The Beginner’s Guide to Yuri Manga

By: Vrai Kaiser May 31, 20190 Comments
slices of all seven covers from the recommendations

The last few years have seen a boom in the English-language yuri market, with more and more manga about queer romance between women making it to shelves. The rare yuri titles of the 2000s either tended toward the Class-S genre (stories set in high school that are mostly about emotionally intense relationships presumed to be “practice” for romances with men), as re-popularized by Maria Watches Over Us; or fanservice-heavy titles written by men, like Pandora in the Crimson Shell.

While those kinds of titles can have their appeal, there is now a wider variety of stories than ever to choose from. Slice-of-life high school romances still make up a good chunk of the market, but you can also read about video game programmers, teenage assassins, underground DJs, and monster girls—the majority of which are written by female creators, several of them openly queer.

All those options raises a new problem, though: where does a curious reader start? I’ve read a lot of yuri, and it can be difficult to find titles ideal for a new reader—whether due to middling storytelling, transphobia, or just a few too many uneven elements to be good introductory material. Below, I’ve offered some titles I’ve enjoyed that I think make good entry-level series. Hopefully some of them can start you off on your own yuri journey.

As a side note, several of these series have been adapted into anime. I haven’t seen all of them and can’t vouch for any changes in writing or direction, but I’ve listed them for any readers who might want to check those out too.

Hana & Hina After School

by Milk Morinaga
Three volumes, Complete.
Content Warning
for fat-shaming and depictions of homophobia
In short: Hana works a part-time job at a shop that specializes in cute merchandise. Her new coworker is Hina, a quiet girl who rumor has it used to be a model. Despite her tall, serious appearance, Hina secretly loves cute things.

It’s pretty much impossible to go wrong with Milk Morinaga, the definitive author of grounded high school yuri. Her work is marked by its delicate touch and eye for detail, allowing her to depict well-worn story beats like “but we’re both girls!” with a genuine sense of realism and emotional weight. Her characters feel like young women you’ve known or been, and it’s easy to root for their happiness.

While Girl Friends is often pegged as her magnum opus and Secret of the Princess makes good use of the fake dating trope, Hana & Hina holds a special place in my heart.

The secret-keeping setup is more metaphor than text—while the girls could technically face severe punishment for having after-school jobs, it’s not so much an issue in-and-of itself as a nebulous pressure that’s keeping them from talking about the secret time they spend together. It’s extremely unsubtle, but it’s also not particularly obnoxious.

It’s helped by the fact that both leads are endearing, with personalities that play ever-so-slightly against their archetypes. Short, energetic Hana is the senpai, while cool model Hina secretly loves cute things and worries that Hana will consider her childish and weird.

Hana and Hina blends relatable awkwardness and coming-out pain with soothing fluff and a forward-looking finale (something that’s thankfully becoming much more common than Class-S). Well worth looking into if slice-of-life is your thing, it’s been licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.

Kase-san and…

by Hiromi Takashima
Five Volumes, Complete.

In short: Yui Yamada is a shy student who spends her time working on the school’s flower beds. While watching the track team practice, she falls for the outgoing, energetic Kase-san, and can hardly believe it when the athlete likes her back.

This series is ideal for beginners. Each of its five volumes is self-contained, giving us a snapshot of a moment in the couple’s relationship, but also comes together to chart a journey from the beginning of their relationship and on into adulthood. Yamada and Kase have sweet, believable chemistry and are likable in their own right as well.

It’s always refreshing to see stories that keep going once a couple is actually together, and the meat of the series here is about working through communication issues, dealing with jealousy, and deciding on big steps like college and sexual intimacy. Takashima’s art has a keen eye for capturing awkward teenage horniness, firmly rejecting the “pure” yuri genre without crossing the line into sleaziness.

If a fluffy rom-com set in a relentlessly optimistic world is what you’re looking for, this is one of the best. It’s been licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment. An OVA of the first volume was made in 2018 but has yet to be released for purchase or streaming.

