The 20 Best Kids Comics of 2018

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The 20 Best Kids Comics of 2018

“Hey, wait a minute Paste—didn’t you already publish your big best-of list for 2018? And didn’t that list contain superhero comics, kids comics, horror comics and sci-fi/fantasy comics, all under one big umbrella? What gives?” Well, intrepid Paste reader, you’re not wrong. Paste prides itself on taking as broad a look at the medium of comics as our small team can possibly manage. Our year-end rankings don’t discriminate between capes-and-tights adventures, creepy manga, bonkers webcomics or navel-gazing “literary” graphic novels, but when compiling our master list, we realized that 2018 was a deceptively great year for sequential art, and 25 notable books just didn’t cut it. Before the holidays roll around, we’ll be honoring books that excelled in the specific categories mentioned above. Some will overlap with our main list, but many won’t—and the way rankings shift around may surprise you. A title that stood out when viewed holistically might rank lower when assessed through a specific lens, and books that didn’t make the cut for the master list can easily come out on top of these individual breakdowns. If nothing else, we hope our newly expanded categories send you into 2019 with plenty of reading material.

For our kids comics list, we defined the category as any book aimed at, or unambiguously appropriate for, younger readers. Titles span from the high end of Young Adult to the very earliest stages of independent reading, and we ultimately leave it up to our readers to decide what’s most fitting for the budding comic fans in their lives.

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The Hidden Witch Cover Art by Molly Knox Ostertag

20. The Hidden Witch
Writer/Artist: Molly Knox Ostertag
Publisher: Scholastic Graphix
The Hidden Witch picks up where The Witch Boy left off, following Aster on his quest to become a witch despite the gendered restrictions in his family around who is allowed to learn witch magic. This middle-grade series is a bright star in a crowded field, with strong characters who work hard to define themselves and protect the people they care for. In this second book, Aster is facing not only the gender dynamic he’s been struggling against since the first outing, but also new dangers in the form of his long-missing great-uncle and a dangerous, unsanctioned spell that’s attached itself to his new friend Charlie. Molly Knox Ostertag has a particular skill with introducing nuanced and difficult questions of morality and forgiveness, and her bright and welcoming art style and her respect for the emotional needs and intelligence of children make her work a perfect fit for fans of Steven Universe and similar cartoons. Caitlin Rosberg

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Animus Cover Art by Antoine Revoy

19. Animus
Writer/Artist: Antoine Revoy
Publisher: First Second
Children might not have a hardened tolerance for horror—little Susie doesn’t need to see Texas Chain Saw Massacre before her eighth birthday—but the average youngin’ often finds themselves drawn to the spooky, creepy or even downright terrifying, and publishers know it, whether that means keeping Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in print until the sun burns out or discovering projects like Animus, cartoonist Antoine Revoy’s graphic novel from First Second. Set around a haunted Japanese playground, Animus is Revoy’s attempt to blend the influences of horror manga and the French bandes dessinées, or graphic novels, of his childhood. Good scary comics for young readers are rare—Emily Carroll’s 2014 Through the Woods might be the last truly great one—which makes Animus and its seemingly Junji Ito-inspired art a must-read for anyone invested in the next generation of horror hounds. Steve Foxe

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Again!! Cover Art by Mitsurou Kubo

18. Again!!
Writer/Artist: Mitsurou Kubo
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Yuri!!! on Ice has become something of a phenomenon since its arrival in the U.S., reaching Western audiences beyond those already familiar with the medium. Though the popularity is in no small part because it includes one of the few positive portrayals of a queer couple in anime, it’s also due to the care and intention that went into creating each of the characters and their stories. Now, Yuri!!! on Ice’s writer Mitsuro Kubo has a manga series launching stateside, and it has just as much to offer, especially for teens. Again!! is all about friendship and second chances as a shy, slacker high-school student on the verge of graduation wakes up one morning to discover he’s once again a freshman, but with the knowledge of what the next few years will hold if he doesn’t do anything differently. Sports and youth manga and anime cover an untapped niche in the states—and as demonstrated by the success of Check, Please!, which also published a print edition this year—there’s an appetite for these kinds of books. Hopefully Kubo’s rich and emotional style brings both Yuri!!! on Ice and brand-new teen readers to the page. Caitlin Rosberg

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The Backstagers 2018 Valentine’s Intermission Cover Art by Rian Sygh & Walter Baiamonte

