20 Best Graphic Novels of 2020

Here are my favorite 20 graphic novels from 2020. They cover a wide variety of topics and age levels. Enjoy!

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (9780062685094)

“Ha’s memoir is marvelous. She creates real emotion on the page, not shying away from the raw reaction that she had as a teen to being moved to an entirely different country unexpectedly. “

Astronauts Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks (9781626728776)

“A stellar look at gender in space and science that is inspiring. “

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, illustrated by Hyung-Ju Ko (9781945820427)

“This graphic novel is so powerful. It looks at a totalitarian regime and the efforts to overthrow it, particularly the ideas and books that the regime forbids.”

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne (9781534441538)

“Layne has created a graphic novel for middle schoolers and teens that is an intoxicating mix of magic, goblins and love.”

Displacement by Kiku Hughes (9781250193544)

“Hughes ties our current political world directly to that of the camps, showing how racist policies make “solutions” like internment camps more likely to happen. “

Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song (9781984895837)

“Screamingly funny at times and wildly silly…”

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Dungeon Critters by Natalie Reiss and Sara Goetter (9781250195463)

“Perfect for anyone who has spent time with Dungeons and Dragons or crawled through video game dungeons like World of Warcraft, this book is captivating.”

Flamer by Mike Curato (9781250756145)

“Curato has created a graphic novel that really speaks to self discovery and learning how to survive.”

Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai (9781250314116)

“There is so much sheer honesty and vulnerability on these pages that it is breathtaking.”

The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard (9781945820663)

“Perfect for teens who enjoy blood, gore and demons mixed with lots of humor.”

Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian by Tim Probert (9780062990471)

“The art and story flow together seamlessly, creating a world that shines with golden light. He creates vistas in his world so that readers can view the expanse of the continent.”

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Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds, art by Danica Novgorodoff (9781534444959)

“Beautifully, Reynold’s wring is intact here, so many of his important lines and statements left to speak directly to the reader. Novgorodoff manages to transform the work with her art.”

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen (9780593125298)

“It is remarkable that this is a debut graphic novel. It is done with such finesse, weaving the fairy tales and the modern world together into a place full of possibility and transformation.”

Pea, Bee & Jay: Stuck Together by Brian “Smitty” Smith (9780062981172)

“Smith has created a madcap race of a book. Filled with all sorts of puns about peas and bees, the book’s writing is pure silliness.”

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz (9780525552857)

“Goerz creates a mystery where all of the elements snap into place by the end and it also becomes about more than punishing a culprit, ending with new friendships and greater understanding.”

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (9781250171122)

“The writing is superb, the plotting is clever and clear. The art is phenomenal with race and gender playing major roles. The characters are deep, well conceived and very diverse.”

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (9780593125243)

“Knisley fills her book with small moments of life on a farm and in the country. Every person who lives, loves or tolerates the country will enjoy her depiction.”

Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright (9781338236132)

“Sure to be popular, this graphic novel appears light but has lots of depth to explore about sisterhood.”

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (9780525553908)

“Human, tragic and empowering, this book gives a human face to the many refugees in our world.”

Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky (9780593124185)

“Set in a diverse medieval fantasy universe, this graphic novel demands that people of all races and abilities be seen and accepted.”

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Reiss and Sara Goetter

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Reiss and Sara Goetter (9781250195463)

Join a band of brave heroes who adventure through dungeons and then take on more sinister threats above ground. There is Rose, the pun-flinging pink cat mage. June is the quieter dog healer who keeps the entire group alive. Goro is the big green creature who serves as the muscle. Finally, Jeremy is the frog with a sharp sword and a vendetta against The Baron. After finding a strange plant, our heroes must figure out how it is being used by The Baron to potentially take over the world. As they work through the threats and puzzles, the group steadily reveal themselves to the reader. Goro misses his boyfriend Horse Boy and Jeremy seems to be far more royal than he first appeared. Meanwhile, there is some romantic heat between Rose and June that plays out throughout the book.

Perfect for anyone who has spent time with Dungeons and Dragons or crawled through video game dungeons like World of Warcraft, this book is captivating. There is plenty of action for those who love that aspect of gaming, but really where this book shines is in the character development, just like any great D&D campaign. The inclusion of LGBT elements and full-on romance is marvelous. It’s a book sure to make everyone feel included in gaming, dungeons and even fancy dances.

The art is bright and dashing while the writing adds the joy of puns as well as moments that will have you laughing out loud. The two together make for a book that is a fast read because the action gallops along and readers will want to know what happens to these characters that they love.

Full of action, romance and humor, this is a dungeon worth crawling for. Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

Flamer by Mike Curato

Cover image for Flamer

Flamer by Mike Curato (9781250756145)

Aiden Navarro is fourteen and attending summer camp with his Boy Scout troop. He is leaving his Catholic Middle School and has decided to go to public high school, though he’s starting to dread what that means in terms of the bullying escalating even farther. After all, he doesn’t know how to dress himself since he’s been wearing a uniform to school for years. He also worries about how his sister is coping with his often abusive father now that Aiden is gone to camp. To make it all more complicated, Aiden is also gay and closeted. When he finds himself becoming attracted to one of his friends, Aiden has to decide whether to let him know or not. When things don’t go well, Aiden reaches a dark place that has him questioning how to go on.

