Graphic Novels & Comics Connected to Social Justice

Carrie McClain
13 min readOct 12, 2021


When I think of social justice, the first words that come to mind include civil rights, human rights, stories of activists and important movements in history — past and current.

When I really sit and think about it, I believe that social justice can and should encompass so much more — why not cover issues that include figuring out one’s gender identity?

Why not cover issues that include reclaiming one’s heritage?

Why not cover issues in books that center women and other marginalized persons?

Why not give space to books that come out of the indie and alternative publishers who are not as mainstream as the bigger giants in publishing?

Why not, why, why not?! So here’s a reading list that adds just a few titles that cover that and more!

1.) Banned Book Club

by Kim Hyun Sook(Author), Ryan Estrada(Author), Ko Hyung-Ju (Illustrator) (pub date: 2020 ) Publisher: Iron Circus Comics. 199 pages. Age Range: 14–17 years

“When Kim Hyun Sook started college in 1983 she was ready for her world to open up. After acing her exams and sort-of convincing her traditional mother that it was a good idea for a woman to go to college, she looked forward to soaking up the ideas of Western Literature far from the drudgery she was promised at her family’s restaurant. But literature class would prove to be just the start of a massive turning point, still focused on reading but with life-or-death stakes she never could have imagined.

This was during South Korea’s Fifth Republic, a military regime that entrenched its power through censorship, torture, and the murder of protesters. In this charged political climate, with Molotov cocktails flying and fellow students disappearing for hours and returning with bruises, Hyun Sook sought refuge in the comfort of books. When the handsome young editor of the school newspaper invited her to his reading group, she expected to pop into the cafeteria to talk about Moby Dick, Hamlet, and The Scarlet Letter. Instead she found herself hiding in a basement as the youngest member of an underground banned book club. And as Hyun Sook soon discovered, in a totalitarian regime, the delights of discovering great works of illicit literature are quickly overshadowed by fear and violence as the walls close in.”

Issues/Topics Covered: Activism, Literacy, Korean History, Censorship, College Aged Activists, Female Protagonist, Memoir

Review of Banned Book Club here.

Publisher’s Website here.

2.) Nubia: Real One

by L.L McKinney (Author), Robyn Smith (Illustrator, Artist) (pub date: 2020) Publisher: DC Comics Age Range: 207 pages. Age Range: 14–17 years

“Nubia has always been a little bit…different. As a baby she showcased Amazon-like strength by pushing over a tree to rescue her neighbor’s cat. But despite her having similar abilities, the world has no problem telling her that she’s no Wonder Woman. And even if she were, they wouldn’t want her. Every time she comes to the rescue, she’s reminded of how people see her: as a threat. Her moms do their best to keep her safe, but Nubia can’t deny the fire within her, even if she’s a little awkward about it sometimes. Even if it means people assume the worst.

When Nubia’s best friend, Quisha, is threatened by a boy who thinks he owns the town, Nubia will risk it all-her safety, her home, and her crush on that cute kid in English class-to become the hero society tells her she isn’t.”

Issues/Topics Covered: Racism, Bullying, Police brutality, Gun violence, Consent, Community Activism, Misogynoir, LGBTQIA+ Characters,

Review of Nubia: Real One here.

Publisher’s Website here.

3.) Displacement

by Kiku Hughes (Author & Artist) (pub date: 2020) Publisher: First Second 288 pages. Reading Age/Range: 12+

“Kiku is on vacation in San Francisco when suddenly she finds herself displaced to the 1940s Japanese-American internment camp that her late grandmother, Ernestina, was forcibly relocated to during World War II.

These displacements keep occurring until Kiku finds herself “stuck” back in time. Living alongside her young grandmother and other Japanese-American citizens in internment camps, Kiku gets the education she never received in history class. She witnesses the lives of Japanese-Americans who were denied their civil liberties and suffered greatly, but managed to cultivate community and commit acts of resistance in order to survive.

Kiku Hughes weaves a riveting, bittersweet tale that highlights the intergenerational impact and power of memory.”

Issues/Topics Covered: WWII, Japanese Americans, Family Legacies, Time Travel, Female Protagonist, LGBTQIA+ Characters,

Review of Displacement here.

Publisher’s Website here.

