10 Standout Graphic Novels by AAPI Creators

Recent and upcoming titles for elementary through YA readers encompassing a range of genres and styles.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been hugely influential in the comics industry, from creators of traditional comics such as Larry Hama (“G.I. Joe”), Whilce Portacio (“Iron Man,” “The Punisher”), and Jim Lee, the chief creative officer of DC Comics, to graphic novel creators such as Gene Luen Yang (Dragon Hoops) and Kazu Kibuishi (“Amulet”). So, the hardest part of putting together a roundup of graphic novels by APA creators is not so much finding great books, as choosing from the wide variety available. Here are 10 recent and upcoming titles across a range of genres and styles.

Almost American Girl. By Robin Ha. illus. by author. Balzer + Bray. 2020. Hardcover: ISBN 978 0062685100; Paperback: ISBN 9780 062685094.
Gr 7 Up –When Ha was 14, her mother took her on a trip from South Korea to Alabama—and announced they were staying. Not only that, her mother married an American man. Almost American Girl is Ha’s depiction of her first years in the United States as she deals with a new language, a new culture, and an unpleasant home life. As time goes on, though, she comes to understand why her mother made the difficult choice to leave their home and what that means to Ha herself. Ha uses a deft ink line and delicate colors, changing the palette as the action shifts between Korea and the United States.

Chibi Usagi: Attack of the Heebie Chibis. By Julie and Stan Sakai. illus. by authors. IDW. 2021. ISBN 9781684057900.
Gr 4-7 –Super-cute versions of Stan Sakai’s characters from Usagi Yojimbo help a village of mud creatures called Dogu liberate themselves from a tyrannical salamander in this charming, funny, and very kid-friendly take on samurai stories. Sakai teamed up with his wife, Julie, for this graphic novel, which has some surprising and funny moments. Japanese terms are explained in the margins, and there’s a neat story at the end where the “real” Usagi Yojimbo meets his chibi counterpart.

Geraldine Pu and Her Cat Hat, Too! by Maggie P. Chang. S.&S./Simon Spotlight. Jan. 2022. Hardcover: ISBN 9781534484726; Paperback: ISBN 9781534484719.
Gr 1-3 –Geraldine Pu is a Taiwanese American girl who loves her amah (grandma) and gets frustrated when her little brother, Auggie, copies her. In the first book in this series, Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too!, Geraldine turned the tables on a classmate who teased her about her lunch. In this title, she is bored with her straight hair and wishes it was curly, like Amah’s. With picture day coming up, she tries to style her own hair, as does Auggie, with hilarious results. Amah reveals that she used to wish her curly hair was straight, but now she appreciates it because it’s unique, just like her. The book includes a short primer on how to read comics, a glossary of a few Taiwanese and Mandarin words, and instructions for a collage self-portrait.

Lola: A Ghost Story. By J. Torres. illus. by Elbert Or. Oni Press. Mar. 2020. ISBN 9781620106914.
Gr. 3-6 –A Canadian Filipino boy, Jesse, returns to the family home in the Philippines with his parents for the funeral of his grandmother, Lola, who was reputed to have supernatural powers. Jesse is uncomfortable with his family, but there’s something else going on: Although it’s not immediately obvious, the little kid who keeps popping up and annoying him is the ghost of a young cousin, and the family is still grappling with his death. Originally released as a hardcover by Oni in 2009.

Marshmallow & Jordan. By Alina Chau. illus. by author. First Second. 2021. Hardcover: ISBN 9781250300607; Paperback: ISBN 9781250300614.
Gr 4-7 –This story about a wheelchair-using athlete and her pet white elephant is set in Indonesia, and Chau’s lush watercolor landscapes and little details draw the reader into her world. Jordan is a talented basketball player who was injured in an accident and uses a wheelchair. She is still close with her teammates and plays with them in practice, but she can’t participate in regular games. A new friend enters her life when she finds an injured baby white elephant in the playground; her veterinarian mother patches it up, and she names it Marshmallow. Marshmallow quickly becomes everyone’s pet and is a calming presence as Jordan struggles with a new sport, water polo, and tries to gain acceptance in a new group while not losing her old friends. Chau grew up in Hong Kong and is from a Chinese Indonesian family; she drew on some of her own memories for this book.

