Since she created AniLesboCon in 2000, a website covering lesbian-themed anime, Erica Friedman has become one of the world's top publishers of and experts on yuri, or Japanese comics featuring same-sex relationships between women. In this article, Friedman, now the president and founder of Yuricon and ALC Publishing, a North American publisher specializing in yuri, tells us about the best yuri out there.
Any guide to yuri must begin with a cartoon series originally meant for little girls, Sailor Moon. This series — especially the third season in 2000, in which two of the lead characters are a lesbian couple — brought yuri to America.
Sailor Moon was followed by another "magical girl" series, Revolutionary Girl Utena. In Sailor Moon, the girls fight the monster of the day, while in Utena, the female protagonist must duel for the hand of the Rose Bride.
Sailor Moon has a fairly simple good vs. evil plot, in which the purity of one's heart is more important than fighting skills. The plot of Utena is much more complex, including strong themes of sexuality and violence. Sailor Moon takes place in 1990s Tokyo, while Utena is set in a fantasy world influenced as much by French Revolution-era Versailles as it is by modern standards.
The popularity of these two series was an early factor in the creation and growth of yuri fandom in the West. The lesbian characters of both series are considered by many yuri fans to be the epitome of the genre: cool, sexy, powerful. The manga for both series also include lesbian story lines, although they differ from the anime story lines and characterizations slightly. Anime (the animated series) and manga (the comic books) are still available in English translations for both series.
In the last few years, there has been a subtle but increasing presence of lesbian characters in mainstream anime, and many titles are available from your local video rental store or online.
For a cheesy horror thrill, try Devil Lady, a story about a supermodel whose life is turned upside down when she discovers that she can transform into the demonic Devilman Lady. Jun is forced to fight other beast-humans at the behest of sexy but crazy Asuka. This story isn't happy, but it is chock full of yuri.
If you enjoy space opera, take a look at Stellvia. In the first third of the series, humanity bands together to fight off a threat from space — and wins. When a new threat from space starts ripping humanity apart, the world turns to a small group of young people to save humankind.
Included in that group are two women with a complex past between them. Their coming-out scene, while right at the end of the series, is dramatic and totally worth waiting for.
R.O.D. the TV has everything an action fan could want. A well-written, complex plot; strong female characters who have the ability to manipulate paper to create weapons but are, nonetheless, quite human; monsters and more.
Based on a series of novels, R.O.D. includes elements from the books, the previous three-episode series R.O.D. Read or Die and the R.O.D. manga. The TV series starts with a grumpy novelist suffering from writer's block and ends up spanning the globe as five women seek to save the world from a madman.
More recently, there's Kashimashi Girl Meets Girl, about a girlish boy who is killed by an alien spaceship and brought back as the girl she always truly was, as well as the two girls who are in love with her.
Kannazuki no Miko is a wildly popular series that merges schoolgirls, Japanese mythology, giant robots and lesbian desire into a series that is much loved but little understood.
These titles are a small sample of a far longer list of slashable (that is, easily interpreted as containing same-sex subtext) characters in mainstream anime. Most of these are series created for a young male audience, so prepare yourself for some gratuitous bouncing breasts and other "service," as it is known.
If this sort of thing doesn't bother you, take a look at My HiME. This mixture of monsters, magic, mayhem and the inescapable schoolgirls has one of the sexiest psychotic lesbians in anime — and at least three viable lesbian couples. Its upcoming alternative universe sequel, My Otome, has the same characters set in a fantasy feudal world and even more yuri than HiME.