Want to take a break from watching and find something to read? Here’s a piping-hot batch of feminist-friendly titles hot out the oven for our dear readers!
Questions about our rec selection process? See our Intro page for details. You may also want to check out our anime recs: we have a corresponding General anime page, a Queer Recommendations list for titles starring LGBTQ+ characters, or our Family-Friendly list for shows for younger audiences.
All My Darling Daughters
What’s it about? Yukiko, who is almost 30, works full time, and has a serious boyfriend, was raised by her single working mother, Mari. After a cancer scare, Mari announces she’s decided to live life on her own terms, and introduces Yukiko to her new husband, a 27-year-old struggling actor she met when he was working at a host club. Through a series of interconnected vignettes, this series explores the lives, circumstances, and changing role of women in modern Japan.
Why we recommend it: AniFem staffer Caitlin first checked All My Darling Daughters out of the library on a Yoshinaga Fumi kick, not knowing what it was about. She then checked it out three more times before finally purchasing her own copy, because this single-volume manga so thoroughly floored her with its beautiful art, storytelling, and overtly feminist themes.
Over the course of five short stories about Yukiko, her family, and her friends, Yoshinaga touches on a variety of ways shifting gender roles have touched women’s lives, and the compromises they make between ideals and reality. Lived experience is always so much more complex and messy than principle, and Yoshinaga captures those complexities beautifully as each character searches for the middle ground between how they feel things ought to be and how things are, and find their own answers and happiness.
Content warnings: The second story in the volume is about a student with poor self-esteem forcing her professor to accept oral sex from her, and not even Yoshinaga Fumi could tackle that one in a way that isn’t deeply troubling. It’s also the least important thematically and is easily skipped. The other stories handle their tough content much better, including child abuse, discrimination based on sex and disability, beauty standards, and more much besides, but the volume comes with all the warnings you’d expect about women operating under the patriarchy.
Suggested age rating: 16 and up
Total Length: One volume, completed.
What’s it about? When the twins Tatara and Sarasa were born in post-apocalyptic Japan, the village soothsayer Nagi looked upon them and said, “This is the child of destiny.” Fifteen years later, Tatara has been raised to become the legendary warrior who will wield the sword of Byakko and unite the fractured country, and his sister Sarasa is little more than an afterthought. However, when Tatara is killed by the Red King’s attack on their village, Sarasa takes up her brother’s mantle and swears to lead the rebellion in his place, under his name.
Why we recommend it: Tackling the fantasy epic Basara takes commitment. At the start, it may not even seem worth it. The cast is huge, the art is gritty and messy and tends to be stiff, and the love interest Shuri is the kind of asshole you expect to see in shoujo manga of its era. But please believe us when we say it is so, so, so worth it.
Action-adventure shoujo manga have become a rarity these days, making Basara all the more valuable. As Sarasa takes on her brother’s identity and goes on a journey to unify the country in his name, she grows and changes and encounters a huge variety of people. As she does so, the complexity of her country and its political system make reform an increasingly daunting task, accomplishable only because of the help of her many likely and unlikely allies.
Sarasa, who was not raised to fill this role, is supremely vulnerable. She falls in love and longs to go back to the life of a normal girl she once had. She doubts herself, she gets hurt, she cries—and that is what makes her powerful. After generations of cruel, uncaring rulers, her followers are drawn to a leader who cares deeply about the country and its people. One of shoujo’s defining traits is its emphasis on the characters’ feelings and connections with others, and Basara imagines that emotionality as the fuel for revolution in a hardened world.
Content warnings: Violence; decapitation; disfigurement, including loss of an eye and limb; romantic interest who pushes boundaries (he grows as a character and gets a lot better, I promise); sexual assault, including CSA and rape (generally restrained in depiction and sympathetic to the survivor).
Suggested age rating: 15 and up
Total Length: 27 volumes, completed.
A Bride’s Story
What’s it about? Twenty-year-old Amir is set to marry Karluk, a young man eight years her junior in a village far away across the mountains. Once married, they’ll begin their life in a rural town near the Caspian Sea, weaving a life together along the Silk Road with a multitude of other young woman (and their respective fiancées or husbands) in late 19th century Central Asia.
Why we recommend it: A Bride’s Story is famously gorgeous, but it’s also an episodic story cataloguing the life and times of Amir and the Eihons, the patrilocal family she marries into by order of her own family. Only things aren’t as straightforward as saying your vows, because Amir’s husband is eight years her junior. This, admittedly, might be off-putting, but thanks to thoughtful storytelling by Mori Kaoru, this age gap that might have you saying “yikes” actually becomes a part of Amir and Karluk’s dynamic as they try to navigate their marriage and (thus far platonic) relationship.
