superhero comics. The things that make Watchmen the most interesting, I think, are the ways that it deconstructs gold/silver age heroes, and the ways that it plays with the form. If you’re not familiar with the history of superhero comics, you miss the meat of the book; it becomes just another in a long line of dark, gritty super hero books. It’s hard to appreciate how much Watchmen changed the scene of superhero comics if you’re not familiar with them in the first place, and, especially now, over a quarter century later, when the kind of deconstruction that Watchmen engaged in has been done to death, it’s easy to miss that it was really the first.
It’d be like handing someone who had no understanding of literary fiction or western literature a copy of Nabokov’s Lolita. Sure, it’s an interesting story in its own right, but you’re missing most of the context. At worst, there’s the possibility that you’re going to be put off the medium because you’re being given something without being first given the foundation/tools to fully appreciate what is being done.
Thomas: Arbiters of good taste should always take care that their recommendations do not turn into browbeating over “if you didn’t like/understand this work then you probably do not like or have a place in the medium.” I have met plenty of adults who love all of the kinds of stories comics offer but weren’t asked what they might want to read first.
On a more specific version of the question, editor Matthew asked: Would you recommend Watchmen to someone who is familiar with comics in general, but has very limited experience with superhero comics?
Robin: No. If I want to introduce a genre to someone, I wouldn’t start with a title that requires knowledge of the tropes, characters, and clichés that were present in that genre 30 years ago. My goal in introducing someone to superhero comics would be to showcase the intelligence, adventure, and myth-making that make the stories, art, and heroes so long-lasting and enjoyable. I’d prefer to start with the well-crafted titles that show the positive side of superhero stories before recommending the darker, critical story that rips the genre apart.
Roy: if you want to give someone a grim-dark super-hero book, there are more accessible ones to give them than Watchmen (like Batman: Year One—which I love, despite its (and its creator’s) many flaws).
Thomas: Librarians know which comics are creating new comics readers, and it’s not Watchmen. As others have noted, Watchmen is great, it’s a proud flagpole of a certain comics era that is still felt today, but it’s not intro-level.
Wondering what you should recommend instead of Watchmen? Check out our next post which covers best practices for recommending titles to a new comics reader to encourage a positive, engaging experience that may make a new fan.
Thanks to Matthew Murray, Allen Kesinger, Roy MacKenzie, and Thomas Maluck for chiming in on this discussion.
Smile, a memoir of Raina Telgemeier’s sixth-grade year and its dental drama, was an instant classic when it was first published in 2010. Readers who love it will likely also devour the Telgemeier’s other colorful, relatable works such as Drama, Sisters, and Ghosts. When they’re done with those, try giving them some of the titles from the following list.
Amelia Rules, vol. 1: The Whole World’s Crazy
Written and drawn Jimmy Gownley ISBN: 9781416986041 Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009
Elevator pitch: Nine-year-old Amelia’s life is going through some changes: her parents just got divorced, she’s moving from New York City to a small town, and, worst of all, she has to start at a new school. However, she makes some new friends and before long you’ll be laughing along as Amelia and her pals tackle the Gym Class System, the dreaded Sneeze Barf, and more.
Why this next: Gownley does a great job of portraying both the laughter and pain of the middle grade years, much like Telgemeier does in Smile and Sisters.
(Contributed by Kristen Lawson)
Written and drawn by Svetlana Chmakova ISBN: 9780316381307 Published by Yen Press, 2015
Elevator pitch: On her first day at a new school, Peppi finds herself in an embarrassing situation only to inadvertently push away Jaime, the boy who attempts to help her. A few months later, Peppi has found a comfortable place in the school’s art club, but she is still trying to find the courage to apologize to Jaime—which is made more difficult by the art club’s feud with the science club, to which Jaime belongs.
Why this next: Like Smile, Awkward is a story about real tweens navigating the sometimes funny, sometimes uncomfortable world of adolescence. The artwork is appealing, and features diverse characters of all body types.
(Contributed by Jessikah)
The Dumbest Idea Ever!
Written and drawn by Jimmy Gownley ISBN: 9780545453479 Published by Graphix, 2014
Elevator pitch: When a bad case of the chicken pox prevented 13-year-old Jimmy from entering his championship basketball game, he discovered some new hobbies.
Why this next: Stories about the author’s own trials, tribulations, and throes of his young adolescence—zits and all—will appeal to fans of Telgemeier’s works.
(Contributed by Amy Estersohn)
Written and drawn by Cece Bell ISBN: 9781419710209 Published by Harry N. Abrams, 2014
Elevator pitch: Cece has lost most of her hearing, and when it’s time to transfer to a new school, she’s really nervous. Will being different prevent her from making any friends?
