If your kid never leaves the house without a towel tied around his or her neck like a cape, we understand. Superheroes have saturated our society, dominating the box office, TV, video games, and even bestseller charts. It’s a golden era for comic book fans—but for parents looking for age-appropriate superheroes, these PG-13 options can be frustrating. We’re here to help with a list of the best superheroes for kids, and how to enjoy them without stumbling into more adult stories.
Remember, if you’re unsure about a new title, real-life comic book stores are great sources of information. Their staff members are usually happy to point you in the right direction for age-appropriate books starring your kid’s new favorite hero.
The best superheroes for kids
Superman is arguably the most iconic superhero of all time. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, Superman represents justice in the face of evil. Since his debut in 1938, Superman has gone through multiple reimaginings, with the vast majority of these stories being appropriate for kids of all ages. However, starting in the early ’90s with the Death of Superman story arc, the character began to take on darker tales. But don’t worry: Even if you avoid most of the modern comics, there’s a ton of great Superman content to find.
Comics: The two best all-ages Superman series of all time are Superman Family Adventures and Superman Adventures. The first focuses on younger readers, with a cartoonish style akin to Team Titans Go! Superman Adventures, on the other hand, is a faithful adaptation of the ’90s animated series of the same name. Written and produced with the same loving, grown-up style as the cartoon, Superman Adventures is a great comic regardless of your age.
TV: Superman has a long history on television, dating back to George Reeves’ 1950s live-action Adventures of Superman series. His cartoons have been showing even longer, with Max Fleisher’s Superman cartoons igniting imaginations in the ’40s. Much of this material is still around. If you have Amazon Prime, your kids can catch up on the incredible ’40s cartoons and the ’90s Superman: The Animated Series. Older teens will appreciate the live-action series Smallville, about a highschool Superman, and Supergirl, following the adventures of Superman’s cousin Kara.
Movies: Superman’s recent theatrical films are a little grim and intense for young viewers. However, the first series of films starring Christopher Reeves are a delight for all ages. While the quality dips as the series goes on, younger viewers will be thrilled to see a man fly, save lives, and fight off evil super villains. Sadly these films are not streaming.
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2) The Hulk
Boys and girls of all ages love the Hulk. Sure, he can be terrifying at times, but under all the aggression is a hero with a heart of gold. Plus, kids understand temper tantrums. Sometimes a scientific genius, sometimes a brute controlled by his emotions, there’s something relatable about Hulk. Because Hulk has been largely portrayed as a monster during his career, pinpointing modern stories that are OK for kids can be hard. But there are stories where they can watch Hulk smash in safety.
Comics: Marvel launched the Adventures line as way for parents to quickly find all-ages books, and Hulk appears in two of them. The first Marvel Adventures Hulk is a perfect starting place even for adults, as it fills in the backstory while starting a new tale of its own. Hulk also appeared in Marvel Adventures The Avengers. Both of these series will tide over your little ones. Once they’ve finished those, check out John Byrne’s work in Incredible Hulk Visionaries. This collection includes the heroes classic adventures from the ’70s and ’80s before darkness reigned.
TV: Hulk’s TV shows are hard to find on streaming, but thankfully the DVDs aren’t difficult to track down. During the ’70s, Hulk starred in his own live-action TV show. It’s appropriate for all ages and even birthed a few spinoff movies with cameos from Thor and Daredevil. Fox Kids aired The Incredible Hulk animated series from 1996 to 1997 while Disney produced Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. from 2013 to 2015. All three of these series are worth finding on DVD.
Movies: While you’re waiting for your Hulk DVDs to arrive, Netflix has a few streaming options to check out. Even if The Avengers films are too violent for young kids, the direct-to-video movies Where Monsters Dwell, Iron Man and Hulk: Heroes United, and Super Hero Adventures: Frost Fight! aren’t. Where Monsters Dwell is the best of the lot, so start there.
