There’s a lot of reasons teen sidekicks are created. Oftentimes, such as in the case of Robin, it’s to provide a counterbalance to the brooding main character. Other times, and this is probably the most common reason, it’s to provide young readers with a character they can identify with. That being said, teen heroes are no longer relegated to sidekick status and we’ve collected 15 of the best comics starring adolescent heroes.
We’ll be completely honest here, this one was almost impossible to rank. Comics about teen heroes are some of our favorite stories around and having to rank them was difficult, to say the least. This is a very subjective list and, especially the top six, could easily be rearranged. Rather than treat this as a list defining which comic is the best, we suggest using it as a resource to discover new teams and characters. That being said, feel free to give us your suggestions on the order in the comments below and let us know if we left any series off. These are the 15 Best Comic Book Series Starring Teen Superheroes.
15. New Mutants
The X-Men have always been a teen book and the original series did focus on teen heroes, but, unlike some companies, Marvel likes to let their characters age in something approaching real time Thanks to the fact that Xavier’s School for the Gifted would always be taking in new students, Marvel had an easy way of adding new mutants to its X-roster. Some of those new characters included fan favorites such as Magik and even Deadpool, who joined the cast near the series’ end. In addition to introducing several new heroes, New Mutants also saw the appearance of several villains such as the infamous Hellfire Club.
There have been several incarnations of the New Mutants over the years, but the first run started in 1983 and lasted for 100 issues.The series was cancelled in 1991 due to declining sales. Despite this, the characters remained popular enough that many made the move to X-Force. If you do enjoy this series then you’ll be glad to know that a New Mutants movie is in the works.
14. Cloak and Dagger
Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen, better known as Cloak and Dagger, first appeared in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man, but were popular enough that they eventually earned their own mini series which spun off into an ongoing title. That series lasted 11 issues, but was combined with another book to create Stranger Tales.
If you’re interested in these characters we suggest starting with the mini-series before moving on to the ongoing. Their guest appearances in the Spider-Man series aren’t bad or anything, but it’s the solo series that really defined these two characters. After running away from home, the two teenagers are kidnapped and injected with an experimental drug which gives them superpowers. The teens then vow to bring an end to the drug trade by enacting a brutal style of vigilante justice. One of the neat things about this series is that it focuses more street level crime as opposed to costumed supervillains which, especially for its time, was an intriguing concept.
13. Journey Into Mystery
Alright, we’ll freely admit that this is one might be cheating since the star of the series, Kid Loki, looked closer to 10 than a teenager, and was actually ancient mythological deity. That being said, we’re going to count it because this series, like most things featuring everyone’s favorite God of Mischief, is awesome. Despite spending most of his career as a villain, Loki manages to steal the show by being a likeable and really fun hero, even if no one trusts him.
Aside from being an awesome Loki series, Kieron Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery is a great Asgard story. While Thor is the most well-known of Marvel’s Asgardians, he is far from the only one. Journey Into Mystery focuses on the some of the lesser developed characters in Marvel’s Asgardian lore and tells a really good story that manages to be both funny and moving at the same time. It’s truly one of Loki’s finest moments.
12. Gen 13
One of the lesser-known entries on this list, Gen 13 was created by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi in 1994.
At first glance the series does have a lot in common with the original X-Men. Both feature a team of super powered teenagers and their older mentor. The series was inspired by the X-Men, specifically New Mutants, and there are some strong similarities between Free Fall and Jubilee. What sets Gen 13 apart from New Mutants is the tone. Like other Wildstorm series, such as The Authority, Gen 13 had a more “realistic” take on the super hero genre. Gen 13’s heroes were less idealized and more realistic, in terms of their personalities and how they would react to situations, than their counterparts at Marvel or DC.
In terms of where to start reading, we suggest Lee and Choi’s original run. There were two follow-up series which are not bad, but some fans took issue with changes in tone and characterization so we suggest leaving them for last.
11. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant
This is another entry that isn’t strictly a superhero comic, but Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is still worth a read even if you’re normally only a fan of capes and cowls. Delilah Dirk tells the story of a wandering “international mistress of swordsmanship” as she travels the world on a grand adventure with her friend Selim.
