Anime has an up-and-down track record with LGBTQ+ characters and stories, but those “ups” can reach fantastic heights. Here are our top recommendations for readers looking for grounded, complex, and/or just plain cheerful queer representation in their fiction.
Questions about our rec lists? See the Intro page for details. You may also want to check out our Family-Friendly list for series with queer representation for younger audiences or our General list for stories that include queer characters but aren’t centrally focused on them.
Bloom Into You
What’s It About? High schooler Yuu Koito feels isolated from her peers because she’s never felt “love” the way everyone else seems to. When she meets upperclassmen Touko Nanami, it seems she’s found someone who feels the same—at least, until Touko confesses that she’s falling in love with Yuu.
Why We Recommend It: Beautifully storyboarded and gracefully narrated, Bloom Into You follows its cast of queer teens as they grapple with their sexualities, identities, and shifting relationships with one another. It would be recommendation-worthy for that alone, but Bloom also directly engages with cultural norms, acknowledging harmful “just a phase” ideology and actively rejecting it by including a healthy adult lesbian couple.
It takes a few episodes to get going, but Bloom builds into an exquisitely directed slow-burn yuri romance that engages with queerness in a way that’s sometimes devastating, often comforting, and always thoughtful. Even if you’re hesitant at first, we urge you to stick with it. Your patience will be well-rewarded.
Content Warnings: The series contains mild sexual content, depictions of homophobia, and a nonconsensual kiss. It’s also worth noting that there’s a fine line in YA fiction between “late-bloomer/repressed” and “ace/aro,” and while Bloom initially feels like the latter, it turns into the former. This may disappoint viewers hoping for ace and/or aro rep, so while it’s not exactly a flaw, it’s still something to be aware of.
Suggested Age Range: 13 and up
What’s It About? This magical coming-of-age tale follows uncertain Cocona and impulsive Papika as they explore the surreal world(s) of “Pure Illusion,” uncovering its mysteries and their own along the way.
Why We Recommend It: Blending magical girls, fairy tales, and grand theories on perspective and personality, this vibrant, ambitious series also features a refreshingly honest look at female adolescence and awakening sexuality—especially queer sexuality. Viewers who like picking apart visual imagery and allusions can dig into the show’s philosophically dense undercurrents, while more casual viewers can sit back and enjoy the imaginative settings, stylishly animated fights, twisting plot, unraveling mysteries, and flawed, lovable characters.
FLIP FLAPPERS is particularly focused on the pressures of propriety and purity traditionally placed on young women, and the series strikes a delicate balance between allowing its female cast to embrace desire while also being considerate to the needs of others. The push-and-pull between instinct and empathy, depicted through Cocona and Papika’s linked journeys and budding queer love story, builds into an at-times messy but also fascinatingly complex and heartfelt coming-of-age tale.
Content Warnings: Magical violence, depictions of teen sexuality, and occasional fanservice of minors. FLIP FLAPPERS for the most part succeeds at exploring teen sexuality without sexualizing teens, but it does stumble, and when it does, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.
The largest red marks are a grabby robot and a girl badly in need of some pants, but just about every episode features one invasive angle that shifts from “purposeful” to “gratuitous.” FLIP FLAPPERS is a favorite of multiple AniFem staffers, but we very much consider it a “problematic fave” and understand these issues may be a deal-breaker for some folks.
Suggested Age Range: 15 and up
Kino’s Journey (2003)
What’s it About? Kino is a traveler, visiting and learning the cultures of the many different countries of their world along with their motorrad Hermes. There is only one ironclad rule: they must never stay for longer than three days.
Why We Recommend It: A beautiful adaptation that neither the source material nor the 2017 remake can match, the 2003 Kino’s Journey is a dreamy and contemplative series whose Twilight Zone-esque episodic parables—considering everything from the ethics of killing to the autonomy of children—are woven together by its enigmatic central character.