17. The Backstagers 2018 Valentine’s Intermission #1
Writer: James Tynion IV & Sam Johns
Artist: Rian Sygh, Brittany Williams, Caitlin Rose Boyle, Katy Farina
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
After a short run as an eight-issue ongoing, The Backstagers have made themselves into a lasting presence at BOOM! Studios. Though there were two specials and a novel released this year (all excellent), the Valentine’s Intermission is an irresistibly sweet collection of shorts that will make your heart sing, even now in the depths of winter. The Valentine’s special is jam-packed with artistic talent: Walter Baiamonte’s colors are swoon-worthy and Katy Farina’s “Of Mice and Munchies” is a surreal and unforgettable adventure with the most exuberant backstage boy, Sasha. James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh created a fantastic young-reader-friendly world that fans of Steven Universe will adore from the get-go, and the creators involved in this year’s Valentine’s one-shot do a truly stellar job of expanding the world even further. If you’re new to The Backstagers, the special may have a few spoilers for the first two volumes, but have no fear—both are out in trade paperback format now, and both specials will be collected in a third volume early next year. C.K. Stewart

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Hey, Kiddo Cover Art by Jarrett Krosoczka

16. Hey, Kiddo
Writer/Artist: Jarrett Krosoczka
Publisher: Scholastic Graphix
Jarrett Krosoczka is a New York Times bestselling cartoonist, best known for his Lunch Lady series of graphic novels, picture books like Punk Farm and the latest installments of the Star Wars Jedi Academy books first created by Jeffrey Brown. Like an estimated eight million children in the United States, Krosoczka is also the child of a parent who struggled with addiction, which claimed his mother’s life last summer. Krosoczka first spoke publicly about his mother’s addiction to heroin and his childhood growing up with his grandparents in a widely shared 2012 TED Talk. This fall, Scholastic’s Graphix imprint published Hey, Kiddo, Krosoczka’s memoir about his childhood and teen years, a period of time in which art became a lifeline and a way to process his mother’s battles and the absence of his birth father. The book earned a National Book Award nomination before it even hit shelves and is sure to leave a profound impact on those who pick it up thanks to Krosoczka’s deft handling of an intensely personal, yet all too common, experience. Steve Foxe

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The Mushroom Fan Club Cover Art by Elise Gravel

15. The Mushroom Fan Club
Writer/Artist: Elise Gravel
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Elise Gravel is a taxonomic type of artist. Sometimes (The Great Antonio, The Cranky Ballerina) her work is more narrative-focused, but she seems to take the most delight in drawing as many variations on a theme as she can think of. The Mushroom Fan Club is in that category, not only a love letter to fungi but an exuberant depiction of their different forms: skinny, curlicued, brightly colored, spongy, squat, shaggy, frilled and more, all anthropomorphized with adorably wide eyes, even if they’re extremely poisonous. You know who else likes variations on a theme? Kids! Hillary Brown

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Runaways Cover Art by Kris Anka & Matthew Wilson

14. Runaways
Writer: Rainbow Rowell
Artists: Kris Anka, David LaFuente
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Coming in at…exactly the same spot as on the master list, celebrated YA author Rainbow Rowell and fan-favorite artist Kris Anka’s Runaways represents not just a high mark for the franchise, but one of the best teen-centric books published by the “Big Two” of Marvel and DC Comics in recent memory. Anka’s eye for fashion and attitude is perfectly suited for Nico and the gang, and Rowell has ample experience navigating teens’ interior lives. Throughout 2018, this misfit family has experienced break-ups, hook-ups, falling-outs and the return of some world-ending foes (or their kids, anyway). While the original run by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona made such a deep impact partially based on Vaughan’s penchant for jaw-dropping reveals, Rowell and Anka’s take can go issues at a time without too much actually “happening”—yet never feels slight or stretched out. This cast is established, and no longer needs apocalyptic threats around every corner to keep us hooked. Rowell and Anka have such a strong grasp on the Runaways and what we like about them that we’re even tempted to say…best run ever? Steve Foxe

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Gamayun Tales: The King of Birds Cover Art by Alexander Utkin

13. Gamayun Tales: The King of Birds
Writer/Artist: Alexander Utkin
Publisher: Nobrow Press
Nobrow Press knows how to make a book that is an astoundingly gorgeous object, and they do it over and over and over again. Alexander Utkin’s lovely version of Russian folklore, rendered in soft, rich colors, is short, but it bears rereading. If you grew up on Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire’s books of Greek, Norse and American mythology, poring over the pictures at least as much as the text, then this is what you’re looking for in the modern era. Beautiful character design, vibrant color and nicely varied panel structure, with volume two, The Water Spirit, due out in the U.S. soon. Hillary Brown

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DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test Cover Art by Hamish Steele

12. DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test
Writer/Artist: Hamish Steele
Publisher: Nobrow Press
Haunted houses, time travel, wizard pugs—DeadEndia is a fantastic young adult comic with a lot to offer for fans of all genres. This supernatural romp features a diverse cast of characters, including a trans masc lead in sweet, well-intentioned Barney, who’s trying to survive the daily grind of customer service work at a theme park filled to the brim with spooky secrets. Written and illustrated by Hamish Steele, the first volume of DeadEndia was released in a collected edition for the first time through Nobrow earlier this year. Steele’s playful, cartoonish style and beautiful colors create a world that will get you instantly hooked. The character designs are refreshing and Barney in particular is a delight; it’s great to see a trans masc character not on the hypermasculine end of the gender spectrum and not drawn as perfectly passing at all times. DeadEndia is fun, well-written, and it’s free to sample online—there’s no reason not to check it out. C.K. Stewart

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Disney Masters Vol. 2: Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Uncle Scrooge’s Money Rocket Cover Art by Luciano Bottaro

11. Disney Masters Vol. 2: Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Uncle Scrooge’s Money Rocket
Writer/Artist: Luciano Bottaro
Publisher: Fantagraphics 
As Fantagraphics continues to roll out its Disney Masters books, this one of Uncle Scrooge cartoons by Italian cartoonist Luciano Bottaro is one of the most unexpectedly charming. Focusing mostly on Scrooge’s outer-space adventures, these stories are Crayola-bright, with a Chuck Jones kind of looniness to their creations. Bursting with energy, they’re goofily psychedelic and inventive, the story an excuse to invent as many different kinds of aliens as possible. Hillary Brown

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Cucumber Quest Cover Art by D G. Gigi

10. Cucumber Quest
Writer/Artist: D.G. Gigi
Publisher: First Second
Gigi D.G.’s candy-colored platformer of a graphic-novel series continues to rollerskate along with grace and charm. This year brought volumes 2 through 4 (The Ripple Kingdom, The Melody Kingdom and The Flower Kingdom), each of which maintains the same mix of cuteness cut with tart self-conscious observations about how narratives of this type work. The adventures are genuinely entertaining, not to mention informed by the aesthetic of video games like the Kirby series. If you can’t handle twee, don’t go here, but damn if this isn’t some delightfully silly fun. Hillary Brown

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Sci-Fu Cover Art by Yehudi Mercado

9. Sci-Fu
Writer/Artist: Yehudi Mercado
Publisher: Oni Press
Yehudi Mercado seems to go about a zillion miles an hour. You could get that impression from a single page of his comics, which swell with color, exaggerated facial expressions, background detail and swooshy line. Or you could get it from his frequently updated website. Or from his résumé, rich with not only comics but also animation. His work caught my eye with Pantalones, TX, a few years ago, but then I stopped paying attention. That was my mistake! He’s done plenty in the meantime, and his newest project, Sci-Fu, a fluorescent all-ages hip-hop space opera comic book, is lot of fun. Out from Oni Press, it smooshes the sometimes insular worlds of rap, comics, martial arts movies and sci-fi into a Venn diagram that shows you just how much overlap they share. Hillary Brown

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The Cardboard Kingdom Cover Art by Chad Sell

8. The Cardboard Kingdom
Writers: Chad Sell, Jay Fuller, David DeMeo, Katie Schenkel, Kris Moore, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, Cloud Jacobs & Barbara Perez Marquez
Artist: Chad Sell
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers/ Random House
The Cardboard Kingdom builds on the strong modern foundation of middle-grade comic publishing, telling the stories of a neighborhood of kids as they create adventures and identities for themselves out of cardboard. Created, organized and drawn by Chad Sell, the book features contributions from a slew of different writers, each one telling a story in the same shared cul-de-sac. Sell’s art may be familiar to fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, as he has created beautiful art of the oversized personalities from that show for years, as well as popular cheeky superhero pin-ups. It comes as little surprise that the cast of characters he helped create is diverse in gender, race, ability and orientation, making a world where as many young readers as possible will feel welcome and represented. His style is big and colorful and cheerful, helping to create a lot of story in a small amount of space—perfect for a kids’ book. Equal parts Hey Arnold! and a slightly younger Nimona, The Cardboard Kingdom is a good opportunity to explore a lot of new comics talent all in one book—and to celebrate the concepts of play and imagination. Caitlin Rosberg [Full disclosure: Paste Comics editor Steve Foxe edited this title while at his former position. He is no longer an employee of Random House.]

