I love stories with teenage leads. I always have. Whether it was my crush on Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice, or thinking Fred Savage was the coolest because he went on a adventure to California with his autistic brother and a cute girl while playing Nintendo games in the Wizard or went into a scary but fascinating world of Little Monsters. I read YA novels as a kid-most of which were forgettable but at the time I enjoyed them. Goosebumps in the 90s was the jam. I had a crush on Jubilee from ages 12-16. In my teens discovering anime and hanging out with Sailor Moon or Tenchi. I just love them so much. Sadly we don’t get enough stories with teen leads or casts. I hate to say a lot of what we do get from the mainstream is just not up to par. While there is a lot in manga, for me its hit or miss. Sometimes breaking down towards the end. Or having to try and hang with a long running series. Anyway here’s a short list of 3 I go back to.
#4. Great Teacher Onizuka
by Tohru Fujisawa
What It Is: Eikichi Onizuka is an ex gang member who decides he wants to be a teacher. Not for the noblest of reasons. Through hard work and determination he makes it into a teaching gig at a private school, taking on one of the most feared classes. He befriends a number of these students and finds himself on misadventures or trying to make the classes fun, and in some cases helping his students deal with their own issues.
What It Is To Me: I know its kind of a cheat but GTO is actually a sequel/spin off series of Shonan Junai Gumi where Onizuka was one of the stars and was a teenager. So in a way its about a teenager with a rocky past who is now an adult and trying to lead a new generation. While he Onizuka is a pervert and a weirdo his efforts for his students is the key focus. After the series gets underway and we watch his efforts to become a teacher we eventually meet a lot of the supporting cast. On his first day at his job at the private school he saves a young student who attempts to commit suicide. They become friends and he helps him through out stand up to his bully-a taller woman. That itself becomes a major plot point in both the manga and the anime. While he gets a long better with the boys (after he turns them around to his favor) its really his dynamic with the girls. He helps a girl named Tomoko deal with her loneliness by tricking her into a talent competition which helps her become a local idol-doing modeling, doing commercials and bit parts. Then there is the super-genius Urumi Kanzaki. Smarter than most and generally bored and angry. The series is essentially about the connection between a teacher and students. Its funny. Sometimes gross, perverted and stupid but ultimately heart warming. Onizuka is watching out for his students, trying to save them and teach them and also help all his friends and colleagues along the way. Yeah, its a cheat for teen comics but the teenagers are such an important part of the series I had to include it. The anime is good but the manga is better-if repetitive. Though it does have a strong ending.
#3. Avengers Academy
by Christos Gage, various including series co-creator Mike McKone
What It Is: Several teens with super powers are chosen to join a special academy run by the Avengers. Specifically Giant Man, Tigra, Quicksilver and others. These teens includes Veil, Hazmat, Mettle, Striker, Finesse, and Reptil. However they are relaly there to be monitored as its feared any of these teenagers could develop into dangerous super villains.
What It Is To Me: A slam bang straight up teen superhero comic. No filler all killer. It has what teen superhero books need. teen drama, teen romance, and teens kicking ass. A lot of teen superhero books tend to get too “deep” for their own good but Academy never gets too deep. No doubt it gets dark but Gage and his creators know how to add enough humor and feel good moments to keep us smiling and cheering. I personally fell in love with Finesse. The possible daughter of the cool taskmaster, she kicks all kinds of ass through the series. Her blackmail of Quicksilver creators a very interesting mentor dynamic and that pays off excellent in a later issues when magneto shows up. You root for Hazmat and Mettle. You feel fro Striker even though he is a jerk. Then of course there are the teachers and I loved the stuff with hank Pym and Tigra. The series develops a second direction later on when the group moves to the West Coast and we get more students including X-23 along with others. That shake sup the book in a way that feels natural but while the cast expands the central characters remain the stars. If there is a downside is the changing line up of artists however a lot of them are really good. Avengers Academy hits all the right notes for a teen superhero series and it should be studied by superhero writers.
#2. Azumanga Daioh
by Kiyohiko Azuma
What It Is: A slice of life comedy about a group of high school friends. Yomi, Tomo, Sakaki, Kagura, Osaka and the kid genius Chiyo. They go to school, study, do homework, hang out. Its simple ins its premise but brilliant in its execution. The manga done as comic strips in 4 panels. Its about friendship.
What It Is To Me: Its so feel good that when it ends it just breaks you up. i discovered Azumanga Diaoh through AMV Hell. AMV Hell is a bunch of anime clips edited with audio and graphics that were compiled together. One of the AMV hells had a lot of clips from this so I found it, bought it, loved it. Then I bought the manga and loved it to. There’s not much I can say to express it. You have stories of Sakaki and her desire just to pet cats and they run or attack her. The girls competing in the schools sports festival. Osaka trying to get rid of hiccups. Summer adventures at Chiyos summer home. The rivalry between their teacher and her best friend who is the homeroom teacher in the next class. I love all the characters-except Tomo. She annoys me greatly. The other characters are cool. Azumanga Daioh is one of the great slice of life manga series and I do not believe anyones done it as well since then. The closest one to creating the same sort of feeling is Yotsuba, which is by the same creator.
by Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, various
What It Is: A group of teenagers discover their parents are part of an evil cabal. So they run away from home. Simple right? Not when this groups parents include mad scientists, mutants, aliens, and more. Also is the Marvel universe so you got them capes to deal with.
What It Is To Me: When I was in a position to go to the comic shop every week with disposable cash this was the second book I picked up (the other was Formerly Known as the Justice League). So when I was really starting my comic buying habit it was an early favorite. I bought all the issues, picked up the digests and got the hardcovers. Why? Because its awesome! It’s my favorite Marvel property after the X-Men. Those first 18 issues were brilliant. The build to the end was amazing. The development of characters and the world. The twists and turns. Adrian Alphona’s art worked so well and the fill in my Takeshi Miyazawa was brilliant. When the book came back for a second volume it went bigger. With great guest appearances, a new cast member and a heart wrenching tragedy the team delivered an epic follow up. I loved every issue and have reread everything multiple times. Its sad because nothing Marvels done with the book has lived up to it. Joss Whedon and Matt Ryans 6 issue follow up had some neat parts but ultimately faltered. Terry Moore and Humberto Ramos were not a good fit. Finally Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli was the right team and built an excellent start that was cut off and for years the property went silent. they showed up here and there and I’m not sure whats going on. People want the Runaways. The fans want them back. This lovely, epic, adventure series needs to have a glorious return.
Also a movie. What happened Marvel Studios?