[AniFemTalk] Yuri anime and manga

Last week we talked about the erasure of lesbian romance in the dub of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. This week, let’s look at lesbian representation in yuri anime/manga and other Japanese pop culture.

  • What is your favourite lesbian relationship in anime/manga?
  • What is your favourite kind of yuri story or relationship?
  • What is your least favourite yuri trope?
  • How do you think Japanese yuri is different to western lesbian romance stories?
  • Which yuri anime/manga do you recommend?
  • Which yuri texts in other forms of Japanese pop culture do you recommend?


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  • Louis

    I hope the rerelease of sweet blue flowers is good because Takako Shimura is phenomenal and I am still messed up over how “but we are both girls” wasnt the source of tension in the main romance. But instead there was “yeah lets date. But I don’t really know if I am into girls.”. It was just the perfect bit of clunk to mess me up as someone who has ran away from dating guys I was totally into.

  • I mainly want to answer the first question, though I’ll touch upon some of the others as well.

    Honestly, I think my favourite relationship is one that’s stuck inbetween fan interpretation and canon. Basically the relationship of Takamachi Nanoha and Fate Testarossa from the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha series. The original author of their characters creator considers them a couple, a lot of the people who’ve worked on the series over the last thirteen years do as well, including their voice actresses Tamura Yukari and Mizuki Nana.

    Even within the context of the series, the two grow up together as close friends only to eventually live together, sleep together and even adopt and raise a child together. It’s hard to not view them as a canon couple when their daughter comes home to the two of them, calls them both Nanoha-mama and Fate-mama and refers to them as “bosom buddies” in her narration.

    And yet, it’s not officially canon. But in one way, that highlights a strength in their writing. It’s not hard to see NanoFate’s inability to become canonized as part of the struggle for LGBT-people to come out and be accepted. In a way, the “gal pal” nature of their obviously intimate relationship almost ends up becoming satire. Even more so when you realize that the way they adopted their daughter, Vivio, was through the way a lot of same gender couples get around legal barriers prohibiting them from adopting.

    You see, Nanoha adopted Vivio and became her legal guardian and parent on paper, Fate was only ever designated as Vivio’s god-mother. Despite this, from the very first scene of the them together, they inform Vivio that they’re both her mothers from here on. It’s beautiful and a solid commentary on the hoops same-gender couples must sometimes jump through.

    And it’s because of these things that NanoFate have become my favourite lesbian relationship in anime and manga. Because it takes the trope I hate the most, being “they’re just friends”, and turns it around into commentary on the way people won’t accept same-gender couples. Be that intentional on the writers part or not. Of course, it also helps that the franchise is generally good with queer-coding characters overall.

  • Alan C

    I personally just love the Sakura Trick anime. I put it on whenever im feeling down and it usually helps quite a bit. I love it because of how simple it is. It’s about girls kissing (ALOT), there is no heavy drama, no big love triangle (sorta), no angsty heartbreak, and no generic male protagonist.

    Sometimes i just wanna watch a light-hearted anime with girls being silly, gay and just kissing for 20 minutes, and this pretty much gave me just that.

  • Black Emolga

    If I’m going to pick a favorite Lesbian manga. It would be Honey x Honey. It’s an autobiography of it’s creator Takeuchi Sachiko and it’s both a heartwarming romance and a very educational resource on Japanese LGBT culture.

  • Matthew Kelly

    1. What is your favourite lesbian relationship in anime/manga?

    Anime: Cocona and Papika’s relationship in Flip Flappers was adorable and sweet. I think it’s my favourite anime yuri relationship. But I feel I must mention Madoka/Homura and Utena/Anthy. They are messy, messy love stories. I treasure the emotional wounds they have inflicted upon me.

    Manga: Yamada and Kase-san’s relationship in Takashima Hiromi’s ongoing “Kase-san” series. It’s really very sweet. The relationship between Moe and Yuuka in Imamura Youko’s “The Real Her” is, on the other hand, the best kinds of terrible.

    2. What is your favourite kind of yuri story or relationship?

    “Kase-san” and “The Real Her” are my favourite kind of romance story: the kind that mixes comedy and drama and seamlessly transitions from telling a story about how they came to be in a relationship to telling a story about the hurdles they overcome during the relationship itself.

    3. What is your least favourite yuri trope?

    Love triangles. If you really all do love each other, please Google polyamory.

    Also, single-target sexuality. It erases sexual identities and leads to unnecessary melodrama.

    4. How do you think Japanese yuri is different to western lesbian romance stories?

    – characters are less likely to explicitly self-identify as “lesbian” or “bisexual”

    – characters suffer from greater pressure from their family and society at large to get married to a man and have children

    – fewer good job prospects contribute to the “find a man” pressures

    – characters are more likely to fall into the trap of believing that this is just a phase (see Class S)

    – characters are less likely to deal with bigoted Christians

    – characters are more likely to say something like “But we’re both women!”

