2023 is around the corner from ending, thankfully. I read lots throughout the year which entertained me, helped me from dissociating too much and helped keep me sane. This list is just a drop in the bucket of all the comics that I read in the year of 2023. There were web comics like The Unlucky Ones and the Edge of Nowhere by Nicky Rodriguez and manga like Nina The Starry Bride that I’m behind on that I want to reread from the start before reviewing or recommending to others. These are just a few of the comics that made 2023 a whole lot brighter and bearable along the way: featuring some debuts, some epic collaborations and several memorable tales worth staying up in bed reading!
1.) Gordita: Built Like This, Written and Illustrated by: Daisy “Draizys” Ruiz Edited by: Jamila Rowser (Black Josei Press)
I once wrote that Gordita: Built Like This was a necessary coming of age comic that best illustrates that young women are way more than their bodies and well worth pouring support into to be the best versions of themselves. From the tender and tearful moments of Gordita confronting her own mother in Spanish to the glorious final confrontation of a classmate in a school hallway, every page, every step of this teen girl’s journey is hard earned, and ultimately it’s a journey I treasure. A fine addition to the world of autobiographical comics, I hope readers of all ages, but especially girls and women, can read Gordita: Built Like This and find comfort for the times that they feel they were not enough because of how the world saw them and judged their bodies rather than their whole, authentic selves.
2.) Where I’m Coming From by Barbara Brandon-Croft (Drawn & Quarterly)
I once wrote of pioneer Brandon-Croft’s work collected here as timeless, so many panels and pages would feel at home today in a newspaper. Croft tackled gun violence, colorism, motherhood, and other topics in strips that have so much weight today along with jokes and commentary on dieting, new hairstyles, and on-and-off-again boyfriends. I know I relate most to Where I’m Coming From’s Cheryl, who tells it like it is, and Lekesia, the group’s feminist. Yet, I’m also the quiet observer in the group like Judy. Getting to know these hilarious and multifaceted Black women again makes me feel so seen and present on the page when I’m living through a time where I often feel silenced because of my race and gender. I’m here for being able to give Black women their flowers, and Barbara Brandon-Croft’s work here is a treasure trove of comics that I recommend to anyone who reads comics and honors female creators in this space.
3.) Out of Style by Dewi Putri Megwati (Short Box Comics)
Proving to be one of my favorite Kickstarter campaign books of late, Out of Style is a wonderfully illustrated book that is something in between an artbook and a load of short comics. As the debut published work from rising superstar artist, Dewi Putri Megwat, the book follows Mila, Yul, and Hana as they navigate their lives: school, work, friendships, fashion and everyday life. Giving a slice of life feel, the comics show the complexities and simple comforts of three young women who are Muslim. The artwork simply shines in added details everywhere from the margins of pages to the color schemes on the pages to the fun pages of cooking with family and finished meals. At only 140 pages, Out of Style is not a long read and yet it one I love to come back to see little Mila bicker with her big brother, witness Yul’s theatric at school and be wowed by Hana’s fashion taste in and out the workplace. Reading the pages of Hana, the one adult in the lineup recalling her rise to independence, smiling at Mila’s love of food and laughing at Yul’s school time adventures made this book a fave.
4.) The Sea In You by Jessi Sheron (Iron Circus Comics)
Considered a contemporary fantasy retelling of The Little Mermaid, The Sea in You centers on Corinth and Skylla. Corinth is a teenage girl who is lonely, insecure and yearning for more in life who is lured to the sea but saved by a mermaid named Skylla. Skylla is a child of the sea and nothing like the mermaids that the human girl grew up reading about and yet the two become fast friends bonding over the best things on land. With gorgeous artwork, The Sea In You is a queer love story that is colored by a narrative that emphasizes communication, friendship and discovering oneself. One major part of both characters’ development that works really well is the transformation of both girls: to protect another and also to gain agency in the lives that they want to lead.
5.) My Girlfriend’s Child vol 2 &3 by Mamoru Aoiand Hana Allen as Translator, Phil Christie as Letterer and H. Qi for Cover Design (Seven Seas Entertainment)
I once wrote that Mamoru Aoi’s ongoing Shojo Manga Series about a couple experiencing a teen pregnancy remains a Shojo classic in the making. My Girl Friend’s Child has quietly been building up to be a stunning and meticulous tale on body autonomy and the lives of teenagers, especially a teenage girl’s life changed forever. I have especially appreciated the mangaka for crafting this tale featuring how important it is to use gentleness not just in Shojo manga but in stories with relationships dealing with young people in need. My Girl Friend’s Child, as a series, has also upped the bar in reminding us why accessible and accurate, detailed education is needed on the topics of sex and sexuality, especially for teens and any reader who wants to see people gain agency in their lives.
