As I said in my video on Citrus last week, I’ve read a lot of yuri manga, most of which I’d call better than that series. It’s an expansive genre despite being relatively niche until quite recently. As such, it can be hard for beginners to know where to look if they’re interested in more works. Citrus drew many more eyes to yuri than ever before and I think it’s worthwhile to point these people to series which might allow them to sink deeper into this genre I’m so invested in. As such, I’ve prepared a list of 10 great yuri manga for beginners, of varying tastes, and I’ll be following this up next week with another list of 20 manga for those who’ve already got a foundation. Without further ado, let us begin.
Number 10 is Milk Morinaga’s Girl Friends. This manga is a real classic at this point and it’s probably the most important yuri manga to those of us living in the West. Fundamentally, Girl Friends is a classic and generic story. Its protagonists, Mari and Akko, befriend one another, fall in love, deal with the fact that they’re in love with people of their own gender, and then live on fairly happily. It’s quite well-written and its 5 volume length gives plenty of time for the reader to get attached to these characters.
What makes it notable and worthwhile, especially as an introduction, is the fact that it shows the majority of the genre’s tropes alongside strong writing and a clear dismissal of historical and problematic conventions. This manga is incredibly shoujo, which you can see from Morinaga’s art, but it rejects a lot of the heteronormative ideas present in older shoujo yuri. This is less relevant now, given that Class S is dead, but even still it makes a conscious attempt to refute the idea that the girls’ love is a phase in any way. It has their friends stick by them and validate their emotions and sexuality. I’ll be particularly highlighting works that do this throughout the piece, as I think it’s important for beginners to see the genre as it is now, not as it was in the early 2000s.
Of course, that wouldn’t be enough to land it on this list. If I were to pick out one element of it to convince you to go read it right now, it would be the fact that the story continues after Mari and Akko get together. Not only that, but the time afterward is spent on serious questions about their relationship, such as sex and graduation, not on pointless drama with new characters. The leads have their own desires and interests outside of their relationship, so you can actually imagine them as real people. It’s hardly the only work on this list to take that approach, but I hope that’s enough to convince you. If anything, the fact that every yuri fan has read it should be motivation enough. After this, feel free to check out Morinaga’s other manga. She’s a beloved creator for a reason and I particularly recommend Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink.
Number 9 is Canno’s Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl. To describe this manga, I’d have to borrow from the visual novel ‘Kindred Spirits on the Roof’ and refer to it as a ‘yuritopia’. That is to say, everyone at the school this is set in is gay and there’s no subtlety about that fact. While theoretically being about a couple who compete over how well they perform at various events, primarily academic, it quickly branches out to focus on any number of couples, and even a poly relationship eventually. This isn’t something to read if you’ll be annoyed by a lack of clear focus, but it’s excellent if that’s something you’re willing to buy into.
None of this manga’s relationships stands out as the best in the genre. They’re all well-done versions of what they are(rivals, senpai-kohai, childhood friends, school prince and princess, etc.) but I wouldn’t call any of them the absolute best at what they are. What makes them work so well is the fact that we get so many of them. There are at least 6 relationships that get serious focus at this point. They might not be able to match a couple in a manga that ran for 9 volumes dedicated just to them, but they can certainly beat most single volume couples. When you add all of them up, you get an excellent work which really showcases many of the archetypes that you’ll see pop up again and again as you work your way deeper into the genre. Reading this will sort of prep you for what’s to come, as it really does have every relationship type so far, other than teacher-student I suppose. Aside from that, it’s just another solid shoujo-style yuri manga. A great introduction and a reliable read, though not something that’s likely to amaze you consistently once you’re a bit deeper into the genre.
Number 8 is Takako Shimura’s Aoi Hana or Sweet Blue Flowers. Famous for her well-known manga featuring trans characters, Wandering Son, Shimura was working on Aoi Hana at the same time. The quickest description for this manga is that it’s a story about a modern-day lesbian living in a Class S environment. The world surrounding our main character, Fumi, is perfectly fine with her interest in other girls but sees it as a fleeting thing which is bound to fade soon. Fumi, of course, does not see it that way and knows that her lesbianism is a serious part of herself.
The manga could be said to chronicle her high school experience. Primarily, this comes in the form of a focus on her love life and struggles, while also covering her childhood friend, Ah-chan. Like Wandering Son, the style of storytelling here is more focused on exploring the characters’ feelings as they move through life, without a clear goal always being in sight. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call this manga meandering at moments, and when it ends, it seems somewhat abrupt.