Kino is one of anime’s great transmasculine leads, with a backstory likely to resonate with many trans viewers and multiple points in dialogue where they reject being called either a boy or a girl. Kino is simply Kino. While the series stumbles into an identity without naming it and thus has a few rough corners, it nonetheless excels with its minimalist writing and the hope that underpins even its most melancholy episodes.
Content Warnings: Discussion of dark subjects like cannibalism, mass murder, forced surgery on children; all of which is offscreen or abstractly depicted. Because this is a series with an older localization, the official English subtitles add “she/her” pronouns in reference to Kino in places where the Japanese dialogue omits pronouns altogether.
Suggested Age Range: 15 and up, primarily because younger viewers will likely be bored by the series’ pacing
Land of the Lustrous
What’s It About? In a world where humanity is long gone, immortal gem-beings pass their days on Earth defending themselves from the mysterious Lunarians, who frequently attack and attempt to harvest the gems for jewelry. The youngest of the group, Phos, is too fragile to fight and is instead tasked with creating a record of lost knowledge about their world.
Why We Recommend It: Land of the Lustrous turned many a deserved head with its carefully crafted mix of CGI and traditional animation and its notable use of they/them pronouns for the entire cast in the official subtitles. The series’ resonance with trans themes also goes beyond its pronoun usage: it’s a story about identity, bodies, and frustration with how those bodies can determine one’s place in society.
It’s also about wanting to reach out to others without knowing quite how, and the balance between truth and comfort. There’s a heaping element of body horror and a disquieting air of suspicion around the gems living under the supposedly-beneficent tutelage of a patriarchal leader. That said, Ichikawa’s writing handles tough issues with a light touch in all the right places, and knows how to rip your guts out without ever making you numb.
Breathtaking and often chair-clenchingly tense, it’s both a gorgeous action show and an accomplished character drama. The series is an adaptation of an ongoing manga but finishes in an emotionally satisfying place.
Content Warnings: High amounts of body horror, including bodies breaking, dissolving, and oozing metallic fluids. The series is also heavily influenced by Buddhism, and there are several lengthy conversations about selfhood and identity that might bore younger viewers.
Suggested Age Range: 15 and up
What’s It About? Sheltered child prodigy Shion plummets from his life of privilege in the domed city of No. 6 after helping young runaway convict Nezumi. Six years later, Nezumi shows up to rescue Shion from being in the wrong non-governmentally-approved place at the wrong secret-conspiracy time—and Shion’s desire to save the people of his home is only matched by Nezumi’s desire to burn it to the ground.
Why We Recommend It: Genre fiction that also happens to feature queer romance is regrettably hard to find, which makes this title stand out all the more. While its dystopian setting treads familiar ground for anyone familiar with the genre, its leads have an engaging dynamic that breaks the expected “seme/uke” mold that’s so often found in traditional BL. Arguments about the fate of society can be abstract, but the tension in how those ethical discussions affect Nezumi and Shion’s personal goals and relationship with one another keeps the story tense.
While the plotting suffers from having to cram nine light novels into eleven episodes, this is still an engaging roller-coaster ride that offers something rare in its central romance and a lot of fun who likes their sci-fi just a little bit ridiculous and fantasy-tinged. The light novels have never been officially licensed, but there is a more complete adaptation in manga form.
Content Warnings: Gun violence, body horror (rapid aging), mass graves, government violence toward refugees, implicit euthanasia, an AFAB character is assumed to be motherly once their gender is “discovered.”
Suggested Age Range: 15 and up
Revolutionary Girl Utena
What’s It About? Utena Tenjou came to Ohtori Academy looking for the prince who gave her a rose-crest ring many years ago, who so inspired her that she decided to become a prince herself. Instead, the ring links her to a strange underground competition at the school, where students duel for possession of the Rose Bride, who’s said to hold the power of revolution.
