The Witch Boy is a graphic novel published in 2017, and written and drawn by Molly Ostertag.
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.
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, his family'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. If the family had encouraged his non-standard magical expressions, he likely 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.
- Family Theme Naming: Aside from those who married into it, most of the Vanissen family are named after plants (excepting a few cousins with constellation names): Aster, Juniper, Holly, Sedge, etc.
- 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.
- Mismatched Eyes: Aster's cousin Sedge has heterochromia, which also distinguishes him in his fox form and monster form.
- 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.