6.) Crescent Moon Marching by Hamachi Yamada, Translator: Arthur Miura Lettering: Barri Shrager Proofreader: Gergő Rácz (Azuki)
I originally started reading this manga up on the Azuki website back in Spring time. I was really blown away by this fresh, coming of age story. Crescent Moon Marching is an amazing story of a teenager who never committed herself to anything and starts discovering who she is through the comradery of the marching band she joins. Wanting to be on the same page with others means she’s yearning to take the first step and the next and the next. With Yamada’s expressive artwork that highlights facial expressions, it is easy to be enamored with just the first few chapters that dive into the intricate details of musical instruments, marching band need-to-know, and Mizuki’s dive into belonging. The more I read the more I get to see how passion transforms people and how adults–supportive and non-supportive ones need to be reminded of the power of a teenager’s ambition. I love that the mangaka leaves an afterword in one of the earlier chapters about discovering marching bands in high school and how that led to wonderful experiences that help paint this manga’s narrative.
7.) River’s Edge by Kyoko Okazaki, translated by Alexa Frank (Kodansha)
Ahhhh, the long awaited and hot anticipated River’s Edge by Josei manga great Kyoko Okazaki. Earlier this year, I wrote that I think what makes River’s Edge a recommended read is that it evolves into a masterclass of intertwining the lives of all these young adults that Okazaki handles with ease. From saving a fellow classmate from bullying to being coerced into activities they’d rather not participate in, from betraying a friend to sparing another’s feelings — here is a multitude of sins and kind gestures on the page mixing together in this layered narrative about the pains and joys of youth. Darkly imaginative, this manga presents teens at the cusp of adulthood yet also at the proverbial edge of the river where they constantly come in contact with the worst and best of humanity.
8.) My Dear Detective: Mitsuko’s Case Files By Natsumi Ito Published by Azuki
I wrote in a bit more detail about My Dear Detective: Mitsuko’s Case Files, a newer manga series last year. I am happy to recommend the series with such an intriguing premise: the fictional adventures and misadventures of Mitsuko, Japan’s first fictional woman detective in the turbulent 1930s, again. Despite the infuriating comments from small-minded folks all about not quite outdated gender roles, she’s keen on impacting lives one way or another–that’s her job. Saku, a young charming college student, becomes her new assistant as he shows up with a case to be solved that links them together as a pair. This older woman/younger man duo find clients and cases that no one else cares about or will entertain, and that’s the magic of this series. What best comes across in these pages detailing Mitsuko’s case files is heart. There’s a reason why she’s good at her job and how her meddling and attention to detail allows her to find what others miss. She mentions to Saku, her trusty assistant detective, that as detectives, “their job is to stay true to the client’s request.” This translates to truly listening to people and being an active listener and using all the emotional intelligence she has to do the impossible. Sometimes families are reunited, other times people are able to gain closure, gain new agency or allies to follow their dreams but every case–some more than others–reveal a Japan that is full of narrative rich stories that are more in depth and worth reading than originally presented.
9.) Hungry Ghost by Victoria Ying (First Second)
Valerie Chu strives to be the perfect daughter. She was modeled into such by her mother who likes that her teenage daughter is quiet, studious, obedient and most of all, thin. Victoria Ying’s young adult graphic novel made this list for its thoughtfully crafted story about a teenage girl’s struggle with perfection that extends to her views of bodies, all bodies but especially her own. Valerie has been struggling with an eating disorder–her secret that not even her best friend Jordan, since childhood knows. Her life is complicated by cultural differences and the expectations of her family, wondering if she’s pretty or thin enough for the boy she’s half in love with and family crises that come out of nowhere. I think what I love most about Hungry Ghost is that it is a story about a young woman failing to be good enough and struggling to find herself and love herself past the self sabotage she’s lived with. It is a graphic novel about the heartbreaking relationship that people can have with food and how it can suck all the color and magic out of even a simple lunch with a beloved friend. Overall, I love this book because it is a striking, solid tale of a daughter coming to terms with the hurtful limits parents, mothers can place on their children and how to get free and start small on the journey of loving and choosing yourself.
