Pride Month is almost over, but that doesn’t mean LGBTQIA people will just disappear as soon as the clock strikes midnight on July 1st. We exist 365 days a year, all around the world; unfortunately, you wouldn’t know it based on the amount of queer representation in the media. While LGBTQ characters are gradually appearing more and more frequently in Western TV shows, they are still fairly rare in anime outside of the boys’ love and girls’ love genres. For years, the most prominent queer “representation” in anime has been in yaoi, which abounds with toxic tropes such as power imbalances, lack of consent, and even pedophilia. Most early 2000s yaoi anime and manga treat gay relationships as merely a genre of porn and an object of fetishization. Still, little by little, LGBTQ characters are cropping up in series where gayness isn’t a central plot point. Here are a few examples of anime outside the BL, yaoi, GL, and yuri genres that feature LGBTQ characters!
TRIGGER WARNING: The following listicle contains mentions of sensitive topics including suicide and sexual assault.
1. Stars Align
Out of the five anime on this list, Stars Align has the best and most authentic LGBTQ representation by far. Unlike most other sports anime, this series tackles serious, heavy topics, which include gender identity. The soft tennis club’s manager, Yuta (“Yuu”), is a biologically male character who has a crush on one of the boys on the soft tennis team. But Yuu is not a gay or bi boy: they tell the main character, Maki, that they identify as non-binary. There are lots of androgynous-looking anime characters that fans suspect may be non-binary or otherwise genderqueer, but Yuu explicitly uses the word “non-binary.” We even see a clip of them researching LGBT terms in a library book. Maki is immediately accepting and supportive of Yuu’s identity, because his mom’s best friend, Shou, is a transgender man who is practically like an uncle to Maki. But the show still makes it clear that not everyone is as accepting of Yuu and Shou’s gender identities, which is unfortunately very realistic.
2. Zombieland Saga
Zombieland Saga is about an idol group composed of dead girls who were zombified for the sole purpose of becoming idols. Most of them were performers before they died, and Lily Hoshikawa was a child star who always presented herself as a girl despite being born a boy named Masao Go. She dies tragically young because her heart physically couldn’t handle entering the early stages of male puberty when she knew in her heart and soul that she was a girl. One could say that Lily died from gender dysphoria. On the surface, her death scene is just one example of Zombieland Saga’s dark comedy; however, gender dysphoria can kill, even if not in as abrupt and dramatic a fashion as was Lily’s case. Being stuck in the wrong body can, and often does, lead trans people to suicide, and not having access to safe gender-affirming healthcare can make trans people turn to dangerous at-home methods such as improperly binding their chests or taking the wrong dosage of hormones. Lily was fortunate enough to get a second chance at life, but sadly, people aren’t that lucky in the real world.
3. Carole & Tuesday
Carole & Tuesday has a cast full of queer characters, but the best LGBTQ representation is via Gus’s ex-wife Marie and her fiancée Anne. While Marie’s exact sexual orientation is unconfirmed, she seems to have had genuine feelings for Gus at some point, suggesting she may be bi or pan; but she also says that she didn’t know who she really was back then, which might imply that she now identifies as a lesbian. Regardless of labels, she is in a happy relationship with another woman, and nobody questions it. Gus is supportive of her getting remarried, and never even mentions the fact that her second spouse is a woman. Another LGBTQ character in the series is Desmond, who is both intersex (which is what the I in the extended acronym, LGBTQIA, stands for) and non-binary. Carole & Tuesday takes place on Mars, and Desmond explains that the planet’s radiation caused their body to morph into one with both male and female characteristics. While this is not a scientifically accurate portrayal (intersex people are born intersex), Desmond is at least shown to be a wise, talented person who is at peace with their non-binary gender.
