Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels are an increasingly popular form of literature among children of all ages. This page describes the best practices in incorporating these unique works into a library setting.

Table of contents

The History of Comic Books
The Role of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels in a Library Collection
Collection Development and Organization
Programming Ideas
Useful Resources for Librarians and Patrons
Glossary of Terms

The History of Comic Books
Why libraries should invest in this genre.

“Hailed by scholars as an original American art form, the comic book has served as a source of entertainment for millions for well over sixty years." - Allen Ellis

Comic books are one of America’s great enduring, original creations. What is known today as the comic book genre has been around since the 40’s. This genre has gone through many trends and changes to become part of today’s Americana. In a way comic books tell the history of the United States of America in a unique way. Having these as part of a collection in a library is like preserving American history.
Yet admittedly comic books have not always been popular. When comic books were first introduced many critics saw them as foolish and having comic books in libraries was almost unheard of. Yet the survival of comic books over the years seems to prove that this genre refuses to be overlooked.

With comic books being around for so long, the genre has been broken up into eras. To understand the eras of comic books, readers must remember that these eras were classified after the fact. The names of the eras often reflect the content in the comic books rather than the popularity of the comic books at the time.

The first era or age of comic books is known as the Golden Age. This age lasted from about the 1940’s to the 1950’s. This period was known for the introduction of many of the superheroes that are still popular today. Superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, and more were created during this time period. The plot lines of this era are also known to be a little more involved and somehow intertwined with history. Stories of superheroes single-handedly beating Hitler were a common plot in this era.
The next age was known was the Silver Age lasting from the 50’s into the 70’s. These comics themes were not as involved but the extreme powers of superheroes was still displayed. Developing comic book artwork was common during this age.
After the Silver Age came the Bronze Age that lasted from around the 70’s to mid 80’s. This age saw the return of some darker themes. This era is also known for poorer artwork. This age saw quite a few end of the world type comic books being published such as Crisis on Infinite Earths. This series of comic books produced by DC helped see the end to the Bronze Age.
After this some reports show a period called the Copper Age from the mid 80’s to around 2000. This era is not always classified as a real era. Those that see is as an era mark it for the poorer quality of artwork and the somewhat lack in publications of comic books.
Since the so called Copper Age was years of slower output it can be lumped into the current age. This age goes by two different names, either the Modern Age or the Dark Age. Oftentimes comic book readers refer to it as the Dark Age because this age holds the darkest themes so far in comic books. Comic books like The Watchmen came about while The Dark Knight, a more gruesome version of Batman, made reappearances. These types of comic are often filled with blood and gore. These too are often comics that get criticized for profanities and sexual content.

Though their staying power alone should be enough to want to build up a collection of comic books in a library the current rise in their popularity is another. Since around 2000 Marvel and DC have been rolling out hit after hit at the box office. Movies based on superheroes and superhero teams have been gaining in popularity since X-Men came to theatres in 2000. Though Marvel is still producing movies based off of X-Men comic books, they have even bigger hits in The Avengers based movies. To help these movies gain popularity, well known and well regarded actors have taken roles in these films and declared themselves comic book nerds. With this turn in the culture in America, being nerdy has become cool. With comic books being so popular and still being around after close to a century it only makes sense to start investing in this genre to draw in patrons. (Release dates for movies found at IMDb.com)

The Role of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels in a Library Collection:

School Libraries

  • Comics, Graphic Novels, and Manga are a great way for school libraries to bring young readers in as new patrons.
  • Struggling readers can often follow a story even if they don't understand much of the vocabulary.
  • English Language Learners may also find Comics, Graphic Novels, and Manga comforting, as well as a useful tool for learning the language by creating a familiarity between the images and the associated words.

Public Libraries

  • Graphic novels have seen an enormous growth in popularity over the last 15 years. What started out as either collections of superhero comics or newspaper comic strips has become a thriving art form encompassing every type of genre. Fantasy, science fiction, true crime, autobiography, and history are all included in the umbrella term for comics.
  • Comics offer a great way for libraries to develop young people into readers. Reading comics takes the same skills as reading prose, but the pictures help new readers or developmentally challenged readers follow the story.
  • Manga, which are comics from Japan or based on the Japanese style of comic creation, are an increasingly popular genre that appeals to both children and teens. They are part of a subculture that includes gaming, anime (Japanese animation often based on Manga) television and film, and fashion. By including Manga in their collections, libraries have the opportunity to appeal to some of their patrons' specific popular culture interests.
  • The thinking goes that if young people get in the habit of reading, and using libraries as a resource in this regard, they will remain readers, and remain patrons of a library.

Collection Development and Organization

Every library has a budget, and every budget has earmarked monies for how much money should be spent in each section. Graphic novels have, for over a decade now, been a medium utilized for every type of genre, including philosophy and history. The copious amount of titles, and the often misguided (and limited) guides to graphic novels offer a good starting place but little guidance in going forward.

