Challenging Graphic Novels for an 11 year-old?
October 6, 2005 7:15 PM   Subscribe

What books / graphic novels are available for a 11 year old boy who needs something more challenging and of greater complexity than Naruto and Yu-Gi-Oh graphic novels, while still appealing to him and remaining in this vein? I am thinking Maus may be a good start...but not Anime enough...
posted by strangelove to Education (50 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:19 PM on October 6, 2005

Maus seems, umm, a bit advanced for an 11-year-old. (Not anime enough is the least of it.) PST's suggestion is good, but I'd highly recommend Jeff Smith's Bone, which is perhaps best thought of as a Tolkien-knockoff fantasy novel written by Donald Duck maestro Carl Barks. It's really fabulous and totally age-appropriate. (Bonus: Smith finished the lengthy series, so you can buy all the collected volumes when he needs to know what happens next.)
posted by snarkout at 7:29 PM on October 6, 2005

I second Nausicaa. Monster, by Urasawa Naoki, is a great thriller/mystery -- though perhaps not as thought-provoking as Nausicaa or Maus.
posted by Marit at 7:32 PM on October 6, 2005

I second the Bone recommendation, I was about to write about it when I saw snarkout had beat me to it. There's a consolidated one volume collection of the entire Bone series available now.
posted by formless at 7:33 PM on October 6, 2005

Have you tried some of the other Shonen Jump manga collections, like Hikaru No Go and One Piece? Or would those just be more of the same type of thing?
posted by gnat at 7:36 PM on October 6, 2005

Maus is a little on the intense/terrifying side for an 11-year-old. Jeff Smith's Bone books (there's a huge one-volume black-and-white edition that might be a little tricky to track down, or color versions of the first two books that Scholastic has published) are a whole lot of fun, and have moments of real depth. Also, Don Rosa's The Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck is delightful and very engaging.

Beyond that, I'd say some of the big fat black-and-white reprint books of old Marvel and DC Comics could be fun for him (try the first volume or two of Essential Spider-Man, or the new Showcase Presents Green Lantern book).

When I was 11 or 12, I loved Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's Asterix books--try The Mansions of the Gods or Asterix the Legionary. They are IMMENSELY popular in Europe, and in some ways kinda anime-ish; not to everybody's taste, though.

Along the same lines, perhaps some of Hergé's Tintin books?
posted by 88robots at 7:36 PM on October 6, 2005

I cannot recommend enough the "His Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip K. Pullman. My son and I devoured these books a few years ago (when he was eleven), and we have both independently returned to read them over and over again. These books (respectively, "Northern Lights", "The Amber Spyglass" and "The Subtle Knife") are the very best young adult literature I have ever read.
posted by msali at 7:40 PM on October 6, 2005

Well, if you're looking for challenging and complex, the first thing that comes to mind is Akira. The original manga is mind-bending, intense, and very dark. However, depending on how uptight his parents (you?) are, it may be a little too edgy for him. There's quite a bit of violence and references to sex and drugs, IIRC.
posted by ulotrichous at 7:46 PM on October 6, 2005

Have you considered Bone?
posted by atom128 at 7:50 PM on October 6, 2005

above all: flight. (currently 2 vols, 3rd soon to come)

scott pilgrim

daisy kutter

(disclosure: I am a sometime lazy-ass mocca volunteer)
posted by dorian at 7:50 PM on October 6, 2005

Oh I totally got beaten to that. Hah, whoops.
posted by atom128 at 7:50 PM on October 6, 2005

oh ya, girl genius is (possibly too-cute but) always good as well.
posted by dorian at 7:52 PM on October 6, 2005

Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Harry Potter, Tom Sawyer.
You can't go wrong with these. The whole Manga/Anime thing is perplexing to me. I just can hardly stand to see the world change so much. But, maybe I'm just old-fashioned. Good luck!

posted by Independent Scholarship at 8:00 PM on October 6, 2005

Moonfleet is a great story.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:25 PM on October 6, 2005

Another nod for Bone! I can't imagine an 11-year old not loving it.

And, while it's not exactly challenging, I'd recommend Craig Thompson's Goodbye Chunky Rice.

Also worth looking at are the youth-friendly short comics antologies Flight volumes One and Two.

Scott Robins runs a blog devoted to kids-friendly comics called All Ages that can most likely provide a lot more info, especially on the manga/anime side of things, which I know little to nothing about...
posted by Robot Johnny at 8:29 PM on October 6, 2005

I second Akira. Great comic.
posted by pwb503 at 8:33 PM on October 6, 2005

(PS: The first book in the His Dark Material series is known as "The Golden Compass" in the US.)

