March 31st is recognized as International Transgender Day of Visibility. This year just so happens to be the 10th anniversary of the event, started by activist Rachel Crandall due to the lack of LGBT-focused holidays. Being a trans woman myself, I wanted to contribute to the day the only way I know how. By talking about Japanese media.
More specifically, I wanted to briefly highlight Japan’s fascination with gender in anime, manga, games and more. As well as list off a number of examples of transgender, non-binary and agender characters within said media.
Let’s start by clearing up some common misconceptions about Japan’s transgender scene. First off, the general terminology used for a person transitioning is MtF and FtM, standing for Male to Female and Female to Male. You generally don’t see a person specifically using a term like transgender or transsexual unless they’re referring to medical transitioning.
Similarly, you can not change your legal gender marker unless you have bottom surgery, so it’s not uncommon for trans people to still state their legal birth gender as a factor until then. Despite this, it’s a rather large community with activism and representation growing each day.
There’s also x-gender, Japan’s umbrella term for non-binary gender identities and people who simply don’t want to be defined as a man or a woman in one way or another. This can both include trans people of the binary norm that are in a transitional phase and people completely outside the binary norm.
There are of course issues and controversies matching those we have in the west, bathroom scare panic being a particular big one at the moment, but there’s also a lot of acceptance that should not go unnoticed. Gay bars and nightclub parties are often trans inclusive, with some places even having trans specific days of the week, such as Gold Finger in Shinjuku focusing on providing a space for trans men every Monday.
Then there’s the josou and dansou communities, often mislabeled as Japan’s drag scene, which have been trans inclusive for as long as they’ve been around. Trans men often coming into the dansou scene to get help presenting masculine and trans women often coming into the josou scene to get help presenting feminine.
Even commonly misunderstood and mistranslated terms like otokonoko are meant to be trans inclusive. While often translated into transphobic slurs in the west, it’s a self-identifier for someone presenting feminine in a sexual context when not legally a woman. The term involves crossdressing cis men, trans women, x-gender people and everyone in between.
So with that said, let’s have a quick look at trans visibility in Japanese media.
Japan have had stories involving gender non-conformity and the like since forever, but in terms of media presence we start by looking at genderfluid characters in a fantastical context. Starting with a character from the 1950s. Sapphire, a child of the royal family born with both a male and a female heart, is the protagonist of the manga Princess Knight.
Their two hearts are a fantastical narrative contrivances to explain how they can swap between a male and female mode, a concept that we’d see a lot of going forward. In the 1970s we had Berg Katse, a major villain from the original Gatchaman, whose narrative contrivance for being genderfluid was related to them initially being two twins, a boy and a girl, merged in the womb.
Katse also dies by committing suicide after unmasked and called a freak of nature. It’s not the most flattering depiction, to say the least. At least the 1994 remake their death be at the hands of the heroes with the remark on their gender presentation being cut entirely.
More famously we have Ranma from the popular 80s and 90s manga Ranma½. Again we have a narrative contrivance, Ranma having fallen into a magical hot spring that cause them to swap between a male and female presentation if doused in cold or hot water. However, while Ranma initially dislikes this predicament, they come to embrace it over the series, even admitting that they like their femininity and that they no longer view it as a curse to be cured.
In the 90ss we also had the Sailor Starlights from the anime adaptation of Sailor Moon, who change their presented gender when transforming into their magical form, much like Nagihiko from the 2000s anime Shugo Chara! and Souji from the still ongoing light novel Gonna Be The Twin-Tail!!.
There’s algo Minami from the 2017 manga Magical Trans! which was sadly canceled before the story could reach its conclusion. With that said, let’s leave the realm of the fantastical and look at characters whose gender expression does not involve magical transformations.
The earliest instance of a trans character whose transition was medical that I’ve been able to find over the years is from Tezuka’s 1973 manga BlackJack. In the story, the titular Jack is forced to perform surgery on his at-the-time female presenting love interest to save their life, which involves removing their ovaries and womb. While the character was forced into the situation, they come back in the story, now living happily as a man named Kei.
Once the 80s rolled around we got more realistic depictions of transgender characters. The manga Stop It!! Hibari-kun! was about a trans girl named Hibari and her everyday life. The same manga also had Gekijirou, a trans man who even mentions being on hormone therapy. Not bad for a nearly 40 year old manga primarily for kids.
