Animation opens up universes of possibilities. In worlds drawn from the imaginations of its creators, anything can happen. So then why is there so little queer representation in Western animation? There are a few examples out there, such as Steven Universe, that provide beautiful stories that speak to adults and children alike. But these examples are few and far between, which can lead one to believe that there’s something about non-heterosexuality that is shied away from in animation, despite stories that take place in space with plethoras of alien races. There is much more queer representation in anime, though it isn’t always for the best. Yet they still include these characters and themes more often than seen in the animated films of Disney and Pixar.
This list contains eight are examples of queer stories and characters created in the world of animation. Most of them are television shows, with a few short and feature films sprinkled throughout. The length of this list is a testament to the need for more gay animation, especially in the mainstream.
Cartoon Network’s series Adventure Time brought Jake the Dog, Finn the Human, and the Land of Ooo to the world. It is a post-apocalyptic universe that is both colorful and dangerous. No couple better represents Ooo’s dichotomy like Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen. While Finn and the Ice King chase after Princess Bubblegum, she brushes them off because she is a strong independent female character, and also she’s gay. This show lets these female characters have their own story arcs that prove their independence before slowly bringing them together. This relationship wasn’t just hinted at, either. Bubblegum and Marceline share an onscreen kiss. This is the kind of queer representation that young gay kids need. They shouldn’t have to pretend these relationships exist through subtle hints in just a few episodes. Animation means new worlds, so why can’t they be queer?
In A Heartbeat
In A Heartbeat was the senior thesis project for writers/directors Esteban Bravo and Beth David. This animated short is about a young boy named Sherwin, his heart, and his crush on a male classmate named Jonathan. Whenever Sherwin sees Jonathan, his heart runs after Jonathan. But Sherwin always manages to capture it before it lets Jonathan know his true feelings. One day, the heart finally gets what it wants and touches Jonathan. The film ends with Sherwin’s heart and Jonathan’s heart melding into one.
The Legend of Korra
The only thing that could make the Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise better is bringing in gay characters, and even making the Avatar herself bisexual. Korra is the latest Avatar, a master of all four elements of earth, wind, fire, and air. Through the show’s four seasons, she is shown dating male characters. Her friend, Asami, is also shown dating boys, with the two even commiserating over relationships. But, in The Legend of Korra’s final season, Korra and Asami fall in love. Not only does this Nickelodeon series show gay characters, but its shows two bisexual women in a variety of relationships.
Love, Death, and Robots
Netflix’s animated sci-fi anthology tackles a huge range of themes about the future. But in perhaps its best episode, Sonnie’s Edge, the series looks at what queerness could look like in a strange, dystopian future. Sonnie is part of an underground fighting ring where she controls a massive monster. She is known for her ferocity and for her female monster, which is highly unusual. A crime boss tries to get Sonnie to throw a fight, but when she refuses, he tries to have her killed by seducing her with his side chick. However, what they don’t know is that Sonnie’s consciousness is actually uploaded to her monster. This is an animated short that imagines monstrous, yet, empowering queer possibilities where gay women can reclaim their agency despite patriarchal control.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Netflix may try to straight wash Neon Genesis Evangelion, but we all know that show is gay. Every teen in that show is incredibly upset all the time about everything, and you bet sexuality is perhaps the most frustrating thing of all, just below having to save the entire world using flesh robots. Main male protagonist Shinji falls in love with an older boy named, Kaworu Nagisa, who openly declares his love for Shinji. Netflix decided to translate “love” to “like” which drastically changes the nature of their relationship and conversation, which happens inside of a bathhouse. But no matter what Netflix tries to change, there is no denying the queerness of this influential and crucial anime series.
In the name of moon, make it gay! Many of us anime-loving gays grew up watching Sailor Moon on Toonami (or was that just me?). Sure, it gave us badass women to look up to, but it also gave us badass gay women to look up to. Most of the Sailor Scouts, especially Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus, were at least bisexual. Neptune and Uranus were weakly coded as “cousins” in the American dub, but you can see right through that horrible guise. They kiss. A lot. Uranus is also often coded as masculine, wearing masculine clothes and encouraging people to use male pronouns when talking about her.
Perhaps the gayest piece of recent animation, Steven Universe has given the world gay, trans, and genderqueer characters within a beautifully crafted series about love, friendship, family, and other heavy, yet important, themes. Creator Rebecca Sugar, who identifies as genderqueer, wanted to create a series of non-binary women through the Gem characters, such as Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst. Garnet is a fusion gem made from two female-coded gems in love. Steven, who is both human and gem, can fuse with his friend, Connie, to make a nonbinary human named Stevonnie. Sugar and their team are able to deftly include typical stories seen in children’s television while also discussing gender and sexuality in a positive way.
Satoshi Kon’s most straightforward film is about what it means to find your own family. Tokyo Godfathers takes place on Christmas Eve when three homeless people—Gin, Hana, and Miyuki— find an abandoned baby on the streets of Tokyo. Hana is a trans woman and former drag queen who is able to find love and acceptance in this little group she calls family. Her gender identity is not fixated on throughout the film and is rather represented as just a fact about Hana.