Queer manga is a thing. In fact, it’s not just a thing – the genre has exploded in popularity in recent years, and you can see several popular titles (including some I cover below) adorn the shelves of Barnes and Noble and/or your favorite local bookstore. Gone are the days of having to huddle around VHS tapes of Fake or find rare copies of Earthian – the rainbow agenda is out in full force.
I read a lot of LGBT manga – far many more titles than I can cover in one article. Maybe one day I’ll do more in-depth reviews of studies of some of them, but for now, these are just some titles that caught my attention during convalescence from a recent illness. Turns out that being sick in bed is a good thing to read queer manga, so my loss is your gain.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness
We’ll start out with some of the heavyweights. I will admit that I only picked this up because it’s original title is “Sabishisugite Rezu Fūzoku ni Ikimashita Repo, lit., “A Report on Being So Lonely That I Went to a Lesbian Brothel”” I admire any manga that has the balls (wrong turn of phrase, probably) to openly use the term “lesbian” in its title, especially since Japan has still not legalized same-sex marriage.
The manga is raw, stylized and does not pull any punches – at one point, the author talks about how she borrowed money from her mother to go to the titular lesbian brothel, and she also depicts her struggles with social media addiction and various illnesses with humor, panache and verve. Her highly stylized art style brings to mind Art Spielgelman’s Maus, and is a testament to how serious social issues can be depicted without having to be photorealistic in detail. The work can swing wildly from droll in one panel to slapstick in the next, which to my mind is part of its appeal.
Content-wise, despite the somewhat clickbaity title, it’s essentially an autobiographical manga about the artist’s life as a single lesbian in modern-day Tokyo. It does go for the jugular at various parts, with pretty detailed examinations of female bodies and their attendant genitalia…but that’s exactly why I feel manga like this should exist. Manga is an artform, and what purpose does art serve if not to illuminate society and the human condition in general?
A work this unapologetic in its nature may not be for everyone, but I encourage mature readers to at least give it a once-over.
My Brother’s Husband
This is an Eisner-nominated work from Gengoro Tagume, who is better known for drawing bears (the gay human kind) in various forms of extreme sadomasochism. Nothing wrong with that, but even though the men in this manga definitely look the part, the subject matter is not like the author’s previous fare, instead being a heartwarming, gentle story of family relations and being openly gay in two very different countries.
The story is told in a plain, unvarnished way which showcases the power of manga to depict stories of all kinds – whether highly stylized works or in this instance, something simpler but no less poignant. While the world has made great strides in being accepting of LGBT+ individuals, the author asks questions of society through his characters which may not have easy answers, but need to be asked nonetheless.
I think what I like best about this manga is how well…normal it is. No giant warriors or spacefaring vessels to be found anywhere – just an ordinary Japanese man and his daughter who discovers that his deceased brother’s husband is coming to visit. Through mundane affairs like grocery shopping and doing the laundry, we discover a very simple – and completely human – magic.
This work made me cry at the end, quite unexpectedly. With my own bent towards loquacity, I’m constantly reminded by quality works of art that sometimes, less is more and that
simple statements can be the most powerful.
For those who are interested, a live-action movie was made of this manga.
Love Me For Who I Am (Fukakai na Boku no Subete wo)
While the title is not something to quibble too much over, I think it’s worth pointing out that it literally translates to “All of me who is not understood” This manga is somewhat of a rarity in having a non-binary male as the lead character, which I feel is definitely a step in the right direction. And it’s fun to read too 🙂
(Did I also mention everyone inside is really cute?)
Why this makes the list is that the manga doesn’t shy away from showing the very real and definitive problems one can have as a non-cis person…as well as the joy and comfort one can experience by being accepted and loved by those close to you. A wide variety of genders, orientations and sexualities can be found here – transwomen, lesbians, cross-dressers and gay men – all in some combination! All are depicted with charm and heart, without any hint of forced representation.
