Part of my early attraction to comics was the ways illustrators and artists broke the rules of how regular people, places, and things were supposed to look. This was largely in part because I started with superhero comics, but there are many ways comic book artists and graphic novelists use perspective, size, and color in their panels to express complicated emotions and situations. The comics I’ve read that deal with queer life feel more honest in a way because authors and artists can visualize how something feels to enhance the written descriptions.
Finding comics and even literature that depicted lesbian relationships was really difficult when I was younger. There are so many more options now, especially in fantasy and romance, but comics are really stepping up their game as well. The titles I’ve pulled together for this list appeal to my sensibilities as someone who always wanted to dive headfirst into a fantasy world, but there are so many amazing comics that center women and their relationships. For example, the entire world of yuri manga—I am not an expert but it undeniably a fantastic pool of reading to dive into as quarantine stretches on. For now, I’ll highlight some of my favorite comics with rad F/F relationships.
Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill
This sweet twist on old fairytales is perfect for young readers, and slightly older ones like me who want to smile. It follows the adventures of Amira, who saves the princess Sadie from a tower. Like most fairytales, there is a cost to saving the princess from the tower. As Amira and Sadie learn to work together and understand each other, they get to be open about what they want out of their princess roles. It reminds me of the best of Gail Carson Levine’s world-building and the warmth of a Disney movie.
Goldie Vance by Hope Larson, illustrated by Brittney Williams
Solving mysteries with your girlfriend and best friend sounds like one of those elaborate fantasies I constructed while I wasn’t paying attention on school trips. Naturally, this comic hits all of best beats of a Nancy Drew mystery and a quirky coming-of-age adventure. Goldie lives at a resort and dreams of becoming the in-house detective like Walter. Goldie’s determined nature is the perfect mix of teen precocious and smarts. Her crush on Diane is also written very sweetly, without much insistence on the need to identify Goldie’s sexuality. The main thrust of the story is Goldie solving mysteries, reminiscent of old-school Archie Comics with the vibrant art style.
Young Adult Comics
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Relationships between women aren’t always perfect, and this book deals with the same issues all teens have when they’re prioritizing romantic love above all else. Freddy loves Laura Dean in the way young (and old) people who single-mindedly pursue romantic attraction do—by letting all of her friendships falter and fall away. This book deals with some heavy topics with Freddy’s friend Doodle, and there’s even a psychic who gets involved. This book shows the intense, rough parts of only pursuing a person who doesn’t care about you, and ignoring your friends who have supported you in the past. The fact that these characters are kind of rough around the edges and not always nice to each other feels very authentic and accurate to the experience of growing up, whether or not you’re queer.
Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer
A mix of medieval-style politics and sci-fi series planet-jumping, Cosmoknights truly has it all. The main character, Pan, has some Luke Skywalker vibes in that she’s working on a small, lonely planet and things very quickly kick up into a giant space adventure. After her friend Tara is taken away for some archaic, princess-as-prize gladiator tournament, Pan joins the outlaws Cass and Bee in taking down the jousting tournaments from the inside. These older wives adopting a young, angry outlaw into their patriarchy-fighting mission is the kind of space opera I didn’t know I needed until I started reading. The first volume is amazing, and I can’t wait to dive into more since it ends on a major cliffhanger.
Stage Dreams by Melanie Griffin
While some may write this off as a historical fantasy, Griffin’s rollicking graphic western is based in historical fact. It’s a work of fiction, but what’s so fantastic about Stage Dreams is that it takes the forgotten history of women in the American South and has a great adventure through a colorful world. Gracie is a Southern belle on the run who also happens to be a transgender woman, and Flor is the dashing outlaw rogue who captures her originally to collect a ransom. Instead, the two women team up and pull a heist to ruin a Confederate party. It’s kind of like a neo-Western, but way more colorful.
Comics For Adults, Technically
Bingo Love by Tee Franklin
Told over decades, this wonderful comic follows the relationship between young lovers Hazel and Mari, from their initial meeting at Bingo to the many cultural and personal forces that keep them apart. When these two women meet again as adults, they have to face the reasons they fell in love in the first place and why they couldn’t stay together after they met in 1963. The artwork is fantastic and it’s a beautiful tale of finding a lost love. The parts where Hazel and Mari are initially falling in love hit very close to home because they so perfectly elucidated the common experience of having a crush for the first time and the specifically queer experience of feeling crippled by that emotion.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata, translated by Jocelyne Allen
The art style of this book grabs you quickly—the way she expresses her struggles with mental illness through shading and darkness is particularly good. (I’m not extremely familiar with manga, so this struck me as a very different use of the medium, though it’s possible I’m just uninformed about nonfiction manga!) This autobiographical comic follows the author coming to terms with her own sexuality, exploring what that means, and struggling with mental illness. Issues of intimacy also come into play because figuring out what you want doesn’t always mean you can pursue it. While reading, it’s easy to feel extremely close to the version of the author depicted in this comic and worry about if she can help herself and reach out about her struggles. This is an extremely evocative, deeply personal read. We’re lucky it’s a continuing series!
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
Although this one is for a slightly older audience, it follows a genre we’re familiar with (sci-fi) and allows the main character, Mia, to twist the story to what she needs out of it. The artwork is especially out of this world—I’ve never seen a fish-shaped spaceship before. Mia bonds with her shipmates while they travel to various dilapidated spacey places and restore them. Told partially in flashbacks to boarding school, Mia joins a crew on a spaceship and we eventually find out she’s looking for the love of her life. Since the story jumps between Mia’s school days and the crew renovating abandoned sites around the galaxy, it feels extremely well balanced and Walden expertly shows the characters’ growth. The themes of love, found family, and recovering what’s been lost are so perfectly interwoven throughout this book. It’s a deeply engrossing read, like all of Walden’s work.
Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology, edited by Sfé R. Monster and Taneka Stotts
This isn’t only for F/F romantic pairings, but it’s such a great starting point as an anthology that I had to include it. The stories range from weird to heartbreaking, traveling all over various universes of science fiction and fantasy. This came out back in 2015, which both feels to me like it was just yesterday and also a million years ago. The landscape of comics changes so much year to year because there are so many fantastic artists innovating the medium, and this project was a fantastic way to display all of the amazing stories that were probably getting overlooked at the time. Since this volume came out, there have been so many fantastic comics exploring the queer experience, and it’s exciting to see more coming down the pipeline every day.
Jumping Into Different Worlds
In line with my original comics interests, I love queer comics that take place in other worlds. I think as a young queer person I was so drawn to fantasy and sci-fi because I didn’t feel as comfortable in the “real” world. It was less that I wanted to escape and more that I saw myself in sci-fi and fantasy characters who were constantly bombarded with new experiences and felt like they were a little different from everyone else around them.
The high-octane adventures of many of these comics make my heart feel warm—I’m so glad these kinds of stories are available for younger queer kids today. It feels right and beautiful for these faraway worlds to be filled with queer characters, especially women who love women. I also really appreciate the YA-style comics and more personal memoirs about dealing with queer identity—they’re such important, specific stories that help people understand how to articulate their own identities.