For LGBT folks and anyone else who doesn’t fit into traditional gender norms, the world of anime is a much more welcoming place than Western media (not that there was a very high bar to beat). Still, it’s rare to find a character who isn’t written as a joke and lives their best life without caring if they fit society’s definition of how they “should” look or act. Today, we’ll be showcasing five of our favorite anime characters who kick gender norms to the curb!
5. Akira from Kemono Jihen
From Winter 2021’s yokai-flavored detective story Kemono Jihen comes Akira, a young snow kemono who revels in the cosmopolitan Tokyo lifestyle he jumped into after running away from his isolated mountain village. Akira dresses in a fashionable and feminine style, decorates his room with adorable stuffed animals, and can’t go five minutes without updating his social media accounts. He’s honestly pretty useless in most fights, but is invaluable when it comes to mediating arguments and brings some much-needed sunshine to the Inugami Detective Agency. The best part is that nobody looks down on him for his feminine presentation – that’s just the way he is, and everyone is perfectly fine with it.
4. Kanamori/Venus from Tenchi Souzou Design-bu (Heaven’s Design Team)
Every member of the animal design team in Heaven has a specific role to fill, and Venus’ specialty is aesthetics. Sometimes she refines the look of an animal another angel created to make it both distinctive and functional (as with the giraffe), while other times she spearheads the project herself (as with the hummingbird). Venus is a trans woman who always wears elaborate outfits with lots of accessories and doesn’t let her flat chest stop her from rocking low-cut tops. Considering that the “okama” stereotype of a flamboyant gay man has persisted in anime for a worryingly long time, it’s refreshing to see a character with similar aesthetics who isn’t portrayed as creepy or a walking punchline. She may be extra, but that’s why she’s good at what she does!
[Editor's note: In the original Japanese work, Venus is non-binary, referred to as "they" or simply by their name. It is only in the English version that they have chosen to specifically give Venus the "she" pronoun.]
3. Henri Wakamiya from Hug tto! Precure
The Precure series is a magical girl franchise aimed at young female viewers, and up until its 15th installment, there were no male Precure warriors to be found. Enter Henri Makamiya, a talented figure skater who enjoys wearing dresses and refuses to take crap from anyone about it. A leg injury and the looming threat of puberty cause him to fall into despair (and right into a monster’s clutches), but with the encouragement of the Hug tto team, he breaks through his doubts and transforms into the shining hero Cure Infini! His angelic outfit consists of an embellished high-low dress, a tiara, and even ice skates! For a series aimed at young children to feature such a positive portrayal of a character like this is astounding, and we definitely hope to see more male Cures in the future. Or just give us more Henri!
2. Giorno Giovanna from JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken Part 5: Ougon no Kaze (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind)
Even though JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is famous for its heavily-stylized character designs that take inspiration from fashion magazines, Giorno Giovanna has to be one of the most “out there” protagonist designs we’ve ever seen. He’s a teenage mobster who wears a bright pink skintight suit with a huge heart-shaped cut-out that exposes his chest and has a complicated hairstyle that must take him hours to curl and braid every morning. He fights mainly using plants and small animals, serves as the party’s healer, and isn’t afraid to cuddle his homies. But don’t let his appearance fool you—anyone who he considers an enemy is likely to meet a creatively gruesome end, like being repeatedly punched to a pulp for 30 agonizing seconds and dumped in a garbage truck. He’s not the firstborn son of Dio for nothing!
1. Haruhi Fujioka from Ouran Koukou Host Club (Ouran High School Host Club)
Ouran High School Host Club is over 15 years old, but we’d get locked up in gay jail if we didn’t give the number 1 spot to the Patron Saint of All Nonbinary Anime Fans, Haruhi Fujioka. Despite self-identifying as female, Haruhi has a laissez-faire attitude towards gender and doesn’t care whether people think she’s a boy or a girl. She rocks the boys’ uniform, enjoys her time entertaining female students in the Host Club, and fits into her all-male friend group as just another one of the guys. However, she can still be feminine when she wants to – even with short hair and very few curves. We love her down-to-earth attitude, her close circle of friends who support her, and her growing relationship with helpless himbo Tamaki. She’s truly a legend to be remembered forever!
We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention Envy from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Crona from Soul Eater, the Gems from Land of the Lustrous, Lily from Zombieland Saga, and Noi from Dorohedoro alongside these gender norm-defying champions. But can you think of any characters we missed? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!