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Top Digital Comics of 2021 in the NYC Schools

A little lie I tell my students all the time is that I became a librarian because I can’t do math. That line usually pops out of my mouth when they’re asking me for help with their math homework. But librarians do use numbers, and I’m not just talking about the Dewey Decimal System. The numbers game is something I often use when trying to prove the worth of my collection, justify the money I spend on certain areas (like comics), and track which titles I need to buy or keep buying.

Book Cover The Girl From the Sea, one of the top digital comics of 2021

Running circulation stats is routine in most libraries, but every library’s number story is different. And just throwing out my top 10 titles for the year doesn’t necessarily give us the whole picture.

I’m the librarian in a large middle school in the New York City Department of Education. The NYC school system serves over 1 million students, and our student population is one of the most diverse populations in the country.

The sudden shutdown in March 2020 decimated my print collection, especially my graphic novel collection. Since we did not return to anywhere near normal until this past September, two classes graduated, taking with them many library books. I marked over 1,000 books lost, but when I whittled those numbers down, I discovered that over 700 of them were from my graphic novel collection.

While I wait for book orders to arrive, and scramble to write grants that will replenish my print collection, I have been heavily promoting the use of digital comics. Through a grant from the NYC Office of Library Services, my school received a subscription to Comics Plus and the students have been using it. But our real success is in the NYC Citywide Digital Collection on SORA.

Book Cover Naruto volume 70a, one of the top digital comics of 2021

Public Librarians will be familiar with Libby, Sora’s sister app, but both are products of Overdrive. (I love SORA because it allows me to use the public library collections simultaneous to the Citywide Digital Collection.) The NYC School Library System now owns over 19,000 titles in e-book, e-audiobook, and even magazine format, totaling over 300,000 copies of these titles. And for my students who are so eager to read comics, but are facing a disaster of a print collection, reading digitally has been a game-changer.

When my Good Comics For Kids team started to talk about which titles circulated most in our collections, I knew running my numbers for my print collection would be meaningless. I barely have any new books. So many books are lost, but I have been digging around the stats on SORA and found an interesting story.

When I limit the SORA Stats to just my school, Comics and Graphic Books (which is what overdrive calls the category), is the #1 circulating area of the digital collection. Citywide, Comics and Graphic Books, comes in 2nd to Fiction. (Which mirrors my print collection.)

I was also able to find the Top 10 circulating comics and I limited them by Juvenile and YA. In addition, I limited the list to Comics. So here are the top digital comics of 2021, measured by their popularity in the NYC public schools.

Top 10 YA Titles Circulating on SORA during 2021

  1. My Hero Academia, Volume 28: The Thrill of Destruction
  2. Naruto, Volume 70: Naruto and the Sage of Six Paths
  3. My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, Volume 9
  4. My Hero Academia, Volume 27: One’s Justice
  5. The Girl from the Sea: A Graphic Novel
  6. Naruto, Volume 72: Uzumaki Naruto
  7. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Volume 21: Ancient Memories
  8. Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search (2013), Part One
  9. Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, Volume 1
  10. Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search (2013), Part Three

I was not surprised to see that manga took up eight of the ten spots. I’ve heard from many NYC school librarians and seen the talk on Twitter about how students are hungering for manga. The explosion in popularity is palpable, generating excitement I have not seen at this level in years.

Top 10 Juvenile Titles Circulating on SORA in 2021

  1. Grime and Punishment: Dog Man Series, Book 9
  2. Cat Kid Comic Club: Cat Kid Comic Club Series, Book 1
  3. Brawl of the Wild: Dog Man Series, Book 6
  4. A Tale of Two Kitties: Dog Man Series, Book 3
  5. Lord of the Fleas: Dog Man Series, Book 5
  6. For Whom the Ball Rolls: Dog Man Series, Book 7
  7. Claudia and the New Girl: The Baby-Sitters Club Graphix Series, Book 9
  8. Fetch-22: Dog Man Series, Book 8
  9. Dog Man and Cat Kid: Dog Man Series, Book 4
  10. Dog Man Unleashed: Dog Man Series, Book 2

Strangely enough, this list is almost identical to the ICV2 list published last week.  November 2021 NPD BookScan – Top 20 Kids Graphic Novels. Nine of the top 10 titles are by Dav Pilkey, and one Baby-Sitters Club title snuck its way in as well..

 What will 2022 bring? I hope for more reading. It doesn’t really matter what. But I will be curious to see which titles excite our students the most.

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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