Spider-Man is an easy character to relate to for kids, because for almost all of his career, Spider-Man has been a teen. While Superman worried about Kryptonyte, Peter Parker stressed over a curfew and the Green Goblin. His humorous nature is a welcome break from his more brooding peers, making for fun stories full of jokes even in the face of danger. The character is also an example of how comics have become more inclusive, with Miles Morales becoming the first black Spider-Man in 2011 following the death of Peter Parker in another dimension. Whether you prefer Peter or Miles, there’s a fun Spider-Man waiting out there for your kids.
Comics: Spider-Man has a long history that dates back decades, and for most of that time, his books were all-ages friendly. Here are some stories to get you started. First is The Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collections; each of these volumes collect the hero’s early adventures by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Along the way, you’ll meet all of the biggest villains and see the hero grow. Heads up for parents: Vol. 2 does involve the death of a major character, so be prepared for a talk. For more modern readers, we suggest Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. Ultimate Spider-Man focuses on a modern teenage Peter Parker, while Ultimate Comics Spider-Man picks up after Ultimate Peter’s death. By the time your kid reads all of Ultimate Spider-Man, they’ll be ready for any emotional trauma caused by Peter’s death, just beware of giving them any other Ultimate books. With these exceptions, the Ultimate line was decidedly for adults.
TV: Unfortunately, Spider-Man’s TV work isn’t available for streaming. If you want to hunt down DVDs, we highly recommend all of Spider-Man’s cartoons, from Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends through Disney XDs Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man series. All of Spider-Man’s adventures on TV have been appropriate for children.
Movies: Spider-Man’s movies are a complicated issue. The first Spider-Man movie series from Sam Raimi is rated PG-13 but features less intense violence than the Marvel films. Spider-Man: Homecoming might as well be a PG film, but Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War are too intense for younger viewers. If you’ve an 8- to 10-year-old, start them on the Raimi films and wait until they’re older for the Marvel Studios pictures.
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If comic books often feel like a boy’s club, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, and Noelle Stevenson’s Lumberjanes will be a breath of fresh air. The fantasy adventure series centers on a group girls—Mal, Ripley, Molly, April, and Jo—as they encounter the supernatural at summer camp. Originally launched as a mini-series, the book was quickly expanded to an ongoing title due to strong sales. Featuring a diverse cast of charters across race, body type, and age, Lumberjanes features strong female characters you can be happy your kids are reading. There’s even a young adult novel series for when you’re done with the comics.
Comic Books: Lumberjanes has run since 2014, with over 40 issues released in that time. We suggest picking up the trade paperbacks, which collect four issues at a time, as the best way to get started.
TV: There are no Lumberjanes television projects at the moment.
Movies: A movie is in development, but no new information has been announced since Emily Carmichael was named director in 2016.
From 1991 until 2004, Jeff Smith published 55 issues of Bone, an epic about three odd cartoon cousins who stumble upon adventure after being exiled from their hometown. Seamlessly mixing slapstick comedy with dark fantasy ala Lord of the Rings, Bone won 10 Eisner Awards and 11 Harvey Awards during its run. Based on the idea of taking a character like Scrooge McDuck and putting him in the middle of a continuously evolving adventure, Bone’s content is all ages even if its length requires some maturity. Give your kid Bone at the beginning of the summer, and see how much they’ve finished when school starts back.
Comics: One of the best aspects of Bone is how easy it is to collect. The entire series has been released as one 1,332-page collection called Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic. While the series was originally released in black and white, a full-color anniversary has also been released. If you think that would be better for your kid’s attention span we’re not here to pass judgment.
TV: There are no Bone television shows.
Movies: A Bone movie has been talked about for years, but nothing has ever really come of it. However, in 2010 when a CGI film was being discussed, animator Andrew Kaiko made a 2D test cartoon to show why he thought the film should use traditional animation. We wish the rest of this movie had been made.
