Realistic Same-Sex Relationships in Manga

Gay relationships in manga tend to be shallow and stereotypical, and that’s when they exist at all. Many of them seem to be written by authors with little understanding or empathy for these kinds of couples, so readers who are looking for accurate representations of same-sex love come away disappointed.

But luckily, that’s not always the case! Today, we’ll be exploring several realistic same-sex relationships in manga and how the way they’re written has changed over the years. Wave your pride flag and come join us!

Early Depictions

Prolific mangaka Go Nagai has featured several same-sex pairings in his works, despite the subject being much more taboo in the ‘70s and rarely appearing outside of the niche yaoi and yuri genres. Devilman’s main characters Akira and Ryo clearly share a close friendship that dismisses the sort of macho posturing and aversion to feelings that defined male relationships at the time. This goes a bit off the wall when Ryo reveals his true yandere nature, but their bond was still so strong that it inspired later pairings like Guts and Griffith from Berserk, Shinji and Kaworu from Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Madoka and Homura from Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

Yuri in the ‘70s and ‘80s largely stuck to melodramatic stories that ended in death, such as Shiroi Heya no Futari in 1971. Many of these manga were inspired by the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female theater troupe with an emphasis on Broadway-style presentation. It took until the ‘90s for lesbian relationships to be portrayed realistically, with Revolutionary Girl Utena as a standout example. It shared many of the same influences as earlier works, but the relationship between Utena and her princess Anthy was nothing short of heartwarming.

They’ll Never Say It

Unless a manga is published in a magazine that’s dedicated to homosexual fiction, it’s unlikely to ever explicitly confirm that two same-sex characters are a couple. Surprisingly, even Banana Fish (a cornerstone of gay media in Japan) does this. It’s a crime thriller centered on a close relationship between two men, but Ash and Eiji never actually do anything romantic outside of an early moment where Ash stages a kiss to smuggle a message past prison guards.

The author has stated that she wanted the story to be taken seriously, so she purposefully avoided portraying physical intimacy to distance Banana Fish from the more pornographic gay manga that defined the genre at the time. Still, Ash and Eiji are one of the most realistic same-sex couples in manga to this day because of how well they support each other through the struggles that they each have to face.

Similarly, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2: Battle Tendency confirms outright that Caesar has a crush on Joseph. It doesn’t go much further than that, though, since Caesar falls victim to the “bury your gays” trope and doesn’t live long enough to act on his feelings. Mangaka Araki is well known for his realistic and empathetic portrayals of male relationships of every kind, but likely felt the same way as Banana Fish’s author and kept the situation vague to appeal more to his target demographic. Even if you’re not a shipping fiend, it’s easy to find subtle gay relationships in manga if you read between the lines.

Today’s Scene

Much of the modern world has grown to accept LGBT people in a way that would’ve been unimaginable just a few decades ago. However, Japan is a culture rooted in tradition and subduing one’s emotions to fit in with the group, so it’s still difficult to find confirmed same-sex couples in mainstream manga–particularly ones that aren’t shoved to the side or killed.

One series we’re excited about, though, is Bloom Into You. Yuu and Touko behave like real high schoolers who each have their own perspectives and emotional hang-ups, but they believe in each other and want to grow as people. The manga treats lesbian relationships with the same legitimacy as heterosexual ones, so it avoids the Japanese stereotype that young lesbian love is just training for “real” love later on. It’s still ongoing, so we can’t wait to see what happens to these two adorable girls in the future!

Final Thoughts

It can be rough trying to find media that represents you or the people you care about in an honest, legitimate way. The manga world is plagued by stereotypes, fetishization, and a lack of conviction to confirm mainstream manga characters as homosexual. But if you dig deeper into the medium and its history, you’ll find gems of realism in the most unexpected places.

What did you think of our overview? What’s your favorite gay couple in manga? What kinds of relationships do you want to see explored more? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!

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Author: Mary Lee Sauder

After the hard-hitting East Coast lifestyle hit me a bit too hard, I started pursuing my passion as a writer in my cozy home state of Ohio. Aside from that, I spend my time cooking, cosplaying, collecting anime merch, and being an improv comedy actor. I also love sneaking alliterations and stupid puns into my writing, so be on the lookout for them! 😉

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