Best Graphic Novels 2023 | SLJ Best Books

From stunning memoirs to sustainability guides, this year’s Best Graphic Novels list features 25 unforgettable works that take comics to new heights.


Alsaqa, Jordan. Cooking with Monsters: The Beginner’s Guide to Culinary Combat. illus. by Vivian Truong. IDW. ISBN 9781684059836.
Gr 8 Up–New students at the Gourmand Academy of Culinary Combat learn how to battle monsters and become great chefs, while dealing with school stress as well as friendship and family drama. A fun, action-packed, and engaging story that would be a great choice for reluctant readers.

Annable, Graham. Eerie Tales from the School of ScreamsFirst Second. ISBN 9781250195043.
Gr 6 Up–Students take turns standing up in front of the class to share eerie stories. Each tale is terrifying in a different way, but the school itself has its own scary secrets. Great for readers who love suspenseful and chilling stories with a Twilight Zone vibe.

Bell, Darrin. The Talk. Holt. ISBN 9781250805140.
Gr 10 Up–Bell’s experiences illustrate racism’s effect on the way Black youth learn to navigate the world and also on society at large. Dramatic art breaks out of a confining panel structure, making the story bigger yet more personal. The final result is a beyond powerful memoir.

Brown, Don. 83 Days in Mariupol: A War Diary. HarperCollins/Clarion. ISBN 9780063311565.
Gr 9 Up–Brown chronicles the Russian army’s 2022 invasion and capture of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. The black-and-white illustrations bring the city’s devastation to life, while the story shines a light on the horrors people experienced while trying to survive the relentless Russian attacks.

Chantler, Scott. Squire & Knight. First Second. ISBN 9781250249340.
Gr 3-5–When a bold-but-brainless knight and a slight-but-smart squire arrive in Bridgetown, they find it’s missing its bridge. While the knight rushes off to find and fight a dragon, the squire (the true hero) pursues the problem from another direction. Chantler’s palette of Halloween neutrals sets the perfect mood for this clever story in which moments of tension and danger are balanced by humor.

Cohen, Emily Bowen. Two TribesHarper/Heartdrum. ISBN 9780062983589.
Gr 5 Up–Mia lives in Los Angeles with her Jewish mother and stepfather. Using money from her bat mitzvah, she sneaks away to Oklahoma to see her birth father and learn about their shared Muscogee heritage. Through narrative and art, key aspects of Jewish and Muscogee traditions are explored, giving a fresh look at honoring multicultural identities.

Craft, Jerry. School Trip. Harper/Quill Tree. ISBN 9780062885531.
Gr 4-8–As Jordan enters his last year of middle school, he receives an acceptance letter from an art school. Does he really want to be the new kid again? This heartfelt, must-read conclusion perfectly complements Craft’s previous titles. Readers will be reluctant to let these characters go.

Estrela, Joana. Pardalita. tr. from Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Levine Querido. ISBN 9781646142552.
Gr 8 Up–Raquel has a crush on classmate Pardalita, admiring her from afar, and finally connects with her through theater. The quiet pace of this sweet romance mirrors Raquel’s growing attraction. The art shines, especially in moments when it’s more evocative than literal in expressing movement and emotion.

Glasheen, Kate. Constellations. Holiday House. ISBN 9780823450718.
Gr 10 Up–Vulnerable and piercing, Glasheen’s debut follows a nonbinary teen in the 1980s who faces pressures of gender conformity and begins misusing alcohol, landing them in a rehab program. Dynamic watercolor pages unveil a healing story about recovery, friendship, and being true to one’s self—one that leaves a lasting impression.

Grimes, Nikki. Garvey’s Choice: The Graphic Novel. illus. by Theodore Taylor III. Wordsong. ISBN 9781662660023.
Gr 4-9–Garvey is not an athlete like his older sister, which makes it hard to bond with his dad. But Garvey’s friends help him find his voice—figuratively and literally—by joining chorus, which helps them connect through music. Grimes’s tanka poems from the original book translate beautifully in the graphic novel format; Taylor’s night sky illustrations are especially striking.

Hatke, Ben. Things in the Basement. First Second. ISBN 9781250909541.
Gr 3-5–A trip to the basement laundry to retrieve a missing sock turns into an epic journey as Milo ventures through the never-ending cavern, making unusual friends and encountering danger. Hatke displays a genius for setting as well as character; each level Milo descends features a different style of art, architecture, and sculpture. A stellar story about courage and friendship.

Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Sunshine. Scholastic/Graphix. ISBN 9781338356328.
Gr 7 Up–Krosoczka’s tender follow-up to Hey, Kiddo depicts a life-changing experience at Camp Sunshine, a summer camp for children with severe illness, and their accompanying families. The warmth from the relationships formed throughout the story radiates off the pages. This book has a lasting impact.

Lai, Remy. Ghost Book. Holt. ISBN 9781250810410.
Gr 4 Up–July Chen has a secret: she can see ghosts. When she meets a boy who’s trapped between life and death, she tries to save him, only to find their fates are more intertwined than either could imagine. This touching and emotional story contains an enticing mix of friendship, love, Chinese mythology, and magical dumplings.