4.) The Blue Road: A Fable of Migration

by Wayde Compton (Author) April dela Noche Milne(Illustrator) (pub date: 2019) (Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press) 120 pages. Reading Age/Range:14 years and up

“In this stunning graphic novel, Lacuna is a girl without a family, a past, or a proper home. She lives alone in a swamp made of ink, but with the help of Polaris, a will-o’-the-wisp, she embarks for the fabled Northern Kingdom, where she might find people like her. The only way to get there, though, is to travel the strange and dangerous Blue Road that stretches to the horizon like a mark upon a page. Along the way, Lacuna must overcome trials such as the twisted briars of the Thicket of Tickets and the intractable guard at the Rainbow Border. At the end of her treacherous journey, she reaches a city where memory and vision can be turned against you, in a world of dazzling beauty, divisive magic, and unlikely deliverance. Finally, Lacuna learns that leaving, arriving, returning — they’re all just different words for the same thing: starting all over again.

The Blue Road — the first graphic novel by acclaimed poet and prose writer Wayde Compton and illustrator April dela Noche Milne — explores the world from a migrant’s perspective with dreamlike wonder.”

Issues/Topics Covered: Immigration, Discrimination, The Value of Work, Redefining Borders, Citizenship,

Review of The Blue Road here.

Publisher’s Website here.

5.) The Chancellor and the Citadel

by Maria Capelle Frantz(Author, Artist) (pub date: 2019) Publisher: Iron Circus Comics. 130 pages. Reading Age/Range:12+

“The world is over. All that remains is the Citadel, and the Chancellor who protects it from the hostility beyond its walls. But what can she do when a fearful and angry mob is convinced she brought the world to ruin in the first place, and are determined to make her pay for it by destroying the one bastion of hope the world has left?

In her dramatic, richly imagined graphic novel debut, cartoonist Maria Frantz has created a brisk fantasy tale about the fears that lead to war, and the bonds that can keep a stronghold standing against the darkness.”

Issues/Topics Covered: Post-apocalyptic world, Women Run Governments, Gender neutral leads, War, Deescalating Violence,

Review of The Chancellor and The Citadel here.

Publisher’s Website here.

6.) Surviving The City Volume 1

by Tasha Spillet (Author), Natasha Donovan (Illustrator) Pub date: book one 2019, Book Two: 2020. (Publisher:High Water Press) Book One: 56 Pages Book Two: 64 pages. Reading Age/Range:12+

Miikwan and Dez are best friends. Miikwan is Anishinaabe; Dez is Inninew. Together, the teens navigate the challenges of growing up in an urban landscape — they’re so close, they even completed their Berry Fast together. However, when Dez’s grandmother becomes too sick, Dez is told she can’t stay with her anymore. With the threat of a group home looming, Dez can’t bring herself to go home and disappears. Miikwan is devastated, and the wound of her missing mother resurfaces. Will Dez’s community find her before it’s too late? Will Miikwan be able to cope if they don’t?

Book One of Two Graphic Novels in A Series.

Issues/Topics Covered: Inter-generational Trauma, Indigenous people, Canadian Native persons, Friendship, (MMIW) Missing and murdered Indigenous women, Community Activism

Review of Surviving The City Volume 1 here.

Publisher’s Website here.

7.) Monster: A Graphic Novel

Original Novel by Walter Dean Myers, adapted by Guy A. Sims and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile (Illustrator) Pub date: 2015. (Publisher: Amistad) 160 pages. Reading Age/Range:14+

“A stunning graphic novel adaptation of Walter Dean Myers’s New York Times bestseller Monster.

Monster is a multi-award-winning, provocative coming-of-age story about Steve Harmon, a teenager awaiting trial for a murder and robbery. As Steve acclimates to juvenile detention and goes to trial, he envisions how his ordeal would play out on the big screen.

Guy A. Sims, the acclaimed author of the Brotherman series of comic books, collaborated with his brother, the illustrator Dawud Anyabwile, in this thrilling black-and-white graphic novel adaption of Monster.

Monster was the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award recipient, an ALA Best Book, a Coretta Scott King Honor selection, and a National Book Award finalist. Monster is also now a major motion picture called All Rise starring Jennifer Hudson, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Nas, and A$AP Rocky.

Fans of Monster and of the work of Walter Dean Myers — and even kids who think they don’t like to read — will devour this graphic adaptation.”

Issues/Topics Covered: Violent Crime, Peer Pressure, Criminalization of Black bodies, Black Teens, School to Prison Pipeline, High School Aged Protagonist, Underdog Character, Misfit Character

Review of Monster: A Graphic Novel here.

Publisher’s Website here.

8.) March: Book One

by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin(Author) (Artist Nate Powell) (pub date: 2013) Publisher: Top Shelf Productions 128 pages. Reading Age/Range: 12+

“Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1958 comic book “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.”