Adventure really is the defining theme of this series. Reading it reminded us a bit of old D&D campaigns we used to be a part of. Not so much for the aesthetics, but for the simple joy of going out and exploring the world.
If you enjoy this series, and we think you will, then you’ll be glad to know that Disney will be turning it into a movie. Disney might not be everyone’s first choice to handle series, but they’ve done a pretty good job with the Marvel movies.
10. Uncanny X-Men (2015)
Uncanny X-Men is one of Marvel’s longest running series and, for a large part of the run, the series has been about teen heroes. In this particular instance, we’re talking about the 2015 run which, thanks to the ever-convenient plot point of time travel, has brought the original X-Men into the present. Sure the X-Men and time travel are kind of a cliche at this point, but this particular series makes it work despite retreading somewhat familiar territory.
The fun thing about this series is that it gives us a fresh take on classic characters. It’s still clearly the original X-Men, but seeing them react to the modern world lends a fresh perspective to what could otherwise be an all too familiar tale. It’s especially interesting seeing a young idealistic Scott Summers clash with his older more cynical counterpart. Plus it give fans who haven’t read the older stories a chance to see some of their favorite characters grow up. Besides, we get to see teenage Scott infuriate Wolverine and that never gets old.
9. X-23 and NYX
Let’s be honest, X-23 has a few things working against her. For starters, the fact that she’s a clone of one of the most popular, and some would argue over-exposed, might make her seem little more than a lazy cash grab. Furthermore, clones, as rule, in the Marvel universe tend to be a terrible plot point isn’t that right, Spider-Man fans? Secondly, she was actually created for the TV show X-Men Evolution, but, like Harley Quinn before her, proved popular enough to join the comics.
We first meet Laura Kinley in NYX, where she and other homeless mutants fight to survive on the streets of New York where she ends up working as prostitute. Have we mentioned her life kind of sucks? Because it does, watching her endure it all and come out a stronger person is really rewarding. If you enjoy this series then be sure to check out her solo.
Most of the stuff on this list are from the Big Two, which makes sense considering they make up the vast majority of the US comic book market, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of great comic books by smaller publishers. Image Comics’ Invincible is a prime example of this. Named for it’s main hero, Invincible tells the story a teenager trying to be a hero and grow up at the same time.
That might sound familiar, but Invincible is actually kind of unique in today’s comic book market because, for the course of it’s entire run, it has only had a single writer. This has allowed Robert Kirkman to craft and tell his own story exactly the way he wants to tell it. That’s something we don’t see a lot of in superhero comics. Kirkman wouldn’t have been able to tell this kind of story with, say, Superman because Superman isn’t his character.We think that’s what makes Invincible such a great read. Kirkman is telling the kind of story he wants to tell and, luckily for us, it’s a great one so check it out.
It could be argued that we’re cheating a bit with this entry, since this one technically isn’t a superhero comic. After all, there are no superpowers or villains in bright spandex, but when it comes to comics about teenagers, we’d be insane to leave the girls of Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types off this list.
Aside from being the coolest summer camp of all time, what makes this series so great? Friendship! Sure it might sound like a corny theme, but the people in our lives affect all of us and this series does a great job of showing how our friends can help us get through difficult times and grow as a person.
6. Teen Titans
We couldn’t include a list of best comics about teen heroes and not talk about the Teen Titans. While at first glance the Titans might appear to be little more than a junior-varsity Justice League, the team has had plenty of great stories that have nothing to do with the League. One of the best runs, and what we recommend as a starting point, is Marv Wolfman’s New Teen Titans which launched the series to critical and commercial acclaim.
Unfortunately, the Titans have fallen on hard times recently. The New 52 run was considered a failure by fans and critics thanks to poor characterization and a plot that went nowhere. DC attempted to reboot the series in 2014, but that also proved unsuccessful. The biggest problem both these runs had was that the plot felt meandering and the characters didn’t feel true to themselves. Hopefully, the new series, launching late September, featuring Damian Wayne as the team leader will fare a bit better.
5. Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man
Spider-Man is one of, if not the most famous of Marvel’s heroes. Part of the reason the character was so popular was because of how relatable he was. Whether it was the loss of his uncle, his money troubles or personal life, there was always something in Peter’s life that readers could connect with. The Amazing Spider-Man was one of the first series about a teenage superhero that placed the focus on the character’s life as a teenager in addition to being a superhero.
Unlike some characters, Peter Parker has aged over the years so the current Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t feature a teenaged Spider-Man, but readers don’t have to go back 50 years to read stories about a teenaged wallcrawler. Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man, which launched in 2000, was a revamp of the popular series and put Peter back in high school.
Unfortunately, that Peter died, but a new hero, Miles Morales, currently wears the mantle of Spider-Man. Thanks to the events of Secret Wars, which ended the Ultimate universe, Morales is still serving as Spider-Man despite existing within the main Marvel cannon.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle are most well-known as a children’s property with the 1980s cartoon and subsequent live-action movies launching them to stardom. Despite the success of the kid-friendly cartoon, the Turtles actually got their start in comic books. The black and white satire of Frank Miller’s Daredevil was dark and sometimes absurdly violent. The turtles truly live up the title “ninja” having been trained to kill the Shredder and showing little remorse for taking out gangsters. Despite the violent nature of this series, it still manages to be somewhat silly with the strange villains and trips to alien worlds.
While we highly recommend you check out the original series, there are plenty of other options out there. The Turtles have starred in several comic series over the past decades, even recently teaming up with the Dark Knight himself in Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The recent IDW series even features the return of co-creator Kevin Eastman.
At some point while growing up, nearly everyone has thought their parents were just the worst people in the world. It’s just part of being a teenager. Fortunately, most people are wrong about that, but Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways asks the question “what if you were right?” A group of rich kids whose only real ties to one another are their parents annual business meetings discover that they’re parents are secretly criminals and supervillains. Armed with this newfound knowledge, they go on the run and try to stop their parents from taking over the world.
The story is full of well-written likeable characters, the dialogue is witty and fresh, but that’s not what makes Runaways such a great read. What makes Runaways such a great series is that it, possibly more than any other series on this list, truly captures what it feels like to grow up and discover that your parents aren’t the heroes childhood-you thought they were.
If you enjoy this series, and we think you will, then be sure to check out Hulu’s TV series when it launches.
2. Young Avengers
In the wake of Avengers Disassembled, a new team was called to protect the Earth from the threat of Kang the Conqueror. They were the Young Avengers. At first, the team modelled themselves after their older counterparts, but as time went on they grew into their own identities.
The Young Avengers have appeared in several Marvel events such as Siege and Civil War, but their own stories have been confined to three main series. The first run was Allan Heinbgerg and Jim Cheung’s series which created the team and introduced the characters. The second series, Children’s Crusade, was billed as an Avengers story, but focus on the backstory of Wiccan and Speed and their tie to the Scarlet Witch.
The third main run is Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Style>Substance which introduces a few new characters the team such as Marvel Boy, Kid Loki and the always awesome Ms. America. Aside from being infinitely quotable (“Come with me if you want to be awesome“), this run proves once and for all that Wiccan is an infinitely lovable screw up.
1. Ms. Marvel
One of the newer entries on this list is also one of the best. Despite sharing an identity with Carol Danvers, Kamala Khan isn’t a sidekick or legacy character. She’s uniquely her own character and that’s one of the things that makes Ms. Marvel such a great character especially for a teen book. The themes of wanting to fit in and belong are there, but, despite that desire, Kamala remains uniquely herself.
During a Ted Talk, Willow Wilson said that she hoped Ms. Marvel would become this generation’s Spider-Man, and the two characters do have a lot in common. Both are nerdy and kind of unpopular, but Kamala has something Peter lacked: a happy family life. Wilson said that she wanted Ms. Marvel, character and series, to reflect the optimism of youth so she kept Kamala’s family whole and happy. As to why she fights crime? Simply because it’s the right thing and that’s what’s so refreshing about reading Ms. Marvel. In an era when a lot of comics are dark overly serious, Ms. Marvel is a breath of fresh air. It’s optimistic, hopeful, authentic and, above all, fun and isn’t that why we read comics in the first place?
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