When we raise children according to a strict gender binary, the label “boy” or “girl” determines everything from what a child wears to the toys they play with. It also affects what books they read. Girls grow up believing that certain books are not for them and the most notorious “boys-only” genre is comic books. However, like most gender stereotyping, that is simply not true. Girls and women account for upwards of 43% of comic book and graphic novel readership, according to research conducted by Graphic Policy.
While their readership may be nearly half female, comics and graphic novels still have a representation problem. Of the characters in comics by Marvel and DC, only 27% are female. Furthermore, female characters in comics are often hyper-sexualized and have less physical superpowers. The good news is that publishers are becoming aware of this missed demographic, resulting in more female graphic novelists getting published and better representations for the newest generation of female comic book readers.
We need graphic novels featuring female characters who embody the full range of female-ness, and the following comics do just that. From feisty to brave to totally relatable, these books have characters your daughter can look up to.
9 Feminist Graphic Novels
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani — In this stunning graphic novel, an inherited pashmina helps Priyanka understand her Indian heritage. Chanani paints Pri’s world in muted blues and grays, but when she is transported to an idealistic vision of her mother’s homeland, it is filled with vibrant color. Pashmina is a beautiful story about heritage, female familial relationships, and self-discovery.
Sanity and Tallulah by Molly Brooks — Sanity and Tallulah are two totally normal, smart, creative best friends…except they live on a space station and have just accidentally spawned a three-headed kitten that grows at an exponential rate! A fast-paced, action-packed story filled with smart, leading women of color, Sanity and Tallulah is the perfect read for a feminist tween.
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson — Lumberjanes has quickly become the staple feminist comic book series. At Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, five campers are constantly discovering fantastical creatures and saving the day. Lumberjanes is beyond entertaining, totally absurd, and contains characters with a range of gender and sexual identities rarely seen in kid lit. Required reading for any young feminist!
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson — One of few graphic novels nominated for the prestigious Newbery award, Roller Girl is about Astrid, who is trying to discover who she is without her former best friend, Nicole. Roller Girl is a girl-centric graphic novel that beats the Bechdel test with flying colors!
Clem Herrington and the Ironwood Race by Jen Breach — Kirkus reviews described this graphic novel as “Indiana Jones meets Mad Max” for middle-grade readers and how cool that such a book stars a fairly androgynous young girl as the protagonist! As a librarian, I know that children judge books almost entirely by their covers, and Clem is a cover that children of all genders will want to pick up!
Real Friends by Shannon Hale — In comparison some of the other books on this list, Real Friends may seem unexceptional. There are no superpowers, no fantastical creatures, no out-of-this-world adventures, but… it’s real. It’s relatable. It’s the book your tweenage daughter needs to read to navigate middle school frenemies and understand the importance of healthy female friendship.
Newsprints by Ru Xu — Blue lives in a wartime city that divides work based on gender, so what happens when Blue discovers her passion delivering news- an occupation reserved for the city’s boys? She disguises herself, of course! Newsprints is an exciting story about doing what you love despite the odds and learning to be yourself. This graphic novel is also getting a sequel soon!
Akissi by Marguerite Abouet — Akissi is a mischief-making girl on the Ivory Coast and her adventures are sure to delight! The Akissi comics are great for younger readers, ages 7+, which is somewhat rare for a genre that usually targets older children. I also love that this series is written by Marguerite Abouet, a Ivorian graphic novelist writing about her own culture for an international audience!
Hilda by Luke Pearson — The Hildafolk series is one of my all-time favorite graphic novel series. The illustrations are atmospheric and all characters, big and small, are well-developed. From a feminist perspective, this is the only comic written by a man that I have included on this list, but I’ve done so because Hilda is an extremely admirable character. She questions authority, respects all creatures, and craves adventure, among other wonderful traits. I also love how the comic portrays Hilda’s complex, but loving, relationship with her single mother.