    5. Which yuri anime/manga do you recommend?

    Anime: Flip Flappers (with caveats for some misplaced fan service), Utena (with the caveat that it’s too long and could do without a bunch of the middle episodes), Madoka (without caveats, really), and Yuri Kuma Arashi (with caveats for fan service and Ikuhara nonsense).

    Manga: “Bloom into You” is on shelves in the West. If low-key melodrama and asexuality are of interest to you, check it out.

  • Lord Justice

    I feel that perhaps thinking in terms of anime and manga is too limiting, so in the spirit of the last question, I’ll bring up one of my favourite visual novels (in general, not just in terms of yuri): Kindred Spirits on the Roof. Kindred Spirits can be best summed up as a slice of life VN focused on extremely well written presentations of lesbian couples. The translation into English is excellent, and I get the strong impression that the original author is a lesbian, but I’m not 100% sure and finding that information is extremely difficult.

    What stands out to me in particular with Kindred Spirits is that it is solely focused on yuri shoujo ai, that is the end all, be all of the VN. Unlike say, Madoka Magica, which has yuri elements, but those elements are part of a much larger whole – In Kindred Spirits, everything is focused on the development of the relationships between the characters within a yuri context. Kindred Spirits can be read as a celebration of yuri, more than anything else.

    However, that could apply to a lot of yuri VNs, even the terrible ones. What makes Kindred Spirits different is its complete avoidance of fan-service, especially for a male audience. It, as a VN, is not there to service the male gaze, it is there to depict the relationships between the characters. And yes, Kindred Spirits does have depictions of sex in it, but is somewhat unique in that they are not there for erotic purposes. Romantic relationships do have that aspect to them, even if it’s side-stepped in a lot of cases, and Kindred Spirits does not handle it like a lot of media would. It’s there because that’s where the relationship led, and written incredibly well such that it justifies its existence as non-erotic.

    Speaking personally, I consider Kindred Spirits to be THE yuri work, on which other yuri works should build off. If nothing else, I feel the important lesson in Kindred Spirits is its rejection of the male gaze, which I feel is a critical component of the genre as an ideal, although less so in practice.

  • AsteriskCGY

    As a slice of life fan Aoi no Hana was something that stuck to me. I guess in a way Wandering Son is too.

    • Zoe Le Loir

      Not really yuri so much, but as a trans woman, I found Wandering Son to be so good, even if so much of it hit home hard, leaving me to slowly work through the series. I mean, the series has a trans boy, a trans girl, and a character who is a well adjusted trans woman in a loving, healthy relationship. It all felt incredibly revolutionary to me.

      Loved Aoi no Hana!

  • Blusocket

    This is a great discussion topic, and I hope a lot of people chime in! I really wish I read and enjoyed more yuri–I’m a big fan of BL, actually, but there’s this combination of anxiety and blandness or forgettableness I associate with the yuri I’ve read, like the girls are cute, sweet little dolls who are sad or worried sometimes but aren’t actually all that memorable, so I either get frustrated and upset thinking about how the story was probably created with a straight male audience in mind, or enjoy the story but quickly move on. This is also probably a result of simple lack of access–less yuri is created in Japan, and even less is licensed in English, so it’s hard to find new stories to read and also difficult to find a community to talk about those stories with; there’s Okazu, certainly, but the demographics there tend to skew a little older than my peer group, and many other yuri fans or fan communities really enjoy the cutsey yuribait stuff that I have a really difficult time with.

    The yuri shows I’ve been most enduringly fond of are the classics: Revolutionary Girl Utena (which does have truly astonishingly complex gay/bi female characters), Sweet Blue Flowers, Whispered Words. For less established stuff, someone in the comments previously mentioned Kase-san, which is very good, plus Lonely Wolf, Lonely Sheep and all of Yamaji Ebine’s work (Sweet Lovin’ Baby made me feel a lot of things.)

    I think a lot of Western narratives about lbpq women center around sex? Thinking about The L Word, for example–for all its many, many faults it’s still one of the most well-known and most influential narratives about gay (and bi, but kind of not really? yeesh) women, and there is SO much sex. There’s other stuff, too, but honestly, a LOT of the conflict revolves around sex. I’m not sure if that’s a wholly fair comparison, since, as far as I understand yuri manga and anime is pretty niche among both anime/manga fans and lbpq women–Western and Japanese–but niche Western lbpq content tends to be made by lbpq creators, which is not wholly true of yuri manga and certainly not true of yuri anime. I can think of well-known yuri anime (Sakura Trick, Strawberry Panic, Citrus–I think?) which do deal with sexuality and conflicts around sex, though, even if not necessarily in very careful or complex ways lol, so maybe my perception of the genre as full of sexless Class-S narrative conventions is just outdated.