Of course, this isn’t a story solely about Amir. A Bride’s Story frequently breaks away from our central characters to focus on other young women living in Central Asia. Within the first few volumes we meet Pariya, a girl who bucks tradition; troublemaking twins Laila and Leyli; and Talas, a young woman who’s a widow five times over. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, because A Bride’s Story packs in loads of well-realized characters who may not even meet, but when they do, it’s always for the best thanks to both Mori’s stellar skill as a storyteller and the localization work.
Additionally, A Bride’s Story art is incredibly gorgeous. Part of that appeal of the series is Mori Kaoru’s stellar linework, which can get incredibly detailed. Clothing reflects period-accurate embroidery: woodworking and carving from the region is down in beautiful hatching and generous shading and thin, delicate lines. Everything has weight, making Amir’s story and the life of those around her feel authentic and actualized, especially in some of the series’ most dramatic moments, and definitely in the most heartfelt moments.
Basically, if you’re hungry for historical romance that combines slice-of-life with historical fact and fiction, then look no further than A Bride’s Story for your needs. While the age gap might put you off, give it a try: it’s handled maturely, never tiptoeing into explicit territory, but instead illustrating the life of a courageous, clever, and honestly refreshing young woman as she adjusts to life as a newlywed and a wife.
Content warnings: Age-gap political marriage; nudity (generally not sexualized); violence; animal death.
Suggested age rating: 15 and up
Total Length: 12 volumes, ongoing.
What’s it about? Nagisa Kataura is your everyday twenty-something… well, except for the fact that she’s a seriously devoted cosplayer. Naturally, her coworkers know nothing about her passion for fantastic fashion. Nagisa—better known as Nagi—is faced with a choice: be true to her cosplaying self, or change into what society wants and expects her to be.
Why we recommend it: Complex Age is a rare example (at least, in English manga localization) of a seinen manga that feels like a josei manga aimed at women—though admittedly, demographics can be arbitrary when contained within a binary. In fact, a lot of Complex Age’s strength is being applicable to marginalized genders by telling the story of twenty-six-year-old Kataura Nagisa, a young woman with a secret: she’s a cosplayer, which butts up against her day-to-day persona as a regular temp-worker.
In her spare time, Nagisa transforms into her favorite anime and manga characters, spending her free time in homemade costumes with her fellow cosplayers at a variety of events. But as adulthood demands that she becomes well, an adult, Nagisa starts to feel pulled towards the question that all twenty-something fans ask: what’s more important to her, cosplay or being perceived as “normal”?
A lot of the joy of this series is in its exploration of fandom engagement and adulthood, which is a particularly important topic if you’re a marginalized person trying to cope with the notion of needing to “age out” of fandom and geekery. Perhaps that’s why it still resonates with so many readers: Nagisa is wholly human, likable and unlikable at different times, but that blend makes her human, and that’s part of why Complex Age has the impact it does.
Ultimately, Complex Age tells a satisfying story across six volumes. Initially, the story does a lot of table-setting to establish its lead (who starts out as kind of the worst), but across the remaining five volumes it upends reader’s expectations by telling a genuine story about passion, creativity, and finding the right way for you, as a person, to engage with and around fandom. That’s why it’s an easy recommendation, especially if you’re in Nagi’s exact position as an adult trying to adult, but not in a particularly grown-up way.
Content warnings: Depictions of depression, bullying, online harassment, sexual harassment, fatphobia (as well as some normalized/excused lesser fat-shaming), and ageism.
Suggested age rating: 16 and up
Total length: Six volumes, completed.
What’s it about? Due to several unfortunate life turns, the recently-orphaned Honda Tohru has been living alone in a tent while attending high school. She’s accepting of her temporary displacement, but it turns out she has been unwittingly camping out on land that belongs to the Sohma family, including her handsome classmate Yuki and his cousin Shigure. Instead of evicting her, they invite her to live with them in exchange for doing housework. Tohru can hardly believe the turn her life has taken, but it gets even more unbelievable when Yuki turns into a mouse and Shigure into a dog!
Why we recommend it: How could we not? Over the past twenty years, Fruits Basket has gone from one of the first truly hit shoujo manga in the U.S. to a bonafide classic. It’s one of our top written-about series from both staff writers and contributors. Fruits Basket as a series has touched the hearts of millions of people all over the world, and it well deserves all the celebration and acclaim that it gets.