Would he consider the Lemony Snicket books to be below him or even passé? I think 11-years-old is just about perfect for those, with that gallows humor and all, but I'm admittedly a little out of touch with the demographic.

I don't know about someone twenty years younger than me, but when I was a kid, I loved those reprints of vintage Mad magazines.

Oh! Eleven is probably a hair too young, but soon you'll be able to buy him the Gormenghast books, written by the man who--hopefully--illustrated the copy of Treasure Island you're going to buy the kid.
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:01 PM on October 6, 2005

You can't go wrong with these. The whole Manga/Anime thing is perplexing to me. I just can hardly stand to see the world change so much. But, maybe I'm just old-fashioned.

You come from a time before comics and cartoons?

In addition to Bone and the other suggestions above, there's a graphic novel version of Spirited Away that he might like. Also consider collections of the earlier issues of Books of Magic and all of Castle Waiting.
posted by redfoxtail at 9:03 PM on October 6, 2005

Yeah I liked Akira at around that age, even though it had adult themes it helped that it was such a visual work that didn't rely on excessive dialogue. There is some casual drug use in the comic which is sorta unusual but overall it's a great manga. Luckily the kid won't have to wait 8 years for the entire series to get translated.
posted by bobo123 at 9:18 PM on October 6, 2005

What about Akria?
posted by delmoi at 9:19 PM on October 6, 2005

Daniel Clowes
posted by brujita at 9:28 PM on October 6, 2005

Nobody's mentioned it yet, but if he's willing to read a regular book, Ender's Game is standard issue in these situations, and does a good job of getting kids into slightly meatier novels. Don't bother with the sequels, although the parallel 'Shadow' series is pretty good.

Also, if he's interested in the superhero thing (call it American Manga!), the two obvious places to start would be The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.

All of this after he's read Bone, of course. I've been reading Bone to my 3 year old, and I'd forgotten how fantastic every single stinkin' panel is.
posted by ulotrichous at 9:59 PM on October 6, 2005

redfoxtail: Comics and cartoons have never been considered "books." I read comics, but they never replaced my reading good books.

posted by Independent Scholarship at 10:03 PM on October 6, 2005

I would have loved Hiroaki Samura's Blade of the Immortal when I was that age, but it's, uh, a little "mature" at times. Kind of depends on whether you're the parent or "the crazy aunt" or something like that.

Also, Warren Ellis's Planetary would be pretty sweet, though I've only read the first volume.
posted by hototogisu at 10:24 PM on October 6, 2005

Oh! I'm surprised no one's suggested Sandman yet! The first volume's mostly crap, but it really picks up after that. That would have been the coolest thing to read at 11 (instead of, say, 20...)
posted by hototogisu at 10:27 PM on October 6, 2005

I will also vote for Bone, but add the information that individual sections have been released by scholastic in full color. So maybe get "Out from Boneville" and see if he likes it. Also, I haven't read it, but Tintin might be fun.
posted by drezdn at 10:37 PM on October 6, 2005

Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis is a million genre-miles away from Yu-Gi-Oh, but it's a wonderful book nonetheless, and the narrator is a pre-teen girl. The subject matter is serious, but it's written and illustrated in an engaging style.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 10:38 PM on October 6, 2005

Along the same lines as hototogisu's idea, I'd also recommend The Books of Magic (that's one of them) which include writing by Gaiman, amongst others.

It's a bit Potter-ish, but that's not a bad thing. And, personally, I've always had a soft spot for the fantastic creeping into the mundane.

Plus, for all that I heartily recommend Sandman to {any,every}one who is interested in graphic novels, or reading in general, it is a bit dark for an average 11-year-old, where Books of Magic is a bit more kid-friendly. If your child is not average, go nuts. Really. Sandman is about as good as it gets.
posted by ChrisR at 10:57 PM on October 6, 2005

I'm currently reading the much recommended Bone. Amusing, fantastical, has a good story arc. I'd imagine an 11 year old would find it compelling too.

I really enjoyed reading Matt Wagner's Mage: The Hero Discovered in my pre-teen and teenage years. However, I'm not sure how available editions with the original hand-painted coloring are, and the beautiful art was half the reason for enjoying it. It is still published as a collection. But don't bother with The Hero Defined. Nowhere near the magic.

As for books: Lloyd Alexander. Almost anything he did is great, especially The Chronicles of Prydain. Madeline l'Engle. Susan Cooper is hit and miss, but I like her overall. C.S. Lewis.

