QuickRecs: Gender and Sexuality Manga Edition

So last year, aka the Abyss Stares Back 2017 Fuckstravaganza, I had originally intended to do a post about yuri manga aimed at women, since popular yuri is a complete minefield of lesbian porn for dudebros and then maybe once in a while an actual story about lesbians aimed at the people it’s about. The post got lost when my life went to shit, but I mentioned it in passing to Keleri the other day and thought, hmm, I should go back to that, and then I read The Bride Was a Boy which was so delightful I had to post about it, so it was re-born as this!

A semi-important note: a bunch of these I read over a year ago, so while you’re 100% welcome to make “How could you rec this when on page 5 situation X is super problematic etc etc” comments, the honest answer is that I probably just forgot about that and remembered the parts I liked. Please make those comments if you feel the need because they’re useful, but I likely won’t be able to meaningfully respond. D:

Anyway. Inside: Love My Life, Blue, The Bride Was a Boy, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, My Brother’s Husband

Love My Life

I don’t believe this has ever gotten an English release, unfortunately, and as it was published in 2001, is probably unlikely to. Which is a shame, because it’s a very nice coming-of-age story about a young woman and her girlfriend as they start their adult lives. The author has a unique art style that grew on my as I read, and I liked how clean it was. This is unfortunately one of the ones I read a reeeeeally long time ago, so I don’t remember much of the details, but I do remember very much liking Eri’s conflict of success on her terms vs. success on her family’s terms, as well as the plot kickoff of Ichiko coming out as gay to her father only for him to shock her by saying he and her mom were gay too, and married as a way to get by socially. I have a lasting impression of it as a positive, realistic story about what it’s like to be a young adult and the restrictiveness of Japanese society.

Blue

Blue is one that I overall was quite ambivalent toward, but it has a phenomenally striking minimalistic, high-contrast art style that’s just really wonderful and that like 99% of why it’s here. The story centers on two high-school age girls who realize they’ve developed feelings for each other, and them navigating their relationship and trying to decide if they want to come out. It ultimately ends (uh, spoilers) with one of the girls deciding she wants to come out and the other deciding to bow to the pressure of her family to lead a socially acceptable life. My main issue with it was that I thought it wasn’t clear enough that the second girl was bowing to social pressure, and it presented it too much like this was a totally happy choice for a lesbian to make. I’m not actually sure what the artist’s intent was, but it kind of felt like she chickened out of a more pointed social critique. So, yeah, I really super did not like the ending, but it has a lot going for it otherwise, especially the art. It was also published in 2001, which was somehow like 20 years ago, so that may account for some of the ending’s weirdness.

The Bride Was a Boy

This is one of those manga that you read and it just makes you happy manga exists. This is the autobiographical story of Chii, a trans woman, told via her relationship with her now-husband. It uses their wedding as a framing device to explore Chii’s personal journey through childhood, adolescence, and transition; she also talks about 101 stuff like “what do these terms mean” and more serious stuff like the legal status of trans people in Japan. It actually reminded me a lot of What Is Obscenity, in that it tackled a very serious topic is a very happy, upbeat way that just kind of made you smile. It also helps that the chibi-style art is very endearing. Unlike the rest of these, it’s a story about everything going right — her family accepts her, she finds a guy who truly loves her, etc. — which is, as always, a relief to read in the current climate. Anyway, basically everyone I know IRL and online who’s read it is raving about it, and it really is that great, so check it out!

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness

I am super late to the party on this one, but this is another autobiographical manga that is every bit as good as everyone is saying! I actually found this to be much more a story about mental illness told via a story about sexuality than a story about her being a lesbian (she never talks about coming out, or navigating social situations as a gay woman, or politics, etc.), but that could also be a case of my relating super hard to her suite of problems, which include depression and anxiety as well as both anorexia and binge eating disorder.

I actually made Mr. Act screen this for me and he ended up really loving it too and we’ve been just talking all weekend about how well what she says maps onto what I’ve gone through and he’s gone through via me. I’m also happy to report it didn’t bother me at all triggerwise, I think because she talks about having the feelings instead of really describing how they feel, if that makes sense? Anyway I crumble into a heap if someone saying “eating disorder” in a five-mile radius of my house and this somehow didn’t bother me, so take that as you will.

