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Queer manga that isn’t GL/BL

Art by Lucia Sano

The vast majority of manga that features queer people is a generally smutty genre called “yaoi”. This genre is typically created by straight women for straight women, and heavily features hypersexual sexual assault as a romance trope. Therefore, it’s often difficult to find manga that does not have that latent, or just as often blatant, fetishization of queer men. Manga that feature gay pairings are usually called BL (Boy’s Love) and ones that feature lesbian pairings are called GL (Girl’s Love). Manga that features transgender characters that aren’t brutalized or consistently misgendered are even harder to come by than non-fetishistic queer content.

So, here are a few that are exceptional in their authentic and complex representation. The set titles display the range of people in the LGBT community, instead of sole couples or a passing character.

1. Our Dreams at Dusk

Image via Yuhki Kamatani

Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani follows a gay high schooler finding solace in a local home restoration project, as everyone working on renovations is LGBT. The members of the renovations team span across the LGBT community, both young and old. The comic is a wonderful look into the many facets of queer friendship and what it means to be queer in an unaccepting culture. Our Dreams at Dusk is only four volumes long, so many aspects of the plot are slightly rushed, but the joyful display of the many stages of LGBT life make up for it. Touches of raunchy comedy, philosophical ramblings, and a hauntingly accurate representation of how it feels to dread the knowledge of one’s queerness made Our Dreams at Dusk a standout.

There are a lot of slurs in this one, though.

2. Ao No Flag

Image via KAITO

Ao No Flag, or Blue Flag by KAITO, is a love quadrangle (love square?) full of twists and turns, centered on four high school students. The eight volume series discusses how the numerous choices one makes throughout their life should be aimed towards joy instead of rationality. Main character Taichi has spent the last two years resenting his childhood friend, Toma, after he had inadvertently stolen a girl Taichi had a crush on. So, when a mousy girl, Kuze-chan, asks Taichi to help her confess to Toma, he reluctantly agrees. Unfortunately, Toma seems more interested in reconnecting with Taichi, and now a girl named Masumi is angry at Taichi for giving Kuze-chan false hope. The messy high school relationships and the exploration of sexuality and gender roles in Japan is surprisingly subversive, serving as an antithesis to (usually) sexist M/M focused manga. Ration versus passion, four friends come head to head in this wordy but edge-of-your-seat read. Warning, a lot of people absolutely hate the ending (but I don’t).

3. Boys Run the Riot

Written and illustrated by transgender mangaka, Keito Gaku, Boys Run the Riot is a strong rebellious piece written straight from the heart. A young closeted transgender man named Ryo tackles his feelings of isolation and dysphoria through art, specifically by starting a streetwear brand with the local delinquent and a meek photographer. In a deep display of brotherhood, the boys fight tooth and nail to come closer to their dreams. Their dream? Being heard. Boys Run the Riot is about boyhood, and Ryu’s struggles in his own boyhood. Although, he has other troubled young men and a girl who is also trying to find her place to navigate it with. Ryu’s boyhood is rash, dark, and often boar-headed, but it is positively refreshing. Keito Gaku’s dramatic but often gut-bustingly humorous writing paired with the rebellious visuals of Boys Run the Riot makes for an astounding and tear-jerking read.

Honorable Mention: Witch Hat Atelier

Witch Hat Atelier originally did not contend for this list as the central characters are not (confirmed that is) queer, but the only canonical couple is a queer one thus far. Created by Shirahama Kamome, who has done illustrations for Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and the Star Wars franchise, Kamome creates a beautifully illustrated colorful world in Witch Hat Atelier. The landscape is riddled with diverse characters, the costumage is entirely gender neutral, every character wearing a beautiful flowing entourage of capes and robes. The story work is beautiful, the plot sucks you in like a vacuum, and Shirahama Kamome shows the reader a world with all the vast intricacies our own has. The comic is also getting an anime adaptation, an announcement was made this past April, so a diligent reader or anime elitist should give it a read quickly so they can say “read it before it was so popular”.

Humanizing stories about queer struggles, and more importantly, queer joy, are essential in the landscape most queer people currently live in. Even though acceptance has become more widely recognized, having media that focuses on the wider community and what brings us all together is absolutely essential in an era where the division of the LGBTQ community is only dictated to serve an oppressive status quo. Our community is family, let’s never forget that.

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