I spent the last few weeks reading crossdressing manga and watching crossdressing anime, a surprising popular genre.
Japan is simultaneously the most sexually repressed and sexually liberal culture on the planet. Being gay is still frowned upon, but it’s not uncommon to have entire manga/anime/game series written about very specific sexual fetishes. For example, its world famous tentacle pr0n.
I’m still having trouble finding even a single piece of western media (be it TV, movie, book, or comic) that represents crossdressers in a way that I like. We’ve had decent representations of drag queens for decades now, and recent years have shown many positive takes on trans characters, but CDing is an odd group that’s either forgotten or portrayed in an uncomplimentary way (Psycho, The Rocky Horror Picture Show). I was wondering (and okay, hoping) that Japanese media would do better.
The good news: I have one good recommendation for you. The bad news: even in Japan, most crossdressing media is not amazing.
Like in the west, the motivation for dressing like a woman has a wide spectrum of motivation, but it tends to be simplified down to two of the most common tropes:
The non-consensual girl: A guy who’s transformed into a girl by accident or by force. This is the extreme common case, and is probably more accurately described as a distinct genre of transformation fantasy rather than crossdressing. (But still, I’m including some.)
The can’t-tell-its-a-guy girl: Crossdressers who blend so perfectly that they’re indistinguishable from women, even if they’re technically guys. In manga/anime, they’re just fully drawn as female characters.
Most Japanese media tends to fall in one bucket or the other, and sometimes both. Works that don’t fall into either bucket exist, but are very, very unusual. I’m not mad about it, but neither trope is realistic, and a crossdressing archetype that’s more grounded in reality is difficult to find.
I’ve put together a list of recommendations and semi-recommendations below. Note that almost every manga series ever written has at least one minor crossdressing character, or has crossdressing as a plot point somewhere, but I’ve focused just on those where an important core character is a crossdresser, or where crossdressing is central to the plot.
The only manga/anime I’m going to recommend unconditionally is Jellyfish Princess. It follows a shy girl who moves in with a collective of other otaku women, all of whom have to fight the redevelopment of their neighborhood.
Crossdressing isn’t core to the plot, but one of the most important characters is a crossdresser (Kurako) who crossdresses because she likes women’s fashion. Unlike every single other manga/anime I read/watched, Kurako is portrayed as absolutely beautiful, but not just lazily/wishfully drawn as any other female character. She’s a little taller than the other girls, wears too much makeup (which to be clear, looks hot), and dresses a little too elaborately. She’s also straight.
I really like Kurako’s portrayal and how crossdressing is treated in a relatively realistic light. The series’ main character is neutral towards it, but not judgemental, and a running gag is her trying to hide that Kurako is a man from her roommates who don’t allow men in the house. Kurako’s dad and brother don’t like it, but are accepting of their son/brother’s quirk. Her uncle on the other hand loves it and gets really excited seeing Kurako dressed up as a cute girl.
Here’s a few that are okay, but in all honesty, if you care about your time, are probably still not quite worth it.
Bremen follows a group of punk Japanese kids who aim to become “Gods of Rock”. This makes a bit more sense when you add the context that it started in the 90s when becoming an epic rock band was something that was more possible. Bremen’s drummer, Ryo, is a man who wears platforms shoes of unlikely size and presents as a woman. Bremen’s my no. 2 pick, but the manga is only okay, and Ryo is a crystal clear case of the “can’t-tell-its-a-guy girl” trope – fully drawn as a female character, and yet claimed in canon that she’s a guy.
The reaction of her bandmates to her crossdressing is more interesting. It makes them a little uneasy, and they freak out when Ryo hits on them, but they’re also fully accepting of her, and have her back unconditionally the second anyone tries to mess with her. There’s a story arc later in the series where Ryo has to revert to living in drab as a guy, and they make it clear that it’s unacceptable that she’s no longer living as her true self (that’s not how life works in rock and roll), and tell her to go back to being a girl. I like this because it’s overall positive and without too much unrealistic sugar coating.
Himegoto follows an in-debt student who’s given trouble by the yakuza before being bailed out by his student council in return for dressing like a girl for the rest of high school. It’s an example of both “non-consensual girl” and “can’t-tell-its-a-guy girl” – Himegoto is never really okay with it, but also perfectly beautiful.
That said, is is endearing and cute, and I found some of its idiosyncrasies entertaining. For example, Himegoto’s younger brother is also a crossdresser for reasons only barely explained, and so is the head of the rival “public morals” committee.
These are some other ones I read, but which weren’t very good:
AKB49: A guy accidentally joins the idol group AKB48 after trying to support a girl he likes. Doesn’t fall victim to either of my common tropes, but also just doesn’t really make sense.
Boku Girl: A guy who has been previously mistaken as a girl is transformed into one for real by a mischievous god. High jinks ensue.
Back Street Girls: Gokudolls: After failing their yakuza boss, three guys are given the choice between effective death, or being transformed into girls to become an idol group. It’s a somewhat entertaining premise, but disturbing if you think about it, and unfortunately, the series is just not very good.
Pretty Face: After a horrible bus accident, a badly burned student is reconstructed as a girl by a manic plastic surgeon who based the target result off a photo he’d carried of a girl he liked. Not all that great, and also doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Sekainohate de Aimashou: A high school student is turned into a girl by the prince of an alien empire. The idea has potential, but suffers from the same problems as the above.
I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but because none of these publications are localized for the west, you can often read fan translations for them by googling for the name of the series combined with “manga kakalot”.
Looking for more
I went in wishing that crossdressing manga on the other side of the Pacific was better, but after reading a dozen series, conclude that it doesn’t come out too far ahead of what we have in the west, but still makes for decent time killing entertainment if you’d be doing that anyway. Do read or watch (there’s an anime adaption) Jellyfish Princess, which is worth your time.
I’ll keep looking and update this list if anything new comes up. If you think I’ve missed a good one, please let me know :)
October 5, 2020 (3 years ago) by