This is an expanding list of manga with transgender protagonists. Here, the term transgender is defined narrowly as the individuals who were assigned male/female at birth but don’t identify as such. There are plenty of gender bender manga out there but very few that explore the issue at hand seriously, with respect towards gender identity. This list is ambitious of shedding more light to non-comedy, ‘slice-of-life’ trans titles that can be read in English and help trans folk find good representations in this medium. If you encounter a title fitting here, please leave a comment to let me know and I’ll add it.
Many thanks to Niki Smith who pointed out more titles! Also, to Ash from Experiments in Manga for the review of Kissing the Petals from Yuri Monogatari by Tomomi Nakasora!
I’ll procede with just the titles for those not liking spoilers and after the jump you can read comments for every title and some general remarks.
- Hourou Musuko (Wandering Son) by Takako Shimura (15 vols)
- Bokura no Hentai by Fumi Fumiko (5 vol -ongoing)
- Paros no Ken by Kaoru Kurimoto and Igarashi Yumiko (3 vols)
- Double House by Nanae Haruno (1 vol)
- Claudine by Riyoko Ikeda (1 vol)
- IS by Rokuhana Chiyo (17 vols)
- Cotton Candy Love by Tendou Kirin (oneshot)
- Ayumi and Aika from Mermaid Line by Kindaichi Renjuurou (2 chapters)
- Love Horizon from Densen Complex by Kizuki Akira (oneshot)
- So I Can Be Myself -A Long Dream– from Mascara Blue by Sakisaki Io (oneshot)
- Flower from Boku wa, Onnanoko by Takako Shimura (oneshot)
- Dreams Bloom At Night from Yes, It’s Me! by Yamashita Tomoko (oneshot)
- Apron and Sunglasses from Please God by Minami Q-ta (oneshot)
- Kissing the Petals from Yuri Monogatari by Tomomi Nakasora (oneshot)
Other dubious recommendations:
- Udagawachou de Mattete yo. by Hideyoshico (1 vol)
- J no Subete by Nakamura Asumiko (2 vols)
- Half and Half by Nanami Mao (2 vols)
- Houkago Hokenshitsu (After School Nightmare) by Mizushiro Setona (10 vols)
General remarks: If you notice the list, you’ll see that most titles come from yuri or (het) shoujo magazines. They concern trans girls/women, probably because the mangaka writing for such an audience is expected/allowed to focus on feelings and the romantic aspect of a relationship. We have very few titles coming from yaoi magazines and those that we found are problematic, in the sense that they misgender the trans character by focusing just on the sex between two individuals with penises. Beyond this superficial aspect, it is very hard to find a narrative in yaoi where crossdressing isn’t played for laughs or used as a fetish. There are other cases where the trans’ identity might be recognized at first but ultimately the woman goes back to ‘being a boy’ for the sake of the gay partner; for instance Kumota Haruko’s Mimi-kun no Heart no Earrings from the anthology Nobara.
Beginning from the end of my list, I want to explain why I put these four titles as dubious recommendations. For starters, they contain transmisogyny and depictions of very triggering situations like rape.
Houkago Hokenshitsu‘s protagonist appears to be trans, as indicated within their dreams, and have struggles with their gender identity which resemble that of a trans individual, but at the end of the story we are presented with a plot twist which cancels that identity. I still decided to include it in this article, though, because this ‘cancellation’ is not offensive in the same way I mentioned before in yaoi manga and because for many volumes this identity and the anguish it causes are among the story’s main themes. This is given in a surreal way and at the same time they hit home realistically.
Half and Half is leaning towards romcom, but thankfully Itsuki (the transwoman) isn’t presented as a joke. Although there’s a lot of misgendering, graffiti bullying and rude questions towards her, we also witness her brother inviting her to his wedding and announcing he’s proud of his sister. Also, we are shown another youngster feeling gender dysphoria and Itsuki shows her her previous work place to get a taste of both the good and bad in the future; emphasis is given on the satisfaction of using female pronouns and it’s all very touching. When all is said and done Itsuki is still a woman and tries being into a relationship with Hina who loved her since Itsuki was still AMAB. There’s a lot of pondering from Hina’s side who wants to accept her loved one as she is and the manga ends with their relationship being a work in progress, because primarily they love each other’s company. Despite the pacing being a bit all over the place and the chapter where Hina competes with another woman for Itsuki is very stereotypically shoujo, it’s not half bad a reading.
J No Subete has a protagonist who does say firmly she is a woman, yet she is constantly misgendered despite her protests against it. There’s a lot of violence exerted on her and at the end of the story in an extra chapter we see her in men’s clothes and referred as male; it’s one of the cases where we have to get a yaoi couple. I’m also cautious with this title because it implies a connection between J’s transgenderism with her father’s habit to dress her in girl clothes as well as with the fact he abused her sexually for some time before her mother, who didn’t show her love, caught them on the act and killed her husband. Nevertheless, we talk about Nakamura with her great grim dark stories and her poetic sensitivities.