At first glance, it would be easy to describe the series as a wacky romantic comedy about a love triangle between a girl and two boys who turn into animals when they touch her, with lots of hijinks and comedic misunderstandings. In fairness, there is plenty of that, especially as Tohru meets more and more of the Sohma family, many of whom have larger-than-life personalities. There’s plenty of scrambling to hide their secret from people outside the family in inconvenient situations, and Tohru getting flustered about the attentions of the people around her.
But despite the occasional comic situations, Fruits Basket is most definitely not a comedy; it’s a character drama about the psychological effects and pain of long-term abuse, and of healing from it. Takaya approaches the subject with a breathtaking and painful understanding of the mechanics of abuse, how it can be wielded for one person to maintain power over others, and how love can be warped for the sake of control. She also resists the temptation to turn the heroine into a savior figure for a group of boys, as it becomes clear Tohru is just as messed-up psychologically as everyone around her. Fruits Basket is a beautiful though sometimes emotionally trying read.
Content warnings: Naturally, it comes with a big content warning for trauma and abuse, both physical and emotional, since that’s the overarching theme of the whole story. Less intentionally, the concept of people turning into animals when hugged by the so-called opposite sex is inherently cisheteronormative, even when there are canonical bisexual and gender non-conforming characters. Also, multiple age-gap relationships (between teens/adults) and some slapstick violence.
Suggested age range: 13 and up
Total length: 23 volumes, completed.
What’s it about? Hada is the personal wrangler for temperamental Liliko, a supermodel envied by viewers and loathed by those who have to work with her. But as her star threatens to fade, Liliko starts to fall apart in more ways than one.
Why we recommend it: “A word before we begin: a laugh and a scream are very similar.” This sentence serves as the perfect tone-setter for the manga it prefaces, a brutal horror story about how fame and the beauty industry systematically destroy the women they target. Liliko is a thoroughly tragic monster, and Helter Skelter walks a delicate line as it slowly reveals the vulnerable girl she once was without losing sight of the abuse she regularly unloads on Hada. Her breakdown is underscored by Okazaki’s frenetic, spider-thin linework, which relishes in presenting breasts and vulvas with normalizing frequency, the better to draw attention to the emotional turmoil behind the parts.
Likewise careful is its usage of body horror, which emphasizes not just that Liliko has had work done but that she was repeatedly pressured into undertaking dangerous and painful experimental surgeries—not things she does for herself, but to make a profit for someone else. It is, indeed, like experiencing a scream in written form. But it’s an extremely cathartic one.
Content warnings: Depictions of body horror (decay), fatphobia, disordered eating, slut-shaming, misogyny, sexual abuse, sexual coercion, ageism, gore
Suggested age rating: 18 and up
Total length: One volume, completed.
What’s it about? High school senior Yukari has devoted her life to studying in order to please her mother, though school has never come easily to her. When she’s railroaded into serving as a model for a group of students—and in particular, their handsome but inscrutable leader, George—from a nearby fashion school, she finds her world opening to possibilities she’d never dared consider before.
Why we recommend it: Paradise Kiss remains one of the single best coming-of-age manga ever written. It’s a smart exploration of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood as she grapples with many big “firsts” in her life: her first relationship, sexual encounter, deviation from her parent’s plans, and realization that she has a goal she feels truly passionate about. The story celebrates the fact that Yukari’s struggles with “book smarts” don’t at all mean a lack of professional savvy and hard-work as she looks toward the world of professional modeling.
George and Yukari’s romance is also a rarity even today, a poignantly written exploration of a young relationship where two good kids influence one another’s lives for the better while also being an absolutely toxic disaster as a relationship. Every miscommunication is relatable and real, and the story moves smartly toward the best resolution for both of their futures in an ending that’s as uncompromising as it is perfect.
Add on a shockingly sensitive portrayal of a trans character for 1999 and unmatched visual splendor in its depictions of clothing, and this title is can’t-miss for any fan of shoujo or josei.
Content warnings: Depictions of emotional abuse, fatphobia, parental abuse, slut-shaming, codependency, depression, consensual sex between teens; brief misgendering (first chapter) and deadnaming (last chapter) of a trans character otherwise treated respectfully; unconfirmed jokes about a student possibly being involved with his teacher/mentor; background gay panic joke; referenced past sexual assault of a partner that includes an apology but fails to grasp the depth of the emotional abuse at play in the relationship
Suggested age range: 16 and up
Total length: Five volumes (released as a single omnibus), completed.