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Be Prepared Cover Art by Vera Brosgol

7. Be Prepared
Writer/Artist: Vera Brosgol
Publisher: First Second
One of the things that’s hardest to teach our daughters is that it’s okay not to be happy all the time. You can learn this lesson as an adult over and over again and be annoyed when you’re asked to smile by strangers, but it’s not easy to try to correct your kids into at least putting on a mask of cheerfulness. Vera Brosgol is fighting the good fight in that department, with female characters who aren’t afraid to be mopey, grouchy, envious, class-conscious and disappointed in others. Be Prepared isn’t about that, but, like all her work, it incorporates it, which is what makes it a solid read for eight-to-14-year-olds. Hillary Brown

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All Summer Long Cover Art by Hope Larson

6. All Summer Long
Writer/Artist: Hope Larson
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Over the past 10 years, Hope Larson has shifted a bit from being primarily known as an artist to being better known as a writer, but she’s great at both things, and her newest book All Summer Long lets her show it. It’s more disciplined than her early work in some ways—or maybe it would be fairer to call it less lyrical—but it has the same gently probing interest in adolescence that is present throughout her career. There’s nothing very dreamy in All Summer Long, her latest preteen-friendly release from publisher Farrar, Straus and Giraux, and that makes it a stronger book. For those unfamiliar, All Summer Long finds protagonist Bina discovering music just as her relationship with longtime friend Austin starts to drift in the wake of puberty and the countless changes that come with turning 13. The lessons in it are subtle (but there!), and the characters feel real. Hillary Brown

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The Prince & The Dressmaker Cover Art by Jen Wang

5. The Prince & The Dressmaker
Writer/Artist: Jen Wang
Publisher: First Second
Jen Wang wowed readers with her art for In Real Life with Cory Doctorow, and her 2018 release sees Wang handling both script and art for an identity-bending romance set in old-timey Paris. Prince Sebastian’s parents are seeking a bride for their son, but Sebastian is much more passionate about his secret life as Lady Crystallia, Paris’ favorite fashion icon. Sebastian lives his fabulous second life with the help of his dressmaker best friend Frances, who keeps his secret but longs for greatness beyond her silent success with Lady Crystallia. Wang delicately navigates questions of personal identity and the responsibilities of friendship while spinning a charming love story and bringing to life a gorgeously decadent period in French fashion and culture. The Prince & The Dressmaker is a timeless, teen-appropriate, queer-inclusive fairy tale for the modern age. Steve Foxe

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The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America Cover Art by Jaime Hernandez

4. The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America
Writer/Artist: Jaime Hernandez
Publisher: Toon Graphics
The combination of Jaime Hernandez and Toon Books feels super overdue, but that doesn’t mean it’s not very welcome! Hernandez has drawn fairy tales, fables and nursery rhymes before, in First Second’s multi-artist compilations of those forms, but here he gets a book all to himself in which to put forward three Latin American folktales. It’s hard to say whether color adds anything to Hernandez’s always-formidable line work, but it certainly doesn’t detract from its wonderful clarity. The stories are goofy, occasionally violent (more in what they say than in what they show), humorous and full of interesting characters. The way you expect them to go, if you’ve been raised on the Brothers Grimm, is not necessarily the way they do, which leads to good conversations with your kids. An afterword provides more information about the original stories and how they function in their origin culture. Hillary Brown

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The Nameless City Vol. 3: The Divided Earth Cover Art by Faith Erin Hicks & Jordie Bellaire

3. The Nameless City Vol. 3: The Divided Earth
Writer/Artist: Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: First Second
Consider this an endorsement of the entire Nameless City trilogy written and drawn by Faith Erin Hicks, with colors by Jordie Bellaire, which concluded this year with The Divided Earth. Set, sort of, in 13th-century China, it never feels like a history lesson as it follows the adventures of two friends from very different backgrounds. Who’s the insider and who’s the outsider? It depends on your perspective. That kind of poking the reader to reimagine their preexisting ideas is one area in which Hicks excels. The other, as you’ll see even flipping through the pages, is action. There wasn’t so much of that in Hicks’ earlier Friends with Boys or Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, but there’s tons of running, jumping, climbing and diving here, all rendered with superlative energy and clarity. Hillary Brown

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Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules Cover Art by Tony Cliff

2. Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules
Writer/Artist: Tony Cliff
Publisher: First Second
The Delilah Dirk series is one of the most pure delights in comics. It’s like a magic trick every time, reminiscent of Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series of YA novels but fueled by Tony Cliff’s neat yet action-packed drawings. Cliff can put all the character in the world into the tilt of a nose, and god help you when he gets to draw Dirk leaping onto a horse or being thrown from an explosion. These books are for all ages and interests, including people who love superheroes. Hillary Brown

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Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall Cover Art by Drew Weing

1. Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall
Writer/Artist: Drew Weing
Publisher: First Second
The second volume of Drew Weing’s utterly delightful all-ages Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo series, The Monster Mall, came out at the end of summer, but Halloween is the season in which it shines. Have you been wondering whether Echo City has vampires? It does, but they’re vegans, and they live in the abandoned mall. Weing fleshes out his fantastic world further, while still leaving plenty of room to explore it in the future, with funny, complex, thoughtful drawings and a great sense of pacing in his narrative. Hillary Brown

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