Welcome to the second edition of AniGay Editors’ Picks, an ever-evolving and totally not comprehensive list of some of our favorite queer anime! We hope you might find this page helpful if you’re on the hunt for new shows to try out. It is by no means intended to be a complete index of queer anime, which as we all know is not mathematically possible to create since the number of queer anime is provably infinite, perhaps uncountable….
Last time we talked about how sports anime is gay. This time we turn to another favorite pillar of all queer anime: Superpowers.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012, 152 episodes)
QQ: From implicit-metaphorical to explicit-literal, every base is repeatedly covered
What is there to say about JJBA that hasn’t already been said, probably by me? Since 2012, David Production has been doing a fantastic job adapting Hirohiko Araki’s long-running (32 years and counting!), wildly influential manga covering such disparate subjects as: gay vampires and archaeology in Victorian England; ancient gay Aztec vampire-gods during World War II; superpowers that can stop, delete, rewind, and fast-forward time as used by serial killers, vampires, gay priests, and mob bosses; superpowers that can turn anything into a dinosaur (okay that part hasn’t been adapted into an anime yet BUT STILL); gay Italian gangsters with superpowers; gay Japanese teenagers with superpowers; gay American cowboys with superpowers… You get the idea. And throughout the centuries-and-dimensions-spanning saga of the various eponymous JoJos (there have been eight so far), one thing remains constant: Pretty much everyone is queer. JoJo’s is, of course, positively crammed full of m/m love stories told both implicitly and explicitly, but it also features occasional queer women (again, implicitly and explicitly!) and tons of genderqueer and gender-non-conforming characters of various stripes. Add all that to a truly unique gaze, a high-fashion-meets-body-building aesthetic, and a myriad of music references and you’ve got, well… my attempt to explain JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure in one paragraph.
K (2012, 26 episodes)
I’ve watched the first season of K more times than I care to admit. (Okay, more than 10 times. Shut up.) And yet, if you were to stop me on the street and ask me what actually happens in K, which is definitely a likely scenario that I should prepare myself for, I would be at a loss. Thankfully, mundane things like “plot” and “events” “occurring” aren’t why you watch K — you watch it for the bizarre visual style, which slaps a rainbow filter over literally everything and accentuates so many flecks of light and dust motes that it’s distracting; you watch it for the soundtrack that sounds like elevator music at first, but turns out to be surprisingly catchy; you watch it for the confusingly high-profile voice cast; and, most importantly, you watch K for the couples. Though K isn’t technically BL, whatever heroic geniuses created it were clearly doing some sort of social experiment to see how close they could get to BL without actually crossing that line. (The answer is pretty darn close.) The K creative team don’t just hint at queer relationships, they revel in them and, while somehow managing never to call a gay couple a gay couple, made a series that centers at least four of them. The queer couples of K range from tragic to domestic and from darkly twisted to saccharine, but they’re never anything other than what they are. And this makes K a subpar sci-fi/fantasy anime that is nevertheless a fantastic study in the whys and WTFs of just-barely-implicit, kinda-metaphorical queer storytelling.
Hunter x Hunter (2011, 148 episodes)
QQ: Explicit-literal with some metaphorical elements
There are shows that perfectly epitomize the platonic form of their genre, and shows that brutally deconstruct the dark psychology behind the narrative tropes of their genre, and shows that artistically elevate their genre to a level that transcends expectations… and then there’s Hunter x Hunter, which does all of those at once while also telling the best adolescent love story in all of fiction. Togashi is an absolute genius at narrative, so much so that he’ll have you thinking things like “actually those ten whole episodes that mainly focused on the internal politics of a bunch of evil mutant ants were worth it to increase the dramatic tension later on.” Were they really worth it? Who knows, the important thing is you will convince yourself they were because the payoff is so fucking good. You will cry during games of life-and-death dodgeball with pirates; you will lie awake at night awash in confusing emotions about the fascist alien ant king who loves board games; you will never be able to play rock paper scissors again without a wave of intense grief piercing your chest. (Okay maybe I exaggerate…or do I?) Seriously, Hunter x Hunter is one of the best stories ever told, and (if I had to pick) is my own current favorite show. I cannot come close to doing it justice in this blurb, so just watch it. And pro tip: Do not skip the post-ED segments and next ep previews — they’re not only adorable and romantic (the next ep previews were largely ad-libbed by the VAs!), they also add important emotional texture to the story.