The frame story here is that the author is sick of being depressed and alone, and wants contact so badly she hires a prostitute. It opens with her and the escort in a hotel getting undressed and then does a kind of record-scratch, “I bet you’re wondering how I ended up in this situation!” thing. It takes this somewhat odd experience and uses it to tell a very heartfelt story about her life.

My Brother’s Husband

When Yaichi’s brother dies in Canada, he’s forced to confront the fact that his brother was gay, because his Canadian husband, Mike, has come for the funeral. This is a realistic story about not just how far Japan has to go in accepting gay men, but also about larger cultural differences between North America and Japan.

It very sweetly uses Yaichi’s daughter, Kana, as a way to show that prejudices aren’t inborn, whether they be about social issues or cultural differences (“Japanese people don’t hug,” Yaichi explains when Kana asks why Mike will hug her but he won’t). It does a good job of portraying Yaichi as a decent person struggling with internalized prejudice, and also confronts how overcoming that prejudice can isolate you from people who don’t reject dominant cultural narratives.

I’m making it sound like kind of a sad story, but it’s really not, especially because Mike is a such a gregarious, happy person, who’s grateful for his in-laws even though he obviously knows Yaichi is struggling with the whole situation. It definitely has an optimistic view of the future, and of individuals. It’s just a really great heartwarming story about family and how we’re all the same.

Also, and this is an aside, it’s really interesting to see how art aimed at gay men differs from that aimed at women. The way the camera moves is different, the way the men are designed and portrayed is different, etc. I’d actually go as far as to say that on an artistic level, yuri for women has more in common with stories about men aimed at women. There was definitely a ‘this is Not For Me’ vibe I got that I don’t get when I read josei yuri that I found really fascinating. Anyway when dudebros whine about how their power fantasies are actually what everyone wants, it’s worht pointing out that not only is what other demos want different from them, it’s also different from each other, which is something that I think gets lost a lot in that conversation. TMYK ====*

21 Comments

  1. Cosmogone says:
    >>popular yuri is a complete minefield of lesbian porn for dudebros

    Hey, to be fair, a lot of lesbians ARE complete dudebros :P

    On a more serious note, I personally have such a distrusting attitude toward yuri/shoujo-ai manga. When it has an actual plot, it usually falls into one of the two categories: either it’s super heavy and depressing or it’s something more lighthearted and romantic, but potrayed in a weirdly sexless way, down to having androgynous or child-like designs for the character(s). Please don’t take me wrong, I recognise that both of these things have value for many people – and I’ll definitely check out My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and The Bride Was a Boy, because they seem to takle serious issues in a way I find appeling, so thanks very much for your work on these reviews… But also, I  wish there was a niche for people like me who just want really stupid and trashy gay media. Just straight-up ridiculous action movies and cheesy Christmass rom-coms but, y’know, with lesbians.

    …I’m not sure if this rant is in any way relevant to this site’s scope or if I’m just dumping my weird gay bullshit on you, so, er, sorry.

    1. Act says:

      You actually might enjoy Love My Life and the rest of the mangaka, Ebine Yamaji’s, work. She tends to tell real stories about the women without shying away from the fact that they’re actually sexually attracted to one another, but also the sex scenes aren’t like, exploitative? If that makes sense. You might also like Collectors, which I thought was a bit plotless and didn’t quite make the cutoff here, but is very cute and def has a rom-com vibe to it.

      One of the things I definitely noticed as I’ve been trying to read more (manga in particular) about LGBT+ people is that yeah, you get this weird dichotomy of “realistic but realism is always oppression and misery” and “gay culture isn’t just sex so here’s a happy look at absolutely sexless lives” where pushing against two negative tropes has resulted in a weird plot/characterization gap of like, no one is happy and obviously gay at the same time.

      I actually saw some criticism of Bride Was a Boy that was down on it for being too upbeat and her relationship being too positive, but like… the idea that marginalized groups are only ever miserable is super crappy? Also this was this woman’s actual life so saying it’s somehow not a real experience is just shitty.

