Eight Fantasy-Focused Graphic Novels | Stellar Panels

From a fire-breathing corgi to bunnies with wings, characters in these fantasy titles for elementary and middle school readers hold strong appeal.  


Fantasy tales are as old as stories themselves, and many modern ones maintain an old-fashioned feel, with fairy-tale creatures, ancient magic, and plucky main characters fighting powerful monsters. Graphic novels add a new dimension, displaying the fantastical elements right on the page so readers can see the world and plunge into the action. A huge number of fantasy titles in graphic novel format are both available and on the horizon from publishers large and small—here’s a selection of some recent and upcoming gems.

KELLER, Zack. Hotel REM. illus. by Gabriele Bagnoli. Dark Horse. 2023.
Gr 3–7–What happens to your dreams when you wake up? In this whimsical book, characters from dreams go to a luxury inn, the Hotel REM, for some R & R. Rembrandt Somner’s parents own the hotel, and he was raised there. When his parents decide Rembrandt is ready to take over, they go away on vacation, leaving him with the faithful but feisty staff of magic-using creatures and a big book of instructions for every situation. Things aren’t going too badly until a very demanding, high-profile guest comes along. Rembrandt and the staff are hard-pressed to keep up with his requests; when finally they push back, he starts a rival hotel next door. This fast-paced, funny book is filled with delightful dream creatures and humorous situations, building to a chaotic climax before Rembrandt takes command and brings everything back to normal (or at least, as normal as Hotel REM ever gets).

LINN, Natalie. Bunnybirds #1. illus. by author. Holiday House. May 2024.
Gr 3–7–The oddest thing about the bunnybirds isn’t that they are bunnies with wings, it’s that they never allow themselves to experience negative emotions. They brush aside sadness, anxiety, and disappointment with reminders to be happy all the time. But that’s difficult for Bunnybird Princess Aster, whose friends keep disappearing. When her father disappears as well, she embarks on a hazardous journey to find those missing, teaming up with two companions: a rebellious Bunnybird named Carlin and a nonbinary, many-footed dog named Feet. After trekking across a hostile landscape, the trio eventually confront Lysooth, the creature who is holding the Bunnybirds captive. Lysooth is infiltrating the friends’ dreams to persuade them to connect with their true emotions, which will free them from captivity. The theme is both simple—don’t deny your true feelings—and complex, as the characters must figure out how to do that. Linn brings the Bunnybirds and their world to life with graceful ink lines and beautifully blended colored pencils, using a mix of panel sizes and compositions as well as close-ups and long shots. The characters speak directly about their emotions in a way that even young readers will understand but older ones may find a bit stilted. Nonetheless, this story has depth as well as flashes of humor as the three very different characters bond during their journey.

LUCEY, Rory. SCRAM: Society of Creatures Real and Magical. illus. by author. First Second. Jul. 2024.
Gr 3–7–Jenny lives in a suburban town that’s home to various magical creatures. After she spots a possible troll in her local library, she recruits her friends Emiko and Brian to form a cryptid-hunting society. They consult some very old books—one of which has pages made of cabbage, which explains the bad smell—and set out on a troll hunt in their neighborhood. The quest involves scouring the supermarket for the trolls’ favorite beverage, frog juice—found in the “Interesting Drinks” aisle, not the “Frog Stuff” aisle as one would think—chasing the person who grabs the last can of it, causing chaos at the art museum, dumpster diving, following a cool kid on a unicycle who says he knows where the trolls are, and finally finding the troll cave where—spoiler alert!—Brian lives. It turns out he was a troll all along, but nobody spotted it because he covered his horns with a cowboy hat. (He also has green skin.) Lucey mixes fast-paced, slapstick action with goofy humor, and the story and art are filled with silly details that will keep readers laughing. The characters are drawn in a simple, linear style with flat coloring, while the backgrounds often explode with colors, details, and sound effects.

NGUYEN, Mai K. Anzu and the Realm of Darkness. illus. by author. Viking. May 2024.
Gr 3–7–This story puts a Japanese spin on the classic portal fantasy. Anzu was bullied by schoolmates who renamed her “Anne,” made fun of her love of anime, and complained that her lunches smelled funny. After Anzu’s family moves to a new place, she is dreading more of the same. The move happens during Obon, when families commune with their dead ancestors. Although Anzu’s grandmother has died, she is too upset by the move to take any interest in participating. Then a dog steals her necklace and leads her into Yomi, the land of the dead, where a greedy goddess wants to steal her soul. Anzu’s only way out is to learn to be true to herself by reclaiming her own name and deciding who to trust. Her grandmother, who was always a reassuring presence in her real life, reappears in Yomi to help her. But the true bond is between Anzu and the dog, who turns out to be the gatekeeper of Yomi and is battling his own insecurity. Like Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, this story has a richly imagined world populated with a diverse array of spirits. The detail-filled art is both charming and scary, with a mostly purple palette shifting to green for flashbacks of Anzu with her grandmother in the past.