Curato has created a graphic novel that really speaks to self discovery and learning how to survive. The setting of the summer camp really creates an atmosphere of freedom mixed with closely living with other boys his age. This can be a mix of exhilarating but also being unable to escape from bullying that targets Aiden’s sexuality. I applaud Curato for incorporating exactly the sorts of dirty jokes that boys in a group make together, all of them teasing about sexuality in a way that is damaging and hurtful.

The art in the book is done in black and white until the flames enter the pages. Those flames can be from bullying, from shame, from attraction, from rage. They all color Aiden’s life and therefore the pages. It’s highly effective, particularly as Aiden makes a decision about suicide.

A compelling look at a gay teen learning about himself and finding his core of fire. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson

Cover image for The Fire Never Goes Out

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson (9780062278272)

This deeply personal graphic memoir tells the author’s story of being a creative person in our modern world. Spanning from 2011 to 2019, the book explores her life as a young adult. Starting with her time in art school with its loneliness and her growing meltdowns and self harm, the book explore the darker side of her personality. Her inner flame of creativity and passion battles the hole that she sees as gaping right at her middle. Still, that darkness is offset by wonderfully mundane happy moments such as apple picking in the fall and watching TV with people she enjoys. As the years progress, that strain of darkness and depression vs. creativity and wild energy continues. Stevenson shares her huge accomplishments too such as publishing her first graphic novel to great acclaim and winning national awards for it and running a highly successful series for Netflix. Still, those never quiet the negative thoughts. After finally crashing to her lowest point, Stevenson emerges like a phoenix, a woman in love, getting married and carrying her fire with her still.

There is so much sheer honesty and vulnerability on these pages that it is breathtaking. The mix of Stevenson’s writing with her illustrations, many created at the time she is talking about, makes for a dynamic read where her skill as both writer and artist is evident on every page. Perhaps most telling is how her huge successes did not diminish her negative internal experience, instead perhaps accelerating the crash. Her honesty about self harm and struggles with mental illness is amazing.

Stevenson carefully stays away from generalizing her experience, instead keeping her memoir very personal and about her own journey through creativity and the way it can burn and destroy as well as build. Because of this, readers can see themselves in her, relate to her feelings and see a way forward that does not involve a complete loss of self or creativity. It’s a book of hope, for creative queer people in particular.

Strong, personal and empowering, this is a memoir is a courageous look at mental illness. Appropriate for ages 16-19.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard

Cover image for The Last Halloween: Children

The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard (9781945820663)

This marvelously creepy horror graphic novel starts with a man’s death by fire where a strange dog-like demon stays to witness and then reports back to a woman. That same woman has a teenager in the back of her car, hooded and kidnapped. Later at the hospital, it is clear that the man survived after all, but is terribly burned. The doctor helping him is surprised by a strange figure with two heads and a body sewn together who demands her help. With such strange things afoot, the story moves to Mona, a 10-year-old girl who gets caught up as the world turns to chaos around her. After being left home alone on Halloween, Mona discovers a huge horned creature on her couch. Running away, she tries to reach the police station and takes a short cut through the cemetery. It is there that she meets the others who will join her in her Halloween quest: a vampire, a ghoul, and a living doll. Halloween is just getting started!

A warning first of all, this is not a graphic novel for 10-year-olds, even though the protagonist is that young. Save this one for teenagers who will revel in its grotesque creatures and gore. The panels include maiming, death and dismemberment vividly shown, and often done with a sly sense of humor. This book offers a demon horde determined to take over the world with only a handful of teens and children to try to stop them and one rather inept mummy. The plot offers a satisfying adventure and hero’s journey through a landscape of horrors with pacing that adds to the humor as well as the fright.

Drawn in black and white, the illustrations are captivatingly macabre. Even the human characters like Mona have over-large heads, tiny bodies and eyes that look right at readers. Howard leans into the gross factor, creating gore in black ink that you swear is actually blood red. With a diverse cast of characters, including Mona’s parent who uses the pronouns they/them.

Perfect for teens who enjoy blood, gore and demons mixed with lots of humor. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Iron Circus Comics.

Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song

Cover image of Donut Feed the Squirrels

Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song (9781984895837)

Norma and Belly are squirrels who live in a large tree together. When Norma tries to make pancakes for breakfast, she burns them so badly that not even Belly can eat them. Then they smell something even sweeter coming from a food truck nearby: donuts! They try collecting nuts to trade for a donut, but the man in the truck squirts them with water instead. It’s time for a cunning plan that will need bravery, dexterity, cooking skills and a getaway car! They leave a real mess behind, but also one great idea that inspires a new donut flavor: sweet chestnut.

