The Witch Boy is a graphic novel published in 2017, and written and drawn by Molly Ostertag (artist of Strong Female Protagonist).
Aster is one son of a magical family living in a hidden part of the woods. Traditionally, boys have been raised to become shapeshifters, who use their animal forms to defend their dwellings from demons. As for girls, they are trained in the arts of spells, becoming witches who maintain their homes and forest. Aster, however, has failed the shapeshifting ceremony several years in a row, and has much more interest in studying spells and becoming a witch.
Due to an old catastrophe with an ancestor who broke the rules, Aster's family does not dare teach him magic like the girls. But that ancient evil turns out to be much closer than they believe, and Aster is eventually faced with confronting it.
It received a sequel in October 2018, titled The Hidden Witch. With another book, The Midwinter Witch coming soon.
Tropes found in The Witch Boy:
- Dark-Skinned Redhead: Aster, since his mother is white with red hair and his father is Ambiguously Brown. However, he is far from a Fiery Redhead in personality.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Charlie is the only girl who's openly cool with Aster being a witch, if only because as a Muggle, she has no frame of reference for what magical folk would consider "normal," or "proper." Furthermore, she has two fathers and chafes at the gender segregation of her school's sports, further compelling her to sympathize with Aster for being "different."
- Does Not Like Shoes: Everyone in Aster's woodland community is always barefoot, making them also Magical Barefooters and Earthy Barefoot Characters.
- Dramatically Missing the Point: Early in the story, Aster's mother tries to warn him away from studying magic by telling the story of his great uncle, who also tried to learn witchery and became corrupted by it. The takeaway she gives is that by trying to go against the rules of magic, he became a monster and she's only correct From a Certain Point of View. In reality, society's refusal to accept him for who and what he was psychologically damaged him, and his attempts to use witchcraft to turn himself into a shapeshifter backfired spectacularly. This means it's his culture's fault he became a monster, and if people had encouraged his non-standard magical expressions, then maybe he wouldn't have become such a mess in the first place.
- Evil Counterpart: Mikasi is one for Aster. Both are males who learned witchcraft despite their culture frowning on it. However, Mikasi only learned witchery in hopes of finding another way to become a shapeshifter and became horribly damaged, magically and psychologically, for it. Aster on the other hand, embraced his desire to study witchcraft and came out a healthier, saner person for it.
- Foreshadowing: Grandmother is the only family member who doesn't mind Aster attempting to learn magic, remembering her twin brother became corrupted from being discouraged from it.
- Have You Tried Not Being a Monster?: The story is easily read as a metaphor for discrimination in gender roles, with men being pushed toward violent activities and women towards domestic ones. It can also be read as concerning gender identity. Though Aster never displays explicit discomfort specifically with being assigned male, it's shown his preference for magic isn't just merely personality when Mikasi tastes his soul and discovers it is that of a witch. Inversely, his grandmother turns out to be a partial shapeshifter.
- History Repeats: Aster's family worry this would occur if he were permitted to study magic, as his grand-uncle Mikasi went mad after attempting to use stolen witches' magic. The connection goes further, as Mikasi was also a man who was unable to transform into an animal spirit. However, Aster breaks the cycle by being comfortable with his magic in place of transformation, while Mikasi tried to use magic to transform and so was mutated.
- Loophole Abuse: After the mysterious creature attempts to strike a deal with Aster, it magically seals his throat so Aster cannot tell his family what just happened. However, the spell did not prevent him from telling Charlie, since she lives outside of the magical community.
- Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Aster and Charlie form this type of dynamic. Aster is the sensitive boy who prefers quiet activities within the homes and gardens, while Charlie is an energetic girl who enjoys sports and road biking.
- The Masquerade: A downplayed example. It's implied there's one, since Charlie seems surprised by the mere existence of magic, but it also seems rather lightly enforced. Aster can leave his family's grounds with relative ease, and while his family chews him out for letting Charlie, a Muggle onto their grounds and talking to her about magic, they don't go to the usual extremes you might expect from other fiction to cover it up.
- Meaningful Name: "Aster" is a kind of flower, and is notable for being the only flower that's used as a masculine name, alluding to his non-conformist gender expression.
- Muggle Best Friend: Charlie, a schoolgirl who lives in the suburbs outside the woods, becomes Aster's friend due to being the first girl to openly admire his magic.
- My Greatest Failure: Aster's grandmother's biggest regret is the day she turned away her brother Mikasi, when he came to her begging for help after his attempt to shapeshift using magic mutated him. Her refusal led him to run away to the woods, where he was left alone with his fear to grow into hate for his old family.
- Our Mages Are Different: What kind of magic you're "supposed" to do is defined by your gender (women are spellcasters while men are shapeshifters). Also, magic folk seem sufficiently isolated from non-magical society that Aster is genuinely confused when Charlie asks him if he'll learn how to fly a broom.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Aster doesn't seem to know what Charlie is talking about when she asks if he'll learn how to fly a broom.
- Shout-Out: Garnet and Pearl are visible on the screen of Charlotte's laptop in the last scene.
Tropes found in The Hidden Witch:
- Ambiguous Situation: While the characters do wonder how a witch ended up growing up outside the magical community, Ariel's origins are never fully explained, and that's considered less important than trying to give her guidance and support now that they know she exists.
- Anti-Villain: Ariel, the new student at Sterling Junior High. Due to frequent bullying at her previous schools, her magical ability has begun to fester into forming a malevolent dark spirit. It obeys her wishes to harm or help, but grows stronger the more it's used and eventually will kill her if it isn't stopped.
- Containment Field: After the events of the first book, Mikasi is being kept in the attic, roped to the wall and surrounded by spells preventing him from using magic.
- Has Two Mommies: Charlie's fathers were briefly mentioned in The Witch Boy. Here, we meet them during the visits to her house.
- Heroic Sacrifice: When Ariel's Fetch grows too powerful and threatens to consume her, Mikasi absorbs it into himself just like the darkness he used to transform into a monster. Unfortunately, he lacks enough magic now to survive it, and the dark magic kills him.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Aster is not the only magical child apprehensive about their expected social role. Sedge no longer wants to be a shapeshifter after the trauma he received in the prior book. Being mutated into a monster against his will has made him fearful to try transforming again, and he develops interest in Charlie's descriptions of her public school. He uses his power one more time at the climax, but afterward still has no interest and decides to try living without magic.
- I Just Want to Have Friends: Ariel, due to her frequent isolation for being "weird". She very much appreciates Charlie's friendship, but has issues with being highly possessive of her, using her Fetch spirit to harm Charlie for not calling her phone after school, or attacking opposing basketball players during Charlie's game.
- She Is Not My Girlfriend: Ariel, jealous of Aster and Charlie hanging out, disdainfully refers to him as Charlie's "boyfriend". She denies any romantic interest in him, or really any romantic interest at all.