14 Genre-Blending Graphic Novels for Middle Graders

Genre-blending books offer readers the opportunity to comfortably expand across boundaries and try something different while still in the safety of their preferred reading choice. Here are 14 middle grade graphic novels that blend genres to perfection.


Genres help readers manage expectations—if they like scary stories, they can anticipate elements like ghosts, haunted houses, creepy puppets, and maybe even zombies in the books they’re choosing. If they enjoy fantasy, they can expect castles and elves, unicorns and dragons. With books that blend established genres, however, young readers can try something different while still in the safety of their preferred reading choice: kids who gravitate toward realistic fiction may find that they like to experience a spark of fantasy, or a science fiction fan can thrill to a mystery aboard a space station.

While blending genres offers the opportunity to comfortably expand across boundaries, mixing up genres within the graphic novel format gives readers a chance to visit new visual landscapes—a mythological monster fight set in modern-day Texas, for instance, or a boba-eating creature hidden underneath a San Francisco café. Here are a few of the best middle grade graphic novels that blend genres to perfection.

Bernardin,Marc. Adora and the Distance. illus. by Ariela Kristantina & Bryan Valenza. Dark Horse. 2022. ISBN 9781506724508.
Gr 6 Up–Set in a high fantasy world, this story follows Adora—a young woman living in a realm of adventure where pirates and ghosts abound, as does a malevolent entity known as The Distance. Adora’s connection to The Distance makes her the best person to confront it when it threatens to destroy her world. Entwined with a real-life story of a father’s love and a journey to understanding, Adora is a smart and brave main character in a world full of love, peril, and humor. Stunning illustrations with brilliant color, depth, and shading brings this mix of fantasy and realistic drama to life in readers’ hands.

Chanani, Nidhi. Jukebox. illus by author. First Second. 2021. ISBN 9781250156365.
Gr 4-8Shaheen feels like she and her mom come in second to her father’s obsession with vinyl music. Her dad spends hours trawling record bins to add to his collection, never really paying attention to his family, but when he goes missing, Shaheen and her cousin, Tannaz, are on the case. The two discover a glowing jukebox at the local record store and are transported to a 1929 Harlem ballroom when they spin a Bessie Smith record on the turntable! From there, the girls search for Shaheen’s dad through the decades, using the jukebox as their time machine. A time-traveling trip through key moments in history, Jukebox beautifully illustrates the connection between music and social change.

Chanani, Nidhi. Super Boba Café. illus.by author. Abrams. 2023. ISBN 9781419759567.
Gr 4 Up–Having endured a stressful school year, Aria spends the summer with her grandmother Jing, who runs a boba café in San Francisco. Jing has a BIG secret—she’s the keeper of the monster under the shop, clandestinely feeding it giant boba to satisfy its hunger and keep the neighborhood safe. Aria’s mission to increase traffic for the café takes off when she turns it into a social media hit, but putting the shop front and center means monster mealtimes may be forgotten—and there are consequences! Blending realistic family and bullying struggles with the fantastical, Chanani once again creates a wild story with heartfelt themes at its center.

Hatke, Ben. Things in the Basement. illus. by author. First Second. 2023. ISBN 9781250836618.
Gr 3-5–The search for a sock opens doors to worlds both fantastic and eerie. Milo must retrieve a sibling’s sock from the basement laundry room, but a rat snatches it before he can grab it. Finding the courage to pursue the thief, Milo discovers secret chambers leading to a wondrous world inhabited by such denizens as a floating skull, a sensitive one-eyed tentacled creature, an army of mushrooms, and a ghost—all of whom he will need in order to locate the sock and get back home. Hatke is at his best when blending fantasy with reality, using color and shading to communicate atmosphere and place. Sparsely worded, Hatke’s comic lets the illustrations do the talking as a tale of friendship and bravery unfolds.