Palimpsest: Documents From a Korean Adoption. By Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom. Drawn & Quarterly. 2019. ISBN 978-1770463301.
Gr 11 Up –Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom was born in South Korea and adopted by a Swedish family when she was two. As a teenager she tried to find her birth mother, but hit a dead-end. Motivated by her two young children, she tries again, with help from her husband and a Korean friend. She pushes back against the Korean agencies who claim (falsely) that they have no information about her or her birth parents. Eventually she travels to Korea for an emotional meeting with her mother, but this is not a fairytale ending. Although many Korean people she meets are helpful and kind, welcoming her into their homes and tracking down paperwork, she also finds a corrupt system where bureaucrats falsified papers to deliver Korean children to non-Korean families—for a fee. Meeting her birth mother doesn’t bring the resolution she wanted. Sjöblom speaks frankly about how being adopted has affected her emotionally, and she depicts a teenage suicide attempt. Sjöblom balances the darker aspects by showing the warmth of the family and friends around her.

The Princess Who Saved Her Friends. By Greg Pak. illus. by Takeshi Miyazawa. KaBOOM!. Feb. 2022. ISBN 978-1684158102.
Gr 4-6 –Princess Gloria Cheng Epstein Takahara de la Garza Champion enjoys jamming with her friends, but the dragon in the group keeps messing up. As the Battle of the Bands approaches, she must decide between keeping the dragon in the band or ditching him and winning the competition (first prize is cake!). Pak and Miyazawa, the creative team behind “Mech Cadet Yu,” mingle blocks of rhyming text blocks with speech balloons in this charming fantasy tale. This book is the sequel to The Princess Who Saved Herself, and both are based on a song by musician Jonathan Coulton.

The Rema Chronicles Book 1: Realm of the Blue Mist. By Amy Kim Kibuishi. illus. by author. Graphix/Scholastic. Apr. 2022. Hardcover: ISBN 9781338115154; Paperback: ISBN 978 1338115130.
Gr 3-7 –Tabby’s father, a researcher, has disappeared, and she is convinced it has to do with a tree that emits a mysterious mist. When she goes to investigate, she is unexpectedly swept into a strange and often dangerous world, where she has just one protector, a blue-haired boy who is sometimes kind and sometimes cool toward her. This story brings a carefully constructed world and a touch of preteen romance to an entertaining portal fantasy.

Stealing Home. By J. Torres. illus. by David Namisato. Kids Can Pr. 2021. ISBN 9781525303340.
Gr 4-7 –Pitched at a younger audience than George Takei’sThey Called Us Enemy and Kiku Hughes’s Displacement, Stealing Home depicts the experiences of Japanese Canadians during World War II. The story is told through the eyes of a young boy, Sandy Saito, who sees the Canadian government encircle his family with restrictions and ultimately force them into internment camps. Baseball ties the story together: The book begins with a depiction of the Asahi baseball team, the pride of Vancouver’s Japanese Canadian population; Sandy and his father play baseball together, until his father gets too busy; and baseball brings the internees together in the camp. This fictional story based on real events also shows how the pressure on the family from the outside caused problems on the inside, straining the parents’ marriage and the relationship between Sandy and his father.

Wingbearer. By Marjorie Liu. illus. by Teny Issakhanian. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. Mar. 2022. Hardcover: ISBN 9780062741165. Paperback: ISBN 9780062741158.
Gr 5-8 –A young girl who lives in a tree and helps birds’ souls migrate from one life to the next must leave her secure home and face down a mysterious threat in this fantasy adventure that has a similar vibe to Kazu Kibuishi’s “Amulet.” Liu also writes “Monstress,” a baroque fantasy comic series for older readers. Here she brings the same careful worldbuilding to a younger audience. Issakhanian’s art is colorful and fanciful, with almost folkloric depictions of the birds and their souls.

Brigid Alverson edits the blog “Good Comics for Kids” (slj.com/goodcomics).

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