20 Most Important Transgender Manga and Anime Characters (Part One)

By Kitsune Hatfield

 

trans pokemon.jpg

It’s no secret that transgender people have been badly represented in media. Transgender people are often still used in films and television as the butt of jokes and/or as people who are dangerously deranged. Outside the United States depictions if anything are even worse. The understanding of transgender people in anime and it’s depictions in Japan are often much much worse than even within the United States. This is further complicated by the fact that gender identity is often associated with sexuality within Japan.

Because of this many anime and manga series portray transgender people as falling into a number of harmful stereotypes including: the Okama an extremely feminine behaving but often foppish masculine looking gay stereotype, a “Fuka,” a cisgender woman in all respects except with a huge dick (TMI: most medically transitioning transwomen don’t have stallion sized dicks) ((big shocker)), or the deceptive “trap” character that is trying to “trick,” viewers and/or “fools,” the cast into thinking they are women.

These types of characters present transgender and gender non-conforming characters as jokes or shallow people to be mocked, rather than fleshed out characters. I wish all these stereotypes die in a firey blaze!

example 1 trans.jpg

Example: “Trap”-Hideyoshi Kinoshita

example 2 bon clay trans

Example: Okama-Bentham (Mr.2 Bonclay)

This isn’t to say that all depictions of transgender people in anime are bad (if that were true, I wouldn’t be writing this article), some anime and manga series have had depictions of transgender people that are light years ahead of even most United States portrayals. I have been inspired by several transgender and gender non-conforming anime and manga characters that were portrayed as deep, representative, and fun without being objectifying.

While some characters of these characters mainly inspired me as a form of well needed wish fulfillment such as Ranma Saotome, in this article I want to focus my work on the characters that best represent the transgender experience. While a few of these characters will be flawed representations (especially the early ones), I want to highlight different characters that made a difference to me as a transgender person and that as a transwoman I found inspiring, rather than looking at cringe worthy characters that made me want to throw my book, tv, or computer against a wall in frustration.

 

Haruhi Fugiyoka

Haruhiblog.jpg

Haruhi is a rare example of a fleshed out non-binary character. After Haruhi is mistaken for a boy and accidently knocks over a priceless vase they are roped into a becoming a host at a wealthy high school host club (a club where wealthy men entertain women). When it is soon discovered that Haruhi was originally registered in the school as a girl, Tamaki the clubs flamboyant leader both falls in love with them and flips out (as Tamaki always does) that Haruhi is continuing to participate in the all-male host club.

Haruhi’s response to Tamaki after putting him in his special corner is to state, “Listen, Senpai, I don’t really care whether you guys recognize me as a boy or a girl. In my opinion it’s more important for a person to be recognized for who they are, rather than what sex they are.” This is followed by Haruhi being irritated once again by the club member’s fascination with every day “poor peoples” products such as instant coffee.

Haruhi is a person anyone should take after. Not only do they distain the wealthy just like you (unless you are wealthy, you rich snob XD) and me, but they are also won’t let anyone define them. Even in the United States many people still try to define others from birth, with pink for “girls,” and blue for “boys,” nurturing and dolls for “girls,” and violence and machines for “boys.”

Haruhi says FUCK THAT, if boy’s wants to play with dolls and be loving, or girl’s wants to enact giant robot wars LET THEM (I love dolls and giant robots). People should be allowed to be who they need and want to be, and to do what makes them happy as long aren’t harming others. Letting people be themselves is an important lesson for all children and adults, and makes the world a better place for everyone, especially transgender people whose identity often doesn’t or didn’t fit into a box.

Konatsu Kunoichi

kontatsu

There are a number of characters in Ranma ½ that appeal to transgender people. The first and most obvious example of a character transgender people can relate to is Ranma himself. Ranma’s transformation from a male body to female body serves as an important wish fulfilment for many transgender women (such as myself) and nonbinary people, and many transgender men can relate to an extent to Ranma’s situation. Ranma however doesn’t really serve as a strong or detailed example of realistic transgender character or role model. A much more important character for transgender representation in Ranma ½ (at least for me) is Konatsu Kunoichi, a beautiful transgender woman and female ninja.

Konatsu was one of the first characters I could really relate to as a transgender woman. She was beautiful, funny, and her identity was generally accepted by those around her. While there is some humour revolving around Konatsu’s gender identity, Konatsu’s gender is portrayed primarily in a positive light with characters respecting her. The jokes surrounding Konatsu’s messed up nature (EVERYONE in Ranma is messed up) tends to mostly surround her hyper femininity (she is seriously one of the most absurdly and traditionally feminine characters ever), her unwavering and naïve loyalty, and her extreme poverty rather than her gender identity.