That said, it’s absolutely still worth reading. As manga on this list go, this is one of relatively few which actually addresses lesbian identity rather than merely containing girls who like girls. Fumi is well aware that her romantic and sexual interests are an innate part of her. She doesn’t happen to fall in love with other girls, she falls in love with them because they are girls, something often not presented in yuri manga. Fumi is hardly the only character who’s focused on, and the rest of the cast is also well-rounded, adding to this serious examination of sexuality. Again, Shimura brings up her omnipresent focus on plays and performance both to move forward the plot and to ground the characters’ experiences in other fiction. It works great, and if you’re someone who can deal with her somewhat loose narratives than this is required reading. An anime exists, but it doesn’t come close to adapting the whole thing, so the manga is a necessity. If you end up loving this manga, then another work along these lines is Sasameki Koto.
Number 7 is Minamoto Hisanari’s Wife and Wife. Unlike the previous examples, this is not a drama series or a serious romance in any sense. It’s also, notably, not focused on schoolgirls. Instead, it’s a comedy focusing on, as you would expect from the title, two wives. Marriage laws unfortunately mean they aren’t actually wives, but they certainly behave like they’ve been wed.
The characters here aren’t as deep as in the other works and the series doesn’t maintain your interest through any sort of compelling drama. Instead, your interest is going to depend almost solely on how much you like the comedic dynamics of the main couple and the various other gay women who occupy their lives. While the characters aren’t the most fleshed out of those on this list, they’re all unique and have a great dynamic. Our main couple of Sumi and Kina are absolutely adorable at all times, their neighbors are also cute but add a different flair, and Kina’s sister Kana is the common playgirl archetype that I’ll never get tired of.
Obviously, in a genre so well known for focusing on schoolgirls, it’s great to get some stories focused on older characters. What I think makes this work even more worthwhile is that it isn’t serious. A lot of adult-focused yuri manga are fairly gripping dramas and while I don’t think that’s a bad thing in the slightest, it is refreshing to see some adult women, living together, who also just playfully flirt all the time. I don’t know if that’s what you’re looking for but it’s certainly something I like. This work is great for those who’d rather not start with more traditional schoolgirl fare but would still like something cute and inviting. Hisanari’s other works are also worth a look.
Number 6 is Morishima Akiko’s Hanjuku Joshi. Best known as the character designer for Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Yuri Kuma Arashi, Morishima has been an accomplished yuri mangaka for over a decade now as an open lesbian and Hanjuku Joshi is likely her best work. Focusing on two couples, it’s another series which seriously explores what it means to be a lesbian, how heteronormative pressures affect queer girls and women, and how to navigate relationships with those struggles in place, while still allowing for plenty of cute stuff.
I’ve got to say up-front that this manga does have a teacher-student relationship as its side-couple, so if that isn’t something you can get past then I wouldn’t recommend this work. It’s also fairly sexual and clearly displays sex with regularity, though I wouldn’t quite call it porn since that’s absolutely not the focus. However, if that’s not a dealbreaker for you, then this is absolutely necessary to read as a yuri fan.
Our main couple of Chitose and Yae stand as contrasts, one very feminine and one fairly masculine, neither of whom is in love with being boxed in due to those facts. Through each other, they grow more comfortable with themselves and figure out how relationships actually work. Along the way, their senpai and teacher fall in love with one another after both were desperately attempting to avoid confronting their lesbianism and serve as role models of a sort for Chitose and Yae.
That’s great, but what makes Hanjuku Joshi so particularly amazing is how it manages to blend its messages into the narrative seamlessly, without ever feeling preachy or condescending. It does a great job at teaching readers what a strong effect heteronormativity can have or how important communication is to a relationship, but it never feels like the manga is just directly telling you these things. It builds its characters wonderfully, so it’s only natural to learn these lessons as the characters do. It’s only a short two volumes — or it was until its sudden continuation in 2017 — but I’m more attached to its four main characters than I am to some in much longer manga. Just go read it. And check out Morishima Akiko’s other manga too because she’s an absolutely amazing artist who’s well worth supporting.
Number 5 is Omoi no Kakera, or Fragments of Love, by Takemiya Jin. Like Morishima, Takemiya is a long-time openly lesbian yuri mangaka and this is easily the work of hers which is most worth looking at for a beginner. What makes this stand out from the other manga I’m listing is that it’s not a romance story, not in the slightest. Multiple characters fall in love, sure, and it’s entirely focused on queer girls and women, so it’s absolutely yuri. But it isn’t about them getting together. In fact, it actively makes it clear that that’s not what matters. Instead, it’s focused on the main characters becoming healthier people with a better handle on their emotions.
