When I was a girl, growing up in the 1980’s, I was definitely not encouraged to read comics. To be fair, even many boys (then, as now) were often discouraged from reading them.  It wasn’t considered “real” reading (spoiler alert:  it is ).  Thankfully that idea is finally changing (however slowly).  It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s, at the insistence of our very own Jesse, that I went to a comic book shop for the first time.  Even with the moral support, it was hard not to be overwhelmed.  Without a lifetime of comic reading under my belt, I felt like they were speaking a language I couldn’t decipher.  And even in the early aughts, there wasn’t a crowd of women in the shop.  I grabbed onto the Origin limited series, since I was a huge fan of Wolverine, but nothing else ever stuck with me.

It wasn’t until my daughter was old enough to read that it finally clicked for me.  Again, thanks to Jesse, who, when asked for recommendations, sent me graphic novels for both my kids from his bookstore.  They loved them.  I loved them.  We wanted more.  Fortunately, our new interest coincided with what would turn out to be the advent of a surge in middle-grade graphic novel publishing.  It was a veritable explosion.

In searching for feminist stories for my daughters (and honestly, I didn’t have to search too long), I easily found a swath of diverse characters, LBGTQ representation, protagonists of color,  subverted gender stereotypes, and fairy tale tropes turned on their heads.  I was looking for stories written by women, for women, with female heroes and female-centric story arcs.  And they were EVERYWHERE.  More important, they were NEW.  No one else had the advantage of history.  I didn’t feel behind the times.  I felt, for once in my life, on the cutting edge. I could go into the comic book shop and ask for the new release.  And I did, with such regularity that the shop guys now know me by name (full disclosure: at first I was ‘that women who’s always in here buying comics for herself and graphic novels for her kids’).  I’m still one of only a handful of women who frequent the shop.

So ladies, girls, fellow feminists, if you are curious and don’t know where to start, I’ve compiled a list of recommendations below. The list could be longer, but these are my absolute favorites.  I am inclined toward the fantasy genre as you will see. I’ve left off superheroes, even though I’m a huge fan, because their backstories and history can be intimidating.  I’ve noted the trade paperback volumes, which have past issues compiled, though some of these are ongoing and you can get in new issue form once you’ve caught up. Others are limited release and all the issues are out (and compiled in a trade paperback) already.

Princeless  

Princeless (Action Lab Comics, Volumes 1-8 are released, Volume 9 is out in December, 2019)

Princess Adrienne, like her many sisters, has been locked in a tower since she was sixteen by her father the king. But she’s finally had enough and hatches a plan to escape, befriends her guardian (a dragon), and sets forth to save her sisters from their own imprisonment. Along the way she gathers lots of friends, comes into her own as a knight, and has many of her assumptions shattered. Rated All Ages

Related: Mega Princess (Kaboom, Volume 1) Rated All Ages

Scales  

Scales and Scoundrels (Image, Volumes 1 & 2 are released)

Luvander is a reckless, treasure-hunting adventurer. While searching for the “Dragon’s Maw,” a legendary cavern of treasures, she meets up with a prince, his loyal but prickly bodyguard and their dwarf companion. They join her on her journey toward either immense treasure or perhaps certain death. All the while Luvander hides a secret from her new companions.   Rated All Ages

LadyCastle    

Ladycastle (Boom!, Volume 1 Limited Series)

When King Mancastle and all his men are killed by a dragon, Merinor, formerly the castle blacksmith, becomes king. Her first order of business is to free the princess Aeve from the tower her father locked her in (these Dads! Give me a break). During her imprisonment, Aeve has been honing her fighting skills and emerges as a fierce fighter. Which is good, because thanks to the dead king, the castle is now cursed. With the men gone, the women of the newly re-christened “Ladycastle” work together to resolve the curse. Not Rated [in this readers opinion this is appropriate for middle grade readers and above]

Moonstruck    

Moonstruck (Image, Volumes 1&2 are released)

Julie is an insecure, adorable, werewolf barista trying to navigate life, love and friendship in this comic filled with wizards, magic, werewolves, centaurs, minotaurs, vampires, fairies, and gorgons. Friends and enemies alike soon get involved in unexpected trouble and must join forces to save themselves. Many characters are LGBTQ and nonbinary. Rated Everyone (all ages)

Afterglow    

Afterglow (Space Between Entertainment, Volume 1 released)

