When it comes to banned and challenged graphic novels, there’s always a lot of talk about just why they’re being challenged. What exactly makes a book worthy of being banned? Usually it follows along the lines of sexually explicit content, offensive language, and the idea of being unsuitable for the age group it was intended for. Among the top banned books is J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter series for “satanic undertones,” and for some reason the Captain Underpants series is at the top of challenged book lists for running around in his underpants and challenging authority. But for some reason, banning these books just makes readers want to get their hands on them even more.
Seeing how well the 1954 Comics Code Authority worked out (hint: it didn’t), you can probably guess that a lot of the books on this list did not stay banned, and for good reason. The love for these books is endless, so if you need any reading suggestions, check out 15 Banned And Challenged Graphic Novels And Comic Books That Are Definitely Worth Reading.
15 Bone by Jeff Smith
Recommended for grades 6-8, Jeff Smith’s independently published Bone series is actually a regularly challenged series. It has been complained about everywhere from Texas to New Mexico to New Jersey and Minnesota by angry parents. It is mostly challenged for the images depicting smoking, drinking, and, according to one angry mother, a depiction of drug use. It has also been challenged for instances of racism and a supposed political agenda. Ultimately, many of the challenges resulted in rejection, allowing the books to stay in libraries and schools.
This series makes Number 15 because it is clever and funny and everything you want in a comic. It features the Bone cousins (Phoney, Smiley, and Fone) at the center of the story. They have been run out of Boneville and embark on various dangerous and fantastical adventures together. It’s also takes on issues like friendship, loneliness, and danger all while staying light-hearted. It’s hilarious and at times moving, and definitely worth the read.
14 Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
This DC Comics graphic novel, that is also called DK2, was published in 2002. It is the sequel to Frank Miller’s 1986 limited series The Dark Knight Returns. This book follows Bruce Wayne’s rebellion against Lex Luthor’s dictatorial rule over America. The book was challenged in a library in Ohio for sexism and offensive language not suitable for the teen age group. Despite the complaints, the library decided to retain the book.
The instances of sexism and hyper-sexualization arguably make the book difficult to love. However, it makes Number 14 on this list because Miller was obviously trying to make a statement about a crumbled world after September 11th. Miller really doesn’t hold back in DK2; readers see Batman as the likes of an extremist, who really hates authority. The story is emotionally gripping and dark. Also, Dick Grayson’s appearance in this novel is pretty interesting and intense in itself.
13 Tank Girl by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett
Tank Girl was created by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett in 1988 as a British comic book. The book was challenged in a library in Hammond, Indiana for nudity, violence, and drug use. Despite these issues, the library decided to keep the comic book on the shelves.
This book makes Number 13 because it is so punk you won’t be able to take it (in a good way!). It is a hilariously fun read that follows outlaw Rebecca Buck who lives in a tank, thus the name Tank Girl. She hangs out with Booga, her kangaroo boyfriend, as she takes on the world and he kind of just tags along. She is unapologetically loud and full of flatulence and vomiting. She is also without a doubt comfortable with her sexuality and violence. She’s extremely tough and everything you could want in a gritty female heroine. This book is a fun read, and features the strongest, most badass female protagonist in recent memory.
12 Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 2: Revelations by J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita, Jr., and Scott Hanna
This Marvel trade paperback was released in 2002 and challenged in 2009 by the mother of an elementary student in Nebraska. She accused the book of having heavy sexual overtones that were not suitable for elementary school aged children. Apparently, the mother's challenge did not work because the book still remains in the elementary school library.
The storyline mainly revolves around Aunt May discovering that Peter is Spider-Man and the broken relationship between Mary Jane and Peter. However, this book starts off with Peter Parker and a team of other heroes helping the FDNY cover ground zero after the September 11th attack. Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 2: Revelations makes Number 12 on this list because watching Parker reflect on the terrible event and take a break from cracking jokes brings his character back to reality for a moment. The imagery of this novel is so powerful and shows how united Americans felt during that very tragic time. He realizes that not all heroes have to wear masks and have superhuman abilities, and it's a truly moving moment for readers.
