Best Graphic Novels of the Year…So Far

I have given you the best books of 2020, now it’s time for the best Graphic Novels! And I have enlisted fellow librarians (and fellow graphic novel/manga enthusiasts) Whitney Davidson-Rhodes and Joseph Pascullo to also give some of their picks for the best graphic novels of the year, so far:

Heartstopper Series by Alice Oseman

Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. A sweet and charming coming-of-age story that explores friendship, love, and coming out. (Credit: Graphix)

I love this series so much! The dynamic and budding relationship between Charlie and Nick is just so adorable and, in my opinion, shows the real progression of a relationship. This series was just a great read during lockdown!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontës by Isabel Greenberg

Glass Town is an original graphic novel by Isabel Greenberg that encompasses the eccentric childhoods of the four Bront. children—Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The story begins in 1825, with the deaths of Maria and Elizabeth, the eldest siblings. It is in response to this loss that the four remaining Bront. children set pen to paper and created the fictional world that became known as Glass Town. This world and its cast of characters would come to be the Brontës’ escape from the realities of their lives. Within Glass Town the siblings experienced love, friendship, war, triumph, and heartbreak. Through a combination of quotes from the stories originally penned by the Brontës, biographical information about them, and Greenberg’s vivid comic book illustrations, readers will find themselves enraptured by this fascinating imaginary world. (Credit: Abrams ComicArts)

This was such a beautifully depicted and illustrated graphic novel. Such a wonderful spin on an imaginary world created by three of the best writers of all time.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju and Ryan Estrada

In BANNED BOOK CLUB, Hyun Sook shares a dramatic true story of political division, fear-mongering, anti-intellectualism, the death of democratic institutions, and the relentless rebellion of reading. (Credit: iron Circus Comics)

Such a powerful read! Really shows how reading can bring truth and light when their is paranoia and fear. I learned so much about South Korean history from reading this memoir and I want to learn more about it. This story also shows how history has a chance of repeating itself. However, when people ban together to overcome that obstacle, the history’s trajectory can be changed.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

Expected Publication Date: August 18

Thank you NetGalley and First Second Books for advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Such an impactful and powerful read! With a hint of magical realism, this story inflicts so much reality onto the reader. The title plays on not only the main character being displaced from her own time, but Japanese Americans being “displaced” from their way of life. Due to the success of They Called Us Enemy we are going to see more stories and historical accounts of the Japanese Internment camps and I’m so glad about that. In school, you learn very little about this tragic part of US history and we need more books that reveals the history of persecution and resistance that occurred during this time. I also loved how this portrays a teenager trying to discover the truth for herself and learn more about her family legacy. This could inspire younger readers to do the same.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Happily Ever After & Everything In Between by Debbie Tung

The comics in Happily Ever After & Everything In Between may be inspired by Debbie Tung’s marriage to her extrovert husband, but any couple can relate to increasingly relaxed anniversaries, slowly seeing more of each other’s weird sides, or the punishment for taking care of your sick loved one (catching whatever they had). Happily Ever After humorously captures what everyday love looks like—both the sweet moments and the mundane—making it a fitting gift for weddings, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day. (Credit: Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Such a cute and heartwarming comic that captures the everyday moments and magic of everyday love. Debbie Tung has done it again!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong

Expected Publication Date: August 4

Whitney’s Choice:

CW: fatphobia, self harm, substance abuse, inappropriate student-teacher relationship

I’m sitting with this book, still not sure what to make of it. But I liked it. I think.

You have five teen girls, each having their own bullshit going on in their individual lives, who come together to form a basketball team. Only two of them, Ren and Luna, know how to play.  The others make it up as the go along, but through trial and error, they end up becoming a real team. But not without a little bit of in-fighting and family drama.

I, a grown woman, related a little bit to all of these girls and remembered how garbage navigating being “a girl not yet a woman” (Thanks Britney) in the world is. Their friendships break up and make up, but when tragedy strikes, the girls are there for one another. I was hoping Ren and Luna could/would be more than friends, but I don’t think the author left that possibility completely off the table.

I liked the art and the vibrant colors! Definitely felt like you were in SoCal. I will be honest though, sometimes I couldn’t tell Luna and Jetta apart. While one was Asian and the other Native and/or Latinx, they looked very similar when drawn in a group shot of the girls.

I highly recommend this for teens, girls especially, who will see themselves reflected on the pages of this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Gurihiru

Whitney’s Pick:

I’ve heard/read/seen a lot about how the KKK affected African Americans, but not how they affected Asian-Americans. It makes sense since bigots don’t discriminate in their hatred. 

I liked how it subtly addresses race relations between Asian- and African-Americans. In this current socio-politcal climate, anti-blackness in Asian communities is rarely addressed. And I wonder if other readers will catch it.  In speaking with a (Black) colleague who is reading this for committee work, she took pause at the scene where Mr. Lee refused the help of Black passerbys, while it seemed her committee members seemed to gloss over it. I completely understand her perspective.  I wish the issue of anti-blackness had been explored more, but that’s an entirely different story made for an entirely different (graphic) novel. I also liked how the author and illustrator pointed out how racist movies portrayed Asian characters. Again, another story, another book.