10.) Run Away With Me, Girl vol 2&3 by Battan (Kodansha)
If you like yuri with older characters with enough angst to make you clutch your heart, you’ll need to read Run Away With Me, Girl. Maki’s first love was her high school classmate, a girl named Midori. But the two break up at graduation, and ten years later, Maki still can’t get Midori off her mind. Their fateful encounter at Maki’s place of work means the two get to catch up with their lives much to Maki’s heartbreak when she learns Midori has long moved on — in fact, she’s engaged. Battan’s manga reminds readers that rekindling romances can save a life, ending relationships that are unhealthy takes courage and that queer love doesn’t need to be validated by the world. With the third and final volume ending perfectly with an epilogue that shows parallels of the main story: Run Away With Me, Girl is a messy, complicated and beautiful story of chasing a fantasy and making it your reality with the person you call home.
11.) The Infinity Particle by Wendy Xu (Harper Collins)
Delving into the science fiction genre for this story, Xu introduces us to young aspiring scientist Clementine Chong as she travels to Mars in the near future when civilization is thriving and not just surviving. It is her meeting with her mentor’s assistant Kye– an incredibly lifelike and gorgeous AI model who is more than what meets the eye, of course–that changes the trajectory of her work and her research. I wrote earlier in the year that Xu’s work here strikes me as incredibly hopeful which is what I needed to read in a time where society is feeling the pressure over an unnecessary dependence on AI, extreme climate change, and gross hyper-surveillance by our governments as we wear out our own voices attempting to get genocides on all corners of the planet from continuing.
12.) Occulted by Ryan Estrada, Amy Rose (writers) Jeongmin Lee (artist) (Iron Circus Comics)
This is a graphic memoir of cult survivor Amy Rose’s childhood in the late 90’s. Occulted is the true life-tale of Amy’s childhood and the power of literary freedom that changed her life for the better. In my review, I wrote that in this age of grossly inappropriate book bans across the country, Occulted best illustrates that keeping books and the stories and information with them away from children robs them of the agency they need to become the captain of their own ships. Iron Circus Comics brings a real life story to the shelves of middle grade readers that champions a little girl gaining the courage and education to save herself while also championing literary freedom and how important access to it is.
13.) Basil and Oregano written and drawn by Melissa Capriglione, Letters and Flat colors by Sara Todd, Muslim Sensitivity Readers Fadwa (Wordwonders) (Dark Horse)
A cooking school but with magic, and some real magical girl feels — there’s my log line if Basil and Oregano had animated or live film adaptation! Another graphic novel about teenage girls falling in love with each other — kingdom and academy seeded in magic with traditions old and new making way to fight against each other. Basil, heart on her sleeve is hyped to attend her senior year at Porta Bella Magiculinary Academy. She is ready with the blessing of her dads, their wooden cooking spoon and apron passed down to her. With her friends at her side, Basil is navigating familiar issues but in a fantasy setting: a crush that is blossoming into more, pressures to maintain good grades, worries about money and tuition expenses and how to be a good friend. There is a lot to love about Melissa Capriglione’s graphic novel offering: the cute familiars the students summon, the soft romance, the sweet supporting cast. Come for the really neat world building and magic via the cooking and stay the wonderful narrative about coming to understand knowing that there are no shortcuts to being the best student, friend or your most authentic self.
14.) Cinderella’s Closet vol 2&3 by Wakana Yanai, Translation by Faye Cozy, Adaptation by M. Lyn Hall and lettering by Elena Pizarro (Seven Seas Entertainment)
Easily one of my favorite Shojo comics this year for this messy, hilarious and all about endearing narrative about first loves and friendships, the work we must put in to make it work, Cinderella Closet was making it on this list. The series follows “The romantic story of a plain country girl who’s crushing on her handsome coworker…and her transformation by an unconventional and stylish “fairy godmother.” I have really enjoyed this series especially the exploration of attraction to others & how the characters react to & make their expressions and performances of gender as young adults. What must be added is the depth of exploring why emotional intelligence is a gift to all of us in the many relationships we have in life and why transformation is key in becoming the person we want to be.