Lee, Deb JJ. In Limbo. First Second. ISBN 9781250252654.
Gr 8 Up–In this breathtaking memoir, Lee masterfully portrays the experience of being in between worlds and cultures as a first-generation Korean American navigating high school. Emotion and detail fuel the ink-washed pages as adolescence, mental health, loneliness, and a fragile mother-daughter relationship are explored with nuance and raw honesty. A stunning piece of work that takes the comics medium to new heights.

Martín, Pedro. Mexikid. Dial. ISBN 9780593462287.
Gr 5-8–Pedro’s family embarks on a road trip from California to Mexico to help his abuelito before bringing him back to the U.S. to live with them. An unpredictable fusion of humorous and reflective moments that gives fascinating insights into one family’s many stories while hinting at larger cultural questions.

Myer, Sarah. Monstrous: A Transracial Adoption Story. First Second. ISBN 9781250268792.
Gr 8 Up–Myer’s immersive memoir recounts the feeling of not belonging as a South Korean child who was adopted at birth by a white family in rural Maryland, and the monstrous anger and anxiety that formed as a result of bullying. Doubling as a love letter to anime, the book features dynamic artwork throughout in this validating read about identity.

Nguyen, Trang & Jeet Zdũng. Saving H’Non: Chang and the Elephant. illus. by Jeet Zdũng. tr. from Vietnamese by Trang Nguyen & Jeet Zdũng. Dial. ISBN 9780593406731.
Gr 4-8–Young wildlife conservationist Chang and her boss, who work at a national park in Vietnam, rescue abused and injured elephant H’Non from her handler and work to rehabilitate her so she can enjoy the “five freedoms” all elephants deserve. Done in a journalistic sketchbook style, the art is lush and detailed. This story has the power to inform, engage, and engender great empathy.

Pham, Thien. Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam. First Second. ISBN 9781250809711.
Gr 9 Up–Pham’s memoir entwines food with memory as he recounts his journey from Vietnam to America. Told with humor and heart, his life story from childhood through adulthood shines a light on the challenges and joys of his immigrant experience. Evocative art adds warmth and emotion.

Ramm, Meggie. Batcat. Abrams/Amulet. ISBN 9781419756573.
Gr 2 Up–When Batcat leaves home to find magic spell ingredients, they meet other creatures, such as ghosts, bats, and cats, who question their unusual appearance. This story is a funny yet thoughtful exploration of a nonbinary character, who is neither bat nor cat, discovering that you can be different and be awesome all while staying true to yourself.

Santat, Dan. A First Time for Everything. First Second. ISBN 9781626724150.
Gr 5-9–A heartwarming memoir about an awkward student who emerges from his self-imposed shell over the course of a trip to Europe in 1989. Humor and sentiment take center stage as the expressive artwork demonstrates his world expanding and his identity emerging. A poignant self-discovery story.

Sindu, SJ. Shakti. illus. by Nabi H. Ali. Harper-Alley. ISBN 9780063090132.
Gr 3-7–Featuring rich, expressive illustration, Sindu and Ali’s enchanting graphic novel follows Shakti who calls upon a Hindu goddess to help save her new town of Amherst, MA, after she discovers it has been cursed by school-bully witches. The result is a high-stakes narrative that braids mythology, family, and harmony into an enthralling coming-of-age story.

Steinkellner, Emma. Nell of Gumbling: My Extremely Normal Fairy-Tale Life. Random/Labyrinth Road. ISBN 9780593570661.
Gr 4 Up–Nell lives in the magical town of Gumbling, but to the folks who nest there, it’s just home—until a pair of siblings arrive to transform it into Castletown, setting up a “small town vs. big development” conflict. This sweet and quirky story of magical adventures, friendship angst, and the challenges of growing up is told through Nell’s illustrated journal and will charm readers.

Sterling, Zachary. Mabuhay! Scholastic/Graphix. ISBN 9781338738643.
Gr 4 Up–In this love letter to food trucks and Filipino culture, siblings JJ and Althea pay little attention to their family’s folktales—until they start coming true. Weaving humor throughout, this heartwarming story gives new meaning to embracing one’s heritage. A high-energy delight that places folklore, family, and food center stage.

Tang, Betty C. Parachute Kids. Scholastic/Graphix. ISBN 9781338832686.
Gr 4 Up–A family trip from Taiwan to California in 1981 turns from American Dream to nightmare when Feng-Li’s parents tell her and her two siblings that they will be staying—on their own. Feng-Li plays peacemaker between her brother and sister as they face overwhelming challenges. A memorable and compelling immigration story.

Wheeler, Kate & Trent Huntington. Team Trash: A Time Traveler’s Guide to Sustainability. Holiday House. ISBN 9780823452279.
Gr 3-6–Science fair partners Charlie and Oliver accidentally activate a time machine that whisks them away to different ages and places to learn about trash and recycling. A cute, smart, and incredibly informative book about recycling, upcycling, composting, and other STEAM topics.

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