Given the subject matter, “Superman Smashes the Klan” felt “light” and not as dark and heavy as it could have been. The artwork and the hope and goodness Superman symbolizes helped. What the Lees went through is downright scary and appalling, but you feel relieved that someone like Superman can swoop in to help. But Superman’s help isn’t the only help the Lees receive: They get help from neighbors and friends, even strangers. A whole community comes together to stand against hatred. That’s what we need to fight bigotry, then and now.

Lastly, the parallel message of not holding yourself back to appease others really resonated with me, and it will definitely resonate with young readers.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My Review:

An inspirational icon teaching an inspirational lesson, this rendition of Superman teaches and inspires all readers of all ages. Superman is admired wherever he goes and people tend to forget that he is an immigrant. If that doesn’t change how people look at him, then why should that be the case for other immigrants who add to the diverse personality of the country. When the views of immigration and race are trying to be twisted and distorted, this is a story that was definitely needed and necessary.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Welcome to the New World by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan

Expected Publication Date: September 8

Thank you Macmillan and NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Such a warm and heartbreaking narrative of an immigrant experience. It really shows how flawed the term “the American Dream” can really be and how it can only relate to ones who choose to conform to American’s form of normalcy. The last page was the one I found so compelling and the most haunting. The family thought they would receive freedom when entering a new world but in fact they found themselves in another prison. Such an important story that needs to be told.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes

Expected Publication Date: October 6

I really like this memoir! Not only does it show this transition of identity in beautiful drawings and artwork, the true story depicts the true messiness of discovering your true identity. Starting out as a zine, Crewes’ story grew into an amazing and touching story that is adds to the collection of great LGBTQ stories that need to be told.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ping Pong Omnibus, Vol. 1 by Taiyo Matsumoto

Joe’s Pick:

For those who are into sports and coming of age stories, this one’s for you!

This story is brought to you by the mangaka, Taiyo Matsumoto. While he’s best known for his magnum opus, Tekkonkinkreet (both a massively successful manga & anime film that won an Eisner Award and a Japan Academy Film Prize respectively), he’s had other hits as well including Blue Spring & Sunny. But now, Ping Pong has arrived here stateside. It may be familiar to some folks due to its successful anime adaptation in 2014, but if not, the manga is now here for readers to enjoy!

Ping Pong introduces us to two male high schoolers attending Katase High School. We’ve got Makoto Tsukimoto (nicknamed Smile, due to his habit of never doing so) and Yutaka Hoshino (whose nickname is Peco). And while both are members of their school’s table tennis team, and both are talented for sure, they lack devotion and drive to go far with it. Smile’s issue is that he has no interest in the concept of competition. Peco’s issue is that he’s a slacker, routinely skipping out on his team’s practices. 

However, things may be changing for the duo! But it’ll be up to them to get their heads in the right place. Qualifiers for the Interhigh are rapidly approaching. And if the two are going to indeed be successful at this sport they’ve been blessed with ability for, they are going to have to get their acts together and their heads in the right place.

Highly recommend this story to anyone who enjoys coming of age stories! While I’ll admit, it does start a little slow, and that Matsumoto’s signature unique art style could be a little hard to get used to, once the story gets going, you will be on the edge of your seat. One of my favorites so far in 2020!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Spy x Family, Vol. 1 by Tatsuya Endo

Joe’s Pick:

If there’s a manga so far that’s been released in 2020 that’s got it all, my money would have to be on Spy x Family

With the physical release of this title finally arriving in June (chapters were available late last year on VIZ’s website), it’s time for eyeballs to be on it if they’ve not been already. The reception for Spy x Family has been huge so far, and the proof is in the pudding. Spy x Family is the Grand Prize winner of the Tsutaya (a Japanese bookstore chain) Comic Awards. It was also the runnerup for 3 of Japan’s biggest manga awards, the Manga Taisho, the Kodansha Manga Award, and the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize. Face it guys. This one has big time hype surrounding it. It is now here, so let’s dive in!

Twilight is a spy, and a good one at that. He’s a master of disguise, who dons any face and costume necessary to achieve his mission. Well, he may be about to take on his toughest task to date. He’s got to get close to the leader of a political party named Donovan Desmond, who is classified as a threat to world peace. However, with Desmond super cautious of others, he makes it a point to only step out in public at his young son’s private elementary school.

So what does that mean? It means Twilight’s got to cobble together a family, and fast! Enter his “wife” Yor, who, unbeknownst to Twilight, is an assassin. And enter “their child” Anya, who unbeknownst to either “parent”, is a telepath! It’s now time for them to work together, pull off this ruse of a family act, and entertain readers from all over!

This title really has everything going for it so far! It has the art, the story is engrossing, the characters gel so well with one another, and the jokes absolutely hit their mark. Be sure to check Spy x Family out!!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Love Me for Who I Am, Vol. 1 by Kata Konayama

I got so much out of this one! This series is perfect for fans of the series Our Dreams at Dusk. Mogumo is a lonely high school student whose wish is to have friends that can accept Mogumo. Fellow student Iwaoka invites Mogumo to work at his family’s cafe for cross dressing boys, but Iwaoka makes an assumption: Mogumo doesn’t identify as boy or girl. Mogumo finds out about the cafe’s true intentions, however, as all the workers start to learn from each other and their real reasons for working in the cafe. This a great a manga that touches on gender representation and the different meanings of human sexuality. These characters have to live in the world that tries to conform them to the societal norms but they fight to break down those barriers and be their best selves, something that a lot of younger readers can identify with. Can’t wait to read the next volume!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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