Bloom Into You

by Nio Nakatani
Eight volumes, Complete (Six currently available in English).
Content Warning
for depictions of homophobia
In short: Yuu has never been in love, something that alienates her when her friends and classmates are always talking about romance and dating. When untouchable upperclassman Touko confesses to her, Yuu agrees to try going out—and learns that there are many different, complicated ways to love someone.

I am almost angry with this series. I initially picked up the first two volumes some time ago and dropped the series partway through the second, put off by the glacial pacing and left uncomfortably uncertain about what the story was trying to “say” with Yuu. It wasn’t until working on this article that I felt compelled to give it a second try—and that third volume made a world of difference.

Three volumes in, Bloom Into You introduces adult queer characters that ground the story, and it allows the teen characters to truly begin blossoming in multi-faceted ways. From that point on, the story reads almost like a second take on the groundbreaking Sweet Blue Flowers, with similar plot elements but more distinct characters and a more nuanced variety of identities (and less Shimura Sameface).

“Don’t worry, it gets better after you’ve spent $30 on it” is kind of a big ask in a genre where series often conclude in less than five volumes, but Bloom really is worth the patience. And while the recent anime is quite beautiful, I valued being able to absorb the manga at a faster pace of my own choosing.

As we brought up repeatedly when talking about the anime, it’s worth mentioning that despite Yuu being strongly ace/aro coded, the story seems to be moving toward her becoming at the very least romantically interested in Touko, which is something aro readers especially should be aware of going in. While the manga seems to be trying to depict a variety of experiences, including introducing another secondary ace/aro character, it might still be disappointing or painful for some.

Still, there’s a very good reason this series has been on so many lips for the past few years, and if slow-burn character studies appeal to you, this is very nearly can’t-miss material. The manga is licensed by Seven Seas Entertainment, and a 13-episode anime aired in 2018.

Beauty and the Beast Girl

by Neji
One volume, additional untranslated web comics exist but have not been bound or translated
Content Warning
for some ableism
In short: Driven away from town by angry villagers, the monster girl had accepted a life of loneliness—until a blind young woman gives her a name and companionship

If you still want something sweet but with slightly more fantastical trappings than a modern-day high school, this is one of the best single-volume manga to be released in the genre. The story beats are familiar but gentle and reassuring, like narrative comfort food accompanied by soft but not overly cutesified art.

There is something tasteless about the blind love interest being named “Lily Blind,” and she has moments of being downright beatifically forgiving, but the writing also does its best to make her a rounded character who can feel anger and hurt, rather than an all-healing angel. The story also quickly discards its initial premise of Heath (as Lily names her) pretending to be someone she’s not in order to keep her new friend, rather than dragging it out for a typical third act misunderstanding, which allows the story to move in more interesting directions.

This definitely falls under the category of “extremely familiar story, but it’s between two women this time”… but you know what? It’s a well-executed example, and sometimes queer readers want familiar comfort food too. It’s been licensed by—say it with me—Seven Seas Entertainment.

Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl

by Canno
Ten Volumes, Complete (eight currently released in English)

In short: Ayaka was the studious top of her class in middle school, but when she enters high school she finds herself unseated by the lazy genius Yurine, who doesn’t seem to care about anything. Furious, Ayaka swears to crush her new rival—and catches Yurine’s eye in the process.

A rare example of a “yuritopia” (all the characters are women and they’re all dating each other) that doesn’t carry the implicit stink of waiting for a man to come along, this series is told anthology-style. While Yurine and Ayaka’s relationship forms the bedrock of the series, whole volumes will be spent peeking into the lives and relationships of other students at the school, each becoming part of the ongoing background once their storyline is complete. Sometimes this means losing track of couples, but it also makes the world feel lived in, and gives the manga the freedom to pop back in and out of a couple’s story when it’s at its most interesting.

While still ultimately good-natured, this series has a bit more bite—many of its relationships are built around rivalries, and it loves letting its characters embrace more bitter emotions before ultimately bringing them to healing conclusions. Sometimes that means playful bickering, sometimes soul-rending arguments, but it’s refreshing in its willingness to be ugly without ever feeling nasty or tipping into full-blown melodrama.