In the seventh episode of the 1985 Dirty Pair anime, a trans woman, Joanca, is set to marry a man whose father protests over her being “a man.” This result in a wonderful scene where the main characters and Joanca’s future husband stand up for her as good allies. Dirty Pair said trans rights.
In 1986, we got the manga You’re Under Arrest where one of the major supporting characters is a trans woman named Futaba Aoi. She have appeared in every adaptation of the series as well. And while we’re in 1986, let’s not forget Samus Aran from Metroid. After all, if Metroid character designer Matsuoka Hirofumi is going to use trans slurs for her, we get to claim her as a trans woman.
Let’s go back to Ranma½ for a bit. Remember Konatsu the Kunoichi? She’s a trans woman who was trained as a female ninja, even though she faces a lot of shitty transphobic jabs in the series as a result. There’s a common misconception in the western fanbase that Konatsu was forced into presenting as a woman against her will because of her evil stepmother and sisters, but that’s a rather liberal fan interpretation of her backstory as the manga only says that she was brought up by them in order to be a female ninja, not raised by them to become a woman.
There are of course the famous early video game examples, such as Birdetta aka. Catherine from Super Mario Bros. 2 or Doki Doki Panic as well as Poison and Roxy from Final Fight. The latter of which also have misconceptions in the west as to their creation. Their concept art label them with a transphobic slur “newhalf”, meaning they were both always planned to be trans women, it was not something changed later in development like the urban legend goes.
The 1994 manga Angel Sanctuary feature Arachne and Belial, a trans woman and agender angel respectively. Flea from Chrono Trigger was non-binary, not wishing to be seen as a man or a woman, though the English localization still gendered them.
And then there’s F Compo, a 1996 manga focusing specifically on what life is like as a trans person in Japan. The manga has several trans women, trans men and genderfluid people. The very next year we had the manga Saiyuki which featured Kanzeon Bousatsu, an intersex trans woman.
Ed from Cowboy Bebop has been officially stated as being non-binary, though again gendered in localization. The 1998 manga Double House is about a trans woman, Maho, and a gender non-conforming cis woman,Fujiko, sharing an apartment and the events at the trans themed bar that Maho works at.
That same year we have two more trans women. Alluka from Hunter x Hunter and Isabelle from Paradise Kiss. Come 1999 we have Megumi, the main character of The Day of the Revolution. An intersex trans woman who would later reappear in the sequel, Princess Princess.
At the turn of the millennium we of course have Kino from Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World-, an agender kid who I talked about in detail a few months back. Speaking of, the new manga localization does not gender them, which is good. Thank you for that, Vertical Comics.
The 2001 manga, Battle Angel Alita: Last Order, have Sechs. A trans man who is also a badass cyborg clone. And of course in 2002 we got Wandering Son, a manga focusing on a young trans girl and trans boy and them growing up. Despite the impressive cast of trans characters, the ending of the manga was quite the sour note for a lot of trans readers.
The intersex focused manga IS: Otoko Demo Onna Demo Nai Sei have two main characters who are transgender. Ryoma from the second story is a trans woman and Haru from the third and final story is a trans man.
The Girls Love light novel Maria Watches Over Us introduced a trans girl named Alice in the 2003 volume Cool Breeze. The same year we got the non-binary character Inukashi from the manga No. 6. And if it seems like I’m rushing through characters now, it’s only because I am.
The 2004 Girls Love manga Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl does involve a fantastical transformation for the main character Hazumu, but she fully embraces the fact that she gets to live as a woman. The supporting character Yuuki Kei in Moyashimon is also a trans woman, though she is misgendered in localization.
Nintendo once again created a trans woman, this time the ghost Vivian from Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. While her trans status was kept for some localizations, the English version removed all references to this. You might be noticing a pattern by now.
But hey, it’s time to talk about the Fate/ series. I’m sure this will go well.
Starting with the 2005 light novel Fate/Zero we meet Enkidu, who is agender. Later in 2012’s Fate/Apocrypha we got Mordred, Artoria’s son who orders even his own master to never call him a woman. Whether you read Mordred as a trans man or non-binary, it’s left vague just what he explicitly would identify as but the most recent official localization went with he/him pronouns, the fact that he does not wish to be misgendered should be respected.