BOOK One of Three in a Series.

Issues/Topics Covered: Civil Rights Movement, American History, Racial Inequity, Discrimination, Jim Crow, Voting Rights, Human Rights, Memoir

Review of March here.

Publisher’s Website here.

9.) Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

by Marjane Satrapi (Author & Artist) (pub date: 2004) Publisher: Pantheon. 128 pages. Reading Age/Range: 13+

Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.”

BOOK One of Two in a Series.

Issues/Topics Covered: War, Iranian History, Muslim Women, Gender Roles & Stereotypes, Education, Literacy, Religion, Adapted Into Animated Film

Review of Persepolis here.

Publisher’s Website here.

10.) Goldie Vance Vol 1

by Hope Larson (Author), Brittney Williams (Illustrator) (pub date: 2016) Publisher: BOOM! Box 112 pages. Reading Age/Range: 9+

“Sixteen-year-old Marigold “Goldie” Vance lives at a Florida resort with her dad, who manages the place. Her mom, who divorced her dad years ago, works as a live mermaid at a club downtown. Goldie has an insatiable curiosity, which explains her dream to one day become the hotel’s in-house detective.

When Charles, the current detective, encounters a case he can’t crack, he agrees to mentor Goldie in exchange for her help solving the mystery. Eisner Award-winning writer Hope Larson (A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel) and artist Brittney Williams (Patsy Walker, A.K.A Hellcat!) present the newest gal sleuth on the block with Goldie Vance, an exciting, whodunnit adventure.”

Volume One in a Series of Four Volumes of Collected Issues +

Issues/Topics Covered: Re-defining Gender Roles, Characters of Color, Female Lead, LGBTQIA+ Characters

Review of Goldie Vance Vol 1 here.

Publisher’s Website here.

Photo Credit: Mitchell Luo

A few tips on for readers trying to expand their lists but are new to it:

1.)Befriend the librarians in your life — in your families, at school, at your local library in the neighborhood! While not every person working at a library will read or even keep up with comics, graphic novels or whatever genre you adore, librarians and libraries in general have lists of books and other reading materials. Lists for teens, lists for children’s literature, etc that are worth looking into. (Check out your library’s homepage too!)

2.) Peep your local festivals, conventions and events in your community! See what your school, community center, place of worship offer — with Covid-19, a lot of events and artist talks went virtual. While certain places have opened up with limited attendance and rules in place like mask wearing, vaccines. I grew up in Los Angeles and one of my favorite childhood memories was going to the The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

3.) Do your best to support indie book store! While I know that not everyone is privileged to live near a indie book store, do your best to support them if you have nay nearby; is a website that helps folks to shop online and support smaller bookstores. That website that has a rain-forest sounding name is super convenient to use yet with every indie bookstore we lose — we are losing years of artist talks, community gatherings and great memories Am*zon will never be able to give us.

4.) Social Media! Your favorite writer probably has a website. And if they have a website, there’s a good chance that they have some kind of social media presence. Maybe they have a twitter account where they break down how to break into the publishing business. Maybe they retweet paid internships. Maybe your favorite comic book artist has an Instagram or Art Station page. I tend to subscribe to and read lots of newsletters from creatives like illustrators and writers so it is a great feeling to be in the know on future projects and get to hear about giveaways and other cool things that they are up to.

5.) Start your own book club! Why not? Find other folks who like to or want to read the genres you love and/or possible get you into all the comics and graphic novels you have never heard of/thought you’d never be interested in!

6.) Encourage your educators to use more graphic novels and comics in the classrooms! Comics and graphic novels have come a looooong time to being seen as legitimate pieces of media by educator and critics. Classrooms that include colleges and universities have been picking up stepped and adding comics and graphic novels to syllabi and reading lists with push back, of course. Banned Book Week here in the U.S. is always a great week to read up and reflect on what books challenge the norm and these lists do include comics!

Originally created in October 2021 for the students of Ms. Bullock’s class and friends! Happy reading! :)

This reading list and tips for readers looking to read more comics and graphic novels is meant to stand as a educational guide only. I am not affiliated with any of the creative teams or publishers. Nor was I paid to create this list. IF you find this reading list useful, please feel free to share with other students and educators!

Carrie McClain is a Californian native who navigates the world as writer, editor, and media scholar who firmly believes that we can and we should critique the media we consume. She once aided Cindi Mayweather in avoiding capture. See more of her on Twitter and on



Carrie McClain

⭐️ Writer, Editor & Media Scholar with an affinity for red lipstick living in California. Writes about literature, art, cinema! ⭐️