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Our Favourite Genres: LGBTQ+ Manga

In this series, we here at MM want to talk about why we love specific genres and mediums of storytelling. As readers first and writers second, we have plenty of stories which call to our souls that we want to gush about. Today, I want to chat about LGBTQ+ manga.

Many colourful manga volumes are neatly laid across a table. The text is in Japanese.
Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash

Before I continue, I want to preface by saying that I will be using LGBTQ+ and queer interchangeably in this article. I am aware that queer is not everyone’s favourite word. Still, I need something other than the acronym for clarity here.

It’s no secret after my What Counts As Reading article that I love comics. Comics are a wonderful art form that combine storytelling and cool illustrations to provide a unique narrative experience. Within comics, you can find a wide range of art styles, genres, and tropes that delight and divide fans.

Manga is a Japanese style of comic that reads from right to left and is known for having certain characteristics, such as large expressive eyes. It is a genre that has been around for hundreds of years and has been growing in popularity in the Western world. Interestingly, manga is often marketed and categorised according to its audience. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a grown adult can’t read stories marketed towards teens; it’s just a label, after all. From sports to romance to action, there are plenty of popular and more underground stories that are told in manga. One genre that I have been drawn to is queer manga.

Variety is the spice of life, and having a well-written, nuanced character like you on the page can help LGBTQ+ readers feel represented.

An Incomplete History of LGBTQ+ Manga

While there is evidence of manga having been around in some form or other since the 16th century, manga, as we know it today, has its roots in the 1920s. Unsurprisingly, queer manga can also be found in this decade with authors such as Yoshiya Nobuko publishing famous works depicting same-sex relationships and stories.

While more underground queer manga was created before then, some of the most popular early works of LGBTQ+ manga were produced in the 1970s. Until that time, manga was a male-dominated industry with very few female writers. Some series and shorts were catering to girls, but men often wrote them. A group of female writers formed the Year 24 group and worked together to create fun and experimental works. Their determination, creative panel layouts, and unique look at politics, gender, sexuality, and more made their series classics. Many of their series have had a massive impact on the shojo (young girls) genre as a whole.

Some classic LGBTQ+ stories from this group include Ryoko Yamagishi’s Shiroi Heya no Futari, which is one of the earliest works to portray a lesbian couple. Keiko Takemiya created the series Into The Sunspot, which was the first manga to depict a male-male kiss in a shojo manga. One of the most popular series from this time was Riyoko Ikeda’s Claudine, which features an explicitly trans protagonist. Many LGBTQ+ series of this time were very tragic and written by women; thankfully, more modern portrayals are moving away from that narrative to tell rounded queer stories.

Modern LGBTQ+ Manga

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am always interested in reading content from LGBTQ+ creators or featuring characters on the community spectrum. While there is plenty of your typical struggling with identity stories and tragedy porn, you can also find other types of narrative. From domestic, slice of life, comic, or even more subtle stories, you can find the queer content for you. While some are more overt, many portrayals of these characters’ identities tend to be more subtle. Sometimes, you need to read between the lines to get to the heart of things.

Reading stories with characters across the sexuality and gender spectrum adds unique areas and challenges for a narrative to explore. Not only that, but people want to read about stories that mirror their experiences. Variety is the spice of life, and having a well-written, nuanced character like you on the page can help LGBTQ+ readers feel represented.

A person is holding a thick manga volume in their hands. Black and white panels show an action filled scene.
Photo by Miika Laaksonen on Unsplash

Let’s Talk Labels

When hunting for queer manga and representation, it is essential to know your manga labels beforehand. People do not have to use labels for themselves, but books need them to help us understand what we are about to read. Before I continue, I need to clarify specific terms to make navigating the manga space easier.

Boy’s Love, or BL, and yaoi refer to manga that centres around same-sex male relationships and often contain sexually explicit material. Shounen-ai focuses on the romantic relationships between boys and not the sensual side of relationships. Straight people typically write yaoi, BL, and shounen-ai for straight people.

Geicomi, or comics written by gay men for gay men, are often known under the umbrella term bara in the west and are sometimes mistakenly conflated with yaoi or BL. Because bara has been used as a derogatory term in the past in Japan, many geicomi mangakas refuse to label their work this way. However, Western publishers and audiences use bara to categorise geicomi.

Yuri, or Girl’s Love, focuses on same-sex female relationships. As with Yaoi and BL, the sexual and romantic explorations vary depending on the story. While straight men write a lot of yuri for straight men, there is plenty of yuri written by queer women for queer people.

To be able to read about someone having similar experiences to me is validating, and reading about someone with a completely different experience is fascinating.

Things To Bear In Mind

As with any style of media, certain styles of manga are not without their flaws. Yaoi and yuri, in particular, often have problematic elements such as sexual assault, rape, hypersexualisation, and exaggerated body proportions. It is also common to have little to no prep or safe sexual practices in these stories. There are modern examples of yaoi and yuri that do not feature these problems or do explore safe sexual practices. Still, these genres are widely known for certain problematic elements.

This article is not the place to dive deeply into those things, but I needed to address it for newer fans looking for content. Geicomi and individual yuri authors and series take the time to explore the queer experience, but those volumes and stories can be harder to find. Just because a manga is labelled a certain way, does not mean that straight people cannot read Geicomi or that gay men can’t read yuri. Still, it is helpful to consider who the intended audience is when choosing something to read.

Why I Love LGBTQ+ Manga

Now that we’re on the same page, I can get excited about queer manga. As a writer, I am always happy to read a nuanced or fun story with interesting characters. As a queer creator myself, I am hyped to read narratives that reflect various queer experiences using characters that are on the sexuality or gender spectrum. To be able to read about someone having similar experiences to me is validating, and reading about someone with a completely different experience is fascinating. I love reading stories exploring relationships of all kinds, as well as the joys and frustrations of living as a queer person in society.

Manga is a great way to read a cool story and see unique artwork at the same time. Comics are a fun medium that can play with storytelling techniques, style, and form to tell a story in a unique way. I like that some characters are out and proud, others are questioning, and others don’t have labels. I love reading between the lines and exploring fun stories.

While it is nice to read a heart wrenching coming out story or struggle with identity, I am happy to see plenty of manga that are fluffy, funny, or both. Autobiographical and fictional manga can be cathartic and fascinating to read. I want to read queer protagonists and side characters. I want to read about people questioning their sexuality and gender. I want to read fluffy soft stories about romance and friendship. I want to read action or spooky stories that happen to have queer characters. I want queer content that is as varied and fun as its straight counterparts can be. LGBTQ+ manga is one fun style of queer content to consume.

White and clear panels shield construction work. A series of manga panels and bolded Japanese text provide visual interest.
Photo by Moujib Aghrout on Unsplash

But Where To Begin?

Looking to check out some queer manga for yourself? Amazing! Here are some recommendations with links to get you started!

Manga is a fun and fluid medium that can tell some truly incredible stories. If you want an excuse to look at good art and great LGBTQ+ characters, give queer manga a try!

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