If your heart skips a beat for high-school bildungsroman and sweet queer romances, then you might already have a crush on Netflix’s new hit series, Heartstopper. Based on the graphic-novel series written and drawn by Alice Oseman (who was also the scriptwriter for the television adaption), Heartstopper is a romantic coming-of-age drama revolving around two boys in the U.K. who strike up an unlikely friendship. Nick is a kindhearted rugby player with the personality of a golden retriever, while Charlie is a shy lovestruck underclassman battling bullies and a broken heart. Obviously, they’re meant for each other.
The eight-episode series has been critically acclaimed for its heartwarming love story and for its endearing representation of characters from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum. It might take a while before the show returns with its much-anticipated second season, but luckily there is a world of literary fiction to turn to if you’re in the mood for more YA tales of queer kids finding love and friendship.
If you’re looking for more stories about cute teens falling in love while playing sports, look no further than this delightful graphic novel. While Charlie and Nick fell in love on the rugby field (and everywhere else), Annie and Bebe’s sports romance centers around a cheerleading squad — a squad that Annie, a loner lesbian, would rather avoid at all costs. When threatened with the prospect of an incomplete college application (excellent grades, terrible marks for socializing), Annie reluctantly joins her school’s team, led by her estranged best friend, Bebe. Bebe doesn’t exactly have it easy, either. Bebe is an openly trans girl and an A+ student under way too much pressure from her overprotective parents. Her world only becomes more complicated when Annie enters this part of her life. As they work together on the team, Annie and Bebe find themselves pushing each other to become braver and kinder versions of themselves, while falling in love along the way.
In their graphic memoir, U.K. illustrator Rebecca Burgess shares the story of how they discovered asexuality. At the start of the book, Burgess is a young student who is passionate about cartoons and loves platonic cuddling with friends. They’re overwhelmed by the awkwardness of navigating romantic relationships and wrestle with the limiting sex-obsessed messaging from the media about what constitutes a “normal” person. When they start to learn more about asexuality, they realize there are more people out there than they realized who share their experience. Through their journey from navigating school to the professional world, Burgess gives fresh insights into a still-underrepresented identity, as well as their experiences with anxiety and OCD.
A few things to know about Remy Cameron: One, he absolutely loves his dad’s homemade French toast; two, he is the big brother to a rambunctious 7-year-old sister whom he adores; and three, he is one of the only openly queer Black kids in his school. Sounds like a lot, right? In the midst of a multilayered identity crisis (how do you easily define yourself as a queer transracial adoptee in the length of a college-admissions essay?), Remy finds himself falling for a cute skater boy named Ian while dealing with new information about his biological family — including meeting the half-sister he never knew he had. Like Heartstopper’s Charlie Spring, Remy wants true love and has some pretty awesome friends in his corner, but he is frustrated by other people trying to pin certain labels on him. Written by Julian Winters, the same person who brought you Running With Lions and The Summer of Everything, How to Be Remy Cameron is an ode to the kids who don’t fit into easy categories.
Aging up a little from the high-school drama, I Hear the Sunspot is a college romance set between two boys, Kohei and Taichi. Taichi is a down-on-his-luck college student in need of a part-time job in order to secure his next meal. Kohei is a handsome yet emotionally distant law student looking for a notetaker on account of his hearing disability. Soon enough, they strike a deal where Taichi takes notes in exchange for Kohei’s homemade treats, though neither of them expects the kind of connection that will develop next. I Hear the Sunspot is not only a heartwarming romance, but it also touches upon the intersection of queer and HOH/Deaf identities.
When Ben comes out to their parents as nonbinary, their entire world is rocked upside down. After being kicked out of the house, Ben moves in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, a surprising ally who provides Ben the shelter they need. Now in a new school for their last year of high school, Ben keeps a low profile while attempting to manage their anxiety … until they meet Nathan Allan, a beautiful boy who takes Ben under his wing. Exploring some of the more serious elements of coming out and mental health, some readers might want to look up trigger warnings before starting this book.
High-school student Frederica “Freddy” Riley keeps finding herself in an on-again, off-again (though mostly off) relationship with her ex-girlfriend, Laura Dean, a gorgeous girl with a less-than-gorgeous personality. Despite her friends constantly telling her that Laura is bad news, Freddy keeps finding herself pulled into the other girl’s atmosphere, a girl who demeans Freddy and cheats on her. For those of us who had beef with Ben Hope from Heartstopper, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is another reminder that not all young love is sweet and pure.
Nova Huang knows magic. After being surrounded by it her entire life and helping run her grandmother’s magical bookshops (filled with plenty of spell books), she is no stranger to the supernatural. So when she is reunited with her old friend, Tam Lang (who uses they/them pronouns), she isn’t startled when she discovers that Tam is a werewolf. As they become reacquainted and fall in love, they must also face the evil magic-users hunting Tam that threaten to tear them apart. Featuring two queer Asian American leads, one of whom also happens to be hard of hearing, Mooncakes is a wonderfully illustrated story about finding magic in love with a fantastic twist.
It would be remiss not to mention at least one other title by Alice Oseman (though not directly Heartstopper related, this book is set in the same universe!). Head girl Frances has a reputation for being an academic overachiever and is working toward entering one of the top schools in the U.K. But what most people don’t know is that she’s completely in love with a podcast called Universe City, created by none other than her unassuming classmate, Aled. A platonic love story between two strange souls, Radio Silence is a literary balm for anyone who’s ever felt alone in a crowd of people and for those who find comfort through creation.
Irene and Scottie, cheerleader and basketball jock, high-school rivals, and soon to be “fake” girlfriends? After getting into a fender bender with the beautiful, if somewhat snotty, Irene Abraham, Scottie Zajac finds herself in Irene’s debt. Scottie is forced into close proximity with the cheerleader when she has to carpool with Irene to school, and the two find themselves fighting like cats and dogs. Things only get more complicated when Scottie proposes fake-dating Irene in order to get back at her ex-girlfriend. A hilarity of queer-girl romance, She Drives Me Crazy fulfills the sapphic itch for lesbian sports dramas.
A black flamingo is a beautiful bird known for its unusual plumage in a monochrome sea of pink bodies. Michael, a mixed-race queer boy, can relate. Half Jamaican and half Greek Cypriot, London-born Michael struggles to find the place where he fits in, whether it’s with the Black kids at his school or the queer majority-white spaces he finds. The book traces Michael’s journey growing up as a young kid confronting the restrictive nature of gender norms to his college days, finding creative freedom through poetic expression and drag. A gorgeous novel written in verse by Dean Atta, The Black Flamingo uses its lyricism to capture the experience of learning self-love and acceptance.
When her plans for financial aid fall through the floor, Liz Lighty has to scramble to find a new way to pay for college. And what better scheme than winning the title of prom queen, which includes generous funds for a scholarship? Up against some catty classmates in the competition for the crown, Black queer teen Liz battles some pretty blatant microaggressions and pettiness. Luckily, there seems to be a new girl named Mack who’s as charming as she is sweet. Trouble is, they’re both competing for the same thing. From the author of Rise to the Sun, You Should See Me in a Crown is a refreshingly honest story about the drama of prom.