15.) The Gift, Written by Jamila Rowser , Illustrated by Sam Wade, Edited by J. A. Micheline, Aurelis Troncoso and Maryam Kazeem as Culture Editors and Victoria Johnson as Copy Editor (Black Josei Press)
The Gift is a comic about a little Black girl named Kenya and her father at a museum or cultural center filled with artifacts and items from the continent of Africa. It is also a comic that makes the reader question the privilege of knowing one’s heritage, when there are some whose histories may not be as well connected or documented. As Kenya makes an incredible discovery that validates her in the end, she also leaves more hopeful then how she was when she came first entered that place. I adore this comic because it leaves the reader to follow the important beats via the storytelling: after the child goes through a topsy turvy like path to meet someone — something marvelous who is bestows upon her a very magnificent present. The Gift contains a story that is subtle, without much dialogue that challenges readers to ruminate on not just what the true gift is but how it might be a necessary, especially for a little Black girl who is still navigating the world with child like wonder and curiosity that hasn’t been beaten out of her by the world. This was one of the last comics that I read in 2023 that stays on my brain and deserves much praise for the way it left me feeling more connected to those who came before me and more grateful for their lives.
16.) Like a Babydoll by Shannon Wright (Self Published)
At only fifteen pages, Shannon Wright’s comic about watching her mom age and a silly phrase she says before bedtime might feel like a brief story. Yet in the artist’s hands, this short comic contain multitudes, touching upon everything from how nuanced Black womanhood and Black motherhood is to the privilege and plight of watching one of your parents age before your eyes. While I’m reading and learning about Wright’s mother, I see my own on the page. There’s a certain kind of tenderness I feel when my eyes devour the pages of Wright’s mother and the smaller and smaller she gets until she can be carried in her daughter’s arms, fit in a dollhouse or cradled and held close. The black and white color scheme really emphasizes the passing of time and the ways the cartoonist’s mother is simply a Black woman no one can put in a box. I’ve come back to read this comic several times this year when I want to see Black women vulnerable on the page and loved, loved. loved to the moon and back.
17.) History Comics: Rosa Parks & Claudette Colvin (Civil Rights Heroes) words by Tracey Baptiste; illustrated by Shauna J. Grant (First Second)
What I appreciate most from History Comics: Rosa Parks & Claudette Colvin are the fine details included of Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks’ lives. Earlier this year, I wrote that I love that Rosa’s past activism, like her fierce dedication to voting rights, is covered along with mention of her involvement to address sexual violence against women (Mrs. Recy Taylor’s momentous case). I love that Claudette’s early life is covered along with all the sprinkling of women who came after her in protest that eventually led to full blown boycott and change via the Civil Rights Movement’s bigger moments. The creative team of Baptiste and Grant–two Black women–bring so much nuance and consideration linking together the lives of Claudette and Rosa especially when colorism, classism, sexism and respectability politics defined the activism of their days.
18.) Tiger, Tiger Volume 1 by Petra Erika Nordlund (Seven Seas Entertainment)
Petra Erika Nordlund’s web-comic is one that I started reading a while ago and wanted to reread from the beginning. Luckily for me the Seven Seas + Hiveworks Comics team-up with publishing different titles meant that I finally had one of my faves in print! The webcomic follows Ludovica Bonnaire, her twin brother and his ship and crew that she stows away on after she steals her brother’s identity. She’s a pampered young noblewoman who yearns for adventure and so much more than the posh parties and limits that her gender place on her. Once on the sea, she found more than what she ever thought to find along with unexpected family connection, possibly immortal beings and lots of her favorite aquatic creatures — sea sponges. I love being able to see one of my fave web-comics finally in print with such detailed artwork that showcases the best and worse of the sea combined with a swashbuckling story about daring exploration and adventure. Ludovica is a delight as are all the people she is related and connected to and there is no end to the hilarity that pops up in her quest to cosplay as her brother and captain of a ship.
19.) Darlin’ with words and art by Olivia Stephens, title designs by Binglin Hu and dialogue font created by Nate Pikos for Blambot Fonts (Self-Published)
What you must know is that Darlin’ and Her Other Names, is a werewolf-western-horror-romance. The first version of this supernatural western comic, titled simply Darlin’, was created by Olivia Stephens back in March 2021.Now, this reworked version of Stephen’s much larger, open sandbox is full of tender moments and some that only exist in stark, bloody rage. Stringing together the themes of redemption, reinvention, and revenge makes the opener of this ongoing narrative a treasure to read, reread, and even to wait for the next installment as I wrote in my review. Marta and Edgar are souls now much more in tune with each other using both versions of themselves to travel and survive a land that wants both of them and their wolf selves as trophies which is a tale that I want everyone to read.
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 (X) and other places she can be found online.