Let’s be honest—manga is not the first medium people turn to when looking for quality LGBTQIA+ representation. But that doesn’t mean said representation in manga is nonexistent. In fact, manga authors have stepped up their game in recent years and delivered a variety of fine stories with well-written LGBTQIA+ characters. Let’s take a look at some of them, shall we?
My Brother’s Husband is an LGBTQIA+ story from the perspective of someone who isn’t exactly accepting of homosexuality at first. Yaichi’s attitude starts to change when he takes Mike Flanagan, the husband of his late estranged brother Ryouji, into his home. As he and his daughter Kana get to know Mike, Yaichi confronts his own prejudices and, in turn, the mistakes he made in his relationship with Ryouji.
This story may sound heavy, but it’s more wholesome than anything, as Mike becomes like a third family member during his stay. My Brother’s Husband does not shy away from the discriminatory reality many LGBTQIA+ people face. As people outside Yaichi’s household quietly disapprove of Mike, this manga drives home the importance of bringing homophobia into the open and addressing it.
Boys Run the Riot focuses singularly on transgender and non-binary experiences, with stunning results. The main character, Ryou Watari, is a transgender boy who has been shamed into hiding his true self and pretending to identify as a girl. He finds relief dressing as a boy outside of school and shopping for his favorite fashion brands. At a clothing store, he encounters his new classmate Jin Satou, who proposes that they start a clothing brand. This opportunity kickstarts a fashion-fueled journey of personal growth for Ryou as he learns to express himself, no matter what others think. True to reality, people in the manga can be rather cruel, but the story of Boys Run the Riot is an uplifting one at the heart of it.
Bloom Into You is widely-loved among the manga community for being one of the most grounded and realistic yuri (girls’ love) stories. A high school girl named Yuu Koito dreams of experiencing a love that will sweep her off her feet like in romance manga and love songs, but her love life doesn’t play out that way. When Yuu receives a romantic confession from a male classmate, she feels nothing. However, when she turns to the seemingly perfect student council president, Touko Nanami, for advice, Touko reveals she has feelings for Yuu soon after. What follows is a one-sided romance that slowly turns into something much deeper through self-exploration, mutual vulnerability, and shared navigation of life challenges. Yuu learns what it means to fall in love by learning more about Touko and herself, making their love feel thoroughly earned.
Seven Days is the definition of beauty in simplicity. Two high school boys fall in love, and that’s about it. Okay, maybe that’s oversimplifying things a bit, but…
The premise goes like this: Yuzuru Shino, a boy known for having a princely appearance that doesn’t match his personality, jokingly asks out one of the most popular guys in school, Touji Seryou. But Seryou accepts his offer for real because he always dates the first person to ask him out on Monday before dumping them a week later. This might seem like a plot built for lots of drama, but it’s more chill than you would expect. After all, Seryou is just trying to find his soulmate, and Yuzuru happens to be the one he’s been looking for. So, if you want to see a sweet yet realistic romance between two guys, this manga is for you.
This manga sounds like it could be problematic based on its premise, but luckily for us, it isn’t in the least. As you can guess from the title, it features a boss-employee romance with a twist. An office worker named Hashimoto gets close to someone in a gacha game and arranges a meeting with him IRL, only to find out he’s his strict boss, Makoto Shirase.
It’s way too easy for fictional boss-employee relationships to have an unhealthy power imbalance. However, Shirase is super respectful with Hashimoto, allowing the reader to enjoy the hilarious misunderstandings between the men. And there are a lot of them. So, if you want a more serious romance that gets hot and heavy, this one’s not for you. On the other hand, if you want to see a workplace rom-com between two men, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Many of the most powerful portrayals of suffering come from real experiences, and My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness is no exception. The autobiographical character Kabi Nagata is, by all rights and means, a failure in the eyes of society. She’s a college dropout, has yet to find full-time employment at age 28, and has a plethora of mental health issues that leave her barely functional. She longs to be loved but seeks love in the wrong places. That’s where lesbian escort services come in—Nagata hires an escort to experience what it’s like to be held and make a choice for herself for once, not for her parents’ approval. Whether or not you usually read autobiographies, My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness is a must-read.
Some stories speak to one specific kind of LGBTQ+ experience, and then there are those that speak to the community as a whole. Our Dreams at Dusk falls under the second category, handling several kinds of LGBTQIA+ experiences with grace.
It starts rather heavy, with a high school student named Tasuku Kaname almost killing himself after his classmates suspect him of being gay. But once he joins Cat Clowder, a house renovation group made up of people in the LGBTQ+ community, Tasuku starts to come to terms with his sexuality. At the same time, he learns about the variety of identities within the community and the importance of not making assumptions. He meets people who are gay, lesbian, transgender, gender questioning, asexual, and non-binary, all handling life the best way they know how. Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare is a story of people being each other’s home in a world that won’t accept them.
Japan’s climate around the LGBTQIA+ community is still a work in progress, but manga like these provide hope for the future. There will only be more great LGBTQ+ manga to contribute to the conversation, and as we all know, stories have power.
Looking for more manga recommendations in general? Here are some hot picks for the summer.