Apocrypha also gave us Astolfo, which is where we finally talk about our first otokonoko character. As I mentioned earlier, otokonoko and josou is not simply referring to crossdressing cis men but is in fact a huge scene for transgender and x-gender people. Astolfo themselves refer to themselves with both feminine and masculine terms and while they’re not coy about what they have in their panties, they have requested, in-character, to not be gendered. Whether they’re agender, genderfluid or some other non-binary identity is left up to interpretation, but they’re not simply a crossdresser and simplifying them that way is doing both Astolfo and the otokonoko scene a disservice.
In 2015 we got Fate/Grand Order which launched with two trans characters. We learn early on that Leonardo Da Vinci have taken the form of Mona Lisa when summoned and that she now presents as a woman. Sadly she’s faced with shitty transphobic remarks from the supporting cast over this.
A more odd situation is that of Chevalier d’Eon. In real life, d’Eon was a trans woman who blackmailed the king of France, for whom she formerly worked as a knight and spy, to have her legal gender changed and lived the rest of her life proudly presenting as a woman. Despite being a trans woman in real life, the Fate/Grand Order version of her made her genderfluid instead, seemingly to reference her ability to present as both male and female when she was a spy.
But hey, it’s better than the Chevalier d’Eon anime that claims she was a cis man haunted by her dead twin sister’s ghost… Seriously.
In 2016, the game added Nezha from Journey to the West. Fate/Grand Order’s version of the character is a trans woman whose golem body took on her ideal form, thus presenting as female. Late last year they added Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, who is agender, explicitly only identifying as the royal we with no gender applied to themselves.
And with that we leave Fate/ behind as I fear the angry tweets I will get for suggesting Astolfo isn’t a cis man.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers, the third season of Nanoha released in 2007, introduces the Numbers. Twelve cyborg sisters serving under Jail Scaglietti as his personal soldiers. One of the Numbers, Otto, is heavily hinted at being trans by being the only girl not wearing a form-fitting uniform, a more masculine presentation and one shot of the anime even drawing her crotch with a subtle bulge. Reading the manga, we learn that her sisters suspect her of being a trans girl but when asked about her body, Otto simply says she won’t talk about whether her body is male or female.
2007 also gave us Umineko: When They Cry, which features a character who depending on the timeline is either living as a trans woman or as non-binary. I won’t say who to avoid spoilers, but since it’s a horror series, go into it with that in mind. The 2009 visual novel Steins;Gate featured Ruka, a trans woman who sadly retracts back into the closet in the story.
The supporting character Seiji from the Boys Love manga Super Lovers is a trans woman and if you want more horror stories with trans rep there’s the trans girl Miyu from the 2010 manga Corpse Party: Musume and the trans man Tetsuo who is the main character of the manga Yuureitou
In 2011 we got the video game Catherine. Moving on.
The fabulous anime series Tiger and Bunny, who had a new season announced yesterday, featured Fire Emblem, a non-binary superhero. We also had a trans character confirmed in Touhou that year, Toyosatomimi no Miko, a trans woman who is treated properly as a woman despite characters knowing of her old self.
The 2012 manga Bokura no Hentai features several otokonoko, consisting of crossdressing boys and one trans girl, Marika. And of course, that same year we got Land of the Lustrous following Phos whose entire species are agender mineral people with the more recent chapters, minor spoiler warning here, even going as far as to depict the horrors of forcing gender onto someone against their will.
In 2013 we got a rebooted Gatchaman anime, Gatchaman Crowds. In it we meet Rui, a trans woman who began presenting as a woman in public because it made her feel pretty. While she faces transphobic remarks, the heroes treat her no different from any other girl once they get to know her. A reimagined Berg Katse, now spelled with a Z, appears as well. Now an agender alien with an androgynous appearance. Another alien, O.D., has their appearance based on an older norm for Japan’s trans women, but does so without playing into negative okama tropes.
And Nintendo came back a third time, this time featuring a trans woman in Pokémon X and Y. Specifically Beauty Nova, a trainer who upon winning against her mentions she used to be a Black Belt, a male only trainer type. In the Japanese version she even mentions having gone through medical transition to achieve it.
And then 2014 happened and so did my latest obsession. It’s time to talk about Granblue Fantasy.
