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Comics/Graphic Novels

10 Queer Comics and Manga That Made 2020 Bearable

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Jessica Pryde

Contributing Editor

Jessica Pryde is a member of that (some might call) rare breed that grew up in Washington, DC, but is happily enjoying the warmer weather of the desert Southwest. While she is still working on what she wants to be when she grows up, she’s enjoying dabbling in librarianship and writing all the things. She can be found drowning in her ever-growing TBR and exclaiming about romance in the Book Riot podcast (When in Romance), as well as on social media. Find her exclamations about books and pho on twitter (JessIsReading) and instagram (jess_is_reading).

I tend to pick up comics in very specific situations. Sometimes I need a reset during a reading slump, and have discovered that the comics medium is the perfect thing to get my mind moving in a different way. Other times, I want something that’s not going to be more than an hour or two of dedication. Or maybe I just see something I want to read and read it immediately. It varies.

This has been a rough reading year for a lot of us. While many people have managed to read way more than usual because of an extended amount of free time, many others have lost their reading mojo. They’ve lost the inspiration to read, or can’t land on a book, bouncing from one to another without finishing. While I find myself regularly reading, I’ve definitely got a lot of rows marked DNF in my spreadsheet. But what I have always managed to finish, whether reading a single volume or a bit of a series, have been comics. Soft, lovely, queer comics. Okay, mostly soft. But always lovely.

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up cover image

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Kodama Naoko

Sometime early in the year, I decided to order a bunch of comics online, and this one jumped out in the “people also bought” section for…something I didn’t buy, I guess. The title was definitely catching, and I love a good marriage of convenience story, especially between two people of similar genders. The plot is (almost) exactly what it says on the tin: a young woman whose parents keep asking her about when she’s getting married gets [common-law] married to her best friend, who has recently moved in with her to be closer to school. But feelings are feelings, and they eventually make themselves known. 

There Are Things I Can’t Tell You by Edako Mofumofu, Translated by Christine Dashiell

Oh my Goddess, y’all. This book. This absolutely heartbreaking, soul crushing book. I mean, not actually. It has a happy ending. But the whole thing was just. My heart. When one person thinks the best way for the other to be happy is for them not to be together? Be ready to do some book flinging, some frustrated flailing, some “oh, my heart” gestures. But it was also super sweet and angsty and beautifully drawn. So there’s that. 

CW for internalized homophobia, emotionally abusive parents, sex on the page, undiagnosed depression(?), adultery

Whisper Me A Love Song by Eku Takeshima

I happened across this one on Netgalley and found myself grabby-handsing for the second one (which is currently in my possession but which I don’t want to read yet because there are two more volumes that aren’t out in the U.S. yet). When Himari sees Yori sing with her band during the opening ceremony for school, she is immediately in love. But it’s not the same kind of love that Yori might feel when the younger girl starts to hang out with her. How do they navigate their feelings when it seems like they’re on opposite sides of the world sometimes?

Fence by CS Pacat and Johanna The Mad

Okay, confession time. I apparently bought the first volume of Fence in 2018. Twenty. Eighteen. Two thousand and eighteen. That’s not nearly the biggest offense I’ve made when it comes to purchase-to-reading-time, but honestly, it’s for the best, because I could consume all four of the available volumes in one go! Nicholas is a fencer with promise. He’s not nearly as good as Seiji—nobody is—but somehow both of them are trying out for the same high school fencing team. This is a delightful ongoing series and at the moment everyone is basically queer until otherwise presented, so there’s that as well. 

Always Human by Ari North

Always Human is a gorgeous, quiet book about a relationship. In a world where everyone uses mods to alter their appearance, Austen doesn’t. Sunati notices her precisely for the fact that she looks the same every day, and she finally gets the courage to approach her about it. From there, things just flow in a very normal courtship, including dates, misunderstandings, and All The Feelings. 

Aquicorn Cove book cover

Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill

This book is all about a girl and her relationship with the sea. Told in gentle colors and a lot of silence, Aquicorn Cove introduces us to Lana and the fantasy sea creatures, the aquicorns. It’s a tiny book with a punch, that approaches topics like the impact of globalization on industry and climate change, as well as telling sweet stories of individual people and their pasts. 

(I also read The Tea Dragon Society by the same author, which is even more gentle and lovely but a lot bigger…literally, it’s over a foot tall.)

Bloom cover image

Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau

When you take the boy who just wants to perform with his band and the new boy who works at his family bakery and put them together, you never know what might happen. Ari still has to work at the bakery in the meantime, and Hector loves it like he was part of the family, so they spend a lot of time together as Hector learns the ins and outs of the bakery. The blue tones of the art are wildly soothing, even when the story is fraught, and the balance is perfect for readers looking for a quiet story of first love. 

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

This is the only nonfiction comic I picked up this year, and I actually read it for my library’s LGBTQ+ book club. Maia Kobabe is a master memoirist, and while there is some trouble and trauma, this still fits as a quiet, lovely book. It’s a bit longer than the others and you’ll feel every minute of reading, but eir experience is something that is a joy to wend through. 

CW for gender disphoria and euphoria; traumatic experience getting a pap smear; misgendering; casual homophobic and transphobic language (checked and unchecked)

Check Please

Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

If you want to talk about the most joyful two volumes of panels to ever land on a page or screen, Check, Please! is definitely that. A coming-of-age story and a story of love, friendship, and baking, it hits all the buttons somebody might need to have a really good time. There are ups and downs like there are in every story, but I dare you not to read this whole damn thing with a smile on your face. The end sections of all Bitty’s tweets alone in each volume. I swear. Joyful. 

Stage Dreams

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman

A short western heist story with two queer, gender-nonconforming main characters? Absolutely and yes, please. Grace has left home with a goal of living her own life as authentically as possible (and not being forced to join the Confederate army). What she doesn’t expect is for her stagecoach to be held up by the Ghost Hawk, who first intends to take her for ransom, but who then lest her help with a plan to thwart the Confederates. And of course, they get to know each other and there is Pining. What more could you want? 

There are so many other queer comics and manga on my list to read (and there are some sitting next to me as I write this). I don’t know when I’ll get around to them. But I love that I can look to these and books like them when I’m looking for something that has just enough conflict to keep it interesting, but that is still the bookish equivalent of a warm hug and a mug of tea. 

Because we all need that right now.