The 20 Best Kids Comics of 2018

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The 20 Best Kids Comics of 2018

“Hey, wait a minute Paste—didn’t you already publish your big best-of list for 2018? And didn’t that list contain superhero comics, kids comics, horror comics and sci-fi/fantasy comics, all under one big umbrella? What gives?” Well, intrepid Paste reader, you’re not wrong. Paste prides itself on taking as broad a look at the medium of comics as our small team can possibly manage. Our year-end rankings don’t discriminate between capes-and-tights adventures, creepy manga, bonkers webcomics or navel-gazing “literary” graphic novels, but when compiling our master list, we realized that 2018 was a deceptively great year for sequential art, and 25 notable books just didn’t cut it. Before the holidays roll around, we’ll be honoring books that excelled in the specific categories mentioned above. Some will overlap with our main list, but many won’t—and the way rankings shift around may surprise you. A title that stood out when viewed holistically might rank lower when assessed through a specific lens, and books that didn’t make the cut for the master list can easily come out on top of these individual breakdowns. If nothing else, we hope our newly expanded categories send you into 2019 with plenty of reading material.

For our kids comics list, we defined the category as any book aimed at, or unambiguously appropriate for, younger readers. Titles span from the high end of Young Adult to the very earliest stages of independent reading, and we ultimately leave it up to our readers to decide what’s most fitting for the budding comic fans in their lives.

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The Hidden Witch Cover Art by Molly Knox Ostertag

20. The Hidden Witch
Writer/Artist: Molly Knox Ostertag
Publisher: Scholastic Graphix
The Hidden Witch picks up where The Witch Boy left off, following Aster on his quest to become a witch despite the gendered restrictions in his family around who is allowed to learn witch magic. This middle-grade series is a bright star in a crowded field, with strong characters who work hard to define themselves and protect the people they care for. In this second book, Aster is facing not only the gender dynamic he’s been struggling against since the first outing, but also new dangers in the form of his long-missing great-uncle and a dangerous, unsanctioned spell that’s attached itself to his new friend Charlie. Molly Knox Ostertag has a particular skill with introducing nuanced and difficult questions of morality and forgiveness, and her bright and welcoming art style and her respect for the emotional needs and intelligence of children make her work a perfect fit for fans of Steven Universe and similar cartoons. Caitlin Rosberg

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Animus Cover Art by Antoine Revoy

19. Animus
Writer/Artist: Antoine Revoy
Publisher: First Second
Children might not have a hardened tolerance for horror—little Susie doesn’t need to see Texas Chain Saw Massacre before her eighth birthday—but the average youngin’ often finds themselves drawn to the spooky, creepy or even downright terrifying, and publishers know it, whether that means keeping Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in print until the sun burns out or discovering projects like Animus, cartoonist Antoine Revoy’s graphic novel from First Second. Set around a haunted Japanese playground, Animus is Revoy’s attempt to blend the influences of horror manga and the French bandes dessinées, or graphic novels, of his childhood. Good scary comics for young readers are rare—Emily Carroll’s 2014 Through the Woods might be the last truly great one—which makes Animus and its seemingly Junji Ito-inspired art a must-read for anyone invested in the next generation of horror hounds. Steve Foxe

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Again!! Cover Art by Mitsurou Kubo

18. Again!!
Writer/Artist: Mitsurou Kubo
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Yuri!!! on Ice has become something of a phenomenon since its arrival in the U.S., reaching Western audiences beyond those already familiar with the medium. Though the popularity is in no small part because it includes one of the few positive portrayals of a queer couple in anime, it’s also due to the care and intention that went into creating each of the characters and their stories. Now, Yuri!!! on Ice’s writer Mitsuro Kubo has a manga series launching stateside, and it has just as much to offer, especially for teens. Again!! is all about friendship and second chances as a shy, slacker high-school student on the verge of graduation wakes up one morning to discover he’s once again a freshman, but with the knowledge of what the next few years will hold if he doesn’t do anything differently. Sports and youth manga and anime cover an untapped niche in the states—and as demonstrated by the success of Check, Please!, which also published a print edition this year—there’s an appetite for these kinds of books. Hopefully Kubo’s rich and emotional style brings both Yuri!!! on Ice and brand-new teen readers to the page. Caitlin Rosberg

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The Backstagers 2018 Valentine’s Intermission Cover Art by Rian Sygh & Walter Baiamonte

17. The Backstagers 2018 Valentine’s Intermission #1
Writer: James Tynion IV & Sam Johns
Artist: Rian Sygh, Brittany Williams, Caitlin Rose Boyle, Katy Farina
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
After a short run as an eight-issue ongoing, The Backstagers have made themselves into a lasting presence at BOOM! Studios. Though there were two specials and a novel released this year (all excellent), the Valentine’s Intermission is an irresistibly sweet collection of shorts that will make your heart sing, even now in the depths of winter. The Valentine’s special is jam-packed with artistic talent: Walter Baiamonte’s colors are swoon-worthy and Katy Farina’s “Of Mice and Munchies” is a surreal and unforgettable adventure with the most exuberant backstage boy, Sasha. James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh created a fantastic young-reader-friendly world that fans of Steven Universe will adore from the get-go, and the creators involved in this year’s Valentine’s one-shot do a truly stellar job of expanding the world even further. If you’re new to The Backstagers, the special may have a few spoilers for the first two volumes, but have no fear—both are out in trade paperback format now, and both specials will be collected in a third volume early next year. C.K. Stewart

