It’s no secret to anyone who reads this site that while I aim to have recommendations for all readers of LGBTQIAP+ lit, I, like I’d venture to guess all readers, only a few areas I’d consider to be my expertise. Thankfully, every now and again, someone steps up to fill in the gaps and share their knowledge on an area that’s essentially a black hole for me, and today I’m grateful to have Jaylee James doing just that on Yuri! (And yes, as the title indicates, this will not be er only post on the subject!)
Yuri is anime, manga, and other Japanese media involving a romantic or sexual relationship between two women. It’s the female version of yaoi, which depicts relationships between men.
In the past year, there has been an influx of yuri manga being translated into English. Whereas before, yuri recommendation lists included basically the same four series, or stretched the idea of yuri to include series like Lucky Star and K-On that focus on the relationships between female friends, or was included in the list because of heavy subtext but no actual canonical romantic relationship between the characters (such as Madoka).
But recently, there is a much wider variety of stories to choose from, and the series are ongoing, with books coming out every couple of months. We’re currently being spoiled with yuri manga, and it’s amazing.
Here are five ongoing manga series that center the experiences of queer women (and one bonus standalone)!
Bloom Into You by Nakatani Nio
First two volumes available in English from Seven Seas, with volume three coming out September 2017.
Yuu is a first-year student who is roped into volunteering for the student council. While there, she meets Nanami, an older student who possesses a lot of traits Yuu admires, especially the ability to turn down potential suitors with ease. She tells Yuu that “no one’s love confession has ever made her heart-pound.” Yuu sees a kindred spirit in Nanami, since Yuu has never experienced romantic feelings for someone, and is worried she never will, though she desperately wants to.
However, as soon as Yuu confesses this, Nanami shares her own confession – Yuu is the only person she’s ever met who does give her romantic feelings.
The two work to navigate their friendship and Nanami’s one-sided romantic feelings. The story is told with beautiful art, in an almost cinematic style. The mood of the story is slow, languid, and gives you a chance to feel deeply what the characters are going through amid lovely, detailed background settings.
Content warning: A character “steal kisses” against the others’ wishes, and later apologizes and they talk about it. Yuu’s feelings about her lack of romantic feelings tend to dip negatively, with insecurity, worry, and a desire to change, though the tone of the story was not (to me, an alloromantic person) forcing a judgment call on her.
Note: Since this is manga, identity labels are never used (and it’s important to remember not all cultures share Western identity labels) but a number of things Yuu says in the series sound very similar to feelings expressed by my aromantic friends, and aro-spec readers might relate to this story.
Kiss and White Lily for my Dearest Girl by Canno
First two volumes available in English from Yen Press, with volume three coming out August 2017.
This series is about a group of classmates at an all-girl’s school who all have feelings for each other. There are many different pairings with a wide variety of dynamics, and no one questions it. (This series reminds me of Strawberry Panic, in that way – a sort of utopia where all the girls are into other girls.)
Because of the number of characters and couples, it reads more like a series of interconnected short stories. Each couple has their own relationship troubles and dynamic. There’s a pair of rivals who develop romantic feelings for each other, a track star and the girl she works hard for, and an older student about to graduate high school and the two younger students who love her. There are single-page one shots between the chapters focusing on background characters and their own attractions and relationships.
The scope of this series means there will be something for everyone, though it can be difficult to tell the characters apart or remember them all, since they all wear the same uniform, have similar faces, and only their hair distinguishes the characters from one another.
Content warning: The first volume depicts a “stolen kiss” without the other girl’s consent, and many of the relationships have elements of manipulation or emotionally dependent dynamics.
Citrus by Saburouta
Five volumes available in English from Seven Seas, with the next one available August 2017.
Citrus is the story of two girls whose parents just married each other, and they are suddenly stepsisters. The bulk of this series is tropey porn, putting the girls into situations that strain the reader’s ability to suspend belief (Mom asking two teenage girls who met last week to share a bath because they’re “sisters” now, for instance).