It’s the little things that sometimes matter, and nowhere is that more true than in this manga, whether it’s the lead’s boyfriend wondering if liking an AMAB person makes him gay, to the other gay youths taking an instant dislike to the lead’s lesbian friend…people are people, and queer folk do not automatically get along, whether in manga or real life. Small touches like these, against the backdrop of more pressing issues like coming out and parental disapproval, make the work nuanced and varied enough to have commanded my attention.
The author also has a doujinshi featuring one of the minor characters (Suzu) for interested readers.
Asami-chan is Interested in Lesbian Brothels!
Okay, I admit it – you read this because of the title, right? I sure did. I’m a sucker for any fictional work which proclaims its LGBTness right in the kisser…making it not one but TWO manga with lesbian brothels this article covers.
Unlike the above entry, this manga is more of a lighthearted romp that utilizes one of the oldest tropes in the book for its lead…meeting a former childhood friend. You may cue your groans now. Also unlike the above manga, this chooses to focus more on the dynamics between the characters and how they play out over the course of the lead’s romantic and sexual entanglements at – you guessed it – lesbian brothels.
It’s actually kind of silly if you stop to think about it (how many college students do you know who blow their paychecks on gacha and brothels?) so some suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy it. I think I put it on this list because of how unabashedly YURI it is, even more so than genre classics like Maria Sama ga Miteiru.
Unfinished at the time of this writing. It’s also NSFW, but the sex scenes are drawn well and tastefully IMHO.
What Did You Eat Yesterday?
Not a manga I would normally read, this is a very slow-paced slice-of-life manga about a gay lawyer and his hairdresser boyfriend. It deals with such mundanities such as doing the laundry, getting skim milk at a discount, and watching your cholesterol at middle age. Not very exciting stuff now, is it? 🙂
The devil, as they would say, is in the details. This is not a manga you want to read if you’re looking to grip the edges of your chair in excitement. Nor is it a manga to read if you want to deal with hard-hitting societal issues or laugh out loud every minute. This is a manga to read if you’re looking for something relaxing, slow-paced and…obsessed with food.
Well, maybe obsessed is putting it a little too strongly. The manga delights in the minute details that go into the preparation of food – from cutting, slicing, and chopping vegetables and simple tasks like boiling water. It’s in these details of everyday life that you see how close the lovers truly are, and how there is a certain je ne sais quoi in the humdrum nature of daily existence. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say there is tons of wabi-sabi (the Japanese awareness centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection) it does have a somewhat unique aesthetic of its own.
It’s a simple enough story that just shows normal people going about their lives – whether grocery shopping, having a hard day at work, or kicking back with a few beers and a good TV show. Matters like still being closeted at work, parental acceptance and legal entanglements relating to being gay are treated matter-of-factly and without any fanfare, pomp or circumstance.
I typically like my romances and manga more dramatic, but it takes all types to make the world, and one thing I love about manga is the diversity of the artform. So if you’re looking for something a little more slow-paced, you may want to check this one out.
The author has doujinshi of this work for those of you who actually want to see the lovers consummate their relationship (the manga is SFW)
Our Dreams at Dusk
If the beautiful, highly stylized and detailed line art doesn’t draw you in, then the treatment of ostracism and suicide risk should. The story follows a gay teenager who is forcibly outed and meets other queer folx at a house that becomes sort of a home away from home to him. Like Love Me For Who I Am above, it deals with the entire spectrum of queerness – from homosexuality to cross-dressing. Unlike the above though, it also has a prominent asexual character, which is something that I haven’t seen much of in media (that and demisexuality)
While the main character’s struggle to accept himself and others is poignant, I found the romance between one of the gay gentlemen in the story to be especially heartwarming. We don’t often see depictions of older queer folk, and this manga brings to light something I’ve experienced in my life often as well – that being born queer in a different time and era makes for a very different tale. It’s easy to forget and take for granted that some of the civil liberties that some populations enjoy today (gay marriage being legal in most G1 nations, for instance) were born from much sacrifice and tragedy. While I enjoy the flush of first love, there is much to say about the slow burn of a lifetime relationship, and the older lovers in this work captured my attention in a way that few others have.
I feel that this is a good read in general – soft in some places, sparing no expense at drama in others. It’s realistic with a slight touch of magic in its dreamy air and evocative artwork.