Our main character, Mika, is a person who’s excellent at noticing other people’s true feelings. Because of this, she serves as an effective way for the other characters to deal with their complex thoughts and emotions. However, she’s not exactly in a healthy mental state herself, and throughout the story never actually falls in love with someone, instead dealing with her past relationships and, at most, some non-romantic sexual experiences which are hardly good for her. One of her most notable traits is that she only goes for older women, which tends to mean all her relationships are fleeting and meant to recall a past experience. Along the way, we see a girl in love with Mika, another girl in love with said girl, and those in charge of the cafe that Mika frequents.
As I said, this is not a romance manga, and it’s not what I’d recommend for those seeking fluffy feelings. This one gets pretty dark when dealing with human psychology and the wounds that relationships, particularly unhealthy ones, can leave on us. But it’s also a very optimistic work which clearly believes all of its characters are worthy and capable of love, as long as they do their best to work through their problems. In many ways, it feels very therapeutic to read, though there are certainly times where it’s just rough. This is a great manga to look at if you’re interested in something more heavily dramatic and less focused on an eventual romantic end-game than the previous works. All of Takemiya Jin’s other manga are also worth reading, as she’s an absolute master of the genre who needs far more attention than she gets.
Number 4 is Nakatani Nio’s Bloom into You. One of the most popular yuri manga running right now, if not the most popular, Bloom into You, also known as Yagate Kimi ni Naru, is a fantastic drama which once again is very clearly shoujo-inspired while using a premise that’s really not been tackled heavily in the past, at least not to the extent it’s used here. Our main character Yuu is a huge fan of shoujo manga whose ideas on love are somewhat messed up because of it. When a boy confesses to her and she feels none of the rush she was lead to expect, she’s disappointed. When her new senpai at school, the Student Council President Touko, also confesses to her, she doesn’t know how to respond, neither turning her down nor openly reciprocating.
From here, the real story begins. Bloom into You is very focused on what it means to be in love with somebody and what the self even is, how we’re meant to view ourselves in light of what we do and what we try to do. As the manga continues, Touko’s friend Sayaka is revealed to be in love with Touko while some of their teachers serve as positive lesbian influences. Touko’s ideas surrounding Yuu’s love are incredibly unhealthy and as time goes on and Yuu both realizes that and begins to feel more strongly about Touko, things shift into a very complex situation, a love triangle where two of the points reciprocate but not in a way that can actually lead to a relationship.
Above all else, Bloom into You is an incredibly sensitive manga. This comes across in every way. The use of the paneling to convey the characters’ body language is excellent. At all times, it feels like a great deal of respect is being paid to everyone’s feelings. I wish KyoAni would adapt this manga, because it’s really perfect for them. The art shines all the way through and does a better job than the vast majority of manga at adding to the work, not just providing context to the dialogue. I’d just warn you not to expect serious asexual representation like some did. Yuu does slowly fall in love with Touko and though it seems far from ending, I wouldn’t be shocked if they end up together.
Number 3 is Akiyama Haru’s Octave. Like Wife and Wife, this is another manga with a cast of adult characters, though it’s a lot more serious and drama-focused. It starts Yukino, an 18-year-old former idol from a small town, who moves to Tokyo to escape the rumors surrounding her and the town that she’s no longer comfortable in. In Tokyo, she finds herself depressingly lonely, before meeting and quickly having sex with Setsuko, a 22-year-old woman who works as a composer. From here, Yukino tries to figure out her own feelings, how she’s meant to have a relationship, and want she wants to do in the future now that her dreams are nothing more than a memory.
This is a fantastic, mature romantic drama, but there are a few caveats to state up-front. First, Yukino is not always a likable person. In fact, I’d go so far as to say she’s outright hateable at certain moments. She’s young, inexperienced, and disillusioned with the world, and that leads her to make decisions which aren’t justifiable in the slightest. Frankly, she’s just immature, and her character arc is all about her becoming a mature, decent person, who takes responsibility for her actions and does her best to do right by those she cares about. It’s slow development, so I would totally understand why someone just wouldn’t be able to put up with her, but this 6-volume series makes it very possible to eventually sympathize with her and be pleased by the way she ends up. If you read the first few chapters and find yourself liking her, then try and make sure to get through the whole manga, even if she upsets you at times.
I’d most highly recommend this manga to two groups. The first would be those who simply want adult-focused yuri manga. This is perfect for that job. Yukino, Setsuko, and the other characters all deal with adult decisions and problems, things that simply do not come up in schoolgirl yuri manga because they’re never relevant in those contexts. Second, I’d recommend this to people who are in a similar situation to Yukino. Those who don’t know where they’re going in life, those who don’t know how to feel about their identities, that’s the kind of person that this work seems most suitable to.
Number 2 is Higashiyama Show’s Prism. I have to be upfront about two things here. First is that Higashiyama Show is a loli porn artist. I’d understand if that knowledge was enough to make this work totally unpalatable to you. That’s the case for some of my friends and I absolutely get it. All I can say is that this manga lacks any of the stuff that would make those works so disgusting to you, so give it a chance if that information doesn’t immediately repulse you from the whole thing. Second, I have to be frank here and say that this manga is not complete. It was, unfortunately, canceled due to some instances of tracing, something I find deeply frustrating because this had the potential to be my favorite yuri manga ever had it gotten a full run.
Prism takes a fairly traditional set-up: our protagonist Megumi developed a crush on someone she thought was a boy when she was younger. She enters high school and meets said person, Hikaru, once again, discovering that she’s actually a girl but quickly falling in love with her anyway. From here, the manga moves at a very quick pace, immediately establishing their relationship and then looking at the various challenges they face.
Prism never technically ended and yet it still covered more in its six-or-so chapters than most yuri manga do in multi-volume runs. It deals with coming out to your friends and family, active and violent homophobia from wider society — something yuri rarely tackles directly —, bisexuality and sexual orientation in general, sex itself, and so much more. It does all of this without ever feeling rushed in the slightest with an absurd amount of delicacy.
Megumi and Hikaru are a fantastic couple. Not just because they’re cute — though they certainly are — but because they actually communicate and work together to get through actions. Their love for one another never feels like something the plot simply set up; it’s almost hard to believe that they could’ve avoided falling for each other. They do their best to get through things, knowing that they always have the others’ back. The best example of this is the homophobia scene. It’s frankly painful to look at, especially since it’s something that could easily happen to me or many of my friends, but the reason they’re able to make it out of that without too much permanent mental damage is that they’re always going to be there for one another.
I’m legitimately still upset that this manga will never be completed. I’m not a fan of Higashiyama’s other works, for obvious reasons, but I still dream that one day he’ll come back to this. Prism tackled so many things that I want yuri manga to tackle all in such a small package. The point where it ends isn’t awful, but I sure do wish there could’ve been more. It’s already one of my favorites, and with more time to flesh out the loose ends, I have a hard time believing any other manga could come close.
And number 1, my favorite yuri manga and one of my absolute favorite manga as a whole, is Takashima Hiromi’s Kase-san series. I have far too many words to say about this manga, enough that I’ll probably make a separate video on it once the OVA is widely available, but I’ll try and restrain myself as I write this recommendation.
Kase-san focuses on Yamada, a girl who loves gardening and takes care of her school’s flowers, as she quickly falls in love with the eponymous Kase-san, a boyish track student who takes a liking to her as well. The first volume is focused on their burgeoning relationship as they work out their feelings for one another and eventually reach the point where they know that yes, they’re in love with one another, kissing and beginning to go out.
Like some other manga on this list, Kase-san is very much a shoujo yuri series, and it has the special distinction of actually being published in a shoujo magazine as of last year. It doesn’t do away with the tropes that the genre is known for. For instance, Kase definitely leans butch while Yamada leans more femme. But the series is so brilliantly written and drawn that it doesn’t matter. It might be the platonic ideal of a yuri manga but it’s also just the ideal yuri manga. Kase-san truly understands what to do with everything it tackles and it tackles a lot of things.
Kase-san comes across mostly as a fairly slice-of-life heavy romance series which is absurdly fluffy at all times, though that’s not to say that there’s no drama. Yamada and Kase are experiencing first love, or at least their first real relationships, and so they have a hard time figuring things out every once in a while. At times, they fail to communicate properly. But they make serious progress as the manga goes on and that’s so important. They recognize that failures in communication were a serious problem, and address it. They value their relationship and want it to continue, so they’re willing to put in the work to make sure that happens.
Another aspect of Kase-san that I love, one which goes greatly underappreciated, is the amount of sexual tension between Kase and Yamada. Sex is pretty common in modern yuri manga, even in schoolgirl stuff, but it rarely feels like it’s due to a strong attraction between the characters. Prism also does this to some degree, but Kase-san takes it to another level. We’re constantly getting shots of the leads’ bodies, clearly framed through their own eyes. Both of them are very acutely aware that the other is a sexually attractive person, and both of them are teenagers who are certainly interested in sex, even if Yamada’s a bit naive as to what that entails for two girls.
I could keep going on, but I’ll stop for now. This is an absolute must-read, not just for those interested in yuri but for those who want romance in general. It’s an absolute masterpiece that explores a beautiful relationship across its many volumes to great effect. Just please, go read it.
And that’s all for this week! Hope you enjoyed those, because we’re far from done. Frankly, editing this was a massive pain in the ass, so I hope you enjoyed the effort. Once again, join me next week for another round of even more yuri manga, this time focusing on works which diverge more heavily from the genre’s tropes or are more fitting for those already well-acquainted with yuri.