    Again, thanks so much for bringing up this topic! Hopefully I’ll be able to check back in a few days and find even more thoughtful commentary and great yuri recs on this post.

  • Like going through the recommendations in this comment section because the only shows I’ve watched with lesbian relationships have been Ikuhara shows, and while I love them it’s very hard to recommend out to people like “oh yeah this bear loves this girl but also wants to eat her and eating is shown with really over the top honeysuckle imagery but BEFORE they can get to that they have to go to a panel of male judges in order to get the yuri approved and I know what that sounds like and I know this was made by a guy but I PROMISE THERE’S A POINT AND IT’S SUPPOSED TO FEEL BAD THERE’S A REASON”

  • Infophile

    My favorite relationship is Shizuru and Natsuki from Mai-HiME… so much so that I’m still writing fanfic about them, ten years later. Though on a related note, my least favorite yuri trope is the Psycho Lesbian, and I really with Mai-HiME hadn’t fallen into it… but I do appreciate that they gave them a happy ending despite this trope’s use.

  • Ashen

    Okay so in order (so I don’t make TOO long a post):

    What is your favourite lesbian relationship in anime/manga? – I think one with equal partnership, where both women are good individually but even stronger together, supportive and respectful regardless of their literal power dynamic within the story (i.e. one’s a fighter, one’s a noncombatant). That’s by and large what I enjoy in any pairing

    What is your favourite kind of yuri story or relationship? – Because of the relatively small number of series I’ve seen that focus on or otherwise feature a prominent lesbian pairing I’d have to pick Natsuki Kruger and Shizuru Viola from Mai-Otome, because their relationship is shown to be fairly equal and supportive. While their relationship in Mai-HiME had a lot of issues, I found their AU counterparts in Otome far more enjoyable. Natsuki’s objections to Shizuru’s advances almost always came down to they’re being in public, and not an objection to the feelings themselves. That was really wonderful for me to see and I also enjoyed how capable and strong both women were in their respective positions.

    What is your least favourite yuri trope? – Easily, it’s the sexual predator lesbian who gropes, kisses, or otherwise assaults another female character who is clearly and repeatedly uninterested. But because it’s girl-on-girl it’s played for laughs. No. That kind of behavior is my berserk button. A perfect example is Kuroko from the Index/Railgun franchise; she constantly attacks her ostensibly hetero (or at the least unresponsive) friend Mikoto, to the point that I couldn’t enjoy any of Kuroko’s other amazing qualities as a character or contributions to the story! I mean this girl is smart, a skilled teleporter, and has a strong sense of justice. I loved all of that but every time she showed up on page or screen I groaned because I KNEW another “hilarious” scene was coming where she’d try to catch Mikoto in the shower, in bed, etc.

    How do you think Japanese yuri is different to western lesbian romance stories? – In some ways I don’t see as wide a gap. In a negative stance both countries can fall back on tired cliches, fetishized portrayals, or ultimately doom the romance by killing off one of the women because of the writer’s underlying lack of understanding or care for honest representation. I don’t feel I’ve read or seen enough on this specific topic to offer more in-depth analysis.

    Which yuri anime/manga do you recommend? – I can recommend an anime with a caveat: CANAAN was a well-done action series that had a few truly fantastic female characters and obvious lesbian subtext. The caveat comes twofold: One semi-prominent side character is a designated “psycho lesbian” smh, and the other has to do with the lack of explicit (read: clear) payoff to the main potential couple by the series’ end. That in mind, I still enjoyed my time with it and found myself shipping the titular Canaan and her antagonist, Alphard, because of their foe yay chemistry and well-developed personalities.

    Which yuri texts in other forms of Japanese pop culture do you recommend? – Again, sadly my experience with yuri-specific media is limited so I don’t feel I can recommend anything with that focus in mind.

  • Nayasha Baksh

    favourite lesbian relationship: kanade and yukino from Candy Boy
    fave kind of yuri: where one girl hs to save and protect the other girl. or where one girl is sad and the other girl just loves therefore relieving the girl’s pain
    least fave yuri trope: when they water it down to shoujo ai and it is in the freakin subtext. seriously i came for my girl on girl action too

    How do you think Japanese yuri is different to western lesbian romance stories?: it is more emotional and can take a while to develop unlike western lesbian romance

    Which yuri anime/manga do you recommend?: Strawberry panic

    Which yuri texts in other forms of Japanese pop culture do you recommend?: i only watch anime but there is manga. i look at fan art and read fanfiction too

  • Moni

    There’s a manga called Lily-love which has probably one of the best representations of lesbianism I’ve seen ever (it’s not Japanese which may be part of the reason). Consent is constantly reinforced in the story and one of the mains deals with being cut-off from her father because of her orientation and the few more intimate scenes feel like they focus on the two women actually enjoying themselves.