Anime doesn’t often tread is in the direction of queer characters, but several anime and manga creators have managed to slip queer and queer coded characters into their media anyways. Here are some of my personal favorites!

Japanese animated media is often known as a prime example of representation gone wrong. From stereotyped portrayals of people of color to blatant disrespect and sexualization of women, anime doesn't always hit the mark when it comes to creating realistic and respectful characters who aren’t men. One place anime doesn’t often tread is in the direction of queer characters. However, several anime and manga creators have managed to slip queer and queer coded characters into their media. Here are some of my personal favorites!

1. Najimi, Komi Can’t Communicate (Komi-san wa, Kyomushou Desu) (2021)

"Komi Can't Communicate"

Najimi is a canonically non-binary/gender fluid character in the 2021 feel-good show “Komi Can’t Communicate.” Najimi serves as the extroverted best friend of both Tadano and Komi, the two main characters of the show. Their defining characteristic is their bubbly personality and exhaustive list of friends. Serving as a foil to Komi, who has severe social anxiety, Najimi helps her break out of her shell and make new friends. Najimi wears a unique school uniform that combines both the male and female designated uniforms, a blatant rebellion against the strict gender roles enforced at Japanese schools. They sport the male blazer, collared shirt, and formal tie, while also dressing in the skirt and stockings permitted for the female uniform.

Najimi also uses the “Boku” pronoun for themself. “Boku” is typically used by males but has been used by girls to portray a tomboyish personality or defiance against gendered pronouns. Throughout the show, Najimi’s sex assigned at birth remains unclear, which only elevates Najimi as a great representation of transgender and nonbinary individuals. There shouldn't be a question of “what you were born as” because what matters is who they are now, and who Najimi is is someone who has little care for labels and gender roles. Fun fact: Najimi’s English voice Skyler Davenport is also nonbinary!

2 & 3. Historia and Ymir, Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) (2009)

"Attack on Titan"

With the end of Attack on Titan behind us, it’s important to put a spotlight on the show’s starcrossed sapphic lovers. Ymir, a titan-shifter and important character in the first two seasons of the show, is canonically in love with her best friend Historia, as shown when she writes in a final love letter to her friend that her only regret was not marrying her. Historia, a former scout and true queen of the walls, never blatantly expresses returning Ymir’s feelings, but her reciprocation is heavily implied to the point that many consider their relationship canon.

The great thing about Ymir and Historia’s relationship is that there is no sexualization. The two are portrayed as any great relationship would be but with a touch of personal and feminine charm. The two bond over their depressive and self deprecating thoughts and give each other reason to keep moving forward. Their story is beautiful and tragic, and a perfect example of sapphic love.

4. James, Pokémon (1997)

"Pokémon"

As an avid Pokémon fan, I can’t make a queer coded anime characters list without mentioning James. Whether or not James is gay, straight, bi, or something in between has never been explicitly stated, but the LGBTQ+ community regards him as something of a queer icon. As part of the villainous Team Rocket dead set on capturing Pikachu, James often dresses in disguise in order to fool the main character and friends. More often than not, James chooses to dress in a feminine manner, showing his comfort in his own skin.

Even if you don’t think James is queer, you can’t deny that his flamboyance, femininity, and complete confidence in his sexuality serve as a reminder to all that who you are and who you want to be is your choice alone.

5 & 6. Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus, Sailor Moon (1992)

"Sailor Moon"

Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus are the mothers of queer anime. Both characters are known for their individual charm, but together, they are the power couple of the 90’s. When episodes involving the couple were first dubbed and over to English, Western media attempted to pass them off as cousins, but their dynamic quickly made it clear that they were lovers. 

Naoko Takeuchi, the creator of Sailor Moon, has been open about her support for the LGBTQ+ community, and her sweet portrayal of Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus as a passionate and affectionate couple only confirms it. Not only is “Sailor Moon” a female created show that bolsters feminine strength, it also teaches individuals of all ages about the power of sapphic love.

7. Hange, Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) (2009)

"Attack on Titan"

Attack on Titan creator Hajime Isayama hits the mark once again with Hange, the Scout captain, strategist, and final commander ofthe Scout regiment. Although the anime portrays Hange as female, in the manga, Hange’s gender remains a mystery. Because of this, Hange has been recognized as genderqueer or gender fluid. This is canon information, as the creator has said that their gender is up to the reader’s interpretation, whether that be male, female, non-binary, or something else.

Hange’s name can actually be written as “Hange” or “Hanji.” Hange is a traditionally male spelling of the name while Hanji is traditionally female, once again adding to the fluidity of Hanji’s gender. As one of the most beloved Attack on Titan characters, Hanji is another great example of strong, non-stereotyped queer representation in anime.

8. Suma, Demon Slayer (Kimetsu no Yaiba) (2016)

"Demon Slayer"

Since its anime debut in 2019, “Demon Slayer” has taken the world by storm. Sporting beautiful animation, touching stories, and memorable characters, “Demon Slayer” quickly rose to the top as one of the powerhouse anime of the decade. Although a minor character, Suma is known for her personal charm and short temper. Suma is canonically both polyamorous and bisexual. She is one of Uzui Tengen’s three wives, and in the official “Demon Slayer” Corps Manual, a taisho secret reveals that she prefers “both men and women.” This is clear with her affection for both Tengen and his other wives, Makio and Hinatsuru.

It’s rare to see polyamorous representation in anime and even rarer to see bisexual representation. Although Tengen, Suma, Makio, and Hinatsuru’s relationship is a product of period typical wife assignment, all four of them love and care for each other. They have a deep bond that goes beyond just trying to have children and preserve Tengen’s bloodline. Throughout their time on screen, all of them make it clear that they would put their lives on the line to see the others survive.

9. Kikunojo, One Piece (1997)

"One Piece"

From the manga and anime taking the world by storm, Kikunojo, or Kiku, has the esteemed reputation of being the most beautiful samurai in Wano County and is a canonically transgender MTF character. Not only is Kiku an elegant badass when it comes to her swordsmanship, she is also a loyal and nurturing person to her teammates and the ones she loves. She tends to her comrades' wounds when they are in need and holds a strong sense of justice when it comes to protecting those around her. 

Although some characters regard her as a legendary male samurai, she presents in a feminine manner and uses the term “onna no kokoro” to describe herself, meaning “heart of a woman.” Some fans dispute whether or not Kiku is truly transgender since she has not outright called herself transgender, but it is canonical information that she was born male and has preferred to identify as a woman from a young age. The epitome of feminine and queer strength, Kiku is one samurai you do not want to mess with. As a cherry on top, much like Najimi in Komi Can’t Communicate, Kiku’s voice actress Kayleigh McKee is also transgender!

Even though anime isn’t always known for its solid representation, there have definitely been characters that have hit the mark and become beloved by the LGBTQ+ community. Who are some of your favorites?

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