Secondary Graphic Novel Recommendations

With so many graphic novels currently out there, and more being added every day, I've narrowed down my recommendations for secondary students to a Top 20. Which is really 28. More if you count individual books in a series. Five of these titles overlap with my Elementary Graphic Novels Recommendations, because they're essentially middle-level, and they're too good and too popular to let them slip between the cracks, dismissed as simply "elementary." 

Action Philosophers by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey Anthology of the lives and ideas of some of the world's greatest thinkers remade into wrestlers, superheroes (anything but boring old guys) -- in comic book format. 

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang A Chinese-American boy comes to terms with his identity in this irreverent and often very funny book. 

Amulet (series) by Kazu Kibuishi Emily and her brother Navin leave our world for a more magical one after their father dies, encountering elves, monsters, sentient foxes, cats, and, of course, an amulet of incredible power.
Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon This biography starts with the famous diary, but moves beyond those pages to give us more insight into the lives of her family, friends, and community. Jacobson and Colon have other very good non-fiction graphic novels on difficult subjects, including 9/11 and racism; this book is probably their best.

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol A ghost story set in a modern high school. The female hero and villain have a strong voice, and every student will see themselves somewhere in these pages. 

The Arrival by Shaun Tan A wordless "universal immigration story" told with abstract artwork, giving the reader a sense of disorientation likely felt by those moving to a new country, no matter where they're from or where their new home is.

Batgirl/Robin: Year One by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty The first year of Barbara Gordon's time as a superhero, told from her perspective. Exciting, strong female characters, good use of voice, and funnier than you'd expect. This collection also features Robin's first year in tights, and the two of them together make a good Dynamic Duo. 

Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale This is one of the best Batman books for someone new to reading comic books. Set early in Batman's career, the yearlong mystery of a new serial killer in Gotham City introduces every classic Bat-villain with incredible artwork and a compelling story. The followup Dark Victory is also good, introducing Dick Grayson into the mix...but Long Halloween is better. 

Blankets by Craig Thompson A coming of age story, Blankets is about a young man wrestling with issues of family, religion, friendship, and identity. 

Bone (series) by Jeff Smith The ultimate hero's quest -- in the form of a cute, shapeless, little guy with stanch allies, funny sidekicks, and despicable enemies. 
Captain Marvel (series) by Kelly Sue DeConnick, various artists The story of Carol Danvers, who's had a long career in the superheroing world. She's one of the Avengers and one of the strongest heroes in the Marvel Universe, and her story is being told with a fresh voice which doesn't pull any punches. 
Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation by Michael Keller A beautifully illustrated version of the groundbreaking work, using many of Darwin's own words and giving us insight into his biography. 

El Deafo by Cece Bell After an illness takes away most her hearing, a young girl learns how to navigate this new world of confusion and frustration by becoming a superhero. Can she be the superhero and the girl she used to be? 

The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell Using the words of the Gettysburg Address as a jumping-off point to teach all of American history, from the Revolution through the twenty-first century. They have a similar book, The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation which is also good, using the framing document to explain government, politics, and American history. Both are very dense, with more text than you'd expect from a "comic book."

Gotham Academy (series) Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschel Set in a boarding school in Gotham City, this mystery takes place in Batman's shadow but doesn't have much Batman in it. Featuring unforgettable characters and a fun story, it will hook both kids and adults. 

Lewis and Clark by Nick Bertozzi The best of many different retellings of the Corps of Discovery, it examines not only their famous journey, but also the personal lives and trials of these American heroes. 

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell These graphic novels revisit the events of the Civil Rights Movement, written by Representative John Lewis, one of its major players. 
Maus by Art Spiegelman This is the Holocaust book that convinced millions of adults to take comic books seriously. Groundbreaking when it was written, it is still one of the best historic graphic novels available. 
Ms. Marvel (series) by G. Willow Wilson, various artists The story of Kamala Khan, a Muslim high school girl living in Jersey City who gets superpowers, but still has to navigate issues of school and family. She sets up secret headquarters in the corner convenience store, and has team-ups and showdowns with world-class heroes and villains. As groundbreaking now as Spider-Man was in the 1960s. 
Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales (series) by Nathan Hale - My favorite series about American history, narrated by the hanged spy Nathan Hale. Informative, detailed, and funny. Kids love it these books. And so do their history teachers. 

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani The biographies, adventures, and scientific discoveries of three scientists to changed our understanding of chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. 

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud An incredible story about an artist who sells his soul for the ability to sculpt anything from any material; it explores complex ideas about love, art, life, and death. McCloud literally wrote the book on Understanding Comics as a literary and art form two decades ago; seeing his expertise at work here is breathtaking

Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu A retelling of Superman's origin story, this story makes Clark Kent more human than he's ever been...and Superman more super because of it. 

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm This examination of the Manhattan Project combines the biography of Robert Oppenheimer and the science of the atom bomb like you've never seen before. 

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (series) by Ryan North and Erica Henderson The tongue-in-cheek adventures of a college-going heroine who has the superpowers of...a squirrel. She's a real hero, who rubs shoulders with Avengers (sometimes) and takes on villains from Kraven the Hunter to Galactus. A very funny and very sweet series. 

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire A story about fathers and sons and how problematic relationships can be passed down from generation to generation--or not. 

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd London is in the grips of an Orwellian nightmare, until a vigilante and his young protege decide to take matters into their own hands. Are they terrorists or freedom fighters? 

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Superheroes are being killed off one by one in a dark future. Can a team of former heroes reunite and solve the mystery in time to save their own lives--and the entire planet? 


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