Why this next: The terrible dental apparatuses in Smile and Cece’s Phonic Ear both set the protagonists apart at school, but both manage to adjust to life even though they are a little bit different from their peers.
(Contributed by Kristen Lawson)
Hereville, vol. 1: How Mirka Got Her Sword
Written and drawn by Barry Deutsch ISBN: 9781419706196 Published by Amulet Books, 2012
Elevator pitch: Mirka Herschberg lives with her sister and stepmother, who both have all kinds of advice about what to do with her life, but she really wants a sword and a dragon to battle. She will have to make do with the local witch, giant pig, and sword-owning troll, but are they any match for a bold eleven-year-old girl?
Why this next: Preteen frustration in a Jewish Orthodox community meets fantasy adventure in this middle-grade series that will have fans demanding the next book as they finish each one.
(Contributed by Thomas M)
Written and drawn by Victoria Jamieson ISBN: 9780803740167 Published by Dial Books, 2015
Elevator pitch: Astrid and Nicole have been inseparable their entire lives, but when Astrid decides to join a roller derby camp instead of ballet in the summer, their plans and friendship hits a snag. A few months of derby hijinks, new friends, and dyed hair ensue as Astrid tries to navigate those tricky months between elementary and junior high.
Why this next: If you liked Smile for the themes about the difficulty of growing up and changing friendships, then this should be your next read. Roller Girl also gives a fun inside look at the world of Roller Derby.
(Contributed by Danielle Boyd)
Sunny Side Up
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Art by Matthew Holm ISBN: 9780545741668 Published by Graphix, 2015
Elevator pitch: Sunny is a sweet girl who isn’t quite sure why she has been shipped off to spend her summer vacation with her grandfather in Florida. All she knows is that it has something to do with her brother and no one will talk about it. But how bad can Florida be— Disney World is there, right?
Why this next: People who were fans of the family aspects of Smile as well as the pains of growing up will find a lot to love in Sunny Side Up. It also has some great humor involving alligators, missing cats, old people, and toilet paper.
(Contributed by Danielle Boyd)
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary
Written by Keshni Kashyap Art by Mari Araki ISBN: 9780618945191 Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
Elevator pitch: As an assignment for her honors English class, Tina keeps an “existential diary” about her life as a gifted high school sophomore. She has humorous insights about being friend-dumped by her former best friend, getting kissed on the mouth by a skater boy, and family drama.
Why this next: Like Smile, this is a realistic, funny story about a girl’s school and family life. As with Tomboy [see below], the content is a bit more mature than Smile and it might not be appropriate for Smile’s youngest readers, but high schoolers who grew up with Smile should enjoy it.
(Contributed by Renata Sancken)
Written and drawn by Liz Prince ISBN: 9781936976553 Published by Zest Books, 2014
Elevator pitch: In this funny graphic memoir, Liz Prince reflects back on an awkward childhood, where she didn’t quite fit in with other girls OR other boys.
Why this next: Tomboy is similar to Smile in that it humorously draws on the author’s real childhood experiences. The content is a bit more mature than Smile and it might not be appropriate for Smile’s youngest readers, but high schoolers who grew up with Smile will enjoy it.
(Contributed by Renata Sancken)
Written by Sharon Emerson Art by Renée Kurilla ISBN: 9781416995258 Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010
Elevator pitch: Five middle schoolers form a rock band and start to get popular. However, when one of the band members suffers a tragedy, the others have to decide whether they’re going to rally together or crack under the pressure.
Why this next: This realistic story has a nice blend of humor and heart, and the artwork is fairly similar to Telgemeier’s.
Amulet, a New York Times bestselling fantasy adventure series by Kazu Kibuishi, has been delighting readers of all ages with its fast-paced storytelling and amazing artwork since the debut of volume 1, The Stonekeeper, in 2008. If you’ve read all seven volumes and are ready for more, why not try some of the following titles while waiting for books 8 and 9?
Written by Matt Gardner Art by Rashad Doucet ISBN: 9781620102640 Published by Oni Press, 2015
Elevator pitch: Carter and his sister move with their family to Alabaster Shadows, a town where there’s definitely something weird going on.
Why this next: Those who love the young teen protagonists, sibling relationships, and mysteries of Amulet will warm to Alabaster Shadows.
(Contributed by Amy Estersohn)
Written and drawn by Doug TenNapel ISBN: 9780545418737 Published by Graphix, 2012
Elevator pitch: Cam’s struggling father can only afford a cardboard box as a birthday present for Cam. The two of them shape the box into a man, which, amazingly, comes to life—but what will happen when the neighborhood bully Marcus gets ahold of the magic cardboard?
Why this next: Some of the major themes of Cardboard are the ability of magic to do either good or evil, and the struggle of responsibility that comes with great power. Amulet deals with these same themes.