This comic originally started as a Kickstarter project. Lacey is surviving 100 years after an apocalyptic event called “The Glowing.” But honestly, all you really need to know is there a GIANT. MUTATED. CAT! Not Rated [but in this reader’s opinion suitable for middle grade readers and above]

Mae    

Mae (Roar, Volume 1 released, Volume 2 release date is October, 2019)

While technically a graphic novel, the format of this comic is very much like a trade paperback. This book is hard to pin down but it is both weird and wonderful. It’s got dimensional travel, alien creatures, missing sisters, real danger and some violence. It’s a nice blend of science fiction and fantasy. Not Rated [This book is definitely for Teen+ for language and some violence]

Lucy    

Lucy Dreaming (Boom!, Volume 1, Limited Series)

13-year-old Lucy is moody and disgruntled. She hates school, except for English class, and is always drowning out the real world with books. One night she goes to sleep and dreams she is the hero of a story that feels all too real; like, life or death real. Her mad scientist parents (real mad scientists!) finally sit her down and explain what’s happening to her. Soon she realizes that she’s not the only one with these special powers. But it turns out she is the only one who can save the world from destruction. Not Rated [This book is definitely for Teen+ for language and some violence]

Joyride    

Joyride (Boom!, Volumes 1-3 released)

Uma hates earth and she’ll do anything to leave. So she does what any self-respecting teen girl would do – she steals an alien spaceship and convinces her best friend to run away with her. They are chased by an agent sent by the authorities who, it turns out, has every reason to run away with them. Rounding out the team is an intelligent robot and a possibly-untrustworthy alien. Not Rated [This book is definitely for Teen+ for language and some violence]

Papergirls    

Paper Girls (Image, Volumes 1-5 released, Volume 6 release date is October 2019)

This comic is filled with 1980’s nostalgia, but since it’s about time travel, some of us can be nostalgic about both the 80’s and the early aughts. at the same time.  A group of preteen paper girls are shocked when mysterious and terrifying occurrences keep sucking them into events they can’t control and don’t understand. They travel backwards and forwards in time, but they are always dogged by the same mysterious group of people who seem to be in control, and to be searching for them. Rated Teen+

Sparrowhawk    

Sparrowhawk (Boom!, Volume 1, Limited Series)

As the illegitimate child living with her father’s family, Artemisia doesn’t feel like she fits into her world. One day the Faerie Queen pulls her into a mirror and assumes her form in the “real world,” with the intent to destroy it. Artemisia is left to survive in Faerie with questionably reliable creatures to guide her. To escape, she must fight. But each victory actually leads her farther away from her world and more entwined her with Faerie. Not Rated [This book is definitely for Mature readers for language and violence]

Heathen    

Heathen (Vault, Volumes 1&2 Released)

Vikings and Valkyries and Odin’s Eye, Oh My! Aydis is a banished Viking warrior who sets out to free the Valkyrie Brynhild. But it turns out Odin’s curse is more complicated than that, and Aydis goes hunting for the God of War himself. With Brynhild and the Goddess Freya to help her, as well as her magical horse, she may succeed, but there are more dangers than she knows. Rated Mature

Isola

Isola (Image, Volume 1 released, Volume 2 release date is December, 2019)

With the Queen of Maar under a spell, the Captain of the Queen’s Guard must seek out a cure for curse in the legendary ISOLA (land of the dead). Both mystical and mythical, the journey involves many dangers and many who wish them ill.  Rated Teen+

Monstress

Monstress (Image, Volumes 1-3 released, Volume 4 release date September 2019)

Maika Halfwolf is searching for many things: answers about her past and her mother, what her future has in store, and what this confusing monster is inside her. All she seems to find is more questions. Will she control the monster, or will it control her? Where does the monster end and she begin? In the end it is revenge she seeks, and the monster may be the key to her success or her failure. Rated Mature

Honorable Mention:

Fence (Boom! Volumes 1-3 released)

Fence

Feminism is for boys too!  Fence is about a group of young men at an all-boys school who vie for their place on the school’s fencing team.  The characters are from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities.  Some are gay, some are straight, some are genderqueer.  This comic allows each of these boys the full spectrum of their identities and their teammates accept each other for who they are.  The characters display an astonishing lack of toxic masculinity, which is unexpected for a comic about competitive sports. Not Rated [This book is likely for Teen, though full disclosure, my 9 year old is reading it]