Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics

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Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics

Determining the criteria for a list of the best children’s comics of all time is a bit more challenging than picking the best horror, sci-fi or webcomics. We are (by the legal definition, if not emotionally) adults, and many of the works on this list hit shelves well after we aged out of the target audience range. That leaves us with the task of dually evaluating the comics below: are they good, first and foremost, and are they good for or valuable to children? Heck, even determining our criteria for “children” was tough, and we ultimately settled on the full gamut from beginning readers through to pre-teens, although, many of us begin reading “adult” comics in our upper teen years. But every title in this alphabetically ordered catalog has the potential to mean something special, to offer something valuable and important, whether that’s revelatory depth or escapist fun, to a young reader. From wordless animal adventures to complicated teen identity sagas, these books form an all-ages canon worthy of the budding comic children in your life.

AbigailSnowman.jpg Abigail and the Snowman
Writer/Artist: Roger Langridge
Publisher: KaBOOM!/ BOOM! Studios

Ever since cartoonist Roger Langridge left his mark on The Muppets for Marvel, he’s displayed a deft hand at creating kid-friendly comics with enough sass to entertain adults, too. Abigail and the Snowman shows what happens when the new girl in town invites a mythological monster—a friendly, furry mythological monster—into her home. This miniseries is a delightful, all-ages romp, and entertains with a variety of sight gags built around Claude the Yeti’s invisibility—teachers oggle a human pyramid constructed around the transparent beast in one of the book’s best pages.

It’s not all childhood escapism, though. Kids create fantastical friends to escape adult realities, and those realities never lie far away in this title. Abigail’s father struggles to provide for his daughter while she prays to her deceased mom. All of these factors grant Abigail and the Snowman a weight that dives into more emotional territory, while still maintaining a charm that nobody else but Langridge can provide. Sean Edgar

adventuretimecomic.jpg Adventure Time
Writers: Ryan North, Chris Hastings, Others
Artists: Braden Lamb, Shelli Paroline, Zachary Sterling, Others
Publisher: KaBOOM!/ BOOM! Studios

While IDW’s My Little Pony (which, spoiler alert, you’ll find later on this list) was perhaps the first breakout licensed title of the modern era, Adventure Time changed the game. Initially written by Dinosaur Comics humorist Ryan North and drawn by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb, KaBOOM!’s tie-in to the Cartoon Network TV show managed to capture the tone of the idiosyncratic Pendleton Ward phenomenon, while establishing its own substantial, long-form storytelling. North and his artistic collaborators—and, later, many other contributors—weren’t interested in flippant tertiary tales, but in essentially creating their own season(s) of Adventure Time on the page, particularly when it came to deepening the relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline. As Adventure Time (the show) grew more experimental from the fourth season on, Adventure Time (the comic) has helped bridge the gap for fans not quite ready for heavily conceptual approaches, even while playing with format in its own ways, as in the choose-your-own-path issue. Adventure Time opened the floodgates at BOOM! Studios, not just for other stellar licensed books, but for original series like Lumberjanes with similar aesthetics and senses of offbeat, but kind, humor. Steve Foxe

americanbornchinesecover.jpg American Born Chinese
Writer/Artist: Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: First Second

First Second, which shows up a lot on this list, didn’t have to wait long to release its first critical bombshell. American Born Chinese stands as a microcosm of the qualities that permeate FS’s line: it’s educational, optimistic and obsessively well-crafted. Gene Luen Yang offers a triptych of stories featuring the Monkey King from the Journey to the West folktale, a son of Chinese immigrants adapting to a white neighborhood and an American adolescent embarrassed by his Chinese cousin. These seemingly separate tales twine together for an experience that reinforces the values of heritage, pride and respect. The literary community embraced the work like few other comics have been praised, honoring it with a Michael L. Printz Award and National Book Award finalist nomination. Yang is now a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and with books like this under his belt, there’s no question how he got there. Sean Edgar

amulet.jpg Amulet
Writer/Artist: Kazu Kibuishi
Publisher: Scholastic GRAPHIX

Kazu Kibuishi, whose artwork now adorns the anniversary editions of a little-known series called Harry Potter, is one of the best-known names in comics…if you’re a teen or preteen. His bestselling Amulet series is a high-stakes, high-fun fantasy adventure about ordinary children who find themselves thrust into an extraordinary situation after the death of their father. Via a magic door in their deceased great-grandfather’s basement, Em and Navin stumble onto robotic rabbits, man-eating demons and destiny itself, in the grand tradition of innumerable portal fantasies. Kibuishi’s clean, open lines are inviting and easy to follow for the eight-to-12-tear-old crowd, and are laying the foundation for new generations of comic readers. Steve Foxe

