As a fan of animation, it is always nice to see myself represented in animated television shows. Growing up, I watched a lot of animated shows, including Pokémon, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Naruto, and more. I remember these shows fondly, and they fostered a lifelong love of animated programs. However, watching these shows in the 1990s and 2000s, there was so little queer representation. As queer stories began to appear in adult animation in the 2000s, it was often as the butt of a joke. However, there were so many heteronormative representations of straight relationships in these same shows, both casually and plot-centric.
Luckily, as we progressed into the 2010s, we began to see more and more queer representation on television. And not only did we have more examples, but they also began to be positive representations of queer love. The December 2017 double-sized Bob’s Burgers season 7 episode, “The Bleakening”, is a great example of how queer representation has progressed in television. This episode is framed by the closing of a local gay club just before Christmas, leaving the queer community in the Belchers’ town without a space to celebrate together. As many queer folk often do not have a family to spend time with during the holidays, the annual celebration held at this club was an important gathering for many members of the community. The plot of this episode follows the Belcher children trying to hunt down the Bleaken, a Krampus-like figure, who turns out to be a geared-up partygoer. This leads to the Belchers finding the party, now held secretly in a warehouse; the Belchers learn of the importance this party and having an important social pillar has for their local queer community.
Stories of queer representation, like that represented in Bob’s Burgers, are important to normalize being queer. The plot of “The Bleakening” was not about being queer, but was presented within the context of queerness. This almost casual, but pointed, depiction of queer folks in this highly popular show helps bring a commonplaceness that is often missing when queer stories are included. For queer viewers, especially those that are struggling with their identity, being able to see themselves in a television show can be greatly beneficial.
In this month of romance, many people are sitting down and revisiting their favorite romantic stories. Romance is an immensely popular genre with a wealth of great television, movies, books, and more. And thankfully, with this normalization of queer stories, there is more and more queer romance television every year. Luckily, many of these great romances are in animated shows! Warning: some spoilers below!
Harley Quinn follows the titular character in this raunchy alternate version of the world from DC Comics. Voiced by Kaley Cuoco, Harley is looking to break out on her own as a villain after breaking up with her longtime, abusive boyfriend Joker. Alongside her friend Poison Ivy, as well as her crew of fellow villains Clayface, King Shark, and Dr. Psycho, Harley begins to make a real name for herself, sometimes as a villain and other times as more of an anti-hero. This show centers around Harley and Ivy’s friendship, as Ivy’s support of Harley allows her to become her own woman. It is slowly revealed over the course of the series that the feelings that Ivy and Harley have for each other might be a bit more than just friendship…
For more family-friendly fare, The Owl House features queer love for the main character. Following Luz Noceda as she finds herself in the magical world of the Boiling Isles, this show from Disney Channel is an important milestone of representation for the network. In a classic enemy-turned-ally story, the original mean girl Amity Blight becomes companions with Luz and her friends Willow and Gus. However, as they begin to spend more time together, Luz and Amity begin to develop romantic feelings for one another. The depiction of the blossoming love between these characters is presented like any other romantic plot point; what is important is that they care for each other, not that they are both girls. The strength of their relationship has helped Luz and Amity get through many of the hardships that they have faced thus far. Be sure to check out the first two seasons before the return of The Owl House on March 19th!
The Netflix series, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, follows human Kipo in a post-apocalyptic world populated by sentient, anthropomorphic animals. Kipo, who grew up in a burrow, or underground community, separated from the rest of the world, has to navigate through the dangers of being a human among predators and threats that were unimaginable before. With the help of her new friends, humans Benson and Wolf, and insect Dave, Kipo is able to fight back against threats both human and animal, and help create a world open to all species. In a touching moment along the way, Benson brings Kipo to an amusement park run by rats, but Kipo interprets it as a romantic gesture; however, Benson reveals he is gay. Kipo and Benson continue being friends and allies, and Benson later begins dating Troy, who is also from Kipo’s burrow.
Anime is beginning to see many of these storylines as well, which is important for a country like Japan that, despite having a long history of queer relationships that was only disrupted by the introduction of Western influences, has largely been hesitant about depicting queer folks in mainstream media. A prime example of the introduction of queer storylines in anime is figure skating sports anime Yuri!!! on Ice, which follows figure skater Yuri Katsuki as he tries to make a comeback in the highly competitive world of international figure skating. He is bolstered to success by his coach and idol Victor Nikiforov. But this relationship is not just professional, and Yuri rockets to the top of international figure skating not just by Victor’s coaching but by the romance that develops between them.
What’s important about all these storylines is that the plots are not about being queer; these characters just happen to be queer. Too often, queer stories are about traumatic moments of queerness: coming out, being rejected by your family, religious trauma, homelessness, and more. What’s so great about a lot of these animated shows is that they place the queerness of their characters so seamlessly into their world that it is not the focus. Being queer is normalized, a regular part of being in their world. The nature of animated television as a medium is critical to how these queer romances are presented; the generally lighthearted nature and storytelling techniques that are found in animated programs make it a great way to depicted queer stories in this way. By presenting us with these sweet, romantic, queer relationships as a moment in these shows instead of the focus, they are showing to their viewers that while recognizing queerness is important, moving to a world where queerness is an accepted and normal part of our world should be the goal. Here’s to more queer romances going forward!
Bob’s Burgers is available to stream on Hulu; Harley Quinn is available to stream on HBO Max; The Owl House is available to stream on Disney+; Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is available to stream on Netflix; Yuri!!! on Ice is available to stream on Funimation (dubbed) and Crunchyroll (subbed).