This graphic novel for elementary-aged readers is a real treat! The entire story is told in dialogue that is minimal and full of silliness. This creates a fast read, speedy and racing ahead of the reader, keeping on great pun in front. The book is full of squirrel ingenuity too and a sense that great ideas can come from anywhere, as well as a skilled getaway driver.

Screamingly funny at times and wildly silly, this graphic novel’s illustrations use white space cleverly. The expressions on the squirrels’ faces are marvelously emotive, their ears and eyebrows moving around, their mouths often open in surprise, and their eyes always thinking of something new to do.

Nutty and sweet, this is a marvelous read sure to appeal to those who love furry critters with their donuts. Appropriate for ages 7-11.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.

Twins by Varian Johnson

Cover image of Twins

Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright (9781338236132)

Maureen and Francine are twins who have always been in the same classes, participated in the same activities and had the same group of friends. But sixth grade is different. The girls are in different classes and don’t even spend a lot of time together after school any more. Maureen finds herself hanging out with their friends at the mall but not with Francine, who’d rather be called Fran now. Maureen is struggling with marching for the cadet troop she is part of, so in order get extra credit for her grade, she is encouraged to run for a class office. Fran too is planning to run for president. So the battle grounds are set when Maureen decides to run for president too to prove that she can be just as brave and outgoing as Fran. The problem is that she might not be after all!

In this graphic novel, Johnson, himself a twin, captures the dynamics of close siblings perfectly. The two sisters go back and forth between adoration, supportiveness, strife and anger. It makes for a dynamic book that really looks at the differences between twins, the way feelings get hurt and how that can play out in larger decisions. That difference between the two girls is explored throughout the book, giving it layers and eventually showing how differences can make them both stronger for each other too.

I reviewed this from an unfinished galley, so my copy did not have full-color images throughout. The art throughout the graphic novel shows the relationship between the two girls and their emotions clearly. The pages are filled with diverse characters.

Sure to be popular, this graphic novel appears light but has lots of depth to explore about sisterhood. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Magic Fish cover image

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen (9780593125298)

Tiến loves to spend the evening together with his mother reading from a book of fairy tales. He reads while his mother continues her work as a seamstress, sometimes fixing Tiến’s clothing too. They don’t have much money, so Tiến’s jacket is full of patches. Happily, his friends don’t mind, not even the boy who Tiến has a crush on. As they share the tales, Tiến is searching for a way to share with his parents that he is gay, but they don’t speak English well, and he can’t find the right word in Vietnamese. When his grandmother dies in Vietnam, his mother leaves to prepare her funeral. Tiến is left behind to navigate his first school dance, where his teacher becomes concerned and he is sent for church counseling. What will his mother say when she finds out?

It is remarkable that this is a debut graphic novel. It is done with such finesse, weaving the fairy tales and the modern world together into a place full of possibility and transformation. The stories shared include versions of Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, versions that grow and change themselves with endings that will surprise those who know the better-known stories. In this way, the author creates real hope on the page, that things will change, that love will prevail and that understanding will flourish, both through tales and in real life.

The art here is unique and exquisitely done. Using color to tell readers whether they are seeing the real world in the present, a flashback or a fairy tale, the effect is both dramatic and clarifies the borders between the various stories. The fine-line work here is beautiful, from each hair on the character’s heads to gorgeous dresses that swirl across the pages to dramatic landscapes and undersea worlds.

A great graphic novel that is about diversity, acceptance and the power of stories to bring us together. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

Displacement cover image

Displacement by Kiku Hughes (9781250193544)

This historical graphic novel takes a modern-day teen and puts her back in time. Kiku is vacationing with her mother in San Francisco, when she first travels through time back to World War II. As the mists form around her, she finds herself watching her grandmother play her violin as a teen. It happens again the next morning, when Kiku finds herself joining the line of Japanese-American people heading for the internment camps. Those experiences were shorter. But then Kiku finds herself back in time for a longer period as she experiences the internment camps herself. She lives near her grandmother, but can’t bring herself to actually meet her face to face. As Kiku witnesses and actually lives the experiences of Japanese-Americans in the internment camps, seeing how they suffered, the restrictions, the injustice but also the communities that were formed in the camps.

Hughes uses a dynamic mix of modern and historical in this graphic novel. She takes the sensibilities of a modern teen and allows readers to see the world through Kiku’s eyes. When Kiku is stuck in time, readers get to experience the full horror of the internment camps and what our country did to Japanese-Americans. Hughes ties our current political world directly to that of the camps, showing how racist policies make “solutions” like internment camps more likely to happen. She also keep hope alive as well, showing Kiku making friends and also developing a romantic relationship with a girl she meets.

The art is done in full color throughout. The color palette does change between modern day and the internment camps, moving from brighter colors to more grim browns, grays and tans. Hughes uses speech bubbles as well as narrative spaces that let Kiku share her thoughts. There are no firm frames here, letting colors dictate the edges of the panels.

Timely and important, this is a look at what we can learn from history and stop from happening now. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.