It took a long time, but traditional cartoons are finally coming out. Now, we can only hope they stay that way.
When live-action television began making inroads for gay representation at the turn of the century, animation remained a frustratingly straight (albeit often queerly coded) affair. The reasons behind the slow pace of the medium were obvious and, predictably, homophobic. Animation is too often seen as content aimed at children, and same-sex attraction is considered an “adult” topic. So, television critics would argue, children shouldn’t be exposed to “adult” (read: gay) characters through vulgar cartoons.
That’s not to say there weren’t LGBTQ people in cartoons before 2010; Japanese anime, in particular, has been a bit ahead on this front, with ’90s classics like “Sailor Moon” and “Neon Genesis Evangelion” featuring explicitly queer themes and love stories. But that content was often squashed mercilessly when it made its way to North America; see the infamous first English dub of ‘Sailor Moon’, which tried to pass off girlfriends Sailor Uranus and Neptune as too close cousins, or the English translation of ‘Cardcaptor Sakura’, which removed all instances of queer attraction and romance from history.
Western animation, meanwhile, featured gay characters in one-off episodes (see John Water’s iconic gay steel mill episode of “The Simpsons”) if they were aimed more at adults, or kept hidden in subtext if audiences of target was younger. For example, years after “The Proud Family” first aired, creator Ralph Farquhar admitted that the character Michael was written as gay, but simply had to be coded queer to conform to Disney standards at the time.
In recent years, however, LGBTQ stories in animation have progressed rapidly. One of the earliest boundary-breakers was “The Legend of Korra,” which more or less made it explicit in the last episode that the title character was bisexual and in love with his friend Asami. That was a chipmunk situation in many ways (the creators had to wait until the last episode to confirm that, and the entire final season was confined to the Nickelodeon website instead of the channel proper), but it paved the way to “Steven Universe”. which had its own built-in weirdness. ‘Steven Universe’ was groundbreaking in its own way, and numerous other LGBTQ animated series for children have been able to follow in her footsteps, such as ‘She-Ra’, ‘The Owl House’ and ‘Kipo and the Era wonderful beasts.
That said, all of those series have ended, and it’s unclear if there are many similar shows poised to replace them. Between Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and numerous anti-trans laws passed in red states, there has been a concentrated conservative effort to demonize LGBTQ people and prevent discussion of sex and gender identity among the children. It’s not hard to imagine the companies behind these series backing down on the inroads these shows have made into queer representation out of political fear. But supporting queer animated shows is more important than ever.
In celebration of Pride Month, we take stock of the best and gayest that animated TV has to offer. This list considers both adult shows, like the buddy comedy “Tuca and Bertie” and the Hollywood (sorry, Hollywoo) satire “BoJack Horseman” — as well as kids’ shows like “The Owl House” and “Steven Universe.” We’ve also included more anime entries, from classics like “Revolutionary Girl Utena” to modern queer favorites like “Yuri on Ice.”
Read on for a list of the 15 best LGBTQ animated series of all time.