Konatsu always regards simple things in life as a great luxuries like sleeping in a bed or having a decent meal and is sometimes a major nuisance for her boss Ukyo, despite working for almost nothing. She also has amusing loyalty to people, even to those she resents and to those who resent her. Even when she tries to burn down the remains of her bizarre wicked step sister’s (it is never exactly clear what they are other than extremely evil and ugly) “tea house,” with them inside, Konatsu is polite about it and apologizes profusely after being caught by them. Konatsu’s portrayal is just as funny and engaging as the rest of the Ranma ½ cast due to her odd personality.

Konatsu is also a great character because she is someone who knows herself better than anyone else does, and has no problem being feminine, a lesbian, and a woman who is unashamed of her identity. She is herself within a cultural where to be trans or a lesbian is considered to be outside of the cultural norm, and where fitting in is considered important (not that anyone in Ranma really fits in though XD). Even when other people attempt to define her and get her to dress more in a more masculine way she ends up finding a way to accidently subvert and fuck up the request by dressing up like a glitzy male impersonator from an all-female Takarazuka Revue theatre.

Even in this outfit she remains one of the most feminine character in the series despite being assigned male at birth. While Konatsu only appears briefly, only in the manga series, and might be considered dated by current standards of gender identity in the US; Konatsu is still an incredible early example of a transgender character and often steals the spotlight in the stories where she appears. She was one of the first positive and important examples of a reoccurring transgender woman character that I read, and seeing her being herself and happy even though she is a goof ball made her wonderful character that was both really inspiring and also hilarious.

The Entire Cast of Wandering Son

Wandering Son is the gold standard for transgender representation in anime and manga. The series stars two transgender children (one a transboy, another a transgirl) who are growing up in Japan’s strictly gendered society. Wandering Son is a series that is all about presenting detailed representations of transgender people within Japan.

If you want to know what it actual is like for transgender people and kids living in Japan then this is the series to watch and/or read. It is the single greatest representation of transgender people within anime and manga, is free all the stupid trans stereotypes found in some other works, and feels genuinely real. If you are only able to view or read one representation of transgender people in Japanese media this should be it.

This is the type of series I wish was around when I was a kid. Despite the geographic differences, I really feel like I personally related to the transgirl Shuichi Nitori. I know what it was like to feel different as a transperson, but to also feel unable to talk about it with others except close friends. When I was first transitioing I had a lot of trouble initially knowing what to say, and how to tell my parents about my gender identity and transition. While I cannot speak for the experiences of those outside of my identity, I feel like Yoshino Takatsuki the transboy character would be just as relatable for transmaculine people with their struggles with a changing body and being recognized.

Wandering Son not only presents transgender people and their supporters in a realistic way, it also makes likable. Shuichi and Yoshino have a varied of interesting and important friends and relatives, including the jealous and depressive classmate Saori Chiba, Nitori sister Maho who is a child model and the only one in the family to initially know about her secret, and the transgender woman mentor Yuki and her husband. With beautiful art and a beautiful story that will literally give you the feels (and cry a lot), you owe it to yourself to watch Wandering Son on crunchyroll and/or track down the manga.

 

Aoi Futaba

aoi-futaba-youre-under-arrest-blog

Aoi Futaba is the one of those characters that I can’t help but admire. Not only is she beautiful, smart and kind, she is also one of the first fully fleshed out examples of a transgender character in anime and manga. Originally part of the male undercover operation, Aoi discovered that she was actually a woman after disguising herself during a rapist sting case. Despite how highly gendered Japan is Aoi’s gender is not seen as a big deal in her department. Aoi is woman and her co-workers don’t dispute it. She does her job and is a valued member of the team, and is often seen as more feminine than any of the non-transgender women.

Aoi’s depiction is also notable because of the challenges she faces as a transgender woman, and her challenges incorporating who she become through transition with how once was perceived. Despite her co-workers kindness and her transition, Aoi still struggles with questions as simple as where to use the bathroom. This is something transgender people often struggle with, especially early in transition. Often it feels scary and/or uncomfortable to use gendered bathrooms, and to find non-gendered bathrooms (if there are any) ((usual there aren’t)) you have to go to a secret bunker located two countries away. It’s also difficult to know who to tell about your identity if your trans without having to deal with a shit head or someone with questions they should not ask or just google (usually about your junk or if you really are the gender you are).

