The world of anime is a diverse one, as the medium tells just as many deep, socially relevant and important stories as it does light heart-eyed or action-packed fare.
What may surprise many who aren’t terribly familiar with anime is the wealth of LGBTQ+ focused series out there. Sure, many series have gratuitous fanservice and crossdressing is a recurring trope across the board, but there are earnest stories out there with a strong, if not singular, focus on LGBTQ+ characters.
To get started you need to know your terminology. Shounen-ai is boys love, while shoujo-ai is girls love. Yaoi is explicit boys love, so you’re going to get some sexy times on screen. Likewise, yuri is explicit girls love.
Now that you’ve got that down pat, here is our list of LGBTQ+ anime to watch!
For many, this anime, manga series, and OAV collection was the gateway into shounen-ai and yaoi. Shuichi Shindo is a rising vocalist of a rock band who becomes involved with Eiri Yuki, a grumpy romance novelist. Throw in a truly colorful cast of side characters, a stuffed pink bunny, and a neurotic manager who occasionally turns into a tornado, and well, there you have Gravitation.
On its surface, Gravitation is bright, colorful, hilarious, and kind of bizarre. However, the series has dark undertones of sexual assault, violence, and homophobia and how those experiences shape many of the characters.
Yuri! on Ice
Yuri Katsuki is a professional ice skater with little self-esteem and a bad season behind him. Viktor Nikiforov is a Russian skating God whom Yuri idolizes. Yuri runs off to his parents hot spring to wallow in pork cutlet bowls. Viktor shows up naked in said hot spring offering to be Yuri’s coach. And the rest was born to make history.
Chances are you saw something about this break-out hit of 2017. This feel-good series is all about believing in yourself and those you love… and falling in love along the way. With a movie coming out next year and a still-rabid fandom, it’s a great time to become obsessed with this gaggle of wonderfully ridiculous skaters.
Sasameki Noto (Whispered Words)
Sumika Murasame has had a crush on her best friend, Ushio Kazama since middle school. She’s never confessed to her, instead watching Ushio crush on a parade of other "cute" girls through their school years. You see, Sumika is tall and strong, not dainty and adorable. So she, sadly, never caught Ushio’s eye.
The series, which is based off a manga, does a great job of telling the pains of a one-sided love story while also interjecting humor and the overall troubles of going through high school as a lesbian in Japan.
Based on a novel series, No. 6 presents a dark dystopian world where class divides are extreme, even deadly, and easily lost. Shion, a boy raised in the elite and privileged environment of the city of No. 6, doesn’t sound the alarm when a boy named Nezumi (or “Rat”) breaks into his home on the stormy night of his twelfth birthday.
The consequences of this are almost immediate and forever intertwine the lives of Shion, who falls from grace, and Nezumi, who tries to protect him the whole time. When wasps begin killing members of the seemingly idyllic community of No. 6, it reveals a new host of horrors, as well as the desolate lands outside its guarded walls. Shion and Nezumi try to uncover the truth and grow into lovers in the process.
Hourou Musko (Wandering Son)
Shuichi Nitori is a transgender girl. Yoshino Takatsuki is a transgender boy. And they’re both going through puberty. The series, which is based on a manga of the same name, follows their lives, friendships, and romantic relationships from junior high school through high school graduation. It’s a realistic, but also uplifting story about how surrounding yourself with people who accept you can help through the tumultuous years as a teenager who also happens to be transgender.
The series deals with such as being transgender, gender dysphoria, relationships, puberty, and the emotional toll that has on its young protagonists.
Aoi Hana (Sweet Blue Flowers)
Aoi Hana is the story of Fumi Manjōme, a lesbian high school girl who reconnects with her childhood friend Akira Okudaira, and their school’s drama club. A slow-burn character-driven series, Aoi Hana blends the drama of drama club, dating in high school, and one-sided love stories that get flipped on their head.
The series is good in that its supporting characters are fleshed-out and have relationships of their own, both homosexual and heterosexual. The main characters are charming and you’ll be rooting for them the whole time.
Revolutionary Girl Utena
While not officially billed as a shoujo-ai, there’s little debate that Revolutionary Girl Utena is, in its heart, a love story. If Gravitation introduced many people to boy’s love, it was this show that introduced them to girl’s love. It’s the story of Utena Tenjou, a teenage tomboy who was so impressed by a kind prince in her youth that she decides to become one herself, and Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride.
Utena finds out Anthy is in an abusive relationship and protects her, entering a series of duels at Ohtori Academy. Anthy is the “Rose Bride,” and is awarded as a prize to the winner of each duel. Whoever wins the tournament of the Rose Bride will receive what a so-called power to revolutionize the known world. The series features allegory, magic, and psychological warfare, along with some dark aspects, especially in regards to Anthy. Her status as a "prize" subjects her to a lot of abuse, though she's eventually rescued.
The full name of this anime series, OVA, light novel, and boys love and yaoi PC games is Suki na Mono wa Suki Dakara Shōganai!!, which translates to "I like what I like, so it can't be helped." And nothing could be more apt.
When high-school student Sora Hashiba falls from the fourth floor of the school building, he wakes up in his dormitory with a strange boy he’s never seen before. Or that’s what he thinks. Sunao Fujimori, or Nao-kun, is one of Sora’s childhood friends, and now his roommate. The series explores Sora trying to regain his memories after his fall. It turns out that both he and Sunao have alternate personalities, and Yoru and Ran, as they’re known, have quite a passionate relationship. Sora and Sunao? Not so much. Least to say, hilarity ensues.
The premise of this yuri series is kind of odd; it involves bears who gain the ability to disguise themselves as people, but stick with it for a sweet story about acceptance, love, forgiveness, and frankly, some sexy times.
A meteor shower strikes earth, causing bears to become violent and actively attack humans. The remaining humans build the Wall of Severance to protect themselves from the bears. Some bears are still able to breach the wall and kill humans, though some, like Yurikuma Arashi, have turned into humans. Same with Ginko Yurishiro and Lulu Yurigasaki, two bears who disguise themselves as humans and enroll in the nearby Arashigaoka Academy. It’s there they take a special, romantic interest in Kureha Tsubaki, a high school student who hates bears.
Antique Bakery is about Keisuke (Keiichirō) Tachibana, a patisserie owner who hates cake due to childhood trauma, and Yusuke Ono, a renowned chef who is so irresistible to men he is constantly fired because his co-workers end up fighting over him. Then there's Eiji Kanda, a former street punk who becomes Yusuke’s apprentice, and Chikage Kobayakawa, a waiter who watches over Keiichiro (and always wear sunglasses). The story follows the four of them and their bakery, and while Yusuke’s homosexuality and the hijinks that ensue aren't the core of the story, they're still important and ties all the characters and storyline together.
You can enjoy this story in many forms, from the original manga, to the explicit doujinshi, to this anime series to the live action Japanese television series to the live-action Korean film version. They’re all great.