Unfortunately, not all of the LGBTQ representation in this show is so positive. Cybelle, a girl who is in love with Tuesday, is a violent stalker, while Angela’s male-to-female transgender mother Dahlia is an unattractive control freak. Nevertheless, Cybelle and Dahlia aren’t bad people because they are queer; they are just bad people who also happen to be queer. The problem for me is that society unfortunately hasn’t yet reached a point where a person’s sexuality and gender identity can be completely detached from their morals. In other words, there aren’t enough queer “good guys” for media to safely have queer “bad guys” without insinuating that queer equals bad.
4. Wonder Egg Priority
Wonder Egg Priority is not for the faint of heart. This show includes lots of heavy and triggering content, including suicide and sexual assault. One of the characters, a transgender boy named Kaoru, committed the former as a result of being a victim of the latter. He appears in an alternate world full of girls who died of suicide, which implies that nobody besides himself ever accepted his gender identity. This is frustrating and tragic, but unfortunately realistic, as many transgender people continue to be misgendered by their supposed “loved ones” even after they die. The character who is tasked with protecting Kaoru in the alternate world, Momoe, is assumed by many characters to be LGBTQ, but she’s actually a cisgender and likely heterosexual female. Kaoru is one of many characters who fall for Momoe while believing she is a boy; however, his feelings remain the same even when Momoe tells him she’s a girl, which suggests that Kaoru is not only trans but also bi or pan. The only other character that loved Momoe as a girl was her friend Haruka. Haruka (who Kaoru infers was a lesbian) was in love with Momoe, but Momoe didn’t feel the same because she isn’t attracted to girls. Part of Momoe wished that she was a lesbian or a trans boy because that would make a lot of the girls around her happier, but that simply isn’t who she is. This fights against the belief that queer people “choose” to be queer. In reality, nobody decides to be gay or trans; they just simply are.
5. Hunter x Hunter – SPOILERS!!!
The Zoldyck boys tend to be effeminate, with Kalluto wearing female clothing and Illumi having very long hair. (Speaking of Illumi, he may be LGBTQ himself as in the manga he is allegedly engaged to Hisoka, who is another man; but this is not addressed at all in the anime, so I can’t confidently say that he and/or Hisoka count as queer representation.) The youngest Zoldyck sibling, Alluka, however, is not merely a feminine boy: she is a transgender girl. Although her less compassionate family members continuously misgender her, Killua, with whom she is the closest, adamantly insists that she is his sister, not his brother. It is clear in the series that the characters who care about Alluka (such as Killua) use female pronouns when referring to her, while the characters that don’t care or even hate her use male pronouns. In addition, Alluka is not the only non-cisgender character in the anime. Now, this is where some MAJOR SPOILERS come in: when Kite is reincarnated as a young child named Reina, they are genderfluid, switching between she/her and he/him pronouns. Some people may interpret this as the child confusing her present self with the memories she retains from her time as a man named Kite, but it’s more accurate to say that this person (who prefers the name Kite) is a new person who combines both the girl killed by Koala and the original Kite, and this new person’s gender is fluid.
I realized while compiling this list that all of these examples include transgender characters. This, of course, is wonderful, and trans representation is extremely important! But at the same time, it’s frustrating how difficult it was for me to find characters belonging to the first three letters of the LGBT acronym. Many gay characters that I considered, including Rei from The Yakuza’s Guide to Babysitting, Squalo and Tiziano from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and Bulat from Akame ga Kill, portray harmful stereotypes. Representation that makes gay men look like flamboyant, predatory caricatures is arguably worse than not representing them at all. In addition, as I mentioned in my list of favorite WLW fandom couples, Sailor Moon TRIED to have a same-sex couple, but the English dub made Haruka and Michiru cousins. For many people, dubbed anime are far more accessible than Japanese audio with subtitles, so for dub-only Sailor Moon fans, that queer representation is completely erased.
As the fight for equal rights for LGBTQ people continues, we can only hope that the world is headed toward a more tolerant place and that one day it won’t be so difficult to find lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual characters represented in a positive light.