Much like the Fate/ series, Granblue enjoys taking famous fictional, mythological or historical characters and reinterpreting them. One such character is Cagliostro, the alchemist. In Granblue Fantasy, she used her advanced alchemy to alter her body to present as her ideal female self. While there are some lines that poke fun at her over it, she makes it clear that she will not allow people to misgender her and she’s generally respected by the cast.
There are two more characters in Granblue. Ladiva, a gender non-conforming trans woman who Cagliostro actually offers to make a body for the way she did herself. Ladiva declines, saying she wishes to keep her body despite how she’s perceived. There’s also Balurga, a young trans man who wished to join his father’s male only mercenary group. Upon proving he was a man, in a test that cost him his right hand, he was allowed to join and accepted by his father as a man. Unfortunately, the rest of his clan does not accept him and the game misgenders him a lot.
The light novel That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime als released in 2014, where the main character Rimuru is reincarnated as a slime. Slimes are generally agender, though they can learn to shapeshift their body at will. Rimuru eventually discovers this and the fact that they’re androgynous in appearance and embraces that.
Tokyo Ghoul:re is a manga sequel to the original Tokyo Ghoul, in it we have a trans man as a main character, Tooru. Said manga was recently adapted into an anime as well. Come 2015, we have the visual novel Boukoku no Courtisane which is about the romance of a trans woman, Nina, and her cis girlfriend, Colette, during the French Revolution.
That same year we were introduced to Chitora Yawara, aka. Tiger, in My Hero Academia. A trans man built like a mountain who’s part of the superhero team Pussycats. The same series also featured a trans woman, the villain Magne. Sadly, and again I have to put a spoiler warning here, Magne does not survive for long. She’s killed and mourned by the partners she had.
Let’s move on to my favourite Nanoha fanfic turned anime, Symphogear. In the third season, Symphogear GX, we meet Elfnein. Elfnein is a homunculi, created as an androgynous vessel without genitalia or assigned gender. At the end, however, Elfnein begins presenting as a girl and is accepted by everyone as such. Meaning we have a rare example of someone getting to choose their gender without ever having been assigned one. An ideal that many trans people strive for.
And hey, remember Cagliostro who altered her body with alchemy? Well, Symphogear’s fourth season, Symphogear AXZ also features Cagliostro. And she has also had her body altered by alchemy to present as her ideal female self. This time with the help of Saint Germain. But it’s not just Cagliostro, fellow alchemist Prelati is also a trans woman who attained her new body with the help of Saint Germain.
Alright, we’re almost at the end. The 2017 manga Catcher In The Rhyme, which is about gay girls doing rap battles, seriously, it’s awesome, introduced a trans girl in its third chapter named Utsugi. They even talk about how cool it is that their school took in a trans girl and allowed her to dress in the female uniform and all. Something that is slowly becoming more accepted in Japan.
Last year, the manga Golden Kamui introduced a trans woman named Ienaga and of course we had Lily from the anime Zombie Land Saga who I talked about in detail last year as well. While technically a spoiler, it deserves mention that the main character of Swery65’s The MISSING, JJ Macfield, is a trans woman as well.
There’s also one night, hot springs, a game exploring what it’s like going to the hot springs as a trans woman in Japan, available now on Steam. The manga Love Me For What I Am also debuted, focusing on LGBT issues in various ways. The main character Mogomu being non-binary and two characters in the supporting cast being trans girls.
And come 2019, another manga debuted. Kanojo ni Naritai Kimi to Boku, where we follow the trans woman, Akira, who is taking her first steps as presenting as a woman in high school.
And I’m sure there’s a lot more I haven’t touched on here. I didn’t even talk about autobiographical works like Chii’s wonderful manga The Bride Was A Boy or Hirasawa Yuna’s Boku ga Watashi ni Naru Tame ni. There’s also Otokonoko Doushi Renai Chuu, an autobiographical manga by Ooshima Kaoru, a crossdressing man who helped kick off the otokonoko community as an adult film actor, in it he talk about the trans influence and how trans women take part in it.
And with that, this video is coming to a close. I hope I was able to shed some light on trans visibility in Japanese media and offered you plenty of new series to look into. As always, you can support my work on Patreon if you like my content and I’ll see you in another video.