The best queer YA graphic novels to crack your heart in half

Anthony Oliveira
By Anthony Oliveira

Who am I?

When I was growing up, there were no stories for me. A queer kid in a very conservative Catholic household, I knew I was different, but I had no way to articulate that difference, and no way to imagine a horizon of happiness, of dignity, or of joy. In the worlds people imagined for young people, we were simply written out. I have since spent a lifetime studying and telling stories – as an English professor, as a bartender at a queer bookstore and drag bar, and now as a writer. And what matters to me most is seeing queer lives lived in abundance. These are the stories I wish I had.

My project is...

The Devil's Party Podcast

Follow along in readings of Milton's Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, the Gospel of Mark, and now the Gospel of John, each reading with a companion book-club style analysis meant to help first-timers and experts alike in catching the weird magic of these important and influential texts!

If you're familiar with my stuff on Twitter, you know what kind of work I do: a queer scholar, analyzing and remixing pop culture, politics, and literature. I want to tell and magnify queer stories that carve out space for us in genres and belief systems that have sought to push us out. Funding my work will help me transition into longer-form pieces that aren't reliant on turnaround for-hire pay.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Magic Fish

By Trung Le Nguyen,

Book cover of The Magic Fish

Why this book?

“They’re only stories. They’ll change when they need to.” A beautiful, lyrical, and visually staggering coming-of-age story as a young gay child and his immigrant mother come to understand each other through the telling and retelling of classic fairy tales – each illustrated with Nguyen’s poignant elegance and inflected by the dreams, fears, and cultural influences of their respective teller. This graphic novel made me weep at its beauty – both that of its incomparable art and the careful, sweet kindness of its story. A treasure and a work of art.

The Prince and the Dressmaker

By Jen Wang,

Book cover of The Prince and the Dressmaker

Why this book?

When a seamstress’s outré dress design causes a scandal among the Parisian aristocracy, she loses her job – and gains a mysterious new patron, who hires her to deploy her avant-garde taste to spectacular effect and with an unlimited budget for dress after dress that sets France’s society set on fire with gossip and envy. But as “Lady Crystallia’s” notoriety escalates to a fever pitch, how long can this blossoming friendship keep its secrets? Wang’s fairytale setting is wedded to a visual sensibility full of charming characters and beautiful settings – and, above all, spectacular costume design, as the reader delights along with the crowd at every dress debut. It feels like the children’s film from an animation renaissance that never was – compassionate and thrilling, heartfelt and sincere. I thought it was a marvel.

The Witch Boy

By Molly Knox Ostertag,

Book cover of The Witch Boy

Why this book?

Boys are one way; girls are another; that’s the way it has always been. But when Aster finds himself ineluctably drawn to the magic that should only be the province of the women in his family, he begins to realize some rules are not only antiquated, they can do material harm to the soul. Ostertag deftly uses the supernatural as a simple and elegant metaphor for the thousand indignities we can heap upon the queer and gender nonconforming, with an art style that simultaneously insists upon and celebrates the multiplicity of bodies and expressions that are our lived experience and belie these closed and closeting norms. An ingenious allegory, smartly and briskly told with charm and generosity.

Heartstopper: A Graphic Novel: Volume 1

By Alice Oseman,

Book cover of Heartstopper: A Graphic Novel: Volume 1

Why this book?

A tender love story between a shy, anxious wallflower and the ebullient jock he thinks is impossibly beyond his reach – until, all at once, he isn’t. Gently and tranquilly observed, Oseman’s eye for emotional detail also informs an art and lettering style that feels as fragile and transitory as a math class doodle – moments come, and they are gone, and we feel as though they are captured as quickly and desperately as the first furtive adolescent love they depict. It reminded me of that sweet and tentative joy of young love both exactly as it was, and exactly as it was never allowed to be.

The Breakaways

By Cathy G. Johnson,

Book cover of The Breakaways

Why this book?

A rough-and-tumble gaggle of middle-schoolers on the C-string girl's soccer team navigate first crushes, coming out, queer identity, and relationships – and being really, really bad at soccer. Johnson’s perfect ear for tween voices is matched by a frenetic art style that pops with crisp energy and a delirious, bouncy pace that rebounds around its panoply of League Of Their Own-esque characters like a soccer ball zig-zagging across its field. All the cheers, all the skinned knees, all the dizzying emotions and close friendships of the tween years come rushing back. 

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