Don’t let the dark movies and grim video games fool you, Batman is very much an all-ages character. While many of his pop-culture adventures are meant for teens and adults, the malleable nature of the character makes him a ripe playground for all-ages action. Ultimately, these are still stories about a billionaire ninja who dresses up like a bat to fight evil, and Batman’s colorful rogues gallery can be changed to fit any kind of story. Batman is the sort of comic character that young readers will follow for the rest of their lives, unlocking new stories as they age.
Comics: DC has always put a great deal of effort into the children’s comics it puts out, especially ones based on their animated properties. Batman Adventures, based on the ’90s cartoon series, and Batman: Brave and the Bold, spun off from the Cartoon Network show, are both worth young readers’ time. Batman Adventures is a more traditional Batman story, focusing on the hero’s crime fighting. Brave and the Bold, on the other hand, tells stories about Batman’s interactions with other DC superheroes. When you want to introduce them to more mainstream titles, look up the trade paperback The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.
TV: Batman has a rich history on television, with multiple classic series based around the character. The classic Batman live-action show from the ’60s still holds up as a perfect entry point for younger viewers. Full of traps, villains, action, and a good-natured sense of humor, Batman is a reminder of how much fun the character can be. While the series isn’t streaming, it is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Amazon Prime subscribers can stream the complete Batman: The Animated Series with their subscriptions. BTAS is one of the most influential interpretations of Batman, introducing characters like Harley Quinn while telling mature Batman stories that worked for kids. The Animated Series universe got its own spinoff, Batman Beyond, featuring a futuristic protege of the hero that’s wonderful sci-fi, but not available for streaming. We also highly recommend Batman: The Brave and the Bold, for its hysterical take on superhero stories.
Movies: Batman movies have an oddly adult history. The live-action films are all rated PG-13, even less violent entries like Batman and Robin. Thankfully you have options. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, a spinoff of The Animated Series, is PG for violence, but kids who can handle the show will be fine. For younger viewers, we suggest Batman: The Movie. Based on the ’60s TV show, this goofy treat has plenty of action, adventure, and laughs for any young Batman fan.
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Archie Andrews has been in high school since 1941, but the stories of his adventures in the town of Riverdale have stayed fresh the whole time. Mixing humor and teen drama, Archie Comics built an empire with countless spin-off titles and mini-series for every character in the Archie-verse. That includes fan favorites like Sabrina the Teenage Witch. In recent years, Archie Comics has launched a secondary line aimed at teens and young adults, but the classic digest-style stories can still be found in stores. Archie comics are a perfect middle ground for comic-book-loving kids who are looking for something different than superhero books. Sometimes romantic, occasionally thrilling, and always funny, Archie comics have kept their fanbase for decades for a good reason.
Comics: The best place to start with Archie is the Archie Digest comics. There isn’t an overarching story to follow, so you can pick up anywhere and know what’s happening. The Archie Universe includes titles like Jughead, Betty and Veronica, and Archie Jumbo Comics. For sci-fi loving Archie fans, we suggest the wacky mini-series Jughead’s Time Police where the hero’s hamburger-loving sidekick saves space and time.
TV: While an Archie-related show called Riverdale airs on The CW, it is intended for older teens and adults. However, the classic 1990s Sabrina, the Teenage Witch series can be streamed on Hulu.
Movies: There are no Archie movies of note available.
8) Fantastic Four
Of all the superhero teams in all of comics, the Fantastic Four are truly special: They’re first and foremost adventurers. Mr. Fantastic, The Thing, Susan Storm, and Human Torch got their powers by conducting an experiment in space, and the quest for knowledge has driven them since. Even their greatest villain, Dr. Doom, is an old scientist pal. These heroes have saved the universe a thousand times over—in part so that they could learn more about it. Kids with a thirst for adventure should seek out the Fantastic Four.
