I’ve been thinking a lot about superheroes lately.

Partially, that’s because it is summer and summer is a time for megasuperhero blockbusters, San Diego Comic Con, World Con, and so on. The other part of the superhero brooding is because 2016 is officially The Year of the Superhero over at Book Smugglers HQ and we’ve been reading/editing/reviewing a ton of superhero themed stories.

In all of this superhero-focused thinking, I’ve noticed a pattern—one of surprise, defying my normal expectations. People, there are a lot of unexpected superheroes out there. I’m not just talking about diversity of characters or authors (although this is an important, hard-fought, awesome movement—one that continues to be challenged by asshats all around the internet). I’m also talking about the sheer different types superheroes—comic book conventional and otherwise—that pervade a multitude of media. I’m talking about the new Ghostbusters cast, whom a lot of people probably wouldn’t consider traditional superheroes, but who so are in my mind (they are a quartet of ghost-hunting, capturing badasses with explosive/potentially-universe-ending proton packs strapped to their backs: superheroes).

Here’s a list of more awesome, unexpected superheroes you can check out this summer:

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Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn. The debut novel from Sarah Kuhn, Heroine Complex is so so so much fun. Asian American superheroes (who received their powers from a recent supernatural portal event). Smart and important discussion about identity and culture. An energetic take on the superhero genre with a core message of friendship to boot. What’s not to love?! You can find our joint review of the book here.Smugglers_Extrahuman

The Extrahuman Union by Susan Jane Bigelow (Broken, Sky Ranger, The Spark, Extrahumans). Extrahumans are super-powered people who are, upon  discovery of their powers, conscripted into the “Extrahuman Union” and forced to fight crime/keep the peace/are condemned to live in a tower with their own kind. The Extrahuman Union series showcases superheroes as flawed, very human creatures—ones who live, die, and make mistakes just like everyone else. (Plus there’s all the goodness of intense worldbuilding, deep political tensions in a future dystopian world, alien wars and technology, and spaceships.)

Wayward by Jim Zub and Steve Cummings. The ongoing series from Zub with art by Cummings is a whole new take on superheroes—or young new gods of Japan, who wield powers that can control the threads of destiny, eat ghosts, affect emotion, control technology, merge with manmade materials, etc. A non-appropriative, awesomely illustrated, action-packed series, set in real-world Tokyo—if you’re not reading this book, you should get on it post-haste.

Smugglers_Hero Hero by Perry Moore. This is an older title, but one that I encourage everyone to read. Thom Creed, the protagonist of this story, struggles with the legacy of his father (Hal Creed—former beloved superhero and member of The League, until that incident at the tower). Thom hides two secrets from his father: that he has his own superpowers and has secretly joined the League behind his dad’s back; and that he is gay. Hero is a poignant coming-of-age story about a teenager, his family legacy, first love, and fighting the forces of evil.

Dangerous by Shannon Hale. Did you know that Shannon Hale wrote a superhero novel? Well, she did, in 2014. Dangerous is the story of an intelligent young heroine who wins a trip to a prestigious and exclusive astronaut camp and a ride up Earth’s very first space elevator. In the process, she and her peers develop incredible superpowers, and are now hunted and played against each other by power-grubbing adults who want to control these powerful superheroes. Oh, and there are also aliens who attack, and a larger war. There’s a LOT going on in Dangerous, and you would never, ever guess it from the cover or book synopsis. You want unexpected superheroes? Try this.

Smugglers_Attack Attack on Titan: Lost Girls by Hiroshi Seko. I doubt anyone else would call Mikasa or Annie—two of the main female characters from glorious manga series Attack on Titan—superheroes, but to me, they SO are. This is a light novel, based on two spinoff mini-visual novels released with the blu-ray Attack on Titan anime blu-ray release. The book comprises three short stories, set during different points of time during the first two season arcs of Attack on Titan and shows us a lot more about two main female characters: Mikasa, who is the undisputed superhero/badass/best character of the series; and Annie, mysterious, superbadass, and...well… I don’t want to spoil it. This light novel just came out in English this past week.

And that is it! Our list of recommended, unexpected superheroes. What titles have we missed that are on your list?

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can also find them on Twitter.