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Hey, Kiddo Cover Art by Jarrett Krosoczka

16. Hey, Kiddo
Writer/Artist: Jarrett Krosoczka
Publisher: Scholastic Graphix
Jarrett Krosoczka is a New York Times bestselling cartoonist, best known for his Lunch Lady series of graphic novels, picture books like Punk Farm and the latest installments of the Star Wars Jedi Academy books first created by Jeffrey Brown. Like an estimated eight million children in the United States, Krosoczka is also the child of a parent who struggled with addiction, which claimed his mother’s life last summer. Krosoczka first spoke publicly about his mother’s addiction to heroin and his childhood growing up with his grandparents in a widely shared 2012 TED Talk. This fall, Scholastic’s Graphix imprint published Hey, Kiddo, Krosoczka’s memoir about his childhood and teen years, a period of time in which art became a lifeline and a way to process his mother’s battles and the absence of his birth father. The book earned a National Book Award nomination before it even hit shelves and is sure to leave a profound impact on those who pick it up thanks to Krosoczka’s deft handling of an intensely personal, yet all too common, experience. Steve Foxe

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The Mushroom Fan Club Cover Art by Elise Gravel

15. The Mushroom Fan Club
Writer/Artist: Elise Gravel
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Elise Gravel is a taxonomic type of artist. Sometimes (The Great Antonio, The Cranky Ballerina) her work is more narrative-focused, but she seems to take the most delight in drawing as many variations on a theme as she can think of. The Mushroom Fan Club is in that category, not only a love letter to fungi but an exuberant depiction of their different forms: skinny, curlicued, brightly colored, spongy, squat, shaggy, frilled and more, all anthropomorphized with adorably wide eyes, even if they’re extremely poisonous. You know who else likes variations on a theme? Kids! Hillary Brown

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Runaways Cover Art by Kris Anka & Matthew Wilson

14. Runaways
Writer: Rainbow Rowell
Artists: Kris Anka, David LaFuente
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Coming in at…exactly the same spot as on the master list, celebrated YA author Rainbow Rowell and fan-favorite artist Kris Anka’s Runaways represents not just a high mark for the franchise, but one of the best teen-centric books published by the “Big Two” of Marvel and DC Comics in recent memory. Anka’s eye for fashion and attitude is perfectly suited for Nico and the gang, and Rowell has ample experience navigating teens’ interior lives. Throughout 2018, this misfit family has experienced break-ups, hook-ups, falling-outs and the return of some world-ending foes (or their kids, anyway). While the original run by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona made such a deep impact partially based on Vaughan’s penchant for jaw-dropping reveals, Rowell and Anka’s take can go issues at a time without too much actually “happening”—yet never feels slight or stretched out. This cast is established, and no longer needs apocalyptic threats around every corner to keep us hooked. Rowell and Anka have such a strong grasp on the Runaways and what we like about them that we’re even tempted to say…best run ever? Steve Foxe

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Gamayun Tales: The King of Birds Cover Art by Alexander Utkin

13. Gamayun Tales: The King of Birds
Writer/Artist: Alexander Utkin
Publisher: Nobrow Press
Nobrow Press knows how to make a book that is an astoundingly gorgeous object, and they do it over and over and over again. Alexander Utkin’s lovely version of Russian folklore, rendered in soft, rich colors, is short, but it bears rereading. If you grew up on Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire’s books of Greek, Norse and American mythology, poring over the pictures at least as much as the text, then this is what you’re looking for in the modern era. Beautiful character design, vibrant color and nicely varied panel structure, with volume two, The Water Spirit, due out in the U.S. soon. Hillary Brown

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DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test Cover Art by Hamish Steele

12. DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test
Writer/Artist: Hamish Steele
Publisher: Nobrow Press
Haunted houses, time travel, wizard pugs—DeadEndia is a fantastic young adult comic with a lot to offer for fans of all genres. This supernatural romp features a diverse cast of characters, including a trans masc lead in sweet, well-intentioned Barney, who’s trying to survive the daily grind of customer service work at a theme park filled to the brim with spooky secrets. Written and illustrated by Hamish Steele, the first volume of DeadEndia was released in a collected edition for the first time through Nobrow earlier this year. Steele’s playful, cartoonish style and beautiful colors create a world that will get you instantly hooked. The character designs are refreshing and Barney in particular is a delight; it’s great to see a trans masc character not on the hypermasculine end of the gender spectrum and not drawn as perfectly passing at all times. DeadEndia is fun, well-written, and it’s free to sample online—there’s no reason not to check it out. C.K. Stewart

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Disney Masters Vol. 2: Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Uncle Scrooge’s Money Rocket Cover Art by Luciano Bottaro

11. Disney Masters Vol. 2: Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Uncle Scrooge’s Money Rocket
Writer/Artist: Luciano Bottaro
Publisher: Fantagraphics 
As Fantagraphics continues to roll out its Disney Masters books, this one of Uncle Scrooge cartoons by Italian cartoonist Luciano Bottaro is one of the most unexpectedly charming. Focusing mostly on Scrooge’s outer-space adventures, these stories are Crayola-bright, with a Chuck Jones kind of looniness to their creations. Bursting with energy, they’re goofily psychedelic and inventive, the story an excuse to invent as many different kinds of aliens as possible. Hillary Brown

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