Why We Recommend It: Many, many thousands of words have been written about Utena (including by a good chunk of AniFem’s staff), and it would be impossible to do the series justice in a few short paragraphs. It’s a show that deals with heady concepts about systems of societal oppression and how buying into those systems can make even the most well-meaning person complicit; about adolescent sexuality and the suffocating nature of prescribed societal roles; about the myth of “growing up” and how toxic mindsets leave scars.
It’s also a show with an entire episode dedicated to a girl turning into a cow. It doesn’t make a whole lot more sense in context, but it is delightful.
Utena’s reputation often intimidates new viewers, and because of that it’s easy to lose sight of what a pleasure the show is to watch moment to moment. It’s a compelling character drama with an often goofy sense of humor and a poignant queer love story that challenges what exactly it means to “save” someone. And while much is made of the show’s visual symbolism, it excels at taking the viewer gently by the hand and teaching them how to read the signals before plunging into full-on surrealism.
An unimpeachable classic of the medium and the magnum opus of an extremely talented director, this is all but a must-see for feminist anime fans.
Content Warnings: The series deals with abuse and oppression from many sides, including toxic relationships, sexual assault, gaslighting, emotional abuse, physical abuse, bullying, incest, child grooming, homophobia (internal and external), internalized misogyny, a scene of sexual assault with the camera in the rapist’s perspective, and animal death.
These elements are depicted either abstractly via visual metaphor or take place offscreen, and are handled tastefully with the goal of condemning the system that fosters them. Still, the intensity of later episodes could be distressing for some viewers.
Suggested Age Range: 15 and up, predominantly for the final arc
This Boy… Series
What’s It About? A series of four OVAs by writer/director/animator Soubi Yamamoto—This Boy Can Fight Aliens, This Boy Caught a Merman, This Boy Suffers From Crystallization, and This Boy is a Professional Wizard—each a 30-minute love story dealing with themes of communication, consent, and anxiety.
Why We Recommend It: Soubi Yamamoto is a remarkable young queer creator whose indie animation has tragically flown under the radar for years. Her stories are free of the romanticized sexual assault that remains a persistent (albeit lessening) issue in BL as a genre and are keenly relatable for any viewer who’s ever struggled with mental illness—particularly anxiety. Each story has something innovative to offer with a minimal time investment, but two in particular bear mentioning.
The weakest of the quartet is Crystallization, a story that attempts to circumvent the issues of a student/teacher relationship by having its student be over 18 and vetoing dating until after graduation. But it can’t escape the emotional disparity of the teacher dumping his considerably lesser problems—that he is sad about being dumped, essentially—onto a young man living with a physical disability (though one that is meant to be a metaphor for mental illness). It is mentioned here mostly for completionists.
By contrast, Professional Wizard is a sparkling must-watch about two adult professionals tentatively attempting to begin a relationship while the protagonist grapples with workaholism and the fear that his worth is tied to his career output. It’s a poignant theme for anyone who’s worked as an online creator, and coupled with the healing love story, it is an exceptional bite-sized experience.
Content Warnings: Romance between a student and teacher (student is over 18, the two do not begin dating until he has graduated); romance between a high-schooler and a supernatural being of equivalent emotional maturity; depictions of bereavement, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts
Suggested Age Range: 13 and up
Yuri!!! On ICE
What’s it About? Figure skater Yuri Katsuki has gone into retirement after a devastating loss at the Grand Prix Final but is inspired to reenter the world of competition when his idol, champion skater Victor Nikiforov, appears in his hometown and offers to train him.
Why We Recommend It: A modern-day juggernaut that likely needs no introduction, Yuri!!! On ICE’s reputation is justifiably beloved. It’s a passion project from the ultra-talented Sayo Yamamoto, whose signature eye for depicting adult sensuality in an affirmative way shines through in the slow, deepening intimacy of Victor and Yuri’s love story.
Series Composer Mitsuro Kubo is no slouch either, making Yuri a wholly relatable anxious protagonist who’s extremely easy to root for and building to peak after emotional peak even for viewers who might not normally enjoy sports anime. It’s also gorgeous, particularly if you’re able to watch the touched-up blu-ray version, and shines with admiration for its source material (to the point, apparently, of counting many pro figure skaters among its fandom).
