Representation Rocks

8 Books Like Heartstopper Your Teen Will Love

More teen queer romance in graphic novel form? Yes, please!

by Amber Guetebier
Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Amazon, Netflix
Celebrate Pride
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I read and review a lot of kids' books, and I've noticed some positive trends over the last four years. There's the increase in representation of culturally celebratory books written by BIPOC authors and illustrators; a delightful spike in horror and thriller novels written by queer, Indigenous, and Latinx writers; and one of the best trends for teens — LGBTQAI+ romance stories told in the form of graphic novels.

At the forefront of this movement is Heartstopper, Alice Oseman's coming-of-age series about two high school boys, Nick and Charlie, and how they meet and fall for each other. The books feature a diverse cast, including gay, lesbian, trans, non-binary, asexual, and demisexual characters, and tackle homophobia, high-school life, toxic relationships, and other topics relevant to today's teens.

Heartstopper has also become a popular Netflix series with two seasons currently released, but before you add it to the queue of queer shows and movies to watch with your teen, treat yourself — and your teens — to the graphic novels. I decided to spend a weekend binging similar books to bring you this list.

Whether you're an LGBTQAI+ parent, an ally, or you want to expose your teens to an alternative to cis-focused characters and plots, these books proudly grace my shelves, and I hope they do yours.

1. Stars in Their Eyes: A Graphic Novel by Jessica Walton and Aśka

Set at a Comic-Con-like convention called Fancon, Maisie — who recently came out to her mom as bisexual — is excited to meet her idol, Kara Bufano. Kara stars in one of Maisie’s favorite TV shows as an action hero with a lower-leg amputation, just like Maisie has. Unexpectedly, Maisie meets Ollie, a cute nonbinary volunteer working at the show. Maisie and Ollie grow close in a short period of time. In fact, they begin to fall in love! This book is uplifting and shatters preconceived ideas about both queerness and disability. The clever setting of Fancon allows for endless possibilities and a rich cast of characters, costumed and not.

2. Rainbow! Vol. 1 by Sunny, Illustrated by Gloomy

Pink-haired teen Boo Meadows is hard-working, gets nervous easily, and has an active imagination. One day at school, she witnesses the new girl, Mimi, get into a fight, and Boo can’t stop thinking about — and seeing — Mimi everywhere. But when Boo’s alcoholic mother ends up in the hospital, it’s Mimi who is there to help Boo get through one of the toughest nights of her life.

The illustrations of Boo’s less-than-ideal home life and the way stress affects her brain take this story to another level. Volume 1 came out in March 2024, and I’m so glad there will be more in this series.

3. The Baker and the Bard: A Cozy Fantasy Adventure by Fern Haught

Although The Baker and the Bard is more fantasy than Heartstopper or Stars In Their Eyes, it still manages to send readers on a rollicking adventure while incorporating gay and nonbinary characters organically and authentically. The two primary characters, Juniper and Hadley, embark on a quest to harvest glowing mushrooms from a nearby forest and discover another adventure along the way: solving the mystery of what creature is devouring the local village’s crops. The author has created an open dialogue about what it feels like to be nonbinary when Hadley has a frank discussion with their new fairy friend Thistle about gender identity. A sweet, fun read.

4. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, Illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Laura Dean is the popular girl in high school, and she seems like she’s Frederica Riley’s ideal girlfriend: attractive, confident, and full of charm. But as the title suggests, Laura keeps breaking up with Freddy, leaving her hurt and confused.

Like Heartstopper, the message of standing up to toxic people and relationships — even when they are popular and cute — rings loud and clear. Freddy seeks help from a psychic, an advice columnist, and, of course, her friends to get through.

5. Linus and Etta Could Use a Win by Caroline Huntoon

While this one is less about romantic relationships and more about friendship (and, for that reason, is rated as a middle-grade novel), it’s well worth the read. The main character, Linus, is a shy trans boy who catches the attention of green-haired, outgoing “class misanthrope” Etta. After dealing with some friendship breakups, Etta is more than happy to take on a bet that she can get Linus elected as class president. But what starts out as a dare quickly becomes a true friendship, and Etta struggles to keep the bet a secret.

6. How to Love: A Guide to Feelings and Relationships for Everyone by Alex Norris

Although this graphic novel is not fiction, it is a book for teens about those complicated emotions they experience when they fall in love — or maybe just like. With lots of humor and inclusive of all gender identities and sexualities, this is a lighthearted way to tackle a serious topic for teens, including first crushes, self-love, and true love, as well as the flip side of breakups, maintaining friendships, and more.

7. Magical Boy Volume 1: A Graphic Novel by The Kao

For those who want a little more fantasy in their graphic novels, Magical Boy (now available: Volumes 1 and 2) follows Max, a high-school-aged trans boy who — like all high schoolers — is just trying to get through. That is until he learns that his family descends from a long line of superheroes who defend the world against an ancient evil, with the lineage passing from Magical Girl to Magical Girl. But Max is not a girl; he is a boy. The author has cleverly flipped the script on teen manga “magical girl” genre and centered a strong trans kid as the hero. Hooray!

8. The Deep Dark: A Graphic Novel by Molly Knox Ostertag

Magdelena Herrera doesn't have an easy life: She's a senior in high school who cares for her grandparents, her girlfriend has a boyfriend, and she keeps a deep, dark secret in the basement. One that bites. But a childhood friend, Nessa — a trans girl Mags hasn't seen in years — returns to ask Mags a question about a memory she has of something in Mag's basement... and if that something killed their friend. It's a rich, intriguing story that courts the horror genre.

Parents should know that this book is geared toward older teens and includes gun violence and (slightly) more graphic sex scenes, as well as some drug use.