Udagawachou de Mattete yo. is great in that it doesn’t have a cute, passing trans girl as main character. Alas, the boy who falls for her almost bullies her into dressing in girl clothes and makes it more about him (is it a fetish?) than about her expressing herself. One may claim that Momose’s behavior is realistic, being perplexed at what he found out about his classmate, about his feelings of arousal and romantic interest, his curiosity and his akwardness when he tries to act based on them, but Yoshiro thinks of him as crazy scary. And justifiably so, considering that Momose stares at them persistently, stalks them, orders them around to dress in ‘stolen’ clothes of his sister, blackmails them, kisses them forcefully, grabs them from their wrist and almost rapes them. The concept of consent is hazy for adults much more for teens, but this doesn’t make things less cring-worthy. Plus even Yoshiro mixes homosexuality with gender identity and their want for submission. At least, there’s some consideration put from Momose’s side and things have a happy end.
Now, from the main list only the first two and IS are many-volumed series with a big cast and they are the ones who handle this topic in the most sensitive way up to date. I have reviewed IS along with Double House, Ayumi and Aika in this post.
Hourou Musuko, which is published in English by Fantagraphics in a marvelous hardback edition, is what Sailor Moon is to mahou shoujo, namely it’s the one big title for this niche. It spans from the late years of primary school to the first of university and thus allows for the reader to see the protagonists grow up and face the challenges life tosses at them. It has a variety of trans girls/women, with different sexual preferences, bodies and family situations, thus avoiding tokenism and the trap of the single narrative. Unfortunately, the mangaka chose to turn the only character who is presented as a trans boy, back to being to a girl again towards the end. There’s some usefulness in this development, as we see how a few individuals’ gender identity is questioned for a period of time, how they feel they betray others but the outcome is what it is and it’s acceptable. I’m still not very fond of that change though due to the probability of the reader jumping to conclusions (eg. ‘gender dysphoria for girls is just a phase’) and because rarely do we get to see a FtM character in manga.
Shimura crafts a story which balances the specific worries of trans characters and the general adolescent woes. Romance occurs like it does in real life, as a side of it and not its entirety -thankfully, secondary characters get to fall in love too. Adults are not there only a misunderstanding figures, but as helpful people who go through their own procedure of self-questioning. It’s quite refreshing. Shimura also has a particular love for theater (we see plenty of it in Aoi Hana, too, and Awashima Hyakkei is dedicated to an opera school) and used it in this series makes for an interesting commentary on the performativity of gender as well as a contrast between theater as a safe space of acting out a dream and reality.
Bokura no Hentai translates into Our Transformations –for those who saw the word ‘hentai’ in the title and wondered why I listed such a work here, there’s your answer. And it’s not only the title misleading; it’s the cute exterior, too. The artwork is quintessentially moe but much like the first covers which featured a black background, this story is dark at points. Warning should be given for sexual abuse and harassment, rape attempt, manipulative relationships, dealing with loss of a family member, bullying and self-destructive behavior. Additionally, it’s unabashedly sincere when it comes to sexuality and gender. Queering gender has multiple faces and each of the characters who wear girl clothes has their own distinct reasons. It’s also the first manga I’ve had the chance to come across where there’s a clear distinction between crossdressing and dressing towards one’s gender. Moreover, the trans MC has a female name she chose for herself. This raises the bar of such narratives a lot.
I adore Fumi’s style and storytelling; they are gorgeous, minimalistic and evocative. Some pages and panels could adorn a wall. Following the way Hourou Musuko paved, Fumi writes honestly about characters’ puberty, their sexual awakening, bodies and relationships. I was happily surprised to see a chapter about a side character and how she experienced having big breasts. In contrast to Hourou Musuko though, the way the chapters follow one another and focus on the background stories of different individuals from the cast underlines the solitarity of their experiences and her art with the solid, thick at places, lines gives extra weight to their harsh realities. I can’t weave enough praise.
Paros no Ken or The Sword of Paros is a title which creates in me mixed feelings. The protagonist, Princess Erminia, says multiple times in the manga that she was ‘cursed’ by Yanus and born in a female body, while they consider themselves better than any man when looking in their mind and heart. They are very glad to have found a woman, Fiona, who accepts and loves them as they are and they rejoice when Fiona sees them as prince. My qualms come from the fact that they never ask for a man’s name and their disatisfaction is very tightly knitted with the limitations society places upon men. Despite that, sexual preference and gender identity used not to be perceived as different concepts back then. Thus, it’s almost a safe bet we have a trans man character here or at least a queer one.