There are five major publishers that solely produce comics/graphic novels. These are Marvel, DC, Image, Fantagraphics and Dark Horse. There are a number of smaller companies–including IDW and Boom!—who are also now producing comics.

Marvel and DC produce superhero titles. These are usually, but not always, collected editions of the monthly titles. Sometimes these are original graphic novels, but not often. All-Star Superman, for instance, was first a serialized monthly comic, before it was published as a graphic novel.

Image has creator-owned titles, mostly genre comics, such as The Walking Dead, which is a zombie horror comic. Like Marvel and DC, Image often publishes collections of serialized material already published.

Darkhorse, similar to Image, has creator-owned titles, the most famous being Hellboy and the Hellboy spin-offs, such as BPRD. Darkhorse also publishes loose comic adaptations of movie products. (They have, for instance, a lengthy back catalogue of Alien and Predator titles.)

Fantagraphics produces creator-owned comics for adults. They are the direct inheritor of the underground comics of the 1960s. They publish quirky, often transgressive material, and almost always as an original graphic novel. In movie terms, they encourage and publish auteurs. Their artistic standard is very high, but depending on the community, their comics can be a bit extreme.

The big New York publishers, such as Random House and Knopf, also produce graphic novels. They saw the money to be made, and have pushed into the market. A number of big comics titles have been published through these big publishing houses, such as Fun Home, Black Hole, Asterios Polyp and Persepolis.

A good collection should begin with a core group of acknowledged classics: Maus; Sandman; Watchmen; The Dark Knight Returns; Persepolis; and Fun Home among others. There are dozens and dozens of best of lists, and most have the same titles on them. The various book review outlets now cover new graphic novel releases. Deciding what superhero comics to buy, with a limited budget, is another question. Both of the big two companies now release most of their monthly titles in collected editions. Attempting to buy them all—or even keep track of them—can overwhelm any librarian. A better approach might be to get feedback from patrons. What superhero titles would you like the library to follow?

When developing a Manga collection, there exist a number of resources and lists that one could potentially consult. These lists rank Manga by either popularity or by quality. A good collection would contain both popular titles and lesser-known works that might be better in terms of content and style. These less popular works would not only enrich the collection by appealing to patrons who are already well-versed in Manga, but might encourage those who are just beginning to read comics to continue. For instance, many popular titles have been converted into anime series and would be familiar to many patrons in that way (if the budget allows, anime based on these Manga series could be included in the digital media section of the library). A patron may begin his interest in Manga based on these familiar titles, but the availability in the library of more quality comics in the same genre promotes literacy development and an an enriched interest that extends beyond popular culture and anime.

Programming Ideas

  • There are a number of websites online that allows for quick and easy comic creation, many of which are age-appropriate for children or young adults. If access to several computers for a fixed amount of time is available, a short tutorial can be given to a group of children (of varying ages) on using the program. They can then be given the opportunity to create their own narratives through comic creation, some of which can even be displayed in the library as part of an exhibit.
  • A Manga or Anime Club is also an excellent way of creating a community of patrons within the library, in which fans of the genre can discuss specific comic series, watch anime, share original pieces, etc. The setup of the club can be defined by its members.
  • A Book Club specifically for Graphic Novels (this might work best for young adults)

Troubleshooting/Concerns/Tips for Librarians

  • In creating a collection of comics, graphic novels, and manga for children and young adults, it is imperative to consider age-appropriateness. Although with a smaller start-up collection it may be tempting to lump all of these materials in one place, they vary so widely in content that this may be dangerous. The colorful graphics and images misleadingly imply that they are always appropriate for young readers, but this is not the case: Many comics depict sex and violence or contain mature language.
  • Many comics publishers rate their materials, but ratings are often not clearly articulated or consistent between publishers. This overview from Good Comics for Kids provides a comparative introduction to the major North American publishers' ratings systems.
  • Some comics that are meant for young readers, particularly in the Manga genre, are surprisingly dark, serious, or depressing, in stark contrast with the familiar narratives from Western culture that always seem to have a happy, idyllic ending. This may come as a shock for some parents of young children, and should be kept in mind.
  • Professional review journals, including School Library Journal and Booklist, often review comics, graphic novels, and manga for young readers, which can be helpful in determining whether or not a particular title or series is appropriate for your collection.

