Updated: Dec 4, 2017
Let's face it, anime can one of the straightest forms of media one could possibly indulge in. For a queer audience, this can be kind of exhausting - we want representation, dang it! Fortunately, queer characters are cropping up more frequently lately - and not just in yaoi and yuri, niche genres that rely on stereotypes - in actual, mainstream anime.
1. Yuuri Katsuki & Victor Nikiforov - Yuri on Ice
Yuri on Ice set the standard that all other sports anime should adhere to from now on - an actual gay relationship that ends in engagement. There's no queerbaiting, no hints, and no bullsh*t - Yuuri and his fiancé Victor kiss in international television. They exchange engagement rings in front of a Barcelona church.
Their relationship is sexually charged while being emotionally nuanced. Sure, Victor and Yuuri will pole dance together at a skating after party, but they also have to figure out how to communicate through Yuuri's anxiety and Victor's tendency toward flippant rudeness. Neither one of them is perfect, but their love for each other, and commitment to working through differences, is clear.
Both Yuuri and Victor are from conservative countries that aren't typically accepting of LGBT anything, and there's been some criticism of the series for this reason. Victor, being Russian, might realistically have been arrested for violating anti-propaganda laws, and while Yuuri wouldn't face legal repercussions, he might not be readily accepted in his rural Japanese town. In Japanese media, ignoring reality this way actually isn't particularly progressive - but for Western fans, who have been inundated with queer media focused solely on discrimination, the homophobia-free world of Yuri on Ice is a gift.
2. Sanae Ebato - Scum's Wish
Sanae Ebato is madly in love with her friend Hanabi Yasuraoka, who doesn't love her back. For a while, she's willing to accept whatever scraps of affection Hanabi will give her.
Yes, Sanae's doomed love and desperate behavior fits neatly into the "sad lesbian" trope - but that's not the point. Sanae isn't the only person in Scum's Wish who suffers over love. Actually, every single other character is in that boat with her. Sanae's love isn't doomed because she's a lesbian, it's doomed because she's a character in Scum's Wish, a show where love is messy and excruciating for everyone. For queer viewers who don't dig sugary romance or unreasonably singling out gay characters for romantic agony, Sanae Ebato is actually pretty refreshing.
3. Shion Karanomori & Yayoi Kunizuka- Psycho-Pass
Shion Karanomori is a brilliant security technician at the MWPSB (Psycho Pass' version of the police.) She's beautiful, glamorous, and a key member of her team - and she's not straight. You might have missed it if you weren't looking closely, but there's a scene in episode where she's naked in bed with the equally amazing Yayoi Kunizuka, an enforcer at the MWPSB who used to be a musician. In the manga, it's a recurring thing.
Shion's relationship with Yayoi is awesome because it's two whip-smart, beautiful women taking pleasure in each other. It's also awesome because it's two whip-smart, beautiful women taking comfort in each other - the MWPSB is a terrifying organization to work for, and the world of Psycho Pass is a terrifying one to exist in.
4. Toya Kinomoto, Yukito Tsukishiro, Syaoran Li & Tomoyo Daidouji - Cardcaptor Sakura
Cardcaptor Sakura has not one, not two, not three, but four queer characters - and it's a magical girl anime aimed at children. Why is that so exceptional? Because too often, queerness is considered "adult" even when it's no more than cute crushes and handholding. It's important for queer kids to see their own hearts reflected in age appropriate ways, and Cardcaptor Sakura provides that. The dub edits most of it out, of course, but that's why you have to watch the sub.
11-year-old Syaoran Li starts off the series nursing a huge crush on the teenage Yukito Tsukishiro - just like Sakura Kinomoto has. Syaoran eventually ends up falling in love with Sakura, a more appropriate choice since Sakura is actually his age. His orientation is never explicitly discussed, but given that history, it's fair to say that he's one of anime's few bisexual characters.
Meanwhile, Tomoyo Daidouji is also in love with Sakura. She loves making outfits for her friend to capture Clow Cards in, and she loves making movies of those battles. They're close friends who adore each other, and while Sakura doesn't share Tomoyo's feelings, this doesn't mess up their friendship.
Then, of course, there's Toya Kinomoto and Yukito Tsukishiro, who actually admit their feelings for each rothe, and end up becoming an official couple. This is an awesome message for any queer kids who might be watching - yes, love is possible for you when you're ready for it.
What other great queer anime characters are worth highlighting? Let us know in the comments!