A Pride Month Recap of the Manga and Graphic Novels We Read
Happy Pride to our bookshelves!
Throughout the month of June, I’ve been covering LGBTQ+ graphic novels and manga. While I had a list of picks that surely made my local Barnes and Noble very happy to see me, I didn’t get through everything I wanted to talk about.
Even so, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the books I did cover and plan on getting to that comically large pile that’s sitting in my office right now throughout the remainder of the year – or longer, because, spoiler, the queer book releases keep coming after July 1st.
- Poison Ivy: Thorns
Synopsis: There’s something unusual about Pamela Isley — the girl who hides behind her bright red hair. The girl who won’t let anyone inside to see what’s lurking behind the curtains. The girl who goes to extreme lengths to care for a few plants. Pamela Isley doesn’t trust other people, especially men. They always want something from her. Something she’s not willing to give.
When cute goth girl Alice Oh comes into Pamela’s life after an accident at the local park, she makes her feel like pulling back the curtains and letting the sunshine in. But there are dark secrets deep within the Isley house. Secrets Pamela’s father has warned must remain hidden. Secrets that could turn deadly and destroy the one person who ever cared about Pamela, or as her mom preferred to call her … Ivy.
Will Pamela open herself up to the possibilities of love, or will she forever be transformed by the thorny vines of revenge?
Review quote: I love the fact that Pamela gets a female love interest. I love her soft moments with Alice and the relationship that develops between them. I especially love that the queer elements aren’t a big deal. Alice flat-out says she’s gay with no hesitation, and Pamela’s hesitation stems from the family secrets she’s hiding, not because Alice is a girl. Honestly, considering everything Pamela’s going through, I feel like her being queer would be the LAST thing she’d worry about. Ain’t nobody got time for gay panic when your dad is using you for nightly experiments in a futile attempt to save his wife.
Check out this series if you are looking for: A victim of abuse (both extremely volatile and daily microaggressions) learning to take her power back.
- Boys Run the Riot volume 1
Synopsis: A transgender teen named Ryo finds an escape from the expectations and anxieties of his daily life in the world of street fashion. This personal, heartfelt, fictional story from a transgender manga creator made waves in Japan and will inspire readers all over the world!
Review quote: When I read this manga, I very much got the sense that, while fictional, these feelings were coming straight from the heart of someone who has felt this way before. What’s powerful about that, to me, is that Ryo’s struggles are instantly relatable – even if you yourself aren’t trans. A lot of folks assume that it’s difficult to understand something outside of their wheelhouse. This manga shows that, actually, it isn’t, if you take the time to sit down and really take in what’s in front of you.
Check out this series if you are looking for: A story that focuses on a transgender teen, his daily experiences, and using fashion as an outlet for gender expression.
- My Brother’s Husband (full series)
Synopsis: Yaichi is a work-at-home suburban dad in contemporary Tokyo; formerly married to Natsuki, and father to their young daughter, Kana. Their lives suddenly change with the arrival at their doorstep of a hulking, affable Canadian named Mike Flanagan, who declares himself to be the widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin, Ryoji. Mike is on a quest to explore Ryoji’s past, and the family reluctantly but dutifully takes him in. What follows is an unprecedented and heartbreaking look at the state of a largely still-closeted Japanese gay culture: how it’s been affected by the West, and how the next generation can change the preconceptions about it and prejudices against it.
Review quote: The story is very much about Yaichi facing his preconceived notions about Mike, furthermore, it’s about him looking back at the way he treated his twin brother (Ryoji) when he found out he was gay. What I like about Yaichi is that he isn’t overly malicious. This isn’t a queer story where the protagonist is cartoonishly homophobic. I know that kind of animosity exists, but I think there should be more stories that focus on the unconscious things folks do that are homophobic, the things that, to them, don’t sound all that bad because they haven’t been challenged about them.
Check out this series if you are looking for: A family-centric series that examines the ways people can, unintentionally, alienate the people they love, and the necessary steps required to do better.
- How Do We Relationship volume 1
Synopsis: While having a night out with a girl she just met on campus, Miwa finds out that the girl, Saeko, likes girls. It turns out Miwa likes girls, too, but she’s never admitted this to the crushes she harbored back in the day. Both girls are stunned to find out that they’ve been hanging out with a fellow queer woman this entire time, so Saeko makes a proposal:
What if they started dating?
Miwa is much shyer than Saeko, especially when it comes to taking their relationship to the next level, and behind Saeko’s outgoing personality is a girl who hasn’t had completely positive experiences when it comes to her sexuality and physical intimacy with other people. Together, the two begin to figure out how to make their relationship work while learning, and accepting, more about each other.
Review quote: Saeko and Miwa being so excited about meeting another queer woman sold me on this manga. It’s such a relatable reaction when it comes to being part of the queer community. It’s not that you don’t know that other queer women exist—Miwa even says that she knows it’s perfectly fine to like women—but there’s this sort of “sigh of relief” that hits when you actually meet someone who understands how you feel.
Check out this series if you are looking for: A story that doesn’t just focus on the two girls getting together, but examines their different relationship outlooks and centers on them being comfortable to say, out loud, that they love women.