Useful Resources for Librarians and Patrons


Collection Development
  • Comics Worth Reading: This site contains reviews, core lists, and best-of lists for different years.
  • Diamond Bookshelf: Diamond is the major comic book distributor for the United States. Diamond Bookshelf was created specifically with librarians and teachers in mind. It contains lists for core books for different age groups as well as lists of monthly bestsellers and forthcoming titles also broken down by age group.
  • Kids Comics.com: This site works for collection development only. It is a small list of titles that are being released soon and covers many of the most anticipated new releases. No reviews but it does contain plot summaries.
  • Manga Updates:This site contains a number of Manga reviews, plot summaries, and new release updates.
  • No Flying, No Tights: This site contains reviews of graphic novels and manga for kids, teens, and adults.
  • School Library Journal Blog: Good Comics for Kids: Covers news in kid's comics and reviews new graphic novels.
  • YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens List: The list is put out every year by YALSA of about 60 comics book titles. This is one of the few places that highlights nonfiction graphic novels. Ten comics on the list are picked as the best of the year.

Comic Creation Tools:
  • Graphic Novel Reporter: Several blogs focus on news in the comic book industry. This site also has condensed lists of forthcoming graphic novels to be aware of by age group. The seasonal list of core graphic novels and manga is excellent for collection development.
  • News-A-Rama: This is a great website for comic book news. It does not have too many reviews of trade paper graphic novels, but it will keep you abreast of trends in single comic issue buying and what the major publishers are doing.


Glossary of Terms

  • British Invasion: Similar to the British Invasion of the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Dave Clark Five, The Zombies and so on into American rock n roll music, so too does the term deal with a British invasion of a different sort: into American comics. A loose collection of writers and artists—including Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano, Peter Milligan, and half a dozen others—began publishing quirky, dark fantasy with DC comics in the late 1980s. The first titles were began with DC's main universe (see below), but were, by 1993, moved into a separate imprint called Vertigo. The resulting titles—Sandman; The Invisibles; and Preacher, among others—were an iconoclastic revolution in the medium. They were aimed at adults (or at least precocious teenagers); they were literate, morally and linguistically complex; and they pushed open the market for the non-super hero graphic novels we have today.
  • Comics: A very difficult word to define. The best definition comes to us from Will Eisner via Scott Adams: sequential art. This includes everything from cave paintings to hieroglyphics to comic strips, a bit broad maybe, but it captures the essence of comics that makes the medium unique. A painting with some words is not comics. A movie is not comics.
  • Eisner Award: Named for Will Eisner, one of the first writer/artists to see the artistic value of comics, this is annual award given to American comic professionals and titles, similar to the Academy Awards.
  • Graphic novel: A misnomer. This really refers to the format of a book-sized comic. Many graphic novels aren't fiction at all, as comics is a medium, not a genre.
  • Manga: Manga comics are comics that come from Japan, or are influenced by the Japanese style. Manga has a number of differences to its American counterpart. The comics are read, by Western eyes, from back to front; or, right to left. The characters have cartoonish faces with enormous eyes. The types of stories Japanese Manga comics cover fills the entire spectrum of genres, from superheroes to Raymond Carver style short stories.Popular genres include shonen (boys), shojo (girls), seinen (young adult men 18-24), yaoi (male-male romance), and yuri (female-female romance) manga. Shonen manga are usually action-oriented, with bold lines and multi-panel fight scenes. Shojo manga series are often romances featuring more delicate art, often with flowers, bubbles, and sparkles rendered in the background. Many seinen, yaoi, and yuri comics contain sexual content more appropriate for adult readers. Manga comics are taken more seriously by Japanese fans, considered legitimate literature. Manga is also very popular with many American teens. Many libraries have active manga or anime (animated films or television shows, often based on existing manga series) clubs as part of their regular teen programming.
  • Super hero comics: Not, as many people still think, synonymous with the medium of comics, but rather a long-running genre. There are two major publishers of superhero comics, Marvel and DC. Both companies have stables of characters that populate alternate worlds. DC came first, and has Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Batman, among others. Their powers come either from magic, alien races, or some (semi) divine source. For decades, DC toyed with the notion of alternate earths within its universe; there were multiple Supermans, for instance, and one planet where all the superheroes were villains. Marvel came second, and from the beginning was seen as a hipper, more youth-oriented universe. Marvel's big heroes are Spider-man, the X-men, Captain America, the Hulk and Daredevil and so on. Unlike DC, Marvel's heroes are set on this earth. The heroes live in New York and San Francisco. Their powers, almost uniformly, are derived from science gone awry. Other genres, such as horror comics, western comics, adaptations of classics, romance comics and so on come and go, but in week to week popularity, super hero comics have remained the most popular genre. Why this is the case is a question for a much longer space. But, many of the award-winning comics authors write, or wrote, super hero comics at one time.


Ellis, Allen and Doug Highsmith. "About Face: Comic Books In Library Literature." Serials Review 26.2 (2000): 21. Professional Development Collection. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. http://web.ebscohost.com.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/ehost/detail?sid=e6a48ac3-c592-4528-822b-55b32f594101%40sessionmgr113&vid=1&hid=114&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=tfh&AN=3806103