Hughes, Kiku. Displacement. illus. by author. First Second. 2020. ISBN 9781250193544.
Gr 6 Up–Teenager Kiku and her mother travel to San Francisco in search of the place her grandmother Ernestina lived before she and her parents were sent to a Japanese internment camp during World War II. As Kiku traipses alongside her mother, she’s transported back in time, living alongside Ernestina as she, too, becomes a displaced person living in two Japanese internment camps. Kiku observes day-to-day life in the camps, witnessing human rights abuses that are quickly hushed up, acts of resistance, and the communities the displaced formed. Science fiction elements lay the foundations for this historical tribute to the power of memory.

Khor, Shing Yin. The Legend of Auntie Po. illus. by author. Penguin/Kokila. 2021. ISBN 9780525554882.
Gr 5-8–Think you’ve heard all the American tall tales? You don’t know Po—Auntie Po, the legend that could take on Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox, Babe, any day. Mei and her father are a Chinese family who serve up food for loggers in the Sierra Nevada’s in 1885, where Mei tells the camp’s children stories about Auntie Po and her giant blue ox, Pei Pei. Racism and entitlement threaten the family’s livelihood, but Mei draws strength from Auntie Po and Pei Pei. Are they figments of Mei’s active imagination? That’s left up to readers to decide in this blending of magical realism and historical fiction.

Knox Ostertag, Molly. Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Club: Roll Call. illus. by Xanthe Bouma. HarperAlley. 2022. ISBN 9780063039247.
Gr 4 Up–Besties Olivia and Jess have the best adventures in their two-person Dungeons & Dragons campaign, but heading to middle school means expanding their social circle—something Jess isn’t so thrilled with. While Olivia expands their D&D campaign into a full-on school club hoping to make new friends, Jess, unwilling to share her game time or her best friend, expresses her frustration through the game and targets another character and potential friend. Confronted with the consequences of her actions, Jess discovers that sometimes you need to find room in your heart—and in your dungeon-raiding party—for new companions. Ostertag’s storytelling effortlessly moves between role-playing fantasy and reality. Genderfluid characters, a rich narrative, and vibrant illustration brings together a story that invites readers to stretch their imaginations and boundaries.

Lai, Remy. Ghost Book. illus. by author. Holt. 2023. ISBN 9781250810410.
Gr 4 Up–You’d think July Chen was invisible, but she’s not—at least, she’s pretty sure she isn’t, even if no one can quite remember her. Even her dad seems too preoccupied to notice her, but ghosts sure know she’s there: she’s the girl with the “yin-yang eyes.” July’s story is entwined with that of William, a boy who lives in between the worlds of the living and the dead. As Hungry Ghost month begins and the Gates of the Underworld open, July realizes that she may have to make the ultimate sacrifice to save William. Lai seamlessly moves between the modern world and the world of Chinese myth; a ghostly marketplace brings human vendors and spectral clientele together, and a love of dumplings sets events in motion. A touching story of friendship and sacrifice, with Lai’s skillful and sensitive examination of grief and loss woven into Chinese mythology.

Martz, John. Burt’s Way Home. illus. by author. Tundra. 2022. ISBN 9780 735271029.
Gr 3-6–Burt is an “intergalactic, transdimensional time traveler” separated from his parents during a journey. Stranded on Earth, Burt lives with a woman named Lydia until he can suss out antiquated Earth technology and find his way home. Lydia, however, tells a very different story. Crafted in two narratives, this is an aching look at a child coping with confusion and grief and the caregiver who tirelessly works at understanding, supporting, and providing for him. This entry is illustrated in two-color, blue and white, with bold black outlines. Martz creates an unfussy atmosphere that carries cartoon appeal while delivering a poignant message.

