Lesser-Known Must-Read LGBTQ+ Graphic Novels/Comics

Recently, now that I’ve moved to a bigger city and thus gotten access to a larger library system, I have been avidly devouring graphic novels, comics, and manga books. In my explorations, I was able to read a ton of LGBTQ+ books. Here are some of my favorites from the past year or so, listed in no particular order.

Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Skim // Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Summary: “Skim” is Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a not-slim, would-be Wiccan goth who goes to a private girls’ school. When Skim’s classmate Katie Matthews is dumped by her boyfriend, who then kills himself, the entire school goes into mourning overdrive. As concerned guidance counselors provide lectures on the “cycle of grief,” and the popular clique starts a new club (Girls Celebrate Life!) to bolster school spirit, Skim sinks into an ever-deepening depression.

Review: Skim is such a relatable high schooler. She has aspirations of dark witchiness, she’s not sure if she even likes her best friend as a person, and she has a crush on her English teacher (who reminds me of Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter, if she was more of a hippy and less of an unnerving psychic). We get to watch Skim think and grow through themes of suicide, depression, queer love, and, of course, typical high school drama. It’s a very relatable book that I’m still thinking about long after I’ve finished it.

PUBLICATION DEETS: Groundwood Books, Jan. 1, 2008, 143 pages

Saga, volume 1

Saga // Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Summary: SAGA is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

Saga, as of this writing, is a 9-volume adult comic series about family in the midst of war. The cast of characters is so wide and diverse. There are a lot of interconnecting plot points, since we follow many different characters throughout the series. However, I was never bored; there was not a single character that I didn’t care about in some way. Honestly, I fell in love with most of the cast, even though they are all very flawed characters who have done some pretty bad things. But that’s what makes them human. I’m holding my breath for this series to continue in October, the first installment in a while since Vaughan’s hiatus.

PUBLICATION DEETS: Image Comics, Oct. 23, 2012, 160 pages

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

On a Sunbeam // Tillie Walden

Summary: Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken-down structures, painstakingly putting the past together. As new member Mia gets to know her team, the story flashes back to her pivotal year in boarding school, where she fell in love with a mysterious new student. Soon, though, Mia reveals her true purpose for joining their ship—to track down her long-lost love.

Review: On a Sunbeam was my intro to Tillie Walden, but I highly recommend everything Walden has ever written. Several of my other favorites are Are You Listening?, which is like a Ghibli film on psychedelics, Spinning, a moving nonfiction memoir that provides excellent insight into the impact Walden’s early life had on her works, and Alone in Space, a collection of several shorter stories, plots, and ideas. Sunbeam reads like an epic fantasy quest, except rather than a quest to save the world, the journey is to find a lost love. It’s such a compelling and heartbreaking story. I read it months ago, yet I still think about it nearly every day.

PUBLICATION DEETS: First Second, Oct. 2, 2018, 533 pages

This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

This One Summer // Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Summary: Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It’s their getaway, their refuge. Rose’s friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It’s a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

The same authors of Skim, cousins Mariko and Jillian deliver another excellent YA queer work in This One Summer. The Tamaki style consists of a lot of sharp lines, and I adore how that style correlates to the character’s emotions. Young Rose and Windy are at the tender age where they are becoming conscious of sexuality and sexual acts and what they mean. They spend their summer at the beach frequenting the small corner store to eavesdrop on the two male employees’ gossip about girls, sex, and drugs. Through family struggles, friendships, and corner-store drama, Rose and Windy get more of an education than they anticipate. This one is dark, cerebral, and heavy on the emotions, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

PUBLICATION DEETS: First Second, May 6, 2014, 320 pages

The Golden Hour by Niki Smith

The Golden Hour // Niki Smith

Summary: Struggling with anxiety after witnessing a harrowing instance of gun violence, Manuel Soto copes through photography, using his cell-phone camera to find anchors that keep him grounded. His days are a lonely, latchkey monotony until he’s teamed with his classmates, Sebastian and Caysha, for a group project.

Review: Manuel is the most loveable character in existence. Throughout the entire book, I just wanted to give him a bear hug. Manuel’s struggles with anxiety, and the visual representations of the hollowness and instability that come with an anxiety attack are perfectly illustrated here. Smith explains some of her storyboarding process at the end of the book, and it’s clear she took a lot of care in making sure she accurately represented the mental health aspects of Manuel’s story. Besides the hard topic of gun violence, this book is a really heartwarming story of friendship and finding your anchors in life, be it friends, family, ideas, or objects.

PUBLICATION DEETS: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Nov. 23, 2021, 256 pages

The Princess and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Princess and the Dressmaker // Jen Wang

Summary: Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Review: Everything about this book was amazing, from the plot to the characters to the illustration style to the fact that it’s in color! I loved this classic instantly. Wang’s style is simultaneously childlike in a fairytale quality while also possessing a sophisticated wisdom hidden behind the round faces of her characters. The subversion of gender throughout is amazing, and plus this book is just so much fun!

PUBLICATION DEETS: First Second, Feb. 13, 2018, 277 pages

Eighty Days by A.C. Esguerra

Eighty Days // A.C. Esguerra

Summary: A pilot wants nothing more than to fly. Or so he thought, until he crosses paths with a mysterious thief whose tricks draw him into unchartered territory and new adventure. In a life where the truth changes as quickly as clouds in the sky, the pilot must decide for himself what freedom really means.

Review: Reminiscent of a World War I novel combined with a little Top Gun fighter pilot vibes, Eighty Days is queer, diverse, and action-packed and is Esguerra’s debut graphic novel. Esguerra’s style, themes, and colors strongly remind me of The Wind Rises movie, and I am here for it. I’ve read criticisms about the plot being too difficult, but that’s historical fiction for you. Personally, I found it to be just the right combination of romance, war strategy, and friendship. I hope you’ll fall in love with these characters like I did.

PUBLICATION DEETS: Archaia, Sept. 7, 2021, 336 pages

Withclight by Jessi Zabarsky

Witchlight // Jessi Zabarsky

Summary: Jessi Zabarsky’s lushly illustrated shoujo-adventure comic that introduces Lelek the witch as she blows through town one day, kidnapping the peasant girl Sanja. The unlikely pair grow more entangled as they travel together, looking for the missing half of Lelek’s soul – the source of her true magical abilities. Both women are seeking to learn, in their own ways, how to be whole again.

Review: I was astounded by the earthiness of this book. It’s so simple and beautiful, and I love the matriarchal vibes throughout. Zabarsky’s other graphic novel, Coming Back, is just as excellent as this book, but since I came across Witchlight first, it’s the one I’m featuring in this list. This is such a moving tale of two young women on their own, and how they grow to trust and rely on each other.

PUBLICATION DEETS: Czap Books, Dec. 3, 2016, 200 pages

Well, that’s going to do it for this list! Honorably mentions, which are books I love just as much but didn’t include here in full profile because they seem to already be widely known, include Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, the Heartstopper books by Alice Oseman, The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen, The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag, and Bloom by Kevin Panetta.

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