Photo of Dan Danko

Dan Danko

Professional Children's Books Expert

Graphic Novels

Featured On:

  • FOX
  • PBS
  • Nick
“Hey, kids! Comics!” Enter your local convenience store in the not too distant past, and you’d find that sign proudly displayed above spinner racks packed full of comics. Then a dramatic shift started in the 1980s. Bookstores would not carry comics, but they would sell “graphic novels”. What started out as a means to expose comics to more readers and gain “legitimacy”, quickly became a vehicle for groundbreaking stories and unparalleled visuals. Suddenly, comics were no longer just for kids.

There’s a reason Hollywood eagerly mines the comic world for the next hot property: The modern graphic novel is ground zero for some of the most creative storytelling available in any medium. Whether it be Spandex-clad superheroes or the intimate tale of a lonely immigrant in a new land, graphic novels are a modern art form that offers something for everyone. Driven by their visuals, but made human by their words, they are imagination unleashed. So prepare to be challenged, inspired, and entertained by the Best of the Best....

Best Graphic Novels for Teens by Dan Danko

The Best You Can Get

  • Daredevil

    Dan says: Give a B-level superhero in a soon-to-be cancelled book to a young, unknown writer/artist and what happens? Usually the book gets cancelled and the writer/artist remains unknown, but in the case of Frank Miller and “Daredevil”, history was made. The early chapters had some growing pains, but once Miller took over both the art and script, introduced Elektra and established the Kingpin as Daredevil’s primary nemesis, the series became groundbreaking. Gritty and dark with touches of noir, the cinematic storytelling is breathtaking at times as Miller throws superhero convention off a cliff. The storyline reaches its finest moments with the final showdown between Daredevil, Elektra, and the villainous Bullseye.

    • Frank Miller and Klaus Janson OmNibus
    • Story and art by Frank Miller
    • Collects Daredevil #158-#191
    • Elektra!
    • Originally published from 1979-1983
  • Watchmen

    Dan says: Along with Frank Miller’s “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”, “Watchmen” stands as one of the most influential creations in comic history. Writer Alan Moore wanted to create a “superhero Moby-Dick; something that had that sort of weight, that sort of density." Complex, multi-layered, and oozing with symbolism, “Watchmen” follows a group of superheroes dealing with the murder of one of their own and rising anti-superhero sentiment in the U.S. Filled with angst and self-doubt, “Watchmen” depicts superheroes as real people who must confront ethical and personal issues. No, it’s not an action-packed slugfest, but Moore’s deconstruction of the superhero archetype and Gibbons cinematic panel layout make for a wonderful read. Recommended for mature readers.

    • Story by Alan Moore; art by Dave Gibbons
    • Only graphic novel to win a Hugo Award
    • Kirby Award winner
    • Only graphic novel to make Time Magazine top-100 novels (since 1923)
    • Originally published in 1986 & 1987
  • Cerebus the Aardvark: High Society

    Dan says: Take an ill-tempered aardvark, give him a sword and set him loose in a “Conan the Barbarian” parody and it seems like you’d have nothing but nonsense. And at first, that’s all there was. But then something totally unexpected happened. Dave Sim turned out to be an amazing talent and created a work of brilliance. Sim and Cerebus quickly outgrow their crude origins (chronicled in the first graphic novel simply titled “Cerebus”) and offer a brilliant satire of politics, religion, culture, and comic books. “High Society” follows the ill-tempered, sword-wielding aardvark as he rises from “kitchen staff supervisor” to prime minister. Along the way, he deals with a supporting cast of oddballs from a Groucho Marx-inspired Lord Julius, to the Machiavellian Astoria, Elrod the Albino, and a character who believes he’s a cockroach. Fans will be able to follow Cerebus’ adventures in “Church and State” and “Jaka’s Story”, both also highly recommended.

    • Story and art by Dave Sim
    • Collects Cerebus #26-#50
    • Harvey Award winner
    • Originally published 1981-1983
  • The Arrival

    Dan says: Shaun Tan has created a silent masterpiece. Nary a word is spoken in the entire graphic novel, or better said not an understandable word. The result is a compelling, aesthetic story of a lone immigrant who leaves behind his family and the land he knows to journey to a wondrous and bizarre world. He hopes to escape a life of poverty and build a new life for his family across the seas. The story is basic enough for children to understand, but Tan layers his work with visual metaphors of humanity, solitude and oppression resulting in a complex and emotional narrative that will resonate with older readers. The artwork is gorgeous, often breathtaking and dripping with fantastical imagery. This is visual storytelling at its best; a unique vision that is at times bizarre and ultimately uplifting.

