Thankfully, the stigma that comics are just for boys is fading rapidly into oblivion. As a kid, even though I was a fan of plenty of things that were marketed at the boy demographic (hello Ninja Turtles), I remember looking at the popular comics of the time and thinking: these are not for me. If I was going to read a book with pictures, I wanted the pictures to be beautiful. It wasn’t until I got to college and had a shiny trade paperback of The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes forced into my hands by a roommate that I began to see how the world of graphic novels might be something I should look into.
Nowadays graphic novels have become a downright respectable literary form, and there is a decent selection of volumes aimed specifically at the tween girl demographic. So here are five beautiful graphic novels for the tween girls in your life, as well as the tween boys and everyone else who loves a good story!
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
This is the first series I recommend to people who ask me what graphic novel to get for the tween girl in their lives. The story of five friends and their adventures at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Girls Hardcore Lady-Types, this comic offers up river monsters, sasquatches, secret caves, and more. Each Lumberjane gets her chance to makes mistakes and then make good, solving problems using everything from math to gymnastics. I wish I had been able to read this before my own childhood summer camp experience, as I think it would have given me some excellent ideas.
Spera by Josh Tierney
Princess Lono and Princess Pira are on the run from a nightmare – but they decide to make the best of it and hunt demons and treasures while they’re at it! Accompanied by a fire-fox spirit named Yonder and Chobo the Warrior Cat, these ladies prove that there is more than one way to be a princess. Each chapter is drawn by a different artist, with some feeling like illustrations and others taking on a more cartoonish style. I was drawn to this because one issue features the art of Emily Carroll, best known for her slightly more mature graphic novel, Into the Woods, and her signature style really lends itself to Spera’s fairytale adventure tone.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
It is perhaps repetitive to have two comics written by Noelle Stevenson on the same list, but trust me, she is just that good. Nimona is a book that she both wrote and illustrated, so it’s worth checking this one out if only to see her charming and very distinct art style – though I’m pretty sure once you’re there, you’ll stick around for the story. Nimona is the tale of Lord Ballister Blackheart, a supervillain intent on bringing down the system and getting revenge on his friend-turned nemesis Ambrosius Goldenloin. When a shapeshifter calling herself Nimona turns up and insists on being his (unwanted) (unneeded) (completely unnecessary) sidekick, he discovers that having a minion is a bit of a handful. This one starts out funny but packs an emotional wallop by the end.
The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen
The story of an herbalist and her quest to save her village from a dragon, this book straddles the line between picture book and graphic novel. The art is gorgeous, featuring dreamy renditions of flowing dresses, fire-breathing dragons, and idyllic landscapes, and is integrated into the comic format so gently that this would serve as a great transition book for kids who are reluctant to dive into a new format. The art style may actually be familiar to gaming-inclined fantasy fans, as the artist Rebecca Guay is well known for her work featured on Magic: The Gathering cards. The story is not a typical dragon-slaying tale – it’s not often that kite-building and botany are the keys to saving the kingdom!
Mercury by Hope Larson
This graphic novel tells two parallel tales. Josey Fraser is a farm girl who falls in love with a handsome prospector who has just found gold on her family’s land in 1859. Tara Fraser grew up on that same farm 150 years later, and is desperate for a way to stay in the place where her family has lived for generations. This is a fairly dark tale of false love, greed, and loss, but it offers up hope that the secrets of past generations can help those who come after. It takes place in Nova Scotia, and is full of charming little nods to Canadian culture. It’s recommended for ages 12 and up, and while the murder and ghost birds could be scary for younger tweens, I think that those already versed in fantasy tropes would probably do just fine.
Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and storyteller. She is an editor at Goblin Fruit, and can sometimes be found discussing folklore and pop culture on the Fakelore Podcast or performing with the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours.