This is a series focused on recommending yuri, so it might seem strange that I’m starting with a manga that barely fits the genre. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness — from here on referred to as SabiRezu — is an auto-biographical manga written by Nagata Kabi. It was originally posted on Pixiv, before being picked up for print after seeing extreme success online. It’s a very popular manga in Japan, where it received the honor as the third best manga of 2016 for women. And it just so happens to be one of the most important yuri manga of the decade.
SabiRezu focuses on the author’s persistent depression and her struggle with finding a place in life. While not the main focus of the manga, her sexuality is a key element, especially the ways in which it interacts with her feelings of alienation. The entire manga is building up to an encounter she has with an escort in an attempt to move forward. As an auto-biographical work, it’s deeply personal, and this works to its benefit, making the story feel realistic without feeling boring.
Unlike a lot of yuri, this manga is very explicitly about a queer person. Almost none of yuri’s common tropes show up here, and when they do, it’s almost always part of the mangaka’s imagination. Despite this, it still works very well as a story for people interested in yuri because of its focus on sexuality. The mangaka’s sexuality is a fairly large part of the book, and you can easily see how it influenced the other parts of her life that she talks about. While there’s no romance to conclude in a perfect, happily-ever-after way, the manga avoids the pitfalls of being pointlessly depressing, and the mangaka makes significant progress over the course of this work.
SabiRezu is an incredibly relatable work in many ways. Many of the mangaka’s experiences with depression, self-harm, anxiety, and sexuality will reflect those of the reader. She’s in a much worse place than many readers, including myself, but there are still many aspects of her story which will be relatable to anyone, making it a work with broad appeal.
And if you can’t relate to large parts of it, that’s fine. Part of what makes this manga so great is its strong use of text and visuals to communicate the mangaka’s experiences. Her narration and descriptions are simple, but they do a great job of making it clear how she feels and why she feels that way, easily spinning a narrative out of her life. The art isn’t complex either, but it really helps accentuate how she feels and what she means in each panel, making her thoughts and ideas easy to understand even if you can’t relate. A great example is self-harm, which I never really understood before reading this. Her simple explanations of why she felt a drive to harm herself made me totally understand, which has expanded my ability to understand others in general. Her complex mental state is consistently conveyed with finesse, and I’d say that’s the main strength of this work.
And I must be clear here: this is a very important manga. We’ve been seeing more auto-biographical works from marginalized people lately(including a few from trans women), but this is probably the first one to get this big, and it’s definitely the first one to be licensed for North American release. Yuri has been moving closer to the realm of queer fiction in the last decade, and manga like SabiRezu are a big part of that. At the same time, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of good writing in our quest for better representation, which is why it’s nice that this manga is written so well.
SabiRezu is very much worth reading, especially if you’re interested in finding yuri outside the traditional schoolgirl sphere. It’s also a great read if you want manga that focus on mental health. SabiRezu is a great example of where yuri manga can go from here, and I’m happy to see that it’s meeting such success.