These problem are especially bad though when dating, where just saying your trans will often either have people running screaming from a room as though you have the plague and lit them on fire or asking to fuck you like some blow up sex doll they want to hide away from their friends and family (especially if they are already married or in a relationship which has many times been the case when they were trying to solicit me XP). Aoi experiences these struggles when a famous actor falls for her and she doesn’t know what to do, and fears being rejected. She eventually rejects him despite her feelings for him, because she doesn’t know what else to do. Aoi is a remarkable character because she is so ideal yet relatable, and she continues to be a huge role model for me and many transgender women and femmes.

 

Ruka Urushibara

ruka steins blog

Ruka from Steins;Gate in many ways is a tragic figure. Despite being born as beautiful and feminine, Ruka was assigned male at birth. Things are further complicated for her, as she falls in love with Rintaro a self-proclaimed “mad scientist,” who is seeking out a way of sending messages to the past and to time travel. Things start looking up for Ruka though when Rintaro is able to change her past causing her to be born as a cisgender woman. This change also allows her to finally feel comfortable confessing her love to Rintaro. This change however comes with a terrible cost, as it is revealed that Rintaro’s changes to the past have led to an inevitable death of their close friend Mayuri, and the only way to save Mayuri is to undo the changes Rintaro made. Ruka is forced to make the painful choice between the life she desires and the life of her friend. Ultimately she decides to make the ultimate tragic sacrifice in order to help save her friend Mayuri from death.

Despite some uncomfortable transgender jokes (“the he’s actually a man har har har,”) ((no SHE’S not)), Ruka clearly is portrayed as an amazing woman, because she is willing to give up something that many people dream of having an expression of love and a feeling of comfort with your own body (even non-transgender people struggle with to an extent and something many people can relate to). She has to give up her body, memories and confession of love to do the right thing, which is deeply tragic. I can’t image what going through a major sacrifice and choice like Ruka would be like. Giving up your deepest dreams is something most people couldn’t do (I know I would have a lot of trouble doing so). Despite some poor representation and uncomfortable transgender jokes, I applaud the series serious portrayal of Ruka and her struggles.

 

Alluka Zoldyck

Alluka blog.jpg

It’s really surprising that the popular shonen series Hunter X Hunter gets transgender identity so right. Unlike series such as One Piece (whose depict of transgender identity is as accurate as the Rocky Horror Picture show) Hunter X Hunter has a transgender character that although minor, is depicted with sensitivity. What is also interesting about her depiction is that her gender is so rarely brought up. It is implied that previous Alluka was assigned as male at birth, but Alluka has always had a female gender.

Alluka is more noted in the series due to her power involving wishes then her gender. She is possessed by a strange spirit that makes powerful requests of people. If the person complies with her requests they can get a wish to come true, if they refuse her requests however bad things happen (really bad things, the type involving violent death). Alluka is an unusual trans character because her gender really isn’t central to her character, where as her powers and love for her big brother is the most important aspects of who she is.

While this might erase some of the impact of her identity, it is still noteworthy that she is treated like any non-transgender character would be and that her gender isn’t her only defining aspect. As transgender person it is sometimes very important to be defined by something other than my gender identity. Alluka helps to demonstrate there is so much more to transgender people then just their gender identity.

 

Seiko Kotobuki

seiko blog

Seiko is a great Shojo example of a transgender character. Unlike many other depictions of transwomen Seiko has an assertive, bright, and energetic personality. She is also always there to support her friends even when she considers them rivals in love. Seiko is a great friend and breaks the mould of the typical passive, unhinged or troubled trans character. Despite worrying about her body Seiko is someone who tries to not let her body get in the way of her life. The one time in the series it briefly does cause her to struggle it is a realistic problem that many transgender women actual face, and she eventually resolves it.

Seiko is a fighter, which is something I can definitely relate to. Often non-trans people don’t realize the struggles and fights transgender people deal with on a daily basis, especially transgender women. Transgender people often are get accused of trying too hard to conform to gender stereotypes or that they are not trying enough to represent their gender identity. Trans people are also often considered “ugly,” or people that would be hard for non-transgender person to date or grow romantically close too.

I personally have had to struggle with these contradictions, and to block out these negative thoughts and not internalize them. Seiko’s willingness to strive for love and to overcome these barriers is really remarkable. Despite her body being different from her classmates, Seiko’s portrayal is clearly isn’t as a person who is ugly or that people should be ashamed of liking.
Seiko also believes in people’s ability to overlook what she feels is a wrong body, but still at the same time still has realistic worries that she will be rejected for being trans and be seen as gross when she discloses to the boy she likes. This fear of strong rejection is also all too real and has made it hard for me to feel safe pursuing a non-transgender partner. It’s hard for me to feel like I if I did that I would be valued, affirmed and loved, and that I wouldn’t be judged negatively for being trans and rejected and/or treated poorly.