And one of my favorite books to this day is one I first read around age 11: Richard Adams Watership Down. I've read it probably near 100 times since, and find it richer and more interesting the older I get. It's long, though.
posted by weston at 11:02 PM on October 6, 2005

C.S. Lewis's "Chronicles of Narnia"--a series of 7 novels. The first, called "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", has a -major- motion picture version coming out quite soon.
posted by neuron at 12:45 AM on October 7, 2005

Yeah, Maus is a bit mature. I read that in high school, and think 6th grade would be a little young.

As far as illustrated work goes, I'd suggest getting some of the Illustrated Classics series. You can get 24 (I'm not sure which ones are included, but here's a pretty comprehensive list) from Amazon for $60. In looking that up, I also came across a 1940's illustrated novel of Les Mis (via). No idea where you'd find that one. Or if it's in English (probably not).

Tintin would be good, if a little "colonial" (Paraphrase: "Quel sauvage!").

I would absolutely recommend the Scrooge McDuck comics by Carl Barks. Don Rosa has some good stuff, too, but Carl Barks is fantastic. Sadly, Donald Duck has become so entwined in the "Donald Duck == Disney == little kids" chain, it's hard for people to disassociate the Duck family from little kids. The stories are really great, with excellent character development and superb story lines.
posted by Alt F4 at 3:12 AM on October 7, 2005

Daniel Clowes

Just in case you're not familiar with Clowes, this is a pretty terrible idea for an 11 year old who enjoys things like Naruto. Adult themes, confusing and disturbing imagery and often obtuse storylines make these comics compelling for adults but really outside of the range of most pre-teens. I just read the whole Bone series, it's amazing.
posted by jessamyn at 5:22 AM on October 7, 2005

Why in Gods name would an 11 year old boy still be reading comics? Give him real books. I was reading real books when I was 11. Sherlock Holmes is perfect for that age. Tarzan was my absolute favorite from 10 to 12.

Get them started young, it's when they learn the best. Comics should never be seen as real reading material.
posted by markesh at 5:26 AM on October 7, 2005

Markesh are you trying to to start a flame war here? Suffice to say I disagree with you (read From Hell by Alan Moore and then get back to me). Not dissing literature, all of the books quoted so far are good ones, but comics are cool as well.

Anyway try Soulwind by Scott C Morse, he might like it.

Salamander Dream by Hope Larson is another keeper, it's available online so check it out there.

Artbomb also has a section for childrens books that might be worth a look.

Would also second the recommendations of Sandman and Early Books of Magic TP's (say the first 4-5 after that it goes down hill).
posted by invisible_al at 5:43 AM on October 7, 2005

Why in Gods name would an 11 year old boy still be reading comics?

The same reason 42 year old men are still reading comics. It's a viable and interesting art form.

I second (or third) the Bone and Titin recommendations. Neither Clowes or Akira are going to hold much interest for an 11 year old. I also think that the Sandman is probably a little too subtle for most 11 year olds.

Be careful with manga aimed at an older audience a lot it some pretty graphic sex.
posted by doctor_negative at 5:49 AM on October 7, 2005

Obscure suggestion: Thieves & Kings by Mark Oakley. It's a classic young hero/fantasy story that is simultaneously more real and more fantastical than 99% of the rest of the genre. All those glowing reviews aren't a fluke: it's the real deal. Oakley has an interesting graphic style that fuses anime/asian sensibility with more western conventions, which might make it more accessible to your son. Two downsides: the story isn't finished yet, and the books can be hard to come by. Ordering straight from M'Oak is easily done though, and supports small presses and independent artists.
posted by junkbox at 5:57 AM on October 7, 2005


The When the Tripods Came series by Christopher was pretty good for me at that age.

Hatchet was also pretty cool.

11 is also a great age for anything by John Bellairs. Can I get a woot for The House With A Clock In Its Walls?


Marvel is really pushing its Ultimate universe restarts of late. They even have a video game based on Ultimate Spider-man. This series (esp Spire-man) is very, very anime influenced and should be okay for kids. There's a whole lot of material here, but if you've been to the comic shop, you probably already know that.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:33 AM on October 7, 2005

I'd definately give him another year before Clowes and "Preacher" :) Some of Warren Ellis' work on superheros like "The Authority" might be good if you don't mind some adult themes and portrayal of sexual goings-on if not the sex itself. Winnick's "Barry Ween" is wonderfully funny while still being smart and might really appeal to a pre-teen.
posted by phearlez at 6:55 AM on October 7, 2005