      Anyway I still have a ton of josei-yuri on my to-read list so I’ll keep my eyes peeled as I move through it. I wish I could check on what some of the titles were but MAL is down…

      2
      1. Cosmogone says:
        Sorry, I’m a dumbass who replied to the post instead of replying to your comment :/
    2. CrazyEd says:

      Hey, to be fair, a lot of lesbians ARE complete dudebros :P

      This is about the typical experience for male yuri otaku trying to dispel their illusions about what its like being a female yuri otaku, in my experience.

      But also, I  wish there was a niche for people like me who just want really stupid and trashy gay media. 

      I’m not sure if it’s the kind of trashy you’re looking for in your trashy gay media, but Tachibana-kan To-Lie Angle seems to be doing a pretty marvellous job at filling the “cliche dumpster fire trashy harem anime bullshit” slot. Finally, lesbians have some representation in the subgenre of manga that really matters: Garbage harem anime about heroines somehow inexplicably falling crotch first on the main character’s face.

      But if you’d like a recommendation I’d actually recommend reading instead of recommending you’d stay as far away from it as fucking possible… Futari Monologue seems to do a pretty good job at capturing the “useless lesbian” trend that has all the kids keysmashing over nowadays. It’s about a gloomy girl and a gal in high school who used to be friends in elementary school, trying to rekindle their friendship after the gal moved away and became a gal, and metaphorically bonking foreheads over the fact that they’re both idiots who are bad at reading other people.

      1. Cosmogone says:
        >>Finally, lesbians have some representation in the subgenre of manga that really matters: Garbage harem anime about heroines somehow inexplicably falling crotch first on the main character’s face.

        At last, bigotry is defeated!

        Futari Monologue sounds really good, thank you very much! Man, I was just ranting about a topic and didn’t expect people to actually start recommending stuff to me. Ily all. <3

        1
        1. CrazyEd says:

          Fair warning about it, though. It’s not like… outright yuri. At least, not yet. There’s a little implication the gal is, but for the most part its your typical yuri manga level of yuri.

          You might also want to try Try Not To Become An Otaku, Shinozaki-san. It’s where I got that manga page from. It’s a bit more explicit in the romance, and the main character is canonically a yuri shipper. It’s also an interesting look into doujin culture. They play Japanese pen and paper RPGs, go to Comiket a couple times, cosplay, and make their own doujin works near the end. Shinozaki-san is the author’s first major work, but before that, he seems to have been moderately well known as a touhou doujin artist, so. You know. Touhou. Lesbians. You know how it is. So it’s a bit more detailed in how the doujin world works than something like OtaKare FujoKano or WotaKoi. Both of those are pretty good too, but they’re heterosexual romance.

          Moving to a bit more explicit, A Kiss And White Lilly is also pretty good. The main duo is adorable, but it features quite a large cast of pairings. It’d be hard to really describe what the manga is about, though, besides “a bunch of girls who go to the same school who date other girls who go to the same school”.

          But in the world of actual explicit lesbian manga, there’s Cheerful Amnesia, which is a pretty fluffy story of a couple where one of them got amnesia but still remains in love with her girlfriend, and isn’t actually too bothered by the situation.

          For more dramatic works… I was recently reminded of Omoi no Kakera? It’s a pretty sad series, if I recall, featuring snapshots from a high school/college aged lesbian’s life. It’s not a happy story, but it’s also not a particularly over the top THE PAIN WON’T END type drama; the focus is more on the societal effects of being a lesbian than “bu-but we’re both girls”, at least.

          Oh, and just because: The manga is only so-so, but Comic Girls got an adaptation the same season as Tachibana-kan, and it seems to have been pretty cutely executed. The yuri content in that is also pretty implied but obviously meant. At least one girl has actual romantic interest in another, and they all live in a dorm whose housekeeper is a former yuri mangaka.

          In terms of explicit lesbianism, I’d say it goes on a spectrum from Comic Girls < Futari Monologue < Shinozaki-san < Tachibana-kan < A Kiss and White Lilly < Cheerful Amnesia < Omoi no Kakera, with the first three being implied, the last three being explicit, and Tachibana-kan right in the middle being the Male Gaze series.

          But I’d recommend all of them, minus Tachibana-kan and plus OtaKare FujoKano and WotaKoi (because why not), on their own merits as enjoyable series.