(Contributed by Kristen Lawson)
Chronicles of Claudette, vol. 1: Giants Beware!
Written by Jorge Aguirre Art by Rafael Rosado ISBN: 9781596435827 Published by First Second, 2012
Elevator pitch: Claudette wants nothing more than to hunt giants. With her best friend Marie, and Marie’s brother Gaston, they are off on an unchaperoned adventure that will take them far from their sleepy village and into all sorts of hijinks.
Why this next: Claudette is another strong female protagonist. Her sidekicks Marie and Gaston are three dimensional and have goals of their own (like becoming a princess and a pastry chef respectively). Plus, with giants, evil wizards, river gods, and witches this is one crazy adventure.
(Contributed by Danielle)
Dream Jumper, vol. 1: Nightmare Escape
Written by: Greg Grunberg Art by: Lucas Turnbloom ISBN: 9780545826037 Published by Graphix, 2016
Elevator pitch: Ben has the ability to enter others’ dreams and help them if they’re dreaming about something scary, but doing this every night is starting to take its toll. Ben’s mother takes him to a sleep clinic, where Ben discovers that a powerful nightmare monster has been stalking some of his friends in the dream world.
Why this next: A magical ability that the protagonist must develop, an alternate universe populated with monsters and terrifying threats, and mysterious allusions to the main character’s heritage are all elements in common with Amulet.
(Contributed by Kristen Lawson)
Written and drawn by Ben Hatke ISBN: 9781626722651 Published by First Second, 2016
Elevator pitch: Jack makes what looks like an unwise trade for weird-looking seeds at a flea market, but when his sister plants the seeds fantastic plants and creatures begin to appear in his back yard.
Why this next: The brother-sister team facing incredible plant creatures and threatening magical beings will definitely appeal to Amulet fans.
(Contributed by Kristen Lawson)
The Nameless City, vol. 1
Written by Faith Erin Hicks Art by Faith Erin Hicks and Jordie Bellaire ISBN: 9781626721579 Published by First Second, 2016
Elevator pitch: In a city that has been invaded and renamed so many times the natives call it the Nameless City, two unlikely friends stumble upon a terrible threat to their homes. Kai, whose family is part of the most recent invading force, befriends Rat, a native, to discover what’s happening in the Nameless City.
Why this next: Readers who enjoy guessing characters’ shadowy motives in Amulet, or discovering their slowly unfolding backstories, will enjoy this as well. There’s a large amount of action in this story, too.
(Contributed by Kristen Lawson)
Oddly Normal, vol. 1
Written and drawn by Otis Frampton ISBN: 9781632152268 Published by Image Comics, 2015
Elevator pitch: Oddly, the daughter of a witch and a normal guy, must follow her great-aunt to her mother’s magical homeland of Fignation to discover the fate of her parents, who went missing in a terrible magical accident.
Why this next: Oddly’s exploration of Fignation, and her longing for her missing parents, will strike chords with Amulet fans. The artwork is gorgeous and similar in style and coloring to Kibuishi’s.
(Contributed by Kristen Lawson)
Poptropica, vol. 1: Mystery of the Map
Written by: Jack Chabert Art by: Kory Merritt ISBN: 9781419720673 Published by Harry N. Abrams, 2016
Elevator pitch: Oliver, Jorge, and Mya are whisked away on a whirlwind adventure when their hot-air balloon crashes on an uncharted tropical island full of extinct creatures and ancient people. The kids soon find a mysterious, powerful map that enables them to escape…but where will they land next?
Why this next: Otherworldly adventures abound here, and this would be a good match for younger Amulet readers in search of something more action packed and/or with a lighter tone.
(Contributed by Kristen Lawson)
Three Thieves, vol. 1: Tower of Treasure
Written and drawn by Scott Chantler ISBN: 9781554534159 Published by Kids Can Press, 2010
Elevator pitch: A young girl, Dessa, teams up with a pair of circus performers to raid a royal vault, but uncovers a web of secrets that will lead all three of them on an unforgettable, life-changing adventure.
Why this next: Chantler’s cartooning is impeccably clear, whether navigating a moody, monochromatic flashback or dashing through his many action-packed set pieces. Inter-kingdom intrigue and constantly shifting locations deliver a wide range of vistas and characters across the seven books of this series.
(Contributed by Thomas M)
Zita the Spacegirl, vol. 1
Written and drawn by Ben Hatke ISBN: 9781596434462 Published by First Second, 2011
Elevator pitch: When Zita’s best friend gets kidnapped by aliens she doesn’t hesitate to leap to his rescue. Soon Zita finds herself in the role of intergalactic hero for more than just her friend.
Why this next: Zita is a spunky and fun heroine who gets to have amazing galactic adventures full of robots, aliens, and intergalactic conspiracies!