What’s it about? Due to a screwup in heaven, Silverland’s new heir was born with both a boy and a girl’s heart, but only men are allowed to rule, so the newly born Prince Sapphire is raised as a man. Simple, right? Well no, Sapphire really just wants to be a girl, especially after meeting literal Prince Charming; but with the evil Duke Duralumon trying to snatch the throne for himself, she has no choice but to keep up the act. And on top of all of that there’s a demonic sorceress after her girl heart as well. When everything comes to head, she’ll have to fight, not only for her own happily ever after but for the rights of all women in Silverland.
Why we recommend it: While not originally intended to be a queer story, Princess Knight’s cultural impact has very much made it one. From the visuals of Revolutionary Girl Utena to Sailor Moon’s Haruka Tenoh having “the spirit of a man and a woman” (sound familiar?), it’s been referenced countless times in actual queer media, to the point where one could make a legitimate argument for it being a form of queercoding. There are many different ways to interpret Sapphire having both the heart of a boy and a girl, and none of them are particularly cishet. Also, it’s an Osamu Tezuka manga, meaning you’re guaranteed a plethora of gorgeous, fairy tale-inspired illustrations and fun visual gags during your reading.
Content warnings: Suicide; death; extremely dated and bioessentialist views of men and women that completely contradict the story’s feminist moral; ableism; homophobia; possible dubious age gap with rival love interest Captain Blood having no real confirmed age beyond “older than the 16-year-old protagonist.” Really, you gotta keep in mind this was written in the 1950s (rewritten in the ’60s) and some things just really didn’t age well.
Suggested age range: 12 and up
Total length: Five volumes (1960s rewrite released as two omnibuses), completed.
The Promised Neverland
What’s it about? The children of Grace Field House live a happy life, and none is more happy than Emma, a bright, optimistic 11-year-old orphan who calls Grace Field her home and her 37 housemates her family. But when Emma and her best friends Ray and Norman find out a terrifying secret, they decide to break free to see what the world outside of Grace Field holds for them.
Why we recommend it: The Promised Neverland is a lot of things. It’s a story about secrets and how they can ruin what seems like paradise. It’s a story about sympathizing with cruelty and understanding the nature of cruelty, and pushing back when the time is right. The Promised Neverland is that and more, all while following a group of very intelligent, unique children through a realm of monstrous beings, human and otherwise.
The nature of this thriller makes it easy to blaze through. However, it’s best if you take your time and let some suspense build up, especially as Emma and her family get creative with their goals of regaining their autonomy. While things might seem predictable, half the enjoyment of The Promised Neverland is sussing out just how Emma will find a way through. And though there’s definitely some hand-waving about how Emma and her siblings survive, it almost always feels good, with an emotional payoff that left some staffers weeping when it all comes together in the end.
Something to note is that while the series does feature a rare example of a shounen female lead, it doesn’t just stop there. In fact, The Promised Neverland goes to great lengths to explore sexism and sexist tendencies within the world that Emma inhabits. While lead Emma is never leered at sexually, the series isn’t without fault towards its female cast, especially in the case of Sister Krone, one of the franchise’s few BIPOC (specifically Black) characters, who is shown in caricature for most of her time in the series.
Come for the chapter one plot twist, stay for a story about outsmarting adults, gaining your independence, and most importantly of all, finding your family. If you’re hungry for a thrilling action-adventure series full of heartfelt moments and helmed by a female lead, then look no further than The Promised Neverland.
Content warnings: Racism/racist caricature; depictions of gore, murder (children and adults), blood, child abuse, child endangerment, emotional abuse, body mutilation, sexism.
Suggested age rating: 13 and up
Total length: 20 volumes, completed.
Satoko and Nada
What’s it about? Meet Satoko, a Japanese college student who gets a new roommate: Saudi Arabian Muslim Nada, a young woman who wears a hijab and has a lot of energy. Now that they’re under the same roof, these two have to learn how to live together while navigating American culture, different customs, and most of all, having fun in their halcyonic college days. Thankfully, through mutual respect–and a bit of comedy–Satoko and Nada demonstrate that friendship knows no bounds.
Why we recommend it: Satoko and Nada is something of a special series in that it focuses, by and large, on a study abroad experience that, while fictional, feels authentic to real life. It also focuses on a character of Islamic faith: a rarity in manga in general, and definitely one of the firsts (that’s not laden with harmful tropes) in localized manga.
