We’ve all heard it before: conflict is what drives stories. This idea has led to a market where bestsellers are stuffed with ever-increasing stakes that push their characters to the absolute brink and usually require extreme means—often physical violence—to triumph over adversity. And don’t get me wrong: I love a sword-slinging princess as much as the next YA author and I think there’s a place for these kinds of stories. (There must be, or they wouldn’t be so popular!)
However, conflict doesn’t always have to be violent or extreme, and a new trend in middle grade and teen graphic novels are proving that books don’t always have to dial it up to eleven in order to capture our attention, or our hearts. Palpable conflict can be found in navigating a difficult conversation with a loved one or even in working to understand our own negative thought and behavior patterns.
Here are seven graphic novels (some of them series!) that are beloved by readers and that show stories centering gentleness and acceptance have a place in today’s market.
This graphic novel geared toward younger readers follows Lana, a young girl who discovers that a secret herd of Aquicorns—magical sea ponies!—living in the coral reef outside her harborside hometown are being threatened by the unsustainable practices of the humans living nearby. Lana must help them see the harmfulness of their actions and convince them to change their ways in order to save the aquicorns. The novel’s gentle, cheerful color palette is just as uplifting as its ultimate message.
Another gentle and brightly colored offering from Katie O’Neill, Dragon Tea Society is about an isolated mountain community that is known for its wonderful tea … tea that’s produced with the help of its magical tea dragons! With charming illustrations and positive messages about gender nonconformity, this short but sweet graphic novel (first in a continuing series) will give you all the feels.
Pilu of the Woods tells the story of Willow, a young boy who’s recently experienced a devastating family tragedy, who finds a young magnolia tree that’s run away from home. He has to convince her to return to her grove and, in doing so, learns for himself that running from your problems only makes them worse.
Emma and her younger sister Violette have always dreamed of joining the ballet together in Paris—but when Violette is admitted to the top school and Emma isn’t, it seems their dreams are about to shatter. This heart-warming graphic novel explores what it means to follow are dreams and our talents, and what it looks like when those two things aren’t the same.
This light and fun graphic novel from Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks shows a group of teens working their last harvest festival together before they split up for college the following year. It explores themes of infatuation, crushes, and love—requited and unrequited—as well as exploring diversity, body positivity, and friendship.
This paranormal graphic novel aimed at teens and older readers is about teen witch Nova Huang and werewolf Tam Lang as they grow from childhood friends into something more, all while investigating the evil forces that seek to control the werewolves and use them to cause harm. Features LGBTQIA+ themes as well as portraying unconventional-but-loving families.
Magic to Brew – Moonstruck Book 1 (Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, Kate Leth, Caitlin Quirk, Clayton Cowles)
Werewolf Julie and her best friend Chet the centaur work in a bustling coffee house and try to manage their personal relationships. This fun and quirky series explores healthy relationship dynamics, body positivity, and LGBTQIA+ themes and features beautiful artwork and a running joke about Neopets. A light romance that’s really just brimming with positivity and good feelings.
Have you stumbled across any “gentle” graphic novels lately? If so, please share your favorites in the comments so that others can read and enjoy!