Cardcaptor Sakura (1998, 70 episodes)
QQ: Explicit-Literal with some metaphorical elements
Anyone who grew up watching anime in the 90s had their favorite (or most memorable) magical girl show. I somehow fell between both Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, and I recently undertook a rewatch of the latter since Twitter reminded me about its gayness. What I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover was how stunning the show still is in 2019 and the gentleness of the queer characters within it. CLAMP is known for depicting sprawling stories with wide-ranging characters who are unburdened by gender and sexual conformity, and there’s a reason Cardcaptor Sakura is widely beloved. The show follows the young titular character Sakura, who accidentally releases the magical Clow Cards, gains magical powers, and must retrieve them all as the designated card master, with her friends and Clow Card guardian Kero. Everyone — whether they realize it or not — knows about the romantic relationship between her brother Touya and his best friend Yukito, the crush Syaoran has on Yukito as well, and Sakura’s infatuation with beautiful women. The crushes are all earnest, and one of my favorite scenes in the entire show isn’t the big confession between Touya and Yukito, but the soft conversation between Sakura and Syaoran, who talk about their mutual crush on Yukito. It’s earnest and legitimately kind, and is one of those moments that shows both the young and old alike that same-sex relationships are beautiful. Many of the characters are openly queer (like the very explicit crush Sakura’s friend Tomoyo has on her), even down to the fantastic lesbian Clow Cards, Dark and Light.
Tiger & Bunny (2011, 25 episodes)
QQ: Implicit-literal with some explicit elements
Tiger & Bunny is a cocktail blend of the best parts of buddy-cop opposites-attract tropes and ridiculous superhero ensemble action shows, with a splash of biting commentary on the excesses of capitalism, and a base of deeply queer worldbuilding. No summary of the premise or actual “plot” of the show could convey why it’s so fun and satisfying to watch; the strengths are in the details of the creative and charismatic character designs, in the small moments of emotional depth amid the (often rather cliche) crimefighting adventures. Every single main character pops in a full three dimensions out of whatever archetype they might have been constricted by in a lesser show. The heart of the show is clearly the romance of the two eponymous main characters — a romance which may fall a millimeter or two on the “implicit” side of the line but is clearly respected and centered by the story, never straightwashed or laughed away. But the queerness of the world extends far beyond that relationship: Exploration of queer lives is woven throughout the story, from a nonbinary/transmasc teenager gradually growing into their identity, to a tragic gay backstory of betrayal and sacrifice, to a gay and genderqueer man working through the trauma (they actually use the word trauma!) of being outcast by society for his queerness. Hell, the only real hetero-flavored romance features a robot who speaks nothing but polite conversational filler, so uh, make of that what you will. Pro tip: The 2014 movie Tiger & Bunny: The Rising is actually awesome and contains some of the most direct discussion of queerness in the franchise, which I feel bodes well for the possible new season that’s rumored to be in the works.
Sailor Moon (1992, 239 episodes)
QQ: Explicit-literal with some metaphorical elements
Okay it’s 2019, is it still news to anyone that Sailor Moon is gay as all hell? For longer than I can remember, I’ve been hearing about how the ’90s English dub changed Haruka/Uranus and Michiru/Neptune to cousins instead of girlfriends, and swapped someone’s gender (it was Zoisite!) to make his relationship with his boyfriend heterosexual. Sailor Moon has gay characters, I get it! But not until I read the manga did I realize how deep Sailor Moon’s queerness really goes, and though the anime often diverges from its source material in terms of how much and how little and how exactly queerness manifests, it’s no less pervasively gay when taken as a whole. The openly lesbian and extremely extra relationship between sometimes-protagonists Haruka and Michiru (above left) is the poster child for Sailor Moon queerness, but over the course of its 200 episodes, Sailor Moon introduces numerous gay, bi, and gender-nonconforming (mystically and otherwise) characters and storylines. And they cover a surprising amount of territory, from three women raising a child together, to the main character developing romantic feelings for a non-binary superhero (above right) who can change gender at will. Throughout it all, queerness is (almost) always handled with care and respect, treated like part of the texture of the world rather than something abnormal or, in many cases, even particularly notable. I guess what I’m saying is, come for the lesbian sailor guardians; stay for the genderqueer sailor guardian team, and the girls staring at each other and blushing, and the tragic gay villain who has somehow convinced me that wearing an entire pile of rats for clothing is the height of fashion. Oh, and the lesbian sailor guardians. Listen they’re the OG for a reason.