11 The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa
Kim Dong Hwa’s graphic novel is the first of The Color of Earth Trilogy. It revolves around the coming-of-age story of a young girl named Ehwa.This book was challenged and banned in various locations for nudity and sexual content that was supposedly not suitable for the age group. The book dives deeply into questions about puberty and sexuality, however it is a necessary subject for the story.
The entire trilogy itself is an outstandingly beautiful coming-of-age story. The Color of Earth (Volume 1) makes it to Number 11 on this list because the close relationship between Ehwa, our protagonist, and her single mother is so important and moving. Ehwa doesn’t hold back in asking her mother about love, life, and growth. It’s a story driven by love and curiosity. The sexual content and nudity are fitting in this coming-of-age story, and sensitively aid in the questions Ehwa has about puberty and sexuality.
10 This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
This One Summer was published in 2014 by First Second Books. This graphic novel has been removed from libraries in Minnesota and Florida for mature themes and profanity. The book covers topics like teenage pregnancy, sexual interests, and miscarriage, which some parents felt was too much for the 12-18 reader age group.
This book makes it to Number 10 on this list because it is a truly beautiful and heartbreaking story about growing up and dealing with all of life's problems. Readers see Rose, our protagonist, deal with problems within her immediate family while also learning that all age groups experience hardship that they must learn to deal with. The content in this graphic novel is a bit on the mature side, however it is presented from the eyes of a teenage girl which adds a bit of innocence. It contains heartbreaking and powerful scenes that show what the adult world must feel like for a teenager.
9 Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
This 2006 graphic novel spent two weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and for good reason. Bechdel’s memoir evokes every type of emotion out of its readers; it’s funny and clever, and then very sad and deep. However, not everyone thinks this way. Fun Home was removed from a public library in Missouri and challenged in Utah and South Carolina. It’s most often challenged because of “obscene images,” mention of suicide, and gay and lesbian themes.
Fun Fact! The Bechdel test, that determines if female characters have a significant role in Hollywood films, is named after Alison Bechdel. That’s not the only reason to read her book, though. Fun Home makes it to Number 9 on this list because it’s unapologetically brilliant in such a subtle way. The book is full of self examination by Bechdel that is relatable and interesting to read. In short, the book explores Bechdel’s open sexual identity as well as her father’s closeted sexual identity. This book is seriously emotional and gripping; it is an absolute must read.
8 Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Raina Telgemeier’s coming-of-age graphic novel Drama was published in 2012 by Scholastic/Graphix for ages 10 and up. This book was banned in an elementary school in Mount Pleasant, Texas and an elementary school in New Braunfels, Texas for adult themes that are supposedly too explicit for elementary aged students.
This book makes it to Number 8 on this list because it is such a positive and encouraging coming-of-age story that is completely female driven. It revolves around the life of middle school set designer Callie, following her many crushes, friends, family and most importantly her work on the set design for the middle school musical. One of the reasons this book is so cool is the inclusion of LGBT characters in a very relaxed and natural way. Telgemeier lets the story flow and allows readers to experience the drama of Callie’s middle school life all while teaching us the importance of friendships and self confidence.
7 Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama
Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama was originally printed in Japanese and later translated into English. The book was taken off shelves in public schools in Wicomico County, Maryland for nudity and violence. The beginning of the story does have a lot of nudity and sexual jokes, but a lot of it is explored through the childhood experiences of Goku.
Dragon Ball makes Number 7 because it is an amazing story that allows readers to explore the growth of Goku from a child to an adult. It is a huge narrative that starts as quest to find the magical Dragon Balls that will grant a wish to whoever unites them. Mostly, the story starts with themes of developing friendships. As Goku, the protagonist, grows up to be an adult with his own children, the story becomes more about finding power within yourself and pushing the limits. It has fantastic characters that you really want to root for. Also, this book is the source material for both anime shows Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, so if you like the show then you’ll love the book!
6 Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is a coming-of-age memoir originally published in French in 2000 by Marjane Satrapi. It was later published in english and eventually turned into the 2007 animated film by the same name. This graphic novel has been challenged in Chicago, Oregon, Texas, and Illinois for depictions of torture and mature language. In all four cases, the book remained in libraries, and in some cases continued to rightfully stay as part of required reading curriculum.
