Although there is a long history of LGBTQ+ representation in anime, much of this representation has appeared in coded forms to remain palatable to wider audiences. Regardless, these characters can be just as impactful as openly queer characters — even if their queer identities haven’t been completely confirmed.
These characters’ sexual and/or gender identities often come across in a variety of ways, from their fondness for a “friend” of the same sex to their lack of interest in conforming to the confines of the gender binary. While the very notion of their queerness is rarely focused on in these anime, the fact that they can be recognized as queer characters by viewers is important nonetheless.
10/10 Sui-Feng Never Falters In Her Loyalty & Love For Yoruichi Shihoin
Often, coded LGBTQ+ representation in anime comes across through a character’s deep admiration of everything about their superior. A perfect example of this dynamic unfolds between the unwaveringly loyal Sui-Feng and her commanding officer, Yoruichi Shihoin, in Bleach.
Besides Sui-Feng’s clear devotion to Yoruichi, many Bleach fans first noticed that Sui-Feng is a queer-coded character due to boyish features like her hairstyle and her androgynous wardrobe. While Sui-Feng’s aloof demeanor persists throughout her interactions with Ichigo, this iciness melts away whenever Sui-Feng is with Yoruichi.
9/10 Makoto Sunakawa Admires The Love His Friends Have For One Another, But Has No Interest In Finding Such Love Himself
My Love Story!!
Another character many fans believe to be queer-coded is Makoto Sunakawa from My Love Story!!. Throughout the anime, Makoto is constantly being romantically pursued by female classmates due to his attractive appearance. Despite this, Makoto rejects all of their advances since many of them speak poorly of Makoto’s best friend, Takeo, behind his back.
Audiences couldn’t quite wrap their heads around why Makoto is uninterested in romance, but is willing to do anything to help Takeo confidently pursue his mutual feelings for Rinko. However, Makoto’s lacking interest in romantic relationships can easily be explained by his character being asexual. After all, it is abundantly clear that Makoto values platonic companionship through his friendships with Takeo and Rinko.
8/10 Freed Justine Has Unwavering Loyalty & Admiration For Laxus Dreyar
Many anime characters are recognized for their unique senses of style and vibrant hair colors. While such character traits are common across anime characters regardless of sexual or gender identity, they partially inform the sexual identity of Freed Justin from Fairy Tail — who is known for his striking, almost feminine features and flowing, bright green locks.
In addition to Freed’s appearance, it is hard to overlook his immense loyalty and admiration for Laxus Dreyar, the leader of the Thunder God Tribe. Although the pair haven’t shared any romantic moments in the anime or the manga, their mutual bond and respect for one another is readily clear — from Freed referring to Laxus as “my Laxus” to the two always looking out for the other’s well-being.
7/10 Motoko Kusanagi Is Inherently Queer Coded As A Bisexual Woman
Ghost In The Shell
When it comes to queer coding in anime, protagonists are rarely given characteristics that make viewers question the character’s gender or sexual identity. However, this isn’t the case for the ’90s anime Ghost in the Shell, which features the badass cyborg heroine Motoko Kusanagi. For many fans, Motoko embodies the archetype of a powerful bisexual character.
Motoko’s impeccable leadership capabilities and the respect she effortlessly garners from her subordinates are just some of the many queer-coded aspects about her. For instance, in the fifth episode of the anime, two women can briefly be seen lying in bed as Motoko looks through paperwork in the background. Such scenes heavily imply that Motoko is queer.
6/10 Sailor Uranus Is In A Loving Relationship With Her Partner-In-Crime
As an anime that caters to a wide audience, Sailor Moon is a perfect example of an anime that gracefully queer-coded its characters in a way that made them more fully-realized and compelling to viewers. While it is not immediately clear that Sailor Uranus is a lesbian, she briefly flirts with Usagi and even kisses her in the manga.
Another aspect of Sailor Uranus’ character that clearly marks her as a queer character is her romantic relationship with Sailor Neptune. Although the pair are initially introduced as cousins in the dubbed version of Sailor Moon, it eventually becomes clear that they are a loving couple that fight intergalactic beings alongside each other.
5/10 Atsuko Jackson Will Always Love & Look Out For Her Childhood Friend
Michiko & Hatchin
Michiko & Hatchin is beloved for its inspiring representation of strong Black women like Michiko and Atsuko. They are able to confidently do everything in their power to change their dire fates for the better. Because of this, it should not be surprising that fans believe that Michiko’s childhood friend, Atusko, is queer-coded as a lesbian.
Despite being responsible for arresting Michiko in the first place and being tasked with arresting her throughout the anime, Atsuko still cares deeply for Michiko and often looks the other way in order for Michiko’s sake. Many fans think that this is because Atsuko has romantic feelings for her childhood friend and can’t bear to be responsible for Michiko’s continued suffering.
4/10 Hange Zoë Is Constantly Misgendered By Fans
Attack On Titan
Since anime characters are often overexaggerated and hyper-realized to make them more compelling, gender-nonconforming characters who don’t identify within the gender binary are quite rare. However, a notable example of a character who refuses to reduce their identity into the confines of the gender binary is Hange Zoë from Attack on Titan.
Although many fans tend to misgender them as a woman due to their long hair and feminine features, it is abundantly clear that Hange identifies as non-binary. Even when gendered pronouns need to be used since the Japanese language is heavily based in gendered language, Hange uses masculine and feminine pronouns equally to stay true to their gender identity.
3/10 Haruhi Fujioka Believes That There Is Much More To A Person Than Their Gender
Ouran High School Host Club
One character who is undoubtedly unique in terms of their gender identity is Haruhi Fujioka, the protagonist of Ouran High School Host Club. Although Haruhi identifies as a biological female, she believes that gender is irrelevant and should not be used to determine an individual’s worth within society or what they are capable of.
Throughout the anime, Haruhi is incredibly comfortable in her skin and gets noticeably upset whenever Tamaki gushes over Haruhi’s past hyperfeminine appearance. Even though these opinions and behaviors do not necessarily mean that Haruhi is genderqueer or non-binary, they certainly showcase that Haruhi doesn’t see herself as an average girl.
2/10 Grell Sutcliff Is Heavily Queer Coded As A Transgender Woman
There is ample LGBTQ+ representation among protagonists and supporting characters in anime, but there is also notable queer representation among antagonistic anime characters. While it can be harder for viewers to empathize and relate to queer villains in anime, there are a few eccentric, charismatic exceptions to the rule, like Grell Sutcliff from Black Butler.
While many fans of Black Butler see Grell as a gay character, it is heavily implied throughout the anime and suggested more explicitly in the manga that Grell identifies as a transgender woman. Although there is undeniably more positive LGBTQ+ representation in anime than the eccentric, homicidal Grell, she is incredibly important as a character who is unapologetically herself at all times.
1/10 Utena Tenjou Wants Nothing More Than To Become Her Close Friend’s Prince
Revolutionary Girl Utena
Since Revolutionary Girl Utena bears notable queer and feminist themes, it makes sense that the anime’s protagonist, Utena Tenjou, is widely considered to be queer-coded. This comes across most clearly as Utena persistently pursues Anthy Himemiya and endeavors to become her prince.
Fans have also noted how Utena brings out Anthy’s more personable and outgoing side, leading them to believe that the two are more than just friends. Viewers’ suspicions were soon confirmed in the anime film Adolescence of Utena. However, some fans are still reluctant to acknowledge whether this romantic pairing is canon.
NEXT: 10 Best Magical Girl Anime That Embraced Its Clichés