Can I mention Bone again? Heh.
Ok. I had an X-Men subscription starting when I was about six years old, and I think that they're fantastic for that age. Also look into Mike Alred's Madman comics. Those are great for a kid his age (made by a Mormon who can draw and won't give the kid all sorts of weird religion stuff). Also look at The Tick by Ben Edlund. It's goofy fun, and the comic is better than the TV show.
For books, a good place to start is Young Adult Novel by Daniel Pinkwater. After that, he'll want the Adventures of the Snarkout Boys series, which is also very good.
Other books I really enjoyed at 11: Sherlock Holmes, Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, Red Badge of Courage, the Sirens of Titan by Vonnegut (I did my first book report on it when I was 11), Double Star by Heinlein, Carter of Mars, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, a lot of choose your own adventure books, Chronicles of Narnia, Robin Hood, the Legend of King Arthur, Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut, Fahrenheit 451... (In fact, I think a lot of people here are underestimating what a smart kid at 11 reads. But then again, I was unpopular and read alone in my room almost every day).
posted by klangklangston at 7:00 AM on October 7, 2005

I just think that getting children into "serious" comics is going to influence them unduly. They will always prefer this sort of literature. It's much easier to read it than books, so they will never challenge themselves to actually sit down and read books.

I remember when I was 7 or so, and I used to hate books that did not have pictures. But after a while, the books with pictures were just too easy, so I moved on. If I had had comics at the time, I would simply have moved on to more serious comics, and would never have really gotten into reading.
posted by markesh at 7:13 AM on October 7, 2005

Comics should never be seen as real reading material.

I like Holmes and Tarzan too, Markesh, but you are a million miles off the mark. Comics are a perfectly valid artform, capable of enormous depth and complexity. Why does the perception persist that a barrier must be maintained between images and text?

Now, getting back to topic: Another vote for Bone. The Watchmen is, I think, far too adult for an 11 year old (many disturbing sexual situations, particulary in the case of Rorschach, and terrible violence).

Batman: Year One might be OK, Mazzucelli's art is spectacular.

Hellboy is extremely strange, but might be suitable if avoided at bed-time. Wonderful and creepy art.

As for fiction, how about The Caves of Steel?
posted by Scoo at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2005

My two suggestions:
Tales of the Beanworld has been collected as a series of 3 graphic novels, although they're somewhat hard to find. It's a great story about self exploration and expression.

Usagi Yojimbo is continuously collected into a growing number of graphic novels. This is the one comic I still read regularly. A rabbit samurai roams feudal Japan's countryside undergoing one adventure after the next. Very carefully researched.
posted by GeneticFreek at 8:53 AM on October 7, 2005

"They will always prefer this sort of literature. It's much easier to read it than books, so they will never challenge themselves to actually sit down and read books."
Totally and completely off the mark. I read more serious comic books, including comic adaptations of "serious" books (like Kidnapped, etc.) and was also able to go gangbusters into real books.
Just because you're lazy doesn't mean that all children are.
posted by klangklangston at 9:09 AM on October 7, 2005

Lone Wolf and Cub is also good for kids who want something a little more serious, but not very much so. It's more anime.
posted by klangklangston at 9:10 AM on October 7, 2005

Oh, and I forgot to mention "The Day I traded My Dad for a Goldfish" by Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman, the folks who do Sandman. Excellent book for all ages.
posted by klangklangston at 9:11 AM on October 7, 2005

Battle Angel Alita is great stuff.
posted by redteam at 9:46 AM on October 7, 2005


He might like Krazy Kat, but might not get many of the jokes...

They will always prefer this sort of literature. It's much easier to read it than books, so they will never challenge themselves to actually sit down and read books.

You have GOT to be kidding. Is this some electronic echo of Wertham?
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:06 AM on October 7, 2005

markesh - That's a load of crap. Escapism's escapism. There's room for Mark Twain and Stan Lee.

With comics you either get it or you don't and you find out almost right away if the medium works for you.

I'd give the lad some Marvel essentials - the black and white collections of early Spider-Man and mid-70s X-Men. Excellent stuff. DC just came out with their Showcase series of B&W comics but started with Silver Age Supermans that might be way too cornball for today's 11 year old.

Otherwise, I'd also recommend Bone (in color), Tintin and Ultimate Spider-Man.
posted by DonnieSticks at 12:02 PM on October 7, 2005

I would have loved Ghost World at eleven. Second the Persopolis books, but DON'T give him Embroideries..."What's this white stuff floating in my tea?"
posted by brujita at 4:00 AM on October 8, 2005

Absolutely, categorically, without question try the books in Diane Duane's Young Wizards series. They are incredibly intelligent and challenging, fantastical yet integrating science — accessible for your child but enjoyable even by adults. I honest-to-God would recommend them for absolutely anybody, and she is without a doubt my very favorite author. Unqualified and extremely high recommendation.
posted by WCityMike at 2:25 PM on October 9, 2005

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