Persepolis makes Number 6 on this list because it’s funny yet heartbreakingly powerful. It gives readers a realistic look into the life of a child growing up in Iran amongst the Islamic Revolution. This book is an important read, especially for high school aged children. It’s a brilliant coming-of-age story, and it forces high school students to examine what it is like to grow up somewhere other than America. With a gripping story and complex roots, the idea of challenging this masterpiece does not seem like a great decision. It is a must read for high school students and adults alike.
5 Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
The 2012 Image Comics published graphic novel Saga is a sci-fi, fantasy series about a husband and wife in the mists of a galactic war. Apple made an issue of the comic series unavailable on iTunes in 2013 causing a messy situation which resulted in many fans accusing the company of censorship based on homophobia. It was later revealed that the comic not being released was a mistake made by comiXology and not Apple. This series was also challenged in Oregon for graphic sexual content, but eventually the claim was dismissed.
This book makes Number 5 on this list because it is seriously such a fantastic read. Vaughan and Staples create an entire complex universe full of lovers, magic, ghosts, war, corruption, and a ton of other cool aspects. Not to mention Vaughan and Staples include characters of different sexuality and ethnicity creating diversity even in a world falling apart from war. This entire series is funny, heartbreaking, beautiful, intense, and truly epic. It’s an absolute must read for fans of Star Wars, Game of Thrones, or people who just love amazing comics.
4 Sandman by Neil Gaiman
This dark fantasy Vertigo series was written by Neil Gaiman and has been running since 1989. It has been challenged and banned all over the place for being unsuited for the age group based on anti-family themes and offensive language. Today, it is still viewed unsuitable for teens in many libraries.
Sandman makes Number 4 on this list because of it’s beautiful complexity and major influence in the dark fantasy genre. The graphic novel follows the story of the protagonist named Morpheus, who is known as Lord of the Dreaming and many other names. His kingdom is called the Dreaming, and it is a place that people go to dream. Morpheus is captured and his kingdom falls to ruins, and the story follows him as he must find the tools to rebuild it. This novel is dark, intelligent, and so very complex. Gaiman’s masterpiece is without a doubt worth the read.
3 Maus by Art Spiegelman
Maus is a Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel created by Art Spiegelman published 1980-1991. The book follows Spiegelman interviewing his father, who was a survivor of the Holocaust, about his experiences. It was challenged in Pasadena, California for complaints of it being anti-ethnic and not suitable for a younger age group. It was also removed from a few major bookstores in Russia because of the Nazi swastika on the cover.
You should read this book because it is truly genius. The story mainly revolves around how a father and son live and struggle with life, revolving heavily around their experiences in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust. Spiegelman uses mice to represent Jews and cats and pigs to represent Germans and Poles. The story is heartbreaking and intense, and so beautifully written. Readers will quickly learn that this story is just as much about family as it is surviving.
2 Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's Batman: The Killing Joke is a one-shot published in 1988 by DC Comics. It has heavily influenced the future of Barbara Gordon and is perceived as one of Joker's truest origin stories. It was challenged in a public library in Columbus, Nebraska for advocating rape and violence. It was eventually voted on and the library board decided to keep the book in the library.
This graphic novel is extremely intense and disturbing, so it should not be read by those faint of heart. However, it makes Number 2 on this list because if you can handle it, you’ll find yourself reading a twisted novel commenting on how the Joker came to be and the idea that anyone could be driven insane. The Joker tries to drive Commissioner Gordon insane in attempts to prove that anyone could end up as insane and evil as the Joker himself.
1 Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Published by DC Comics in 1986 and 1987, Watchmen is the second graphic novel on this list written by Alan Moore. It has been challenged all over the place by angry parents for reportedly not being suitable for the age group based on nudity and violence. Many of the challenges are unsuccessful.
Watchmen deserves the Number 1 slot on this list because it is just that good. Masterpiece worthy. Nixon served a 5th term, America is in chaos, a retired superhero is murdered, and the only thing that can save the day is a group of heroes re-emerging out of the darkness. This book is dark and edgy and extremely powerful; it is without a doubt the best of Alan Moore’s work. The 2009 Zack Snyder film is based on the book, but it is highly suggested to read the graphic novel before the movie. It will blow you away.