    • Story and art by Shaun Tan; published in 2007
    • Book of the Year award winner; Hugo Award nominee
    • New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards winner
    • Angoulême International Comics Festival Best Comic Book award winner
    • Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year award winner
  • Bone: One Volume Edition

    Dan says: Don’t be fooled by the Disney-like feel of Bone. Inspired by a “mixture of Walt Kelly and Mobius,” Jeff Smith chronicles the adventures of three Bone cousins: heroic Fone Bone, greedy Phony Bone, and easygoing Smiley Bone. But what starts out as small, light-hearted fare quickly unfolds into a Tolkienesque epic of dark lords and a heroic journey to save the world from evil. Often described as “Lord of the Rings with humor,” the enduring characters and Smith’s storytelling flair make for a wonderful fantasy saga.

    • Story and art by Jeff Smith
    • Harvey Award winner
    • Eisner Award winner
    • Collects entire 55-issue run
    • Originally published 1991-2004

You will be happy with any of these

  • Runaways, Volume 1

    Dan says: What do a group of super-powered teens do once they realize they’re the children of supervillains? They runaway, determined to right the wrongs committed by their morally bankrupt parents. You won’t find Spandex and utility belts here as Brian K. Vaughan tackles teen-relatable issues with characters who REALLY have problems with their parents! The metaphor culminates with a “final” showdown as the children do all they can to survive and break away from their legacy of evil.

    • Story by Brian K. Vaughan
    • Art by Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa
    • Harvey Award winner
    • Collects Runways #1-18
    • Originally published 2003-2004
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

    Dan says: “There’s nothing wrong with you that I can’t fix with my hands.” So says the Batman to the Joker as he pummels him at an amusement park, and that pretty much sums up this grim tale. Violent, gritty, and dark, “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” has a bitter and old Batman coming out of retirement, determined to bring justice to a Gotham City overrun by crime. As society crumbles around him, Bruce Wayne's long-suppressed vigilante side finally breaks free of its self-imposed shackles. The Joker has never been more insane and the final showdown between Superman and the renegade Batman is worth the cover price alone. While the graphic novel has its critics, it cannot be denied that this, along with “Watchmen”, changed comics forever and redefined Batman for the modern age. Recommended for mature readers.

    • Story and art by Frank Miller
    • Kirby Award winner
    • Eagle Award winner
    • Originally published in 1986
  • American Flagg!

    Dan says: Creator Howard Chaykin once said, “'American Flagg!' is the one everything I do will be compared to until I croak.” And with good reason. Chaykin really kicked down the door with this one. The story takes place in the year 2031. The U.S. government has fled to Mars after a series of worldwide crises called the Year of the Domino. The planet is in disarray and the Soviet Union is in collapse due to Islamic insurrections. Into this mess comes Reuben Flagg, one-time TV star and newest Plexus Ranger recruit. He’s returned from Mars determined to stop the covert sale of the United States to Brazilian business interests. Highly influenced by Art Deco illustrators like J. C. Leyendecker, Chaykin’s art has never been better and he’s populated his work with memorable characters and writing well ahead of its time. Recommended for mature readers.

    • Story and art by Howard Chaykin
    • Eagle Award winner
    • Collects American Flagg #1-12
    • Originally published in 1983
  • Death Jr.

    Dan says: A morbidly funny and subversive story, “Death Jr.” follows the son of everyone’s favorite Grim Reaper as he tries to prove he’s ready for the “family business”. But first he must deal with Moloch, the imprisoned spirit of the prior Grim Reaper that has been unleashed and plots the downfall of Death Jr.’s family. Despite taking place in the “real” world (Death Jr. and his family live in a “normal” house in the middle of suburbia), part of the book’s charm is that it’s loaded with bizarre and off-beat characters: The goth Pandora; Stigmartha, who bleeds from stigmata wounds when she's nervous; Seep, a grumpy baby torso floating in a tube of chemicals, and Smith & Weston. A refreshing and offbeat story, “Death Jr.” is perfect for the reader looking for something a little... unique.

    • Story by Gary Whitta
    • Art by Ted Naifeh
    • Based on the Death Jr. video game
    • Published in 2005
  • Mushishi

    Dan says: Much like the mysterious “Mushi” that cause endless trouble in the series, “Mushishi” is hard to define. Simply put, “Mushishi” is an “X-Files”-like manga anthology about a Mushi master named Ginko who travels the countryside of feudal Japan helping people who have been “infected” by mushi – small, invisible, primordial forms of life who usually cause trouble for humans, like turning them into rust or making them go deaf and grow demon horns. But leaving it at that would be missing the point entirely, for the mushi are neither good nor evil. They just are. They do what they do as a part of their nature absent of any good or bad intent. And that subtle difference sets the tone for this low-key series. You won’t find any big fight scenes or action-packed chases. What you will find are some very small stories about characters and humanity, both touching, uplifting, and ominous.

    • Story and art by Yuki Urushibara
    • 2003 Excellence Prize award winner from the Japan Media Arts Festival
    • 2006 Kodansha Manga Award winner
    • Adapted into a TV series and feature film
    • English version published in 2007

Related Articles