We’ve reached the final book recommendation post for Pride Month 2021. This time, I’m dipping into another medium I read a lot of, and which is yielding an increasingly varied and exciting platter of LGBTQIA+ storytelling: manga.
The distinction between “queer manga” and manga that falls into romance genres like yuri (which might feature close relationships between women, but don’t always touch on subjects like queer identity—and may even still be floating in the “close, pure, romantic friendship” tropes of the olden days) is somewhat blurry, but for the purposes of this post I’m combining them all under one umbrella. Some of these are more of the fluffy romance variety that brushes over what we might consider queer themes like coming out, and some of them deal with that more directly and poignantly. Some of them are fluffy romances that also talk about the realities of being queer in modern day Japan!
I’ve tried to gather a variety, though remember that this list is merely some of my personal favourites from my personal reading habits: there is plenty more manga with LGBTQIA+ content out there that I have yet to get to! So, as always, please do leave your own recommendations in the comments.
Queer stuff can sometimes be hard to get your head around—take it from me, a person who has been on a deeply befuddling identity journey and been swimming in the deep pool that is queer theory for nearly four years. Academia on queer and gender issues is notoriously difficult for the everyperson to get into, often associated with stuffy and complex language and galaxy-brain concepts that may or may not resonate with one’s own day-to-day experience.
This is not universally true, and I promise not all academics are trying actively to make their work inaccessible as some sort of wicked ploy. Still, trying to Do Your Research and hitting a mental roadblock can be alienating and demoralising. Not everyone can pick up Judith Butler and immediately absorb that stuff into their brain (seriously, don’t feel bad—I have senior supervisors who admit to needing to read her work a couple times to “get it”!).
The good news is, you don’t have to! There are more accessible, beginner-friendly resource books on queer identity than ever before, and I’ve compiled a little list of some of the texts I’ve found most helpful, both for research and for fun.
In the beginning, God created the sky, the land, and the sea… but when it came to creating the animals that would inhabit the world, He got tired and outsourced it. This is the tale of Heaven’s Design Team, which follows the trials and tribulations of the celestial design firm working hard to fill the Earth with all creatures great and small. Despite the religious framing, the presence of God and angels is little more than set dressing: the show is less about creationism and more about creative industries, showcasing and celebrating the imaginative process and all its ups and downs.
I read a lot of YA novels here on this blog. Certainly not as many as some other folks, but enough that I have a few excellent books up my sleeve if you ever ask me for recommendations. So this month, in honour of the celebrations of LGBTQIA+ activism and liberation that take place in June, I’m compiling some lists of favourites from the field of YA with queer protagonists.
Today, we look at sci-fi and fantasy: in the stories below we have swashbuckling pirates, ghost boyfriends, magic-thieves, teen witches, space wizards, and more! Queer readers are getting to see themselves in an immensely exciting variety of magical adventures, and this is merely a handful of my personal faves. Read on to see if any pique your interest, and leave any recommendations of your own in the comments!
I have been a busy bee, working on fun and exciting things like this:
All going to plan (and I did make a plan, a beautiful little spreadsheet that I had to submit to the faculty) I’m submitting my PhD in August. It is DEEPLY surreal to be saying such a thing, after being in a constant state of Working On It for over three years now. The sensible thing would be to warn you all that I’ll be around less during the following months, but in actual fact the reverse is true because I’ve already scheduled a bunch of fun posts for Pride Month. Oops? I just love Making Content.
Speaking of content, here’s what I published this May!
Land of the Lustrous is a stunning adaptation not because it copies its source material shot for shot, but because it captures the beauty and energy of the manga while doing things unique to the medium of animation. This is a really cool breakdown of why the visual style in both versions works so effectively, and it makes me dearly want to reread and rewatch both.
Emily in Paris pulls the impressive feat of simultaneously presenting France as an idealistic playground for its American protagonist, and being excruciatingly racist to everyone who lives there. This Paris-born analyst breaks down why the show is so deeply dumb. Bonus: this show is so dumb that its Golden Globe nominations sparked an investigation into the corruption of award shows!
Land of the Lustrous has captured the hearts and minds of many viewers and readers over the years, for its stunning visuals, emotional character arcs, and being a rare example of a series with an entirely non-binary cast. The titular Lustrous are humanoid gem-people who present a potentially interesting space to philosophize about constructions of gender in a post-human future. However, they also potentially perpetuate harmful stereotypes about non-binary gender only being possible in alien creatures and otherworldly settings. This is an old and pervasive cliché that many non-binary viewers find tired and uncomfortable. Yet, at the same time, the story of Phos and the gems resonated deeply with many trans (binary and non) people, and many fans (myself included) find Phos to be a meaningful and exciting example of a non-binary hero.