SÁNCHEZ, Carlos. Rune: The Tale of a Thousand Faces. illus. by author. Flying Eye. Jun. 2024.
Gr 3–7–Chiri and Dai are best friends who live in an orphanage. Chiri is deaf, and she and Dai communicate by speech and sign language, with the sign language text denoted by square word balloons. The two are running away from the orphanage bullies when they enter a portal into the land of Puddin’, a strange, dangerous place full of magical beings. Puddin’s Shadow King has been taking over the bodies of the inhabitants, turning them into his minions. But Chiri and Dai know none of this when they go into a tavern to ask for directions home—at the moment Sophie, a druid, has a vision that the two children can help her defeat the Shadow King. They soon form a motley band, along with an ogre, an ancient archaeologist, a magical goat, and a cat.

Wizards, who can be good or evil in this land, cast spells with a combination of sign language and runes. Even though Chiri is human, her signing is so powerful that she can perform magic without runes—something that only one other magic user has ever been able to do. The book ends with a strong indication that the story isn’t over; presumably another volume is on the way. The lively art’s myriad details reward close inspection. Many objects are covered in runes, and a chart in the back matter lets readers translate them. Sánchez uses a limited palette of muted blue, red, and yellow, and despite the ornate backgrounds, the art is easy to decipher.

GARNIER, Jonathan. Shepherdess Warriors, Vol. 1. illus. by Amélie Fléchais. Ablaze. Jun. 2024.
Gr 4–6–Ten-year-old Molly and her friends are training to be shepherdess warriors, riding their sheep to protect their village in this Celtic-inspired fantasy tale. It has been a decade since most of the men left the village to fight in a faraway war, and none has come back. So the women are the leaders, caretakers, and warriors, although one boy, Liam, does manage to qualify as a warrior, riding a giant dog instead of a sheep. When a large magical beast threatens their town, Molly and her friends are called into action and must travel to the land of witches in order to locate and disarm it. The book mixes some serious thoughts about war, gender roles, and nature with its story of young girls facing supernatural perils. The characters are portrayed as rounded and cartoony, and the witches’ whimsical appearance lightens the story. This graphic novel, originally published in French, won the Fauve Jeunesse award at the 2022 Angoulême International Comics Festival and is being adapted into an animated series.

DENTON, Shannon Eric. Kingdom Riders. illus. by Marcus To. IDW. May 2024.
Gr 4–7–Kayla, a peasant girl, rides her giant bullfrog to dangerous places in this colorful, fast-moving story. After a century-long war, many inhabitants of the kingdom of Autiria are indentured servants who are working off war debts. Meanwhile, Autiria’s upper classes distract themselves with the Kingdom Races—perilous and sometimes deadly events featuring riders on a variety of magical creatures. Besides entertainment, the races are used to settle differences among the regions. Kayla and her best friend, Mal, are both indentured, and when their lord decides to add to Mal’s debt on the day she was supposed to be released, Kayla enters her region’s race to secure Mal’s freedom. Kayla wins, and her victory catches the eye of a stranger who recruits her for his team, throwing her into a larger arena with much bigger stakes. The world of the story is filled with colorful characters and magical creatures, and the action is leavened with slapstick humor. The streamlined drawings and carefully laid out panels add to the sense of action but also slow the pace for more contemplative moments. This is clearly the first volume of a series; there are more races to come, and Kayla is just getting started.

SLADE ,Christian. Korgi: The Complete Tale. illus. by author. Top Shelf. May 2024.
Gr 4–7–The first of Slade’s wordless, black-and-white stories about Sprout, a magical fire-breathing corgi, and Ivy, a young fairy, was published in 2007. The series eventually ran to five volumes, and this new book collects them all, plus a handful of short stories that have not been collected before. Ivy and Sprout’s adventures have a fairy-tale quality, but with a dark edge: They are kidnapped by a monster who tries to eat them. A space alien steals one of Ivy’s wings, and Sprout and Ivy must fight off his robot minions to get it back. Then, two evil princes turn into an even more evil, two-headed creature that sets its little monsters, Creephogs, after Ivy and Sprout. The storytelling is straightforward enough that a child can follow it but sophisticated enough for adults to enjoy, with details that reward the careful reader. The villains are scary, but other creatures—even the Creephogs and bots—are super cute. And while there are all sorts of fights, no one gets seriously injured, although one Creephog loses an eyeball and spends the rest of the book chasing after it. Slade’s art is reminiscent of Andrew Lang’s classic fairy-tale illustrations, with careful hatching, grotesque characters, and magical landscapes. A former Disney animator, he switches between wide-open vistas, cramped indoor scenes, and close-ups with ease. His lovingly drawn corgis are delightful, so this book will appeal to dog lovers as well as fairy-tale and fantasy fans.

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Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, editor of the “Good Comics for Kids” blog, writes “Stellar Panels” SLJ’s graphic novels column. 

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