The story is about Princess Erminia falling in love with Fiona, a maid, while she constantly fends off male suitors and resists the pressure from her royal family to act like the princess she is. Yurias, a man from aristocratic descent who was raised as her brother, is a debatably good ally who aids them in pursuing their happiness. Things get a little complicated with a neighboring country invading, but at least the main trio has a happy ending. Trigger warning for rape, misogyny and transphobia.
Riyoko Ikeda loves telling stories of girls in men’s roles, considering her masterpiece, Rose of Versailles, and other works of hers like Orpheus no Mado, but Claudine isn’t a crossdresser or even a butch lesbian. Claude, as the other children called him, chooses to wear men’s clothes and have hobbies deemed manly. We also know from his last conversation with the psychiatrist his mother wanted him to visit that his nature didn’t have to do neither with his adoration towards his father nor with the fact he witnessed his father with a younger male lover. Written back at the 1970s, this is extremely progressive. Sadly, after getting betrayed by his love who let him for his brother, he committed suicide. As a story, it’s pretty rushed in pace. Nevertheless, its progressiveness by the standards of the era it was written should be recognized.
Cotton Candy Love is a very sweet story of a little trans girl and an adult lesbian woman. The latter scares away some kids bullying the former and thus they become acquainted. It’s well told -as expected from a title coming from Tsubomi magazine- and shows two people from different points in life coming together with the only thing in common being perserverance. Pronouns, suffixes and challenges are discussed and we also get a glimpse of the rejection the adult woman received from her ex.
Love Horizon stands out for its angular and bold artwork but it’s a little bit clumsy as a story. On the other hand, it’s quite informative since the question “since when are you a girl?” is answered straightforwardly and there’s mention of the surgery and of a female name. Love Horizon is basically a reunion and the start of a relationship of a trans woman and her former classmate. I’d recommend it to cis folks as quick intro to trans stuff to become more aware. Though it’s gender dysphoria and gender identity disorder is avoided nowadays, since it’s not listed anymore as a mental illness -gladly.
So I Can Be Myself -A Long Dream– is a love story. Hikaru is asked by a hairdresser, Mashima, to help him practice cutting hair. Little by little they fall in love with each other and Mashima asks her out. It’s a very simple story by the mangaka of Ao Haru Ride, but it’s all the small details that make it heart-warming. We see Hikaru being supported by her friends in romance, in her way of living and when she goes to the women’s toilet, which is contrasted by the hate and pettiness of random bystanders. If we try to forget that awful translation of gender dysphoria as gender ‘lesion’, this short is a good dose of hope.
Flower is about Yuki, a transwoman who was featured in Hourou Musuko, too. She travels by train to go visit her parents who want to give her an earful for starring at a TV show. On the train she meets a man who groped her while thinking he was asleep and who has a record of cheating his wife. The story is half about meeting this man and chatting him on the way home and half about her reconciliation with her parents being a long hard way -fortunately, her brother and his wife are totally cool with her. One thing that stood out to me was how Yuki is glad she’s passing and how non-chalantly she says that another trans-woman was murdered upon being outed.
Dreams Bloom At Night (read and buy it at emanga) is about gender stereotypes and exploration. I think more than anything this is a story that shows how much non-sense trans individuals have to face. First thing we read is a lady coming out to her female friend and having to deal with a lot of assumptions, rude questions and showing off ‘knowledge’. She is shown to be Tone’s, the protagonist, customer. Tone wanted to become a girl and her mother seems understanding since she caught her with a lipstick, but she doesn’t dress towards her gender. What we see instead is a former sex buddy pushing her to get married as the ‘serious thing’ to be done, her boyfriend rejecting the prospect of Tone ‘becoming’ a woman, and her female androgynous co-worker not wanting to hear something so personal. The latter adds that the notion of gender is the one causing us pain and that Tone should apply again make up on ‘himself’. Although I have certain objections to the dialogue between Tone and Misaki, it’s still a very interesting reading.
Apron and Sunglasses is a glimpse in the life of a transwoman who barhopped with a guy and woke up with him in the same room. He finds her very attractive and he had the decency not to drunk-rape her. She dismissed him because she had a boyfriend, but she soon changes her mind as said boyfriend dumped her. If anything, this oneshot is worthy because Yuka is one hell dynamic woman and I love her spirit!
Kissing the Petals is a short manga by Tomomi Nakasora that was published in the fourth volume of Yuri Monogatari, an anthology which collects lesbian-themed comics from Japan, America, and Europe. The manga includes a rare example of a transman as a prominent character. The story is told from the perspective of a lesbian couple who are his close friends. Chii’s family isn’t understanding of his decision to transition, but Haruna and Kazu are wonderfully supportive and accepting, even going as far as trying to help him find a girlfriend, which he desperately wants. Though Kissing the Petals is honest about some of the challenges that a transperson faces in life, especially in regards to relationships (romantic and otherwise), overall the manga’s tone is a positive one.