Anime is no stranger to queer representation. Whether the show does it right is another conversation, but there’s a bright side to all of this. In less than a decade we’ve seen characters step way beyond the queer coded, single sentence scenes of the early 2000s. The modern era has us jumping from quick confessions to outright proposals with no comedic intent. It seems like we won’t have to dream of a future where everyone sees themselves on screen—it’ll be a bright reality relatively soon.
Haruhi Fujioka – Ouran High School Host Club
Though Haruhi identifies as a girl in the English dub, the case is not so binary for the original story. Haruhi is assumed to be a boy due to her short hair, glasses, baggy clothing, and general demeanor right at the beginning. The cast is shocked to find that she’s biologically a girl but Haruhi is distinctly unbothered by either outcome. She states early on that she doesn’t care for gender—it isn’t something she considers to be important or defining to her character—and when referred to as a boy or with male pronouns, she isn’t the one to react with shock. The official pitch of the show definitely harps on the androgyny of her identity, but it’s safe to say that Haruhi’s portrayal ranks high for a-gender/gender fluid representation.
Haruka Tenou – Sailor Moon
Haruka is probably one of the most well-known representations of a sapphic identity in part because of her relationship with (absolutely not her girlfriend at all actually just her cousin of course why would you think they were dating) Michiru. In both the manga and anime, she makes a habit of playfully flirting with girls (including the Sailor Moon herself) as she finds it to be entertaining. Due to her love of walking the streets in male clothing, some have wondered if Haruka also walks the spectrum for gender identity. In the manga, Michiru states that Haruka is “neither male nor female” which solidifies the theory of a nonbinary Haruka. In the anime though, she remains a more masculine woman.
Usagi Tsukino – Sailor Moon
Surely the majority of us know who Usagi leans toward, but the end certainly doesn’t erase the journey. Usagi becomes quite the tomato around Haruka whenever she’s the subject of flirting, and Seiya, a character with a male appearance, stirs romantic admiration from the twin-tailed goddess as well. There’s a reason fans are calling her a bicon (or bisexual icon). Usagi expresses interest in a number of cast members (both female and male) as she admires them for their beauty and general allure. None of the characters berate Usagi for her interest in others based on their gender; instead, it’s treated as a normal thing. Gender has no say in Usagi’s affection for others, even when her expectations are flipped.
Maki Seiji – Bloom Into You
Bloom Into You is a double entendre of aromantic cues. That being said, our questioning protagonist is not the character that caught my attention. It was this guy, solely due to the ways in which he describes his take on romance as a whole. Maki is a side character. He is positioned almost like a foil to Yuu, but that doesn’t take away from the impact of his being there to observe (and speculate about) her feelings. Sometimes with a single minute of dialogue, Maki will force you to realize that not everyone views these events the way we’re “supposed” to, and that’s a monumental step in the right direction for queer identity in modern media.
Viktor Nikiforov – Yuri on Ice
Yuri on Ice shook the internet to its core back in 2016 for many reasons—the happiest being Viktor Nikiforov and Yuri Katsuki’s portrayal as a believable duo. Despite the rampant teasing of LGBTQ+ relationships in media (known as queerbaiting) this show shocked us all by refraining from just that. Viktor expresses his affection in distinct, non-subliminal ways, and it’s met with the shock of a natural surprise—like the jolt and smile that follows a sudden bouquet of flowers. When it comes to the portrayal of gay characters in media, often tv itches to shove them in a box, forced to serve our expectations of what a gay man is expected to be like. But lo and behold. Each person is a unique individual with hopes, dreams, fears, and goals, and Viktor gives us all of these things on his journey beside the rest of the cast.
Isabella Yamamoto – Paradise Kiss
Isabella isn’t a spectacle because of her status as a trans woman. She’s a spectacle because she’s beautiful (and talented!) and no one can deny that. As a side character, Isabella doesn’t occupy a majority of the story for Paradise Kiss; instead, she allows us the fresh joy of seeing someone exist the way they would like to in all of their elegant glory without the narrative casting a light on them for identity alone. I am guilty of never reading the manga—I promise I will—but I am told that her portrayal is realistic. Though it isn’t a dreamy tale, we do get to meet her as the wise, stunning, and doting mother figure of the group with no obligation or expectation to perform.
Like 95% of the Cast for Land of the Lustrous
To put it bluntly, this show is very, very genderless. Why? Because the majority of the cast is gems. They’re literal gems. Shockingly enough, they don’t even have codes for gender beyond their voices and perceived personalities (i.e. Bort’s blunt outlook vs Dia’s glittery concern). Somehow they really do manage to ride that perfectly androgynous line, and luckily, it’s no coincidence! The localization team for Kodansha has confirmed that the request for genderless interpretation came straight from the author, Haruko Ichikawa, herself. Considering the nature of Japanese titles (and the extreme tell-all nature of -kun, -chan, and so on), the decision to keep ambiguity for a large cast of characters is one met with warm hearts and starry eyes. It’s a big win for our theydies and gentlethems.
Lauren is a 23-year-old cosplayer and writer from Chicago. Her favorite shows include Wolf’s Rain, Terror in Resonance, and Samurai Champloo. If you can’t reach her for whatever reason, she’s probably reading or figuring out how to turn her kendo skills into functional ones. She’ll be back in a minute.