Bildungsromans – A Mouthful of a Genre

One of my favorite aspects of being a cataloger is looking at the Library of Congress’ LCSH, LCGFT, and Personal Name Headings approval lists. New comic book genres are being added to the LCGFT on a regular basis mostly to make genres which are comparable to other literature genres. The coming-of-age comic genre was added in September 2017; however, I like the term for the coming of age novel, Bildungsromans, mostly because it’s fun to say. And, while you may have heard the term Buildungsromans since your high school English class, but it derived from the German words for education and novel. As an adult reading these stories, I love them as a reflective tool to look back at my youth but also to analyze what teenagers are experiencing now and have empathy for their formative years. 

So, let’s take a look at some of my favorite buildngsromans… or maybe buildngsgraphischerroman.

I Kill Giants

Written by: Joe Kelly
Illustrated by: J.M. Ken Niimura
Published by: Image Comics

I kill giantsSoon to be a major motion picture, I Kill Giants is my favorite coming of age comic. Barbara Thorson is obsessed with Norse mythology, RPGs, and fantasy worlds, so obsessed that sometimes, she loses sight of the real world. When we discover why Barbara is retreating into the fantasy world, we realize why Barbara would rather fight the giants attacking her town than go home and deal with the issue at hand. There are some trials no child should have to face, but there are something children cannot be insulated from. Joe Kelley, author of Four Eyes and co-creator of the animated show Ben 10, shows his understanding of the motivations and wonder of youthfulness. Illustrations by J.M. Ken Niimura have an anime quality to them and the lack of color help drive home Barbara’s worldview, earning I Kill Giants the International Manga Award.


Written and Illustrated by: Tillie Walden
Published by: First Second

spinning coverIt is easy to see most biographical or semi-biographical comics as bildungsromans. Many artists use their medium to express emotions from their personal and formative experiences. Tillie Walden’s Spinning follows the young ice skater of the same name, as she navigates a new school, family issues, and first love. A fairly independent girl, Tillie’s life focused on her ice skating goals, but as she experienced new things, her perspective on the importance of skating changed and she began to reevaluate other aspects of her life. A big part about growing up, that we don’t actively think about, is quitting something. I remember when I told my dad, who had invested time coaching my softball team, sent me to catcher’s camp, and bought me new catchers equipment with every growth spurt, that I wasn’t having fun anymore and wanted to quit. I thought he’ be disappointed or angry with me, that I’d giving up, but I hadn’t given up, I’d simply grown up, and that is the main lesson of this beautiful read. It is ok to grow up and try new things, continual self discovery is what keeps life interesting and engaging.

Joe the Barbarian

Written by: Grant Morrison
Illustrated by: Sean Murphy
Published by: Vertigo Comics


It can be difficult for a coming of age story to seamlessly add fantastical elements while maintaining its core theme of self-discovery. Eleven year old Joe has Type 1 Diabetes and one day, while home alone, he slips into a hypoglycemic state and hallucinates a fantasy world inhabited by characters familiar to him. In the fantasy world, much like Barb in I Kill Giants, Joe uses the fantastical to explore the trama he’s experienced in his life so far. The loss of his father, growing up with a working, widowed mother, and managing a life long and life threatening medical condition, all before puberty, is explored by Joe the Barbarian. Joe’s pet rat play a pivotal role in the story and Sean Murphy’s rendering of him is reminiscent of Splinter from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise with slight manga styling. This limited series is a great quick read.

Ms. Marvel Series

Written by: G. Willow Wilson
Illustrated by: Various
Published by: Marvel Comics

Ms MarvelDo I need to tell you that I love Ms. Marvel….again? This book deftly handles on of the fundamental aspects of the bildungsroman, the journey of maturity, having experiences which transition you from child to adult. We see Kamala Kahn explore what it means to be family, have friends, explore your religion, all while saving Jersey City one baddie at a time. Teenagers often feel invincible, but how does a teenager with superpowers handle the “little thing” like an internet bully? They aren’t “little things,” not even for Kamala because the experiences we go through as teenagers lay the foundations for the rest of our life. While this makes Ms. Marvel seem like a serious study in puberty, it balances the levity and hopefulness of youth very, very well.

Do you have a favorite coming of age comic book story? And don’t forget to add that 655 #7 |a Coming-of-age comics. |2 lcgft to your favorite Buildngsgraphischerroman.