As an avid reader, a few years back I made it my mission to venture out of my comfort zones (horror, historic fiction, and poetry) to test the waters in different genres. I picked up my first graphic novel back in 2020—A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached—and fell madly in love with the simple yet beautiful artwork, and the heart-wrenching story. I also enjoyed the fact that it was a quick read. It was beautifully written, and being used to submerging myself in novels the weight of my car, I found the graphic novel was a welcome easy-read to get me through my ever-returning procrastination of my to-be-read pile.
Since then, I have steadily amassed a small collection of graphic novels and graphic memoirs. I have tried to specifically focus on finding ones from the #OwnVoices category, with the intent to one day amass a diverse collection for my own son when he is older.
As such, I thought I’d share some of my favorites that focus on diverse representation. The tales range marvelously from war aftermath to more classic bildungsroman-style narratives, and the artworks encapsulate and celebrate the beauty of diversity in all ranges of color—and some in black and white! If you’re looking to explore the world of graphic novels, then look no further than these amazing suggestions (in no particular order)!
- A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return, by Zeina Abirached. This graphic memoir centers on a day in Zeina’s childhood during the civil war in Lebanon. When her parents go missing after crossing to the other half of the city, Zeina’s neighbors step up to make her apartment feel like a safe home for her and her brother. From lessons in cooking to games and juicy gossip, they all band together to get through the chaos of the day.
- I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir, by Malaka Gharib. Focusing on family heritage, discovering oneself, and freedom of American immigrants, Malaka Gharib’s graphic memoir will pull at your heartstrings through the tales of first-generation immigrant children.
- Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe. An autobiography in graphic novel form detailing Maia’s journey through adolescence as a genderqueer teen. From confusing crushes to gushing over gay fanfiction with friends, this graphic novel is perfect for anyone wanting to understand—or relate to—the struggles and triumphs of being nonbinary and asexual.
- The Morning Tribe: A Graphic Novel, by Julian Lennon and Bart Davis. A fun graphic novel that centers on twins Dawn and Dusk, two members of the Morning Tribe in the Amazon rainforest, who must gather their courage and their friends to stop the Agricorp mercenaries from destroying their homeland.
- Nubia: Real One, by L. L. McKinney. “Can you be a hero . . . if society doesn’t see you as a person?”
- American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang. Following three seemingly unrelated tales, this graphic novel weaves together the lives of Jin Wang, Chin-Kee, and the Monkey King in a comical, action-packed modern fable.
- Pemmican Wars (A Girl Called Echo #1), by Katherena Vermette. After moving to a new town and school, Echo Desjardins struggles to fit in and find her place. That is until one day in history class, when she is transported back in time to a bison hunt on the Saskatchewan prairie. Echo must find her bearings as she slips back and forth from her time to the dangerous days of the Pemmican Wars.
- Squad, by Maggie Tokuda-Hall. When Becca moves to a new high school, she is surprisingly invited to join the most popular clique in school. That isn’t the weird part though: her new friends are werewolves, hunting slimy boys who prey on unsuspecting girls. A funny, action packed graphic novel focused on taking down the patriarchy—one boy at a time.
- Generations, by Flavia Biondi. A wholesome, heart-jerking tale of Matteo, a young gay man from a small country town who, after spending years away in Milan, must return to his conservative family and rebuild his life.
- Turning Japanese, by MariNaomi. “In 1995, twenty-two-year-old Mari had just exited a long-term relationship, moving from Mill Valley to San Jose, California. Soon enough, she falls in love, then finds employment at a hostess bar for Japanese expats, where she is determined to learn the Japanese language and culture. Turning Japanese is a story about otherness, culture clashes, generation gaps, and youthful impetuosity.” — Goodreads.
While this list could go on forever, these ten will hopefully help you find your next (or possibly your first) graphic novel read. If you are looking to explore even more graphic novels that center on diverse characters and stories, Richard Library has a wonderful list of Great BIPOC Graphic Novels, and Books & Bao have an amazing list of Queer Graphic Novels.