Its comparative long-runner status also means that it has room to be experimental in its later stories, leading to a wonderful tale about a polyamorous trio and a very game attempt to write about characters choosing familial over romantic bonds without making it an incest story. Its solid base and unique flourishes have made it one of my all-time favorite yuri series. It’s been licensed in English by Yen Press.

Akuma no Riddle: Riddle Story of Devil

by Yun Kouga and Sunao Minakata
Five Volumes, Complete
Content Warning
for depictions of child abuse (implied physical and sexual), brainwashing and bullying; nudity and mild fanservice
In short: Myojo Academy’s Class Black is special—only one girl out of thirteen will graduate at the end of the year. For twelve of them, that means assassinating their target; for Haru Ichinose, it means trying to stay alive. She ends up with an unexpected ace up her sleeve when Tokaku Azuma, an assassin who’s never killed, swears to defend her against the others. But why?

Yun Kouga is best known to most for the somewhat infamous (and infamously unfinished) Loveless, but over the years she’s dipped her toe into a variety of genres. For my money, this might be her best (no matter how much my nostalgia goggles say it’s Earthian).

Dark and bizarre, Riddle is the type of story to have absurd gimmicks and splashy action scenes for each of its individual assassins, reveling in over-the-top spectacle over grounded character drama. In places it almost resembles the unhinged absurdity of The Future Diary, but with infinitely more care toward its female cast. In fact, it’s doggedly dedicated to crafting a hopeful ending for its leads and even giving its secondary cast new leaves to turn over.

Several characters are decked out in fanservicey outfits, the first volume takes a while to get going, and the English translation is somewhat hurt by the decision to translate Haru’s third-person speech literally (a cutesy marker that, to my understanding, reads much less obtrusively in Japanese than English). Still, if you’re looking for a ridiculous genre story that cares about its characters, this is a deceptively well-crafted pick.

The manga is licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment, and a 12-episode anime aired in 2014 (two years before the manga was completed).

After Hours

by Yuhta Nishio
Three volumes, Complete

In short: Emi, in her mid-20s and unsure what to do with her life, meets Kei during an impulsive one-night stand. Trying to find out more about this intimate stranger, Emi finds herself pulled into the world of DJ-ing and making a new found family

Drawn with thin, spidery lineart, it’s easy to tell that this series is markedly different from just about everything else in the English-language market. Yuri manga about adult women are thin on the ground, and even more so among licensed titles. After Hours feels almost like it could’ve been a darling at an indie film festival, with its plot focusing as much on Emi finding her passion and place in the world as it is on her attraction to Kei.

It’s also an insight into a subculture western readers aren’t likely to know much about, and an authentic one at that. Nishio is a well-known part of Japan’s underground dance music scene, and his love for the hard work of putting together an event pours from the page. At times it feels almost like a hobby manga, with the characters carefully explaining what piece of equipment does what, or giving a play-by-play of what it takes to be a successful DJ.

There are a few echoes of unintended stereotypes at work—Emi was in a relationship with a man prior to meeting Kei, and spends the first half of the story cheating before she breaks up with him—but for the most part there’s a refreshing ease to the characters and their interactions. The story is a must for anyone seeking out something different. It’s been licensed in English by Viz.

This is far from an exhaustive list. New titles are being licensed regularly, from big names like Yuhki Kamatani’s grounded queer manga Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare and Akiko Morishima’s fantastical Yurikuma Arashi (or “Yuri Bear Storm” as Tokyopop has regrettably localized it); to steamy anthology series like Eve and Eve; to fake-dating comedies like I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up. The manga marketplace is currently a very exciting space for English-language readers looking to support stories about queer women.

If you have a title you’re eager to shout about, by all means tell us in the comments! The more yuri, the merrier.

Editor’s Note: this article was edited after publishing to correct Nishio’s pronouns.

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