These may seem like contradicting statements, but they can co-exist. In the discussion surrounding queer representation in fiction, things are not always so simple as stamping a work with “good rep” or “bad rep”. There are many tricky nuances, particularly when it comes to attempting to “represent” an identity that contains as many ways of being as non-binary gender. While the series is not perfect—or perhaps because the series is not perfect—Land of the Lustrous makes a useful case study for reading and critiquing through a queer lens. It’s a multi-faceted dilemma, and in this article I hope to hold the issues at the heart of it up to the light.
Premise: Saorise (and that’s “Seer-sha”, and she will fight you on this) has enough heartache to last her a lifetime. She doesn’t know how long her own lifetime will be, reeling from the knowledge that early onset dementia runs in her family, and she could end up forgetting who she is by age fifty. Her childhood best friend turned girlfriend broke up with her, fracturing their friend group and leaving Saorise angry and adrift. The path seems simple: no relationships, no close human connections, and no one gets hurt.
But then along comes Ruby. She suggests a relationship with a pre-arranged expiration date, and one that only involves all the fun parts: the cheesy falling in love montage from the middle of the movie, as it were. It’s no-strings-attached, Ruby’s cute, and as long as Saorise doesn’t open her heart and bear her feelings about anything serious it will all go off without a hitch. Right?
Rainbow rep: an f/f romance between two lesbian characters, queer background cast (mostly in the form of the ex-girlfriend)
Content considerations: depictions of parents in hospital, parents with deteriorating mental health, general existential dread
I will be 101% honest: I came for the self-aware, sapphic take on the classic clichés of romantic comedies. I came for the “oho, you say you’re not going to fall in love, but you totally are” romantic tension. And I did get both of those. But I also got hit upside the head with a narrative about how life’s impermanence is what makes it meaningful, and that we should always let ourselves live and be loved no matter the risks.
The most endearing anime of the season might be the one that’s trying to sell me a motorbike. Super Cub is the story of Koguma, an orphaned, painfully lonely girl whose world opens up when she buys a discounted Honda Super Cub—initially looking for a way to get to school more efficiently, but soon discovering a newfound sense of agency and freedom. Slowly, slowly, Koguma begins to disrupt her tight-knit, almost claustrophobic routine and step into the sunshine, making this a tale about the scary but rewarding process of overcoming grief and loneliness.
Like the titular motorcycle, this series is slow-paced, and maybe not as eye-catching as some of the others on the road that is the Spring 2021 season. In truth, I might have missed it if my pal Mercedez had not been championing it on as many websites as will let her. It’s a gorgeous, detail-orientated series that makes excellent use of its medium for visual storytelling. Owing to Koguma’s quiet nature, there are stretches of time where there’s simply no dialogue, and the animation, sound design, and storyboarding are left to tell the tale; and oh they tell it well.
A dip into some Tumblr Folklore: a web series that never got made (or did it?), a study in misplaced enthusiasm, and a trip back to the conversation around queer representation circa 2014.
Animation is just really cool!! Here is a dip into the technique of “smears”, a trick that originated to give a greater sense of fluid movement to hand-drawn cartoons but is also making an appearance in video games.
One Garfield archivist’s quest into the orange cat’s weird pop cultural past, from the lost microfiche where the drafts that became the comic live to the (haunting? Charming?) tradition of Garfield Tourism in the heart of the US. Genuinely fascinating and I cannot help but be endeared to this fellow’s devotion.
The Earnest Elfin Dream Gay – an essay from a couple of years ago about the (possible) gay adolescent answer to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a character type the author has noticed popping up to represent a new and specific fantasy in YA romance.
Why Seven Seas Altered Its Light Novels – a look into the recent controversy surrounding the manga publisher’s novel translations, detailing the complicated history of “adapting” texts for English-language audiences (read: American sensibilities) and the tensions between fans, freelance translators, and the editors who have the final say.
What Makes Melty Blood So Important? – though often memed-upon, the Melty Blood fighting game is an emblem of a weird yet golden era of anime fandom, and a rare peek into the world of Type-Moon before the juggernaut that is Fate even existed.
Zombie Land Saga: Idol Anime for Non-Idol Fans – Mercedez explores the appeal of everyone’s favourite zombie popstar series, and how it works as both a love letter to and a critique of the idol industry in a way that many other shows do not.
Wandering Thoughts on Wandering Son – a retrospective musing on the landmark trans anime series from a first-time watcher (and a lament that this is still kinda the best we have).
A recommendations thread of manga with trans characters:
And, finally, for this month’s song-on-repeat, this banger that starts slow and gradually transforms a dive bar in the middle of nowhere into an extravagant gay club with the power of ambition and vibes:
And that’s all they wrote – see you soon for more!