AnyasGhost.jpg Anya’s Ghost
Writer/Artist: Vera Brosgol
Publisher: First Second

Laika storyboard artist and animator Vera Brosgol went solo for a work that rivals any of her former studio’s creepy, stop-motion masterpieces, including Coraline and ParaNorman. Drawing on her past as a Russian immigrant growing up in a single-parent household, Brosgol navigates the thorny, emotional labyrinth of adolescence through the titular character, who bonds with a ghost liberated from a nearby well. Anya frets over her body, pursues the high school beau and gives glorious agency to the insecurities that plague humanity during those transformative years. She then watches her new undead friend, Emily, show the chaos that can unfold if those emotions aren’t checked. Brosgol’s emotional storytelling and facial expressions expertly convey the push-and-pull of teen confidence, and the slate-grey coloring lends the graphic novel the ambiance of a frigid tombstone. Thematically, there’s no better way to immortalize perpetual immaturity than as a ghost, frozen in rage and longing, and this book features one of the most interesting hellraisers to populate a kids’ comic. Sean Edgar

babymouse.jpg Babymouse
Writer/Artists: Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Publisher: Random House

Babymouse, whether you’ve heard of her or not, is a star. Sibling team Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm’s very-young comic sustains dozens of volumes in print, has sold nearly two million copies worldwide and has spun off into multiple formats, including a new series of comic/prose hybrids geared at older readers. Like Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady, Babymouse is for the youngest comic fans, those making the transition from picture books to beginner prose titles. Her anthropomorphic elementary-school adventures are relatable to children figuring out the whole school thing for themselves, and she has enough wish-fulfillment fantasy plots to keep imaginations active and engaged. Babymouse will likely always fly under the radar of mainstream comic coverage, but she’s doing the hard work of teaching brand-new readers the excitement of sequential art. And, in her own words, she’s “queen of the world!” Steve Foxe

Backstagers.jpg The Backstagers
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Rian Sygh
Publisher: BOOM!Box/ BOOM! Studios

Though fans may be more familiar with James Tynion IV’s name from his work on Batman-centric titles like Detective Comics, he’s been writing YA comics for most of his career. The Backstagers is, in many ways, the best of what all-ages comics have to offer: a fun jaunt with serious notes about discovering where you fit at the most awkward periods in your life. The cast is the stage crew of an all-boys school who have adventures far beyond the backstage machinations of a production. Supernatural secrets lay hidden in the bowels of prop rooms and costume wardrobes, laid out by Tynion IV and co-creator Rian Sygh, who sports a poppy, fun art style that perfectly suits the motley crew.

The eight-issue miniseries is kind and sweet without being cloying, and extremely LGBTQ+ friendly. The characters are diverse in personality, appearance and background, providing young readers with a chance to find themselves reflected in the pages. It’s a perfect mirror to the all-girls camp of Lumberjanes, another BOOM! title; it’s Raina Telgemeier’s touchstone graphic novel Drama meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a dash of Fangirl. Young fans can graduate easily to Tynion IV’s other youth-centered BOOM! series, The Woods, once they’re a few years older. Caitlin Rosberg

Bandette.jpg Bandette
Writer: Paul Tobin
Artist: Colleen Coover
Publisher: Dark Horse/Monkeybrain Comics

Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover are well known for their adult comics, but Bandette is a magic trick of an all-ages work; a sure-footed Parisian caper that follows the adventures of a svelte cat burglar. It’s not explicitly aimed at kids, and yet it’s appealing to and appropriate for them. Coover’s digital watercolor images are a great contrast to the poor shading and ugly computer coloring that appear in many mainstream comics, and the action scenes have plenty of gymnastics, while refraining from punching and weapons. The result is clean enough to pass muster with your grandma, but more entertaining than what she’d probably give you to read. Hillary Brown

beratrollcover.png Bera The One-Headed Troll
Writer/Artist: Eric Orchard
Publisher: First Second

Peel a few layers of the whimsical back from Eric Orchard’s Victorian fantasy opus, and a bittersweet, tear-jerking heart beats furiously under these pages. Bera is a pumpkin-farming troll minding her own business when a human infant inexplicably falls into her care. Though overwhelmed and semi-frantic, she starts a journey in hopes of finding a hero or new home for her precious cargo. Orchard, illustrating in the hyper-detailed, inky tradition of Arthur Rackham, found inspiration for Bera in his mother, who raised him while managing schizophrenia. It’s a gorgeous, sweet, imminently captivating narrative whose imagination matches its emotion, and a rare work whose complexity works magically for adults and children alike. Sean Edgar

boneonevolumecover.jpg Bone
Writer/Artist: Jeff Smith
Publisher: Cartoon Books

Jeff Smith’s Bone is the true definition of an “all-ages” comic, of the sort that is equally likely to resonate with kids and adults. Younger readers will be drawn immediately to the vibrant, but contrasting, art styles, as the Bone Brothers’ own depiction, seemingly inspired by silent-era cartoons and animation, is symbolically opposed by the high-fantasy monsters of the realm they find themselves thrown into. It’s a story with the set dressings and complicated political ties typified by the likes of The Lord of the Rings, but the series is funnier than nearly any child-friendly peer you could possibly name. Perhaps the only true comparison would be the likes of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, with its deft blend of fantasy and comedy, but Bone tells its tale with significantly more earnestness. With an enthralling story that starts off quick and only gets faster from there, Bone hooks an imaginative mind and then keeps readers on their toes by veering from comedy to dire adventure, and even occasionally horror, at the drop of a hat. In many series, wearing so many different inspirations on one’s sleeve would muddy the proceedings, but Bone is enriched by every one of Smith’s unique idiosyncrasies. Jim Vorel

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