Mercado, Yehudi. Chunky Goes to Camp. illus. by author. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. 2022. ISBN 9780062972828.
Gr 4-8–In Mercado’s follow-up to Chunky, Hudi and his titular imaginary friend, Chunky, head to summer camp when Hudi can’t stay out of trouble at school. At camp, Hudi bonds with Pepe Guzman, another Mexican Jewish kid with a penchant for comedy. The two start a prank war with polo shirt–wearing rich kids, The Joshes, but the game of one-upmanship spins out of control as Pepe becomes more destructive, putting Hudi at risk of being labeled a “troublemaker.” The story moves between Mercado’s real-life camp memories and “Hudi on Trial” vignettes, where Hudi and Chunky—his legal counsel—provide additional commentary. Entertaining, with bright cartoon art and plentiful 1980s pop culture references, this title expertly uses humor to mix fantasy with memoir to connect with readers.

Ramm, Meggie. Batcat. illus by author. Abrams. 2023. ISBN 9781419756573.
Gr 3 Up–Batcat is a round, pink, half-bat and half-cat who lives alone in their oak tree home on Spooky Island, where they enjoy mushroom pizza, video games, and being alone—until a talkative ghost arrives and commits the cardinal sin of eating Batcat’s ice cream. Batcat undertakes a journey to be rid of the ghost and meets bats and cats who only make Batcat feel inferior for not being “bat enough” or “cat enough.” Why be one thing or another when being oneself is perfectly wonderful? Through this delightful story about embracing our individuality, done with humor and themes of self-awareness and acceptance, Ramm encourages readers to simply be: “[Batcat was] neither one thing nor another themselves.” An adorable story that interweaves horror fantasy with a friendship tale about discovering our place in the world.

Terciero, Rey. Doña Quixote: Rise of the Knight. illus. by Monica M. Magaña. Holt. 2023. ISBN 9781250795472.
Gr 4-8–Don Quixote rides again in a fantasy reimagining of the classic tale, putting a young girl named Lucia Castillo in the knight’s armor. Lucia’s grandfather was her hero, but the rest of their Texas town, including her mother, called him “Abuelo Loco”—a weirdo who thought he was a knight, running off to fight monsters only he could see. Years later, Lucia discovers her grandfather’s helmet, shield, and lance, and learns that she and Abuelo are descendants of Alonso Quijano de la Mancha—Don Quixote himself. After discovering a threat to the town, she and her best friend, Sandro, must undertake a mission to stop the mayor from unleashing an evil portal. Terciero brilliantly combines a classic tale with myth and fantasy in a contemporary setting, and Magaña’s vibrant colorwork breathes exciting life into mythological creatures and the Texas setting.

Walsh, Liam Francis. Red Scare. illus. by author. Scholastic/Graphix. 2022. ISBN 9781338167092.
Gr 4 Up–Set in 1950s post–Korean War America, Red Scare is a wild ride that blends historical fiction and sci-fi with a noir overlay. Peggy is a girl recovering from polio and struggling with school bullies. She discovers a mysterious object hidden in her crutch that gives her incredible abilities: she can fly! But shadowy men are now suddenly following her, and G-men keep asking her questions. Meanwhile, Peggy’s friend Jess has her own problems when the neighborhood catches wind of a rumor about her father’s Communist leanings. Retro-inspired illustration and noir shading pair with fast-paced action and tight storytelling as Walsh incorporates themes of postwar prejudice, PTSD, and ableism to form a sweeping narrative.

Weinersmith, Zach. Bea Wolf. illus. by Boulet. First Second. 2023. ISBN 9781250776297.
Gr 5 Up–Reimagined for a tween audience, this adaptation of Beowulf, told in gloriously solemn narration, brings readers to Treeheart, where generations of kids play, gorge themselves on sugary food, and enjoy childhood. But Mr. Grindle, the “age-withered night-walker” next door, wants no such frivolity and attacks with his evil touch, turning children into pimply teens and cranky middle-aged folks. A warrior rises from the suburbs: Bea Wolf, a girl with “sixty-and-sixty-kid strength.” Laugh-out-loud funny, with moments of over-the-top action and heartrending drama, Bea Wolf’s stark black-and-white illustration lends gravitas to a surreal mashup that readers will devour.

Rosemary Kiladitisis the community library manager at Queens Public Library’s Corona branch and has spent the last 10 years advocating for graphic novels .

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