- Monster and the Beast volumes 1 – 3
Synopsis: Cavo is a hideous monster with a pure heart. Liam, on the other hand, might look like the perfect gentleman, but he’s a beast on the inside, and he has an eccentric personality to boot. When Cavo rescues Liam from an unfortunate situation in the forest, the paths of the monster and the beast cross for the first time. Will their meeting be a fleeting encounter or a timeless entanglement? And will Liam succeed in leading the innocent Cavo astray?
Review quote: The title is meant to make you wonder who in the relationship is the true monster because Cavo is an absolute sweetheart while Liam is messy af. Liam is basically the guy you hook up with at the club who leaves you on read the next day, already off to invite someone else into this bedroom. He flirts with nearly everyone he comes in contact with (though when it comes to physical intimacy we generally see that happening with men). There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, except for the fact that Cavo’s caught feelings. This isn’t just a case of someone who can’t take the hint about a walking, talking red flag, Cavo legit can’t process what he’s feeling, especially since he’s so used to people running away from him.
Liam is the ONLY person Cavo has, and Liam does love himself a naive little monster.
Check out this series if you are looking for: A story that plays with the definition of what makes a monster, a problematic lead, and, well, monster f*cking.
- Blue Flag volume 8 (finale)
Synopsis: Toma and Futaba have their first sit-down talk after the big fight at school. Meanwhile, Taichi struggles with the problems that have been dumped in his lap by his friend’s choices, and he ends up distancing himself from Toma. Then, one day, Toma stops coming to school. Left in the lurch, what can Futaba and Taichi do? Everyone chooses their futures, and time marches on. Don’t miss the heartfelt conclusion of Blue Flag!
Review quote: I know I’ve said it in previous reviews, but I really like how this isn’t a story where the major issue is blatant homophobia. That’s not to say that’s never brought up (ie: the big discussion revolving around Kensuke in volume 7), but in this volume, it’s more about the sudden burst of microaggressions now that Toma’s back in school. They aren’t outright malicious, but are still irritating, especially to Taichi, who doesn’t want to deal with the way things have changed between him, Toma, and even Futaba. Taichi cares for both Futaba and Toma, but it’s clear that something’s expected of him now that this “love confession” has happened. And it’s not like either character is making it any easier because, well, both of them are so damn likable. Even when Toma and Futaba finally talk the conversation is touching, despite them both having feelings for the same guy.
Check out this series if you are looking for: A story about friendship, love, the expectations placed on us at a young age, and the importance of exploring your feelings as you develop into an adult.
- Sex Ed 120% volume 1
Synopsis: Naoko Tsuji, an unorthodox health teacher at an all-girls school, doubts whether the sex-ed status quo truly teaches young people everything they need to know—so she ramps it up to 120%! Luckily for Tsuji, her class proves to be an almost unflappable group, including a BL fan, a lesbian, and a girl who just really likes her cat! With topics like safe sex for same-gender couples, masturbation positivity, and why sugar gliders have three vaginas, this sex education comedy is more than just dirty jokes. It’s time for class!
Review quote: Naoko Tsuji is appalled at how outdated the lesson plan is for sex-ed at the all-girls high school she’s teaching at. She’s also appalled at the number of teachers who deem teaching sex-ed as spreading some sort of deviant behavior instead of realizing that teenagers are sexually active. This is why Naoko feels that proper education is best, so these kids can be safe about the sex they’re engaging in and so they don’t grow up being completely oblivious about their bodies.
This also includes being more inclusive in the conversation, meaning that sex talk can’t just be limited to a heteronormative perspective, nor can it male-dominated.
Check out this series if you are looking for: A comedic series that looks at how woefully outdated sex education is in schools and how it needs to be more inclusive.
- I Think Our Son Is Gay volume 1
Synopsis: Despite belonging to a family of four, the Aoyama residence is typically home to three due to father Akiyoshi’s job. While he’s away at work, mom Tomoko and her two beloved sons Hiroki and Yuri go about their everyday lives—going to school, making dinner, doing homework, etc. But now that Hiroki’s in his first year of high school, his thoughts are turning ever so slightly to sex and romance … and his mom can’t help but notice his slips of the tongue when he’s talking about who he likes.
Supportive Tomoko has an inkling Hiroki might be gay, but she’s going to let him figure it out for himself. Unfortunately, Hiroki has little talent for keeping his “secret,” so he might die of embarrassment before all is said and done!
Review quote: What really hit me while reading this manga is that it’s not just about Tomoko working to make Hiroki feel safe in coming out to her, it’s also about the detractors her son faces, particularly the ones that people aren’t aware of. A lot of times when people talk about homophobia they’re referring to the blatant, in-your-face instances that are impossible to ignore. However, Tomoko starts to see that the detractors that set Hiroki back are quieter, more unintentional, and have been around for years.
Check out this series if you are looking for: A series from a parent’s perspective on trying to make their child more comfortable about coming out while also realizing just how many detractors are out there about being queer.
What are some queer graphic novels and manga that you’ve enjoyed? Any upcoming titles that got you excited? No, I’m not asking so I can add to my list, I’m asking so an, um, friend can add to their… okay it’s for me, please tell me what to read!
(Image: Sara Kipin/Keito Gaku/Okura)
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