The world of anime is no stranger to the gender-bending trope that has been present since the 1960s and even earlier. Japan is known for its long history of gender-bending, androgynous, trans and queer representation in their folklore. This will later go on to influence tropes that come up in their manga and anime.
Although one or two trans characters in our list may fall in a kind of ‘grey-area’ in regards to their trans status, some of their characterization can point to an attempt to represent the trans experience.
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Isabella Yamamoto (Paradise Kiss)
Isabella is a trans woman who is a mother figure to the rest of the characters of Paradise Kiss. In a very moving scene, she talks about her childhood and expresses the discomfort she felt at the idea of growing into a man. She is shown to have loved wearing dresses from a young age.
Isabella found a confidante in George who gifted her the first ever dress he sewed. The hurtful act of ‘deadnaming’ (calling a trans person by the name that was assigned to them at birth) is portrayed through Isabella who is mortified when people refer to her by her deadname.
Hana (Tokyo Godfathers)
In Satoshi Kon’s acclaimed tragicomedy film, Hana is a complex and beloved character. Being a former drag queen, the community she found herself in helped to inform her identity.
Unfortunately, there are moments in the film when ignorant statements are made towards her, but she still has her own community that accepts her and she comes across as a compelling character.
It is not explicitly stated that Hana is trans but it is implied heavily, especially in the scene where she says, “In my heart, I am a woman”. In the 2019 English dub of the film, her character was voiced by Shakina Nayfack, a Jewish trans voice actor.
Nuriko (Fushigi Yuugi)
Nuriko is perhaps one of the earliest trans characters from the 90s. Nuriko is portrayed as a gorgeous, purple-haired courtesan; she is first introduced to the viewers as Korin, a potential romantic rival to the protagonist Miaka. The series reveals in episode 5 that she is male-bodied.
Nuriko’s backstory later on in the series reveals that she dons women’s clothing and mannerisms in memory of her deceased sister, but also because she was in love with Emperor Hotohori.
There are many debates about whether Nuriko is really trans, but some of her lines such as “I may have been born a man, but my heart and soul is that of a woman”, may hint at that possibility.
Alluka Zoldyck (Hunter x Hunter)
Alluka is a transgirl who is Killua’s sibling and was assigned male at birth. Although she is constantly misgendered and mistreated by her family, Killua always comes to her defense and acknowledges her gender identity and accepts her in her entirety.
Alluka is also perhaps the final character in the manga creator’s exploration of portraying trans characters in his works. Having been at the receiving end of criticisms for his problematic depictions of trans characters in series such as Yu Yu Hakusho, Yoshihiro Togashi has put in much effort to try to better understand gender and it’s reflected in his works.
After years trial and error, Alluka is one of the most nuanced portrayals of a trans girl whose exploration is as insightful as it is cathartic
Sailor Starlights (Sailor Moon)
In Sailor Moon’s fifth and final season, we are introduced to the Sailor Starlights who are originally female bishoujo (magical girl) warriors from the planet Kinmoku. They arrive on earth in search of their princess Kakyuu, after their home planet was destroyed.
In their time on earth, these women dress up in male clothing and form a boy band called ‘Three Lights’. Although in the manga they only crossdress as men, the 1996-1997 anime adaptation transforms them into men. They are able to switch genders with their magical transformation microphones.
Though the mangaka Naoko Takeuchi’s original intention was not to portray them as women who transformed into men, they are now considered anime icons of transmale representation.