          1. SpoonyViking says:

            *insert Obamaface* Not bad!

            Are those fan-translated?

            1. CrazyEd says:

              All have fan translations, and I feel as if one of them has an official English translation, but I couldn’t say which one.

              Reply
            2. Heatth says:

              I know A Kiss and a White Lily have an on going official English release.  Couldn’t find information about the others

              Reply
            3. CrazyEd says:

              Huh, really? My gut was telling me it was Shinozaki-san.

              Reply
            4. Heatth says:

              I tought Shinozaki-san had as well but apparently it was not the case.

              Reply
          2. Cosmogone says:
            >>It’s not like… outright yuri. At least, not yet.

            Nah, that’s ok. I’ve checked with people who read it and it seems to have the kind of silliness that really appeals to me. I’ll take it.

            Thank you for the recs. I really appreciate it.))

            1. CrazyEd says:

              Seijun Shoujo Paradigm is pretty good if you’re a fan of Morishima Akiko.

              Reply
  2. Cosmogone says:
    >>You actually might enjoy Love My Life and the rest of the mangaka, Ebine Yamaji’s, work.

    Ooh, really? I’ve had it recommended to me several times, but manga sites have it listed as melodrama, so I always thought it was more on the tragic side. Thanks again, I’ll add this one and Collectors to my list. :)

    >>I actually saw some criticism of Bride Was a Boy that was down on it for being too upbeat and her relationship being too positive, but like… the idea that marginalized groups are only ever miserable is super crappy?

    God, so much this. Telling dark, tragic stories that don’t shy away from the brutality that LGBT people can be subjected to is important both as a way to introduce straight people to our issues and as a way to let LGBT people know they’re not alone in these struggles, but it’s when tragedy is the only genre it becomes a real issue. It both really worsens your psychological state and makes you feel like you have no real value as a person, only as a Very Special Lesson about tolerance.

    Also – gah, you always recommend so many good titles, I should really return the favor sometime.

    4
    1. Act says:

      I definitely wouldn’t call Love My Life a drama — it’s a pretty upbeat story overall. That said, Yamaji’s other works are more dramatic. The one I just read, Free Soul, was more melancholy, although it does end with everything working out perfectly for the protagonist. (It also has some race stuff going on. Not like obviously bad, but the kind of iffy you get when a Japanese woman tries to protray African American culture.)

      As to the second point, I think in addition to that, this is that apocryphal Bioware Harassment Poll thing again — sometimes people just want to be able to consume media without being reminded how terrible the world is. Especially now, when the world feels particularly terrible.

  3. Heatth says:

    Thanks for the recs. I haven’t heard of most of these, much less read them.

    The only one I am familiar with is My Brother’s Husband, which I echo the recommendation. It is really good, as you said. I also noticed the thing with the framing, which was very interesting. Though not overly, the author does sexualize Yachi and Mike in a way I am not used to seeing men being. It was kinda enlightening? Made me think “oh, so that is how woman feel”. I mean, it is obviously not actually the same but, still. Anyway, the manga is great, everyone should read it.

    1. Act says:

      I don’t know whether this is me self-filtering for my own preferences, a huge coincidence, or a trend other people have noticed, but oddly enough I’ve found more in common in yuri for women and straight romances for women than in gay romances for men and straight ones for women — what women want in visual media seems to trump who they want, which is really interesting but maybe also not that surprising considering the female experience has some pretty universal undercurrents, even if there are differentiators like race, sexuality, etc..

      1. Heatth says:

        I am curious to know if there is a study about the subject. I can’t say I noticed the same trend, but it does seem very credible to me.

  4. Muphrid says:
    There’s a daily manga right now called Otome Danshi ni Koisuru Otome (“A maiden in love with a maiden boy”) about a girl with some androphobia meeting a guy who crossdresses and who works in a crossdressing maid cafe. In terms of tone, it sounds about as positive as “The Bride Was a Boy” (I haven’t read the latter), but it doesn’t really go into the wider social context. It’s just pretty generally heartwarming without being overly cute.
    1. Act says:

      Oooh, sounds like my kind of thing, thanks!

      1. CrazyEd says:

        OtoDanKoiOto is fucking great. Especially any pages with the footnote “* These are all boys”.

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