One of my favourite things about pop culture, in general, is its ability to be diverse. From Bat Woman to Betty from Rat Queens, from Northstar to Deadpool, the rainbow spectrum is shown and celebrated. In fact, why not check out the best comic couples right here!
The same can be said for anime and manga.
In fact, there are entire genres of manga and anime that centre on themes of same-sex love, they're often referred to as “BL” (Boy Love) and “GL” (Girl Love) and of course, there is some controversy surrounding them. To read both sides of the debate is highly interesting and I encourage you to do so and find where you stand on the subject.
The following is a list that shows how diverse anime (and the manga it's based on) has the ability to be. There are also spoilers ahead, you have been warned!
1. Ouran High Host Club
Ouran High Host Club is about a girl who's mistaken for a boy when she breaks an expensive piece of pottery and has to work as a host to pay off the damages.
For a start, our heroine Haruhi doesn't care whether she's seen as a boy or a girl. She's comfortable in the boy's uniform as much as she's comfortable in the girl's uniform. In fact, she seems to see this whole binary gender and assignment of certain clothes or actions as 'girly' or 'boyish' business to be pretty pointless. This in itself is a roundhouse kick to the feels! It becomes clearer why she's so comfortable when we meet her dad...
Haruhi's dad is a performer at an okama bar which, to put it simply, means he is a drag queen. Referred to as both Ryoji Fujioka and Ranka (his stage name), Haruhi's dad identifies as a guy, but he enjoys or feels more comfortable dressing as a lady. He does insist that the Host Club refer to him by his stage name, which is cool on a number of levels!
He also makes references to being bisexual, but since the death of Haruhi's mother he's declared he can never love another woman. This is just the surface of the series going beyond standard hetero-normative (boy meets girl, boy only likes girls, girl likes boy because girls only like boys) love stories.
A warning, however, there are parts of this anime that could be problematic when it comes to sexuality and stereotyping. To give you an example there is the use of “tranny” to refer Haruhi's dad. That's not cool. That term has been used to hurt trans people. In that instance, it could all just be down to a matter of something being missed in translation, but it's worth mentioning that it is there.
Is it making fun of people who think in stereotypes? That's for you to decide.
2. Ultimate Otaku Teacher
In a series about an awesome teacher that instructs his students that they can be themselves in life AND get good grades, inclusion is important.
Araki Koutarou is a student who isn't showing up to class and it's the mission of Kagami Junichirou (the Ultimate Otaku Teacher... Notice me, senpai...) to get the student back to the school.
Why isn't Araki Koutarou showing up to class?
Because of a horrible bullying incident that taught him, that school is a hard place to be for people who are 'different'. Araki was born a boy. But Araki likes “cute” things. Even though it seems as though Araki still identifies as a boy, he feels horribly uncomfortable dressing in boys clothes and is so much happier wearing girl's clothes and doing girl's things.
EXTRA SPOILER: And all of the boys in the school think he's SUPER cute.....And I agree.
3. Tiger and Bunny
Imagine a world where superheroes exist and they're all sponsored by big brands... That's the basics behind Tiger and Bunny.
Amongst the superheroes, there is the fabulous Fire Emblem!
Fire Emblem is an out and proud gay superhero. I'm not sure how you can get a much better character, to be honest with you!
Not only that, Fire Emblem is his own sponsor. Maybe this is still a comment on an out person not being able to get the same endorsements as others. But I do love that even this is turned into a strength by him. He's not beholden to someone else's rules, like the other superheroes. He's his own man!
4. Cardcaptor Sakura
Ever played the card game 52 pick up? This anime is that, but if all the cards could destroy the world.
Sakura releases magical cards into the world and has to put them back.
Cardcaptor Sakura began as a manga by a group called CLAMP (known for not shying away from storylines that don't just have straight cis-gendered people in them) and later became an anime. The anime seen by many Western audiences was altered to erase anything that wasn't 'straight' in the series.
The best couple, possibly in the entire CLAMP universe, features in Cardcaptor Sakura in the form of Toya and Yukito.
Yukito confesses his love for Toya later in the series, but the inferences of their relationship and love for each other are there the whole way through.
5. Sailor Moon
Another anime where a love story was changed for Western audiences was one featured in Sailor Moon.
There are plenty of implications of characters in the Sailor Moon universe being placed all along the Kinsey scale, but the most famous lesbian couple (possibly of all time) are a couple of Sailor Guardians!
Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were openly in a same-sex relationship and even adopted a kid together!
And this is all before we even get to the Sailor Starlights, who disguise themselves in male bodies when they come to Earth, but transform into their true female forms to fight!
6. My favourite thing about all of these series is the acceptance from the other characters. A majority of the time, the importance is placed on whether an individual is happy and it's those who stand in the way of that happiness, that are seen as people who are wrong.
I hope this list helps you broaden your anime watching. Anime still has a long way to go (don't we all?) when it comes to being even better at diversity. But I like to be hopeful that this is a sign of good things to come. There are many other anime/Jdramas/manga out there that explore LGBTQI+ themes. Some are wonderful, some are a bit more adult, some are not great. I hope you find one you love!
After all - isn't love the best?!