When it comes to representation in any community, there are clear obstacles to overcome, and stigmas and stereotypes that might be attached to them.
With LGBTQ+ representation in anime, it has been a step-by-step process to showcase a broader spectrum of identity. Some titles have found success in gearing their narrative towards stories about romantic pairings, and while this is key in showcasing love, there are more than just strictly romantic narratives that LGBTQ+ characters can bring to the table.
Finding well-rounded portrayals of these characters can be a challenge, but if you decipher small conversational inclusions or outright additions, there’s a handful of promising series that can provide a unique perspective and offer the essentials for the medium to expand its concept of representation.
So what are just a handful of series that can serve as blueprints in a space for everyone? Let’s take a look.
The legendary Cowboy Bebop included a few notable characters and moments that have stood out as significant memories for fans (especially LGBTQ+ viewers like myself) in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.
Though there are characters of all backgrounds in the anime, one of Bebop crew’s core members, known as Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivruski IV, has been recognized as being an incredible character who also happens to identify as non-binary.
Edward (often referred to as Ed) provided a broader storyline as a non-binary character that required no explanation to viewers, nor did Ed feel the need to explain to anyone within the context of the series, or even for the sake of those watching. After all “Ed is Ed.”
Using a growing media platform to authenticate and acknowledge something outside of a heteronormative atmosphere in anime was sincerely groundbreaking content—and because Shinichiro Watanabe doesn’t feel inclined to define Ed, we’re granted an opportunity to prioritize storytelling over stereotyping.
General viewers new to anime at the time were presented with the concept of a non-binary character who was comfortable with their identity—a rarity across media at that time. When Ed eventually departs, we feel deeply attached to someone who is represented very little in anime, and that’s reason to believe that the medium can make a difference in perceptions.
As minuscule as some of these details may appear to be, seeing characters within your favorite series learn more about their sexuality, sexual identity—or even treating others in the LGBTQ+ community with respect—can help advocate for a continued paradigm shift in anime storytelling.
Yu Yu Hakusho
Even decades after its release, Yu Yu Hakusho is an established title that’s been influential in the evolution of the shounen genre.
Over the years, series have followed the Yu Yu Hakusho blueprint in developing a new generation of action-centric anime focused on a group of teens working toward achieving something beyond themselves.
When the series moves into its second half, we’re introduced to character Shinobu Sensui, a former Spirit Detective with various personalities that stem from trauma.
Alongside Sensui was his loyal companion Itsuki, a demon who is forthright regarding his love for the hero-turned-villain. Sensui and Itsuki were a formidable duo because of their connectivity, a drastic change for a genre that hasn’t always been bold enough to make choices like this.
Not only was an LGBTQ+ person depicted, but there was an effort to make them more than just a trope of comedic relief. Sure, Sensui’s feelings weren’t necessarily discussed, but the two were inherently connected to each other.
Additionally, early in the series, Yusuke encounters Miyuki, a demon that Yusuke learns is transgender. While the scene starts out with Yusuke being, well, irresponsible and obnoxious, the fighter conveys that he treats each opponent the same.
It’s an unconventional way to get our attention, but years later, Yusuke’s actions denounce inequality, and that’s something we can stand for.
Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi – The World’s Greatest First Love
When examining experiences with LGBTQ+ representation in anime, it’s also imperative to bring up Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi. Yes, the series is romantically driven, but it’s much more self-analytical than one would expect from the genre.
Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi is split into multiple must-see seasons and a film, depicting a quirky manga publishing company that blends comedy, drama and miscommunication. The series primarily follows six characters, in turn creating three starkly different relationships that face very real hardships.
These characters range in age, personality and comfort levels with sexuality. It’s easily one of the most ambitious series in terms of depicting gay men.
One particularly impressive nod of representation comes from the delightful companionship between Shouta Kisa and Kou Yukina. Kisa is a 30-year-old editor, jaded by the prospects of love, and is very comfortable with his sexuality, noting that he’s used his appearance to get (temporarily) close to other men without any real pursuit of something substantial. While admiring a man named Yukina from afar, the two end up crossing paths, igniting a spark that allows Kisa to face his fears head on.
After their official introduction, they take on something more dependable, which is entirely uncharted for Kisa. He typically feels insecure about aging or his impression of physicality, but Yukina gives him little-to-no reason to doubt his devotion. However—in true-to-life fashion—that doesn’t mean hardships won’t follow.
It’s a relationship that feels endearing regardless of your outlook on love, and getting to spectate that journey is an unforgettable depiction of maturity where romance is simply an added bonus.
Other characters in the series have a fluid sexuality, and by taking a beat to follow different perspectives, it feels like a much more immersive opportunity for something special, even though it does contain some controversial depictions.
We see these characters struggle to find their footing or confront their feelings, which can be a terrifying concept for people who want to accept themselves. Once that all-important task is accomplished, they’re prepared to tackle the vulnerability of opening up to the idea of love.
The action-packed, mystery hybrid Noir introduces us to Mireille and Kirika, who avoid diving into anything outright romantic, yet have a bond that has been discussed by the LGBTQ+ anime audience since it first debuted in 2001.
In the anime, we follow the two assassins on a journey to uncover their shrouded past, and there’s a lot of reading between the lines involved with their link. The two women have a deep understanding of each other’s circumstances, and a myriad scenes show relationship statuses aren’t always so black and white.
In another nice genre change, the two have a tangible trust and their potential relationship doesn’t have a fraction of problematic behavior involved.
It’s not explicit in its depiction, but Noir is a series that presents the potential of LGBTQ+ characters without needing to make any show-stopping announcement or play it for a joke.
These women are the epitome of badasses, and if they happen to be accidental LGBTQ+ icons in the process (like The Babadook), who are we to question them? Regardless, the consistent analytical takes on interpersonal relationships and intermittent same-sex bonds (such as Mireille and Kirika) are crucial to reconstructing the status quo—and hopefully, it can be a more natural conversation for anime one day too.