But amidst the fanservice and overdone sexual scenes is a story about Mei, a closed-off girl in a lot of pain, and her new step-sister Yuzu, the only person who has made an effort to understand her. This series is nonstop drama, tropes, stereotypes, and steamy scenes.
Content warning: Constant consent issues, with Mei pushing Yuzu’s boundaries and taking out her painful feelings on Yuzu by forcing sexual situations on her – kissing, groping, and removing clothing.
After Hours by Yuhta Nishio
First volume available from Viz Media. Since the second volume was just released in Japan July 2017, details about when it will be released in English are still to come.
Unlike the rest of the manga on this list, After Hours is not about high school students. It’s such a refreshing change to read yuri about adult women (in this case, one is in her twenties, the other her thirties). A lot of common manga tropes are left out of this story – shame about sex, excessive bashfulness, internalized homophobia (“but we’re both girls!!”). There’s not even any fan service, and the kissing is vocally consented to.
While the two characters have a sexual relationship, the story focuses on everything else going on in their lives. Emi just got out of college but has no idea what she’s doing in life or what she wants. Kei is finding a way to pursue her passions as hard as she can, and inviting Emi to join in.
The art is cinematic and the story is well-done, with funny moments and characters you can get behind. This is a unique addition to the current yuri offerings in English, and it deserves a lot more attention than I’ve seen it given.
Content warning: Depictions of alcohol and drunkenness in club scenes, as well as a friendship that could be read as emotionally abusive.
Kase-San Series by Hiromi Takashima
First two volumes available in English from Seven Seas, beginning with “Kase-San and Morning Glories,” with volume three coming out September 2017.
In one word, the Kase-San series is adorable. It follows the relationship between Yamada, a sweet, clumsy girl in the gardening club, and Kase, a popular track star who Yamada describes repeatedly as “much cooler than any boy.” They meet when Yamada catches Kase watering the flowers she’s planted, and from then on, Yamada is head-over-heels for the sports star.
The tagline for the second volume is “We’re girlfriends… now what?” and it’s the perfect descriptor for the series, as the two work out the details of how they fit together when they’re such different people. Riddled with lighthearted humor, honest feelings, and sweet moments between the girls, the series is nonstop fluff. Takashima allows her characters to be shy and innocent in their affections while also acknowledging they’re sexually attracted to each other.
Overall, Kase-San is tooth-rotting fluff that will have you full of warm fuzzies, giggling the whole way through the series.
Content warning: None 😊
BONUS: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata
A short standalone volume available in English from Seven Seas, released June 2017.
While not strictly yuri, My Lesbian Experience is a graphic memoir about the author’s mental health struggles and recovery, her discovery and acceptance that she was a lesbian, and her experience hiring a female escort for her first sexual experience.
This is a raw, honest look at the author’s personal life. Nagata is open about her binge eating, wanting to die, and being so depressed she couldn’t leave her bed. It’s also a great portrayal of recovery – finding the few things in life you enjoy and letting them save you from drowning. For the author, those things were manga… and seeing a female sex worker.
My Lesbian Experience is very real, and also really funny. The author lets us laugh with her at how awkward she was, how frustrated life made her, and eventually, how healthy and stable she got to be.
Content warning: eating disorders, trichotillomania, self-harm, suicidal ideation, depression, and possibly also dissociation and emotional abuse by parents. Also touches on outdated psychological theories about the causes of homosexuality.
Jaylee James is a demi-bisexual, bigender writer and editor from Kansas City with purple hair. Er main projects are Spectrum Lit, which publishes LGBTQ+ flash fiction, and Polycule, a true story blog about er polyamorous dating adventures. When not writing, e spends far too much time on twitter (@thewritingj), cuddling er dogs, and dating the entire metro area. More of er work can be found at JayleeJames.com.