Comics: Unlike many of their peers, the Fantastic Four didn’t have much of a dark period during the ’90s. They’ve remained family friendly since their inception, though modern comics often focus on the marital problems between Reed and Susan. Any trade paperback you can find of the team is great, with one major exception. Ultimate Fantastic Four is in no way appropriate for kids, introducing dark elements of body horror into the lighthearted series. For younger readers with mature minds, we particularly recommend Jonathan Hickman’s run from issues #570-588 and #600-611 and its 23-issue spinoff book FF. This run sees the team start a foundation for brilliant children, save the multiverse, and fight swarms of bad guys. It’s a great place to start.
TV: There have been numerous cartoon adaptations of the Fantastic Four, but none of them are particularly good. However, if you kids enjoyed the ’90s Spider-Man cartoon, there is a ’90s Fantastic Four cartoon worth picking up if you find a cheap DVD.
Movies: The Fantastic Four’s film life hasn’t been easy. In fact, the latest adaptation ended up being a needlessly dark murder fest that missed the point of the characters. (Director Josh Trank infamously blamed the studio for the movie being a gargantuan flop.) Still, younger viewers will enjoy the mid-2000s movies Fantastic Four and Rise of the Silver Surfer. Neither film has a particularly strong story, but the cast is incredible, showcasing the humor and emotion fans have come to expect for the Four. Longtime nerds might not like it, but kids will fall in love.
9) Teen Titans
Created in the ’80s as DC Comics’ answer to the uber-popular X-Men, Teen Titans have exploded over the years into one of the most popular teams from any publisher. What could have been a throwaway title was used to explore the minds of young people facing seemingly unbeatable enemies. Packed with humor, romance, and bone-rattling action, Teen Titans was a hip alternative to adult cops like Batman. While the comic characters have remained close to their roots, the Titans have become a much more whimsical entity in their animated forms. Whether your kid likes laughing at heroes or watching them struggle against evil, there’s a Teen Titans story they’ll like.
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Comics: Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s classic run from the 1980s is available as a collected edition and features beloved heroes like Robin, Beast Boy, Cyborg, Starfire, and Kid Flash. However, it’s hard to go wrong with a Titans comic, as the franchise largely avoids graphic sex and violence. If your child found the Titans through the cartoons, they might want to give Teen Titans Go! a shot. Although it mimics the cartoonish and humorous approach of the hit animated series, Go! upholds the DC tradition of great cartoon adaptations. Its stories feature real stakes and great writing, so when your kids are done reading, you might want to give it a try.
TV: Teen Titans are biggest on TV. They rose to prominence with the 2003 animated series Teen Titans, which is available for purchase digitally but not available on streaming. Then 2013’s Teen Titans Go! grew the fanbase even more, though the series’ increased focus on comedy may bum out some action-oriented fans. Those fans would do well to check out Young Justice, which features Robin working with another group of teenage heroes and a more serious tone. There’s even a live-action TV show in the works, though from the looks of things, you might want to save that one for your teenagers.
Movies: The Teen Titans will see their animated big screen debut July 27, 2018, with Teen Titans Go! The Movie, starting with Kristen Bell, Halsey, Will Arnett, James Corden, and Nicolas Cage.
10) Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Marvel might be best known for the Avengers, but Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is the true hidden treasure of the publisher. Moon Girl is a 9-year-old African American girl, and one of the smartest people in the Marvel universe. When a portal to another world opens at her school, she meets Devil Dinosaur, a massive, super-powered T-Rex with whom she forms an immediate psychic connection. The duo strikes off, seeking adventure and fighting aliens and robot doubles. At some point, every kid wishes they were a mad scientist or someone with a pet dinosaur. Moon Girl gets to be both.
Comics: While Devil Dinosaur is a character that dates back to the ’70s, Moon Girl made her debut in Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1. You don’t need to read any older books to catch up. MG&DD has been running strong since 2015, just passing its 30th issue. The characters have also popped up in other comics, but because of the nature of crossover stories, we can’t promise those issues are all age appropriate.
TV: It was announced in February 2018 that an animated TV adaptation is on the way from Disney. No production date has been announced yet.
Movies: There are no plans for a movie, but we’d love to see Devil Dinosaur appear in the next Avengers flick to eat Thanos.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.