Winning Manga for Grades 1-8

Nine popular series for elementary and middle grade readers.


TSUKURINO, Yumi. “Disney Manga: Stitch!” illus. by author. Tokyopop. 2016–2017.
Gr 1 Up–Stitch, the little blue alien from Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, has found a new home in Okinawa, where he befriends a girl named Yuna who lives with her grandmother and is great at karate. The stories are short and funny, with Stitch constantly misunderstanding things and trying to eat everything. Dr. Jumba, the scientist who created Stitch, and his sidekick Agent Pleakley show up early on but don’t seem to be concerned with capturing the little alien. The publisher rates these books for age six and up, but the reading level might be a bit high for most first graders. The series is complete in three volumes.


KANATA, Konami. “Chi’s Sweet Home.” illus. by author. Vertical. 2015–2016.
Gr 2-6–A family adopts a stray kitten in this charming, slice-of-life manga which is published in full color and reads left to right. The stories are very short, everyone is nice, and the endings are happy. The series was originally published as 12 volumes which were then collected into the four-volume “The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home” translated editions.

WARITA, Koma. “Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir.” illus. by Riku Tsuchida. Kodansha. 2023–.
Gr 3 Up–This French animated series, previously adapted into American comics and graphic novels published by Action Lab, now comes to manga. Two Parisian teenagers, Marinette and her classmate Adrian, are secretly superheroes. In plain clothes, Marinette has a crush on Adrian (who is a model for his father’s fashion line); as superheroes, Cat Noir (Adrian) fancies Ladybug (Marinette). But both are too shy to make their feelings known and too clueless to figure out each others’ secret identities. The stories usually involve rescuing one of their friends who has been taken over by an akuma, a dark moth that turns their negative emotions into superpowers. The akuma are being released by the villainous Hawk Moth, who is trying to steal the source of Ladybug and Cat Noir’s powers. This series is heavy on action, with some school drama and romance. It might be a rocky start for those unfamiliar with the animated series, but most of the details are explained, and translator’s notes in the back are helpful as well. Vol. 3 was released in January 2024.

MIZUSHINA, Takayuki. “Lovely Muco!” illus. by author. Kodansha. 2023–.
Gr 5 Up–Muco is a Shiba Inu dog who lives with a glassblower named Mr. Komatsu in the mountains of the Akita region. She is creative, energetic, and enthusiastic about everything. While Mr. Komatsu goes about his glass business, Muco plays with string, her tail, and anything she finds, often causing trouble. Her mind works on a charming logic of its own, so she draws many wrong conclusions about the world around her, which is part of this series’ humor. The cartoony art has simple lines with minimum toning. The fourth volume of this slice-of-life series will be published in February 2024. Vol. 1 was an SLJTop 10 Manga of 2023.

MOCHIZUKI, Mai. “Alice in Kyoto Forest.” illus. by Haruki Niwa. Tokyopop. 2022.
Gr 5-8–Bookworm Alice Shirakawa leaves an unhappy foster home to become a maiko (apprentice geisha) in her native Kyoto. But the city she enters by crossing a misty bridge turns out to be a whole new world, based on historic Kyoto, but operating on a very different set of rules from our world. Accompanied by a talking frog and white rabbit, Alice sets out to find both her true calling and a mysterious boy from her past, and in the second volume, she is called upon to rescue a kidnapped princess as well. The mix of European fairy tales with traditional Japanese costumes and surroundings makes this book a delight to read. The art is in a familiar shojo style, mostly emphasizing emotion and facial expression. The series is complete in two volumes; the first was one of SLJ’s Top 10 Manga of 2022.

PANDANIA. “Yokai Cats.” illus. by author. Seven Seas. 2022–.
Gr 5 Up–This playful full-color manga mashes up cute cats with the spirits known as yokai, resulting in cats who can extend their necks like a snake, lie flat like a blanket, or float like smoke. The comics are in the four-panel vertical format (4-koma), so each page is a single gag. The simple art has strong lines and minimal detail. Each yokai gets a brief introduction when it first appears, and the combination of cuteness and a bit of magic is irresistible. Seven Seas publishes two other series by the same creator, “Monster Cats” and “The Evil Secret Society of Cats.”

RONA. “Alpi the Soul Sender.” illus. by author. Titan. 2023–.
Gr 5 Up–When spirits visit the land, they bring prosperity. When they die, they spread a curse, unless their souls are sent to heaven by a Soul Sender. That’s what Alpi does: The young girl travels through the country with her assistant, an older man named Perenai, finding dead spirits and dispatching their souls. Alpi’s work takes a toll, inducing pain and causing black fluids to ooze from her body, but she persists to keep her world in order. The stories are episodic, with a narrative thread: Alpi is searching for her parents, both Soul Senders who have disappeared. It’s a good choice for fans of magical manga such as “Witch Hat Atelier.” Content note: The final story in the first volume includes a suicide. The second volume is set for a February 2024 release.

SANJO, Riku. “Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai.” illus. by Koji Inada. Viz. 2022.
Gr 5 Up–This five-volume series based on the classic video game is a shonen action manga about a plucky boy, Dai, who grows up on an island filled with friendly monsters and dreams of being a hero. When the Demon King Hadlar threatens the island, Dai sets out to defeat him with a group of helpers joining him along the way. The story is heavy on action, and with its plucky underdog hero and group of loyal friends, it’s a good pick for readers not quite ready for “Naruto” or “Dragon Ball.” It has a classic Shonen Jump look, with a spiky-haired hero and a cast of delightful monsters.

YOSHIZAKI, Mine. “Dragon Quest Monsters+.” illus. by author. Seven Seas. 2019.
Gr 5 Up–This very different take on Dragon Quest is a monster-fighting manga in the vein of Pokémon. A boy, Kleo, is whisked away to a kingdom filled with monsters. The monsters fight one another in battles controlled by Monster Masters (MMs), and Kleo is asked to track down a missing MM. Of course, he ends up becoming one himself as he gathers a ragtag team of monsters and battles the Dragonlord who is threatening the kingdom. A good underdog story with a nice array of monster characters, featuring dynamic art that is easy to follow. A glossary provides as much game lore as readers need to know to enjoy the story. Complete in five volumes.

Brigid Alverson edits “Good Comics for Kids.”

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