I can’t even begin to recount all the rejection and pain I’ve already had to take on the road of life, and all the fear I’ve had that I’m not worthy of love I’ve had to quest to destroy. I applaud the portrayal of Seiko as someone who has the courage to pursue her authentic self even though it is very hard, and to face these challenges.

 

Hana

hana blog.jpg

If you are looking for a strong, realistic, and affirming approach to a trans character within a movie, Tokyo Godfather’s Hana is your best bet. After Hana is abandoned by her parents as a baby she ends up being taken in by a drag queen named Mother who loves and supports her. After an incident with a rude customer she ends up leaving her job at Mother’s bar, ending up homeless along with the rest of the cast. While Hana is sometimes a comically dramatic character, she is also portrayed as an intelligent and loving person who cares deeply for others. The detail in her character makes her feel like a real person with real feelings, conflicts and depth.

What makes Hana such a wonderful role model is her ability to take on hardship, while still pouring love into helping others. When the characters in Tokyo Godfather’s find an abandoned child, Hana immediately jumps into action naming the child Kiyoko meaning “pure child,” and declaring that the child is a gift from God. After this she agrees to help find the child’s mother, when it is pointed out that the mother might be looking for her child. Hana loves and cares for Kiyoko along with her homeless companions, showing a serious commitment toward helping the child in any way she can. She goes to great lengths to find Kiyoko’s her mother, even going on a wild adventure with her two homeless partners in order to help the child.

Despite being homeless Hana and her friends are portrayed as real people, with real needs, hopes dreams, and desires. Though she is usually forgotten or stigmatized by the world around her, Hana keeps up hope and doesn’t give up on the world. She continues to do everything she can to help others, even though her own situation is dire. Hana is a character that has brought me a lot of hope, and is a touching example of someone who doesn’t allow her situation drag her into despair.

As a transgender person I’ve heard so many tragic life stories of and from people who were abused, abandoned, and/or mistreated. What often is even more amazing with these stories though is how these people continue to strive for better lives for all people, and don’t end up instead punching everyone in the face. I personally don’t think I could be nearly as amazing as these people are, and I do everything I can to make sure their voices, life experience, and stories are upheld and reach others. Hana represents a more realistic homeless trans experience; she isn’t glamorized her as a person, nor is she a mentally unstable villain or a tasteless joke, she is someone that feels real and meaningful.

Chii

bride blog

Don’t let the Bride was a Boy’s title fool you, this isn’t a story of some steamy Yaoi romance and gay wedding story, but rather one of the sweetest transgender based love stories you will ever read. The Bride was a Boy is the autobiographical and educational account of how the author Chii ended up meeting and falling in love with her husband. Chii shares her experiences of what it is like to transition in Japan, and what her relationship with her husband and relatives are like.

Chii is a role model because of how her manga both presents a beautiful love story, which also educating the reader. Chii tells a positive and triumphant story about how she found love, and how she successfully transitioned in Japan (where transitioning is like jumping through flaming hoops backwards while blind folded)

Not that it is much easier in the US.

Where as many narratives about transgender people are about heart ache and struggle or about what a joke transgender people are (FUCK these narratives with a silver spade), Chii’s personal narrative is one of happiness and success. If any community deserves a happy narrative it would be transgender people, and to read a cutely designed book where a transgender person personally finds happiness and success was an amazing experience for me.

Kino

kino blog.jpg

While Kino is not a transgender character, she is a great example of a gender non-conforming character. Most female characters in anime and manga are clearly defined. Whether it be by skirts or dresses, long eyelashes, big eyes, or a prominent chest, in most anime series it is usual clear when a character is a girl or woman. This isn’t true however with the character Kino who is androgynous, and adopts the life style, name, and outfit of her male namesake in order to follow in his footsteps and travel the world. Kino is someone who values travel, seeing the world, and the freedom travel brings. She doesn’t have time for the impractical and feels that traditionally feminine clothing such as dresses would just get in a way.

Kino is important to transgender people, because she is a character that dresses in a way that suits her needs and doesn’t concern herself with a gendered appearance. Kino’s gender is not a major part of her character, and in fact is something she seems to be just as happy erasing. Kino is Kino, and doesn’t need or want anyone to tell her how to live her life.

There is something about the freedom to self-define that is special for all people. No jerk is going to define Kino, and likewise as a transgender person when someone tries to define me I also tell them to “Fuck Off” (unless I’m at work). People should be able to live their own lives and define themselves (unless they are a Nazi, in which case they should be shunned and punched in the face). Kino does so, travelling a fantasy world even though it is difficult and dangerous.

 

Follow PopLurker on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram or Buy us a Coffee on Ko-Fi!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s