Part comedy, part slice-of-life, wholly authentic, Satoko and Nada presents the story of two young women sharing their culture through food, fun, and friendship. Backset by their experiences in America (a country with a fraught history with both Japan and Saudi Arabia, as well as the ongoing mistreatment of hijabi persons), this cultural exchange ranges from food preferences, misunderstandings about women who wear burka or niqab, and a multitude of cultural differences that become teaching moments that bring Satoko and Nada together instead of pushing them apart. That, most of all, is the biggest reason to read this series: the terrific friendship between its two leads.
The manga never hesitates to tackle cultural differences. In fact, Satoko, our Japanese protagonist, frequently stands in for the unknowing reader, who may know about hijab, but might not know much else about the Islamic faith or Saudi Arabian women’s culture. This also extends to notes on American prejudices against hijabi persons, which is just the tip of an incredibly informative iceberg. It’s clear a lot of research went into this, thanks to creator Yupechika, who largely presents cultural differences as statements while leaving the details for readers to puzzle out. It’s effective, and ends up bridging the gap between an often maligned and misunderstood religion by humanizing Nada as an everyday girl.
It’s easy to breeze through, though you’ll want to take your time to indulge in Satoko and Nada’s antics and warmth. Come for the premise, stay for a genuine female friendship series that’s well-researched and demonstrates that differences matter and can forge a life-long relationship, no matter the distance.
Content warnings: Discussions of prejudice.
Suggested age rating: 12 and up
Total length: Four volumes, completed.
Witch Hat Atelier
What’s it about? Coco is fascinated by magic, but knows she’ll never be able to learn it herself—for magic is inherited through aristocratic bloodlines and she’s simply a tailor’s daughter. But then Coco gets an unintended peek behind the curtain and realizes that magic isn’t something you’re born with, it’s a skill that can be taught and practiced. When her own attempts at spellcasting go horribly wrong, wandering witch Qifrey takes Coco under his wing and promises to teach her how to mend her mistakes. Coco swiftly finds herself swept up in the world of witchcraft and all the monsters and mysteries it contains.
Why we recommend it: Witch Hat Atelier is one of the most visually stunning, compelling, and utterly delightful manga series currently being released. Coco is a fantastic female protagonist: ambitious, resourceful, and always compassionate, able to approach magic with a new perspective because she was raised outside of the hierarchical (and snobbish) world of witches. Not only is the drawing-based magic system inventive and fun, it opens the door for an allegory about class and power.
Witch society is all too eager to cut people out if they do not conform to certain characteristics, and the way magic is taught is rigid in its traditions. Witch Hat interrogates this and suggests alternatives through Coco’s out-of-the-box thinking, Qifrey’s more flexible teaching methods, and a variety of disabled and neuroatypical characters working to make their world more accessible. The series is ongoing, so it remains to be seen just how much of an impact Coco might have on the witch world overall, but she’s certainly opened the door to lots of smaller, character-focused explorations of the ways in which “tradition” can shut people down and how there is freedom in doing things differently.
Content warnings: Child endangerment; depictions of emotional abuse and ableism; fantasy horror elements like magical body mutilation.
Suggested age range: 12 and up
Total length: Nine volumes, ongoing.
Yona of the Dawn
What’s it about? Yona, the only daughter of King Il and heir to the throne of Kouka Kingdom, has only two things she’s worried about: her frizzy red hair and her feelings for her cousin, Su-Won. Her life changes dramatically on her sixteenth birthday, when she goes to her father’s chambers only to find him dead, with Su-Won standing over him, sword in hand. She flees for her life with her childhood friend and bodyguard Son Hak. Now, she must search for the four legendary dragons and fulfill her destiny, whatever that may be.
Why we recommend it: You may see the series categorized as “reverse harem,” but don’t be fooled—that’s not even remotely what Yona of the Dawn is about. After all, Yona has bigger fish to fry than juggling the affections of several hot boys. There’s a complex geopolitical conflict full of shifting alliances and personal betrayal going on! Not to mention the internal conflicts she has about Su-Won, her own desire to become stronger and not rely entirely on her allies, and trying to figure out what she ultimately wants to achieve with the four dragons in Kouka.
There is still some romance, it’s just not the main focus. You know what the romance is, though? Really nice. Hak can be a jerk, but it’s more childish bickering than true cruelty, and he does grow out of it as the series progresses. He’s supportive and caring when it really counts, and never wants to hide Yona away or make her cut off pieces of herself.
Content warnings: Death and murder; a few brief/vague sexual assault threats; some body horror.
Suggested age range: 13 and up
Total length: 36 volumes, ongoing.