The show’s decision to set itself in an alternate universe free of homophobia also makes it a comforting and escapist sort of watch during a time when the realities of violence against LGBTQ+ individuals are ever in evidence. Yuri!!! on ICE‘s ending suffers slightly as it seems to be leaving room for a second season, but that minor fault can’t detract from the overall joy of what it managed to accomplish: a mainstream sports anime that normalized a healthy queer relationship between adults.
Content Warnings: Fatphobia in early episodes; nudity; some heteronormative mistranslations in early subtitles; somewhat cringey comedy foreign accents in the English dub.
Suggested Age Range: 13 and up
What’s It About? The long-running battle between humans and bears takes a surprising turn when two bears disguise themselves as humans and infiltrate 17-year-old Kureha’s high school, disrupting both her and her girlfriend’s lives. Caught between ravenous bears and an “invisible storm” of classmates who exclude anyone who doesn’t fit in, Kureha must uncover her half-forgotten past and decide how hard she’s willing to fight for love.
Why We Recommend It: Staggeringly ambitious, viscerally affecting, and stuffed to the gills with imagery and visual motifs, Yurikuma Arashi uses its surreal world and adorably creepy bears to discuss and critique the harmful tropes present in some yuri fiction, how women and especially wlw are treated in Japanese society, the dangers of zealotry and mob mentality, institutionalized oppression, “othering,” and how to combat a broken system.
And yet for all its Big Ideas and allusions, it is still, at heart, a very personal and sweet (and at times darn funny) little love story about individuals overcoming prejudice and selfishness and coming to accept one another. While its tone is almost stiflingly bleak at times and early episodes indulge too much in horror tropes, around Episode 4 it begins to find its emotional core and builds to a defiantly triumphant finale.
Taken as a complete work, Yurikuma is a messy, chaotic, thoughtful, earnest, intimate, moving, and aggressively progressive piece of fiction. It’s by no means an easy watch, but it rewards those willing to see it through to the end.
Content Warnings: Violence (teens/adults); sexuality/nudity (teen girls); sexual assault; and graphic depictions of bullying. Queer analysts (including AniFem’s staff) are still debating whether the stylized eroticism and violence in the early episodes is purposeful, gratuitous, or some combination of the two. Your mileage will likely vary as well.
Suggested Age Range: 18 and up
FILM: Tokyo Godfathers
What’s it about? A homeless trio—terminally romantic Hana, gruff and foul-mouthed Gin, and teen runaway Miyuki—find a baby left in the garbage on Christmas Eve and set out to find her parents.
Why We Recommend It: Satoshi Kon was one of anime’s most unique visionary directors gone too soon. Tokyo Godfathers is perhaps his most relentlessly optimistic work, a downright heart-melting found-family story that still manages to include many of his iconic elements: realistic character designs, the comedic grotesque, surreal sequences and psychological elements, and a determination to shine a light on issues and individuals deemed “unacceptable” by Japanese society at large.
The film gives each of its three leads a chance to shine, but trans woman Hana is the film’s beating heart. While Kon’s art style does highlight some of her masculine features, the sting is lessened by the across-the-board use of exaggerated designs, and Hana is a delight as a character. She’s relentlessly caring and indomitable without being a beatific two-dimensional stereotype, is far and away the heroine who ensures the film’s happy ending, and may actually be blessed by God within the film’s fabulist setting.
She’s wonderful, even if the film is sometimes dragged down by insisting on having even sympathetic characters denigrate her early on before changing their ways. It’s a kind, affirming film that makes for excellent viewing, not just during the holidays but all year round.
Content Warnings: Transphobia; brief groping; depiction of a hate crime; attempted suicide; gun violence; and nudity. While early scenes do include casual transphobia, the film’s official subtitles also insert slurs and misgendering where they were not present in the original dialogue.
Suggested Age Range: 15 and up