R E C C O M E N D A T I O N – A N I M E
Queer characters in anime are no novelty. However, saying that LGBTQ+ representation in anime is abundant is quite a long stretch. More often than not, queer characters are either highly fetishised (as is seen in the yuri and yaoi genres), or they exist in the peripheral storyline to serve as little more than comic relief. But positive portrayal of the queer community is not completely abysmal. These 6 anime stand as evidence to this.
Attack on Titan
You would be hard-pressed to find any avid anime watcher who hasn’t yet checked out Attack on Titan. The series has garnered a lot of fame and is being hyped up to be a modern classic for its intricately woven, masterfully written plot. Author Hajime Isayama has also taken the liberty of including a few queer characters (much to the excitement of fans) in the show’s huge cast, who are, for the better part of the series, integral to the story. The first two are Historia and Ymir, two women of vastly differing backgrounds.
A lot of screen time is devoted to fleshing out their individual characters as well as their dynamic as we see the two go from begrudging friends to star-crossed lovers, the exact nature of their relationship made explicitly clear. Another lgbtq+ character pivotal to the story is the fan-favourite Hange Zoë. A lot of fans don’t seem to be aware that Isayama had written Hange as a genderqueer character, as the anime seemed to erase that part of them entirely by assigning them binary pronouns and making their appearance more feminine.
However, Isayama had originally intended for Hange’s gender to be left ambiguous and up to the reader to decide, evidenced by him specifically instructing his publisher not to use gendered pronouns for Hange during the official overseas translations. These characterisation decisions on Isayama’s part reflect a general openness to gender and sexuality in storytelling, as they don’t define or greatly affect the story he has to tell. Hence, the characters fit organically into the series.
The queer genius of Sailor Moon lies not in its embracing of homosexual, bisexual, genderfluid, trans, and non-binary characters, but in the series’ representation of these characters in a completely natural way. In Sailor Moon, we not only see characters engaging in openly gay relationships and changing their gender at their own whim, but we also witness them experience a more intrinsic part of being queer — we see them question their own gender and sexual identity. While the anime can certainly not be excused for sticking to the more stereotypical portrayal of queerness, it must be considered that it aired some thirty years ago and was one of the only mainstream anime to even have visible LGBTQ+ characters.
For a generation of otakus, Sailor Moon served as their very first exposure to the queer community and indubitably contributed to the normalising of non-hets and non-cis for them.
Devilman Crybaby exploded onto the scene in early 2018 and took the anime community by storm with its obscenely, and yet delightfully, graphic portrayal of violence, sex, and the innate nature of mankind. The series brought a lot of important discourse regarding queer representation in media into the limelight. A common problem in anime with lgbtq+ characters is the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope, in which queer characters are introduced merely for tokenistic purposes. Quite a few entries on this list allegedly struggle with this problem, including Devilman. The anime’s lgbtq+ representation is by no means perfect.
However, the series was never really set up as anything other than a tragedy, with its conclusion being apocalyptic in nature. The series takes a different approach with its queer characters. Since most characters in the series are deeply flawed (and that’s kind of the point), it’s hard to discern whether or not the portrayal of queerness is positive. However, the series goes to great lengths to make the audience sympathise with the queer characters, painting them in a profoundly tragic light and presenting their struggles as integral to the story, especially the main antagonist, Ryo’s. So, it would be reasonable to conclude that Devilman‘s portrayal of LGBTQ characters was a bold step in the right direction, if not flawless.
Revolutionary Girl Utena
[Revolutionary Girl Utena contains elements of domestic and sexual abuse.]
At a time when anime was drowned in a cloud of heteronormativity, Revolutionary Girl Utena emerged as a series that was truly revolutionary in terms of its themes and characters. Though on the surface it may appear to be just another anime with a gender-bending protagonist, one thing that the twisted characters of Revolutionary Girl Utena prove is that this series is never what it seems. In 39 episodes, we get two bisexual leads, a female protagonist defying restrictive binary gender norms and striving to be a chivalrous prince by dressing up in traditional male attire, and a whole lot of confusion about gender identities.
Not only that, the anime makes glaring statements about overcoming abuse, the pain of love rejected due to one’s sexual orientation, and what gender expression with and without the use of clothes entails, making it a perfect watch for this Pride month.
Banana Fish is renowned for blazing a trail for other queer-centric anime. The fan-favourite manga has largely been held in high regard by the lgbtq+ community in japan ever since it was published in the 80s, and finally got its own anime in 2018. The series is perhaps best known for tackling dark themes of sexual violence, as well as for subverting conventional BL tropes. It follows the story of Ash Lynx, a 17 year-old gangster on the streets of New York who becomes romantically invested in a visiting Japanese photographer’s assistant, Eiji Okumura. Although their relationship is left ambiguous, it’s impossible to ignore the underlying romantic subtext.
The series has also been praised for its disturbingly realistic depiction of the nature and long-term effects of sexual violence, which we see in Ash, a victim of repeated sexual assault. We see the depth of his trauma as it invades every aspect of his life, from his decision-making to his bond with Eiji. His mannerisms not only coincide with those of actual victims and survivors, but his struggle to cope with his past also sheds light on a very relevant, often neglected issue, that being sexual violence against boys and men.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
When discussing an anime with robots and war, all that crosses the mind are hypermasculine men who stand for nothing except world peace and the power of friendship. But when it comes to the 1990s Neon Genesis Evangelion, fans are left to marvel at all the facets its mecha protagonist, Shinji, stands for. Shinji is not the most “manly” teenager. He is neither strong nor too sure of himself and perpetually feels unaccepted and unloved. And later, all of these traits blossom his homoromantic relationship with a being called Kaworu, which becomes emotionally charged instead of being physical. And with that, the duo represents how love has no gender and neither a distinct form.
Though spanning over only an episode, this relationship marks a major turning point in the plot, making it an important queer dynamic and not just a cheap side-story. The broader psychological aspects of Neon Genesis Evangelion handle issues about acceptance and love in all its forms. And it is only fitting that LGBTQ+ matters are so intrinsically a part of its fundamental characters. But before you decide to binge this series in celebration of this pride month, make sure to avoid its Netflix subbed version.